§ House in Committee (according to Order).
§ Clauses 1, 2, and 3 agreed to.
§ Clause 4 (Alteration of Boundaries of old Boroughs).
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
said, that, in moving an Amendment to the clause, he desired to submit some suggestions for their Lordships' consideration. It was within the Committee's recollection that a Royal Commission had been appointed to arrange the boundaries of certain counties and boroughs in England and Wales; and he believed he gave expression to a unanimous feeling when he said that the ability 496 and impartiality of those who formed the Commission were unquestionable. They were men of sound judgment and great political experience Two of them were Members of the House of Commons, two had formerly been Members of that House; and the Chairman, though he now adorned their Lordships' House, presided for a long time over the other House, his eminent impartiality being but one of the many qualifications which recommended him for that position. Such Gentlemen might be expected to bring a great amount of ability and impartiality to their task, and he believed their voluminous Report had amply justified their selection for it. Now, their Instructions were to inquire into the boundaries of certain boroughs with a view to ascertain whether they should be enlarged so as to include within their limits districts which, due regard being had to situation and other local circumstances, ought to be included, for the purpose of conferring on the people residing therein the Parliamentary franchise. Those Instructions had been criticized as imperfect but from that opinion he differed, for he thought it was a wise course to lay down a broad principle and leave the Commissioners unfettered to act according to the best of their judgment. It might, perhaps, be an obvious arrangement that the Parliamentary should, in all cases, be made conterminous with the municipal boundary; but last year Parliament decided against that idea, but when the Report of the Commission came before the House of Commons it did not give satisfaction. In a large number of cases the Commissioners recommended no change, and in a large number they recommended changes which had been adopted without opposition. Twenty nine cases were referred by the House of Commons to a Select Committee, and that Committee approved the recommendations of the Commissioners with regard to fourteen of them. Now, he (Earl Beauchamp) thought that the other House, having appointed a Committee to revise the decisions of the Commissioners, it would be competent for their Lordships to revise the decisions of the Committee. He did not think, indeed, it would be respectful to send down to the House of Commons the whole of the proposals which they had already negatived, and he proposed to distinguish between some of the cases. The metropolitan boroughs of Marylebone and Lambeth were so exceptional, and so much might be said on both sides with, regard to 497 them, that he did not ask their Lordships to revert to the recommendations of the Commissioners, although personally he agreed with them. Warwick and Portsmouth were also peculiarly circumstanced, The Commissioners proposed to unite Leamington with Warwick; but this would practically swamp Warwick and; convert it into a suburb of Leamington. they also proposed to unite Gosport to Portsmouth. Now, the boundary of Portsmouth, through mere accident, was at present the high-water mark, not of the Portsmouth but of the Gosport side of the harbour. But the population of Gosport was so large that it would be a measure of grouping rather than a revision of boundaries if that place was added to Portsmouth; and as the House of Commons last year decided against the principle of grouping, he did not propose to interfere with the decision of the Committee in those cases. Reading he would also pass by, on the principle de minimis non curat lex. The other cases were very different, and raised an important question. Among these boroughs were the important towns of Birkenhead, Birmingham, Bristol, Gates-head, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, and South Shields. The only objection to the Commissioners' recommendations appeared to be the fear entertained by the inhabitants of the outlying districts that they would hereafter be obliged to share the municipal burdens, while the people within the present boundaries thought the importance of their boroughs would be diminished, and their splendour tarnished by the enlargement proposed. If, however, the wishes of the people concerned were to be conclusive, the principle was capable of a much wider application, and would be attended with such difficulties that he was sure it could never be adopted by Parliament. Since he had given Notice of his Amendments he had had the advantage of studying the Reports of the Assistant Commissioners, who seemed to him to have done their work with great fairness and impartiality. In every case they visited the localities, they gave ample notice to all parties concerned, they heard all who went before them, and entered fully info all the circumstances of each case. But the Select Committee of the House of Commons, though they examined the Assistant Commissioners and the Members for the boroughs and counties affected, were unable to make such minute inquiries. The Assistant Commissioners 498 were instructed to take into consideration the nearness of the borough to the districts proposed to be added to it; how many of the houses had been built since 1832, and whether the inhabitants of the new districts had any community of interest with those in the boroughs. These, it appeared to him, were considerations dictated