THE DUKE OF ARGYLL
said: I now rise to put the Question of which I gave notice on Monday last, Whether the attention of Her Majesty's Government has been called to the inconveniences arising out of the ratepaying clauses of the Reform Act of 1867; and, whether any measure is in contemplation for the removal of them? That Question, my Lords, refers to a subject of great interest and importance, both political and social. The inconveniences to which the Question alludes have become so serious, and are cutting so deeply into the spirit and temper of the people in many of the great cities of this country, that, under any circumstances, it would have been necessary to call the attention of the House at a very early period to the evils which have arisen; but I should not be dealing candidly with the House if I did not admit at once that I have given this Notice at an earlier period than I intended, because it enables me to bring to the test of fact the accuracy and the candour of certain statements on the subject of Parliamentary Reform, which have recently been publicly made by the First Minister of the Crown. Let me recall to the recollection of the House the circumstances under which those statements have been made. On the first night on which that House assembled after the retirement of Lord Derby, my noble Friend near me (Earl Russell), who was at the head of the late Government, declared, in terms more severe, certainly, than are usual in the calm and almost judicial atmosphere of your Lordships' House, but in terms in my opinion not more severe than they were just and called for, that he could not place any confidence in the character of a Government whose policy on the subject of Reform had been a policy of 1551 deceit. The noble Duke opposite, the Lord President of the Council (the Duke of Marlborough), made a short reply, in the course of which he said, that he hardly knew what the noble Earl meant or what he referred to. My noble Friend rejoined by referring to the celebrated speech of the present Prime Minister, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, at Edinburgh, in which it was generally understood that the right hon. Gentleman had declared that during seven years he had been educating the Conservative party to pass a measure, the principal feature of which was the adoption of the borough franchise, suggested by Mr. Bright. To that rejoinder no reply was made from the Benches opposite, and the Prime Minister was reduced to betake himself to what are called "the ordinary channels of public intelligence," which is, I think, Parliamentary periphrasis for saying that he wrote to the Editor of The Times. Now, I do not know that any serious blame could attach to the noble Lords opposite for not having replied to the rejoinder of my noble Friend. In the first place, there are three, at least, of the Members of the Bench opposite who had been introduced into the Government of Lord Derby under what might be called "the Conscience Clause," after the religious instruction had been closed, and for whom nothing remained but the secular teaching of the Government school. I do not think, therefore, that these noble Lords were called on to reply. The noble Earl the Lord Privy Seal (the Earl of Malmesbury), however, was an original Member of Lord Derby's Government, and must have gone through the religious instruction of which they had all heard so much; but the noble Earl had probably found that teaching powers had been attributed to him of which he was not conscious; and I am not surprised, therefore, that he did not make any further reference to the speech at Edinburgh. My Lords, I shall say nothing more of the position in which the Conservative party found themselves placed by that speech, except this—that that party must be the most good-natured party in the world. Of this I am sure, that if a speech had been made by any considerable Member of the Liberal party, in which it had been said that that party had been schooled by its Leaders into a policy opposed to their wishes and convictions, we should have had not one, but half-a-dozen, caves of Adullam full of justly 1552 discontented and justly indignant men. The honour of the Conservative party is in their own keeping; but, my Lords, there are other parties interested in this matter. The letter of the Prime Minister, which has been addressed to the public papers the other day, gave a version of the speech at Edinburgh which I shall implicitly accept. That letter professes to give an account of the history and result of the Reform contest during several years; and such an account cannot interest one party alone. If it be a misrepresentation of the course taken by the Conservative party, it must necessarily be a misrepresentation of the course of the Liberal party also. When two great parties have been at issue for many years upon a great question of public policy, it is not possible to misrepresent the policy of the one without also misrepresenting the policy of the other. If the five points specified by the right hon. Gentleman were the five points of the Tory Charter which were fought for by the Conservatives during seven or eight years, they must also have been the points against which the Liberal party have during the same period been contending. Now, my Lords, the misrepresentations contained in that letter of the Prime Minister of the points at issue between the two great contending parties are so broad—I had almost said so gross—that I hold it absolutely necessary for the honour of the Liberal party—nay, even for the honour of Parliament—that some of those misrepresentations should be exposed. I shall now quote to your Lordships a few introductory words from the speech delivered at Edinburgh, in which those five points are introduced to the attention of the public as having been inculcated during seven years by the Conservative party. I attach no importance whatever to the change made in the authorized version of the speech as it fell from the right hon. Gentleman and was reported at the time. I think too much importance has been attached to that change, because, though Mr. Disraeli did use the word "I," it is but fair to say that the right hon. Gentleman stated that when he used the word" I "he spoke not of himself alone, but of himself and his Colleagues. The introductory words were these—Now, what were the points which I, with the concurrence of my Colleagues, tried to impress upon the conscience and conviction of the country?Your Lordships will observe that these 1553 are very solemn words. The fire points were points the right hon. Gentleman had endeavoured to impress not only on the intellectual conviction but also on the "conscience" of the country, and those five points he proceeded to explain very much in accordance with the letter that has now appeared in the public press. Of the five points there mentioned, the last, and the last only, stands in immediate connection with the Question I am about to put to Her Majesty's Government, and therefore I shall dwell very little on the four previous points. The first point which Mr. Disraeli said the Tory party had been obliged to press on the conscience and conviction of the country was "that the measure should be complete." Your Lordships will probably recollect that this expression of a "complete measure" was very much used during