§ EARL RUSSELL
My Lords, I rise for the purpose of stating to your Lordships what has occurred with respect to the subject to which I alluded on a former evening. In accordance with the announcement which I then made to your Lordships, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and I went this day to Windsor and had an audience of Her Majesty, and that we returned to London bearing with us the final decision of Her Majesty. I have now to inform your Lordships that the resignations which we unanimously agreed to tender have been accepted. Some time has elapsed since I asked your Lordships to suspend public business. I will accordingly state what has occurred in the interval. Her Majesty, on receiving the tender of resignation which Her Ministers offered on Tuesday last, in the first place, was pleased to say that she wished the Cabinet to reconsider their decision; that it appeared to Her Majesty that the Government had only been defeated on a point of detail in regard to their measure; and, further, that the present state of the Continent made it very inexpedient that a change of Government should take place at this time. By the latter statement Her Majesty intended to convey that, persons who had been for some time in communication with foreign Powers, whose policy was known to those foreign Powers, who had maintained an intimate alliance with both France and Russia, the neutral Powers in the present war—that such persons might have an advantage over any others who, newly entered upon office, and however able and experienced, must necessarily be strangers to the correspondence that had been carried on. With respect to the first of these objections—that the defeat of the Government took place upon a matter of detail, I beg to say that I had no occasion or opportunity, nor, let me say, any wish, to make any statement with regard to the Bill for the extension of the suffrage and the re-distribution of seats. But I will state what has been the position in which we have found ourselves since. Her Majesty was pleased to desire me, on the death of Lord Palmerston, to accept the office of First Lord of the Treasury. When I accepted that office, I found that the pledges which had been frequently given by various Administrations—by my own Administration, by that of Lord Aberdeen, by that of Lord Derby, and by that of 655 Lord Palmerston, were pledges that had not been redeemed, and that a reproach existed—and it will continue to exist—upon any party in this country that did not take any opportunity which might seem practicable to solve this question, which, if left unsolved, must be productive of great inconvenience, and even evil, to the country. My Lords, it appeared to me—and I have always acted upon that opinion, whether in office or out of office—that it was not wise to bring forward the question of Reform unless the circumstances were such as to lead to the hope that it would be seriously entertained. We believed, from the representations that were made to us, and from the reports of proceedings at the elections which took place during last year, that we had a favourable opportunity to settle this question. It appeared to us that a considerable suspicion and distrust existed in the public mind owing to former measures of Reform having been produced and then, for one reason or another, defeated or dropped; and we therefore thought it our duty to declare at an early period that, whatever might be the measure on which Her Majesty's Government decided, by that measure we should stand or fall. After this we sifted and examined all the information we had procured, and we considered the principles on which any measure of the kind should be based. And it seemed to me, my Lords, having had a part—a considerable part—in the framing and introduction, and subsequently in the carrying, of another measure of Reform—it seemed to me that Earl Grey was perfectly wise when he declared with regard to that measure that he wished it to be large in order that it might be safe. Now, my Lords, it seemed to me that on the present occasion we ought to consider whether it would be advisable to prepare a measure which would pass easily through Parliament by a compromise of the views of different parties, or whether an attempt ought not to be made to introduce a measure which would last undisturbed, at least, as long as the Reform Act of Earl Grey has done. It appeared to us that if we treated the measure merely as a matter of party convenience, to be agreed upon between different political persons, we should incur the certain risk in three or four years of a new agitation; that those who had been unjustly excluded would ask to be admitted to the privileges of the Constitution; and, probably, we should find that we had not effected that settlement which it was our 656 wish to accomplish in approaching this question. The course would undoubtedly have been an easier one for us. We might have obtained a temporary triumph. But we considered it was our duty not to bring in a Reform Bill unless we had reason to hope that the measure would pass, and, when passed, would endure for a considerable time. That being the principle upon which we proceeded, it seemed to us advisable to bear in mind two objects. One was to make the measure so sufficiently large as to give contentment to the people who were seeking an extension of the franchise in counties and in boroughs. The other was so to frame the measure as not unnecessarily to give alarm to the numerous persons who are opposed to any social disturbance, and very sensitive to danger to the Constitution from unnecessary interference with the settled institutions of the country. From time to time Motions have been made for the extension of the franchise in counties owing to the operation of the Chandos Clause in the Reform Bill of 1832. A number of petitions for the extension of the franchise in boroughs have also been presented. With regard to the counties the proposals made were for a £10 franchise instead of £50, and in boroughs for a £6 yearly value instead of £10. I have a few figures which will show what would have been the result of these proposals. In the measure introduced by the Government of Lord Palmerston it was estimated that 260,000 persons would have been admitted under the £6 yearly value franchise. Under the £7 franchise only 156,000 would have been admitted, showing a difference in the two proposals of 104,000. By the former Bill of 1852, a franchise of £5 rateable value would have admitted 230,000, being a difference of 74,000. It appeared to me that that was a compromise already made with those claiming the franchise, and that it was not for those who objected to the undue extension of the franchise to say that it was carried too far. We cut off more than 100,000 of those who would have been enfranchised under the former proposal. Therefore, having made that proposal, I must say that those who belong to the unrepresented people, and who stated that they would be satisfied with nothing less than a £6 yearly value for boroughs and £10 yearly value for counties, showed the utmost moderation, for they declared themselves at once satisfied with the franchise proposed by the Government. So far on one 657 side the compromise was accepted. Those, however, who had objected to the Bill of 1861, as including too great a number, were not at all satisfied by the diminution of 100,000 which we proposed. I am not going to occupy your Lordships' time with what I think would not be properly the subject of debate in this House—namely, the mode in which the Bill was received in the House of Commons, and the various Amendments which were proposed to evade and to obstruct it. But, perhaps, I may say that the course adopted has hardly been in accordance with the promise voluntarily made by the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Derby), that he would not countenance any attempt factiously to defeat the Bill of the Government, but would treat it in a fair spirit. Now, if the noble Earl had kept entirely aloof from any declarations made by any of the Members of his party in the House of Commons, I should have had nothing to say on the matter, but only to lament that the precept which the noble Earl had laid down had not been acted upon. I have, however, seen constantly in the newspapers that there were meetings held at the house of a noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Salisbury) of the Conservative Members of the House of Commons, and I have always seen that the Earl of Derby arrived at a quarter past two to address those meetings. Now, my Lords, I do not know—or, if I did know, I should not wish to criticize—the words of advice which may have been given by the noble Earl on those occasions, to persons who would listen to a person of his great authority with deference and respect; but this I must say, that, either when the noble Earl spoke to them in favour of fairness and straightforwardness in dealing with the Bill they must have been very bad pupils, or else he did not give to them their lesson in accordance with the declaration he had made in favour of fair dealing and straightforwardness. The fact is that the Bill has been met at every turn—I am not going to use any epithets—by surprises or unexpected tactics. The Amendment to the second reading was defeated by a majority of five votes. Subsequent divisions took place upon various important points of the Bill, in which the Government had sometimes a fair majority, and once the vote of the House of Commons was carried against us. At last came the Question on which there was a majority of eleven against the Government. Now, that division was, 658 Her Majesty has been pleased to observe, upon a point of detail; but if it had been merely a point of detail—if it had been merely a question, for instance, between rating and rental, Her Majesty's Government might easily have consented to that Amendment, and endeavoured, by reducing the rating qualification, or by some other means, to have convinced the House of Commons that the test of rating was not a proper test as a qualification for the franchise. But, my Lords, coming after so many attempts to obstruct, delay, and defeat the Bill, we could not but consider that it was hopeless for us to proceed further with it. Of course we should have been ready to postpone the Bill, after the franchise clauses had been agreed to, to another Session of Parliament. But that would have been useless, seeing that there was such a determined spirit of hostility to the Bill in the House as to demonstrate that there was no chance of its passing. The Government, therefore, resolved to tender to Her Majesty their resignations. My Lords, I cannot think that we proposed an extension of the suffrage which was too great, or that we proposed to carry further than was necessary the bestowal of the right of voting upon the working men of this country. We acted according to our sincere convictions, and in the same way as Lord Grey's Government had acted in regard to the same subject. That Government made Schedule A, which related to the disfranchisement of small boroughs, a vital point in the Bill, and we considered that the franchise we fixed for counties and boroughs was a vital point in the Bill we brought in. Therefore, we held that the point upon which the last division took place was not one merely of detail; and, having duly considered whether it could be set right by any further Amendment, we determined, as I have said, to tender our resignations. The other ground upon which Her Majesty declined to accept our resignations without further deliberation was the present state of foreign affairs and the war which is now raging on the Continent. Now, it will be admitted by your Lordships, and the other House of Parliament will admit, that, however we regard the matter, it is inconvenient to take the management of foreign affairs from the hands of a Government which had been established so long, and place it in the hands of others at a moment like the present. We deemed, however, that it was our duty to maintain our honour as public men uninjured, 659 and that no consideration of public convenience at that time, however grave that consideration might be, would justify us in incurring the blame of forfeiting pledges we had given to the country and to Parliament to bring in a Reform Bill which we might expect to carry. My Lords, I have now stated the reasons which induced Her Majesty's Government to tender their resignation; and, as I have already told your Lordships, that resignation has been accepted. I have now only to make two further remarks. One is that I trust, whatever Parliament may do, they will fairly consider and will not treat with contempt or contumely the claims of the working classes to be admitted to the right of voting. I trust they will act in the spirit in which I spoke to a large deputation. When one of its members pointed out to me that universal suffrage existed in the United States, and in many, if not all, our colonies, I replied to them that this country has been famed for many centuries as a free and happy country, possessing noble institutions, and that our object should be not to copy the institutions of other countries, but to improve our own. That, I conceive, should be the object of your Lordships and the object of any person who should be called to fill the office of Her Majesty's Advisers. I should say the pursuance of that object was especially a duty at this time, considering the present condition of foreign countries—because we cannot forget the influence that was exercised over all Europe by the French Revolution of 1830, or overlook the circumstance that the Minister of a German Power has proclaimed universal suffrage as the basis of a Parliament in Germany. If you grant the suffrage freely and generously to the people of this country, attached as they are to their English institutions, they would rather accept such a boon from you than that you should offer them a Constitution framed upon a foreign model. But if you alienate the people from the Crown and the aristocracy by refusing them the enfranchisement to which they are entitled evils must be for many years experienced. We have made the attempt—unfortunately as it appears—but we have made the attempt to perform the duty of reconciling that which was due to the great and established institutions of this country with that which was due to the growing influence, the increased wealth, the increased intelligence of the people, and which was due also to 660 their manifest forbearance and respect for the law. I am sure that that is an object that the Legislature should aim at. Any agreement between political parties will not produce a lasting state of things with regard to the representation of the people in the House of Commons, unless you work in the open day, before the eyes of the people, and persuade them that you are acting honestly by them. I have only now to make one further observation, and that is to express my gratitude to Her Majesty for the confidence she has been pleased to bestow upon us, and to bear my testimony to Her Majesty's anxiety to perform all the duties of her high station. Not even considerations of health which I have often felt it my duty to urge upon Her Majesty's attention have permitted her to abstain from performing the functions which belonged to her as Sovereign of the people of England. I trust that under the blessing of Divine Providence Her Majesty may be able to perform those duties, and that she may be preserved to the enjoyment of many, many happy days.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
