§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."—(Mr. Gladstone.)
§ MR. GOSCHEN
Before this Bill passes to "another place" I wish, with the permission of the House, to make a few observations. No one can fail to have been struck by the fact that yesterday there was a change of tone in all parts of this House on this matter, and that the hopes of a very speedy arrangement, satisfactory to all Parties and to 1464 the country at large, seemed yesterday to be more distant than they had done before. Any regret which I may feel for the fact, whether or not it has an echo on either side of the House, is, I feel sure, shared by a great many persons out-of-doors. And in proportion as they see the prospect both of these measures—the Franchise Bill and the Redistribution Bill—being passed by the present Government, and the present Parliament receding from view, so there will be a very great regret that this Parliament has not been able to arrive at that solution which, I believe, the country desires. I should like to ask what is the cause of the change that seemed to come over the House of Commons with regard to this matter yesterday? Was it that the House considered that, after the hints and the suggestions which had been made by the responsible Leaders of both Parties, there was less hope than there was before that some agreement might be arrived at? Or did it appear that there was less prospect of agreeing to a Redistribution Bill when that Redistribution Bill had been introduced? Or was it that one isolated political event out-of-doors so changed the opinions of hon. Members opposite — ["Oh, oh!" from the Opposition]]—that that which they seemed to approve of before was not approved of yesterday? I call the attention of the House, not only to the speeches, but to the cheers and the demeanour of hon. Members opposite. [Laughter.] I do not see why hon. Members opposite should indulge in merriment at that suggestion, and I do not think that the part I have taken with regard to this measure should disincline hon. Members opposite to listen to my observations. If I now venture to address hon. Members opposite, I have not shrunk from speaking frankly to my own Friends; and it is not in any spirit of opposition, but it is because I feel certain that the country will regret the prospect of a solution of this question receding, that I venture to make this appeal. I do trust that the Conservative Party will not think that they are serving the cause they have at heart, or that they will strengthen the position of the House of Lords, or that they will promote that solution which they so much desire—namely, the speedy introduction of a Redistribution Bill—by giving way to any feeling which may arise in their 1465 minds that their success at an isolated election means that the country endorses the position which they have taken up. Supposing that that were so—supposing that that election had been fought on the ground that the Lords had done right, and that the election had been won on that ground—and, indeed, for my part, I believe there was much force in the remark of the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill), that the action of the House of Lords has brought the question of redistribution nearer than it was in the last days of August; that we are now standing in a different position from what we were then; and that we have a greater certainty that it will be dealt with, and greater guarantees, and more prospect of performance, than we had before. Nevertheless, even if the late election expressed that opinion, I think distinctly it would be a great pity if the prospect of other elections, such as South Warwickshire, were to change in any respect the conciliatory attitude which I understood the Conservative Party to assume on Thursday and Friday last. I do not know whether the position of the Government has been thoroughly and correctly understood; but, to my mind, their position is this—not that they invite the opposite Party, as has been represented, to introduce or sketch a Redistribution Bill themselves, but that the Government are prepared at the very earliest date to introduce their Redistribution Bill, provided they only have some indications—not formal, not complete indications, but some indications of the attitude which the other side, or, rather, which the whole House, is likely to take with regard to these proposals. [Cries of "Oh, oh!" and "What are they?"] I will tell hon. Members what they are are. They are, that the Redistribution Bill shall not be founded simply upon the principle of population; that in the Redistribution Bill the principle of communities as against individuals shall be maintained; and that the Redistribution Bill is to be fair and just as between rural and urban districts. All these indications have been given by the right hon. Gentleman speaking on behalf of Her Majesty's Government; but the House has had no indication, the country has had no indication whatever, of the attitude which will be taken by the Conservative Party with regard to any 1466 one of these great principles, and so I understand the position of Her Majesty's Government to be, that they invite some indication of opinion, being convinced in their own minds that they are going to propose a Redistribution Bill which will be satisfactory to hon. Members opposite. I am afraid that, standing in this place, it is incidental to political human nature to express oneself with more warmth than one would desire; but what I wish to suggest to hon. Members opposite is simply this—that they should return to the frame of mind in which they were on Thursday or Friday last. [Opposition laughter, and cries of "No, no!" from below the Ministerial Gangway.] I quite understand "No, no!" coming from that quarter, and it is because I understand it so well that I make my appeal to hon. Members opposite. Why have hon. Members opposite wished, and why have some of us wished, that these two Bills should be carried together? Because they consider, and I agree with them, that the present Parliament is a fit Body to deal with this question of redistribution, and will deal with it, possibly, in a fairer spirit than the new electorate would before redistribution has taken place. But there is a danger that is equal to that danger, and that is this—that we should now embark upon a controversy between the two Parties who, in the heat of an election, will produce rival schemes of redistribution. For my part, I think that the whole of that subject will be dealt with in a fairer spirit, and in a manner much more representative of the true interests of the country, and with a consideration for all sides, if it is done by a friendly arrangement after the manner suggested by the Prime Minister through the action of the whole House, than if we were to go to the country with each side making this question of redistribution one of the planks in its political platform, and with both sides bidding against each other in order to secure popular, and even democratic, support for their proposals. I do not think that the Conservative Party will find that their views will be subserved by such a course, because it appears to me that even Conservatives will go much further in the heat of election, and even in a bye-election, when they publish their addresses, than they will do when they are sitting in this 1467 House and carefully considering the question like statesmen. On the subject of redistribution Lord Salisbury says that he has been misrepresented when it is said that he has adopted the principle of population as the basis of representation. In his article in The National Review, which circulates in clubs, and which is read in society, he complains that any reference on his part to the four rules of arithmetic before popular audiences is considered as showing that he is in favour of making population the basis of representation. But, certainly, if, on a public platform, the noble Lord says that a district is entitled to so many Members in proportion to its population, it is highly probable that that district will think that that means business. You cannot dangle these arithmetical problems before an excited audience without their drawing their own deductions from them, and it is not by any kind of explanations in The National Review that the effect of such statements will be diminished. But the moral of that appears to be that we must make every effort to deal with this question of redistribution before a General Election. Hon. Members opposite will see, I trust, that it is with no feeling against them that I make these remarks. I believe that statesmanlike and steady principles will be more likely to be introduced into the Redistribution Bill, which I trust may be—and, indeed, which must be—introduced within the next few weeks. [An hon. MEMBER: The next few days.] Very well, the next few days — [loud Opposition cheers] — which I trust will be introduced within the next few days, after the invitation of this side of the House has been met, and hon. Members opposite have somewhat lifted the veil with regard to their views concerning redistribution, which we, on this side of the House, have been unable to penetrate. But as long as hon. Members opposite do not give us the slightest indication as to what degree of favour the sketch made by the Prime Minister is likely to be met by with among hon. Members on that side, so long it is difficult and almost impossible for Her Majesty's Government to produce their Bill. I was about to say that I see in the very language the Prime Minister has used this night that he intends to reserve this Session for the question of redistribution as well as of the franchise. There 1468 were words carefully chosen, too, in the Queen's Speech which indicated the same thing; and I implore hon. Members opposite to do what they can in order that that which they themselves have hitherto wished may be brought about, and that the country may see that, to the credit of this Parliament, we are able to carry out the wishes of the people, which I believe to be that both these great questions may be dealt with forthwith. By doing so I believe that we shall best vindicate the practical character of the House of Commons, and that we shall also vindicate the position of the House of Lords, which will be saved from an agitation which cannot be to its advantage; and, above all, it will be possible tranquilly and quietly to consider that scheme upon which the future of England must depend, and which we ought to be able to consider in this House like men of business, and putting the interests of the public above the interests of Party, rather than in the heat and turmoil of a contested election. In that spirit we might be able to consider that scheme of redistribution which, if both sides would only approach each other and pass over that small interval which still seems to separate them, I believe could be devised to the satisfaction of both Parties in this House and to the great advantage of the country.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