the Session of 1866 as a means of condemning the Bill brought forward by the Government of that day, who had divided the question of Reform into two branches—one dealing with the extension of the franchise and the other with the distribution of seats. Now, all I shall say on this point is, that if Mr. Disraeli was for seven years earnestly impressing on the conscience and conviction of the country that a Reform Bill must be a "complete measure," so far as regarded dealing with these two separate branches in one Bill, he must have had a very easy time of it, because it so happens that all the Bills previously brought forward by Liberal Governments were "complete," for they dealt with both branches of the subject, and Mr. Disraeli must be not only a very able man—which undoubtedly he is—but also something of a prophet if he found it necessary to impress on the conscience and conviction of the country the advantages of a course which no Liberal Government had then proposed to depart from. But even as to this question of completeness, what has been the result? Why, that the Conservative party have brought in a Bill much more incomplete than that of the former Government. The plan pursued by the Government of my noble Friend was a matter not of policy but merely of procedure; it was considered the more convenient course to deal with the two branches of the subject in separate Bills, and that was all. But by instilling into the mind of the public, and of a large portion of the Members of the House of Commons, a suspicion that it was intended to deal in one Parliament with one branch of the subject, 1554 and in another Parliament with another branch, the leaders of the Tory party succeeded in prejudicing the mind of Parliament against that measure. But Her Majesty's present Government have brought in a Bill confessedly incomplete on the subject of the re-distribution of seats, and that question therefore remains open, to be dealt with by a new Parliament elected under household suffrage. I now come to the second point, which is "that the representation of no place should be entirely abrogated." I suppose this must refer to the doctrine that there should be no "Schedule A," as it was called in the first Reform Bill, or that the representation of no borough in England should be entirely abolished. Now, here again, I have to observe that this has not been a point of contest between the two parties during the last seven years. So far as I know the Conservatives never did commit themselves to the doctrine that the representation of no small borough shall be wholly abolished—and if they do now commit themselves to such a declaration they will, I have no doubt whatever, be defeated. I have, however, another observation to make on this point, which is that it does so happen, that, in the Bill of 1866, the Government of that day did adopt the principle that the representation of no place should be entirely abrogated. That was a peculiarity of the Bill of 1866 as distinguished from former Bills. The Government of my noble Friend avoided entire abrogation, intending to let the small boroughs down gently in their fall, and accordingly we proposed to unite them with neighbouring boroughs under a system of grouping. It is unquestionable that such a plan would have been favourable to the small boroughs in a Conservative sense, yet the Conservative party rejected that plan. It was not popular among the Liberals, for obvious reasons. My own belief is that the plan of grouping is dead, and if the Conservatives nail their colours to the mast for the small boroughs they will scarcely come to a successful issue in a new Parliament under household suffrage. The third point mentioned by Mr. Disraeli was "that there must be a real Boundary Commission." With respect to this point I shall merely say in passing that the question of a Boundary Commission never has been a point of dispute between the two parties. It might be convenient or inconvenient to have a Boundary Commission, but the question has never been a question of seri- 1555 ous contention between the two parties; so that if that was one of the points which, for seven years the Conservative party had to impress upon the conscience and conviction of the country they must have had an uncommonly easy task. The fourth point was "that the county representation should be considerably increased." I have exactly the same observation to make on that point. The proportion of the town and county representation never has been a subject of contest between the two political parties. In the Bill of 1854, brought in by the Government of Lord Aberdeen, there had been no less than forty Members added to the county representation. The Liberal party did not find any great fault with the Bill of 1859 on account of the distribution of seats proposed by the Conservative Government, and I am not aware that the Conservative party found any great fault with the distribution of seats proposed in the Bill of 1866. Nor, again, did the Liberal party object very much, except in some small matters of detail, to the distribution of seats proposed in the Bill of last year. This has always been an entirely collateral issue, and one of a very narrow nature, and upon it there never has been shown any serious difference of opinion between the two parties. So far then as regards these first four points it is utterly futile to pretend that they were points which the Conservative party had been impressing upon the mind and conscience of the country. I now come to the fifth and last point, which immediately connects itself with the Question which I am about to put to Her Majesty's Government. That point is that the borough franchise should be established on the "principle of rating." Now, my Lords, I assert in the face of this House and of the country that this is a broad misrepresentation of the great issue upon which the two parties have been contending. What is meant by founding the borough franchise on the principle of rating? It may have two meanings—one meaning is that you should take a line of qualification from the rating column instead of from the value column in the rate book as the basis of the franchise; the other meaning is that you should take the payment of rates, however small the amount may be, as qualifying for the franchise. Now, I contend that whether you take the one meaning or the other it is utterly untrue that this has been a point of difference contested between the two great po- 1556 litical parties during the last seven years. I assert further that it is put forward to conceal the real point of issue between these two parties, which was nothing else than this—not whether you should take the clear annual value column or the rating column—but whether you should have any lowering of the borough franchise at all. It was against this that Mr. Disraeli fought; it was upon this that he endeavoured to instruct the "conscience" and intelligence of the country. It is entirely incorrect to say that the Liberal party have fought during the last seven years for an issue so comparatively unimportant as the point of rating or value. In 1852 the Bill of Lord John Russell's Government proposed a £5 rating franchise, and the Bill of Lord Aberdeen's Government was founded upon a £6 rating franchise. My Lords, in order to show that this is put forward by Mr. Disraeli merely in order to cover and conceal the fact that he and his friends were fighting against any reduction of the franchise, I shall quote, from the authorized version of Mr. Disraeli's speeches, four extracts, taken chronologically, during the last seven years, showing what the real issue was, In defending his own Bill of 1859 against the attacks made upon it because it involved no reduction of the borough franchise, Mr. Disraeli used these remarkable words—It certainly would be be most injudicious, not to say intolerable, when we are guarding ourselves against the predominance of a territorial aristocracy and the predominance of a manufacturing and commercial oligarchy, that we should reform Parliament by securing the predominance of a household democraoy."