HL Deb 10 June 1858 vol 150 cc1829-48

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


, in moving the second reading of this Bill, said, he need hardly inform their Lordships that it had passed the other House by a very great majority drawn from all sides, and with the support of the leading Members of Her Majesty's Government; and though he was not authorised to state that it would receive the same support from the noble Earl and his colleagues in their Lordships' House, he thought he was warranted in stating that they entertained no objection to the measure. In stating the grounds on which he asked their Lordships to support the Bill, he world not dwell on the point, much insisted on by many, that there should be no restriction on the natural right of the people to choose their representatives, because, whatever might be his own opinion on that subject, he was ready to admit that while the possession of a certain amount of property was required as a qualification in the case of magistrates and deputy lieutenants, and for the exercise of the elective franchise, there was reasonable ground of analogy for the requirement of a qualification of the higher office of a seat in the Legislature. To make the analogy just and fair, however, it should be carried through and a qualification required for a seat in their Lordships' House as well as in the House of Commons; but they were aware that that formed no part of their Parliamentary constitution. No qualification was required for a seat in their Lordships' House; but he believed it was notorious in former Parliaments and in recent times—he was making no allusion to the present House of Lords—that Peers had sat and voted in their Lordships' House who had not a clear income to the small amount required in a representative of a borough, and the eldest sons of those Peers, even if their fathers were insolvent or bankrupt, would be fully qualified for the House or Commons. The first property qualification was imposed by a statute passed in the 9th year of Queen Anne. He would not enter into the motives or views of the promoters of that Bill, but he believed from its first enactment insuperable difficulties stood in the way of its being carried into effectual operation, and the histories, both of Smollett and Hallam, stated that the Act was notoriously evaded. After an interval of some fifty years, an Act was passed to render that of the 9th of Anne more stringent, and it was then. provided that, before a Member took his seat, he should make oath that he had bonâ fide such an estate for his own use and benefit, after satisfying all incumbrances, as qualified him to sit as a Member for the place for which he was returned. The amount of that qualification for a county was £600 a year from a landed estate, or a rent charge from land to that amount, and half of that sum for a borough. Shortly after the Union that Act was extended to Ireland, and then a still more extended and regular system of fictitious qualifications, borrowed from friends or hired through attorneys, became perfectly notorious; there were, however, some instances of others of a much more objectionable character. He would only mention one which occurred when he was a Member of the other House of Parliament. A Gentleman returned for a large constituency in Ireland was not questioned at the election respecting his qualification, and perhaps might not have been aware, until he came to take his seat, that any was required; his means were not large, and finding that a property qualification was necessary, he procured a map of one of the largest counties in Ireland, with the aid of which he selected the names of certain town lands in a mountainous district. Those names he inserted in his qualification paper, and upon that qualification he sat for two Parliaments. He might have continued sitting upon it had he not quarrelled with some of the parties who assisted in procuring his return. Things went on in that state; the desire to sit in Parliament increased among person unqualified as to property; and fictitious qualifications were carried on to such an extent that, in 1837, the late Sir William Molesworth, when moving for a repeal of the Qualification Act, stated, on the authority of a respectable solicitor, who had been much employed in matters of qualification, that not more than one-half of the Members sitting in that Parliament were really and legally possessed of a property qualification. A Bill was brought in and carried through Parliament the following year, by which the property qualification was extended to personalty as well as land, and a solemn declaration substituted for the oath. That was a great amendment on the old law. It abated considerably the number of fictitious qualifications, because many possessed the requisite personalty, who were not possessors of land; but it by no means put an end to them, and Members were seated as before, by Committees, though they admitted that their qualifications were borrowed. They had heard it said that there was one law for the rich and another for the poor, but much had been done of late years to remove that impression, and no measure had contributed more to that end than the Act passed last year, by which, through the humanity, ability, and zeal of the noble Lord then occupying the woolsack a poor man, equally with a rich man, is enabled to get rid of a profligate wife, and what is still better, an injured and oppressed wife is able to rescue herself and her children from the cruelty and insults of an unprincipled husband. But how stands the qualification Act between the rich and the poor—the elected and the elector? The law, as has been shown, is set at nought by the former; but if a 40s. freeholder, having inherited from his father of the same name with himself, a property registered for a vote, should ignorantly tender his vote as the person on the registry, he is subjected to two years' imprisonment with hard labour. But will it be said that a new light of truth and justice had appeared because Mr. Glover, a Member elected to the House of Commons, and unseated by a Committee, had been prosecuted at law and imprisoned in Newgate, for having made a false declaration, the property upon which he relied being insufficient to give the required qualification after deducting the encumbrances upon it. That was the first prosecution that had taken place during the 150 years the Qualification Act had been in existence, and he could not but consider Mr. Glover rather as a scapegoat for the sins of many generations, than as an offender of much deeper dye than others. The Bill he now proposed for second reading would do away with what had been justly called a delusion and a sham, and if it were passed he hoped its first effect would be to bring about the liberation of the gentleman to whom he had referred.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.