My Lords, it was my anxious wish, upon entering your Lordships' House, to listen with respectful attention to whatever statement the noble Earl the late First Minister of the Crown might make as to the ground of the resignation of Her Majesty's Ministers, which he has just announced to your Lordships. And although the noble Earl has referred to every possible phase of the subject, and even to some subjects which are hardly matters of Parliamentary inquiry or Parliamentary discussion, I do not intend to follow him in any one of them. I do not intend to discuss the merits of the Reform Bill, or the manner in which Her Majesty's Ministers have dealt with it, or the judgment they have brought to bear on that question. I should not have said a word, but should have left the noble Earl to his volunteer defence of the course pursued by himself and his Colleagues, had he not thought fit, in the course of his remarks, to speak with considerable freedom of matters personal to myself and Friend. The noble Earl has thought fit to cast considerable blame upon me, and to impugn the course which—as he concludes upon my suggestion—has been pursued in the House of Commons. My Lords, these are charges to which I cannot listen in silence, especially on an occasion of such magnitude and importance as the present. I may say I agree with the noble Earl that a change of Government, 661 from whatever hands to whatever hands, at a period when there is so much disturbance abroad and so many important subjects requiring consideration at home, is and must be a misfortune; but I venture to tell the noble Earl that it is no fault of those who are in opposition, but that it is the fault of Her Majesty's Government themselves, that we are reduced to the painful necessity of considering the probability of a change of Government at this time. The noble Earl has said that at the commencement of the Session I assured him that no underhand dealings should be resorted to and no unfair opposition offered to the Bill. I will repeat what I then said. I said that if the Bill should be one of a reasonable and moderate character, such as the Conservative party could with honour and consistently with their conscientious convictions accept as a settlement of a question which it was desirable to settle, to come to some conclusion upon, I would exert what influence I had with the Conservative Members of Parliament to the end that the noble Earl should meet with no unfair opposition; on the contrary, I said I should be happy to further the progress of such a Bill. I say that pledge has been kept, and kept to the letter; and when the noble Earl talks about private meetings of Members of the Opposition, and speaking of such meetings as utterly unusual, makes it matter of complaint that the Opposition should meet and consider measures which the Government have submitted to Parliament, and receive an opinion upon them from those in whom the Opposition have confidence, I say he makes a statement which from a person of the noble Earl's political experience is somewhat startling, and which shows how much the noble Earl is at a loss to find something wherewith to charge his political opponents. My Lords, I have upon several occasions met those with whom I have had the honour of acting politically for twenty years past, and, to the best of my judgment, I have expressed such opinions and given them such advice as I conscientiously believed to be sound with regard to the measures submitted to them in Parliament; and as long as I have the honour of being associated in public life with and enjoying the confidence of a great party, I shall deem it one of the fundamental duties imposed upon me by that position not to leave my party to straggle like sheep, each man according to his individual fancy, but to offer its Members every means for consultation 662 and frankly and fairly to bring before them, for the purpose of inducing political co-operation, the views which I entertain. The noble Earl spoke of the advice which he supposes I gave to the Members of the Opposition at certain private meetings. I do not know how he became possessed of his information as to what advice I gave. I do not know whether the noble Earl employs any person to ascertain what takes place at private meetings; but in whatever way he obtained his information, this I know—that I never advised those with whom I have had the honour of consulting, to meet this Bill with anything but a fair and reasonable opposition. The noble Earl has spoken as if it had been his political opponents who defeated the Government in their intentions with respect to the Reform Bill. Why, as a matter of fact every Amendment—or obstruction, as he pleases to term an Amendment—has been made, not by his opponents but by those whom he reckons in the ranks of his political supporters. I will say to the noble Earl at once that it is the injudicious and dictatorial course which has been pursued by the Government that has alienated from him men who might have been conciliated—men who might have been led but who could never have been driven—and that to that he owes the position in which he now finds himself. He has upon his own showing of the grounds on which he has placed his resignation, been defeated, not by his opponents, but by his political friends. It is not usual to refer to proceedings in the other House; but as the noble Earl has made use of the phrase "factious opposition" let me remind him what were the Amendments to which he has referred. The noble Earl came down at the opening of Parliament, and announced to us that immediately after Lord Palmerston's funeral—that is to say, at the latter end of October—Her Majesty's Government sent out to obtain statistical information upon which to found a Reform Bill, and at the time that speech was made that statistical information was not in the hands of the Government. [Earl RUSSELL dissented.] I wish to be corrected if I am in error; but it was certainly stated in the Speech from the Throne that when that information had been obtained it should be placed upon the table of the House, as the basis for future measures. Early in the year—that is to say, when about a month of the Session had expired, Her Majesty's Government brought forward a partial 663 measure dealing with the extension of the franchise, and with nothing else; but, at the same time, they gave out that other important propositions would be made in the future with regard to the representation of the people. A noble Earl, who was a strong partizan of the Government, a Liberal, and who has proved his political opinions upon more than one occasion (Earl Grosvenor), proposed that before the House was called upon to pass a partial Bill they should see the whole scheme of the Government with reference to Parliamentary Reform. Was that a very unreasonable demand? It was rejected, but it was rejected by a majority of five only. When you are dealing with a matter of such gravity and importance—which settles or unsettles the whole balance of the Constitution—which alters the character of the House of Commons, and by altering its character alters its relations to this House and to the Throne of the country—I say it was fair and reasonable—nay, it was absolutely necessary—that before Parliament was called upon for a judgment upon any part of it, they should see the whole measure and be able to look at it with an enlarged and comprehensive view. And Her Majesty's Government admitted the reasonableness of the proposal; for after having defeated the Motion by a majority of five—undoubtedly not a very large majority—after having said that it was not their intention to introduce during the present Session any measure of Reform except the Franchise Bill, upon the ground that Parliament would not have time to consider it—they six weeks later, under pressure, brought forward a measure so crude, so undigested, so ill-considered, that it was at once—I will not say it was laughed out of the House—but it never was and never has been up to this moment a matter of serious discussion. The clauses and provisions of the Bill have been universally condemned; and I am not using too strong a phrase when I say ridiculed by every person who has taken them into consideration. The Government had originally no intention to bring it forward, and the result of its being hastily introduced at the demand of the noble Earl's Friends in the other House naturally displayed in the crudeness and absurdity, I will call it, in its provisions, which was more excusable than it would have been under other circumstances. The next division was upon the question, whether the disfranchising or the enfranchising clauses should be taken first; and upon 664 that division the Government had the largest majority, I believe, they ever obtained—I believe a majority of something like forty. Then came the question of incorporating into the Bill provisions having for their object the prevention of bribery. As to the wisdom or otherwise of incorporating such provisions in a Bill of this character, I will give no opinion; but, at all events, the noble Earl cannot speak of them as a Motion proposed for the purpose of defeating or delaying the Bill. The subject occupied half a night's debate. Her Majesty's Government on that occasion suffered a defeat; but they did not appear to consider it of sufficient importance to induce them to alter their conduct in any way. They contented themselves with challenging the hon. Member who