—[3 Hansard, clii. 985.]That was in 1859. It was very true that before they left office, finding it was hopeless to have a Reform Bill without reform in the borough franchise, they gave certain indications that under a proper amount of pressure they would concede that point. But did that repentance last? No. Mr. Disraeli reverted to his former opinions, and during the whole of the seven years since 1859 the point he was pressing without ceasing upon the attention and the conscience of Parliament and the country was that any reduction in the borough franchise must ultimately lead to household suffrage. His plan was "lateral extension" of the franchise, and that a certain small and select portion of the working classes should be let in by means of fancy franchises. Thus, in 1861, on the 13th March, Mr. Disraeli expressed himself to this effect— 1557Everybody knows the clear issue"—and this is a remarkable confession—"that was taken upon the measures which I brought forward as the organ of Lord Derby's Government on the subject of Parliamentary Reform. It was this or it was nothing—Would you, or would you not, lower the borough franchise? That was the broad and intelligible issue. Upon that issue the opinion of the House was taken, and by virtue of that opinion, and in order to carry it into effect, the present Government was formed.Thus, there was no change in the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman in 1861. Now, my Lords, let us advance a step further in the seven years of which Mr. Disraeli has given us so candid and so accurate a statement. On the 8th of May, 1865, he said—I have not changed my opinion upon the subject of what is called Parliamentary Reform. All that has occurred—all that I have observed—all the results of my reflections, lead me to this more and more—that the principle upon which the constituencies of this country should be increased is not one of radical, but, I would say, of lateral Reform—the extension of the franchise, not its degradation. Although—I do not wish in any way to deny it—we were in the most difficult position when the Parliament of 1859 met, being anxious to assist the Crown and the Parliament, by proposing some moderate measure which men on both sides might support, we did to a certain extent agree to some modification of the £10 franchise—yet I confess that my present opinion is opposed, as it originally was, to any course of the kind."—[3 Hansard, clxxviii. 1701–2.]The last extract I shall make brings us down to a very recent period. On April 27, 1866, in one of the debates on the Bill of the then Government, Mr. Disraeli expressed himself as follows:—Sir, I do not give it as my opinion, but I give it as my observation of what I believe to be the opinion of the country—I mean that impartial and intelligent opinion which really regulates the country—is this, that though they are desirous that the choicest members of the working classes should form a part—and no unimportant portion—of the Estate of the Commons, they recoil from and reject a gross and indiscriminate reduction of the franchise."—[3 Hansard, clxxxiii. 98–9.]That was the latest period up to which he was instructing, as he now tells us, the "conscience" and intellect of the people that if any reduction was given, it should be on the basis of rating, and not of rental. When the Conservative Government came into office, in consequence of the defeat of the Bill of the Liberal Government, I can readily admit that, being placed under new circumstances, they would have been entitled to change their course if they had frankly and manfully admitted that they were compelled to do so. But the course they took upon the 1558 subject of what they called the "personal payment" of rates was one unworthy of a great political party, and was a mere blind by which they succeeded in duping first their own followers, and then a great portion of the House of Commons. Over and over again during the contest of last year Mr. Disraeli and the other Members of Her Majesty's Government insisted that the main security of their Bill was the personal payment of rates. It was represented as some new principle, and that the payment of rates was the discharge of a great public duty, the mere fact of which proved the man who performed the duty to be so respectable and responsible that he was well entitled to a vote. It was under these representations that the Conservative party were persuaded to adopt the principle of household suffrage modified by the personal payment of rates. Now, it was a remarkable fact that the Bill passed last year contained no clause whatever for the personal payment of rates. It was a pure delusion. The clause in the Bill of last year was precisely the same as the clause upon that subject in the Reform Bill of 1832—the voter must be rated, and his rates must be paid. While the late Government were in office we were obliged to inquire—and these inquiries were, of course, to a great extent confidential—how this provision operated throughout the country; and we found that the payment of rates, as required by the Reform Bill of 1832, was wholly inoperative for the purpose for which it was intended—that is, for securing the solvency of the voter and the respectability of the class to which he belonged. We found that in a large number of towns there was a common agreement between political parties that they would take no notice of the non-payment of rates. In other places an arrangement was made by both parties that the respective electioneering agents should pay the rates for their own voters. In some places the provision did disfranchise a few persons, but generally either no notice was taken of the non-payment of rates, or it was made an engine of political influence, the various agents paying the rates when they found it convenient to do so. Now, the clause in the Act passed last year was almost in the same words as the clause in the Reform Act of 1832; and no personal payment of rates was required by either of them. Under the new as under the old law it is perfectly legal for the tenant to make use 1559 of his landlord as his agent for the payment of the rates, and if the tenant pays his rates through the landlord, he becomes ipso facto entitled to vote. This clause, therefore has no effect whatever in keeping out the lower class of voters where-ever there is a strong political motive for getting them on the register. The object with which the clause was placed before the Conservative party was to induce them to believe that the personal payment of rates was to be some security that the