§ Order for Second Reading read.
, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said: Sir, there is an opinion more or less widely prevalent that when a measure of great importance has to be proposed to the House of Commons the speech in which it is submitted to the House ought to be of proportionate length. Upon this occasion I think an exception may be fairly made to that rule. This is a question which has been thoroughly discussed. It is a question immediately connected with the provisions of the Franchise Bill. I do not even know in what position we stand with regard to any hostile Motion on the subject. The Notice Paper of to-day contains no such hostile Motion. It may be that there will be a revival of the Notice which appeared on that Paper some days ago; but even if there is, I should think it would be an abuse of the time and the patience of the House to discuss it in detail. In truth, my great desire on this occasion is to avoid everything that could partake of a controversial or polemical character, and that for this reason—that the declarations and intentions of Her Majesty's Government have been so fully placed before the House on former occasions that it will probably be enough to merely refer to them now without repeating them. It is known from those former declarations how entirely impossible it must be for us to consent either to the union of the two subjects of the Franchise and Redistribution in a single Bill, or to their simultaneous treatment in two Bills; and this simply for the reason that in our view the paramount interest concerned in this great question, which casts every other into the shade, is that of the franchise, and that we can do nothing which, in our opinion, tends in any way to place in jeopardy the passing of a measure which has for its object the extension 1122 of the franchise. In our view, if we were to consent to either the union of the two subjects in a single Bill, or to their simultaneous treatment in separate Bills, we should sacrifice not only our power as an Executive Government representing the Crown—although that would be no light matter; but we should sacrifice what is far greater and more important—namely, the title of the majority of this House to retain an effective control over the Business of this House, and to bring to an issue within a reasonable time within the walls of this House any measure which they may deem it necessary to pass. I do not wish to debate the question; but it is because we know and we conceive that the majority of this House would lose that control entirely were we to consent to either of the courses to which I have just referred—it is on that ground, and that ground alone, that we have found it necessary to make our opinions and intentions so clear to the House upon former occasions, that I think I may, as I have already said, be content merely to refer to them without repeating them. There is one other subject upon which I wish to say a few words. It is a subject which has been referred to from time to time in the course of these debates; it is the possibility and the justice of drawing a distinction between warning and menace. It has been to us a matter of absolute obligation not to keep back in absolute silence the apprehensions we feel in connection with the prolongation and exasperation of the present controversy. Apart from the use of disrespectful language, and apart from entering into invidious details, any attempt, however cautious and limited, to refer to that subject, has been treated with evident sincerity by persons of great distinction in this House as an undisguised resort to menace. If that be so, then it follows that no person, in pointing out to the person whom he loves, or to a body of persons whose privilege he wishes, on the whole, to preserve, can, even with the most friendly intentions, impress upon him or them the danger of pursuing a certain course. Surely it is an extravagant proposition to say that on that subject he must be altogether silent. It would be a course most unnatural to pursue in the incidence of private life. If my house is on fire, and my friend is sleeping in one of the 1123 chambers within reach of the conflagration, am I, in awakening him and endeavouring to persuade him to rise, to conceal from him the motive that leads me to do so, and exhort him to get up and go out into the cold without informing him of my reasons for doing so? The argument is just as strong in what I admit to be a case not corresponding with the one I have suggested in every respect. It is the question of an Institution, and of those who guide and direct the fortunes of that Institution. It is not insolent, it is not wantonness to utter such a warning. It is a sense of duty—nay, it is a friendly duty, which requires, with a due regard to the proprieties of the case, and to the respect which every person ought to pay to an established great power in the State, that some indication, careful in its form, and respectful in its language—["Hear, hear!"]—should be conveyed to those concerned of the consequences which may seem to come within the range of anticipation. I said respectful in its language, and I admit the justice of that limitation; but I have not yet heard it said that any language used by me on this subject was disrespectful. I am only seriously saying this—that we cannot admit the justice of those who denounce as menace even the most careful and limited intimation of danger. We cannot subscribe to such a proposition, and we must protest against the handing over to imagination and feeling the work that ought to be done drily and cautiously with a practical understanding by practical men in a great political and national crisis. Although, as I have said, the immediate question relating to the reasons for passing a Bill to extend household suffrage to counties may be held to be exhausted, there are certain conterminous questions on which it may be useful that I should address a few words to the House, and the more especially on that nearest of all conterminous questions, of which we have heard so much in the course of this discussion—namely, that relating to the redistribution of seats. This is a question of great interest, historically and politically; and I am the more glad to approach it, because in what I have to say I shall not find it necessary to use either offensive, or, I hope, even controversial language. This question in 1831–2 constituted the bulk of the controversy 1124 which was then before the country—I mean the bulk in a Parliamentary sense; and if we are to divide into two great portions the Reform Act of 1832, we may, perhaps, say with truth that, at that time and under the circumstances of that epoch, the part which related to disfranchisement and the redistribution of seats was even more important than the enfranchisement of the middle classes by means of the £10 suffrage. At that time the great and Constitutional principle which was at issue, and which was conscientiously brought forward by the Tory Party and gallantly fought and maintained by them, not without much countenance from high Constitutional authorities, was that it was necessary to retain within the walls of the Representative Chamber a large non-representative element. That was a subject which no doubt separated, by an almost immeasurable chasm, the two Parties in the State upon that great occasion. Happily, there is no such principle now at issue—there is no such chasm now to fill up. I am able, I may almost say, to compliment the Party opposite upon the readiness which many of them have shown—and which it is not beyond hope all may show—to deal fairly with the question of redistribution, if they can only get over those phantom fears which some of them are still possessed of in respect of the extension of the franchise. I rejoice to know that there is now no such difference between us in principle upon the subject-matter of redistribution as separated Parties in 1831–2. Nor do we approach the question of redistribution as we approach the question of the franchse, nor is one to be regarded from the same point of view as the other. The question of the franchise was one of extreme simplicity, especially as we invited the House to handle it; but the question of redistribution, quite apart from Party tactics, is not necessarily of extreme complexity. The question of the franchise was, in our point of view, the paramount question that would not admit of compromise or delay. We were reproached with a severe and rigid adherence to the provisions of our Bill when it was passing through Committee. I admit that, having reduced it to that simple outline, it was a case in which we were compelled, as far as we were concerned, to invite the House to adhere 1125 substantially to the main provisions of the Bill. But this question of redistribution, however, from its complexity, is necessarily more open to variety; and fortunately, as it is much less a subject of vital differences between the respective Parties, we desire, and we not only desire, but we feel that we should endeavour if possible—and I cannot say yet whether it will be possible—to make the measure of redistribution what, unfortunately, we could not make the measure with regard to the franchise, the work, not merely of the majority of the House, but one which should receive the approval of the House at large. I do not say it will be possible to attain that aim; but I do say it is our duty to strive to attain it, and not only our duty, but it will be our satisfaction to strive for it; and if we are able to carry the great mass of opinion in this House without reference to Party differences, I can only say that it will heighten the satisfaction with which we shall regard the consummation of a great work. No doubt it is true that Gentlemen opposite differ entirely from most of us, and certainly from myself, in the relative importance which they give to these two great subjects. I believe I am not overstating the case—in fact, if possible, I am understating it—when I say that while they admit the extension of the franchise to be a good, they regard it only as a conditional good; and if the condition of attendant redistribution does not accompany the franchise, then the franchise is in their view not a good, but an evil. That is to me unintelligible. I do not think the country has been able at all to enter into that proposition so as to see that it has a serious meaning. I quite grant that within the limits of the Party it has been largely accepted and echoed. But I never can depart from the proposition that in our view the franchise is the main matter, and that though the extension of the franchise is a much greater good accompanied with redistribution, yet that it is a good in itself whether redistribution accompany it or not. Though I have alluded to that difference of opinion I have not done so for the purpose of pressing it, but for the purpose of illustrating what I have said with regard to redistribution. We hail every symptom that we can detect of any possible approximation with regard to the bases of a measure of that kind, and it will not 1126 be our fault if indications of that kind shall be unhappily frustrated. There are certain main principles of redistribution in respect to which I think the House will agree with me that we must look upon them as beyond question or dispute. Any measure of redistribution which is to meet the exigencies of the case at the present date, and which may give a reasonable hope of something like permanence in the settlement of them, must be a large one. The second proposition is that evidently it must be a measure which shall give very considerable satisfaction to the principle of population or numbers, as compared with the present regulations or the present system of the electoral areas. In the third place, I think that all will probably admit—though there may be some difference in the interpretation—it ought not to be of needless complexity. Very simple it cannot be. Its propositions and provisions cannot be reduced to a very limited number; but needless complexity ought not to be introduced into any part of our electoral system. Further—and to this I attach immense importance—it must be equitable and liberal as between the great divisions of the country—and in speaking of these great divisions I have avoided the term "the three countries" known to the Constitution, because it is not unnatural to substitute the number four for the number three, and speak of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. Further, the measure ought to be just between the different classes of the community, and the different pursuits to which those classes belong. These are the leading propositions from which, in their essence and principle, there ought to be no deviation; but in the application of them there is much ground for temperate consideration, and for some sacrifice of opinion and of prepossessions with a view to unity and concord. For example, I have spoken of the principle of population, and of the large scope that it will be necessary, in any satisfactory measure of redistribution, to allow to that principle; but, of course, the question arises—Shall that principle be the only one taken into view, or shall it be, to some extent, restrained and limited by other qualifying considerations? Shall anything be allowed to prescription and possession—to privilege which has been long enjoyed, and which has not been 1127 abused, as compared with privilege which is about for the first time to be conferred? Shall we have regard in any degree, and, if so, in what degree, to the principle of the community as distinct from the individual—the historical existence of certain communities—or shall those communities be reckoned as so many individuals, according to the figure of their population, and thrown into hotch-potch to take their chance with the rest? Shall the most concentrated populations—and especially, of course, the great concentrated population of and about the Metropolis—be treated upon exactly the same principle as was recommended with great ability by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) in the last Session of Parliament—that is to say, treated upon the same principle and basis as the more dispersed and remote populations? Shall any distinction be drawn, and to what extent, between urban and rural pursuits? Because it must be observed that the distinction between urban and rural pursuits, and so applied as to introduce complex forms of districts and geographical divisions, is of itself a distinct deviation from the pure principle of population. Now, these are points upon which undoubtedly the ultimate character of the measure of redistribution will greatly, and, perhaps, principally depend. They are points upon which probably all of us have, in one one sense or another, a prejudice and a prepossession. I have my own prepossession, to some extent, in regard to the whole of them; but I feel, at the same time, that there are points in regard to which prepossession does not amount to principle, and having respect to the great good of a vast enfranchisement being accomplished—if it be accomplished—I think that upon points of that kind regard ought to be had to the prospects of harmony and peace, and the immense advantage of carrying in a great legislative change the largest possible body of friendly and contented opinion. That is language which I hope will not be thought to deviate in any manner from the propositions and professions with which I set out. I am bound to say that I proceed upon this principle and basis—that it is absolutely impossible to construct any large measure of redistribution, in my opinion, which shall not be a measure favourable 1128 on the whole to popular liberty. I am sorry that in a great and august Assembly ingenuity has been exercised to import from across the Atlantic words which belong to the vocabulary of slang. I shall not recite any of these words; but I do think that the standard of Parliamentary language is not unimportant, and that there is an increasing necessity for paying attention to it. I frankly own I can conceive making a small measure of redistribution which shall be a surreptitious and dishonest measure; but if the measure be a large one—I do not know what human ingenuity can accomplish—I am sure that no ingenuity which I can command, or which my Colleagues can command, could by any possibility enable us to produce such a measure other than favourable to the general liberties of the people. Therefore, it is our desire to approach the subject in a large and comprehensive spirit. I will not inquire from what circumstances, or through whose agency, we have been compelled to see this question down to the present date handled to a very great extent, perhaps almost entirely, in association with those ideas which belong to our Party contests; but there are reasons why we may entertain some hope of a change. As to redistribution, we have no reason to abandon as yet the hope that there is not the amount of difference of opinion which prevails on the subject of the franchise. As to the franchise, every observer must have been led to the belief that the opinion is spreading—not in circles of Liberal politics alone—that the time is nearly exhausted, and that the franchise cannot be safely withheld, and that all efforts from all quarters ought to be directed to a safe and fair adjustment of redistribution. If it be true that there is a generally diffused, and, perhaps, almost unanimous desire for a large measure of redistribution on the opposite side of the House, far be it from us to say that such a desire proceeding from that quarter is to be treated with less respect, or is entitled to less sympathy, than if it appeared simply as our own opinion originating within our own camp. Well, Sir, if that be so, I am inclined to regret that we are obliged again to have a contest—if we are to have a contest—on the question of the union of the two Bills. So far as we are concerned, it is a fight 1129 which has been fought out already, and belonging to the past. So far as argument and reason are concerned, we are content with what we have said; we believe, rightly or wrongly, that the nation is of our mind. On those propositions we cannot go back; short of those propositions we have every disposition to join hands. If we have in any manner postponed, or if we are still holding over our official and collective decisions on any of the points of this great question, it is not because we have been slack and neglectful in preparing ourselves to decide them, but it is because we know that from the moment an official decision is taken there is a danger that considerations of Party may come to group themselves around it, and because we are anxious as long as we can, and to the utmost degree, to keep the important points of this question out of that dangerous association. It is on these principles, and animated by these views, that we desire to go forward. If Her Majesty's Government do not, beyond what necessity and propriety require, enter upon the details of any old conflict now to be renewed, it is mainly from the fear that the renewal of that conflict will not tend to the objects we ought all to have in view, and that, our work having been done, the attempt to do it over again might rekindle fires scarcely yet extinguished. I have no doubt there will be a disposition in the House generally to conduct, in a dispassionate and tranquil spirit, any debates that may arise. We have contributed, I think—at least, I have endeavoured to contribute by the assurances I have given—to a practical and to a speedy progress. I believe that the more speedy our progress may be in the stages of this measure, the better it will be for the vast issues that are involved in its passing, and the more unmixed will be the satisfaction with which, when the Royal Assent is given, it will be entered upon the Statute Book, as it will also be enshrined in the memories of the people.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Gladstone.)