expressed his surprise that, no Member of the Government had risen to express an opinion on this measure. It was something new in practice and in Parliamentary history to be told, not upon the authority of a Member of the Government, but upon the authority of a noble Earl moving the second reading of a Bill, that the Government did not mean to support it, but had no objection to it. That was a novel course of proceeding, as inconvenient as extraordinary; and more especially, when he considered what were the former opinions of noble Lords opposite, did he think that, if they intended to advise the House to pass the Bill, it was their duty to state the grounds upon which they had come to that conclusion. As, however, he learnt from the noble Earl who moved the second reading that the Government did not mean to oppose it, he presumed the measure would receive their Lordships' sanction. It was not his intention, under those circumstances, to trouble the House with an opposition which he knew would be unavailing; but he could not permit the Bill to pass without expressing his regret that it should pass in such a manner and at such a time. With respect to the measure itself, he owned he did not consider it one of great importance. He altogether differed from the noble Earl that the imposition by the Legislature of restrictions upon persons returned to Parliament was "an invasion of the natural rights of electors," and he thought that if they began to argue those assumed natural rights they would soon get into interminable confusion and absurdity. He supposed, as his noble Friend advocated the first point in the Charter, he was prepared to argue for the remaining five points. Although he (Earl Grey) did not think there was anything unreasonable in Parliament requiring that before a man took his seat in the House of Commons he should show that he was in the possession of sufficient property to give some assurance of his independence and ability to devote his time to the duties he had undertaken, yet he was perfectly aware that the law as it stood at present was easily evaded. He did not take the same view of those evasions as the noble Earl appeared to do, for he regarded such tampering with a solemn declaration as not very distinguishable from perjury. Be that as it might, it was true, that the law was easily evaded, and he fully recognized the objections to retaining upon the statute book a law that was not practically in force. He therefore entertained no strong opinion against this measure considered by itself; but he could not avoid thinking it derived additional importance when it was considered in connection with other questions and the time at which it was proposed They could not be ignorant that there was at the present moment a numerous party who desired to effect a complete alteration in our representative system. The abolition of the property qualification was the first step, but there were other measures included in the list of what they considered necessary reforms. They wished for a very large extension of the franchise; for a redistribution of the right of returning Members to the House of Commons. They wished to establish a system of secret voting; and to abridge the duration of Parliaments. Those were objects which were sought to be attained by a party of considerable importance in the country, and he need hardly point out to their Lordships that if the measures to which he had just alluded were to be carried into effect unaccompanied by any counterbalancing changes in an opposite direction, the introduction of a complete revolution into the working of our Parliamentary system would be the result. Instead of a constitution under the operation of which the different classes of the community would exercise a certain amount of authority, we should have, as the consequence of those proposed alterations, such overwhelming influence thrown into the hands of those classes who formed the numerical majority of the people, that all the other classes in the state would be rendered collectively powerless. We should, in short, have an unbalanced sys tem of democracy. Now, he felt that to any change of that character the great majority of the people of England were entirely opposed. The experience to be derived from the proceedings of foreign countries of late years was not lost upon our own. In France, as their Lordships were aware, the inhabitants had—in his opinion unfortunately—thought fit, instead of reforming by constitutional means a form of Government which he granted was defective and corrupt, to establish a system of extreme democracy. What had been the consequence? Why, that the system had been found to be so oppressive that those who lived under its influence had become almost universally desirous of a change. That change was brought about, the system of extreme democracy had been superseded, and a form of government had been established in which the Emperor was practically absolute. Their Lordships were also aware that in the United States of America a constitution of extreme democracy had been tried—and tried, too, under circumstances far more favourable than could in an older society and a more thickly peopled country be fairly anticipated; yet we knew, not only from the observation of travellers, but from the testimony of some of the most enlightened citizens of those States, that in proportion as the checks on democracy had been removed, in the same proportion decayed that liberty which consisted in freedom of action, of thought, and of speech upon the part of individuals, and the enjoyment of that full security of person and property which prevailed under the protection of equal laws fairly and firmly administered; while at the same time there had been an increase of corruption and a diminution of efficiency for good, not only of the general Government, but of the separate Governments of individual States. Such was the present state of things in