poorest and most dependent class would not come upon the register; but the clause provides no security whatever for such a result. The hon. and learned Member for Reading (Mr. Shaw-Lefevre), has published an able pamphlet on this subject, which I recommend to the attention of your Lordships. It states the matter with great clearness, moderation, and impartiality. I will take the case of Exeter, and your Lordships need be under no suspicion that the facts of the case are misrepresented or overstated, for the circumstances Mr. Shaw-Lefevre mentions were stated in evidence before Earl Grey's Committee some years ago. Exeter is an important place, containing a population of upwards of 42,000. The author of the pamphlet says—In Exeter there are 1,300 houses rated at £6 and under, and the landlords by arrangement with their tenants pay the full rates, and the tenants therefore will be entitled to be put on the list of voters; of houses above £6 the tenants pay their rates themselves, and whatever teat or check there is in the case of personal payment will be in force for houses of the higher value.But not for houses of the lowest value! It would be a curious thing to inquire how it happened that the house-owners of Exeter came to this agreement to pay their rate for the lower classes of their tenants. The evidence given before Lord Grey's Committee showed that it was an arrangement which arose out of the keenness of political contests. The landlords of houses below £6 agreed to pay the rates for the tenants in order that they might be able to put them on the list of voters; and, wherever political feelings are keen and it is an object on the part of landlords to influence elections, the natural resource will be to pay the rates of the very poorest and most dependent class of voters, and so put them on the register. Therefore, the provision of the Reform Act of 1867, of which so much was made, is utterly and entirely frustrated, as far as regarded the only 1560 valuable object for which it was introduced—an object, I fully admit, which would have been a legitimate one if it had been aimed at in a fair and honest manner. The farther provision for the abolition of compounding has produced enormous evils as regards the collection and payment of rates, and here again the object aimed at has not been fully attained. The Act does not prevent voluntary compounding to a certain extent. A landlord may be made the agent of his tenants in paying their rates, and a certain allowance may be made by the vestry to the landlord for the collection of the rates. It is stated by Mr. Shaw-Lefevre, no doubt on good authority, that the amount of the allowance which, in particular cases, is given to the landlord for the collection of these rates amounts nearly to the old rates of composition. The law, therefore, can be to a large extent eluded by those landlords who wish to get their tenants on the register; but it imposes most serious inconvenience on municipalities as regards the collection of their rates where the landlords have no political object to serve, and where consequently they prefer to allow the rates to fall on the tenant. And again although a certain allowance may be made to the landlord for the collection of the rate, no allowance can be made for empty houses and bad debts, which are the elements that made the old system of compounding valuable to the owners of house property and also to the vestries. Another result of abolishing the old system has been that cruel and unjust consequences have fallen on the lower classes of tenants. Since I gave notice of this matter on Monday I have received many communications from different parts of England, and from these I shall select three examples—from London, Leeds, and Salisbury respectively. Your Lordships may have read in the papers recently what occurred at the East End of London when this law came into operation, and when it was attempted to obtain the rates from poor persons living from hand to mouth on weekly wages. They found it difficult to pay rents which included rates, and they found it impossible to pay the rates in addition; and hence a large number of appeals. The Daily News reported that—During the hearing of these, it transpired that in very few cases have the landlords of East London reduced the rental of the house property belonging to them. At Hackney, as elsewhere, 1561 every compound-householder complained that, while paying the full amount of rental paid by him under the compounding system, he was now called upon to pay the rates in addition also. Thus the result of the Reform Bill has been, so far as East London is concerned, to increase the burdens borne by the working classes, and to augment considerably the profits of the landlords. In ordinary times the number of summonses issued in Hackney ranges from 1,500 to 2,000, so that the additional 4,000 returnable represents the effects of the abolition of the compounding system.Your Lordships will mark that payment of rates has not been compensated by a reduction of rentals to the poorest classes of the community. It was said of them—Rather than pay the rates hundreds of artizan families are giving up housekeeping and going into lodgings. The appellants comprised every section of the working classes—labourers, masons, bricklayers, carpenters, ostlers, mechanics, gardeners, smiths, tailors, saddlers, tinsmiths, brick-makers, and so forth.I have received a similar report from the town of Salisbury. A gentleman who has communicated with me on the subject says—Owing to this Act, one great evil in a sanitary view will very probably arise, from which the city of Salisbury is now wonderfully free when compared with most of the large and many of the smaller towns of the kingdom—that is, overcrowding. As a rule, with few exceptions, each family hitherto has had a cottage to itself; but now, as the artizan will often have to lower his class of residence, so will the labourer, in many instances, have to give up his separate holding of a tenement; families will be forced into lodgings, and, as in other places, the deadly fruits will be reaped in a harvest of diseases, and from a like cause—overcrowding; an evil which, as a cause of disease, especially of fevers, has proved in many places quite capable of neutralizing the beneficial influence of the best water supply. Upon the whole, it is abundantly evident that the system of compounding for cottages in Salisbury was a good system, as tested by the experience of many years, and that owing to its destruction nothing short of a social revolution pervades more than one-half of the households in the city. The parish authorities are at their wits' end, and cannot even guess at their financial prospects; 1,200 tenants, before free from the bother of rate collectors' calls, are now made unpleasantly familiar with them; a state of antagonism is created between those tenants and the authorities on one hand, and the landlords on the other; many poor people who were before paying their way are now placed under the necessity of publicly pauperizing themselves to claim exemption from the rates.Your Lordships may have seen the report of a meeting recently held in Leeds, in which the same complaints were made. It is found that, to a large extent, the rates are not collected, and the greatest hardship is imposed upon the poorer 