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
, in rising to move—That, in the opinion of this House, any measure purporting to provide for the better Representation of the People in Parliament 1130 must be accompanied by provisions for a proper arrangement of electoral areas,said: In the absence of my noble Friend the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill)—["Hear, hear!" and a laugh.]—who, I am sorry to say, is suffering from severe domestic affliction—a fact that might have averted that somewhat deplorable cheer—I rise to move the Amendment which stands in his name. I am sure the House generally will not only feel sympathy with the noble Lord in his bereavement, but may also regret the unworthy substitute that has been provided for the very able and incisive speech which the House has undoubtedly expected. We have heard a speech from the Prime Minister couched in terms of moderation, and I desire to imitate him so far as I am able. I will go further, and say that amongst those vague generalities which form so large a portion of the right hon. Gentleman's speech there are some propositions in which I am happy to be able to concur with him. We desire just as much as the right hon. Gentleman that a settlement of the question should be arrived at favourable to the general liberties of the people. We desire equally with the Government to make every effort to secure a safe and fair adjustment of this question; and I am only sorry that, as on a former occasion, we have not had a corresponding effort on the part of the Prime Minister to enable us to come to such a settlement. For my own part, I should have wished that it had been absolutely unnecessary, in consequence of some statements that might have fallen from the Prime Minister, for me to move this Amendment. I had hoped, even against hope, that at the eleventh hour we might have had some assurance from the right hon. Gentleman that the most reasonable proposition we have always put forward would in some way be met by the Government. That proposition was so reasonable that it was actually put forward a year ago by most of the principal Leaders of the Party opposite, and there are a good many who at this moment cordially agree with it. If there had been a will I do not think there would have been any difficulty in finding a way. The difficulties might have been got over, and this controversy might have ended in a manner honourable to both Parties, and advantageous to the country. I have, therefore, been very 1131 much disappointed by what has fallen from the Prime Minister. The right hon. Gentleman laid down some general principles, about which I will say a word or two later; but I am unable to detect in his speech any symptom of a desire to meet the views we have consistently put forward, or any solid guarantee to secure what we have at heart. This disappointment is undoubtedly intensified, inasmuch as every principal argument hitherto put forward in support of the proposition that we ought to separate franchise from redistribution has been enormously weakened, if not altogether disposed of, during the last six months. Take one of these arguments which has done good service during the Recess—the argument of time. It was said by hon. Gentlemen opposite that it was not possible, within the limits of a single Session, to pass both a Franchise and a Redistribution Bill. How does the matter now stand? We are here, in the midst of an Autumn Session, with a prospect of adjourning to the full Session in the year to come. The principle of the Franchise Bill is now accepted by both sides. And more than that, the details of that Bill have been discussed and decided upon in this House. Therefore, the main argument upon which hon. Gentlemen have hitherto relied, that it is impossible to deal simultaneously with the two Bills, is invalid. The noble Lord the Secretary of State for War, speaking in March, gave his views upon this subject. He dwelt upon the enormous importance of dealing with all branches of this question as consecutively as possible. He said that it would be much to the advantage of the country that both branches of the subject should be dealt with in one Parliament, in one Session, and, if possible, in a single Bill. The noble Lord laid down certain conditions which must be fulfilled before the advantage of dealing in that manner with both branches of the subject could be secured. He said—But there is only one way in which such a thing can be accomplished, and that would have been by the existence of some general agreement upon the subject, some admission on the part of the House generally, that the time had now come when the measure which had been granted in 1887 to the boroughs must be extended to the counties, and by an equally general admission that the most grave and glaring anomalies which still exist in the distribution of political power must also be redressed."—(3 Hansard,  700. 1.)1132 Those conditions, I maintain, have been fulfilled; and I therefore claim the vote of the noble Lord in favour of my proposal. In introducing the Bill at the beginning of last Session, the Prime Minister further urged that there was a political objection of a very grave kind to the simultaneous passage of the two Bills—Where the two measures are mixed together, those who think their local interests are touched by the measures, oppose the extension of the franchise for fear of the redistribution which is to follow."—(Ibid.,  128.]At the time that argument was used I thought there was a good deal of force in it; but it must be perfectly obvious that there is now no fear of that kind. The principle of the Franchise Bill is now accepted generally; and the conduct of anyone who attempts, directly or indirectly, to oppose the franchise, for fear of after consequences, will be detected and resented by the country. There is, also, the leverage argument that is put forward. It is said that without the leverage—I might call it coercion—that will be brought to bear by the previous passage of the Franchise Bill, it will be impossible to pass a redistribution scheme. I venture to say that exactly the opposite is the fact. Supposing the Franchise Bill were passed, can any body doubt that it is extremely probable that the zeal of hon. Members opposite for this great measure of Reform will be considerably damped, and that they would immediately discover that although the Redistribution Bill was of great importance, there were numerous other questions which could not brook an hour's delay? The only true lever, in my opinion, for the passing of that most difficult Redistribution Bill through the House, is to have the Franchise Bill in reserve. The true propelling power is that the Franchise Bill should not yet be passed. One of the contentions of hon. Gentlemen opposite is that the country is most keenly alive to the necessity of extending this household franchise to the counties. I will add something to that. I will admit that in consequence of the agitation during the Recess there are persons in the country previously indifferent to this subject who have, at any rate, been led to expect this privilege. Will anyone suppose that they will brook delay in this matter? If they have a Franchise Bill accompanying or following the Redistribution Bill they will take care, because 1133 their immediate interests are concerned, that no undue delay shall take place in this matter. I trust, then, that I have been able to show that the force of arguments that were put forward in support of separating franchise from redistribution has been diminished by what has taken place during the past few months. After all, those arguments dealt only with a question of procedure. The hon. Gentleman the senior Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), who, with a brutal frankness, often knocks the right nail on the head, has said boldly—Irrespective of Party tactics, it is unquestionable that the production of the Franchise Bill and Redistribution should go together.But if we turn now for a moment from the arguments that have been alleged in favour of separating franchise from redistribution to those we have endeavoured persistently to put forward on behalf of their being simultaneously pressed on the attention of the House, the House will see that our contention has never been based on procedure or tactical considerations, but based entirely and solely on principle. They will see, further, that nothing whatever has occurred during the Recess to modify in any way the conclusions at which we arrived, or the grounds on which we support them. We have desired, and we have always put forward our desire in the plainest terms, a complete measure. We desire it because we think it would be fair and just to all parties and to all classes. We desire it in the interests of peace and order, and of the early settlement of this question; and we desire it because we believe it is the only settlement which would provide a permanent strengthening of the foundations of the Constitution. We know hon. Gentlemen opposite say—"Oh, but your contention has been put to the country, and the country has decided against you." How? and when? and where? [An hon. MEMBER: Hyde Park.] We have not yet been taught it is any part of the Constitution of this country that questions of great political importance should be decided by a show of hands, or even by manhood suffrage. When a deadlock upon a political issue arises in this country we believe the only way to decide it is by a reference to the constituencies. But that is just what you want to avoid. Certainly, so far 1134 as we have been able to form any judgment from the proceedings of the Recess, there has been nothing to make us in any way hesitate in the belief that the country thoroughly understands and appreciates the position we have put forward. [Ironical Ministerial cheers.] I am glad to hear hon. Gentlemen opposite cheer. Let us take a test case. There are many hon. and learned Gentlemen sitting on that side of the House who belong to the Profession of Law, to which I once had the honour to belong. Many of them are possessed of the greatest and highest attainments, and are well qualified for a seat on the Judicial Bench. How is it that with these Gentlemen of great merit and with that wide area of choice almost every vacancy on the Judicial Bench is filled from the outside? I suspect the noble Lord the Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Richard Grosvenor) could supply an answer to the question. Then, a more effective and less logical attempt to answer our case is in the form of an attack on the House of Lords, ranging from the vulgar and coarse attack of the hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Thorold Rogers) to what I may call the deprecatory style of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister deprecates the attack on the House of Lords. That reminds me very much of what we used to observe when we visited the Righi Hotel. There is a notice at the hotel to the effect that visitors desiring to see the sun rise must not wrap themselves up in their blankets. So the noble Lord the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury told his constituents in Wales that it was the greatest mistake to suppose that the Liberal Party was in favour of the abolition of the House of Lords. That remark was taken up by the hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson), who commented upon it in this way—I do not think the noble Lord meant what he said. I take his words in the non-natural sense. What he meant was—'Do not nail his ears to the pump.' Taking it in that sense, I think Lord Richard Grosvenor really intended to encourage us to go on with great meetings like this.And the meeting at which he spoke thus was one for the abolition of the House of Lords. But this is beside the question. When the time comes it will be perfectly easy to show—indeed, it cannot be denied — that the House of Lords has 1135 acted in a thoroughly Constitutional manner in the course it has followed, and that, in the words of the Duke of Argyll, written not very long ago—There is no conceivable constitution of a Second Chamber which would not include the power of withholding its assent from particular measures where there is any real doubt of public opinion until after an appeal to the constituencies.But, as I have said, this is altogether beside the question. Grant that the House of Lords is wrong, unconstitutional, and foolish, yet that does not affect our position in this House; and we, the elected Chamber, representing public opinion, are entitled to protect popular rights, and are bound to insist on the fullest information and the amplest guarantees before we allow this great scheme of Reform to become law. What information and what guarantees have we received? Shortly before this Session began there was a rumour that the Government intended to produce a Bill dealing with redistribution, and that as soon as the Franchise Bill passed this House the Redistribution Bill would be introduced. I confess that I never credited that rumour. It did not seem to me at all possible. If it were so, I should, indeed, congratulate the House of Lords that it had escaped the servile condition to which this House is apparently to be reduced. But even if a Bill had been introduced, I think it would have been easy to show that it would have afforded no real security either to us or to the House of Lords. The essence of redistribution, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, is in the details of the measure. It would be impossible for the Government to pledge itself that any Bill which they laid on the Table and which went to a second reading would be anything like the Bill which would emerge from the House; and even if they desired to pledge themselves to it, I question very much if they would have the power to fulfil it. We have had a statement to-night from the Prime Minister, who has again discussed the general principles on which he thinks the Redistribution Bill ought to be framed. I presume that on this occasion the right hon. Gentleman speaks, not only his own individual opinion, but also the sentiments of his Colleagues, because there was great inconvenience in the course he adopted on the former 1136 occasion. I hope we are no longer to be put in a position of having a statement made by the Prime Minister which expresses his own individual opinion only. But we want much more than that. We want not only the statement of opinion on the part of the right hon. Gentleman and on the part of his Colleagues, but we want that statement to be put in such a form, on the authority of the Government as a whole, that we shall be able to deal with it and to consider it. I note a very remarkable omission in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. He has told us nothing on the subject of boundaries. Can anyone doubt, if you are going to pass an adequate Redistribution Bill, that we must have some inquiry into boundaries? If such Redistribution Bill is, as has been said, to be passed within measurable time, some steps ought to be taken to inquire into the boundaries of boroughs. But the fact is, the Government are still fencing with this question of redistribution; and I cannot help thinking the country is beginning to ask—"Why, if you have all these fine general principles, do you not produce your Bill?" If it is such a fair Bill that even the Tory Party will not specially quarrel with it, why should you be afraid of the country seeing it? I am of opinion that, with one or two exceptions, the right hon. Gentleman has thrown very little additional light on the subject by what he has said today. Amid a good deal of vague statement, he has enunciated one principle which we have heard with satisfaction—namely, that he wished to make the Bill just between different classes and different pursuits. That is going further than the principles he advocated when he introduced the Bill last Session, and we are glad to welcome that advance. But, in estimating any suggestions made by the Prime Minister for the drafting of a Redistribution Bill, we are obliged to reduce them to this test—namely, that we must always keep steadily in view the principle on which we have been throughout acting. Bearing this in mind, have the suggestions of the right hon. Gentleman done anything to meet and assist us in dealing with the question? Our principle always has been that this measure must be considered as a whole. But we have not had the smallest assistance or suggestion 1137 from the right hon. Gentleman that he will move one single step to help us in that matter. It is said that we upon this side of the House have been accustomed to look upon this question with a view to the interest of our own Party. We should be more than human if we did not consider that to a reasonable extent; we should be untrue to our constituents if we did not consider very carefully any scheme in its bearing upon the prospects of the Constitutional Party. But I want to consider the matter from a higher point of view. Let us, free from the glamour of Party prejudice, ask ourselves this simple question—What do we desire when we set to work to reform our Constitution?—what object of national importance do we set before us? I assume that, in the first place, we desire to make the House more perfectly representative. The right hon. Gentleman said the other day that he wanted a House better calculated to understand the wants of the country. That, I think, is a most inadequate description. What we want is a House of Commons not only better calculated to understand, but to represent the wants of the country. We require for that a system of representation varied according to the requirements of the different parts of the Three Kingdoms, and so adjusted to its needs as to afford an opportunity for the expression not of all opinions, for that would be ridiculous, but of all substantial bodies of public opinion. Is there anything in this Bill that gives such an assurance? There is nothing of this sort either in the Bill or in the speech of the Prime Minister with the exception of a single sentence, which I was glad to hear, and there is no guarantee that one class will not be wholly swamped by others. Important interests and important classes are altogether effaced by this Bill. One class—the agricultural labourers — are, I know, likely to be better represented. That is very desirable and very reasonable. Not that I admit that their interests have been neglected. I do not think many hon. Members will agree with the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade when he spoke of the wholesale robbery of the agricultural labourers—an evil, by-the-bye, which, since he has been a Member of the House, the right hon. Gentleman himself has never lifted 1138 even his little finger to prevent. I may call as a witness the Colleague of the right hon. Gentleman—namely, the present Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who, in his annual speeches delivered in the last Parliament on the enfranchisement of the agricultural labourer, used to bring forward special grievances and wrongs of that class, and to tell the House that they required to be redressed. It is a remarkable fact, however, that, after about three or four years, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster withdrew that contention, acknowledging frankly that the particular grievances to which he had been wont to point had all been dealt with by the House, and, he might also have added, by a Conservative Government. But, even assuming it was true that the interests of the agricultural labourer were neglected, it only strengthens my case. The more we have allowed his interest to be overlooked amid the pressure of other matters, the more important is it that we should now take every security when we enfranchise the peasant that his votes shall not be swamped by the artizans who are already fully represented. Again, I presume that we wished to make the House a more efficient engine for doing the work of government. None of us, I suppose, hold that the legislation of 1867 has been particularly fortunate in that respect. But let us put the saddle on the right horse. Everybody knows that it is not the constituencies who tell their Members to be silent. Many of the constituencies, so far from thinking that their Representatives stated their grievances or expressed their views too much, consider rather that they fall short in that respect. If I might venture to say what are the chief dangers ahead they are these. First of all there is a danger of this House becoming too sensitive to public opinion. That is a danger already in existence, and I could quote cases in point. Even at the present time safeguards, which most of us believe to be desirable in the true interests of the country, are lightly abandoned because of the pressure of outside opinion, mainly uninstructed and influenced by vague clamour. There is a possibility that that danger will be indefinitely increased. Then there is a considerable danger that political convulsions will become more severe, and that 1139 the swing of the pendulum of public opinion from side to side will be dangerous to the true interests of the Empire both at home and abroad. But if we desire to moderate the swing of the pendulum—if we desire to check by wholesome restraints the violent oscillations of public opinion, is there any other way that we can do this than by taking care that minorities are fairly represented? If we desire to enable this House to resist unreasoning and unreasonable clamour, we must take care to protect the independence of individual opinion, and provide adequate guarantees that, in the adjustment of political power which we propose, it shall not all fall into the hands of the wire-pullers. These are very grave questions; and in my humble opinion not only the true interests and liberty of the people, but even the existence of the Empire, depend upon our looking facts fairly in the face, and upon our not allowing ourselves to be led into deliberately accepting an incomplete scheme of electoral reform blindfolded, and in the dark. First, we want more information, and then we want some substantial guarantees, that this great question of electoral reform shall not be put before us piecemeal, but that we shall have an opportunity of considering and dealing with it as a whole, and providing that it shall come into operation as a whole. It is because we have been unable to detect in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, or in the Bill, any guarantee of a substantial character for securing these important results that it is my duty now to move—That, in the opinion of this House, any measure purporting to provide for the better Representation of the People in Parliament must be accompanied by provisions for a proper arrangement of electoral areas.