America, according to the best testimony; and he could not help feeling that the example of that country had its due weight with the inhabitants of our own, who, he felt assured, were by no means desirous to alter our constitution, in order to assimilate it with that which existed at the other side of the Atlantic. But, although he felt persuaded that such as he had described it to be was the general inclination of the people of these kingdoms, yet it was, he thought, impossible not to perceive that the usual means by which the balance of a constitution was changed was by having recourse to gradual and petty alterations, none of which were, perhaps, of extreme importance in themselves, but each of which tended to consequences upon which there was much reason to look with apprehension. There could, for instance, be no doubt that the avowed policy of that party in this country which sought to effect extreme changes in our form of Government was—being hopeless of carrying out their objects if they proposed to do so openly and directly—to use their own language, to obtain that in detail which they were unable to procure in gross. That was the mode of action which was adopted, and it was, he feared, a policy which was all the more likely to prove successful, owing to the fact that, although the party by which it was adopted was at present weak in comparison with others, yet it wielded a power in consequence of the divisions subsisting between those other parties far greater than it ought, and also owing to the circumstance that a disposition had been exhibited among the public men of various parties to bid for the support of those for whom, as a general rule, they differed on political matters, by concurring in the various measures which the party to which he referred deemed it its duty to propose. From a tendency such as that, he should confess he believed great danger to the country was likely to arise; and it was his observation of the existence of that tendency which rendered him so reluctant to give his assent to the passing of the Bill before the House. But, in giving expression to those views, he must not be understood as being opposed to a deliberate and well-considered revision of our representative system. Upon the contrary, he was of opinion that the time which had elapsed since 1832 had rendered such a revision desirable, if not necessary. He wished it, however, to be effected only after sober and calm deliberation. Meantime he strongly objected to being asked to take small steps year after year, which some people were disposed to regard as being of no consequence, but which tended to throw additional power into the hands of those by whom those radical changes to which he had referred were sought to be effected, and which, if prosecuted to a successful issue, would only serve to stimulate their appetite, and to lead them on to the accomplishment of objects, the attainment of which he could not look upon otherwise than with dismay. Parliament ought to know what it was doing, and the present measure ought to be considered in conjunction with a general rearrangement of the representation. In any well-considered measure of Parliamentary reform which might be introduced it would, he felt convinced, be found necessary that some changes should be effected which were not altogether of a popular character, and which should have for their object the removal of defects which were not those dwelt upon by ordinary popular orators, but which at the same time must not be regarded as the less substantial or important. Now, if any alterations of that character should be found to be necessary, it was, he thought, extremely expedient that their Lordships should, as a measure of common prudence, abstain from making concessions on their part until they knew what concessions would be made on the other side. For those reasons, he regretted extremely that such a measure as that under their notice should be allowed to pass without a single word of explanation from Her Majesty's Government—they ought to explain fully and fairly their views on the subject, and in what way they were disposed to act hereafter. Upon a subject of such transcendent importance they had a right to demand that they should not be led blindfolded along a path of which they could not see the end. He should, therefore, call upon noble Lords opposite who concurred with him as to the necessity of exercising great caution in dealing with a question so grave to watch with due care the conduct of their leaders. If their leaders would only stand by them as they ought, he saw no reason to suppose that it was not possible that the entire question might not be fairly and satisfactorily settled. If, however, those leaders should pursue a different course, and, trusting to the aid of that party with which they had hitherto acted, should at the same time seek by dangerous concessions to earn the support of those who differed widely from them in political principles, then might the consequences which would follow turn out to be formidable indeed. Now, the expectation had been held out to the country that in the course of next Session a general measure of Parliamentary Reform would be introduced by Her Majesty's Government; and if they were prepared to act upon that intimation, he should beg to impress upon them the great importance of taking—before they even entered upon the consideration of their proposed scheme—some steps to collect, by means of able and trustworthy persons, information bearing upon the subject. He believed that an immense amount of statistical and other information might be obtained by persons fitted for the duty, which would throw great light on the best means of improving the constitution of the House of Commons. He hoped that if the Government intended to bring forward a measure of reform next Session, they would, during the present au- tumn, take steps to collect such information and place it before Parliament.