1562 classes. Under the old system, the tenant paid the rates in the shape of rent; but houses were a monopoly, and if the landlords did not choose to reduce the rnets the tenant had practically no resource. At the meeting Alderman Carter said—Now in Leeds the fine would amount to an average of 8s. on all compounding houses, and supposing there were 30,000 such houses in the borough, the fine would amount to about £12,000 a year… Supposing each Parliament to last four years, the fine during that time would in Leeds amount to as much as £48,000. … Another objection was that additional rating would fall upon the provident among working men, while the improvident would shirk it. The man who drank, and did not care for the comfort of his family, and had not above half-a-crown's worth of furniture in his house, could very easily remove. And this was what such a man did; as soon as ever the rate-collector was expected he wasn't to be found. The rates, therefore, fell upon those working men who could not afford to leave their houses, who would rather pay than put their families to inconvenience. There was another phase of the question. There were 6,000 widows and spinsters occupiers in Leeds, and ought they to be fined because householders were to have a vote? Where would be the justice of such a proceeding? A poor woman was left with a good house full of furniture, and was struggling hard to get a living, and, although obtaining no privilege under the Reform Act (and they will not do so unless Mr. Mill's scheme is carried out), a fine was to be put upon her.I will not trouble your Lordships with further extracts, although I have several more complaining of the intolerable grievance laid on the poorer classes and upon the municipal bodies. In cases where the landlords do not voluntarily adopt the system of compounding, and make arrangements with the local authorities, those authorities are at a loss to know to what extent their rates can be collected, and whatever amount is lost upon the lower class of houses must necessarily be compensated for by higher rates upon the houses above them. Now, what has been the result to the Conservative party of this wonderful principle which Mr. Disraeli has been impressing on the intellect and the conscience of the country during seven long years? What is the net result arrived at as regards the political restrictions imposed? It is simply this—that the country has household suffrage, qualified by botheration and vexation, but by nothing else. In boroughs, where political feeling is keen, the rates of the poorer classes of tenants will be paid for them, and their names will be placed eè masse on the register; while, on the other hand, in boroughs where the land- 1563 lords do not care to exercise any political influence, they will not take steps to have their tenants placed on the rate book. Thus, the Government have annoyed the municipal authorities by throwing the whole system of borough finance into inextricable confusion, in order to save their own consistency, because they would not admit a "hard and fast line" in the boroughs—while they were adopting a "hard and fast line" in regard to the lodger and the county franchise; and to conceal what I must call this fraud upon their own party and upon Parliament, they have harped on this string of the personal payment of rates—a refuge which has failed them as against the poorest and most dependent classes of the community, and which, if they do not now abandon it, will be swept away by the votes of a household suffrage Parliament. And now, my Lords, I cannot help asking this question—was all this intolerable grievance, all this cruelty to the lower classes, all this trouble and vexation to the municipal bodies of the country, the result of pure ignorance on the part of the Government, or was it braved for a mere party purpose—the Government knowing and being careless as to the effect of this rating franchise in towns? I should have been ashamed to ask such a question of any political party if it were not suggested by, and answered in the words of Mr. Disraeli himself. Before bringing in his own Reform Bill in 1859, when his object was to refuse any lowering of the franchise, whether on the rental column or on the rating column, the right hon. Gentleman, no doubt, had occasion to look minutely into this question of rating, which I admit is somewhat complicated, and not to be thoroughly mastered except at the cost of much time and trouble. But Mr. Disraeli when he was called to examine it, has too acute a mind not to arrive at the right conclusion, and this very Statesman, who in writing to the public papers and in addressing the public of Scotland at Edinburgh, has now asserted that this principle of personal rating was a point which he had for seven long years been urging upon the intellect and the conscience of the country, made use of the following words when, in 1859, he had occasion to state the conclusions he had arrived at in regard to it—There is a wish—and I should once have said a very general wish—that, instead of a household suffrage being founded on value, it should be 1564 founded by preference on rating. I am not at all surprised that more than one hon. Gentleman has received this observation with marks of assent and sympathy. I confess myself that I was always much biassed in favour of that idea. It appears to me that if you could make—to use a common phrase—the rate book the register, you would very much simplify the business of an election. But, when you come to examine this matter in detail, in order to see how it will act, you will find that it is involved in difficulties, great, as all acknowledge, and I am sorry to be obliged to confess to my mind insurmountable. For the purpose of securing the advantage of having the rate book the register, you must, of course, leave perfect discretion to the overseer. The overseer has an interest in raising the rates. People may say he may be a very hot political partizan. Are you prepared to leave to the overseer the absolute discretion of appointing those who are to exercise the suffrage? But even beyond this there are other difficulties which you will find most perplexing. Notwithstanding the Parochial Assessment Act, the rating of this country is most unequal, and it is only those whose business it has been to examine into this subject in its minute details who can be aware of the preposterous consequences which would arise from the adoption of a rating instead of a value qualification.And this is the Minister who now tells us that for seven years he has been engaged in pressing a franchise founded on the principle of rating, as the most important of his five points, on the attention and the conscience of his party! My Lords, I shall make but few comments on the extracts I have now read. I find in another of Mr. Disraeli's speeches, a passage in which, referring to some cause of complaint against the conduct of his political opponents, he said, "I will not dwell on this complaint; I am willing to take public life as I find it." Well, my Lords, so am I—at least as we have been hitherto accustomed to find it in the British Parliament. No one is more willing than I am to admit that the opinions of all of us are liable to be biassed by the position in which we are placed. Some opinions we are obliged to modify under the