§ MR. ECROYD
, in seconding the Amendment, said, he rose under a feeling of sadness at the unexpected intelligence of the loss of a public servant whose high character, great ability, eminent courtesy, and temperateness in the examination of all public questions had been, he was sure, appreciated in every part of the country, and not the least by those who sat on the Opposition Benches. He was sure that, under the circumstances, every man must feel less disposed to say one word upon that discussion which would add 1140 to the bitterness of Party controversy. He sincerely hoped that in discharging the duty which had fallen upon him he might, at least, avoid saying anything which would be likely to raise any additional obstacles in the way of a fair settlement of the question. He believed that there was no serious difference of opinion between any part of the House in regard to the main lines of a fair and equitable settlement of the great questions of Reform; but he could not help regretting that they were puzzled and nonplussed by the ill-judged separation of that question into two portions, neither of which could be completely examined unless the House was in possession of the other. All that the Conservative Party had to fear in connection with that was an unfair arrangement of the question of redistribution—an arrangement which, while it might in some respects appear to be just and impartial, would yet reduce to an absolute political nullity the voice of important interests in this country. He would not go over the ground of the relative claims of different portions of the country, as that was a question which did not touch the argument he wished to take. The Prime Minister had held out to them no solution whatever of the difficulty. His speeches held out no offer of accommodation. They were merely repetitions, in moderate and courteous terms, of a demand for absolute surrender. They were asked now to give up, under the mere name of a compromise, all that they considered vital to the interest of the constituencies. The experience of the last four months had been alluded to both to-day and on previous occasions; but he claimed that in that experience the Conservative Party had found no reason to doubt the wisdom of the position they had taken up. Although the country had been stirred up by Party managers from one end of it to the other, hon. Members opposite could not point to one single convert from the Conservative ranks. In the ranks of the working men who supported the Conservative cause they found most energetic supporters of the stand which had been made on the subject. They had learnt the result of an election in a constituency which already possessed household suffrage; and, in his opinion, that election could not be pointed to as any evidence of a change of opinion 1141 favourable to the Government. He would rather, however, ask hon. Gentlemen opposite to consider how absolutely useless and impossible, from the Conservative point of view, must be the means taken on the platform and in the Press to make them recede from the position they had taken up. What would be their position in the eyes of their constituents if they were to do so? They would never again be able to face them. No; they might be fairly beaten at the General Election, or by some other means they might be overruled; in that case they would be able to know how to take it; but, at least, they were bound to prove themselves faithful to the trust committed to them by their constituencies, and to maintain that to alter the franchise in the way proposed would tend to political injustice which it was impossible to exaggerate. To pass the present measure without redistribution would aggravate the existing inequalities of the franchise five-fold. They were told that the effect of the Franchise Bill was simply to place householders in counties in exactly the same position politically as in boroughs. As a matter of fact it did no such thing. Let them take the case of a large population which had been made the subject of remark and discussion during the last few months—the case of Accrington. There were many householders there who were also holders of rateable property, and who were anxiously looking for a reform which should place them on a par with the property-owning householders at Blackburn and Burnley. What he wanted to point out was that if Accrington was made a borough under a Redistribution Bill, the provident men there would enjoy twice as much political power as their less thrifty neighbours who were not property-owners. But if Accrington was left in the constituency of North-East Lancashire these men would enjoy the glorious distinction of being made householders in the same hour in which they would be disqualified as owners of rateable property. That would show the absolute necessity of taking the two questions of Reform and Redistribution together. Then the Prime Minister had warned them lest, in separating the two questions, they should bring forward another question besides that of the franchise. But they were not left to choose 1142 whether an attack was to be made on a part of the Constitution or not; all that they had to choose was whether that attack should be an open and declared one, or veiled and disguised in some other form. For his own part, he infinitely preferred an open attack; and if the House of Lords was to be deprived of its real place and power in the Constitution, he hoped it would be by open attack and by fair discussion in the country, and not by a side wind. Not by the adoption of measures which would reduce the House of Lords to a mere nullity—to the shadow of a name—and which would for ever eliminate it from a real place in the Constitution of the country. They had been reminded of the danger of raising a great Constitutional question; he thought that it was evident that the very method of bringing forward the Franchise Question, and the action which had provoked hon. Gentlemen on his side of the House to opposition, was in itself raising a Constitutional question of the first order. They considered that Constitutional questions had been raised not only by the manner in which the Franchise Bill had been treated, but still more by the way in which it had been introduced; and on that point he would like to ask the attention of the House to the peculiar circumstances under which the Franchise Bill was examined by that House last Session. It had been brought into that House cut and dried by the Prime Minister, and it had been understood that no alteration of that Bill was to be permitted in its passage through the House. They all knew that, whatever might be the opinions of many hon. Members opposite as to its details, the expression of those opinions, to a large extent, by speech, was limited, and by vote almost entirely forbidden. They all knew that under the pressure of the Party system very important matters, which ought to have been the subject of considerable discussion, had been passed over; and the only reply to remonstrances was that it was necessary, for the enfranchisement purposes of the Government, that the Bill should pass substantially as it stood. Were they to have questions of the first Constitutional magnitude brought solemnly before that House, and then practically withdrawn from discussion? Was not that a curtailment of the duties and 1143 privileges of the House? That was a matter more important than the mere passing of a Bill; and he said, with the most positive knowledge, that in any large constituency such as he represented, where there were great bodies of working men attached to the Constitution, this symptom was regarded as a most serious one. It was not merely that the Privileges of the House of Lords were in danger, but those of the House of Commons. If this Bill were to be passed through the House with little real examination or discussion on important questions of detail, as in last Session, a most important diminution in the powers and privileges of that House would have been silently accomplished. The Franchise Bill was not a simple measure; and the point to which he had drawn attention, the exclusion of the property vote, was of the gravest importance both in its social and political aspects. As the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. S. Smith), stated the other day, the working classes of this country were divided into two classes, one not unprosperous, who protected themselves to a considerable extent by their own organizations, and thus maintained their position with great and increasing ability, but outside these there were the incapable and incompetent classes, who could not readily obtain employment. If they were to give no predominance to the provident over the improvident class of working men, they would be taking from the hands of the class most capable of influencing them for good one of the fittest instruments for that purpose. The only reply he could obtain from the Prime Minister on this important subject was a brief speech of two minutes' duration; and in the same way many other points were, upon the slightest pretext, withdrawn from the consideration of the House in such a manner that they might well ask whether this was the Bill of the House of Commons or the Bill of the Executive. This question was the question to be considered, and was considered by the masses of intelligent working men in this country, and was of such importance as to overshadow the importance of any Franchise Bill whatever. The anxiety of those who had long been associated with the great masses of population in this country, who knew their habits, their wants, and their feelings, their great 1144 and prevailing anxiety was that the better part should prevail. That was the way to insure peace and social order among that portion of the working classes who at present were so difficult to raise. If they were to take away such an instrument as this for the exercise of political influence, for the solution of great social questions, and the advancement of the lower orders of the people, those who could best exercise it would not be able to do so; and they would then be striking a fatal blow at the future political safety of this country. In the name of those for whom he spoke, owners of property—men entitled to be heard—men who knew how to raise themselves, he must express an earnest hope that the House would not, in important matters like these, sacrifice the highest interests of the country to any circumstances, however pressing, or however important, in the eyes of the Executive. He would only add, in conclusion, with regard to the whole matter, that, in his opinion, the real differences between the two Parties were so small that half-a-dozen thoughtful men drawn from each side could have framed a solution that would have been generally accepted; and he hoped they would still, every one of them, use their influence to bring about a peaceful settlement of the question. But he could not say, after the speech of the Prime Minister that night, that he saw much prospect of a compromise. The speech of the right hon. Gentleman was in tone and temper a most moderate and courteous speech; but in its essence was there one single note of accommodation? Was there anything that could be offered to them as a solution of the difficulties that pressed upon them? The Conservative Party throughout had been absolutely prepared to join in a reasonable and fair settlement of the question; but the doubt on the Conservative side was with regard to the question of Redistribution. They could not submit to a settlement of the question which might put them in this position—that the scheme of Redistribution would be so arranged that certain populations would be thrown into the mass of the county population for the sake of putting them into an area that properly should have no influence at all. The Government must either trust their political opponents and disclose their intentions, or, if they refused to do 1145 that, they could not call upon the Conservative Party to place that confidence in them which they themselves refused to extend to their opponents.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, any measure purporting to provide for the better Representation of the People in Parliament must be accompanied by provisions for a proper arrangement of electoral areas,"—(Mr. E. Stanhope,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
said, he was disposed to think that the differences between the two sides of the House were now so small that half-a-dozen sensible men might easily settle all that was between them in a few minutes. He could not agree with his hon. Friend (Mr. Ecroyd) that this was a question on which there was no possibility of compromise. From the appearance of the House, it was very evident that the House in general, and the Conservative Party in particular, took very little interest in the discussion of this Amendment; and that was not surprising, because it was only the old question which had been brought forward by the noble Lord the Member for North Leicestershire (Lord John Manners), and it had been discussed ad nauseam. He, therefore, defied anybody to say anything new on the subject. He was in favour of the Amendment as an abstract Motion; and if he could support it without impeding the progress of the Franchise Bill, he should be perfectly ready to follow the hon. Gentleman into the Lobby. He wished, however, to point out that since this question was discussed last Session a great many things had happened. In the first place, they were defeated in the House of Commons by a very large majority. If Parliamentary government was to be carried on at all, there must be some questions upon which the minority must yield to the majority; and if there was any question upon which the minority should yield to the majority, he should say it was on a question of procedure. He had taken no part in the agitation of the autumn; but, as a looker on, he could discover no very clear evidence on the part of the country that it desired to disassociate itself 1146 from the vote of the House of Commons. The Leaders of the Conservative Party were just as anxious as the Government to agree to the extension of the franchise, and that had always been their position in times past. [A laugh.] Well, for 10 years he had found himself in perfect harmony with his Leaders on this question, and he was always in favour of extending household suffrage to the counties. But not only was the Conservative Party anxious to extend the franchise; the Government and their supporters were equally anxious to pass a Redistribution Bill. That was the situation between them. What guarantee had they that the Government would carry their promises out? He was as suspicious as most people of the pledges of the Government; but he confessed that, on this particular matter of redistribution, the Government were as solemnly pledged and bound as they could possibly be, and that they could not go back from the pledges they had given to the country without laying themselves open to a charge of gross breach of faith. If they had a security that some Bill would be brought in by the Government, what security had they that the Bill would be a fair Bill? Well, in the first place, he did not see any radical difference between the two Parties as regarded redistribution and the principles which should be applied to it. They were all agreed that the change must be in the direction of representation in accordance with numbers, without rigid mathematical apportionment. There must, of course, be anomalies, unless they had equal electoral districts. When the Prime Minister enunciated the principles of his redistribution scheme, he observed that they met with the general assent of Members on the Conservative side. Therefore, he supposed that in these principles enunciated by the Prime Minister there were no points of difference that ought to create a great crisis. There was one point, however, on which the Prime Minister did not touch, and that was the representation of minorities; but that was not a Party question. Then, as to the charge that the Government might manipulate the redistribution of seats so as to gain an advantage for their own Party, he said boldly that that was a task they could not perform. He did not say it was impossible to manipulate a scheme of representation with regard 1147 to small boroughs, for which men could be returned at the will of some nobleman. If there was any talk of retaining boroughs of the kind, he did not deny that there would be room for some manipulation; but if they were going to construct large and important constituencies, with an adequate number of electors, he defied the cleverest election agent in the world to manipulate a scheme of the kind. This, however, was a point with regard to which there was much nervous timidity on his side of the House; but he did not see it in that light. Both Parties were often mistaken as to the effect a particular provision would have upon their respective interests. Two instances would show this. In 1867 there was a great Party struggle as to whether the urban element should be drawn within the boroughs by an extension of boundaries, or left in the counties. Both Parties believed the new voters would be Liberal, and the Conservatives feared they would swamp the existing county voters. The Liberals had their way; but the result had been that the new voters had proved one of the most Conservative elements in the State, and the Metropolitan counties, which consisted almost wholly of that class, had returned Conservative Members from that time to the present. Again, in the case of the minority vote, which was inserted by the House of Lords on the Motion of Lord Cairns, and which affected seven counties and five boroughs returning 36 Members, according to the majorities these places should return 21 Conservatives and 15 Liberals, whereas the actual representation was 18 Conservatives and 18 Liberals. But the most powerful security against an improper manipulation of the seats, even if that were possible, was the dread of the Government of public opinion, which assuredly would resent any attempt on the part of the Government to break its pledges. If there was one thing which had been made more clear than another by the agitation of the present autumn it was that the majority of the people desired a complete measure of Reform to be passed in the present Parliament; and he believed that public opinion would punish whichever of the two Parties in that House tried to defeat their wishes. He had heard it said that the Government wanted to pass the Franchise Bill and then to dissolve; but if 1148 they carried out that intention it would be a most disastrous thing for themselves. If they were to carry out such an intention, they could not take the opinion of the country under more unfavourable circumstances. They would be appealing to boroughs which were condemned by anticipation, and to counties which their laches had deprived of their just share of representation, and they would be appealing to people who were indignant at their breach of faith. All these securities for the passing of a Bill for the redistribution of seats being in existence, what was the position of the two political Parties at the present moment? The Tory Party were no longer in the position of having to dissimulate their love for the extension of household suffrage to the counties, while the Liberal Party were pledged up to the hilt to the introduction of a fair measure for the redistribution of seats. The difference between the two Parties, therefore, was very small—it having been reduced to a mere question of procedure. In such circumstances it would be most discreditable to our Parliamentary system if the two Parties could not agree upon some mode of procedure by which their mutual objects would be attained. But, unfortunately, there were obstacles to that agreement. The first of those obstacles was furnished by the speeches delivered on platforms in the country, and, he was sorry to say, even in that House, by hon. Members who had no desire to come to an agreement, who wished to keep the wound open, and who had motives which went far beyond the passing of the Franchise and the Redistribution Bills, and who desired to stir up dissension in the constituencies. These were the men who rubbed the sore when they should bring the plaster. He hoped, however, that the House would discourage all such persons, and all such speeches. The next obstacle to a satisfactory settlement of the question was that the Leaders of both sides of the House were unwilling to trust Parliament to legislate with freedom. They wanted to have a rope round the neck of Parliament. The Leaders on his own side of the House were, he was sorry to say, using the 2,000,000 of capable citizens, whose right to enfranchisement they had admitted, as a sort of lever, to force from the Government a Redistribution Bill, 1149 when no compulsion was necessary to attain that object. He had rather a strong opinion with regard to the wisdom of using the rights of those 2,000,000 of persons for that purpose. In his humble judgment, the Conservative Party had got hold of a very ugly and dangerous edged tool in this matter. It was not impossible that the 2,000,000 of capable citizens might resent their rights being made use of in this way for the purpose of putting a screw upon the Government; and he thought that they would probably look to the votes of hon. Members on the second reading of the Franchise Bill rather than to their speeches. If he were a county Member he should be sorry to have to face the newly-enfranchised electors whom they had deprived of their privileges until they had got concessions from the Government on the mere question of procedure. He did not acquit the Prime Minister in this matter, because he had been attempting to use the Franchise Act, when passed, as a lever to force the passage of a Redistribution Bill by a Parliament quite willing to pass it without force. He thought that the solid sense of the country would repudiate any attempt to coerce Parliament, or to induce them to act otherwise than with perfect freedom. He hoped that the determination to repudiate all kinds of coercion would find an echo on both sides of the House. Holding those views, his desire would be to pass the Franchise Bill nem. con. through the House of Commons. Why should any Party in that House desire to make enemies of the new voters? They could not keep them out if they would, and they would not keep them out if they could. As he had said, the people would look more to their votes than to the speeches of hon. Members; and he believed that Members on the Opposition side who might hereafter become candidates for populous constituencies would find it very hard to explain their conduct in voting against the second reading of the Franchise Bill. They might profess a desire for the enfranchisement of the county householder; but they would find a great number of people, both in boroughs and counties, who would say—"If they voted against the franchise they do but flatter with their lips and dissemble in their double hearts." Why should the Conservative 1150 Party run their heads against a stone wall upon a mere question of procedure? If there was to be a Tory Party in the future they must rely upon that solid Conservative sentiment which history had proved existed among the masses of the people of this country. The days of privilege and of exclusiveness had gone by for ever. The Opposition had a great case to bring against the Government before the constituencies. They had a case of disaster in our foreign relations, and of indifference to our Imperial interests. If they were so ready to impeach the Government, why not impeach them before the country at large—why should they make a futile attempt to pack the jury and make enemies by alienating those whom they could not get rid of by any chance? Supposing that the screw was put on the Government, and violent measures were used for the purpose of inducing them to proceed with their Redistribution Bill, he believed that the passing the Franchise Bill, in the way he had suggested, unanimously through the House of Commons would give the Opposition an enormous lever with the constituencies. A great number of the Members on the Government side of the House, he believed, would very cordially approve of that course. Whatever might be the fate of the Bill in the other House, he, for one, hoped the Government would give hon. Members every opportunity of doing their duty. That duty, he understood, was to make the most rapid progress they possibly could according to the procedure indicated by the Government with a complete measure of Reform which the country desired to see passed. He regretted very much that the Prime Minister in his speech did not announce any definite intention of introducing and proceeding with the Redistribution Bill as soon as the Franchise Bill had passed that House; and he hoped that Her Majesty's Government would take into consideration the possibility and the propriety of adopting such a course. If the Government did adopt that course, he would promise to give them the most cordial and candid assistance. He believed that on both sides of the House there were a large number of Members who were sincerely desirous of seeing this question settled; and he hoped that both a Franchise and a Redistribution 1151 Bill would become law during the present Session.
§ MR. FIRTH
observed, that it was a most interesting question how far the admirable speech which had just been addressed to the House by the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) was inspired, and how many followers he had in the House. It was to be regretted that, so far as was at present known, the hon. and learned Gentleman had not yet persuaded his Leaders to adopt his views on the subject under consideration. Those views were only new as entertained by a Conservative, for the Liberals had been placing them continuously before the country during the last three or four months. The anxiety of the Conservative Party to pass the Franchise Bill was one of the most remarkable features of the present situation. It was now said that the question at issue should be left for the decision of the constituencies. He did not know why they should not be satisfied with the reference to the constituencies in 1880. There was one point in the tactics of the Conservatives which led him to doubt the reality of their anxiety for the Franchise Bill. He could not understand their tactics, because if the Franchise Bill were passed and redistribution were brought forward, a great number of difficulties would arise which would give their opponents the opportunity of dividing the Liberal Party. It might be asked why the Government did not introduce a Redistribution Bill at once. The answer was—and it seemed to him an excellent one—that the difficulties attending redistribution were such that many Members might take advantage of them for the purpose of throwing the Franchise Question over altogether. It was perfectly evident that if the Government were to introduce any Redistribution Bill whatever until the Franchise Bill was passed there would be such opposition directed against it from various points as to enable the franchise scheme altogether to be destroyed. Redistribution took a much longer time for discussion in 1832 than the Franchise Bill; and he ventured to say that if a Redistribution Bill proposed only to disfranchise Bridport, Eye, and Woodstock, the whole time of Parliament, having regard to the capacity for discussion of the Representatives of those constituencies, 1152 would be taken up by those Members alone. Having regard to their experience of the time occupied by the Franchise Bill last Session, it was very surprising to find the right hon. Baronet the Member for North Devon stating at Newcastle that the Redistribution Bill could easily have been passed together with the Franchise Bill last Session. It was said that if the Franchise Bill was passed without redistribution it would create a number of anomalies; but those anomalies would not be greater than the present ones. He was glad to find that the Prime Minister had adopted so firm a tone; and he hoped that, having taken up their present attitude, the Government would maintain it, and would not introduce a measure of redistribution until the Franchise Bill was safe through the House of Lords.