said, he was not a little astonished by some of the observations that had been made by the noble Earl who had just sat down, but he would not trouble their Lordships by going into a consideration of "the five points of the Charter," or any larger measures of reform which might be desired by any party in the country or in Parliament. The noble Earl had stated that he did not consider this measure a very important one; but he (Lord Ebury) would call attention to the necessity of some measure of relief of a class of persons to whom he might allude—he meant the Members of the House of Commons who were compelled to try the merits of election petitions. It had been his misfortune to have been the Chairman of two Committees appointed to inquire into such petitions, which turned upon the qualifications of the Members. One Member was petitioned against on the ground of want of qualification. In that case the Committee sat three months, and several witnesses were called to speak of the value of certain estates in Ireland. Some said they were sufficient for the qualification which was required, while others said they were worth nothing at all. Upon this conflicting evidence they had to decide, and they gave the sitting Member the benefit of the doubt which existed in their minds. Very likely, after all, the Member alluded to was not qualified. In the second case the Gentleman petitioned against was unseated. It was that of Mr. Carter, the Member for Tavistock. Deeds were produced, upon which the Committee looked with dismay; and it was impossible for them to tell, even after the closest inspection, whether the Member was qualified or not. Some lawyers who were on the Committee gave it as their opinion that the deeds did not represent the proper amount of qualification, and that view of the case was adopted. It was most desirable that Members of the House should be relieved from such protracted, painful, and unsatisfactory duties. Here, then, was one not unimportant advantage which would be conferred by a repeal of the law. That law, however, as it stood, was but a delusion and a snare, and on this ground too, he would support the present measure. Nor did he see why they ought to quarrel with the noble Earl at the head of the Government for adopting his reform. Why should not the noble Earl be allowed to change his mind on this and on other subjects, even though he might formerly have pronounced decided opinions of a different kind? He (Lord Ebury) should give his vote for the Bill, and was glad to understand that it was not likely to be opposed by the Government.


said, he was for many years a Member of the House of Commons, and when he acted upon Election Committees the great difficulties he found were not with reference to the qualifications of Members, but as to whether electors had paid their rates, and whether they did or did not live in £10 houses. He was afraid that the noble Lord (Lord Ebury) would have "to go the whole hog," the "five points of the Charter," and something more, if he wished to relieve Members of the House of Commons of their laborious duties in connection with Election Committees. He objected to this perennial system of legislation, because it would inevitably tend to the violation of the constitution. He believed that no respectable man was prevented from obtaining a seat in the other House by the law as it stood, and he should therefore enter his protest against the repeal of that law.