proposed and carried the Motion to bring forward his clauses, and said that they would discuss them in Committee. The next question was, I think, the Reduction of the County Franchise. I should say, however, that upon the first reading of the Bill only was there any discussion. Upon the second reading of the Franchise Bill, upon the second reading of the Re-distribution of Seats Bill, and upon going into Committee on the Consolidated Bill, there was no division and no attempt to impede the progress which Her Majesty's Government was anxious to make. In Committee the first question raised was that of the county franchise. Members of the House of Commons entertained different opinions upon the subject; and I presume that Members may be permitted to exercise their judgment upon those matters, and are not to submit absolutely to the ipse dixit of any particular Minister, however old and experienced a hand he may be in dealing with Reform Bills. But what was the question? The Government proposal was a £14 occupation franchise for the counties, and £20 was proposed to be substituted as the proper amount. But the question upon which the House divided was whether rating or rental should be the basis of the franchise; and the Government carried their point, that the franchise should be based on rental. To the last hour, indeed, that clause remained in the Bill, precisely in the form proposed by Her Majesty's Government. Now, unless you want to stifle debate altogether, you cannot maintain that there was any obstruction in the course that was adopted on that occasion. May not the House of Commons have its own deliberate opinion as to the 665 relative merits of a rating or a rental qualification, and as to the advisability of fixing the standard at £14 or £20, without at once being subjected to these accusations? How can the business of any Government be carried on if every question raised is to be turned into a Vote of Confidence, and if the House of Commons is to be told that every detail must be accepted in the form it is proposed, that it must submit to have all the opinions of the Government thrust down its throat, and that if any objection is offered to such a proceeding Parliament must be prepared for the result? What was the last question? The noble Earl talked a good deal about the rights of the working men; but I have shown that, as far as the county franchise is concerned, the Bill stands precisely as it was when first introduced. The amount of the borough franchise never was discussed and never divided upon. The noble Earl brings forward those charges against the House of Commons, and I want to know how he justifies them. The question may have been—was—a fit subject for discussion; but I say it never was discussed, and I say it would have been perfectly competent to the noble Earl or his Colleagues if they had thought fit, when rating was carried against rental, to say that as that proposition would raise the franchise above what they intended, they would propose to reduce the figure from £7 to £5. That would have been the fair, and reasonable, and obvious course for the Government to have pursued. But, instead of this, when rating had been carried against the Government by a majority of eleven, including forty-four of their own supporters—thus proving the annihilation of the majority of seventy which they had at the beginning of the Session, and which they have frittered away—up jumps the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer and declares that he regards the principle of rental as an essential part of the Bill, and the substitution for it of a principle of rating as a Vote of Want of Confidence in Her Majesty's Ministers, and that whatever may be the inconvenience to the country, and notwithstanding the state of foreign affairs—notwithstanding all these things which he urged so forcibly against a change of Ministry—the Government intend, because the House of Commons had exercised its judgment, to throw the country into every confusion to which it will be subjected, and to offer to the Crown the resignation of their offices 666 —I hope with the sincere intention that the Queen should be advised to act upon that resignation, and that it should not be merely a fictitious resignation. I pass over the whole of the remainder of the noble Earl's speech. I hoped not to have been called upon to say a single word. I will not argue the question of Reform. I will not even deal with those warnings—those solemn warnings—with which the noble Earl concluded his speech as to the course we ought to pursue for the purpose of conciliating and maintaining the good opinion of the people of this country, and reconciling them to, or keeping them upon good terms with the Crown and the aristocracy. I should not have said a single word if it had not been for the personal charges which he made against me, and the further charges which he made against my friends in the other House. Those charges, however, having been made, I felt that I should not have done my duty either to myself or to them if I had not taken the earliest opportunity of repudiating them.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
My Lords, the noble Earl who has just sat down commenced by stating that he had not intended speaking this evening; and no doubt your Lordships will easily believe that I had not the slightest idea that an opportunity would be afforded me of saying anything. The noble Earl has referred with some warmth and at some length to what fell from my noble Friend (Earl Russell), as to the manner in which the promise given to the Government by the Opposition at the commencement of the Session has been kept. Now, with regard to keeping promises, I must say that when we hear my noble Friend opposite—if he will allow me to term him so—declare that he will not this evening make any remarks upon the character of the Bill introduced by the Government, and when we find that for the last ten minutes he has been heaping upon that measure every possible kind of vituperation, it is quite possible, I believe, that the promises he made at the beginning of the Session may scarcely have been fulfilled.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
I beg the noble Earl's pardon. I did not make the slightest comment upon the merits of the Bill. I simply replied to the charge that obstructive measures had been employed, and I said nothing about the merits of the Bill or the debates.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
I pass by the censure which the noble Earl bestowed 667 upon the introduction of the first and as he termed it incomplete Bill; but with regard to the second Bill, if the noble Earl thinks he passes no opinion upon its merits when he characterizes it as "crude," "absurd," and "ridiculous," I am perfectly willing to retract every word I said upon that point. So far from wishing to indulge in personal recriminations at this moment, we desire to support Her Majesty, whatever Government she may be pleased to summon to her assistance, in the regulation of the affairs of the country, and we do not intend to offer any factious opposition to our successors in their treatment of Reform, or of any other question. When the noble Earl says that his promise to the Government was kept, I am quite ready to argue with him if he will maintain, bearing in mind that he promised that no factious opposition should be offered to the Bill, that no underhand measures should be resorted to, and particularly that no combination should be entered into against Reform with those who could combine for no other purpose—pledges all of them held forth in the most solemn manner. ["Oh, oh!" and "No, no!"] I hope your Lordships will allow me to express, however imperfectly, what I have to say without interruption. If I make any statements that are wrong or erroneous, your Lordships will have an opportunity of correcting them. When your Lordships remember that Lord Elcho even was not denied a hearing at a meeting of working men it will be scarcely creditable that your Lordships should interrupt me with cries of "Oh!" and "No!" After that promise that no combination should be entered into with persons who could combine for no other purpose, can the noble Earl consider that the only opposition to the measure has been of a perfectly fair and argumentative character? I will leave it to him and to the country