I am disposed to agree with the right hon. Gentleman in the expression of his regret at the change of tone which was perceptible in the debate of yesterday; but I think that it is necessary to make this qualification—that that change of tone was only recognized after my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Lancashire (Colonel Stanley) resumed his seat. There was no change of tone in his speech, which was moderate and temperate; the change of tone was only perceptible in the reply of the Prime Minister, and in what I venture to call the hectoring speech of the Home Secretary. If there was such a marked change of tone in the speeches we heard yesterday from the Treasury Bench, and equally, undoubtedly, on this side, the House and the country out-of-doors must place their own construction upon the causes of that change. The right hon. Gentleman has invited us to recur to the frame of 1469 mind in which he supposes we were on Thursday and Friday last. I wish to give the right hon. Gentleman every satisfaction in my power, and if I could recur to the frame of mind in which I was on those days I would endeavour to do so; but the fact is that I am in exactly the same frame of mind now as I then was. I am quite at a loss to understand what the right hon. Gentleman means when he says that not only the language but the demeanour of the whole Conservative Party has undergone some wonderful change since Thursday and Friday last. I cannot enlighten the right hon. Gentleman as to the causes of a fact which has no existence. But the right hon. Gentleman proceeded to refer to three possible causes for that change of language and demeanour. The first, and, as I assume in his opinion, as he dwelt the longest upon it, the most important, of those causes is the result of a recent contested election. But there have been one or two contested elections lately; and when the right hon. Gentleman says that the change in the whole demeanour of the Conservative Party of the House is probably to be attributed to the results of a single bye-election, I feel disposed to ask him to which bye-election he refers, because, if I am right in my assumption that the change of toners on the Ministerial side of the House and not on this, then it must be the Scarborough and not the South Warwickshire Election to which the right hon. Gentleman refers. What inducement does the right hon. Gentleman hold out to us to depart from the position and principle which we have hitherto inflexibly maintained? The right hon. Gentleman says if you will only kindly tell the Government what your general scheme of redistribution is, and, more than that, if every section of this House will kindly tell the Government what their scheme of redistribution is, then he has little doubt that Her Majesty's Government will forthwith proceed to introduce a measure which will satisfy everybody and will discontent nobody. Was ever so extraordinary a proposition submitted to the House? Has the right hon. Gentleman himself communicated his scheme to Her Majesty's Government, and have his hon. Friends who sit around him—the highly respectable, but, I fear, the somewhat diminishing, Whig Party—com- 1470 municated to Her Majesty's Government what scheme will find favour in their eyes; and has that banded phalanx of the enthusiastic supporters of Her Majesty's Government who sit below the Gangway on this side of the House communicated to Her Majesty's Government the scheme of redistribution which they will support? I might also go through every Bench below the Gangway on the Ministerial side of the House, and ask whether the hon. Members who sit upon them have told the Government what their scheme of redistribution is? No, Sir; the appeal is really made to Her Majesty's Opposition, and to Her Majesty's Opposition alone.'Will you walk into my parlour?' said the spider to the fly.Now, Sir, had it not been for the rather lugubrious tone of the right hon. Gentleman, I was rather disposed to congratulate you, and the House at large upon our impending relief from the vexations and troubles of what obviously, since the speeches from the Government Benches, is about to be a barren and a fruitless Session. I think this House and the other House of Parliament and the country ought to know that, while on some occasions Her Majesty's Ministers can speak in honeyed accents, and appear to be in the most amiable of minds, in reality they intend not to budge one single inch from the position they have taken up; and that, while they insist upon this isolated measure being placed on the Statute Book, they will not take this House nor the country into their confidence as to the corresponding measure of reconstruction which this Bill renders absolutely necessary. For I must contend that while the Government are complimented upon the simple character of this Bill and upon its enfranchising qualities, there is another aspect and another character of it to which, I think, too little attention has been directed, and that is its disfranchising influence. This is a Bill in reality—and I am not sure that the same thing was not pointed out last night by the hon. Member for South Northumberland (Mr. A. Grey)—which logically and practically destroys the existing system of the borough representation of the Three Kingdoms; and this is a Bill which annihilates practically the existing county 1471 constituencies of the Three Kingdoms. It is not too much to say that this Bill throws down the Parliamentary walls of every borough which does not contain a population of above 50,000. And this Bill, by merging those towns in the adjacent counties, and by the emancipation of county voters by its other provisions, does substantially disfranchise, as far as political power is concerned, the existing constituencies of the counties. Well, Sir, these being the two disfranchising effects of this measure, I would ask what are the proposals of Her Majesty's Government in the way of reconstruction? What they do in the way of destruction is patent and obvious. What they are prepared to do in the way of reconstruction, I say, has always been, and still remains, vague, indefinite, and uncertain. The right hon. Gentleman who has just resumed his seat has told us that nothing could be clearer or more definite than the principles of reconstruction laid down by the Prime Minister. I take exception to that statement entirely. I should say that, compared with the statements of the right hon. Gentleman last Session, those which we heard with respect to reconstruction the other night are still more vague and still more indefinite. Now, let me take one—and I take one only—of these five principles, as I think the right hon. Gentleman called them—perhaps some will call them propositions, some perhaps—certainly nobody in this House—might be tempted to call them Parliamentary platitudes—but whether principles, propositions, or platitudes, I will test by one, and by one only, what they really mean, and what construction anybody can place upon them. I will take the fourth. Last Session the right hon. Gentleman was, I thought, clear and distinct on the subject of that fourth proposition—the proportional representation between the Three Kingdoms. Ireland was to keep the whole of her present representation; Scotland was to gain new Members; and England was to lose Members unless Parliament should agree to an increase of Members of this House. I am sure some hon. Gentlemen will remember the sort of shudder which passed through the crowded Benches when it was proposed to increase the numbers who were to sit upon them. This Session all that is dropped. Now, what is the fourth proposition or 1472 principle of the right hon. Gentleman? It comes in these words—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 in the Constitution,' because it is not unnatural to speak of the four countries, England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales.That is the sole amount or item of information which we have had communicated to us by the right hon. Gentleman. Last Session Ireland was to keep all her Members; this Session we are not told that. Last Session Scotland was to gain Members; this Session we are not told that. But the proposition, like all other propositions, is regulated by a qualification; and the qualification in this proposition is that it must be equitable and liberal, as between the great divisions of the country. How are we to interpret those two epithets? If we look at the first epithet, and take it as the ruling epithet of the sentence, we may be disposed to think that, after all, Ireland and Wales probably will not keep their present number of Members. If, on the other hand, we disregard the epithet "equitable" and think only of that which follows, "liberal," the Irish Gentlemen below the Gangway may even hope for a considerable addition to their number. And so, Sir, throughout all the divisions of the country. Is Wales to gain, is Scotland to gain, is England to lose? This will all be regulated by those two epithets in conjunction "equitable" and "liberal." Now, Sir, when we press our well-founded demand—from which in principle I apprehend the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen) does not dissent—that redistribution should accompany this scheme of extension of the franchise, what are the answers which we received in the course of yesterday from Her Majesty's Ministers? They were twofold. First of all, that to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred, the information which has already been vouchsafed to us, and with which we are told to be content, that no more will be afforded to us until the Franchise Bill is placed upon the Statute Book; and the other is an answer of the most extraordinary character I think I ever remember even in this House. We are told in answer to our demands—"Oh, 1473 why do not you come forward and tell us what you wish for?" I object altogether to either of these answers being regarded as satisfactory. I have already given the reason why I think the information with which Her Majesty's Government have favoured us is altogether illusory and insufficient; and with respect to the other argument—the only new one which I heard from the right hon. Gentleman yesterday—it was certainly an injudicious one—the argument of fear. The right hon. Gentleman said in effect—"I fear if we do not first of all enrol the Franchise Bill on the Statute Book, something of a very unpleasant Parliamentary character may ensue, and this House of Commons may, in my greatest need, desert me, and on some question connected with Egypt or South Africa I may find myself in a minority, and then what becomes of the Franchise Bill? Why, it would be intrusted to your suspicious, suspected, unfriendly hands, and that is a danger which I dare not face." Now, I have always had a high opinion of the courage of the right hon. Gentleman, but it would seem to be destroyed by himself if this argument is admitted. But I would bid the right hon. Gentleman to take encouragement from the recollection of what has occurred during every Session of this Parliament. Cannot he rely, after all that has gone by, on the unswerving fidelity and the dauntless resolution of his bands of serried followers. What amount, I should like to know, of humiliation, or disgrace, or calamity is likely to sever them from his victorious car? The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down passed an eulogium—a very well deserved eulogium—on himself for the impartiality and fairness of his conduct on this and all other questions; but unless my memory deceives me, the right hon. Gentleman himself, on that very Egyptian Question, condemned the conduct of the Government in his speech, but abstained from recording that unfavourable opinion in the Division Lobby. No, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman may address his followers in a classical and well-known quotation—O passi graviora, dabit Deus his quoque finem.But, supposing—because the right hon. Gentleman at least desires that the 1474 House of Commons should suppose, the position he has placed before them is, at any rate, a possible one—suppose the catastrophe which he dreads should occur, and he should find himself in a minority on some crucial foreign question—what would happen? A change of Government would ensue. Would the right hon. Gentleman or anybody on the other side of the House contend for one single moment that any Government which could be formed in this House of Commons could remain in Office a week without an appeal to the constituencies of the country? Therefore, it is not that the right hon. Gentleman dreads this House, not that he dreads his supporters or his opponents here; but what he dreads is that there must be under those circumstances an appeal to the country. He dreads what sort of answer the country would have to give even upon this question of the Franchise Bill. I will not ask the right hon. Gentleman to trust to the honour of his political opponents. Let him think as meanly and as poorly of us as he pleases. Let him suppose that we are capable, after having accepted the principle of the Franchise Bill on the condition that the measure is accompanied by a full scheme for the redistribution of seats—let him suppose that even after that we are mean enough to throw over the whole subject if we have a chance. Let him think all that if he pleases; but what can he think of the country, of the constituencies, without whose consent or assent, base as we might be, we could never hope to perform so extraordinary a feat? Now, I will say a word or two on the other branch of the question which has been put before us—namely, this new doctrine of the duty of the Opposition to furnish the Government with their views on the question of redistribution. It is the first time during my long career in Parliament that I have heard such a proposal made to an Opposition. I am quite certain that the right hon. Gentleman himself the last time he dealt with the question of Reform never invited the Opposition to favour him with their views on redistribution. At first, it is true, he was a little shy of introducing his Redistribution Bill; but after awhile his repugnance was conquered, and he placed before the House his scheme of redistribution, as well as the scheme for 1475 the extension of the franchise. The present proposal is a complete and entire novelty, not likely to lead to satisfactory results, or to the due discharge of the Ministerial responsibilities of the Government. If the right hon. Gentleman is sincerely anxious—and I do not for a moment doubt his sincerity in the matter—to obtain the support of a large section of the House for the scheme of redistribution to which he has given his assent, he must wait for the exposition of that approbation until the proper time and opportunity have arrived, and that will be when he submits his scheme on his own Ministerial responsibility to the attention of Parliament. This is no new view of mine. If hon. Members will turn to the interesting work with which many of them are doubtless by this time familiar—namely, The Memoirs of Mr. Croker, they will find in it a very admirable letter written by Sir Robert Peel on this question. Somebody, it appears, in 1831, had made that sort of communication to Sir Robert Peel which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon has made to us to-night, and suggested that it would be a very good thing if Sir Robert Peel would indicate in a friendly sort of way his view of Reform to the Government of the day, and this is what Sir Robert Peel said in answer—My fixed determination is to keep myself wholly unfettered in regard to any measure of Reform brought forward by the Government, and to decline all communication, direct or indirect, with the Government of the day.I think that Sir Robert Peel expressed in this sentence tersely and well the true Constitutional position which Leaders of the Opposition should assume towards the Government of the day. The Government have deliberately, persistently, and for their own purposes, tried to divorce franchise from redistribution. They maintain that position; and, so long as they maintain it, it will be impossible for us to communicate, publicly or privately, with them on the subject of redistribution of seats. When the Government show a disposition to qualify that position the whole condition of affairs will be immediately changed. But, after the speeches which we heard last night, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon we must reconcile ourselves as best we can to the impending strife of tongues which 1476 is apparently before us, and we must do in our respective spheres the best we can to maintain and promote those principles which, on one side of the House or the other, we have been sent here to maintain. For myself, I can only say that every debate which has taken place on this subject, every meeting which I have had the opportunity of attending—nay, that even the general result of the descent by the Prime Minister and his Colleagues into the streets during the autumn, have, in my opinion, confirmed the wisdom, the prudence, and the patriotism of the course which the Constitutional Party in both Houses of Parliament and in the country have adopted and maintained. That being the state of the case as it presents itself to our minds, we shall, when the Question is put, say "No" to the third reading of the Bill, animated by the conviction that in so doing we shall be simply discharging our plain and bounden duty to the constituencies, the country, and the Constitution.
I do not rise for the purpose of endeavouring to answer the speech of the noble Lord (Lord John Manners) in the spirit in which it has been conceived and delivered. On the contrary, I shall endeavour to reply to it in a tone as far removed from his as I can possibly make it; for what, Sir, is the speech that we have heard from the noble Lord? It is a speech which introduced with great ability every combative element and consideration into this debate which could tend to render it impossible that anything but a great Constitutional crisis should ensue. To widen a breach, to insure a conflict, to extinguish hopes that might yet remain of reasonable accommodation, I admit there is no man so well qualified as the noble Lord. What is the real upshot of the speech which we have just heard? It is to convey to the mind of the House that it is idle to think of aiming at any union of minds and spirits in the settlement of this great question, and that an accommodation is impossible; and, as if that were not enough, every word of that speech has been directly addressed to the purpose of rendering accommodation impossible. Now, I shall not deal with the parts of the speech of the noble Lord which may properly be called combative, for there is something more important at issue 1477 to-night than drawing cheers from those who sit upon the Benches of this House. There are greater issues even than the Motion which you, Sir, have proposed from the Chair, and the thought which weighs and presses upon my mind is, who is to be responsible for events that may possibly happen? So far, Sir, as I am concerned, and I think I may say so far as my Colleagues are concerned, we do not covet any share in that responsibility; and my duty, therefore, is to avoid all topics which, if I were to handle, I could only handle, or might be tempted to handle, in the spirit and the manner of the noble Lord. I come, then, to those portions of his speech which refer to the course of actual events, and I wish to see how far the noble Lord has made good his main contentions in those portions of his speech. He said that there had been a change in the tone and temper of the House since Thursday and Friday last, and he regretted that he could not replace himself in the frame of mind in which he was upon those days.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
The right hon. Gentleman has entirely misunderstood what I said, which was, that I could not put myself back into that frame of mind because I had never come out of it.
I am sorry to say that I am afraid I have an additional cause for regret, because I did hope until I heard that explanation of the noble Lord — which, nevertheless, I must thank him for—I did hope that on Friday last he had for once been in a pacific frame of mind, and that the passing state had been so short-lived. Then I will not refer to what the noble Lord has told me of his frame of mind on Friday last. I can only condole with him on many subjects of misgiving and pain which that evening, I am afraid, suggested to him, and very much regret that he is still so faithful to ideas of a different order. But the noble Lord says there was a change of tone in the speeches made last night, but that change of tone never began till after the speech of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel Stanley) in moving his Amendment. Was the noble Lord in his place last night? Did he hear the speech of the right hon. Member for North Lincolnshire (Mr. J. Lowther)? Is he not aware that in that speech, proceeding from the right 1478 hon. Gentleman who sits in common cause and common council with the other Gentlemen on that Bench, the change of tone to which we refer was more conspicuous — if I may say so, more violent—than in any speech which followed? What does the noble Lord mean, then, when he says that this change of tone began with speeches from the Treasury Bench? Why, Sir, the right hon. Member for North Lincolnshire (Mr. J. Lowther) not only gave no indications agreeable to the general tone of his speeches in this House, but he actually undertook upon his own responsibility to efface and destroy the effect of the remarkable declaration that had been made by the right hon. Gentleman (Sir R. Assheton Cross) now sitting near him, on the subject of proceeding in this matter by Resolution; and the right hon. Gentleman, whose presence would have been invaluable on that occasion, was, either inconveniently or otherwise, absent from the House—