responsibilities of office; other opinions become intensified by the duties of Opposition. But hitherto the great political parties of this country have manfully avowed the objects for which they were contending, and have not less manfully avowed the objects for which they must cease to fight. But these attempts to bamboozle Parliament and to deceive the people are new in the history of English politics. They tend to degrade the noble contests of public life and the honourable rivalries of political ambition. I do not indeed believe that the people of this country have been really deceived. On the contrary, I believe 1565 they know perfectly well that this account of the Reform contest which the First Minister of the Crown has just given them is entirely inaccurate and wholly unjustified by the facts of the case. But I am grieved to observe that many persons seem to be amused rather than shocked, and that men are beginning to regard these things as the ordinary tricks of professional politicians. And is this, my Lords, the example which, on the eve of the election of a new Parliament by household suffrage, it is fitting we should give to those whom we are accustomed to call the lower classes of the country? ["Hear, hear!"] My Lords, the tones of moral indignation are healthy tones. I rejoice that, however they may be stifled elsewhere, they still find an echo in the House of Peers. They could not come more fitly from anyone than from my noble Friend (Earl Russell), who, in the course of a long and illustrious Parliamentary career—a career which will be remembered when most of us are forgotten—may sometimes have changed his course and may sometimes have modified his opinions, but who has always manfully avowed the change. I, for one, will not accept public life on the new conditions on which it is offered to us by the First Minister of the Crown—at least, without observation and without protest. My Lords, I now ask the Question of which I have given notice.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The noble Duke who has just resumed his seat has addressed to your Lordships a speech which deals with two subjects very different in their nature. One part of the noble Duke's speech I may term personal; and to that, with your Lordships' permission, I will for a moment defer my reply. The other part of his speech, and that which I think is by far the most important, related to the Act of Parliament which last year became law, and its effect, as far as we are at present able to ascertain it, on the rating and the ratepayers of the country. Now, it is important that there should be no mistake as to what the effect of that legislation was, and as to the mode in which that legislation took place. What, my Lords, was the state of the law when the Bill of last year was introduced? There were, in substance, three modes in which the ratepaying householders of this country were dealt with in Parliamentary boroughs. In one set of Parliamentary boroughs, which I think were twenty-nine in number, there was no such thing known 1566 as composition for rates. The occupiers were rated, and the persons who were rated paid the full amount of the rate levied upon them. In another class of Parliamentary boroughs, which were fifty-seven in number, composition for rates was the law, and your Lordships, I have no doubt, are familiar with the character of that composition. It may be defined in a very few words. In regard to tenements under a certain value—generally £6—the occupier was not rated, but, in return for the owner taking upon himself the responsibility of payment and collection, a certain drawback was allowed him, so that when the occupier, for example, would have paid 1s. as a rate, the owner would pay 8d. or 9d. There was also a third class of Parliamentary boroughs, ninety-nine in number, where composition was applied in certain parishes and not in others. It is an interesting fact that at the time when the Bill of last year was introduced, there were no less, in round numbers, than 100,000 houses rated under £6, where, by agreement and for the mutual convenience of owner and occupier, the owner paid the rate, but paid it at the full amount. Those being the three great divisions of Parliamentary boroughs, what did the Bill of last year, in the shape in which it was first introduced, propose to do? In boroughs where no composition existed it effected no change, and proposed no change in any way. With regard to boroughs and parishes in boroughs where composition was the rule, the Bill, as introduced by Her Majesty's Government, made this proposal—that any occupier whose rate was compounded for and paid by his landlord (upon the reduced scale) might claim to be rated himself, and on paying the full rate was then to have his vote. That was the proposal of Her Majesty's Government. But when the matter came on for discussion, an independent Member of the House of Commons—not a supporter of Her Majesty's Government, but a supporter of the party to which the noble Duke belongs—I mean Mr. Hodgkinson—proposed that the system of composition in Parliamentary boroughs should be abolished altogether. This suggestion, therefore, emanated not from Her Majesty's Government, who are now accused of having harboured this wicked and malicious desire to overthrow the arrangements of the country, but from a Gentleman, a most respectable Member of Parliament, agreeing with the noble Duke upon everything probably, except this 1567 particular subject. But the matter did not end there. A third proposal, to which I pray your Lordships' attention, was made by an eminent Member of the Liberal party, who had been Secretary to the Treasury under the Ministry of the noble Earl (Earl Russell). And I venture to think that this proposal of Mr. Childers has never yet been sufficiently considered by Parliament. He said, "Abolish the system of composition as a rule, if you please; but let there be a power for any particular occupier of a tenement to return into the position of a compound-householder if he prefers to do so." Your Lordships will see that the proposal of Mr. Childers was exactly the converse of the proposal of the Government. The Government said, "Let any person whose rates are now compounded for have the power of emancipating himself if he chooses, and let him by paying his rates secure his vote." The proposal of Mr. Childers was, "Let any person who prefers to return into or to remain in composition have liberty to do so, at the cost of sacrificing his franchise." When the plan of Mr. Childers was first submitted to the House of Commons it was favourably entertained, and Her Majesty's Government undertook to prepare clauses for carrying this into effect, which were to be considered at the same time with Mr. Hodgkinson's Motion. The Government prepared the clauses accordingly, and they were duly submitted to the House of Commons; but when all these various propositions came on for discussion,—the original proposal of the Government, Mr. Hodgkinson's plan for annihilating composition, and the suggestion of Mr. Childers—which last was a medium between the other two—the House thought the proposal of Mr. Hodgkinson the better and safer to adopt, and refused to entertain the clauses which had been proposed to give effect to the scheme of Mr. Childers. When I say refused, I do not mean that