at large to say whether the promise has been faithfully performed. The noble Earl, too, was wrong in some of his statements as to the quarters from which the opposition to the Bill proceeded. One of the Amendments upon which a division was taken was proposed by Sir Rainald Knightley, and the proposition which he made was, I believe, one of a nature which ought not to be mixed up with the questions of the reduction of the franchise and the re-distribution of seats, Questions on the subject were also raised by Mr. Hunt and Mr. Walpole; and above all, a most important Amendment 668 was moved by one of the most distinguished Members of the Conservative party in the House of Commons. I refer to the son of the noble Earl (Lord Stanley.) One peculiarity with regard to the latter Motion was that no public notice whatever was given of the intention to bring it before the House, although by that sort of indiscretion by which things leak out we are now perfectly aware that for two or three days previously to its being made, communications were forwarded to all those persons on our side of the House who were supposed to lean in the slightest degree towards the views which were to be forwarded by the Motion. I think, therefore, it was too much for the noble Earl to say that all the Motions adverse to the Bill had proceeded from the usual supporters of the Government. I do not in the slightest degree blame the Conservative party for opposing Her Majesty's Government, neither do I doubt that they are prepared to form a very able and excellent Government. They were perfectly justified in opposing a measure which they did not approve; but I must say that their claim to credit for avoiding anything like factious opposition cannot be allowed to pass without question. As to Her Majesty's Government they took the most simple course open to them with regard to the question of Reform. The noble Earl reproves us—as we have been reproved by others, both in and out of the House—with having brought in a partial measure of Reform. We did so for one single reason—namely, that, having considered the difficulties of every possible course open to us, it appeared to us, upon the whole, that the measure we introduced was the one most likely to enable us to advance the cause of Reform. We did so for exactly the same reason as that given by a leading Member of the noble Earl's Government when apologizing for the meagreness of the Conservative scheme for the re-distribution of seats, and when admitting that that part of their measure must come back to the House of Commons again for further consideration—namely, that it is impossible to pass a measure of Reform which mixes up together the subjects of a reduction of the franchise and a re-distribution of seats. Acting upon this belief, we introduced a measure dealing solely with the former subject; but we were forced, in consequence of a division which took place in the House of Commons, to lay all the details of our scheme for the re-distribution of seats upon the table before the House went into Commitee 669 upon the former Bill. Yet the noble Earl treats as nothing that division upon that important point. The noble Earl has accused us of being in a hurry to resign; but so far from that being the case, the feeling of a large portion of the Cabinet was that the Government majority of five on the division on Earl Grosvenor's Amendment was too small to enable us to carry out the very difficult task before us, and that as we could not separate ourselves from the constitutional change we pledged ourselves to effect, it would have been better at once to resign. But if Her Majesty's Government did not then deem it to be their duty to resign, I ask your Lordships whether, after the course matters had taken in the other House, after the Motions and divisions, following one after another, had culminated in placing the Government in the minority in which they found themselves the other day, it did not become obvious that, whether in the right or in the wrong, they would be unable to carry the Reform Bill to a successful termination, and so redeem the pledges they had given to Parliament and to the country? The noble Earl concluded his speech by what I may designate as an unworthy sneer against the motives of Her Majesty's Ministers in tendering their resignation. He expressed a hope that their resignation was a real one, and not one simulated for the purpose of bringing about other arrangements. In reply to that observation I must state that the opinion of the Cabinet was unanimous that they could not submit to the defeat that they had sustained, and that, therefore, it was their duty to tender their resignation to Her Majesty. Their decision was communicated to Her Majesty in the most explicit manner, and I appeal to every Member of the Government to say whether any of us had the slightest idea except that our resignation could have but one result. It is quite true that Her Majesty on learning our decision desired her Cabinet to consider all the circumstances of the case, and to ascertain whether there was no means consistent with our honour which would enable us to take another course. We did give the matter the fullest consideration, and carefully weighed every alternative that it appeared possible for us to adopt, and the conclusion at which we unanimously arrived has been already communicated to your Lordships by the noble Earl (Earl Russell)—namely, that the only course left to us was again to tender our 670 resignations, and to take advantage of Her Majesty's gracious permission to us to retire from office. In this course there is nothing dishonourable—it is one that has over and over again been taken by straight-forward and honourable men, and it is one that has been followed by the leaders of all the great parties, one after another, when they found that, owing to circumstances, they could not command such a majority in the House of Commons as would enable them successfully to carry on the Government of the country. I must apologize to your Lordships for the time I have occupied, and I trust I have said nothing calculated to create personal animosity at a time when personal matters cannot be too carefully excluded from discussion.
Though I am sorry to detain your Lordships longer on this occasion, there are parts of the speech of my noble Friend (Earl Russell) which it is impossible for me to permit to pass unnoticed. I have listened to the explanation of the noble Earl of the circumstances which have led Her Majesty's Ministers to tender their resignation with very great concern, as I cannot regard it as being in any way satisfactory. The subject is of so much importance with reference not only to the past but to the future, and to the course which it may be right hereafter for this House to pursue, that I hope your Lordships will pardon me if I venture to ask your attention to some remarks which I feel it necessary to make in the history of the proceedings on the subject of Reform, which have at last ended in the downfall of the Ministry. The noble Earl says—and on this point I concur with him—that after all that had passed in former years; after the language that had been held by members of the present Government; and after the votes which they had given upon measures brought forward by independent Members in the other House of Parliament, the present Government were bound to take into consideration the propriety of bringing in a Reform Bill. But the necessity for their dealing with this subject, however undeniable, was by no means so urgent as to require them to act without due deliberation. There was no occasion for a measure being brought forward in reckless haste. There were two things which Parliament and the country had a right to expect from any Government that presumed to meddle with so critical a subject—first, that they would endeavour to 671 bring forward a measure which they could honestly recommend to Parliament as calculated, while maintaining and improving the Constitution of the country, to effect a settlement of the question—at least for some considerable time; and secondly, that, as far as in them lay, they would take care to avoid making a Bill proposing to effect constitutional changes a battle field for party contests. With regard to the first point, it is undoubtedly the fact that the Constitution of this country, whatever its