The right hon. Gentleman was not in the House. His absence was referred to at the time. He was not present in the body. He was not visible to our eyes. I shall have more to say on the subject of that declaration to which I have referred. The noble Lord, declaring that this change of tone proceeded from the Treasury Bench, has carefully avoided all verification of his assertion. He has not referred to a single statement, a single phrase, that was used from this Bench. He has conveniently overlooked the fact that more than once in the course of my remarks, while lamenting the change of tone that had been perceptible, I stated that, with regard to the conciliatory expressions that had been used, neither I nor my Colleagues receded from one syllable of them. And it is after that that the noble Lord puts out of view the speech of his own Friend and Colleague, and tells me that the change of tone was in speeches from the Treasury Bench. I do not deal, like the noble Lord, in those general accusations which are so easy to throw out against opponents, because, from their general character, they do not admit of confutation by reference to particulars. But the whole purpose of my speech last night was to point out—and to point out with deep regret—the 1479 change of tone which had taken place in the speeches and in the sentiments of hon. Gentlemen opposite. The noble Lord has, no doubt, gone carefully over the debate of yesterday, and has found himself unable to cite from my own declarations, or any declarations on this side of the House, any one proposition indicating this change of tone. [An hon. MEMBER: Friday night.] Well, I shall go back to Friday night, and to our position as taken on Friday night. The noble Lord says that it is impossible that there can be any communications, publicly or privately, between the leading Members of different Parties on this subject. Did the noble Lord make that declaration for himself? I am afraid not. The noble Lord is well able to enter into the debates of this House without any premeditation; but the speech he has made to-night bears, unhappily, too many marks of premeditation, especially considering that a very large part of it consisted in the treatment in detail of the substance of yesterday's debate. The speech of the noble Lord, therefore, does not permit me to believe that the main propositions he has delivered are the offspring of the thought of the moment alone. He lays down that there can be no communications on the subject, publicly or privately, between the leading Members of Parties. He refers to the case of Sir Robert Peel. I am glad to hear the example of Sir Robert Peel quoted in this matter from those Benches. But the misfortune is that when they quote it they totally misunderstand and misapply it. The noble Lord is now citing Sir Robert Peel as his example and justification on this subject of Parliamentary Reform, especially of redistribution; and Sir Robert Peel did decline those communications. But why? He declined them because he was opposed to Parliamentary Reform. He declined them because he was determined to be responsible for no plan of Parliamentary Reform. May I refer to the consequences of his declining them? Are those consequences so very satisfactory and so very inviting to the noble Lord? What happened in consequence? The passing of the Reform Act and the utter humiliation of the House of Lords. That was the unfortunate consequence of the course Sir Robert Peel took on that occasion; but his course was honourable, manly, 1480 and consistent. Being opposed to Reform, being determined to be responsible for no measure of Reform, and seeing that he could not disarm that question of what he thought its danger, he naturally and properly said—"I will have no communications; but will reserve my own absolute freedom on a subject of that nature." Is that example applicable to the noble Lord? Does the noble Lord love Reform as much as we do? Is he anxious beyond anything for the redistribution of seats, that even the double-distilled poison of the Franchise Bill may be diluted possibly by virtue of a Redistribution Bill, and embrace that also? To make the reference applicable, Sir Robert Peel ought to have been saying—"I agree with you in your objects, I am as ready as you are to pass a Reform Bill, I wish to consider in a fair and candid spirit every object which I conceive to be of doubtful advantage, but I will hold no communications with you." If the noble Lord could have cited Sir Robert Peel as saying that, I admit his citation would have been in point; but instead of that he has only shown how entirely out of application is the language which he held. It is necessary, in resorting to that kind of argument, to make use of liberal exaggeration. How did the noble Lord treat the point when he came to say that we had invited the expression of opinion? He said—"Has everybody given his opinion to the Government? Has the right hon. Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen) given his opinion to the Government? Have the Gentlemen on this Bench, have the Gentlemen on that Bench? Have you gone round the House to every section and demanded this expression of opinion?" The noble Lord pays me sufficient respect not to pay the slightest regard to the declarations made by me on the part of the Government. I have declared, in the most explicit terms, that, so far as the great majority of the House is concerned, we were at one with them—that we felt perfectly confident as to the principles of the measure of redistribution, that it will meet their cheerful approval and assent. There is no question of referring to my right hon. Friend, or to any Gentleman connected with the majority of the House, upon the subject of the franchise and redistribution. But we did undoubtedly invite communications from hon. Gentlemen opposite, and that 1481 appears in the view of the noble Lord a great offence, and he repudiates it altogether, and says—"It is impossible to have these communications, publicly or privately." If that be so, recollect how we stand. Our own course is this—to pass the Franchise Bill, and then be secure of a fair unobstructive treatment of the Redistribution Bill. That is our plan of proceedings. But of that plan you complain, and make use of the power which by sympathy you enjoy "elsewhere." I do not say you threaten—you give warning—that the controversy shall continue, and you are ready to risk the consequences. Well, Sir, under these circumstances, what we have sought is to consider whether we could depart from our own plan and meet your views, and instead of seeking to give effect to our own political principles and desires we are asking for communication of your ideas. That is our actually pacific intention, and for that pacific intention the language of denunciation has been liberally bestowed upon us by the noble Lord. But the question, after all, is, Where lay the change of tone that has unfortunately cropped up? What happened on Friday night of a material character, and how far have the material occurrences of that night been altered? The first thing that happened on Friday night that was material was the speech of the late Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir R. Assheton Cross). The late Home Secretary did not hold this language at all, of the impropriety and impossibility of communications between Parties with a view to an agreement. If I understood the general spirit of that speech, on the contrary, it was an encouragement to free communication. I do not presume to dwell upon the interpretation of the speech, but I do recollect one portion of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, and it does not rest in my memory alone, because it was specifically noticed by my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board, who followed him in the debate. When the right hon. Gentleman had expressed his desire that an accommodation should be arrived at, and his belief that it might easily be arrived at, he went on to say—I think he said very modestly—that it was not for him to determine on the form of proceeding; but it might be by Bill or it might be by Resolutions, and the choice between them 1482 was a question on which he did not think it his duty to enter. Well, Sir, that was a most conciliatory declaration on the part of the right hon. Gentleman. It was noticed as such by my right hon. Friend on the part of the Government. But what happened last night? Why, in the absence of the right hon. Gentleman, the right hon. Member for North Lincolnshire (Mr. J. Lowther) took into his own hands the entire responsibility for the late Home Secretary, just as if the late Home Secretary had been his ward, and the right hon. Member his guardian. What did these words mean, or, rather, did they mean anything at all? What between possible defects of statement and total defect of apprehension and understanding on the other side, they were words which might never have been spoken at all. But if the authority of the right hon. Member for North Lincolnshire is open to some question—although, from the seat he occupies and the tone he generally assumes in this House, I do not see how it can be questioned—we have the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote). How did he endeavour to get rid of this reference to "Resolution?" By saying that it was an obiter dictum, and that an obiter dictum—he could not very well say it was equal to nothing at all, but he brought it as nearly as possible to obiter dictum. I apprehend that obiter dictum is essentially and by the very meaning of the phrase something that has nothing to do with the issue that is directly before you. But this had to do—it was an essential part of the issue before us. It was a question as to the mode in which this desire for accommodation was to be brought about upon which the right hon. Gentleman gave his obiter dictum. It was a judicial utterance directly pertaining to the mode of dealing with this great issue between us, proceeding from Gentlemen in authority, and couched in such a manner that we had a right to treat it as a serious declaration, an important declaration coming from a very weighty and leading Member of the Party, and distinctly conceived in the interests of peace. Was there no change of tone in the speeches of hon. Gentlemen opposite when this most important and conciliatory declaration was described and accentuated by the Leader of the 1483 Party as obiter dictum? But that was not the only point. No complaint had been made, as far as I remember, from this Bench of the insufficiency of the declarations from the opposite Bench or from the Leaders of the opposite Party with regard to the principles of redistribution. I am not aware that such complaint was made—certainly not by myself, and certainly not by either of those two Colleagues I see beside me (the Marquess of Hartington and Sir Charles W. Dilke) who took part in the debate. But what I did presume to observe was, that the declarations of the minority of the House were in contradiction with one another upon this subject; and when I said that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon called across the House "How?" I then pointed out that he himself had given an encouraging and sympathetic response to an invitation of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen) in favour of a particular form for the measure of redistribution—a most encouraging and sympathetic response; but that form was initiatory, and if there had been a disposition to peace it would have been so recognized and so treated. My right hon. Friend referred to a Bill which, in giving great scope to the principle of population, was to have that principle limited and its application varied by the introduction of a number of other elements. I said that was one form and one possible idea of a Redistribution Bill. But we also had another declaration from the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill), and that declaration, in apparent coincidence both with previous declarations of his own elsewhere and of declarations made by Lord Salisbury, on the contrary, pointed, not to varied and diversified construction, but to the application of the principle of population only, qualified to a certain extent, as far as the noble Lord was concerned, by a division of rural and urban constituencies and pursuits. Then, when the right hon. Gentleman asked "How?" I said—"We are anxious to know the general tone and tendency of your views; but they have been laid before us in terms which are contradictory and incompatible." I endeavoured—as the right hon. Gentleman had asked me—to explain my meaning. I