My Lords, if I did not rise immediately after the noble Earl (Earl Fortescue) it was not from the slightest wish to conceal the opinion I have formed upon this subject, but merely because, not intending myself to offer any opposition to the second reading of the Bill, and understanding that it was the intention of the noble Earl who spoke second (Earl Grey) to offer some opposition to it, I was anxious to hear what arguments he was prepared to submit. I confess it has been satisfactory to me to find that my opinions with regard to this Bill are in a great measure shared by the noble Earl, and that, instead of opposing the Bill—as I expected lie would do—he has confined himself to making certain observations, not so much with regard to the measure itself as to the possible consequences which he thinks might follow its adoption. I agree with the noble Earl in the opinion he expressed that the Bill is in itself of very trifling and immaterial importance; and I also agree with him in the view which he takes of the danger of some ulterior measures with which he sought to connect this Bill, but with which I confess I am not able to see any connection. Whenever measures of a character dangerous to the constitution may be pro- posed, nothing will give me greater satisfaction than to find that in resisting them—as I should resist thorn on whatever side of the House I might happen to sit—I have the conscientious support and assistance of the noble Earl. I must confess, however, that while the noble Earl will find no one more sincerely and conscientiously opposed than I am myself to the democratic measures which he announced his determination to resist, I see no necessity for the solemn warning he gave to those with whom I have the honour of acting, to be cautious that their leaders do not draw them into dangerous courses. I am sure the Conservative party will be deeply grateful for the noble Earl's advice, and I hope they will give it due weight. Whatever importance they may attach to his recommendations, I am sure they will attach great value to his promise of assistance in resisting the progress of extreme measures. The question is, however, how far the Bill now before us is connected with the other measure to which the noble Earl has referred. The noble Earl says, that the proposal to abolish the property qualification is supported by a party who will demand a redistribution of electoral districts, the vote by ballot, the shortening of the duration of Parliaments, and a very large extension of the suffrage—all of which, as I understood, the noble Earl is determined to oppose.


was understood to say, that what he had stated was, that these proposals, considered as a whole, and without any compensating measures on the other side, would amount to a revolution—and so they would.


Then, I want to know how far, in the opinion of the noble Earl, this measure is revolutionary. The noble Earl has said, that the Bill is utterly unimportant and immaterial. I must protest, then, against his coupling his objections to this Bill with his objections to other measures which, he says, taken altogether and unaccompanied by any compensation would be equivalent to a revolution. Does it follow because the House of Commons are prepared to sanction this measure that they are also prepared to sanction, with or without compensation, the other measures to which the noble Earl has referred? The noble Earl has alluded to secret voting; but the same House of Commons which regards the Bill now before us as a perfectly safe and im- material measure was not prepared to give its sanction to what the noble Earl regarded as a revolutionary element, namely, the dangerous measure of vote by ballot—for in a very full House that measure was rejected by the House of Commons by a very large majority. I believe that at this moment the House of Commons is engaged in considering another of the measures to which the noble Earl referred, and it is impossible for me to say at what conclusion that House may arrive. The noble Earl, who seems to think that Her Majesty's Government will give their support to all the measures which may be sent up to this House by the House of Commons, has alluded to the measure which may be sent up, founded upon Mr. Locke King's proposition to extend the £10 franchise to counties. I can disabuse the noble Earl of any impression he may have formed by assuring him that such a measure will meet with the most strenuous opposition I can offer to it. If the House of Commons thinks fit to deal singly and separately with any of the measures to which the noble Earl has referred, it will be your Lordships duty, when such measures come under your consideration, to express your opinion upon each of thorn singly and separately, according to the merits of each proposition, and without reference to those other questions with which it is supposed that they may be connected. With regard to the Bill now before us, although I am not anxious either for its adoption or rejection, I am not prepared to offer any opposition to a measure which immediately affects the composition of the House of Commons, which has been passed by that House, and which appears to me of such intrinsic unimportance that it ought not to be allowed to add to the causes of difference which exist between the two Houses. If I thought that the existing law afforded an actual security for the independence, the station, and the position of those who sit in the House of Commons, and that the adoption of this Bill would materially diminish the status and position of the Members of that House, I should hesitate long before I acceded to the passing of the measure, even although it comes up to us recommended by a large majority of the House of Commons. But when I find that from time to time the law upon this subject has been relaxed; that the question has