by common sense, and they could only be arrived at by a knowledge of local details. The Commissioners acted upon these principles, and they did not recommend extension unless there was a mass of houses and not a mere fringe joining the existing boundaries. He saw no reason to doubt their ability and impartiality, or the general wisdom of their recommendations. He would briefly refer to a few of the cases in which the Select Committee had departed from those recommendations. The first on the list was the borough of Birmingham, which happened to be one with which he had some little acquaintance. That borough was in the county of Warwick, and abutted on the counties of Worcester and Stafford. One of the recommendations of the Commission was that the manor of Aston and the district of Balsall Heath should be taken within the Parliamentary boundary, one of which was in Worcestershire and the other in Stafford. It was impossible for anyone who was not well acquainted with the town to say where Birmingham ended or began; and there was no reason whatever, if they were making an alteration of boundaries, why an exception should be made in the case of Birmingham. It was said, indeed, that the constituency would be made too large; but it was determined last year to augment very considerably the constituencies of the country, and therefore it would not now be proper to leave their handiwork undone. He believed it would be impossible for any person to come to any oilier conclusion than this—that if any borough was to have its boundaries altered it would be the greatest injustice to omit Aston Manor and the district of Balsall Heath from the borough of Birmingham. The case of Birkenhead was also one in which they ought not lightly to pass over the recommendations of the Commissioners. They recommended the addition of Wallaby Pool to Birkenhead; and it was beyond doubt that that district was an essential part of the town. If the Commissioners had in any way misconstrued their Instructions that would be a reason, for setting their recommendations aside; but if they had 499 acted up to their Instructions it was not right for anyone to come down with an ex post facto rule, and tell their Lordships that they ought to shrink from increasing the constituencies of the country. He begged to propose, therefore, in Clause 4, line 7, after the word "Bewdley," to insert "Birkenhead and Birmingham."
§ EARL GRANVILLE
said, he was perfectly satisfied that the Commission which had sat during the autumn had given very great and impartial consideration to the subject on which they were employed. But the Commissioners were fettered by the terms of their Instructions—and for that he blamed the Government; they had not sufficient power—and the result was that their Report had created great dissatisfaction both in the House of Commons and in the largo constituencies with which they had dealt. The question of accepting the recommendations of the Commissioners with respect to those constituencies was raised in the House of Commons, objections were made and divisions taken with very large majorities against the proposition. The Government themselves proposed to refer the question to a Select Committee of the House of Commons, which made certain recommendations in which they were perfectly unanimous. On the 15th of June that great political General, of whose praises they had heard much that night—a little out of place he thought—who usually foresaw success when others despaired of it, and achieved the success which he had foreseen—he trusted, however, he would never resort to what, though fair in war, would not be fair in party politics, the free use of stratagems—that great political General had said with reference to the order and conduct of Business—Now I adhere to the statement I originally made on the subject of Public Business—namely, that my first object was to carry the three supplementary Reform measures. Now, the Scotch Reform Bill and the Boundary Bill, though they have not yet left this House, may be considered as virtually settled; but we have still a third measure of Reform before us.Well, the Scotch Reform Bill was read a third time and passed on the 18th of June; and on the same day Mr. Disraeli, in answer to Mr. Milner Gibson, on the Business of the House, and referring to a former statement that they should proceed with the supplementary Reform Bills with as much despatch as possible, said—And I must add that we have proceeded with considerable despatch, that we have made such 500 great advances with those Bills, and I do not anticipate that any great delay is now possible with respect to any of them.He did not intend to say that these words of the Prime Minister ought to bind their Lordships' House, but they ought to bind Her Majesty's Government. If the matter was virtually settled, how was it possible that they could re-open it by means of Amendments which had been placed in their hands only two days ago? They had heard a good deal the other day about that House being made the copy and the slave of the other House of Parliament. He entirely concurred in the justice of the observation; but he held it to be still worse that their Lordships should be made the copies and the slaves of small minorities of the other House. He could not conceive anything more injurious than that the Government should make use of their Lordships as instruments in carrying out the views of their minority in the other House; moreover nothing could be more injurious to the harmony of the two Houses than that the Government should make Use of their majority in that House to over-ride the decisions of the House of Commons in a matter that peculiarly belonged to them.