a division actually took place, but the temper of the House of Commons was so clearly manifested that the Government did not think it their duty to press for a division upon these clauses. The result, therefore, was that, not by the Act of Her Majesty's Government, but by the proposal of an independent member of the Liberal party, the system of composition in Parliamentary boroughs wherever it existed was annihilated by the clause as it passed the House of Commons. Let me point out to your Lordships one fact which 1568 has resulted from this legislation. The noble Duke referred to a Committee of your Lordships' House that sat some years ago, I think in 1859. In their Report they said—The Committee are of opinion that, as a test of fitness to take part in municipal affairs, as well as a security against corrupt and fraudulent practices, actual, direct, and continuous payment of rates should be the indispensable condition of the municipal suffrage.The noble Duke considers that actual, direct and continuous payment of rates is an impossibility altogether, and that, if it existed, it would afford no security against corruption or for the proper exercise of the municipal franchise. But a Committee of your Lordships' House, at all events, were of a different opinion. And mark what happened. The result of the legislation of the House of Commons, whether the noble Duke approves it or not, was in Parliamentary boroughs to effect the object which a Committee of your Lordships' House had declared to be advantageous for the purpose of municipal elections; because, in abolishing the system of composition for rates, which is to take effect with regard to municipal as well as to Parliamentary elections, the principle of full, direct, and personal payment of rates becomes the law at municipal elections in those boroughs. Your Lordships will not suppose that I am going to argue now in support of a policy which has passed into law; but when the noble Duke says the result of this legislation must be that whenever politics run high rates will be paid by the landlords or by political partizans, I must remind your Lordships that that is going back to the question which was argued in your Lordship's House last year. Your Lordships considered the point fully, and provided for it by introducing into the Act a clause carefully weighed and considerably modified, with the object of preventing anything having the appearance of corrupt payment of rates, or of introducing voters upon the lists for any political or special municipal purpose. I repeat, this is not the time for arguing over again the policy of an Act which is now the law of the land. But I own I was surprised to hear the noble Duke, in the virulence—if he will allow me to say so—of his attack, take up a speech which my right hon. Friend the First Minister of the Crown made in 1859, when introducing the Reform Bill of Lord Derby's Government, and fasten upon the words—every one of which I think your Lordships will 1569 endorse—in which my right hon. Friend pointed out the evils of rating as applied to what then was his proposition. For what did my right hon. Friend say? He said in substance this—"It is a very captivating idea to have the rate book as your register; but without an uniform standard of value throughout the country this must be deceptive. In every place, as matters are, there will be standards of value altogether different; in one parish you will have the officers rating high, in another you will have them rating low." All this was most appropriate to the Bill then before the House, which was a Bill with a "hard and fast line"—where the register was to be of £10 householders exclusively, and there being no uniform standard of value, the observations of my right hon. Friend were perfectly sound and justifiable. But what possible application can these observations have to the legislation of last year? What difference can it make whether the rating in a parish is high or low the moment that the "hard and fast line" disappears? The moment that line disappears, that moment the opinions entertained by different overseers regarding the relative values of buildings in particular parishes becomes as immaterial as the views of those overseers upon any social or political question. The noble Duke commented upon what he has heard as to the operation of the Act of last year with regard to the payment of rates. The Act has not been in operation yet for twelve months; the trial of it, therefore, cannot be said by any means to be complete; and there are certain considerations which I will take the liberty of mentioning to your Lordships which go far to make it obligatory upon us to accept with great caution, and with very great hesitation, the statements which have been put forward with regard to the operation of the rating clauses. The first consideration is this. There is not the least doubt that the Act has thrown upon the various officials throughout the country a great deal of extra labour, and I am afraid—I do not blame them for it, it is very natural—that, in consequence, the encomiums they have passed upon the rating clauses of that Act have been of the very weakest and mildest kind. Again, there is not the least doubt that in various quarters—mind, I am not throwing any blame upon individuals; I am merely stating a fact—there exists a disposition, where strong political views are entertained, to cast discredit—if discredit 1570 can be cast—upon the legislation of last year. And your Lordships will therefore not be surprised to learn that very strong expressions have been used in certain quarters as to these clauses of the Act of lost year. There is no doubt also that, during the past winter and the present spring there has been, as your Lordships must all regret, in various parishes a very great and unusual amount of distress, which would make the payment of rates, under any circumstances, a matter of very great difficulty and embarrassment. That consideration, no doubt, has also operated to produce some of those complaints to which the noble Duke has referred. I think the noble Duke mentioned Birmingham. The Duke of ARGYLL: NO, no!] Well, I have however seen it referred to in some published statements. I find that what has happened at Birmingham has given rise to much complaint and dissatisfaction. I naturally inquired, and what did I find to have been the case? By some mistake—I know not who was answerable for it—rates were demanded from some 30,000 of persons, all for very small sums, and upon non-payment of these rates, proceedings were taken. It turned out that the rates had been improperly demanded by a collector, when by law they ought to have been demanded by an assistant overseer. All these proceedings came to nothing; and hence, no doubt, a great deal of expense and dissatisfaction was occasionedf But the Act of last year is not properly answerable for this. Well, my Lords, further than this, I admit that there may be one reason for dissatisfaction as to the clause in the Bill of last year, and the noble Duke himself referred to it as one of the greatest causes of dissatisfaction. The noble Duke is perfectly accurate in saying that a very large number of those who come on the rate book in consequence of the Act of last year are widows, single women, and in some cases even paupers. I am told, on information