endeavoured to get at the meaning of the 1484 right hon. Gentleman, and asked him whether he adopted the declarations of the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock as to the scheme of redistribution? But the right hon. Gentleman maintained a persistent silence. I again challenged the right hon. Gentleman to reconcile these indications, both of them rather authoritative and both given us from the Opposition. I said they appeared to me to be contradictory, and I requested him to reconcile them and show what their real meaning was. The right hon. Gentleman deliberately avoided any attempt to reconcile, and he resorted to what I must call a mere Parliamentary shift—well known in Parliamentary warfare—that of saying that I had asked him to lay a Bill, forsooth, before us. I had asked nothing of the kind. I had not stated that either the one declaration or the other was insufficient, but I had stated that the declarations were incompatible. The right hon. Gentleman knew that they were incompatible, and, therefore, he would not, or at least he did not, attempt to reconcile them when he had the opportunity afforded him and almost forced upon him. This is the change of tone that has taken place. We can get nothing in the sense of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire; but I hope, if he speaks to-night, he will speak in his own sense and not in that of somebody else. We can get nothing to give unity or intelligibility to the two very different utterances which have taken place on the subject of redistribution. That is the change of tone that has taken place. We are not a whit less desirous than we were on Friday, or any other day, of making use of any opening that is afforded us. Is it improper to hold language of this kind? No doubt, as the right hon. Gentleman knew, when we were dealing with the Franchise Bill the Members of the Opposition were sufficiently free in reproaching us with our vigour and severity in refusing Amendments. We stood on a question of principle. We knew that the differences between them and us on the franchise were very wide, and the noble Lord's (Lord John Manner's) speech is the last evidence we have had how wide and how deep they are. We knew that on the Franchise Bill we could have no communications of that kind; but I say that where you have no reason to know 1485 that there is a difference of principle, where you are desirous upon a measure of complex structure to put the House, if you can, in the way of an easy and effectual solution, there is nothing more perfectly warrantable, there is nothing more honourable than an open invitation given to Gentlemen in this House to afford those indications which might enable us to judge whether, by some deviation from the rules and provisions we are ourselves ready to adopt, we can procure that harmony which is admitted to be so desirable, and on the attainment of which we are averting a serious crisis. Now, I hope I have shown that the change of tone of which I have spoken has not proceeded from this side of the House; and the noble Lord, notwithstanding the loud and imposing tone of his speech, has not cited one word in order to sustain his very broad and perfectly gratuitous allegations. I think, on my side, I have pointed out the changed tone. I have pointed out the difference between the reference to the Resolutions on Friday, and the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Lincolnshire, and the doctrine of obiter dictum from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon, and I have pointed out that the object in view of declaring the difference which we see in the two schemes of redistribution, or the two tendencies of redistribution that have been declared, was not polemical. The object was to procure some reconciliation of those schemes, so that when that reconciliation had been effected we might have given full force and effect to it in determining our own proceedings. It is all very well to say—"Produce your Redistribution Bill; it shall have a fair trial." Well, I suppose you think you gave the Franchise Bill a fair trial last Session. It had! The Franchise Bill, with its simplicity of enactments and 25 nights of debate, the noble Lord says, had a fair trial. I am not making it a matter of reproach; I am endeavouring to get at the facts, and it is that kind of reception they gave to the Franchise Bill that they are now so kind as to promise to the Redistribution Bill. I am not aware that we have anything to qualify or anything to retract in the debates last week, or in the debate of this week. I have not now said a word averse to accommodation. I have explained and justified the fact 1486 that it is honourable, Parliamentary, within our history and our precedents, and within the dictates of reason, when you have no right to charge upon your opponents a vital difference of principle, to invite communications with a view to a more easy and effectual agreement. I will invite them again, in spite of what the noble Lord has said. If they fail they shall not fail through our fault. If we are not to have peace, at any rate we will leave behind us some record that we sought peace—and we esteem that record of having sought peace, with a view to the general interests of the country, much more highly than the boasts of our own consistency, or appeals to the heated sentiments of political controversy.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
I should not have interfered in the debate to-night had it not been that my former speech has been alluded to by the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister. I cannot help thinking he has somewhat forgotten what took place last Session, because he has taunted my noble Friend (Lord John Manners) with saying that he thought the Franchise Bill last Session was fairly and properly discussed.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
The right hon. Gentleman seemed to have entirely forgotten one of the many causes why those debates on the Franchise Bill were so long as they were. It was because of the positive refusal of the Government to accept the Amendment of my noble Friend—namely, that these two Bills should be taken together. If the Government had assented to that principle, in one form or another—that one Bill should have been accompanied by the other—none of those debates would have taken place on the Amendment of the noble Lord or on the Amendment of my right hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Stanley) in Committee. I listened to the speeches of last night with the greatest pain. When I left the House I said to myself I cannot imagine how it is that the tone, manner, and spirit of the Prime Minister, and of the occupants of the Treasury Bench on Thursday evening, were so entirely changed. Everyone remembers the conciliatory tone and manner of the Prime Minister on Thursday. I felt bound myself to take notice of it, and I believe 1487 the House joined with me in the expression of that opinion. At the same time, I could not help giving a warning to the House that whatever the tone and the manner of that speech might be, I was quite sure that not simply the House, but the whole country, would be much disappointed with the matter of that speech. The whole contention of the speech that I made in that debate was this. I said it was quite true that the majority of the House of Commons had passed this Franchise Bill alone; but there were many ways in which the will and feeling of the majority of the House might be intimated beyond that of the giving of actual votes. The vote simply expressed the feeling of the majority on the vital principle of the Bill itself, about which we are all agreed, because the principle is accepted by both sides. But so far as the mode of procedure went, I said that the vote was in favour of the procedure simply because it had been proposed by the Prime Minister, and there were other points upon which the will of the majority could be gathered quite irrespective of that vote. There were two points on which I thought the majority of the House had made up their minds—namely, that, if possible, this should not be a barren Session, and that there should not be a General Election after the passing of the Franchise Bill and before the passing of a Redistribution Bill. I said it was a matter of principle with us that we would not, as far as we could avoid it, run the risk of an Election upon the Franchise Bill, unless it were accompanied by a Redistribution Bill. Someone below the Gangway said "Followed by;" but I adhered to the phrase "Accompanied by." This is the principle we laid down and upheld throughout the country at the first, and which we shall uphold to the last. That being so, I had not the remotest notion but that, when we came to discuss in what way we were to avert the undesired result, it must rest with the Government to proceed with the Redistribution Bill on their own authority, and not on ours. It is quite true, I believe, that I said it would be the same whether the procedure were by Resolution or by Bill; but what I was endeavouring to urge was, that any step to be taken must be taken on the authority and the responsibility of the 1488 Government alone. I understand that my right hon. Friend (Mr. J. Lowther) afterwards said that neither Resolution nor Bill would be satisfactory, that what we wanted was a definite legislative measure, and that was what was in my mind. Of course it was. Why, my whole argument was founded upon that. It was that the Government, on their own responsibility, must bring in a Bill, and that the two must be passed, I did not say simultaneously, but I said conterminously. We were to insure the one thing, that there was to be no Election under one measure without the other. If the Government take hold of an isolated part of that speech, they remind one of a drowning man catching at a straw. If I had thought that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board had meant anything more than a passing allusion to that speech, I should have got up at the moment. The matter lies in a nutshell. Does the Government intend in any form or shape to meet us on that point? This is all we want to know. That we have no wish to delay the passing of this Bill is evident from what passed on the second reading and in Committee. We have given you every guarantee of our good faith we can. We tell you that if you bring forward a Redistribution Bill for the purpose of passing it, provided it is not intentionally so drawn as to give advantage to one Party as against the other, it will meet with a fair, a full, and a candid discussion, and we shall do all we can to pass it. Our desire is that both Bills shall be passed by the same Parliament. What more can we say? We say we are able to carry out the pledge we have given, and as a matter of good faith we shall be bound in honour to do so. There is no intention to oppose the Franchise Bill, and we will do all in our power to pass a Redistribution Bill. We will give you credit for all your good intentions; but you are not masters of the situation. You cannot insure the fulfilment of your pledge, because events at home or abroad may lead to an adverse vote of this House, which may render it impossible for you to fulfil your pledge. That being so, there was a great change in the tone and manner of the speeches from the Treasury Bench. From beginning to end the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Secre- 1489 tary of State for the Home Department was one of defiance. [Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT: Quote what I said.] I cannot do so at once, and the right hon. Gentleman would not wish me to read the whole speech. As is usual when the right hon. Gentleman throws himself with vigour into debate, the speech was bellicose in matter and tone, and it did not in any sentence hold out the slightest hope that the Government would meet us in any way. He ended by putting the matter in the clearest possible light, when he said that the question was whether a majority of this House was to be overriden by a majority of the House of Lords. [Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT: I did not say so.] Well, the close of the speech practically came to that; and if he did not intend to say I hope he will withdraw his words. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister seems still anxious to say he has been anxious that some arrangement should be made. Any arrangement to be made on a matter so vitally affecting the interests of the people must be made across the floor of this House. Nor is it possible for us to say what Motion or Resolution we should like to have brought forward. They must be brought forward on the responsibility of the Government of the day. Two things, to my mind, are absolutely clear. When the Government brought forward their Franchise Bill they had not made up their minds about the provisions of the Redistribution Bill. And now they have not made them up still. They know perfectly well, whatever the opinions of right hon. Gentlemen on this side may be, on that side there is the greatest possible difference of opinion, and they do not know how to draw a Redistribution Bill in order to catch most votes on that side of the House. They want to find out what the majority wants in order to draw up a Bill. I will defy any right hon. Gentleman on the Treasury Bench to get up and say—"We have a Redistribution Bill drawn." If you have, we are entitled to say—"Produce it." It must be produced some time in the course of these debates. I sincerely hope the time is not yet past when we may be told that the moment this Bill has passed this House, trusting to the good faith of what we have said as to the way the matter is to be discussed, we 1490 may be favoured, at all events, with a satisfactory utterance from the Government on this question, in order that, if possible, both those Bills may become law at the same time during the present Parliament.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
I rise not to prolong this debate, but to offer some explanation with regard to the extraordinary representations made by the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down of my speech of yesterday. I should not have complained if the right hon. Gentleman had thought my speech unworthy of his attention. But he ought not to have professed to have quoted a statement which it contained unless he was quite sure of its accuracy. The right hon. Gentleman has composed a very admirable sentence for me, and I am not sure that I differ from the sentiment of it, and if the right hon. Gentleman will lend me the sentence I will be very happy to see if I cannot use it on some other occasion. But that was not the sentence I made use of last evening. What I did say last night was, that the Amendment of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite (Colonel Stanley) was a proposal that the Franchise Bill should be made dependent upon the passing of a Redistribution Bill which should be satisfactory to the majority of the House of Lords. That very plain and simple proposition is quite true, and cannot be disputed. I was observing upon the proposals which had been made on both sides of the House to see whether we could not come to some arrangement as to the Redistribution Bill. I pointed out that it was in vain to expect that we should come to that arrangement here, when it was possible that the House of Lords would take a different view from that taken in this House on that question, and that, after it was settled by accommodation between the two Parties in this House, the House of Lords might throw it over, and then the Franchise would go with it. That, I said, was a proposition which we could not assent to, because, whatever terms we might come to here, if the Franchise Bill were made dependent upon the Redistribution Bill, the final decision of the House of Lords on the Redistribution Bill would determine the fate of the Franchise Bill. That seemed to me not at all a defiant argument, but a reasonable argument, and an argument founded 1491 on the facts of the case, and I desire to make that explanation, as I should be extremely anxious not to be thought—by anything I have said or done—to throw any obstacle in the way of accommodation on this question, which I desire as much as anybody.
§ MR. RITCHIE
said, he was one of those who desired most sincerely that this question should be settled. He did not think, indeed, that anyone could view with a light heart a continuance of this agitation throughout the country. The working classes would have to face with the coming winter a state of commercial depression, and they would probably be called upon to undergo considerable privation. The manufacturers and traders had already felt the depression keenly; but the distress had not yet reached the artizan class. He would be very glad indeed, for his own part, to see this burning question removed out of the way, so that the artizan and trading members of the community might be the better able to devote themselves to the amelioration of their material condition. The change which had undoubtedly taken place in the aspects of this matter since Friday last he looked upon with something like dismay. He had certainly believed that the result of the discussion on Thursday and Friday last was a distinct and definite approach to a settlement of the question; and he had perused with no little apprehension the speech which had been made on the previous day by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Lincolnshire (Mr. J. Lowther). He understood the term "compromise" to mean that something was to be given up by both Parties. But if he understood it rightly, the speech of the right hon. Gentleman demanded that the Opposition should give nothing, and the Government should give everything. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Lincolnshire declared that nothing would be satisfactory to him but the production of a Redistribution Bill, and its passage into an Act of Parliament, before the Franchise Bill was passed. That was the position which the Conservative Party and the House of Lords took up, and which they were entitled to take up, and he thought the whole argument was in favour of that position. But recognizing, as he did, the extreme importance of a settlement 1492 of the question, and that if a settlement were to be arrived at it was impossible for the Opposition to give up all they desired, he could not help feeling that it was also perfectly impossible for the Government, after the statements they had made, and the support they had received, to yield all that was demanded of them, by allowing the Franchise Bill to stand over until the other Bill had become law. But surely there was something besides that which would reasonably satisfy both Parties. They were not children, but men of business, and if they were agreed upon so much, was it not possible to agree on the rest, and would it not be a disgrace to that Party which stood in the way of a settlement? All Parties were agreed that the franchise ought to be extended to the counties, and that it should be done quickly, and that without a Redistribution Bill that could not be satisfactorily accomplished; and being agreed on those two fundamental principles, could they not go a little further, and come to some settlement of the remaining portion of the question? No doubt, there were Members who desired to humiliate one Party or the other; but such were not worthy of the name of statesmen. It ought not to be the desire of either Party to humiliate the other. If the House of Lords were to surrender at discretion, without some tangible security for the passing of a Redistribution Bill, they would be so humiliated in the eyes of the people as to render them in the future perfectly unable to carry out their part in the Constitution of the country. They would, perhaps, still drag on an ignoble existence, neither good for themselves nor beneficial to the country. Rather than be a Member of that House under such circumstances, he should welcome some reform which would give him some power in the Constitution, and make him a useful member of the great legislative machine of the country. Those who expected the House of Lords absolutely to surrender their position were asking what they had no right to ask. But was there not a middle way? [Mr. WARTON: None.] His hon. and learned Friend said "None;" but he ventured to assert that the people of this country would think it a very extraordinary thing if no middle way were to be found. The Government had let fall something of what they intended in the way of re- 1493 distribution, and he had not heard that what they intended had been considered unreasonable by the Conservative Party. But as they had gone so far, why would they not lay on the Table, after the Franchise Bill had left the House, the scheme which they had indicated? He honestly believed that if the Redistribution Bill were framed in a spirit of fairness on some general principle which should be acceptable to all reasonable men, it would receive the assent of the House of Commons and be passed into law. But the refusal of the Government to do that gave a colour to the accusations made against them. Surely if the Franchise Bill would be, as they said, in jeopardy if they produced a Redistribution Bill, it would be in greater jeopardy if they did not. It was because he felt most earnestly the desirableness, not for the sake of one Party or the other, but for the sake of the country, of settling this matter, that he implored the Government to meet this question in the only way in which he thought it could be met—namely, by producing their Redistribution Bill. He did not ask for a promise that the Government would push the Bill forward and pass it into law as soon as the Franchise Bill passed into law; he did not even say that there should be any compact as between one side or the other; he only said—"Let the Government produce the Bill and throw upon the Opposition the responsibility of dealing with it and the Franchise Bill, after that Bill is produced." If there be a failure, and if the Redistribution Bill be a fair one, on the Conservative Party would rest the responsibility, and it would be for them to defend the position which they had taken up. He could not conceive of a reason, when they were agreed upon so much, why they could not agree upon what remained. It would be a shame and a scandal to the Party, whether the Opposition or the Government, which stood in the way of a settlement of this question, when they had already agreed upon so much.