§ THE EARL OF MALMESBURY
said, he was quite sure that none of his Colleagues "elsewhere," whatever their position, would think of pledging the House of Lords to follow the decision of the House of Commons. There was not the slightest ground for saying that any unfair advantage had been taken. The opinion of the Government was well-known, and it was notorious that their desire was to support the recommendations of the Boundary Commissioners, and he had never heard that the opinion of any one of his Colleagues had changed upon this point. The question was now before the House, and it was the duty of the Government to listen to the opinions of the House upon it. The sentiments of the Government had not altered in any way, and he did not believe that any one of his Colleagues in the other House had maintained that the decision of the House of Commons was final and could not be discussed or even upset in this House.
§ EARL RUSSELL
This is altogether a new way of carrying on the administration of the country. The Boundary Commission, over which my noble Friend (Viscount Eversley) presided, made a very elaborate Report; and when this was 501 questioned in the House of Commons no difficulty was made in appointing a Committee, at the head of which was a person of the highest character—Mr. Walpole. They came to a unanimous decision, and Mr. Walpole gave excellent reasons for adopting the Report of the Committee. There was a division, and a very considerable majority decided in favour of the Report of the Committee. The Government might thereupon have said, "We differ from this decision, and we shall fight against it on every point." We might then have been prepared to find a similar opposition in this House; but instead of that the Prime Minister said, "the question is settled." When, after this, the Government in this House dispute the decision so arrived at, we have a right to say that such a course is inconsistent with good faith; it is impossible to feel any confidence in any of the promises of the Government. In my opinion, if the Members of the Government mean to agree at all with the First Lord of the Treasury and to maintain his pledges, they must vote in favour of the decision of the Committee.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I think the energy of the noble Earl is somewhat misplaced, and that upon considering what has passed your Lordships will be fur from adopting his opinion. The facts of the case are as simple as possible, and there can be no dispute about them. A Commission was issued for the purpose of inquiring into the Parliamentary boundaries of boroughs in England. That Commission was the Commission of Parliament, because the names of the Commissioners were inserted in the Act, which also specified the duty which they were to perform. They were directed to inquire into the boundaries of boroughs—With a view to ascertain whether the boundaries should be enlarged so as to include within the limits of the borough all premises which ought—due regard being had to situation or other local circumstances—to be included therein, for the purpose of conferring upon the occupiers thereof the Parliamentary franchise for such borough.These Instructions, I repeat, were not issued by the Executive Government, but were imposed by Parliament, and, of course, concurred in by your Lordships, as a guide to the Commissioners in the execution of the duty intrusted to them. The Commissioners made their Report. I will not say a word now upon the merits of it; but it showed, at least, that the cases of 502 all these boroughs had received the greatest care and attention. What happened then? The Government introduced a Bill for the purpose of giving effect to the Report of the Commissioners. The Government have always said that they were perfectly content with the recommendations of the Commissioners. But it was said that the principles which the House of Commons wished to adopt in fixing the boundaries of boroughs had not been sufficiently indicated by the House for the Instruction given to the Commissioners; and ultimately, in the course of conversation in the other House, a proposal was made, to which the Government assented, to refer, not the Boundary Bill, but the Report of the Commissioners, to a Select Committee. At the time of the appointment of the Select Committee—I am speaking off book, but I do not think I am mistaken—the question was asked whether the Report of the Committee was to be considered as final? and according to my recollection the Government would give no such pledge and no such undertaking. The Committee made their Report. It was a unanimous Report, I admit, and I speak with great respect of the Members of the Committee. So far, however, from that Report being acceded to by the Government, they proceeded with the Bill in the shape in which it was brought in. Thereupon a Resolution was proposed by a Member of the House of Commons to accept the Report of the Committee in cumulo, substituting the conclusions of the Committee with regard to fifteen boroughs, where they recommended that there should be no alteration, in lieu of the new and enlarged boundaries proposed in the Bill. Was that proposition assented to by the Government? Certainly not. The Government resisted it, maintaining strongly that the views of the Commissioners were right and those of the Committee were erroneous. The House divided on the question; the Report of the Committee was carried; but the proposition made was really one which took the House of Commons at a great disadvantage, because, instead of taking up the case of each borough, the Resolution embraced the whole fifteen boroughs; so that the House of Commons had no opportunity, as your Lordships might now have, of considering in each instance whether the Report of the Commission or of the Committee set forth the sounder view. The majority of the House of Commons having been in favour of the Report of the Select Committee, on 503 a subsequent day when the Business of the House of Commons and the prospects of the Business came under discussion, the Prime Minister said that those prospects might be considered with reference to that which had occurred—namely, that the House of Commons had at that time got rid of the question of the Boundary Bill. In that sense no doubt the Bill was settled. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Disraeli) did not mean that the Government had entered into any compromise or had altered their opinion, but that the subject no longer occupied the time of the House, and therefore the House of Commons might proceed to consider the other Business on the Paper. I am sure that nothing was further from the mind of any Member of the Government in the House of Commons than to abandon their opinion. The case now comes before your Lordships, and the question is, are you satisfied with the Report of the Commission appointed by you in conjunction with the House of Commons, or will you affirm the Report of the Select Committee? As I understand the noble Lord who proposes the Amendment, (Earl Beauchamp) he says, "The Committee of the House of Commons made a Report differing from that of the Commission as to the boundaries of fifteen boroughs. I will be satisfied with the Report of the Commission as to all; but as to five a question is raised of a peculiar kind—that of grouping, and to this there may be objections which may very possibly have influenced a good many Members of the House of Commons while dealing with the matter en bloc, because unions were proposed which were not acceptable." This is a question upon which the Government is perfectly free to re-assert the opinion it asserted in the House of Commons, and it is one for your Lordships' determination. Bear in mind that no extension of the Parliamentary boundary of any borough to the municipal boundary will in the slightest degree interfere with any question of taxation or municipal government. Any alteration of a municipal boundary must be a subject of separate legislation, upon which those concerned will have every opportunity of being heard. The Committee of the House of Commons, in six cases, extended Parliamentary beyond municipal boundaries. [A noble LORD: Because nobody objected!] We do not know that. The Commission do not tell us whether it is so or not. They have made a Report in which they mention eleven different considerations that have a 504 material bearing upon the Parliamentary boundaries of boroughs; but they do not tell us which consideration or what considerations influenced their decision in any one case. As regards the wishes of the inhabitants, compare the course taken by the Commissioners with that taken by the Committee. The Commissioners sent Assistant Commissioners to hold local inquiries of the character of public meetings, where any one might be heard. The Committee of the House of Commons held private conferences and consulted with Members, who would sometimes represent sections of their constituencies, and with the Assistant Commissioners. If local wishes are to be studied it is much more likely the local inquiry would elicit them than that the private deliberations of the Committee would do so. If you consider the merits of the question it by no means follows that persons living outside a Parliamentary boundary are to object to its extension because they fear increased rates, if their inclusion is desirable on other grounds; and the proposal to adhere to the Report of the Commission involves the enfranchisement, as the Report of the Committee and the Bill involve the disfranchisement of 18,610 persons. On that ground I think your Lordships will pause before you say that the decision of the Commission was not wiser than that of the Committee.
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
said, that the noble and learned Lord had not answered the observation of his noble Friend (Earl Granville). No one denied the competency of the House to entertain the question or to reverse a decision of the other House upon it; but what his noble Friend said was that in the other House the Government said the question had been settled by the decision arrived at. He believed in the impartiality of the Commission and of the Committee; but the Committee had S before it documents which the Commission had not, and it heard Members from both sides of the House. As to the Commission not giving the grounds of its decision in each case, neither did the Committee. Their Lordships were now called upon to reverse not the decision of the Commission nor the decision of the Committee, but the solemn determination of the House of Commons, without the slightest grounds being assigned for doing so. He had understood that the Government accepted that decision, and it seemed to him something like a breach of faith for the Upper House to reverse that decision. Their 505 Lordships had only just received the Reports of the Assistant Commissioners, and had not time to peruse them. It was desired to expedite the dissolution of Parliament, with a view to which it was absolutely essential that this Bill should be passed without delay; and yet, in the teeth of declarations made by the First Lord of the Treasury, Members of the Government were now adopting a course which would defeat the object they professed to have in view. He trusted their Lordships would not go into the merits until they had ascertained on what footing the matter stood after the declarations which had been made by the Government. If the government of the country was to be carried on in that way very great evils must result.
§ THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH
My Lords, I think that if your Lordships had to consider, as the noble Viscount states, a solemn decision of the other House of Parliament, your Lordships would not feel yourselves in any way fettered in coming to a conclusion. But that is not the point which we have under discussion. The noble Lords opposite have challenged the conduct of the Government and their good faith in dealing with this question. The noble Viscount seems to think that some statement has been made by the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister in the other House of Parliament to the effect that your Lordships must consider this question as settled, and not re-open it again. Now, I do not believe that any such statement was ever made. I am not aware of the precise passage to which the noble Viscount referred, but I know that no such intention was ever entertained by Her Majesty's Government. Indeed, the whole of their conduct previously to the appointment of the Commission tends to disprove the accusation. If the right hon. Gentleman used the terra "settled" in any way whatever, he must have meant simply that the matter was concluded as far as the Business of the House of Commons was concerned; and he certainly did not intend to fetter the action of the Government or of this House on the subject. I will just state what was the intention of Her Majesty's Government, and of the right hon. Gentleman who conducts the Business of the other House of Parliament. When the subject was first brought before Parliament a question arose how far the recommendations of the Commissioners were to be accepted. Great 506 opposition was raised in the other House, and the final result was that one of the Commissioners moved that a Committee should be appointed. The Government accepted that proposal, and accordingly, on the Motion of the Home Secretary, a Committee was appointed to whom all the questions at issue were referred. The Government, however, at that time expressly precluded themselves by the words used by the Secretary of State for the Home Department and the Prime Minister from, being bound by the decision of that Committee. Now, what took place? The Committee finished their labours and reported to the House; and the very first day the Report came on for consideration a question arose as to how the Government proposed to deal with it. I trust that as the conduct and good faith of the Government have been called in question your Lordships will allow me to depart from, the ordinary rules of procedure, and to quote from the recognized channels of information the exact words made use of by the Prime Minister. According to the report in The Times he used the following words on the 9th of June, when the decision of the Committee was first brought under the notice of the House:—The hon. Member for Birmingham made an appeal to me to announce the part which the Government would take, and argued that of course we could not oppose the Report of the Committee. That view is founded on an assumption which I think a most singular one—namely, that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had announced to this House that Her Majesty's Government were prepared to receive the Report of the Committee as conclusive. Now, such an arrangement was never made by my right hon. Friend.The Prime Minister went on to state—But I will tell the Committee what we are prepared to do. We are prepared to give to the Report of the Committee the same consideration and respect as we have given to the Report of the Commission.Having reminded the House that the Report of the Commission had been referred to a Select Committee, the right hon. Gentleman proceeded to say—What I propose is indicated by the order of Business that has been prepared for this evening. The moment we concluded the Scotch Bill we proposed to go into Committee on the Boundary Bill. We shall have before us as we proceed the Schedule, with the conflicting recommendations of the Commission and the Committee, and the good sense of the House will come to a conclusion. I know no other mode by which we can arrive at a result more speedily or satisfactorily.Now, what was the course adopted by the House of Commons? The Committee re- 507 ported Progress that evening, and an hon. Member gave Notice of his intention to move that the whole Report of the Committee should be accepted in a lump. That was fairly objected to by the Government, who were, however, put in a minority. Now, I maintain that under these circumstances the Government have a right to raise the question again in your Lordships' House.
§ EARL RUSSELL
I think the remarks of the noble Duke have entirely altered the question. It is said that the Home Secretary has been misunderstood, and that the First Lord of the Treasury was of opinion that the Government were not bound to accept the Report of the Committee. When the Report of the Committee was brought up the Government wished to deal with it in one way and the Opposition in another. As the noble Duke remarked, the Government were defeated on a division, and certain boroughs were, in accordance with the Report of the Committee, left out of the Boundary Bill. Well, after that, what happened? The right hon. Gentleman at the Head of the Ministry, said on the 16th of June—Now, the Scotch Reform Bill and the Boundary Bill, though they have not yet left this House, may be regarded as virtually settled.During the progress of the Reform Bill last year there were many points on which the Government were defeated, but in regard to which they accepted the decision of the House of Commons. Every one accordingly thought that the Government would accept the decision of the House of Commons in the present instance. The noble Earl (Earl Beauchamp) now proposes to move an Amendment, the effect of which, if carried, would be to bring back the Bill into conformity with the Report of the Boundary Commissioners. Now, I confess that when I saw that Notice on the Paper I thought, indeed, that it was perfectly competent for any Member of your Lordships' House to disagree with the Bill, and to propose any alteration he might deem necessary; but, at the same time, I certainly was of opinion that the Government were pledged to abide by the decision of the House of Commons, and that, consequently, as the noble Earl would not receive the support of the Government, there would be a considerable majority against his proposal. All I can say now is that, as the Government have broken faith on this subject, I cannot be a party to admitting that any decision 508 which your Lordships may arrive at on this question is a fair decision. We have been taken by surprise and circumvented in this matter. All that I can say, therefore, is that I will be no party to such a breach of faith, and that I will leave rather than be a party to it.