§ MR. DALRYMPLE
said, he gathered that the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down thought the present Parliament could not deal with the question of redistribution; and he further contended that no measure of redistribution ought to be introduced until the Franchise Bill had passed through the House of Lords. He (Mr. Dalrymple) inferred from that, that if the Government then found themselves face to face with the inherent difficulties of redistribution, which had been so graphically described, they would decide not to deal with that question, but to go to the country on the Franchise Bill alone. He was not disposed to complain of the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst), who had a perfect right to his independent opinion, which he always expressed in the House. But if he were inclined to complain of it at all, he thought the hon. and learned Member had been sufficiently punished by the effusive and laboured eulogium of the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Firth). He (Mr. Dalrymple) could not help thinking, when the hon. Member for Chelsea denied the possibility of dealing with the complete question of Reform in one Session, that it would not have been so very impossible if only the Government, in the Session in which they intended to deal with the question before, had not brought forward a great mass of other legislation with which they did not seriously intend to deal. He referred, of course, to such measures as the Bill for the Government of London, 1153 which certainly was a question not suitable to be introduced in a Session in which Parliament was to be asked to deal with the question of Reform. Unlike the hon. and learned Member for Chatham—with many of whose remarks he found himself in considerable agreement—he intended to support the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. E. Stanhope). He was always sorry, in reference to the Franchise Bill, if a construction were put on a vote in favour of such an Amendment that it was a vote against the Bill, and there was none who felt that more keenly than he did, for it so happened that he enjoyed the singular privilege of being the only surviving Conservative Member who voted in 1874 with his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Trevelyan). It was true, as he explained in a subsequent year, that he did not think it wise, year after year, to press the question on a then reluctant Parliament, and he gave effect to that opinion by a vote in, he thought, 1876. At all events, having always considered that an extension of the franchise was a necessary corollary of the legislation of 1867, he had no difficulty in resuming in the present year the attitude which he formerly took up when the question was not quite so popular as it was now. He could not help noticing, in passing, when reference was made to the conversion of Members of the Conservative Party on this question, the number of conversions that had taken place on the other side of the House. When they heard the Conservative Party charged with being secretly opposed to the extension of the franchise and with distrust of the people, he could not help remembering that, in some of those years when the present Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster brought forward this question, his right hon. Friend complained that he had three great opponents to contend against—the Prime Minister of that day, The Times newspaper, and what he then described as the late Solicitor General. The late Solicitor General to whom he referred was the present Home Secretary. So that if there had been conversions on the Conservative side of the House, conversions on the other side had been equally notorious, and not of so very remote a date. But passing from that, he agreed with the hon. and 1154 learned Member for Chatham in what he said as to the approximation which had taken place between the opinions on both sides of the House with reference to this question. It was admitted that the principle of the extension of the franchise was now accepted by both sides; but he presumed still to hold that the question which they had urged both in and out of Parliament was also of paramount importance—that they should have the whole measure of the Government scheme of Reform before them. He saw two maps the other day in an able evening journal, which professed to give an account of the number of meetings held in the country on the one side or the other during the Recess. He did not know that he attached special importance to the number of meetings, or to the number who attended the meetings, on one side or the other. He should think from the nature of the case it was highly probable that a greater number of meetings was held in favour of the Franchise Bill, because if they asked people to believe the Franchise Bill was in danger, undoubtedly they could get numerous and largely attended meetings in support of the Bill. Many of those who got up the meetings knew perfectly well the Franchise Bill was not really in danger, and that what was contended for on the Conservative side was not that the Franchise Bill should not pass, but that they should have the whole scheme of Reform before them. He had heard with satisfaction much of the speech of the Prime Minister to-night. He recognized not only the conciliatory spirit of that speech, but he regarded with satisfaction the sketch of the scheme of Redistribution which the right hon Gentleman had put before them. He recognized in that sketch something of the sketch which the right hon. Gentleman put before the House last Session. But why, if the right hon. Gentleman was anxious to advance his scheme of Reform, as he believed the right hon. Gentleman was, did he not go one step further, and having shadowed forth the scheme of Redistribution, undertake to lay it on the Table of the House after the Franchise Bill had passed this House? If he had done that it would not only have been conciliatory, it would have been much more; it would have shown the House and the country that he was anxious to meet 1155 the fair demand which the Conservative Party had made—a demand which was according to precedent—and by so doing he would have found he would have greatly facilitated the passing of the measure of Reform. He sometimes wondered if hon. Gentlemen opposite seriously disputed the contention which the Conservatives made. It was difficult for him to believe that they did not feel the force of that contention, especially as it was well known that they only contended for what had been granted in former times—namely, the exhibition of the full scheme of Reform—a contention which, when the last measure of Reform was before Parliament, was advocated by two men who were now Members of Her Majesty's Government at the present time. They had heard a good deal about a crisis at the present time. He had sometimes been inclined to question what the nature of the crisis was. It was not seriously stated, he thought, that it was a crisis of the country; but was it really a crisis of the Franchise Bill? Could that, for one moment, be said to be true? If it had been said hitherto, it could not be said after what had passed to-night. He believed, if crisis there were, it was a crisis of the Government. The difference of opinion which existed was not a difference of opinion between the House of Parliament and the country. It was a difference between the majority of the other House and the Minister of the day. As he had said, he believed if the Minister of the day—a phrase he used in preference to the Ministry of the day—had gone one step further than he did to-night, and had promised to lay on the Table of the House a scheme of Redistribution on something like the lines which he had described, he believed the right hon. Gentleman would have found that much of the difficulty with which he had to contend would disappear. He agreed entirely with the spirit of part of the remarks of the Prime Minister when he spoke of dealing with this question, not in a partizan or Party spirit, but in a wider and more generous spirit. He (Mr. Dalrymple) did not envy the man who had hoped, out of this present excitement with reference to the Reform Question, to catch the passing breeze of partizan support. He did believe, as had been said more than once, that there was nothing in the issue between them 1156 which could not easily be settled if only there was a disposition to settle it. But, as the hon. and learned Member for Chatham pointed out, there was an element which rendered the settlement of the question a difficult one, and that was, that there was a number of Gentlemen in the House, and a certain number of persons outside the House, who were looking beyond the present controversy, and were endeavouring to import into it notions of a more extended change than had anything to do with it. He had a doubt whether, in the event of the passing of this measure, those persons would easily be disposed to part with their cry against the House of Lords. But, be that as it might, he could only say that while he supported the Amendment of his hon. Friend with the utmost heartiness, believing that the Conservatives were contending, as they were in the early part of the year, for what was absolutely just—namely, that they should see the complete scheme of the Government—he did sincerely desire, as there was a considerable approximation of opinion between the two sides of the House on this question, that there might still be found a means of reconciling the differences which remained; and he believed it was quite within the power of Her Majesty's Government, if they were so disposed, to introduce a scheme of Redistribution which would strengthen the representative institutions of the country, and which would give satisfaction to both Parties in the State.
§ MR. GREGORY
said, that, while recognizing the conciliatory speech of the Prime Minister as one worthy of himself and of the occasion, the real question was whether the right hon. Gentleman could not go one step further than he had done. He could not help thinking that the right hon. Gentleman spoke, not from an abstract idea of the question, but from a concrete one—that he had, in fact, a complete scheme in his own mind, and if it was not actually framed, yet it was in such a condition as would shortly enable it to be laid on the Table. He (Mr. Gregory) was as anxious as any hon. Member to pursue a conciliatory course on this occasion; and he would, therefore, seriously entreat the Prime Minister, if he had such a scheme as that suggested, to lay it at once on the Table. They were very much in the 1157 position of litigants who approximated closely to each other on material points at issue, and who only needed the interposition of one or two judicious friends to arrive at a complete settlement. If the Prime Minister would communicate the details of his Bill to some hon. Gentlemen of moderate opinions, whose weight and authority were recognized by the Conservative Party, and if its details were discussed on both sides, some settlement might be arrived at, and a measure might be produced acceptable generally to the country. The Prime Minister was bound to lay before the House the details of the measure which he had shadowed forth, and to do so before he called upon it for a final vote in regard to the measure now before it.
§ MR. ILLINGWORTH
said, that in the speeches to which the House had already listened it was manifest that what was in the mind of every speaker was really the subject of Redistribution, and not that of Franchise. He thought no stronger evidence could be adduced of the wisdom which dictated the policy of the Government in separating these two questions. If they had the two subjects before them, Members would have passed from one subject to the other, and it would have been almost impossible to maintain an orderly debate. He thought that, if they might judge from the speeches that had been already made, the Conservative Party had become reconciled to the passage of the Franchise Bill. That being so, he could only wonder that this measure should be again delayed, and that the Conservative Party did not co-operate in getting it out of the way so as to make progress with the serious question of Redistribution. He had had many opportunities of judging public opinion as shown at large meetings in various parts of the country; and he did not hesitate to say that no issue could be so destructive to the power of the Conservative Party as a repetition of the action of the House of Lords with regard to this Bill. If it were again rejected, it would be almost impossible for the Conservative Party to stand up against the odium which would be generated throughout the country during the winter. He maintained that the Bill which they were now discussing was in itself a compromise. The hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) had expressed a wish that the 1158 Prime Minister had gone a step further, and given them some assurances as to the Redistribution Scheme, and had said that under those circumstances the Bill would have had an easy passage through that House. But even if the Liberal Party were disposed to bring in a one-sided Redistribution Bill they would be powerless to carry it. If they were to attempt anything like jerrymandering, they would lose all their popularity and power in the country. He hoped the Conservative Party would do all that was necessary in influencing a noble Lord who exercised such an influence in "another place." He was satisfied the longer the settlement of this question was put off the more drastic would its nature be. For his own part, he should prefer that there should be a general understanding come to, by means of which the present measure should be allowed to pass through both Houses, and by which a Redistribution Bill might be placed on the Statute Book as soon as possible. As to the Redistribution Scheme which the Government would propose, he feared it was not such a scheme as would be acceptable to the Advanced Liberal Party. The words of the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) should be well weighed. He believed the Liberal Party had done with compromise, and he trusted the Government would not move one step further in that direction, and he did not hesitate to say the country would ratify the course they had taken.
§ MR. BIDDELL
Sir, when I came into the House, I, as an independent Member, did not know on which side I was going to vote, for I felt convinced that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) would have suggested some practical course satisfactory to both Parties; but though he has spoken with great suavity and gentleness—to use his own term—yet he has done nothing of the sort; the Bill, therefore, is no forwarder than it was months back. In the Recess the noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Hartington) made a most statesmanlike, conciliatory speech, which I was delighted to read; but I much regret that nothing has come of it. After all, what do the Lords require? Simply that they should have a general knowledge of Part 2 before they pass Part 1 of this great Reform Bill. I think, seeing how the two Parts so intimately affect 1159 one another, their request a reasonable one. But for the sake of argument let us assume that it is a whim or prejudice of the Lords; it would then be well for the Government to humour it, for the purpose of speedily passing the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman would then show that his anxiety to pass the Bill was greater than his apparent dislike to the Lords. The Government has argued against such a course; but, under the force of circumstances, they could most honourably pursue it. We are told that the Redistribution Bill is now ready; but the Government practically tells its supporters that if it lets them know what it contained, they would not pass the Franchise Bill. A more unjust reflection could not be cast upon them, for more faithful followers no Government ever had; for, indeed, hardly one faithless Member can be found amongst them. The Government views could easily be made public, without formally placing them on the Table, either of this or the other House. I cannot appreciate the secrecy of the Government, for, if I mistake not, our countrymen hate secrecy, but will fully value openness and candidness. Statesmanship is shown in devising good measures, and proclaiming them to the country. The Premier has indicated that he would give more information respecting the Seats Bill, but it has not been asked for. I would now ask, are boroughs of less than 10,000 inhabitants to lose their Members? Are those of 40,000 to be winged by losing one Member? Is grouping of large towns to be carried out, thus preventing the counties being swamped by town population? And is the anomaly to be continued of county residents being unable to vote for their property in the boroughs, while the residents in the latter are still to vote in respect of their freeholds in the counties? Even now, if the Government would pursue this course and treat the House with confidence and adopt a conciliatory course, my vote shall not be found in opposition to them.
§ MR. SAMUEL SMITH
said, he warned hon. Members opposite not to be misled by the quiet tone within the House into thinking a similar state of feeling prevailed without. In the country the agitation had reached a point which might be described as alarming. It was no satisfaction to him to see such a growth of sentiment out-of-doors, as he 1160 desired to see great Constitutional questions settled in a Constitutional manner, and not by a wild demagogic agitation. Out-of-doors this question was coming almost exclusively to be regarded as a struggle between the two Houses, and the issue was which should prevail—the elective or the hereditary? Was that the state of things which Conservatives could regard with much satisfaction? He had no desire to see the agitation assume a revolutionary character, which it would certainly assume if it continued much longer. He could foresee during the coming winter a state of things which they would all deplore if the Franchise Bill were thrown out a second time. There was great distress prevailing, and serious questions as to the soundness of our social system. If the Peers invited this agitation, it would not only be directed against the Upper House, but against the aristocracy and the holders of property generally. He felt deeply afraid that there would merge out of the strife a new Party like the Social Democrats of Germany, and that the guidance of Parties would pass from the hands of wise statesmen into that of extreme and violent men who were watching their opportunity. It was considerations of that kind which made him, as a moderate man, desire to see a speedy settlement arrived at. True Conservatism would best be shown in the effecting of a speedy settlement of this question. If the irritation which existed led to the wrecking of this measure, history taught them that in a few years a much stronger one would have to be assented to, and that either the Tories or Liberals would have to pass a Bill for manhood suffrage and equal electoral districts. All men must see that was the goal to which they were drifting. There were many hon. Members on that side of the House who had no desire to swamp Conservative feeling, and who would not be parties to any unfair scheme of Redistribution, if such were proposed, which he was certain the present Government would not do. He could not conceive that any lines of redistribution could be drawn more fair or more just than those shadowed forth by the Prime Minister in his opening speech. It would be a hopeless task to try and pass the two measures combined. The Government possessed no means of driving this complicated measure through 1161 the House, except the certainty that the Franchise Bill would pass into law at a given time. That being the fact, he could not conceive the excessive unwillingness there was to permit the Franchise Bill to pass. The statesmanlike speech of the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) gave great comfort to him (Mr. Samuel Smith) and to others, and it held out some hope that this great controversy might be brought to a close without a violent dislocation in the country. Terrible times were in store for them if this question was kept open for a year or two. He hoped the two Houses of Parliament would soon join in passing this Bill, which preserved the ancient character of our Constitution.
MR. A. F. EGERTON
said, he thought a rather one-sided view had been taken of the agitation which had raged throughout the country during the Recess. He did not wish to minimize the importance of the agitation. It had doubtless intensified Radical feeling; but he doubted whether the Conservative working men had been affected in the slightest degree by the agitation. He spoke with some knowledge of working men, as he employed 5,000 of them in Lancashire, and he represented a constituency the great mass of which consisted of colliers and other working men. As far as his own experience went, he found no diminution of the Conservative feeling which undoubtedly did exist before the autumn agitation. He would appeal to his right hon. Friend's (Sir R. Assheton Cross's) testimony with regard to the meeting held at Wigan a short time ago. The colliers in South Lancashire were, to a very great extent, Conservatives, and the colliers were a very fair representative class of the working men throughout that county. He did not know what the agitation might be worth in other parts of the country. There had been a great deal of sound and fury in it, and large meetings had been held both by Liberals and Conservatives. The real question before them was, whether the Conservatives were justified in their contention that redistribution ought to be considered in connection with the extension of the franchise? The right hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright) might be quoted in support of that contention; but when the right hon. Gentleman was quoted he generally retorted 1162 that the quotation was a lie, or used words to that effect. When, however, his contradiction was analyzed, it simply amounted to this—that a quotation which applied to a state of things when the Conservatives were in Office was totally inapplicable to a state of things existing when the Liberals were in Office. He might also quote in support of the Conservative contention the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War (the Marquess of Hartington) and the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Fawcett) whose loss they had now to deplore. However, he would not go into that question, because he thought it had been debated sufficiently. He believed that the Conservatives had made out their case, not only in the House and in "another place," but also in the country; and the more the country examined the justice of their contention the more, he was convinced, would it be convinced of the justice of their arguments.
§ MR. ELTON
said, he thought that on his side of the House sentiments had been expressed with which the other side perfectly agreed. It afforded him great pleasure to recognize the spirit of conciliation and good feeling which the Prime Minister had shown in his speech. Throughout the excitement of the autumn he (Mr. Elton) had been one among the small minority who had always thought the question in dispute was a thing that ought to be settled; and as we belonged to a nation remarkable for its common sense, he had always believed that it would be settled, and he could not give up that belief. The Prime Minister laid down certain principles which would animate him in dealing with redistribution, and though they differed from the principles which the right hon. Gentleman personally laid down on a previous occasion, he thought the differences were in some respects for the better. What had frightened the Conservative Party on a former occasion was the idea that there was to be one rule to apply to Ireland by which the same number of Members were to be given to her as she had now, and another to apply to Scotland by which she was to have more, the result of which two rules would be that England would suffer. He thought, however, from what had been said, that the different portions of the United Kingdom would be regarded from the same point of view. The right hon. Gentleman 1163 the Prime Minister had asked on a former occasion, "What is it you Conservative Gentlemen fear?" The fear was two-fold; one was that there would be a General Election on the present constituencies without redistribution, so that the agricultural interest would be swamped; and the other was that there would be a Redistribution Scheme, as to which, though they could not exactly define the fear, they had distinct warning that it would be one which they would never pass except under pressure of time. But those two fears had been somewhat allayed by the conciliatory tone of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. He thought they should know a little more about the rules of redistribution, something that would not consist in mere generalities. Those rules could be drawn up by any three sensible men on either side of the House, and when they were drafted the victory of the Conservative Party would have been won. They wanted to come to business, and they wanted to come to figures, and he was quite sure that if they did so their unanimity would be wonderful.