always been dealt with, not as part of a great measure of reform, but as a separate measure; that in the course of the present reign the rigour of the previous provisions, which required that the qualification of Members should consist exclusively of landed property, has been relaxed and extended to property of every kind; and when I see that the amount of qualification required is not, in the present day, what can be regarded as a guarantee for the independence of any man who mixes in society, and who has to maintain his position as a Member of the House of Commons—such a guarantee of independence as would withdraw him from the exercise of undue influence—I confess it does not appear to me that the alteration proposed by this Bill would effect any real and substantial change in the position of Members of the House of Commons. There is one difficulty which I certainly do anticipate, and which I think requires some consideration before this measure is sanctioned. I refer to the probability—or, at all events, the possibility—that the absence of any qualification may lead to vexatious contests and to vexatious opposition, by putting upon the hustings men of straw, merely with the view of causing vexation and annoyance, and without any real intention that they shall take their seats in the House of Commons, I know I may be asked whether such instances have occurred in Scotland, where no qualification for Members of Parliament is required, and how a system can be defended with reference to English Members of Parliament which is not considered necessary in the case of Scotch Members. I admit that that does not appear to present a difficulty in the practical working of the system. I do not say now whether I think it desirable or not that the bonâ fide qualification of Members of the House of Commons should be of a somewhat higher character. I do not agree with the noble Earl who introduced the Bill that the requirement of a qualification is a violation of any of those civil and natural rights which belong individuals. [Earl FORTESCUE was understood to say that he did not state that as his own opinion, but that it was entertained by some persons.] I am gratified to learn that the noble Earl does not rely upon that principle; but when I find that the qualification of Members of the House of Commons has, from time to time been altered and relaxed; that such steps have been taken, apart from all measures of "reform," that the law relating to qualification, such as it is, has in many cases, almost by the connivance of the House of Commons, been evaded; that almost any person may obtain—I do not say whether justifiably or not—a qualification which is not real; that the fact of qualifications being so granted, may, owing to blunders or bungling on the part of lawyers, lead comparatively innocent men into the commission of apparently great offences, which no one thinks very discreditable, but which may expose them to grave censures and animadversion, and subject them to heavy penalties,—when I find that this is the case, and that the House of Commons, by a considerable majority, have sent up to your Lordships a Bill with the view of abolishing a requirement which is in many instances evaded—I think—apart from questions upon which we may have, and have had, considerable difference with the House of Commons, and others which may come before us, upon which it may be necessary and essential that we should make a stand against dangerous propositions emanating from that assembly—that in point of policy and wisdom it is not advisable and expedient, if your Lordships think this subject is really and substantially immaterial, that for the purpose of keeping up a vain and shadowy appearance of qualification you should unnecessarily put yourselves in opposition to the House of Commons upon a question which materially and directly and exclusively concerns the composition of that House. For these reasons, without saying that I should have thought it necessary to introduce a measure of this kind, but finding that it has been introduced, and has received the assent of the House of Commons, and believing that it would be practically innocuous—that, if unproductive of any very considerable benefit, it would be perfectly immaterial, I certainly am not disposed to offer any opposition to the Bill, and I would humbly advise your Lordships not to reject it.


said, that the Bill appeared to be supported with but faint praise, whilst the opposition to it only hesitated dislike; but he differed in the view which seemed to have been taken of it, and he supported it on its merits as one which was important and necessary, and which the legislature ought to pass. The noble Duke opposite said he opposed the Bill because there was no hardship in the present state of the law. He (the Duke of Newcastle) was astonished to hear that statement, for when we looked to recent events, and when we knew that a gentleman was at that moment suffering imprisonment for a violation of the law—a vio- lation which his noble Friend who moved the second reading said was participated in by half the Members of the House of Commons; and when his noble Friend behind him (Lord Ebury) stated the results of Election Committees on this subject, he thought it could not be said that there was not hardship, and very grievous hardship, in the present state of the law. He (the Duke of Newcastle) and his noble Friend behind him (Lord Ebury) had had some years' experience of the House of Commons, and they had sat on Election Committees, and recollected cases of hardship which existed in both directions. There were cases of gentlemen notoriously without qualification, whose elections were disputed, but who retained their seats in consequence of their disqualification not being sufficiently proved; while, on the other hand, there were cases of gentlemen notoriously