faults, has upon the whole worked well for the happiness of the people, and that no other Government in the world has for an equal period accomplished so successfully all the objects for which Governments exist. A Constitution that has answered thus well should not be lightly meddled with, and therefore it was the duty of any Government proposing to alter it to take care that any measure they might introduce for that purpose should be both well-considered and so complete as not to be likely soon to require further alteration, since frequent changes in the form of the Government are in themselves an evil. With regard to the second proposition I have laid down, I am persuaded your Lordships will concur with me that it was the duty of the Government to avoid, so far as in them lay, making the subject of constitutional change a battle field for party contests. Experience shows that party struggles on questions of constitutional change have proved to be attended with great danger in all countries. They raise passions which endanger the public peace, and in the excitement so caused it is impossible to consider the subject with the calm deliberation its importance and difficulty demand. We all know that this was found to be the case in the great struggle upon the Reform Act of 1832. I need hardly remind your Lordships of the great danger to which the country was exposed by the excitement that struggle occasioned, of the riots at Bristol and at Nottingham, and of how much reason there was to fear the occurrence of still more serious riots in other parts of the kingdom. And in addition to the disturbance of the public peace, it was found at that time that the excitement of a party contest is not favourable to the calm discussion of great and important constitutional changes. Upon the whole it was in my opinion an admirable measure, and considering the difficulties under which it was passed, it is extraordinary 672 that the Reform Act of 1832 contains so few faults as it does. Still, if it had been passed at a period of greater calmness the measure might have been greatly improved, for there were faults in it of which I was sensible, and of which I know others were also sensible, which might have been corrected had the subject been discussed more dispassionately. It was, I repeat, the duty of the Government, when they determined to deal with the question of Reform, to endeavour to frame a measure as complete as they could make it, and so fair to all parties as not to provoke a party contest. They choose to adopt a different policy. The noble Earl (the Earl of Derby) who spoke from the other side of the House has already referred to the fact that at the beginning of the Session we were informed that a Bill for the regulation of the franchise would be brought forward as soon as certain statistical returns were procured. That announcement, implying as it did that the measure was to be confined to one particular branch of the question, immediately excited much apprehension in the minds of many persons who thought that this important question, if it was dealt with at all, should be dealt with in a comprehensive spirit. I ventured, myself, when the Address in answer to Her Majesty's Speech was proposed, to make an earnest appeal to my noble Friend (Earl Russell) to adhere to the principle of 1831 and 1832, and not to bring before Parliament an imperfect measure, which would only be preparing the way for further agitation, and which would unsettle everything and settle nothing. Similar appeals were made to Her Majesty's Government in the other House of Parliament by persons who could not be suspected of any unfriendly feeling towards them. But, my Lords, those appeals were made in vain. Her Majesty's Government determined to bring forward a measure confined to an alteration of the franchise. Now, a measure of that sort was naturally likely to encounter opposition. I, for one, have never been opposed, since the necessity of some change was admitted, to dealing with the franchise; but I have always held that it was impossible to deal with that question without dealing with other questions which are closely related to it, and that to make an alteration of that kind without introducing at the same time other provisions calculated to avert any mischievous consequences which might 673 result from it, and to render the measure complete, would be a most injudicious and dangerous course. But, my Lords, what increased this objection in this instance was the fact that Her Majesty's Government avowedly adopted this dangerous course upon the recommendation of a well-known Member of the other House of Parliament. The advice to Ministers to follow the course they afterwards took was given publicly and openly at a meeting at Rochdale. Mr. Bright advised the Government to adopt the plan of dealing with the franchise only in the first instance, and he very candidly explained his reasons for so doing. Now, I am bound to say that, with the greatest admiration for Mr. Bright's abilities, and with the fullest belief in his sincerity in the views which he advocates, I am not surprised that any course of proceeding adopted at his suggestion should not have been very favourably received; because such is the unfortunate pugnacity of his disposition that in his public speeches advocating Reform he has adopted a tone which would almost justify the belief that he desires Reform hardly more for the purpose of promoting the welfare and good government of the country, than for that of giving him the satisfaction of trampling upon and degrading that large portion of his fellow-countrymen upon whom, under the name of Tories, he is never tired of pouring out the vials of his wrath. I must say that in so doing I think he displays a good deal more of the spirit of ancient Toryism than those whom he thus vituperates; because what seems to have been the most characteristic feature of the Tories of old days was a violent and arbitrary temper, a determination to put down all opposition and all differences of opinion by violence rather than to win over opponents by argument, and to carry things with a high hand, and by main force. Such in old times was the distinguishing feature of Toryism, and I must say that it seems to me to be now shown much more strongly in the Gentleman to whom I am referring than in his opponents. It was an unfortunate thing, therefore, for Ministers if they wished to carry a measure of Reform rather by amicable means than by a great party struggle, to adopt any course of proceeding which had been suggested by that Gentleman, and it was especially unfortunate when he had so candidly avowed the reasons for that advice. He had told his hearers at Rochdale that it was good policy to proceed by degrees, for that having obtained 674 a reduction of the francise, they would then have an improved leverage for carrying larger measures, and would have greater power to overcome those opponents whom he so bitterly denounced. It was surely not unnatural that those opponents who were so plainly told that this was the object of that course of proceedings should be a little on the alert—more especially as it was clear from the circumstances of the case that the line of policy thus recommended was precisely calculated to answer the object in view; for it was evident that if Parliament could be persuaded to consent to this plan of reducing the franchise in the first instance, and reserving all other questions for subsequent consideration, it would have given the extreme party great additional power of settling those questions according to their own opinions and not according to the opinions of others. A Bill brought forward, therefore, upon that policy naturally excited much animadversion, and a Resolution was proposed intended to express the opinion of the House of Commons that it was inexpedient to consider one part of the Reform question until the whole plan of the Government was before them. As soon as notice of that Resolution was given, and before it came on for discussion, Her Majesty's Government, finding that the feeling in its favour was very strong, partially yielded to it. They promised that as soon as the Franchise Bill was read a second time, the other Bill should be laid upon the table. Now, had they done in the first instance what they afterwards did upon compulsion, there would have been no party struggle.