MR. THOROLD ROGERS
said, that after the observations of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. E. Stanhope), who stated that he had "made a vulgar and coarse speech about the House of Lords," he felt bound to say a few words. These words if used by ordinary men or newspapers would not affect him at all. He had never made any attack upon individuals, and had always referred to classes and Parties. If he had cared to have done so, he could have amused his audiences over and over again with what he knew about individual Members of the House of Lords. He could even have told of an ancestor of the hon. Member himself who was known as "Jacobin Stanhope" and "Citizen Stanhope," the friend of Horne Tooke and Hardy, and who probably, if he had not been a Peer, would have been put into the dock beside them. He had never called the Leader of the Opposition the "Moloch of Mid Lothian," nor called a Member of the Opposition a "pinchbeck Robespierre," nor talked about "snivel and drivel." He had known many Members of the House of Lords who were ornaments of the Order to which they belonged. But what he said was that, collectively, they had not only been of no use, but had been unmitigated 1164 mischiefs. For 250 years, and for 250 years only, the House of Lords had been a political power in England, and he challenged anybody to find that during that time they had ever done a single just act or expressed a single generous sentiment. Some one had attempted to defend the House of Lords, on the ground that they interposed between Fox's India Bill and the King, but, in his opinion, so far from that being an action to be applauded, it was one of the basest acts in their base history.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is referring to the other branch of the Legislature, and I am bound to remind him that he must speak with respect of the House of Lords.
MR. THOROLD ROGERS
said, he would withdraw the expression at once. He would simply refer to the facts of the case, and he would say now, what he would probably say again, that a great many Members of the House of Lords ought not to be in any House of Assembly at all. Might he not remind hon. Members that Bills were constantly being brought into that House to settle the estates of noble profligates?
§ MR. FINCH-HATTON
I rise to Order, Sir. I wish to call your attention to the words just used by the hon. Member, after he has already been reproved for similar expressions.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The remarks of the hon. Member are, I think, regrettable, and I do not see that they are relevant to the Question now before the House—namely, the Franchise Bill.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
As the hon. Member has referred to observations of my own, I must direct his attention to the particular point that was in my mind. I was alluding in particular to the speech of the hon. Member wherein he compared the House of Lords to Sodom and Gomorrah, and to the collective abominations of an Egyptian temple.
MR. THOROLD ROGERS
repeated, that what he said then he said now, that during the whole period of the existence of the House of Lords he could discover no righteous act and no generous sentiment that had ever been advocated by them. In order to make plain what he meant to his audience of working men—who probably knew their New Testament better than hon. Gentlemen opposite—he had said that of such a record 1165 as that of the House of Lords he thought he could say, in the words of the New Testament—"It will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the Day of Judgment than for the House of Lords." He was bound to say that he was not at all inclined to retract anything he had said. He did not intend to allege the identity of the House of Lords with the cities of the Plain; he simply said that collective misconduct was to be interpreted under the principles of collective judgment. Having explained the expression he had made use of, he hoped, to the satisfaction of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. E. Stanhope), he would like to say a few words on the subject before the House. He gladly recognized the fairness of the Prime Minister's desire to bring about a generous understanding, on the points at issue, between all Parties; but he could not help entertaining the opinion that the Franchise Bill would leave untouched certain institutions which called for reform. For example, it was hard that the gentlemen known as "freemen" were still to flourish. He knew a borough in which the freemen sold their votes collectively to one candidate, and they might generally be regarded as constituting the worst possible form of manhood suffrage. Then when they misconducted themselves they were never punished. He lived in a borongh (Oxford) which boasted the presence of a Dean and Chapter, and all such boroughs were corrupt. The only explanation he could suggest of this was that the Deans and Chapters set up a standard of impossible virtue, and that the mass of the population rushed into the opposite extreme of degrading vice. Be that as it might, it was hard upon the ratepayers of Oxford that they should have been compelled to pay several thousands of pounds for a rotten Election Commission, which let off all the real culprits, and that not one single shilling should have come out of the pockets of the freemen. In 1832 the freemen were disfranchised by that House, but were restored to their position by that august and noble Assembly which met in an adjacent Chamber, just as that Assembly would always restore any mischievous and scandalous institution.
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! I must remind the hon. Member that his remarks are contrary to the principles of 1166 amenity which should guide the conduct of Members of this House in speaking of the other House.
MR. THOROLD ROGERS
said, that he did not mean to say anything uncivil of the other House; but there were occasions when one's feelings got the better of one's judgment. He objected to the enjoyment by one man of a plurality of votes. He (Mr. Thorold Rogers) possessed that most mischievous and noxious franchise known as the University franchise, and he had other votes besides. Why should he have more than one? He should be quite content with only one. A great many hon. Gentlemen on his side of the House were disinclined to swallow many of the things which the Prime Minister had placed in the Franchise Bill, in a spirit of conciliation, but for the sake of peace and compromise they had elected to accept them. It would be a mistake, however, to suppose that these things would be permanently settled on the lines which the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister had laid down. He felt sure that public opinion would oppose the system of the plural vote, and all fancy franchises. Neither would it be made to believe that any reason existed why members of a University should have votes, when members of the Inns of Court, of the Apothecaries' Company, and of the City Companies had none. It was idle to suppose that the people, whose minds had been stirred to their very depths by the facts that had been brought before them during the last three months, would remain quiet for ever after the passing of the Bill. They would, he felt sure, keep on agitating in order to bring about a really fair representation of the English people in Parliament.
§ MR. GUY DAWNAY
said, that he did not think it necessary to reply to the extraordinary and painful speech which the House had just heard. The mere fact that the hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Thorold Rogers) rose professing his habit of using gentle and generous language, and had then made so ill-conditioned a speech that he had been called to Order three times for speaking disrespectfully of another Chamber, was sufficient comment upon it. After the speech of the hon. Member they would be curious to hear whether Billingsgate was to be made a separate constituency under the new scheme of Redistribution. 1167 He had no desire to detain the House long on a subject so monotonously one-sided, or on a point so thoroughly threshed out, and, on their side, so amply proved, as the necessity of combining the operation of a Redistribution Act with the present measure for the extension of the suffrage. He could understand easily enough, of course, that, for the satisfaction, and with the applause, of an uneducated or prejudiced audience, the subject was capable of being distorted by a skilful use of the suppressio veri, and by a reckless employment of the suggestio falsi; and that, at least, they had seen demonstrated with all the weekly regularity of Saturday afternoon agitation. He could understand the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Chamberlain) amusing himself by playing with the intelligence of a Welsh audience, and smiling as they swallowed fallacy after fallacy amidst gulping cheers; but he could not understand how, amongst hon. Gentlemen occupying seats in that House, after the manner with which the measure had been turned inside out during the many heavy months that the discussion had endured, there should be any disposition still to deny the necessity of a Redistribution Bill being brought in contemporaneously with the Franchise Bill. One of the most notable features of the discussion had been the disposition of hon. Gentlemen on this particular point to swallow their own words—to repudiate them without mercy and without apparent memory either. In saying this, he had no wish to refer to all those bygone accusing pages of Hansard or of the daily Press that bore witness to the political acrobacy of various right hon. Gentlemen. It was to a very recent exemplification of this reversibility of reasoning he wished to allude, and he would like the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Chamberlain) to give the House some explanation with respect to the chief argument he had used the other day, when he went to sound his Ministerial war-whoop in Wales. He (Mr. Guy Dawnay) might, however, be wrong in using the word "war-whoop," because the right hon. Gentleman had explained that he expressly deprecated on the part of his audience any of that violence which, he reminded them, had been so useful on former occasions. He did that merely from his natural love of historical 1168 reminiscence; and, after that, any subsequent rioting could not, of course, be laid to the charge of the speaker, any more than, in the well-known instance, already alluded to that evening, of nailing a certain person's ears to the pump, that brutality was perpetrated in spite of the impassioned protest of another maligned and misconstrued orator. The right hon. Gentleman commenced his speech at Denbigh, a month ago, by declaring, with more modesty than waste of accuracy, his own inability to twist and turn and change his opinions, like the Tories. He accused us of changing every full moon, elated by the proud consciousness that it had taken him some 10 revolving moons to deliver himself of a brand new and totally opposite set of opinions as to the value of redistribution. And he then proceeded—Now, ladies and gentlemen, this question of the franchise is one which is especially interesting for the people of Wales. You have nothing to gain in any case from redistribution, although, if Lord Salisbury had his way, you would have a good deal to lose; but with regard to the franchise, it is altogether a different matter. Will you be content that these men should be deprived of all their rights, that this unjust and unreasonable disqualification should continue?Now, he would ask the House to compare those words with the opinions expressed by the same right hon. Gentleman in Birmingham last year. He then said—But, gentlemen, there is a more important question before us than the extension of the franchise. We have to see that an equal valne is given to the vote. It is no use increasing the number of voters, if you water them and minimize the political influence which the vote confers. It is no use putting 1,000,000 in the place of 100,000, if the 1,000,000 have no greater power than the 100,000.He would like to hear from the President of the Board of Trade how it was that an increase of voters without a corresponding increase and readjustment of the influence of their votes was condemned by him as absolutely useless last year, while this year the slightest delay in making that absolutely useless increase was denounced by him in inflammatory language as altogether unreasonable and unjust? Would the right hon. Gentleman, who so greatly deprecated inconsistency in others, condescend to explain this sudden alteration of his views between Wales and Warwickshire, between 1883 and 1884? Or was it possible that his views and logic were both 1169 somewhat warped by his eagerness to pay off that old reckoning of his with the House of Lords, and by his eagerness, by consulting a new, even if a watered, electorate, to avoid the chance of adding yet another "ejected Minister" to the records of his line? The Prime Minister made a direct statement in the House that evening which he had made also in Mid Lothian, and which had been likewise made lately by the right hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. Forster)—namely, that the extension of the franchise even without redistribution was in itself and by itself a good thing. Now, it appeared from the Return obtained by the hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Arnold) that 20,000,000 inhabitants in the counties of the United Kingdom, with nearly 3,250,000 electors, would return 283 Members, while the boroughs, with something more than 13,000,000 inhabitants and 1,920,000 electors, would return 360 Members; that was to say, that the counties, with 1,250,000 more electors and over 6,000,000 more inhabitants, would return 77 fewer Members than the boroughs. That meant that the voters in the boroughs would each possess more than double the influence, in a future Election, of the county voters, and the county Members would, in a new Parliament, have only half the influence which they ought to possess as against the borough Members, and which they would be required to exercise in maintaining the rights of the counties against those of the boroughs, either in settling a Redistribution measure, or on any other point on which the interests of borough and county might diverge. Nor was that all. The right hon. Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen) had said that in 30 county constituencies out of 95 this Franchise Bill meant an entire transfer of power from the rural to the urban element. That was to say, that in nearly one-third of the county constituencies they would give the whole of the electoral power to the boroughs, on the ridiculous pretence of widening the franchise of the counties in which the boroughs were situated. Therefore, they were giving to the boroughs not only double, but treble, the power they ought to possess, and with that enormous predominance of borough-elected, or virtually borough-elected Members, they proposed to settle the Redistribution Question, in which the 1170 interests of town and county were diametrically opposed. How the right hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) could honestly persuade himself that the urgency of adding to the electorate, even without waiting for redistribution, had suddenly in 1884 become so great that it was worth running the risk he had foreshadowed, or how the scruples which hon. Gentlemen on that (the Opposition) side of the House avowed as influencing them and forcing them to insist on the safeguard of a suspensory clause could be denounced as a baseless subterfuge for delay, he could not understand. Never was there a question on which the real point at issue was more deliberately disregarded, or a controversy which in itself was more easy of solution. There was no doubt in this dispute as to which of the Parties should give way—the Party which looked upon this as a mere point of procedure, or the Party which regarded it as a vital question of principle. The noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War (the Marquess of Hartington) had told the country that this was a mere matter of procedure. They (the Opposition) did not so consider it. They said it was a matter of principle; and that in resisting even the possibility of the extension of the franchise without, at the same time, readjustment and reapportionment of electoral power, they were loyally doing their best as a minority in that House, though—as he believed—not a minority in the country, to prevent a fatal blow being dealt at their whole representative system, and, through that, at the real liberties of the country.
§ MR. RAIKES
said, be was not going to follow the hon. Member for Southwark in his justification of the attack which that hon. Gentleman had made on the House of Lords, because the language used by the hon. Member was not likely to form an interesting subject of discussion either in that or the other House of Parliament. But the hon. Member was good enough to indicate a wish that in any scheme of redistribution the University franchise might be extinguished, and he went on to enforce that by saying that be had a vote for the University of Oxford. In reply to that he entreated the House not to think his constituents were to be judged by the sample they had come across to-night. But, coming to the main question, 1171 it was impossible to deny that those who sat on the Opposition Benches had listened with very mingled feelings to the speech in which the second reading of the Bill was moved. No one would dispute that that speech was very much more in accordance with their views than the last which they had heard from the same quarter. They could not forget that the third reading of the Franchise Bill in July was introduced in a speech which certainly had been considered as conveying to the other House of Parliament, if not a menace, at any rate an intimation of some terrible consequences which would follow upon their exercising their own judgment upon this measure. To-day they heard that the language then used not only by the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, but his Colleagues, had been rather the language of a kind host, who, perceiving his own house to be in flames, had invited his guest upstairs to descend before the fire reached him. It appeared to him rather like the language of a man who went about brandishing a torch in his hand and exclaiming to the inmate—"If you do not come out of the room you will find the house blazing about your ears." He did not see any reason why they should take any exception to the language or the spirit of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks in his speech on this question to-night; but he was afraid when they came to analyze the view he put before the House they would find that, excepting language, they had not gained very much. He had hoped against hope that they should have heard from the Prime Minister something that would give substantial effect to his evident desire for conciliation. The right hon. Gentleman still told them that the question of the Franchise cast the question of Redistribution into the shade, and that he could not deal with the question in the same or even in simultaneous Bills, otherwise the House would lose control over its own Business. He would have gladly seen the right hon. Gentleman in his place, for he wished to call attention to a reference which he (Mr. Gladstone) had made to a speech of his own. He had no exception to take to the verbal accuracy of the quotation; but he wished to point out how entirely the Prime Minister—no doubt, through 1172 misadventure—had misrepresented what he stated. He quoted the speech as saying—If the Redistribution Bill was introduced next year, it was very doubtful whether it would receive the Royal Assent before the 31st of July.He had used that argument to show how difficult it was to pass the two Bills separately, and he said it was absolutely impossible to pass a Franchise Bill and a Redistribution Bill in one Session, if you separated the one from the other, unless you came to an understanding with the Opposition. The Redistribution Bill which saw the light the other day proposed the disfranchisement of 110 seats, of which some 70 were occupied by Liberals. The Government passed the Franchise Bill by a majority of 130, as they were always telling the House, with the assistance of those 70 Gentlemen. Did hon. Members suppose that if their majority remained in other respects the same those 70 Members would vote for a Redistribution Bill which put their own seats in peril in the same way that they voted for the Franchise Bill? If they left the Redistribution Bill to take care of itself, Heaven help it among those 70 Members. The result would be that the course the Government took, while it secured the enthusiastic support of their more advanced adherents, would not please the moderate section so much. The position of the Government was not unlike that of a man who had to drive a cart heavily laden with all sorts of parcels of different sizes up a hill, and who, in order to please the spectators, cut the traces and galloped his horse up the hill as hard as he could, leaving himself to carry up his load as best he might—or, to take another illustration, suppose you wished to hit a mark you would naturally make up a cartridge for that purpose; but do you think it would be prudent or wise to expend all your powder in fireworks and feux de joie, leaving the bullet to propel itself by its momentum? He had always felt that in attempting to deal with redistribution alone, the Government had immensely increased their difficulties. Moreover, he believed that the object of a Reform Bill was to fulfil its title, and a Bill which aggravated every injustice and remedied none was not worthy of that title. They had heard some valuable 1173 statistics from his hon. Friend with regard to the enormous injustice done to the new constituencies by leaving them without redistribution. They found that the new constituencies in the counties would have something like twice the number of voters they had before, and the boroughs would thus have a double share of representation in comparison with the new county constituencies. People had talked about the question of Reform as if it was the only one which would be likely to occupy the attention of the House in the next two years. What would be the position of the country and the House if a change of Government was brought about in the course of 1886 by any other event, and they had a Minister called to power who would be entirely unable to command the majority in the existing House of Commons, but who would, under ordinary circumstances, have the Constitutional remedy of a Dissolution? Such a Minister would be debarred from exercising that Constitutional remedy, and would not be justified in going to the country without a much more certain means of forming a judgment of the position of his Government than any which he could possibly possess. That state of things meant that the present Government, if the House passed the Franchise Bill without Redistribution, was to be kept in Office for a whole year without the possibility of the Queen, or the House, or the country securing a change in the Administration. Thus they were placed in a position wholly and absolutely without precedent in this country or in any other country in the world, and one which could only be pregnant with the most serious evils and misfortunes, resulting from a state of affairs in which there was no possible way of ascertaining the real feeling of the English people. The Prime Minister, in speaking of the question of Redistribution that evening, said there were five principles which must underlie the question. The right hon. Gentleman said that the scheme must be large, that it must be framed so as to give satisfaction to those who believed that population should be represented, that it should not be complex, that it should be equitable to the different divisions of the country, and that it must be equitable between different classes and different pursuits. He thought it was hardly worth 1174 while that the Prime Minister should come there that evening and tell the House those things which were written in the very copy-book of politics. The points mentioned did not go one step further towards the root of the matter. He thought they might have heard some indication as to the limit to be fixed with regard to the return of Members, and as to whether they were to have an absolute extinction of small boroughs, or a grouping of boroughs. He also looked for some remarks with reference to the representation of minorities. No information, however, was given on any of those points; but, notwithstanding that, they no doubt would be told that the Prime Minister had displayed almost a too eager spirit of concession and conciliation in endeavouring to meet halfway a perverse and recalcitrant Opposition. No concession had really been made, though at the same time they gladly admitted the alteration in the tone of the right hon. Gentleman, and the more moderate spirit in which his remarks were made. The House might be quite prepared to give a just extension of the franchise, or even to go as far as the present Bill in swelling the existing county constituencies; but had the time not arrived when they ought to consider whether they should not retain for the future some portion of the representation which minorities had hitherto enjoyed? It had been stated that the present constituency of East Cheshire numbered 6,000 or 7,000; but that the new constituency, taken under the scheme of the Government, would be about 30,000. The existing constituency, therefore—that was to say, the persons who possessed property and who paid any appreciable amount in the shape of rates—would be absolutely submerged in the flood of the new electors. In the face of such a fact as that they ought to have regard to the right of representation put forward by minorities. He appealed to the Government not to put this question aside without some consideration and declaration. If he thought that the Government intended to accompany their Franchise Scheme with some measure that would give a just representation to the minorities in the large towns, he should regard the Bill now before the House with very much less doubt and anxiety than he did now. He entirely discountenanced 1175 the idea of making that House a branch of the Executive and the representative of the majority only in the constituencies of the country. He hoped that the Government would, before the House passed the Bill, state their views on the pressing question of the representation of minorities. Before concluding he desired to refer to a speech made by the right hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright), which contained the celebrated sentence, advising that any Franchise Bill which did not deal with Redistribution should be repudiated without mercy. The right hon. Gentleman, when he was asked whether this placard faithfully represented what he had said, was pleased to say that it was a lie, or used language equivalent to that. He challenged the right hon. Gentleman on that statement. In 1876 Mr. Lowe quoted this very passage in the House in the presence of the right hon. Gentleman. The passage was to be found in a speech delivered by the right hon. Gentleman in 1859 at Bradford, and was to be found in the 182nd volume of Hansard, page 1,715. When Mr. Lowe cited the passage on April 19, 1866, the right hon. Gentleman was unable to deny it. Would he deny it in 1884? He ventured now to say it was a lie. That occasion ought not to pass without the right hon. Gentleman explaining in his place what he meant, or did not mean, by the letter in which he denied the quotation. Whatever might be the character of that House in other respects, nothing was more precious than the absolute veracity of its Members. He would conclude by repeating his perfect conviction that if the Government wished to endanger the progress of the Franchise Bill and to delay the enfranchisement of 2,000,000 of persons, they could not do better than separate the two measures. From a speech made at Westminster the other day by the President of the Local Government Board (Sir Charles W. Dilke), it would appear that the Government were almost thirsting to receive suggestions about redistribution. But he would suggest that that was a matter for the Government, although he could assure them that any measure on the subject would be received by the Opposition with the fairest consideration.