[The noble Earl then left the House, followed by Earl GRANVILLE, Viscount HALIFAX, the Earl of CLARENDON, and other noble Lords.]
THE DUKE OF ARGYLL
Unquestionably an intimation was given to the House that the Boundary Bill was virtually settled—
THE DUKE OF ARGYLL
I say yes! The Prime Minister said—Now, the Scotch Reform Bill and the Boundary Bill, though they have not yet left this House, may be regarded as virtually settled.I would, however, venture to suggest to the House that the duty of the Government does not altogether depend upon the words of the Prime Minister. The present Government are in a peculiar position. They are the Government of a minority, and under these circumstances special obligations lie upon them; for had it not been understood by the majority of the House of Commons that the decisions come to by that House would be accepted by the Government, and that Ministers would not use their superior influence in the House of Lords to upset the decisions agreed to in the Commons, it is more than probable that that Vote of Want of Confidence of which we have heard would have been proposed long ago. I think it a breach of faith even if no promise had been given, that a Government in a minority should use its influence in the House of Lords in order to upset a decision to which they had assented in the House of Commons.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, the obvious and only meaning to be extracted from the words of the Prime Minister, under the circumstances in which they were used, is that after the decision come to by the House of Commons, the Boundary Bill might be considered settled so far as that House was concerned, and that it had; been removed from the Business of the House requiring discussion. The noble Duke (the Duke of Argyll) spoke as if what your Lordships do now in respect of this Bill will be conclusive as against the House of Commons; but I 509 must remind your Lordships'—and I should have thought it unnecessary to remind even the noble Duke—that the Bill must go down to the House of Commons again. The House of Commons did not consider the case of each of those boroughs, but considered the whole of them in a mass. They will, however, have an opportunity of considering each case. What occurred last year as to the lodger franchise was this—There had been two propositions in the House of Commons, one for fixing a higher and the other for fixing a lower figure; but an arrangement was made, in the way things are sometimes arranged in that House, in consequence of which a figure between the two originally proposed was actually introduced. In ignorance of the arrangement come to in the House of Commons, your Lordships altered that figure when the Bill came before you; but, subsequently, on learning how matters really stood, your Lordships restored the figure which had been agreed to by the Commons. But that is not the case here. There was no compromise and no arrangement. The views of the House were tested by a formal decision.
§ THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH
My Lords, the accusations made against the Government are very serious, and calculated to give rise to bitter feelings; and although my Parliamentary experience is not a very long one, I venture to think that the conduct of the noble Lords who made them in leaving the House after having done so is without precedent. A most erroneous interpretation has been put upon the words of my right hon. Friend at the head of the Government. Noble Lords opposite have referred to an extract from the remarks of my right hon. Friend without paying any regard to the context; but this should be borne in mind, for it has a most material effect upon the point at issue. The occasion on which those expressions were used was one on which questions were put as to the course of Public Business in the House of Commons. Questions were asked of the Prime Minister as to the arrangement of the days to be devoted to particular measures, and in replying to them he said, "The Scotch Reform Bill and the Boundary Bill, though they have not yet left this House, may be regarded as virtually settled." What did that mean but settled by this House—"the House of Commons?" The intention and meaning of these words are clear and apparent. They simply meant that neither of the 510 Bills to which he referred would occupy any more of the time of the House of Commons. No other meaning can properly be attached to his words, and that sought to be attached to them by noble Lords opposite is not warranted by the expressions themselves.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
observed that there never was a greater mare's nest than that discovered this evening by noble Lords on the Opposition side. One thing was clear—that the Premier spoke of the Scotch Reform Bill and the Boundary Bill in the same terms. Why, then, had not his supposed undertaking been set up when Amendments were being made on the former Bill on Tuesday evening?