possessed of ample qualifications, but in whose titles lawyers found some flaw, and who were unseated on legal technicality. The noble Earl (Earl Grey) had grounded his opposition to the Bill on two points. He had treated it as a part of a great constitutional change, and as a concession to a party which sought more extensive changes. He (the Duke of Newcastle) did not think this a great constitutional change. The origin of the law was but recent—it was introduced in the 7th year of Queen Anne by the Harley Government, and the Act was passed by that Government for a special and avowed party purpose. It was stated in the history of the times that the stockbrokers and merchants were opposed to the Government, and the Bill was passed to exclude the trading interest from Parliament by enacting that there should be an exclusively landed qualification. The law so continued until some twenty years ago, when a mitigation of the law took place, and a qualification of personal estate of an equal amount was placed on the same footing with a landed qualification. As the law stood how many anomalies existed. The noble Earl (the Earl of Derby) had alluded to the absence of qualification in the Scotch representation; and it might be added, that none was required in the case of members for the Universities, or in that of the eldest sons of Peers. But there was a greater anomaly still, for any one who was the son of a knight of a shire was entitled to sit in the House of Commons without a qualification; so that while to be a knight of the shire required a qualification of £600 a year, his son required no qualification; but when he succeeded his father, he was disqualified unless he possessed £600 a year. There was still another anomaly. Take their Lordships' House. All aristocracies were founded either on birth, wealth, or personal distinction. Surely, as regards the two first at least, you might be expected to require some qualification of a money test for a seat in such an assembly; and yet no qualification was re-required for admission to that House. He had said that he attached importance to this measure; and he supported it on moral grounds, believing that evasion of a law was in itself a moral evil, which ought to be removed as speedily as possible, unless strong grounds could be proved for its continuance. We had for many years been proceeding on a principle which to a great extent sapped the moral feeling of the people with regard to the disgrace attaching to falsehood, and it was a principle which the Legislature ought not to encourage. We had, until recently, brought boys to swear to articles of faith which they did not understand, and that was a moral evil which it was felt must be removed; we were still requiring oaths to be taken repudiating Princes who did not exist; and, lastly, we were retaining a qualification for Members of Parliament which excluded no men from the House of Commons except those whose consciences were of so tender a character as not to enable them to carry on that dalliance with falsehood which the Legislature encouraged. He had no fear of a danger which had been predicted, that the taking away of the qualification would cause the House of Commons to be flooded with bankrupts and swindlers. In the first place, it seemed that under the present law, that class of persons was not necessarily excluded. He should rejoice if a further great reform was carried, and that Members of the House of Commons and of their Lordships' House should no longer possess the privilege of freedom from arrest. ["Hear, hear!"] He rejoiced at the reception which that opinion met with from both sides of the House, and he believed that you would do more to purify the Legislature by such a proceeding than by any fancied exclusion of improper persons by a property qualification. He believed the privilege from arrest was a great disgrace to both Houses. When you went into most societies you might be sure that no one with whom you were associating was in so disgraceful a position as was im- plied in that privilege; but in the House of Lords you were by no means sure of it. He believed that the evil of the introduction of bankrupts and swindlers into the House of Commons would not be increased, and that it would be cured by such a measure as he had alluded to; and if such a measure came up to their Lordships' House he hoped that it would receive only one Amendment and that was the including of the House of Lords in the Bill. He certainly did not dread the passing of the present Bill on the ground that the alteration of the law would admit into the House of Commons some artisans and poor men, for he should like to see in that House representatives of all classes; and there was not a greater mistake than to suppose, in respect to the Chartists, or any particular class of men whom we were in the habit of having called dangerous, that it was desirable to exclude them from the House of Commons. On the contrary, he thought that there would be great safety in admitting to that assembly men of all classes. He did not think that any fear need be entertained of increased corruption in the House of Commons in consequence of the abolition of the property qualification. Such poor men as might be introduced into Parliament through the instrumentality of the present measure would be found, he had no doubt, much more honest and independent than some of those speculative politicians who got themselves returned for the purpose of supporting any Government from whom they might obtain advantages either for themselves or for their friends. He supported the Bill, therefore, because he believed it to be a moral measure, because it would effect an improvement of a really useful and substantial character, and because the existing law, to use the words of a late learned Judge, was "a mockery, a delusion, and a snare."