§ MR. ARTHUR ARNOLD
said, he did not agree very much with the right 1176 hon. Gentleman who had just spoken; but he did so in one respect—namely, in the opinion expressed by the right hon. Gentleman that the question of redistribution of political power could never be settled in that House, unless there was a certain measure of consent between the two Parties. He did not propose to enter into any matter of detail, because he concurred in the views which had induced the Prime Minister to commend to the House a Bill which would otherwise have been thought of too Conservative a character. The hon. Member for the North Riding of Yorkshire (Mr. Guy Dawnay) had kindly alluded to a Return which had been ordered by the House at his (Mr. Arnold's) request. He felt it his duty to express his thanks to Her Majesty's Government for the readiness with which they had accepted the labours which it had been his privilege to devote to that Return. He did not agree with the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. E. Stanhope) or the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Raikes) in the reference they had made to the Amendment proposed to the second reading of the Bill, because he did not think any argument he or the most eminent Member of the House could adduce could be significant as compared with the overwhelming Resolution of the House itself. It had already declared its preference for dividing the subject into two separate parts; and it was idle, in the face of that overwhelming decision, for any private or official Member to argue the question. It was altogether beside the question for the right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge to quote the opinions of even so eminent a Member as the right hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright), because the question had been settled once for all by the House. They must all regret the cause which had led that evening to the absence of the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill); but apart from that lamentable cause, any hon. Member who felt an interest in the political career of the noble Lord, would be disposed to congratulate him on not having been in his place that evening to move the Amendment which stood in his name. [Mr. GORST: Hear, hear!] He had not expected the hon. and learned Member for Chatham to 1177 cheer that sentiment; but he thought when the noble Lord read the most able, logical, and undoubtedly successful speech of the hon. and learned Member, the distress under which he was suffering would receive considerable relief. There was one other reason why the noble Lord should have been the last man on the opposite side of the House to bring forward such an Amendment. In one of his speeches, the noble Lord stated that it was absolutely impossible for any Government or political Party to present any really unfair measure of redistribution of political power. That was one great security which the House possessed; and having listened attentively to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst), he could only express a hope that a Redistribution Bill would be introduced in the present Session, and be separated by as short an interval as possible from the Franchise Bill. He, for one, had always said, and was prepared to maintain, that there ought to be no needless separation between the two measures, and he would hail with pleasure the introduction of a Redistribution Bill this year. That, however, only could be done, of course, with due regard to the passing of the measure now under the consideration of the House. He had not been in the least degree surprised to hear the right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Raikes) deprecate the enfranchisement of 2,000,000 of capable citizens. The deprecation of that important measure came well from the right hon. Gentleman, who had no connection whatever with the representation of the people. He was not, however, surprised that the right hon. Gentleman had dwelt with considerable emphasis on the importance of the redistribution of seats, because he hoped that the representation of the Universities would be dealt with. He (Mr. Arnold) would rejoice if circumstances permitted the Government to introduce a Redistribution Bill during the present Session, and he could only suppose that that might be possible if Her Majesty's Government could obtain assurances for the satisfactory and secure progress of the Bill now under the consideration of the House. He thought there was great truth in the observation of the hon. and learned Member for 1178 Chatham (Mr. Gorst) in his interesting speech that evening—that the people of this country would be disposed to punish any political Party or person who obstructed the passage of this important measure. Every hon. Member must be aware that in the agitation which had taken place during the autumn the people had made very great sacrifices. He did not say the people of one Party or of the other; but it would be familiar to the minds of every hon. Member that hundreds of thousands of persons, and mostly working people whose time was of great value to themselves and families, had already made large sacrifices for what they believed to be the interests of the community. Those sacrifices had not been lightly made; and certainly he was disposed to agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman that the people of this country would visit very severely upon any political Party the offence that would, to their minds, be committed by any obstruction being interposed in the way of this great question. The people of the country, no doubt, felt keenly that a class, and that the smallest, but, at the same time, endowed with political rights infinitely larger than those of any other class in the country, should set themselves in opposition to the enfranchisement of 2,000,000 of their fellow-countrymen. That fact had produced a profound impression in the minds of the people of the country, and the possible consequences had been alluded to in suitable terms by the Prime Minister, although not in terms calculated to give offence to hon. Gentlemen opposite. There could be no doubt that the progress of this Bill towards enactment ought to be speedy and secure. He had read that day in a paper published for the information of Parliament, that the House of Lords had assured Her Majesty that they would give their most careful consideration to this matter. He had read also, in Her Majesty's own words, that she had been most graciously pleased to receive that pledge on the part of the House of Lords. He hoped that that careful consideration would be given, that it would be given in a more genuine manner than last Session, and that it might lead to the speedy accomplishment of this very great and most dutiful work.
§ MR. R. N. FOWLER (LORD MAYOR)
said, he was anxious to say a few words on this question, because he had not had the opportunity which many of his hon. Friends on that side of the House enjoyed of speaking upon it during the Recess. In consequence of the position he occupied, he had thought it better not to address any meeting outside his own constituency, and he had not, therefore, had an opportunity of expressing his feelings. No one, however, could say that, being the Representative of a great constituency, he was not fully within his right in desiring to say a few words on this most important question now before the House of Commons. He had seen it stated that there were only two persons who opposed this Bill on principle—namely, his right hon. Friend the Member for North Lincolnshire (Mr. J. Lowther) and himself. The right hon. Gentleman was well able to speak for himself, and, therefore, he (Mr. R. N. Fowler) would not speak for him; but, speaking for himself, he would say that he did not believe there was any feeling existing in this country which rendered it imperative for the Government to bring in this Bill. The country was, he believed, perfectly satisfied with the state of things that now existed, and there was no necessity at the beginning of last Session for introducing the Bill. He did not mean to say that when the question had once been brought under the notice of the country its solution could be any longer delayed. Her Majesty's Government had brought in their Bill, and it now became the duty of men of all Parties to consider what the best solution of this most important question was. He wished to point out most strongly that if it was necessary to deal with the question at all, it was desirable that it should be dealt with as a whole, and that they should have the Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill, without having a small portion of it brought into the House. He knew it had been alleged by hon. Gentlemen opposite, and even by the eminent authority of the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister himself, that the whole question could not be dealt with in one Session—that time did not permit of its being brought in and disposed of by the House in one Session. He knew that the right hon. Gentleman possessed a very great power of persuading himself that any view which he, for one moment, 1180 entertained was the correct view. Therefore, he believed the right hon. Gentleman was perfectly sincere when he said so; but if it were not for the respect he felt for the right hon. Gentleman he should certainly consider that statement to be simple nonsense. Let them look back to the history of the last Session of Parliament. Parliament was called together at a period later than usual. He believed the House met some four or five days later than the usual time. It would have been quite open for Her Majesty's Government to have called Parliament together two or three weeks earlier. That would have been quite possible last year. He knew there had been great complaints of the delay which had taken place in regard to the debate on the Address, and a Notice had been given by the hon. Member for Scarborough (Mr. Caine), the object of which was to get rid of the Address, in future, altogether. But if there had been great delays on the Address, he attributed it to the conduct of the noble Lord the Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Richard Grosvenor), for whom he entertained great personal regard, and with reference to whom he wished to speak with the greatest possible respect. Hon. Members would recollect the time when the position now occupied by the noble Lord was filled by Mr. Glyn, and Mr. Glyn invariably gave facilities to private Members for bringing on their Motions. Notwithstanding the regard he felt for the noble Lord, he felt bound to say this—and he thought private Members opposite who recollected the time he spoke of would agree with him—that they had not received the same facilities from the noble Lord as they did from Mr. Glyn. Mr. Glyn always endeavoured to keep a House on Tuesdays and Fridays; but the noble Lord had never felt himself called upon to do so. That being the case, it was not to be wondered at that private Members, finding it impossible to obtain facilities on Tuesdays and Fridays, felt that the only course open to them was to bring on their grievances upon the Address. Therefore, the delay which now arose in debating the Address was a necessary delay, and must be accepted as an accomplished fact. That being so, it would have been easy for the Government to call Parliament together at the beginning of January instead of the middle of February. But what did Her 1181 Majesty's Government do when Parliament met? Not only did they bring in this Franchise Bill, which was to be the great question of the Session; but they overburdened the Session with other measures. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Chamberlain) brought in a great Shipping Bill, which was so important a measure that the right hon. Gentleman in charge of it thought it necessary to make a speech of four or five hours in moving the second reading. Then, again, another right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary (Sir William Harcourt) brought in a Bill with regard to the Government of London. Now, one thing was obvious, that if these great questions—the question of the Merchant Shipping, was a most important subject, and interested many hon. Members on both sides of the House; while the question of the Government of London, it must be admitted by hon. Gentlemen opposite, was one on which a good deal might be said, especially upon its details in Committee—if those two questions were to be dragged through the House, it was quite evident that there would not be time for the consideration of a Reform Bill. If, on the contrary, Her Majesty's Government, when they called Parliament together, last year, had devoted their whole time and attention to the question of the Representation of the People in Parliament, he believed there would have been no difficulty in laying a complete Bill before the House. Every precedent was in favour of that course. References had been made by the Prime Minister, in the course of his speech, to the events which occurred in 1831 and 1832. There was no doubt that on both of those occasions the Bill which was brought in, and ultimately passed, was a Bill dealing with the whole subject. The late Earl Russell repeatedly brought Reform Bills into Parliament, and they were always complete measures. He knew that the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury was at the time a Colleague of Earl Russell, who was called up to the House of Lords, and the Bill which he himself introduced, in 1866, was a Franchise Bill ultimately supplemented by a Bill for the Redistribution of Seats. The Act under which our electoral system was now constituted was brought in by Mr. Disraeli in the following year, 1182 and was also a complete Bill; and he wanted to ask what would have been the difficulty in the way of Her Majesty's Government if they had brought in a complete measure in the early part of the year, and had devoted the whole power of the Government towards getting it through? There could have been no difficulty whatever in passing a satisfactory measure through both Houses of Parliament last Session. Why, then, had they only introduced a partial measure? He believed the reason was this—Her Majesty's Government did not want a complete measure. He was of opinion that the Liberal Party wanted no full Bill. He believed the idea of those who regulated that Party behind the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury—namely, the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Chamberlain) and his Friend Mr. Schnadhorst—was to bring in a Bill dealing with the Franchise only; to pass that Bill, and then to find excuses for diosolving Parliament before a Redistribution Bill was passed. ["Oh!"] He did not believe that that was the desire of the Prime Minister; but he believed that it was the real idea of the wire-pullers of the Liberal Party who wanted a Franchise Bill, but who did not want a Redistribution Bill. This Bill seemed to him to be a Bill to make the right hon. Gentleman a pseudo-Mayor of Paris. If the right hon. Gentleman was to be succeeded in that high position by his hon. Friend the Member for East Worcestershire, (Mr. W. H. Gladstone), as Pepin, succeeded Charles Martel, there would not be very strong objection to it; but he did not hear that his hon. Friend was mentioned in connection with that high position, and he therefore apprehended that the Successor would be found from below the Gangway. That was his idea about the Bill; and he believed the game of hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway to be this—to have a Franchise Bill passed, and then to offer one excuse after another—and it was always easy to find excuses at the close of a Parliament for dissolving Parliament—which would have the effect of giving the Liberal Party another six years' lease of power. They could not hope that the right hon. Gentleman would continue to be Prime Minister many years longer, and probably the right hon. Gentleman the President 1183 of the Board of Trade (Mr. Chamberlain) would be able, six years hence, to bring in a Redistribution Bill, and to make the same appeal to the country which was being made now—namely, "The majority of the House of Commons have passed the Bill, and it is very wrong and unjustifiable for noble Lords in 'another place' to interfere with it." Under those circumstances, he certainly thought hon. Members on that side of the House were bound to give the Bill their most strenuous opposition. The agitation which had taken place during the Recess had not been directed so much against the Conservative Party in that House as against its Friends in "another place." They had been told that the House of Commons was the popular House, and that noble Lords in "another place" were bound to bow to the decision of the Representatives of the people. If Her Majesty's Government had brought in this Bill in the year 1881, he should have thought there was a good deal in that argument, although certainly, in that case, he should have been prepared to maintain that the country had not really been consulted on the questions involved in the Bill. When the country was appealed to in 1880, the Parliament had almost come naturally to its end. It could not have lasted, and right hon. Gentlemen opposite made their appeal to the country against the wicked foreign policy of the Earl of Beaconsfield's Government. They made their appeals against the wars in Afghanistan and in South Africa, and against the European policy of the Government, and they called upon the country to dispossess the Conservatives, and place them in power. The country responded to that appeal. He was not going into the question whether the result of the change had been to strengthen their Empire in India, to bring them honour in South Africa, or to increase their position in Europe. That was not the question to consider on the present occasion. What he did maintain was, that this question of Parliamentary Reform was very casually alluded to at the time of the Dissolution. It was merely a bye-question, and hon. Gentlemen opposite were elected, as regarded the question, in the same way, as, going back some 25 years ago, they would find that hon. Gentlemen pledged themselves to 1184 support the Ballot, believing it not to be a practical question. He was of opinion that hon. Gentlemen opposite, in the same way, had pledged themselves to an extension of the Franchise, believing that it was not a practical question. ["No!"] Hon. Gentlemen said "No!" He was only giving his own opinion, but he thought there was substantial evidence in support of what he said. He believed he was correct in stating that in the Prime Minister's Mid Lothian speeches, only two lines were taken up with this question; and when hon. Members took up the Franchise Question, although, to a certain extent, they pledged themselves to it, it was not the question upon which they fought the Election. If it had been, it would have been the bounden duty of the Government opposite to have taken the question in hand in the year 1881. Nothing of the sort was done; but, on the contrary, the question was deferred to the tail end of the Parliament. After Parliament had been sitting for four years, and then with a Dissolution impending, the Bill was brought in as a cry to go to the country upon. That was his opinion in regard to the present Bill. He maintained that if, four years after the election of the Parliament, the question was to be discussed, the time had come when this very important issue ought to be submitted to the constituencies. It was not a question to be decided by a moribund Parliament, but by the people of England. He knew they were told that the people had held meetings throughout the country in favour of the Bill. Hon. Gentlemen opposite had held many meetings, and had been supported by large demonstrations in Hyde Park and Aston Park, in Birmingham, and in other places; but it seemed to him that there was but one Constitutional appeal to the people of England—namely, an appeal to a General Election. They were told by hon. Gentlemen opposite that they did not fear that result; but it appeared to him that if they did not fear that result, they would resort to it with greater willingness than they were now displaying. If they were as confident as they professed to be in that House, they would more heartily appeal to the people of England, and welcome the result of such an appeal in giving them a new lease of life. When he found Her Majesty's 1185 Government proclaiming by their acts that they dared not face the present constituencies, the conclusion forced itself upon his mind that they were afraid of the result of an appeal to the people; and it was because they feared an appeal to the present constituencies that they were endeavouring to pass this Bill through a moribund Parliament. They had heard a great deal of abuse of the other House of Parliament. It seemed to him that when that illustrious House declined to pass a Bill until they knew what the whole scheme of Her Majesty's Government was, they were not only taking a Constitutional course which no one disputed, but they were simply doing their duty to the people of England. They had heard not only menaces, but a great many warnings held out to that illustrious Assembly, that if they did not choose to bow to the will of the House of Commons they must take the consequences. Now, he said most sincerely that if that Assembly was to fall, he should like them to fall like gentlemen. He should like them to fall fighting for a good, great, and Constitutional cause, and not simply to submit to the dictation of a Government and a subservient majority in the House of Commons. What was it that hon. Gentlemen were doing? They asked the House of Lords to pass this Bill; and what was to be the result of their refusal? They said—"If you do not pass this Bill, you will raise great Constitutional questions which may threaten the very existence of the House of Lords." If the House of Lords submitted to that degradation, and if, under that threat, they consented to pass the Bill, the result would be that they would place themselves in this position—that whatever the House of Commons sent up, no matter at what period of the Parliament it was sent up, no matter whether it was a new Parliament, a Parliament fresh from the constituencies, or a Parliament which had been sitting for many years, and no matter whether it was a question on which the constituencies had not been consulted, they would have to submit to the dictation of the House of Commons. They were also warned not to raise the question of a Second Chamber. He knew that hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway opposite were prepared to maintain that this country should be governed by one 1186 House of the Legislature only. He saw that an eminent Member of the House—the junior Member for Newcastle (Mr. John Morley)—had publicly advocated that course, and that other hon. Gentlemen were prepared to follow the views of the hon. Member; but he apprehended that many of them were of opinion that a Second Chamber should be constituted of men of experience in the law and in other matters. Did hon. Gentlemen really believe that if they were to have a Second Chamber at all, if they were to get men of position and eminence in that country to sit in such a Chamber, that they would consent to be a mere Parliament of Paris, to register the decrees of a Louis Quatorze, or of the Prime Minister of the day. They might depend upon it that any alteration of the constitution of that Second Chamber would only make it a more powerful Body than it was at the present moment. He maintained that if that illustrious Assembly—[a laugh]—hon. Members opposite sneered at the idea of the House of Lords being an illustrious Assembly; but he apprehended that the eloquence of that Assembly would not be disputed if hon. Members would take the trouble to walk to the other end of the Corridor and listen to a debate. He was prepared to say they would find that the eloquence of that Assembly would vie with anything in the House of Commons, and probably, with the exception of the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, there were five or six noble Lords in the other House far superior to any orators in the House of Commons. What he was going to say was that if that illustrious Assembly was simply to become a registering Body of the decrees of the House of Commons, they would much better consult their honour and their dignity by not consenting to fill such an ignominious position. They were told to avoid questions of this kind, and to avoid a great Constitutional crisis, and yet the way in which that was to be avoided was by lowering their own dignity, by consenting to degrade themselves, and by condescending to become the mere subservient tools of the Government and the majority of the day. He hoped the House of Lords would never consent to occupy such a position, and that position could not be brought about except by great Constitutional changes, 1187 He did not see how such Constitutional changes were to be brought about without a civil war, which he was quite satisfied the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister had no wish to bring about. He trusted that if ever such a dire calamity were threatened, the House of Lords would be heartily supported by the great Conservative Party which sat in that House. He would say, in conclusion, that if that illustrious Assembly could be so false to its honour and its interests as to give their consent to this Bill at the dictation of Her Majesty's Government, then good-bye to the greatness of the British Empire.