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, that while he could not go so far in retreat as the hon. Member who had just spoken (Mr. Ritchie), yet he could say this, on the part of Warwickshire, the Northern Division of which county he had now for 41 years represented, that the feeling of Warwickshire was that she would not 1494 submit to be governed by half a Parliament. North Warwickshire, nay, the whole of Warwickshire, he believed, insisted that all attempts to ignore the House of Lords, as an Estate of the Realm, should be energetically resisted. Nay, he would go so far as to declare that, if he knew the county at all, she would not accept any Act of Parliament, without using perpetual endeavours to get that Act altered or repealed, if she suspected that it had been passed by half a Parliament. In fact, the county would not regard any such Act as a legitimate Statute. ["Oh, oh!"] He (Mr. Newdegate) hoped that he had expressed that opinion with sufficient plainness. He was thoroughly convinced that such was, and would be, the determination of the county, in the representation of which he had so long shared, and that, pass what Act the majority of that House might, unless it had the full sanction of both Houses of Parliament, it would never be accepted as legitimate in the county which he had the honour to represent. Warwickshire included Birmingham, and Birmingham had often shown that it had a will of its own; and if it had any suspicion that what was termed a Statute had been passed in bad faith, he (Mr. Newdegate) had little doubt but that Birmingham knew how to practice agitation for the amendment or repeal of any such misbegotten measure. He (Mr. Newdegate) supposed that it must be accepted as a strong probability that the county franchise would have to be lowered to the level of the borough franchise created in 1867. That appeared just now to be the will of the country. The question might be asked, what had the Conservative Party to complain of? Why were they to complain of that, as the authors of the Reform Act of 1867. At the opening of these discussions in the late Session, the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government held up to the view of the House the example of the United States. Why, then, did the right hon. Gentleman not follow the example of the United States? What were they doing in America? Were they recommending the Lower House of Congress to set itself in opposition to the Upper House? Had they been endeavouring to supersede their Senate? Were they endeavouring unduly to exaggerate the administrative power of 1495 the President of the day? On the contrary, they were doing exactly the reverse of all that in the course they were adopting. Their determination was to strengthen the Senate; to strengthen the Supreme Court, and to control the President. The Conservative Party might well believe that the Americans were not ashamed of their origin; and might well admire the courage of the Americans in endeavouring to follow the former example of England in these respects. He might be taunted, he and other hon. Members who admired the conduct of the people of the United States, because they sat here in a minority of that House. But it must be admitted that, by the Rules of the House, a considerable minority could render the legislative action of a majority impossible in attempting a large measure of Reform without a Dissolution. Why, then, did not the Liberal Party accept their legitimate position? The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury referred in his introductory speech for Reform to the United States, and then sketched out a scheme for a Redistribution Bill at the commencement of these discussions in the late Session; he evidently felt the necessity for doing so. But did he not warn the House that he could not answer for his Colleagues. He (Mr. Newdegate) had a right to put this question to the right hon. Gentleman—"Is it because you cannot agree with your Colleagues now, that you shrink from producing your Redistribution Bill? Are you about to plunge the country into the difficulty which you know must ensue if you pass the Franchise Bill, and then, before a Redistribution, force a Dissolution?" What would be the nature of such an appeal to the country? It would not be a regular Parliamentary appeal; it would be more in the nature of an appeal through a Convention. This country had had Conventions. We had a Convention in the year 1660, another in 1689; but these constituted revolutionary action. And why should the right hon. Gentleman and his Colleagues drive those, who represented the stable and peaceful elements of this country, even to consider such an alternative in defence of the freedom they valued? Did the right hon. Gentleman think that they were incapable of any such action—with their Irish neighbours sitting 1496 beside them on those Benches, ready to join them, for aught he knew? The right hon. Gentleman was conscious that this possibility might arise from the action of his Administration. It was evident that they were prepared to make concessions to violence, nay, even for the purpose of avoiding the opposition from his (Mr. Newdegate's) neighbours on the left. Did the right hon. Gentleman think that these exemplars of his conduct were wasted upon hon. Members who sat upon the Opposition Benches? The right hon. Gentleman proposed to increase the representation of Ireland and of Scotland; did he think that Englishmen were blind? All the Opposition asked was, that the right hon. Gentleman should abide by Constitutional practice; that he should discourage all attempts to ignore the House of Lords as an Estate of the Realm; and that he should not shrink from the responsibility, which was attached to his position, by refusing to give legitimate effect to the principles which he had introduced, and which the Bill before the House involved. The Opposition demanded nothing that was unreasonable; and he warned the right hon. Gentleman that by attempting dealings or negotiations across the Table of the House with the Leaders of the Opposition, he would rouse the English suspicion, would excite a temper among the majority of the people of this country such as had already been displayed in the firm attitude of the county which he (Mr. Newdegate) had the honour to represent. In Warwickshire, they had not yet forgotten what happened in 1867 respecting the suburb of Aston, near Birmingham. A late Speaker of that House (Lord Eversley), now in the House of Lords, was the Chairman of a Royal Commission which recommended that two additional Members should be given to Birmingham, and that Aston should be included in the borough. That proposal was laid before the House by the then Government which was in a minority, and was abandoned during the miserable proceeding of a minority struggling to pass a Reform Act. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister of today had majority enough at his command; that was not the case with the late Lord Beaconsfield, when, owing to the exigencies of the Leadership of a Government in a minority, he was 1497 obliged to hand over the Report of the Commission, to which he (Mr. Newdegate) had referred, to a Committee of the House, who grossly mismanaged the matter. The right hon. Gentleman now at the head of the Government had no such excuse. He was supported by a large majority in the House, and had the consent of the other House of Parliament to proceed with a measure for the extension of the franchise. But the people of England felt that they had a right to expect from him this much—that if he had framed, as it was known that he had framed in his own mind, a scheme for redistribution of seats, the should insist upon the acceptance of that scheme, or of some other, by his own Colleagues. That he should conform to Parliamentry practice by presenting a scheme for redistribution to the House and the country on his own responsibility, according to acknowledged Parliamentary practice. There was nothing to prevent any communication the Prime Minister might be pleased to make in private to the Conservative Leader in the House of Lords, or to the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons. But the people of England had a right to insist upon this—that the Minister who undertook the responsibility of passing a Bill for the reform of Parliament, which was almost revolutionary, should not shrink from his responsibility, or from completing his task, and that in completing his task he should give them—the people—a fair opportunity of examining the whole Bill, or the whole Bills, through their Representatives, before any measure of Reform was enacted, as complete, into a law.
§ MR. ILLINGWORTH
said, he thought the country would be somewhat perplexed at the change of front which had taken place on the other side of the House since Friday. He wished to express his admiration of the spirit which the Prime Minister had shown that night, and which all through those discussions had animated him and his Colleagues, and he hoped that in even the unpromising situation in which the matter now stood that disposition would still continue to be manifested by the Prime Minister when the Bill went to "another place." He confessed that the disposition shown by the Government in meeting the views of the Conservative Party had gone much 1498 further than many independent Members on his side of the House could reconcile with their views. The great majority of Members in his section of the House had agreed to abate a great deal of what they regarded as due to the majority in the country, both in the Bill before the House and in the measure which must subsequently be dealt with. He ventured to hope that the Prime Minister and his Colleagues in "another place" would do nothing which could in any degree abate from the approbation, which the country would express by an overwhelming majority, of the fact that they had done everything which honourable men could do to settle a great Constitutional question. His object in rising was to make it known on behalf of many Members who sat below the Gangway, and a great number of people out-of-doors, that if, after all the efforts that had been made at conciliation, a struggle of a wider and more serious character should be entered upon, they, at any rate, were free from any binding obligation, either as to the character of this Bill or as to the scheme of redistribution. He admitted it would have been better for all Parties in the State if, even at some sarifice, this question had been settled for a long time to come; but he feared that the country would say that far greater changes must be made if this Constitutional struggle was not now terminated; and, for his own part, he should look forward to the turmoil and trouble that were before them with the conviction that he was justified in going thoroughly with those who demanded more extensive changes than had now been recognized as necessary by the Government. It was impossible that the people of this country should excuse their Representatives if they were to permit the rights of the representative system to be trifled with over and over again. If the discussions of last Session, the manifestation of public opinion in the Recess, and the recent majority of 140 in that House were of no avail, then he said that nothing short of a radical change in the relationship of the House of Lords with the Government of this country would satisfy the people. He unhesitatingly said that there would be ample compensation in the coming struggle for those who had been put through the ordeal which the great majority of that 1499 House had submitted to, by the ultimate and not distant results which would follow.