THE EARL OF AIRLIE
said, the Amendments made by their Lordships in the Scotch Reform Bill were merely verbal Amendments.
§ VISCOUNT EVERSLEY
My Lords, I think I may assume from what has fallen from both sides that your Lordships' House is altogether satisfied with the conduct of the Commission, ["Hear!"] You seem, to consider that its Reports were fully justified by the Instructions which they received from Parliament. It should not, my Lords, be forgotten that the Commission was one appointed by Parliament and instructed by Parliament. Therefore, we were as responsible to your Lordships' House as to the other House of Parliament. The way in which we proceeded was this—We obtained the services of the best scientific men and the best legal men we could find to act as Assistant Commissioners. We sent those gentlemen to different parts of the country. The greatest publicity attended their proceedings. Their coming to a borough or town was notified previously; they always sat in public, and invited information and suggestions from all sides. Having, as far as possible, made themselves masters of the case, they reported to the Commissioners in London. We read their Reports and their recommendations; but we did not confine ourselves to those Reports. Whenever we thought it advisable we sent for the Assistant Commissioner, and had the benefit of his assistance before coming to a decision with reference to the particular borough. It is well known to your Lordships that many of our decisions were challenged in the House of Commons, and that a Committee was appointed by that House. I think the noble Duke (the Duke of Marlborough) was not quite correct when 511 he said that the Committee was appointed at the suggestion of the Commission. I remember being consulted by one of my brother Commissioners, and I said that I did not think we could object to the appointment of a Committee. Now, my Lords, nothing can be further from my intention than to wish to say anything in disparagement of the Gentlemen who composed that Committee; but I am bound to say that I differ altogether from the conclusions at which they have arrived. When their Report came out I was most anxious to see in what way the information we received from the Assistant Commissioners had been used; but I find nothing in the Report to show me that. I observed that the Committee conferred with the Members for the place, or, with more than one of the Members for the place, and memorials were presented to the Committee; but the book which contains the account of their proceedings does not appear to me to contain any evidence whatever. I believe that in ten out of fifteen of the boroughs referred to by the noble Earl (Earl Beauchamp) the Parliamentary and the municipal boundaries are conterminous. In fifty-three boroughs, exclusive of the Welsh boroughs, the municipal and the Parliamentary boundaries do not coincide. Several boroughs have had municipal privileges conferred upon them since the Reform Bill. What the particular objection may have been which governed the decision of the Committee we do not discover from their Report; but plainly this objection, that the municipal boundary and the Parliamentary boundary were not the same, vanishes the moment it is examined; for it has not been the practice of the country to make them conterminous. The noble Earl opposite (Earl Beauchamp) has very fairly stated the case of Birmingham. I this day presented a Petition upon the subject, which confirmed the view taken by the Commissioners, that the suburb of Aston was as much part of the town of Birmingham as Piccadilly was part of London. In the Petition which I had the honour to present it is stated that if the district of Aston were added to Birmingham, 5,000 or 6,000 persons would be added to the voters for that borough; whereas, if it continued to be excluded, and were left in the county, only 1,850 persons would obtain the franchise—being a difference of upwards of 3,000 votes. There is another borough in which the 512 case is still stronger, and that is Nottingham, one of the boroughs mentioned by the noble Earl. It happens, curiously enough, that in the year 1837, some time after the passing of the Reform Bill, I was appointed Chairman of the Municipal Boundary Commission. I told my noble Friend who made the proposition that I was very reluctant to undertake the duty, because I knew well that it was most difficult, except the Government of the day was a very strong Government, to carry any changes of the kind; they always excite opposition, and in some respects have to be carried against the wishes of friends of the Government itself. And what I predicted occurred. The Government then happened to be an exceedingly weak Government; pressure was put upon them, and they never attempted to carry out our recommendations. Our Report contained a passage with regard to the borough of Nottingham, with which I will trouble your Lordships—The increasing population, unable to find room within the limits of the town, has resorted to the neighbouring parishes of Radford, Lenton, and Sneinton, and in these three parishes upwards of 20,000 people closely connected with the town of Nottingham are now congregated. Now Sneinton forms actually a portion of the town of Nottingham. New Radford may be said to form a portion of the town, although not quite so close as Sneinton. The extra-parochial district of Poole is nearly surrounded by the parish of Lenton.The House