My Lords, without wishing or intending to trouble your Lordships with many observations, I may be permitted to say that the Bill before us has not only my concurrence, but the concurrence of those noble Lords with whom I have the pleasure of acting in public life. I feel that I should be merely wasting the time of the House if I were to repeat the arguments which have been advanced in favour of the present measure. The noble Earl who spoke second in the debate (Earl Grey) did not object to the Bill in itself, while the slight reasons stated by the noble Duke opposite (the Duke of Rutland) the only person who has expressed any decided opposition to the measure, have been sufficiently answered by the speeches already made on the other side of the question. I cannot admit, with the noble Earl (Earl Grey) that we ought not to pass this Bill on account of the probable introduction next Session of a large and comprehensive measure of Parliamentary reform. Considering that every Government which has existed during the last twenty years has virtually admitted that the representation requires amendment, I do not think we can remain much longer where we are; but when we are asked to resist small measures on the ground that a large and comprehensive measure may be introduced, we are bound to consider what chances there are of such a measure being passed. That object, as it appears to me, can be obtained in only two ways. The first is, that the leading statesmen and politicians of the country should concur in some measure of reform. Now, I am afraid that there is little chance of such an agreement, except by the ordinary means of Parliamentary discussion; and, though it might be desirable to have the general concurrence of prominent statesmen in a measure of reform, I am not sure that the jealousy of the nation would not be excited if political leaders were to settle, as it were out of Court, what changes should be introduced into our representative system. I cannot, therefore, regard that plan as one likely to be carried into effect. The other way in which a great measure of Parliamentary reform may be passed is, either that a strong Government should undertake to push it through, or that there should be a general expression of public opinion on the subject. Now, without meaning any disrespect to noble Lords opposite, I must say that the position which they hold at the present moment, whatever may be the case hereafter, is not such as to enable them to carry whatever measure they might consider sound and beneficial, or successfully to resist in the House of Commons any proposition which they might deem injurious and unsafe. I am bound to admit, at the same time, that some portion of their weakness has been communicated to the other parties in the State, and that at the present moment we cannot calculate upon the formation of a Government strong enough to carry by its own unaided vigour a large and comprehensive measure of reform. Nor does it seem to me that the public generally are much interested in the question. There is no excitement anywhere, and I sincerely believe that the feeling of the country is not such as to overcome all the difficulties and obstacles which exist to the passing of a really great measure. I think the Members of the House of Commons personally are disposed to say— —better bear those ills we have, Than fly to others that we know not of; while the constituencies, being naturally satisfied with their present position, are not particularly anxious for the introduction of extensive alterations into our representative system. At the same time, I feel certain that if we were to stand perfectly still—above all, if we were to put ourselves in opposition to such reforms as could be shown to be reasonable and desirable—we should immediately have a strong and overwhelming public opinion, not directed to a measure full of checks and balances such as has been described to us, but capable of being wielded in favour of a wild and dangerous scheme. For that reason I think it would be prudent for us, whenever Bills like the present come under our consideration, not to put them off with some vague notion that a larger and more comprehensive measure may be proposed; but to consider carefully whether they are calculated to improve our institutions, and to perfect that representative system which I believe as it is, is superior to what exists in any other country; but which, I think, requires considerable change and modification to meet the progressive increase in wealth and enlightenment of different classes of the community. While giving my vote in favour of the present Bill, I shall equally deem it my duty to support other measures that may come before us, provided they seem likely to promote the public good.


said, he should be guilty of great inconsistency if he did not support the Bill, for, from his early youth, he had expressed his opinion that a property qualification for Members of Parliament was inexpedient. Let them look to the qualifications of electors, and the qualifications of the elected would very soon be everything that could be desired. There never had been any property qualification in Scotland, and no inconvenience had been felt from the want of it. When he was in the House of Commons, there was an attempt to impose a property qualification on Scotland, but he led a meeting which resisted it, and Scotland had always been free. He believed that, in point of respectability and station, the Scotch Members stood as high as those of their English and Irish brethren who lived under the law of a property qualification. He hoped that this Bill would be the precursor of other measures for improving the representation of the people in the House of Commons.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House To-morrow.