§ MR. GRANTHAM
said, that hon. Members must have been very much struck with the difference between the manner and the matter of the observations which had been made that night. As far as the matter was concerned, it might be supposed that they were on the eve of a Revolution, yet he was happy to say that no desire to draw the sword was evinced either on the part of his hon. Friends, or by anybody on the other side of the House. Hon. Members, not only in the House but throughout the country, had been discussing the question as if the House of Lords were placing themselves at the present time in the same position of antagonism to the wishes of the people as they did in 1831 and 1832, and that the same feeling of anger, which was undoubtedly felt against them then, was felt and experienced against the House of Lords now. Moreover, that the same feeling that would have induced 100,000 men to march from Birmingham upon London, not for the purpose of expressing their feelings, but if necessary to give effect to those feelings by blows, animated the minds of the people at the present moment. It was idle to say that the anger referred to a short time ago by the hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Arnold) was anything of that kind. The only anger which existed had been stirred up by the false statements which had been made at the meetings called in behalf of the Government. The hon. Member for Salford had said very truly that the only chance of carrying a Redistribution Bill in that House was by endeavouring to get the Government to take the matter in hand, and to deal with it as if they desired the benefit of the country at large, and not of a particular 1188 Party in the State. But he wanted to know what chance there was of having the question dealt with by the Government in a friendly spirit if the Conservative Party were to be met as they had been that night, and during the whole of the Recess? Hon. Members on that side of the House were anxious that not only the question of redistribution, but that the entire question, instead of being dealt with as a Party question, should be dealt with as a whole, for the benefit of the country. Hon. Members opposite contended that the franchise portion of the scheme must be dealt with as a Party question. To use the expression of the Prime Minister, a claim was made that it should be dealt with by the majority; and the moment the majority had driven their bargain, and dictated the character of the Franchise Bill, and the Conservative Party in this House, and in the Lords, had unconditionally surrendered on that part of the question, then they would take Parliament into their confidence, and ask it to join with them in carrying a Redistribution Bill for the benefit of the country. He did not think that was the way the Opposition should be dealt with, if it were really desired by the Government that the whole question should be dealt with by the present House of Commons. He would remind the House of what took place in 1866—of what took place prior to the settlement of 1867. The propriety of extending the franchise in the boroughs had been the common topic of debate in that House, and had been considered by various Governments, from 1850 down to the time of the Bill of 1867, not the question of the franchise accompanied by redistribution, but the simple question of the reduction of the franchise. Every successive Government experienced the same difficulty in dealing with that question. They failed to settle it; they all treated it as a Party question; and it was not until 1867, when Mr. Disraeli took the question in hand, and appealed to the House to assist him, and placed the matter in the hands of the House, that the question of the franchise in the boroughs was settled in a way that was satisfactory to the country. That being so, he was entitled to appeal to the past history of the question in the House of Commons in order to ascertain whether the Government were really in earnest in their desire 1189 to settle the question by endeavouring to ride rough-shod over the minority of the House by insisting that their mechanical majority should decide one part of the question, but not the other. When the House of Commons gave way upon that branch of the subject, Her Majesty's Government would then agree to take it into their confidence in regard to the redistribution of seats. The hon. Member for Salford alleged that the people were very angry, that they had made very great sacrifices, and that they would punish those who prevented the passing of the Bill. Why were the people angry? No doubt, the constituents who returned the hon. Member for Salford might be angry. Why was that? It was because they had been misled, and had had false statements made to them by hon. Members opposite, who were the chief sinners on this head. He defied them to refer to a single speech made by the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Chamberlain) at Birmingham in which he had put before the people the real question at issue, and made them understand that the question was not whether they should have the franchise or not, but whether the Franchise Bill should be passed in conjunction with a Redistribution Bill or not. In every speech made by the right hon. Gentleman he had told the people that the real fight the House of Lords were making was to prevent them from having the franchise altogether, and not that all they insisted upon was in having what the Liberals had told them a very short time ago was the necessary sequence and a part and parcel of this question of the franchise—namely, a redistribution of seats. No doubt, under these circumstances, the people would be angry. He believed they would vent their resentment upon hon. Members opposite when they found out how, for Party ends, they had been deceived. If the hon. Member for Salford had been as guilty—he did not say that the hon. Member had been anything like as guilty as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain)—of misrepresenting the facts of the case, it was very likely his constituents would express their anger with him by sending him about his business. With regard to the speech of the Prime Minister, he had not been surprised at the language the right hon. Gentleman had used. Of 1190 course, that language was courteous; but the right hon. Gentleman had expressed his determination that there should be no surrender at all on the part of the Government. He had practically told them the same thing in his speech on the Address; but what had struck him (Mr. Grantham) most was the declaration that it was absolutely necessary to keep the two measures of franchise and redistribution separate, and that it would be fatal to bring them forward together. If it would be fatal, as the right hon. Gentleman argued, to the franchise and to redistribution to bring both Bills in together, why had the right hon. Gentleman sketched out and shadowed forth the principles on which the Redistribution Bill was to be framed? It was very much like a sop in the pan, or the children's game of "cherry bob," where the cherry was allowed to touch the lips, but never to enter the mouth. If, as the right hon. Gentleman said, the only question to be considered now was the question of the franchise, he had no right to tell the House anything whatever about the redistribution scheme, and to raise their hopes and fears as to the character of the measure. The right hon. Gentleman had admitted, at the beginning of last Session, that his plan was not confined simply to the franchise. If he had not made that admission, the right hon. Gentleman knew very well what would have happened. All the Press throughout the country would at once have said—"This is not dealing fairly with the people; the Government have no right to force a Franchise Bill through the House until we know what their redistribution scheme is going to be." But then the mere statement by the right hon. Gentleman of the heads of a redistribution scheme was not evidence at all that that would be the redistribution which would be ultimately carried in the House. It was known very well, from the statement made at the beginning of last Session, when this question was first introduced, that the scheme propounded by the right hon. Gentleman at that time was not the scheme of the Cabinet, but a vague sketch shadowed forth as the individual view of the right hon. Gentleman intended to tickle the ears of the country. If the right hon. Gentleman was right in withholding his 1191 scheme of redistribution, he had no right to refer to it at all, or to mislead the House and the country into supposing that they were in earnest upon that question. The only way to show their sincerity was by placing their Bill upon the Table of the House; by allowing it to be brought in as something like a tangible measure, which would enable the House to know what they were about. There was another observation he desired to make in reference to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman—namely, upon his remarks upon the question of a compromise. They knew that the question of a compromise had been discussed by all those who were anxious to avoid a collision between the two Houses of Parliament, and they had been told that the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War (the Marquess of Hartington) had made various offers of compromise, both publicly and privately, to Members of the House of Lords. But how could that be so, if that night they were told by the Prime Minister that the matter was one about which there could be no compromise at all? What was the meaning of this? For weeks and weeks they had been misled by the idea that if they would only accept the suggestions made by one of the leading Members of the Government no difficulty would arise; but because the terms offered were not considered acceptable by those to whom they had been offered, the right hon. Gentleman came down now and repudiated everything that had been done with the remark that it was a matter about which there could be no compromise at all. If that were so, what prospect could there be of the Conservative Party being able to accept any compromise in future?—because it showed that, unless it was done in such a way that the right hon. Gentleman could manipulate it as he liked, he would repudiate it when the time came, and nothing would enable him to act fairly or honourably by the country, or the House of Lords. He had no wish to detain the House too long upon this question; bat he thought it was a very important one for the country to consider. He believed that, as far as the people were concerned, if, as the hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Arnold) said, they felt angry on the subject, it was because they had been wilfully misled by the speeches which 1192 had been made to them by Liberal supporters of the Government. But, as far as his experience was concerned, the people of the country were not angry with what the House of Lords had done. He thought the majority of the thinking and intelligent people of the country were thoroughly satisfied with the action the House of Lords had taken in the matter. ["Oh!"] Hon. Gentlemen said "Oh!" He presumed they believed the statement of the right hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) the other day, when he said the Conservative Party had not held an open meeting, and that they had never dared to hold an open meeting during the Recess. He did not know where the right hon. Gentleman could have been during the Recess. He supposed the right hon. Gentleman was so devoted to himself and to his own constituency that he had paid no attention to what went on elsewhere. All he (Mr. Grantham) would say was that he had addressed open meetings where Radicals were free to come in, and that at those meetings Resolutions had been carried by enormous majorities in favour of the House of Lords. Therefore, the people of the country were not all of one way of thinking; and he believed they were, as a matter of fact, in favour of the action of the House of Lords. Reference had been made to what took place in 1831 and 1832. At that time it was true that 100,000 men could have been found to march from Birmingham to London, and he did not believe 100 men could have been got together to march on behalf of the House of Lords against the people of Birmingham; but if 100,000 men could be found now to march against the House of Lords, with the right hon. Member for Birmingham at their head, he (Mr. Grantham) would undertake to say that he would find no difficulty in getting 200,000 men from Middlesex or Surrey to march against them. That showed the difference in the feeling now. In 1831 and 1832 it was impossible to find anybody among the people prepared to support the House of Lords; but in the present agitation it would be found that one-half of the people of the country—and that the thinking half—were ready to do so. He wanted to know by what right the Liberal Party were threatening to destroy the House of Lords, when they had shown 1193 no desire to refuse political power to the people as they had in 1832; and when all that was in dispute was merely a matter of procedure, which ought to be, and might be, amicably settled? In 1832 the people were fighting for grim death because they had no representation and no political power, and unless the House of Lords gave way they had no chance of obtaining representation. That was not the question now. Therefore, it was idle to compare that time with the present, when the House of Lords was acting in the interests of a large minority of the House of Commons, and especially in the interests of a large minority of the people of the country, if not in reality of a majority of the people of the country. Under these circumstances, he had no fear of the result. Hon. Members opposite might threaten as much as they liked. They might threaten to destroy the House of Lords, and to do away with a Second Chamber altogether. One hon. Member—the junior Member for Newcastle (Mr. John Morley)—thought that because he had come to the conclusion that one House of Legislature was sufficient, that, therefore, the country would, of course, come to the same opinion. But those who had strongly developed the pride of intellect were not generally good statesmen; and he (Mr. Grantham) had no fear that the country would be misled by the egotism of any individual, however eminent he might be; and if the Government were determined to write on the forefront of their banner "No Surrender," they must be prepared to accept the inevitable consequences of ultimate defeat and certain disaster to the country.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
Sir, I should not have risen but for the remarkable fact that, although the subject is of the greatest importance, not a single Member of the Government has taken part in the debate. We have been informed that their object is to curtail as much as possible the proceedings with regard to this Franchise Bill. For my own part, I can say I have never known a more extraordinary course adopted in dealing with an important question, or one more calculated to protract the debate; because if Members of Her Majesty's Government will not reply to our arguments they only produce a state of irritation 1194 on the part of those who have brought forward the arguments, which must have the effect of extending rather than of curtailing the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. E. Stanhope), in a most clear and forcible speech, has again stated the arguments which were adduced in the course of last Session, and which have never been answered by the Government either in Parliament or on the platform. All they have done has been to maintain a policy of silence in this House and of misrepresentation abroad. In the hope that some Member of Her Majesty's Government will follow me, I will re-state our cause in a shape which I hope will make it clear what it is that we maintain. The Conservative Party are not opposed to the principle of the extension of the franchise. [An hon. MEMBER: Oh!] I think I am better able to interpret the views of myself and my hon. Friends than the hon. Gentleman who interrupts me. The Conservative Party are not opposed, I say, to the principle of the extension of the franchise; but they object to the novel and unprecedented procedure which the Government has adopted—a form of procedure which would place an instrument in their hands which would be of great advantage to them during the impending Election. We say to them that they may give us whatever promises they like, but that it will not be to the interests of the Liberal Party to carry a Redistribution Bill if this Franchise Bill passes. It would be outside the competence of the Government to carry a Redistribution Bill, and the reasons which induce me to arrive at that conclusion are very simple. The hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) differs from hon. Members on this side of the House, and has made the astounding statement—a statement, I will undertake to say, that would not have been cheered if it had not been made by a Conservative—that if the Government were to dissolve on a large constituency without redistribution they would be at a great disadvantage. Now, if there is one thing more certain than another it is that under no scheme of redistribution will the Liberal Party be so favourably situated as they would be with an enlarged Register in the present constituencies without redistribution. 1195 The matter does not admit of an argument. The Liberals hold at the present moment two-thirds of the boroughs, and the Conservatives hold two-thirds of the counties in England. For the first time in the history of Parliamentary Reform the franchise is proposed to be extended to one constituency alone—the county constituency—and for the first time the franchise is not to be connected with the redistribution of political power. The result will be that these county constituencies, enormously unrepresented as they now are, would be still more unrepresented. If an Election were to take place without redistribution on the existing franchise we should be in this position—that every county Member would represent over 12,000 electors, while every borough Member would represent less than 6,000 electors. What would be the position of myself and my hon. Colleague in the County of Middlesex? The County of Middlesex possesses between 40,000 and 50,000 electors, and returns two Conservatives. It is proposed by this Bill to double the constituency, and two Gentlemen are coming forward to contest the representation—one, the noble Lord the Member for Haverfordwest (Lord Kensington), a small fishing village in Wales; and another from the borough of Scarborough (Mr. Caine), which now returns two Members to Parliament with an electorate of 4,000. These two boroughs are to return three Liberals; and Middlesex, with 70,000 voters, is to return but two Conservatives. What is the object of giving a man a vote except to enable him, and those who hold the same opinions to obtain representation this House?