But it was not till after notice of it was given, Her Majesty's Government having previously refused to introduce the other Bill at all. They promised, as I was saying, that after the second reading of the Franchise Bill the other measure should be introduced; and then again, after the division on the Resolution, they made an additional step, and promised that they would unite the two Bills together. By agreeing to refer the Bills to the same Committee, they granted to the fullest extent all that had been asked for by the authors of the Resolution, and what would have prevented any division if it had been granted at first. By doing so they showed that the demand which 675 had been made for a full explanation of their plan was a reasonable one, and admitted the justice of the demand that the question of Reform should not be treated piecemeal, but as a whole. Your Lordships will allow me to point out how they met the Resolution of my noble Friend (Earl Grosvenor) when notice of it was first given. No sooner was it found that there was a chance of his Resolution being carried than the most violent attacks were made in every quarter both on himself and on his family—not so much in Parliament as out of doors—and those attacks were made although he stood altogether aloof from the Conservative party, and although the honesty of his motives could never for one instant be impeached. Even Cabinet Ministers thought it not beneath their dignity to go down to Lancashire, and in exciting speeches condemn the supporters of the Resolution as men who said one thing and intended another. They were called "dirty conspirators," and no term of abuse was thought too strong to be applied to them.
I did not attribute those words to any Cabinet Minister—but a Cabinet Minister did assert that the supporters of the Resolution said one thing and meant another, denouncing the proposal which the Government afterwards accepted, and he encouraged the organized agitation which it was in vain endeavoured to arouse, in order to force Parliament to pass the measure. Now, my Lords, this was the course that was adopted on that occasion. When the Bill passed the second reading, the Resolution being defeated by a very small majority, Her Majesty's Government then at last consented to unite their two Bills, and to make them one measure only. But unfortunately the Bill for the Re-distribution of Seats, brought forward in this hasty manner, proved, as it might have been expected to be, and as the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Derby) has stated, a very crude measure. Unfortunately, it was not merely crude; it was regarded by those most deeply interested in it as an unfair measure. Gentlemen whom I believe to be very impartial, and who have a greater knowledge of local details than I can pretend to have, have stated they could regard it in no other light than as a Bill skilfully drawn to depress one party 676 and give an unfair advantage to another at their expense. That was the impression it made. I do not say it was a just impression; but the unfortunate manner in which the question was managed by the Government naturally caused suspicion to be entertained in regard to it, and induced those who examined it to believe that this was the character of their proposal. The consequence was that when the united Bill came to be discussed, it was obvious that it had no chance of making its way through Committee. In the early stages considerable advantage was gained by the Government from an extraordinary mistake committed by their opponents; but, notwithstanding that, the feeling against the Bill proved too strong, and at last a vote was carried which led to the result we have heard to-night. Now, my Lords, I think it is perfectly clear that that division was on a point which even my noble Friend himself admits would not of itself have been fatal to the Bill, or one which it was necessary to consider implied any want of confidence in the Government. For my own part, I am not prepared to say that the question between rental and rating was one of great importance. I certainly believe that rating is by far the fairest principle, because men will not misstate the amount of value on which they pay rates. That is a great security for its being the real and bonâfide valuation; and it is to be observed that by lowering the figure of value it is quite possible to make the rateable value consistent with avoiding any augmentation of the qualification proposed by the Government. But then, it is said, that this vote roust be coupled with what had gone before; and what had gone before showed so much disapproval of the Bill that it was necessary for the Government to resign. Undoubtedly the vote was intended to express disapproval of the Bill, and not merely a difference of opinion from the Government on the point immediately before the House; and if this implied not only disapproval of the Bill, but also a desire to withdraw support from the Government, and a general want of confidence in the Government, I should entirely concur in the view which my noble Friend takes of the subject. It is comparatively immaterial what the question may be on which the House of Commons votes if it clearly intends to show by its vote its want of confidence in the Ministers of the Crown. But in this case such does not appear to 677 have been the wish of the House. Looking at the whole course of these proceedings, it appears to me, judging by the votes which are on your Lordships' table, that, although the House of Commons were anxious to express disapproval of the Bill and disapproval of the course taken by the Government with regard to this particular Bill, they had no desire to extend their censure to its general conduct, but, on the contrary, were anxious not to produce any change of administration, or withdraw their support from the Government. My Lords, it is notorious that this was their wish, and it is this wish only which accounts for the majority, such as it was, which the Government obtained on the Resolution on the second reading. It is perfectly notorious that among their own Friends who voted for the Bill a large number would have voted in favour of the Resolution but for the sake of continuing the Government in office. So, on other occasions, the House of Commons apparently desired to show that they disapproved the Bill, and at the same time that they wished no change in the Administration should take place. Well, but if that was the feeling of the House of Commons, and their disapproval of the measure submitted to them was, as I have endeavoured to show you, the natural and necessary consequence of the manner in which the whole question had been mismanaged from the first by the Government, have Ministers now the right to turn round on the country and say, "Because we have mismanaged the subject, having had great advantages to deal with it—the state of affairs at the beginning of the Session having been singularly calm, and the country prepared to consider a reasonable and just proposal, properly submitted to them—because we have mismanaged it— because we have forfeited the confidence in regard to Reform of a large part of our own friends, and they do not like our Bill, are we therefore entitled to say we will throw the country into all the difficulty which a change of Administration must at all times create, but which in this instance will be aggravated by the general state of parties in the House of Commons, and by the present state of Europe." For my own part, my Lords, I consider that their resiomation of office under such circumstances and at such a time was not the fulfilment of their public duty. My noble Friend has told us that Her Majesty, very properly, expressed great reluctance to accept their 678 resignation; and it is no secret that independent Members of the House of Commons were prepared to move, and, I believe, to carry by a large majority, a Resolution which would have expressed both the desire of that House that the Ministers should retain their offices, and that the question of Reform should be dealt with in a future year, though the Bill was withdrawn for the present. I say it is no secret to anybody that such a Resolution would have been proposed and carried but for the objection made to it by Ministers; and I do not understand how, looking at all the facts of the case, Her Majesty's Government can justify the course they have taken in persisting, under such circumstances, in that resignation. It has long been obvious that the Bill could not pass this Session; the late division made no difference in that respect; and if the House of Commons was ready to record its opinion in favour of a future settlement of this question, and also of the continuance of the existing Government, surely it was their duty to accede to what was the wish both of the Sovereign and of Parliament. I know of only one reason why they should have taken a contrary course. We have been told that they have declared they would stand or fall by the Bill. Well, my Lords, if they had proposed a Bill satisfactory to the whole of their own friends that would have been a very reasonable course; but