will scarcely credit it when I state that in the late Report of the Boundary Commission we hardly proposed any addition to the limits indicated in that Report of the Municipal Commissioners in 1837; yet this is one of the proposals which has been rejected and set aside. The case of Nottingham is less remarkable than the borough of East Retford, which occupies an entire hundred. For my part I have always been astonished that the Reform Bill of last Session, and, indeed, that any Reform Bill did not deal with those peculiar boroughs—East Retford, Cricklade, Shoreham, Much Wenlock, and Aylesbury—by reducing them to one Member each, and throwing them into the county. As matters stand, they sue nothing more nor less than electoral districts, and I am satisfied that their continued existence will ultimately have a tendency to lower the county franchise. For when you find what are absolutely elective districts, with persons on one side of the hedge having a borough qualifica- 513 tion, and persons on the other requiring a £12 rating, some day or other this will create great discontent and a desire for the reduction of the county franchise. Great alarm has been expressed as to the number of votes which will be lost by a transfer; to show that this alarm is not warranted by the facts I will take a case that I happen to be well acquainted with. In South Hampshire the total number of electors is 5.677, of whom 2,858, or just one-half, derive their qualification from the represented towns within the county. Therefore, it does not at all follow that by the suggested transfer of the population you reduce the number of votes for the county to the extent that has been anticipated. I mention this because it is a point which attracted considerable attention, and is believed to have had much influence both with the Committee and subsequently with the House. Speaking of my Colleagues in the Royal Commission, I can assure you that nothing could exceed the industry, the honesty of purpose, and the perfect absence of all party feeling which marked their conduct during the whole course of the inquiry committed to them. I am sure, therefore, that their finding merits the confidence of the country.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
said, a noble Lord opposite (Earl Russell) had said something about his Motion being a surprise, and he thought that a charge so put forward ought to be met, as it deserved, with a distinct denial. Complaint had been also made as to shortness of Notice of the Amendments. What were the facts? The Boundary Bill was brought up from the other House on the 23rd of June, but was not delivered to Members till the 25th of June. That was on Thursday. He had not time to read the Bill and consider what course he should take until Saturday, the 27th; and Notice of his present Motion was given upon Monday. On Wednesday their Lordships did not sit; but after the Notice had lain before them for two days he now brought it forward. Hence it would be seen that he had acted with all proper caution. Had he given Notice sooner he should have been charged with precipitancy. To remove, however, any excuse for complaint, he now proposed to move the adjournment of the debate. He regretted that noble Lords opposed to this matter should so far have forgotten themselves and the dignity of that House as to bring forward a groundless and nonsensical 514 charge, and then retire from the House without either supporting or discussing it.
§ THE EARL OF MALMESBURY
thought his noble Friend acted very wisely in the course which he proposed to take. He had certainly been surprised at the grave charges brought on the authority of a forced construction put upon the words of the Prime Minister. Noble Lords on the other side of the House have with great ingenuity mis-stated the tenour of the Prime Minister's remarks when simply alluding to the course of Business in. The House of Commons; it is perfectly impossible that the right hon. Gentleman could have intended to say anything with a view to fetter your Lordships; and I state positively from my own knowledge, in the most solemn manner, that the Government never meant at the time the Prime Minister spoke to regard the Scotch Reform Bill or the Boundary Bill as settled; it is monstrous to charge his words with so incongruous a meaning, because no one knows better than he that, whatever influence he may have with your Lordships from his position, he has no absolute control over the actions of this House. I am very glad my noble Friend has taken the course he has, because no one could be more annoyed than myself at the suspicion of surprise; and perhaps when the noble Lords who should be opposite have returned to their places they will be prepared to admit that the observations of the Prime Minister applied alone to the House of Commons.
§ THE EARL OF LICHFIELD
thought the only course open to their Lordships was to agree to an adjournment of the debate; for whatever had been done amiss, and whoever was blamable or free from blame, it would be most undesirable that the question should turn entirely upon an alleged breach of faith on the part of the Government. He could not help adding that if noble Lords on his side of the House had remained in their places, they would have better studied the dignity of the House than by running away.
§ House resumed; to be again in Committee on Monday next.
§ House adjourned at Nine o'clock, till To-morrow, half past Ten o'clock.