—and that is why almost every Liberal authority has always maintained that the redistribution of seats is more important than the reduction of the franchise. There has been a melancholy rumour in the House, which I find is unfortunately only too true, that we have been deprived by death of one of the most able and upright of our Members. I was only looking this morning at a most remarkable article on the question of Reform, written by the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General, whose sudden death everyone deeply regrets. It was written at the time of the last General Election, and published after the Election had taken place. In that article the right hon. Gentleman 1196 went minutely into the redistribution of seats and the reduction of the franchise; and, being fresh from an election representing one of the largest constituencies in the Kingdom, he arrived at the conclusion that there were two questions which were so inseparably connected that they should not be kept apart—namely, a reduction of the franchise accompanied by redistribution. He stated that he was in favour of a measure that would give equal representation to every man in the Kingdom, and that redistribution in any other form would be worse than the present system. The right hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright) has been accused of making certain statements which he has certainly declared to be untrue. I believe them to be true, for I have verified them. In 1866 he made a statement which puts our case into a nut-shell. What the right hon. Gentleman then said was this—I would frame a measure which would give a vote to every man in the Kingdom, for under redistribution framed under any other form the representation would be infinitely worse than it is at present.Well, that is exactly our case. All we ask is that the Government should give us some reasonable guarantee that a redistribution scheme should be effected before the reduction of the franchise comes into operation. Is that unreasonable? What conceivable objection can there be to it? I listened carefully to the arguments of the Prime Minister; but he never adduced one single argument in reply to that request. He indulged in high-flown language as to the majority giving up the control of their own business; but surely it would be the fault of the majority if it could not control its own business. By associating the two measures the majority would not be giving up the control of its own business, but would be absolutely expediting the question of Reform. If there be this earnest desire on the part of the people for the reduction of the franchise, of course the Government would have a tremendous lever by which to work a Redistribution Bill, if there were nothing more than to show that it was the sole impediment to the Franchise Bill coming into operation. Once, and once only, was the Prime Minister betrayed into making use of an incautious expression, and it constituted 1197 a complete reply to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst). Addressing a meeting of Radicals, and thinking it probable that he would not be reported, the right hon. Gentleman gave us really to understand what the Redistribution Bill was to be. I will call attention to what the right hon. Gentleman said at the meeting at the Foreign Office. He said—I affirm to you positively and absolutely that you will not, and cannot, pass a Redistribution Bill unless the Opposition have some motive for allowing it to pass. The goodwill on the part of the Opposition which we want, and which we require, in order to give a Redistribution Bill a chance, cannot be had unless they knew that the extension of the franchise is to take place, and that if they will not have it with redistribution they must take it without.Now, what does that mean? It means this much—that the Opposition were to be placed in the position of having either to take such redistribution as was offered, or else to go to the country on the existing franchise without redistribution at all. Now, I maintain that that is an unfair and an improper position in which to place the Opposition. Supposing the Prime Minister were to meet us in the same spirit, and were to give us a guarantee that they would put a clause in the Bill to provide that the measure should not come into operation unless it is accompanied by a Redistribution Bill, what difficulty would arise? Suppose the House of Lords should throw it out, what would the position of the Liberal Party be then? During the whole of the Autumn campaign your arguments have been based on presumption and assumption; but if the Conservatives were to block and obstruct your Redistribution Bill you would no longer have to found your arguments on assumption; but you would have facts to deal with, and you would be able to go all over the country ten times stronger than you are now. Moreover, you would be justified in asserting that the Opposition were not in favour of a reduction of the franchise, because they were now taking every conceivable means to prevent this Bill from coming into operation by blocking and obstructing the Redistribution Bill. I suppose there is not a single Member who has spoken at any political gathering during the Autumn Recess who did not in his observations make some allusion to the 1198 Reform agitation of 1832, to the deep feeling evoked, to the danger there was of popular feeling coming into collision with the law, and, in fact, of a revolution occurring. What was the cause of the collision between the House of Lords and the people in 1832? Has any hon Gentleman taken the trouble to ascertain, because it is a little curious? The history of Reform in 1831 and 1832 is simply this—Earl Grey's Government brought in a Bill in 1830, the second reading of which was carried by a majority of one; and in the unreformed Parliament General Gascoyne carried an Amendment in Committee which was hostile to the Bill as interpreted by the Government. Earl Grey dissolved Parliament, and appealed to the country; and the next Parliament passed the Bill by a large majority, and sent it up to the House of Lords, who threw it out in 1831. In 1832 the House of Commons sent the Bill up to the House of Lords by a still larger majority, and the House of Lords then passed the second reading; but the Government subsequently resigned on account of an Amendment proposed by Lord Lyndhurst. Does any hon. Member know what that Amendment was? He proposed the very procedure for the settlement of Reform which the Government now support. He proposed to postpone the Redistribution Clauses until the Franchise Clauses had been settled; but the Government of Earl Grey declared that that Amendment was absolutely prejudicial to the settlement of Reform, and rather than accept it they resigned. Well, now, 50 years after, the Liberal Party are going about the country stirring up the people just in the same way against the House of Lords, because they are adhering to what has been the invariable practice in connection with previous Reform Bills, and are really acting on the advice of the Reformers of 1832. Let me take another point. We are told that if we persevere in the line we are taking we may raise a more organic question; and the Prime Minister has told us, in terms of warning, what that organic question is. But the unfortunate part of the controversy is that the Government have already raised this great organic question by a side wind, and in its most unpleasant form. The principle the Prime Minister is contending for is, that whenever 1199 there is a difference between this House and the House of Lords the majority of the House of Lords is to give way. That is to deprive the House of Lords of their functions as an independent Legislative Assembly. Everybody admits that the House of Lords must give way to the will of the people, when the people have decided that they are in the wrong. What is the question raised out-of-doors, and raised in a much less dangerous shape than the principles which the Government are contending for? Out-of-doors, with the single exception of the junior Member for Newcastle (Mr. John Morley), the demand is not for the abolition of a Second Chamber, but for getting rid of the hereditary principle which now exists in that Chamber. Now, I contend that it would be much more dangerous for the Government to ask us to consent to a course of procedure which would practically deprive the Second Chamber of its independence than to leave the Second Chamber with its functions unimpaired, attacking only its hereditary character. What the Government are practically trying to do is to deprive this country for ever of an independent Second Chamber. Once deprived of its independence of action, that independence of action can never be restored, no matter what the composition of a Second Chamber may be. Let me point out the danger of attempting, in this insidious way, to deprive the country of an independent Second Chamber. How are you to limit the power of majorities in the House of Commons if the only Party who can resist them effectually is put aside? The Prime Minister made use of strong words in laying the foundation stone of the National Liberal Club. He gave his audience clearly to understand that that which was for the advantage of the Liberal Party was for the national interest, and that everything they did to promote the interests of the Liberal Party was done to promote national interests. Then, why should not the right hon. Gentleman himself be retained in Office by a special Act of the Legislature for the next 10 years? The present Prime Minister is absolutely essential to his political Party; why, then, should the Liberal majority not save the Prime Minister the trouble of going to a General Election by extending the existence of Parliament 1200 for 10 years. They know quite well that if they do appeal to the country their majority will be largely reduced; and I may remind the House that it was in some such position as this that the Septennial Act was passed. A Parliament, which had been elected under the triennial system, found itself so unpopular that it was certain it would not be retained; and under the view that there would be certain elements of danger produced by getting rid of them, they passed an Act for the purpose of prolonging their existence. The principles for which the Prime Minister is contending are most dangerous and unreasonable. Has the agitation during the last two months been conducted in such a manner as to induce or entitle the Opposition to yield to it. What has been the weapon which has been used during the past Autumn? At the commencement of the agitation I called the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the avowed object of the agitation. It was to organize the intimidation of the House of Lords. The right hon. Gentleman exercised great ingenuity in parrying my question; but he never uttered a single word against the course proposed to be pursued. What has been the course pursued during the Recess? I do not hesitate to say that the Liberal Party have done everything in their power to calumniate and malign the House of Lords, and especially the Marquess of Salisbury. Let me take one statement as a substantiation. I do not think I could refer to the speeches of any man who combines with the filling of a high official position such an amount of recklessness of language as those of the right hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain). I will take two statements by two Members of the Cabinet—first, one by the Earl of Derby, a Colleague of the right hon. Gentleman. This is what the Earl of Derby says, and it is a description of the conduct of the House of Lords—No doubt, no one who has heard or read the debate here will be likely to suppose that you object to the extended franchise; but do you suppose that the classes who have power—the present electors, or those who are to be electors—read long debates? Not they. If anybody tells them that the Opposition Leaders have said they were not fit to be trusted with a vote, they will swallow it to a man.—(3 Hansard,  391.)That is what the Earl of Derby said.
1201 He states distinctly that it was untrue to suppose the House of Lords objected to the extension of the franchise; but he implies that if unscrupulous persons make such an accusation against them the electors will swallow it. And now, what did the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Chamberlain) say at Birmingham?—The Franchise Bill has been assassinated; its murderers wear masks, and the chief conspirator shrinks from the confession of his crime, and in the presence of the assembled Thanes he cries—'Thou can'st not say I did it.'Then we are told that the people of the country are in a dangerous temper, and that terrible consequences may ensue if a protracted opposition be offered to the Bill. But have not some hon. Gentlemen opposite been a little too confident in their predictions of evil? One of the hon. Gentlemen who cheers me has, I think, been guilty of a little imprudence in respect of a statement which was circulated the other day circumstantially in an Irish newspaper to the effect that the working classes in Birmingham are ready to commit a gross personal outrage on my noble Friend the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill). The gentleman who supplied the information has been accused of fabricating it; but it afterwards appeared that the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Jesse Collings) was his authority.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS
Perhaps I may be allowed to say that I distinctly deny that statement. I gave no permission for any man to make any such statement. As far as I know, I have never spoken to the gentleman in question, and certainly do not know him. No permission was given, and the statement is absolutely untrue.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
Of course, I am ready to apologize if the hon. Member says he made no such statement; but certainly I do not understand him to say that he never made the statement.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS
If the noble Lord will say what the statement is, I will say whether I made it or not.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
I do not wish to pursue the conversation if the hon. Member says he made no such statement, which is that if the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock goes down to Birmingham, the working men there are so incensed against him that 1202 they have made up their minds to horsewhip him.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
If the hon. Member denies it, I of course apologize. As to the violent language alluded to, it has all come from above, not from below; it has not emanated from the working people of the country, but from a number of politicians who have gone about endeavouring to stir them up to fever heat against the House of Lords. Although I have not been present at any very large meetings, I have attended and addressed a large number of smaller meetings, and I have letters from working men describing themselves as Liberals, who tell me that the position taken up by the Conservative Party with regard to this question is perfectly fair and legitimate; because, as they say, the Conservatives have not objected to the principle of the Franchise Bill, but have taken objection to the novel procedure which, for the first time in Parliamentary history, the Government are adopting. Under these circumstances, I hope that some Member of Her Majesty's Government will endeavour, in some shape or other, to answer the arguments which I have put forward. I and a number of my hon. Friends, during the last Session, stated and re-stated those arguments, and the only reply from the Treasury Bench was that we made the same speeches twice over. That, I submit, is not the proper way of dealing with, the arguments of reasonable men. If Her Majesty's Government cannot meet the case, let them say so. I have always felt that whenever the proposal of the extension of the franchise to the counties comes forward it is one which cannot be opposed. ["No, no!"] An hon. Gentleman says "No;" but I assume that I know my own thoughts better than the hon. Gentleman, whose remark is an illustration of the method of mis-statement by which our opponents have throughout carried on the argument. Speaking for myself, I have always said, and I say it again, that whenever the proposal shall be made to make the county franchise similar to that in the boroughs, as established by the Earl of Beaconsfield, it will be a proposal that cannot be opposed. And for this reason—I doubt whether the working people of any country were ever subjected to a 1203 more severe test than have been the working people of this country during the last 15 years. Rarely has the transition from exceptional prosperity to exceptional adversity been greater than from 1873 to 1880, during which period there was much distress, and many were reduced to absolute privation. Side by side with that, the Education Act has come into force, and the working people are deprived of the labour of their children at a time when that labour is most valuable, and they are compelled not only to part with the value of that labour, but to pay the fees for their children's education. They have nobly responded to the calls made upon them, and the fact that during the depression of trade and commerce the deposits in the savings' banks have increased shows that the working people of the country are taking their lesson to heart. Therefore, because they have shown under these exceptional circumstances the best qualities of citizenship, and as a considerable number of the working people in the counties are unenfranchised, I feel it is impossible to oppose the extension to the counties of the franchise existing in the boroughs. I believe that the longer this controversy goes on, the more will the position of the Conservative Party towards the Bill be seen in its true light. Wherever they have been allowed to state their case, and have not had their meetings broken up, they have succeeded in satisfying their audiences. They do not pretend to be able to compete in noise and violence with their opponents, who, therefore, in that phase of the agitation, have had an advantage over them. But the great mass of the people of the country are law-abiding, and hate violence; they take note of those who incite to it, and although there may be a continuation of the inflammatory speeches which have marked their opponents' proceedings during the Autumn, I am confident that the more the Party opposite resort to violence and unfair play the greater will be the rebound in favour of the position taken by the Opposition with regard to this measure. Therefore, if Her Majesty's Government cannot answer our arguments in the House of Commons they are not likely to convince the people out-of-doors, and I am tolerably confident that in the long run the Conservative 1204 Party will gain, because whatever cause cannot stand discussion—and apparently the cause of Her Majesty's Government will not bear that test—is, in my opinion, doomed.
§ MR. HUGH SHIELD
desired to say a very few words in answer to that part of the speech of the noble Lord in which he dealt with what was called the "leverage argument" of the Prime Minister. The noble Lord had said that the Prime Minister had candidly avowed that one of the reasons which influenced the Government in declining to combine the measure of franchise with that of redistribution was the necessity of having this leverage at their disposal. But he would point out to the noble Lord that it was not alone the Prime Minister who had avowed the necessity of having the means of putting Parliament under some pressure in order that a Redistribution Bill might be carried. The same position had been taken by the Secretary of State for War. The Marquess of Salisbury had stated that it was the deliberate purpose of the Government to establish a machine for controlling and coercing the judgment of the House of Lords, and that such an attempt had never before been made in their history, even under the most encroaching of Monarchs. He asked whether the observations of the Prime Minister which had been referred to deserved the comments which the noble Lord had made upon them? On the contrary, he maintained that so far from being the words of a cynic they were the wise utterances of a statesman, whose reasoning was that so difficult was the subject of redistribution, so numerous the questions of principle which clustered around it, and so multitudinous the wilderness of its details, that unless the opponents of any Redistribution Bill could be brought to approach it under some inducement to forego something of the obstructive power of their position it could never be passed. It was upon this reasoning that the so-called leverage argument was founded, and he asked whether it was fair to say that it out-did the encroachments of the most encroaching Monarchs? In 1831–2 they had a Reform Bill introduced by a Government thoroughly in earnest, supported by the people, who were thoroughly in earnest, and pressed forward 1205 against a reluctant Opposition; the Bill of 1832 was carried under the direst possible compulsion—almost on the verge of a civil war. Everyone knew—it was a matter of history—that the Prime Minister of the day went down to the House of Lords with the King's licence in his pocket to create as many Peers as were necessary to pass the Bill; and, therefore, with those facts in his mind, he did not think that the Marquess of Salisbury was entitled to say that never before had a Minister of the Crown assumed the right to exercise compulsion towards the House of Lords. But the Bill of 1867 was introduced in a very different state of things. Its supporters had not to press it against a reluctant Opposition; the real friends of Reform were then the Opposition. That Bill, no doubt, passed with the free assent of Parliament. But he thought he was correct in saying that it appeared from the Memoirs of the Earl of Malmesbury that even the Bill of 1867 was not passed by the free decision of the House of Lords, but under the threat that the Earl of Derby would resign Office. Therefore, he said, they might pass a Redistribution Bill or a Reform Bill with the free assent of Parliament, without compulsion, when the measure was backed by an Opposition as eager for Reform as the Government who promoted it; but that when they had to pass a measure of the kind against a reluctant Opposition, they were taught by history that it could only be passed under a pressure which brought the country almost to the verge of revolution. In lieu of such a pressure the Prime Minister sought to put Parliament under an inducement—the inducement of avoiding a consequence which they all deprecated—namely, an appeal to the old constituencies, inflated by the addition of the new voters before redistribution. Far from being the outcome of a despotic spirit, the Prime Minister's "leverage argument" was proof of his moderation and preference for peaceful methods.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Sir R. Assheton Cross.)
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Debate adjourned till To-morrow.