§ MR. STUART-WORTLEY (who rose amid some interruption)
said, if the House was impatient he had no wish that the debate should be continued. Representing an important constituency, he had not yet had an opportunity of addressing the House during the recent debates of the present Session. He wished to follow the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ritchie), and to say what he could to show that there were some others on that side who in voting for the Amendment of his right hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Stanley), and in thus formulating what undoubtedly was their extreme demand, did not mean to be understood as refusing to accept anything short of what was therein demanded. But when they were asked to abandon their demands, why was there no suggestion of yielding something on the other side? Why did the Government refuse to listen to the reasonable and much-lessened demand that the Redistribution Bill should not be submitted to the House further than by being in print and laid upon the Table? There was no excuse why that could not be done, except such excuses as were based on those kinds of insinuations and imputations which were what caused the speech of the Prime Minister to be so singularly deficient in conciliatory character. He could assure the right hon. Gentleman, if he would drop these insinuations and imputations that Conservatives, in their support of the Bill, were not sincere and that in their intentions as regarded the Redistribution Bill they had scarcely masked intentions of no patriotic character, the progress of both the Franchise Bill and the Redistribution Bill would be much easier. Those were the only reasons upon which the non-production of the Bill could be defended. It was true there was also the foolish heat with which the Government had always said they would never do anything of the kind. But let them remember these ill-judged declarations were made last Session when time was limited and important, and there might be truth in the statement that to pass a Redistribution Bill in the Session was impossible. But now the case was very different; and so, before the Bill 1500 left the House, he wished to address one word of entreaty. Much of the present difficulty arose from the fact that those at the head of the Government persisted in accepting advice from those other Members of the Government who did not wish that any accommodation of the difficulty should take place. Much of the difficulty arose from the fact that the Government treated this question not as statesmen, but as men treated a contest over the card table, in which they tried to outwit each other by arts of concealment and suppresion of mutual intentions. He had seen the astute shake of the head with which the President of the Local Government Board (Sir Charles W. Dilke) invariably met the proposal that the Redistribution Bill should be made known to the public; but he could assure the right hon. Baronet that if there was one thing Englishmen loved, it was the open and fair disclosures of their intentions—one thing they detested, it was suspicion and concealment. He was confident that the declaration of the intentions of the Government with regard to redistribution would materially assist, and not impede, the Franchise Bill. There was no difficulty in the way of negotiation. He wished the Prime Minister would give a single instance in which a Bill had been settled in consultation by both sides of the House, against such a high authority as Sir Robert Peel, whom the right hon. Gentleman sought to demolish that evening. Another difficulty in the way of negotiation was their unfortunate experience in the summer of this year, in which there was a disclosure, for platform purposes, of abortive negotiations, in which they had seen formulated the extraordinary new doctrine that it lay with those who concealed those negotiations to show that they were bound to conceal, not to those who disclosed that they had a right to do so. He would not detain the House further. He hoped the difficulty would still be accommodated; and he believed that by the formal introduction of the Redistribution Bill at this present stage, or some early stage, practically the necessities of the case would be met, and, for his own part, he should be perfectly satisfied.
§ MR. MACFARLANE
said, that he had heard Ministers ask the Front Opposition Bench what kind of Redistribution Bill would satisfy them. His own belief was that the Redistribution Bill 1501 which would satisfy the Front Opposition Bench would be the one which would most neutralize the effect of the Franchise Bill. The extraordinary change which had come over the Opposition since Friday was probably due, to some extent, to the resnlt of one bye-election; but it should be remembered that the hopes that were built a few years ago on the result of the bye-election of Southwark were not afterwards realized. He pointed out that if the majority of the House of Lords were united to the minority in the Commons, there would still be in the Lower House a majority of 90 in favour of the measure.
§ MR. PARNELL
said, after the contests of giants, great and small, to which they had listened, he was very unwilling to withdraw the attention of the House from the subject it had been pursuing, and to stand in the way of the Division which might, perhaps, be expected. The question of which he had given Notice was one of some very considerable importance, and he would respectfully claim the attention of the House and of the Government for a few minutes to its consideration. His Amendment proposed to effect a reduction in the charges which Returning Officers were entitled to make upon candidates where the return was unopposed. It might, perhaps, surprise many Members of the House to learn that no change had been made in the scale of charges which the Returning Officers were empowered by law to make in the case of unopposed and opposed candidates since the Act of 1875; that was to say, nine years had gone by since the attention of Parliament had been directed to this important matter. It consequently happened that Parliament, legislating on this matter nine years ago, had in view the proportion of the then existing constituencies under the franchise, and did not, of course, take into its contemplation the greatly increased proportions which those constituencies would attain to under such a Bill as that which the House was now discussing. Now they were going to admit many persons to the franchise in England and Ireland who were not largely endowed with the goods of this world, and it was possible that in some instances those large masses might desire to be represented by persons without much wealth; and he submitted that if it 1502 could be shown—as he thought he could show—that the present charges authorized to be made by the Returning Officers at Parliamentary elections, both opposed and unopposed, would, in the presence of the existence of the new constituencies, become most exorbitant, and impossible for any but rich candidates to pay, he thought that he would then have made out a fair primâ facie case for invoking the attention of Parliament to the matter, which at first might appear to be a little outside the scope of the Bill. Now, on referring to the Schedule of the Act of 1875, which governed the charges which could be made by the Returning Officer, he found in some cases, which would be many in England, and which would be somewhat numerous in Ireland, charges were sanctioned by the Returning Officers, in the case of unopposed returns, ranging from £200 to £100. In the case of constituencies whose registered electors would exceed 30,000, £1,000 caution money could be demanded beforehand by the Sheriff from the candidate, and in the event of the election not being contested the Sheriff could retain £200 of this amount; and he would beg of the House to notice that his Amendment, and consequently his argument, would be limited to the excessive amount the Returning Officer was allowed to take in the case of unopposed returns; but, to a considerable extent, a good deal of what he had to say as to the excessive charges in cases of unopposed elections would also apply to opposed elections. In the case of unopposed returns, he would ask what possible justification could there be for giving the Sheriff in any constituency in England, Ireland, or Scotland, £200 for driving from his home, which was usually fairly close to the county town where the election was held, and for superintending the very few legal formalities which were necessary in the case of an unopposed return? He believed that the only expenditure the Returning Officer would necessarily incur in such a case would be the expenditure for a junior barrister to act for one day as his advising counsel, and for that a very small fee would be sufficient. His contention was that the House ought not, in contemplation of its taking a great step towards the enfranchisement of the masses, and in view of the fact that they compelled a candidate, con- 1503 trary to the practice of most other countries, to pay all the official expenses connected with the election as well as his own, to insist on maintaining a charge which was manifestly not necessary, and to continue a payment to Sheriffs in the case of unopposed returns which it was obvious the Sheriff could not spend. He regretted the subject was not touched by the Act of 1883; but it was not now too late to deal with it before the new franchise came into operation, and he hoped the House would hear from the Government some expression of opinion on the subject. In conclusion, he moved that the Bill be recommitted with the view he had indicated.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the words "now read the third time," and insert the word "re-committed,"—(Mr. Parnell,)—instead thereof.
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, that this was a subject which deserved to engage the attention of the Government. At present, however, they had to deal with the Amendment as a practical question; and he submitted that this Bill was a Franchise Bill, and that the question of the charges of Returning Officers was not one of franchise. If the Government were now to take up that matter, they would be acting inconsistently with their previous action on this Bill. He would, therefore, appeal to the hon. Member for the City of Cork not to press his Amendment. He hoped by withdrawing it the hon. Gentleman would not be making much sacrifice. He assured him the Amendment he desired to propose would not accomplish everything that was necessary, for it did not propose to deal with certain charges now made by Returning Officers which probably the House would not be willing to continue. He thought that when the constituencies were enlarged there ought to be a revision of the Returning Officers' charges as well as of the deposits. Returning Officers ought not to be allowed to charge too much for professional services. When an opportunity occurred he should be very glad to join with the hon. Gentleman in reconsidering the present law in relation to the existing charges. But the 1504 acceptance of the Amendment at the present time would place the Government in such a position that he could not consent to adopt it.
§ MR. SEXTON
recognized the spirit of the hon. and learned Gentleman's comments. Indeed, it must be apparent to every Member who had listened to his hon. Friend (Mr. Parnell) that the case he made was unanswerable. He had shown that as much as £200 had to be found in some cases. Now, he presumed the House of Commons did not desire to restrict its Membership to persons of any social class. [Mr. GDADSTONE: Hear, hear!] The extension of the franchise would necessitate and involve the coming forward of working men as candidates. [Mr. GLADSTONE: Hear, hear!] How was a working man to put down a sum varying from £100 to £200? The matter was urgent; and they wanted to know what security the Government intended to offer that these charges should be brought to a tolerably reasonable level before the time for the next General Election?
I wish to say that I entirely agree with the view of my hon. and learned Friend. I certainly think that, if possible—I do not see why it should not be possible—the opportunity ought to be taken in the present Parliament to make a just legislative provision on this subject.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the third time, and passed.