were there any men who wished them, under the circumstances, to adhere to that pledge—I think very rashly given? We know that the most Radical of their allies to whom, if to any, such promises were made—even they would have been glad if the Government had consented to retain their offices. If, then, no pledge was to be broken, of which anybody claimed the fulfilment, where would have been the impeachment to their personal honour? No doubt they must have submitted to some mortification; no doubt—to use a homely, but expressive phrase—they must have been content to "eat humble pie" if they had given up their measure for this Session and yet retained their offices; but this would have been no very heavy penalty to pay for the blunders of which they had been guilty, and if they really felt an earnest desire to do their duty to the Crown and the country, and to promote the real interests of Reform itself, their own personal mortification would have been a small matter in comparison with doing what was really best for the 679 country. My Lords, I fear it is now too late for them to alter their course. I fear that, persevering to the end in the same kind of conduct which they have adopted from the beginning; even within the last eight-and-forty hours fresh mistakes have been committed which render it now impossible that the Government should continue to hold their offices. We must now, therefore, make up our minds to what I must say I, for one, greatly regret as the result—which I think a calamity to the country—not only a change of the Government, but the loss, the almost total loss for all purposes of useful legislation of a whole year. At a time when so many subjects were pressing on the attention of Parliament, that, in my opinion, is a most serious evil; but, at the same time, some little compensation may perhaps be afforded for this unhappy result, if the occurrences of this year are made, as they ought to be, a warning to men of all parties for the future. I think myself that the proceedings this Session with respect to Reform are full of the most important instruction to us all. Two things appear to me to be pretty plain. One is that this question of Reform cannot safely remain long in its present position, and that if it remains unsettled it must continue to be an obstacle to the formation of any strong Administration, causing the time of Parliament to be occupied with long and fruitless debates, and standing in the way of other important measures. And it must also expose the nation to the danger of having some ill-considered and dangerous measure at length hurriedly passed, without deliberation, in some moment of excitement. Its early and reasonable settlement is therefore in the highest degree desirable. On the other hand, I think it is equally clear that, in the present state of affairs and of public opinion, no measure of Reform has a chance of passing unless it be one which is really a fair measure, and which can obtain the general consent of all parties. That the feeling of Parliament and of the nation is against the passing of any incomplete and imperfect measure has been shown this year in so striking a manner that I cannot suppose the experience obtained in that respect will soon be lost sight of. At the same time, this also has been shown—that any measure even professing to be complete must necessarily be offensive to so many private interests, and thereby provoke so much opposition on mere selfish grounds, 680 that if, in addition, it should be opposed by a powerful political party, it has in the present state of affairs little chance of passing. The existing condition of things is altogether different from the state of affairs in 1831 and 1832. At that time there were such great abuses in the representation of the people, leading to such practical faults in government and legislation, that the prosperity of the country was in every respect checked and kept back by the system of legislation and administration for years adopted in consequence of the undue predominance of private interests in the other House of Parliament. When, therefore, a really well-considered measure of Reform, effectual for its purpose, and with objects clear and defined, was proposed, there arose a spirit in favour of Reform which nothing could control, and that measure, in spite of the most determined opposition, was carried to a successful issue. Circumstances are now altogether different. The House of Commons, instead of failing in its duties, has since the passing of the Reform Act very efficiently performed them; and the Reform Act has been the means of securing to this country for thirty-four years a series of effective measures in harmony with enlightened public opinion, and with the desires of the nation. The consequence is that though there are, no doubt, defects in our representative system which it is highly desirable to remove, those defects are of a far more speculative character than formerly, and come home much less to men's feelings. As the great practical evils which before arose from the inadequate representation of the people in Parliament are no longer felt, it naturally happens that even among those who desire further changes in the representative system that desire is mild and gentle compared with the feeling manifested more than thirty years ago. There is also a very much larger proportion of persons now than then who feel the blessings they enjoy, and who, knowing that, on the whole, the country is governed very much as they desire, are unwilling to risk those certain blessings for the uncertain results which might follow a measure which they do not understand. Therefore, there is not now the power which formerly existed of carrying into effect any extensive change in the way of Reform. Again, a measure really founded on a calm and careful examination of the defects of the existing system of representation would, on the one hand, interfere with so many 681 private interests, and, on the other, enlist in its favour so small an amount of enthusiasm that it would have little or no chance of passing. It is, therefore, only in the agreement of the great political parties that at the present moment there exists a fair chance of any measure of Reform being carried. I do trust that these circumstances will be considered by those who have influence with the great political parties into which the country is divided, and, as it is for the interest of all these parties, as well as for the common interest of the nation that this great question should be settled, I hope that an attempt may be made at no distant period of arriving, by an amicable arrangement, at this result. If proper means for that purpose are taken, I do not think the task so impossible as it might at first sight appear; because, widely different as were the opinions expressed in the late debates on Reform, I believe that those differences of opinion arose from the circumstance of each party looking too closely to what was proposed on its own side, and not sufficiently attending to what was asked on the other. When my noble Friend says that it is necessary to content the labouring classes by showing more confidence in them and giving them a larger extension of the franchise, I am quite prepared to admit that to a great extent he is right; but, on the other hand, I would appeal to my noble Friend, and ask him whether the opponents of the Government measure of Reform were not also right in apprehending danger from the concession of too much power to the working classes, and in thinking it imprudent to give a predominant power in the government of the country to mere numbers and the least educated classes of the community? I do not think the mode of extending the franchise as proposed in the Government Bill the best that could be devised; but I am not prepared to say that the extent to which it went was in itself objectionable. I should not object to a large and liberal extension of the franchise, provided it was coupled with other measures which would secure due weight to those classes, less numerous but superior in position and in the advantages of education, and generally more competent to judge properly for the public interest on great questions, than the masses who are occupied in a daily struggle for existence. All experience shows that unless due weight is given to the classes I refer to, you cannot hope to be secure 682 that the country will be well and wisely governed; and, after all, to secure good government ought to be the object sought to be attained even more than to meet the wishes of a part of the population who desire to have the franchise extended; more especially as that portion of the people for whom the extension of the franchise is demanded have, since the passing of the Reform Act, ceased to suffer from any serious errors in the legislation and government of the country.
§ EARL RUSSELL,
in moving the adjournment of the House, suggested that no public business should be proceeded with before Friday, the House meeting in the interval for the transaction of judicial business only.
§ House adjourned at Eight o'clock, till To-morrow, half past Ten o'clock.