which, considering the quarter from which it comes, I think is likely to be correct, that 20 per cent of those who come on the rate-book are persons such as I have just described. It is a very great misfortune that the proposal of Mr. Childers, to which I have already referred, was not agreed to, because if it had been adopted, widows, single women, paupers, and other persons would have been able to say, "We don't wish to be taken out of the range and ambit of composition; we don't wish for a 1571 vote, or are incapable of it, and as regards the payment of rates, we prefer to be left as we are." But, unfortunately, the proposal of Mr. Hodgkinson was adopted, and the law made no exception. I do not, however, mean to say that in consequence of matters of detail of that kind, which come to be known when the measure comes to be worked, and which cannot be known until the measure is worked and tried, an alteration may not require to be made in the law as far as it relates to the collection of rates and dealing with the rate book. In fact, a Member of the other House of Parliament (Mr. Ayrton) has called attention to the matter, and on that hon. Gentleman's Motion a Select Committee has been appointed "to inquire into the assessment and collection of poor rates and other local rates and taxes in England and Wales," I think that from that Committee we may probably derive very useful information on the subject, and if any of the objections now made should be established in a satisfactory manner, and the difficulties complained of be remedied, it may be the duty of the Government to propose a remedy. My Lords, there were two parts in the speech of the noble Duke, and at first I felt some difficulty in tracing the connection between these two things—between the law relating to the payment of rates and the speech of the present Prime Minister delivered at Edinburgh while he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. But, my Lords, the term "personal rating" is an equivocal one; and I could not help thinking that in the latter and longer part of the speech of the noble Duke he gave about as conspicuous an instance as could be imagined of that "personal rating" which, in the first part of his speech, he so strongly deprecated. But there is one most unfortunate thing about the personal rating in the present case—that the person rated happens not to be a member of your Lordships' House. My Lords, I undertake, without difficulty, to assure the noble Duke that if that person had been a member of your Lordships' House there is no doubt the rating would have been repaid. But as the subject has been introduced, let me ask your Lordships' attention to it. Do not suppose that I am going to follow the noble Duke through the false issue which he ingeniously substituted for the real one—namely, the accuracy or inaccuracy of the history of the Reform Bill given at Edinburgh by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer. I think it would be 1572 unworthy the dignity of your Lordships' House that, either on one side or the other, any arguments should be entered into with respect to the details of any statement in that speech. But there is one subject which I think not unworthy the attention of your Lordships. The noble Duke referred to a statement made here by the noble Earl sitting beside him (Earl Russell) and which the noble Duke endorsed. My Lords, what was the statement made by the noble Earl a few days ago? No sooner had the Government which the present Prime Minister was called upon to form come into office, and taken their seats in this and the other House, than the noble Earl rose and addressed your Lordships. "Confidence," said he, "in such a Government as that! I can feel no confidence whatever in them." And why? "Because," said the noble Earl, "they have confessed themselves, through the Prime Minister, that the Leaders of the Conservative party, during a series of years, were harbouring a design to introduce and pass a measure which all the while they were persuading their own supporters to oppose." The noble Earl said, in effect—"Talk of conduct like that! That conduct would not have been pursued, I will not only say by great and illustrious men such as Mr. Fox, Earl Grey, and Lord Althorp, but by minor and comparatively insignificant men like Mr. Pitt, Lord Liverpool, the Duke of Wellington, and Sir Robert Peel." Earl RUSSELL intimated his dissent.] I believe I hold in my hand an accurate report of what the noble Earl said. I will take first of all the noble Earl's comparison of the relative position of the great statesmen he named. He is reported to have said—It is a course of conduct, I must say, which not only men like Mr. Fox, Earl Grey, or Lord Althorp"—these your Lordships will observe are the Dii majores of the noble Earl—"would have spurned, but which men like Mr. Pitt, Lord Liverpool, the Duke of Wellington, and Sir Robert Peel"—the Dii minores—"would likewise have disdained to adopt."—[3 Hansard, cxc. 1107.]But much more important than that comparison was the charge of the noble Earl. I say, my Lords, if that charge were true, it was a relevant one to make in your Lordships' House. I will read the charge, and show you that the noble Duke (the Duke of Argyll) ingeniously retreated from it, and asked your Lordships to try another issue. My noble Friend, the Lord President, having expressed a wish for some explanation of the first observations made 1573 by the noble Earl on the occasion in question, the noble Earl said—If the noble Duke wishes to know the meaning of what I said, I must refer him to a speech made by the present Prime Minister at Edinburgh, in which the course taken by the Government was not called a course of deception—it was not called, as Mr. Disraeli formerly called the Government of Sir Robert Peel, 'an hypocrisy,' it was called a 'process of education.' But the use of that word does not prevent the fact being quite clear, which the present First Lord of the Treasury did not endeavour to excuse or apologize for, of which he even boasted, that during seven years during which the fears of the country had been excited respecting a reduction of the franchise against which Mr. Disraeli protested in the House of Commons, afterwards congratulating the electors of Buckinghamshire that no such reduction of the franchise had taken place, during all that time he had been educating his party with a view to bring about a much greater reduction of the franchise, and what he would at one time have called a greater 'degradation of the franchise,' than any which his opponents had proposed."—[3 Hansard, cxc. 1106–7.]Now, my Lords, I ask your Lordships whether that statement is accurate? Is that the case? You will observe that the question arising on the speech of the noble Earl is not whether Mr. Disraeli and the Government pursued such course or not, though I am prepared to meet that; but, whether Mr. Disraeli made at Edinburgh the statement which the noble Earl attributed to him? "I can have no confidence," said the noble Earl, "in a Government which now admits and confesses that for years, while protesting against any reduction of the franchise, they had in view the bringing about of a far greater reduction of it than any which their opponents had proposed." My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister denied that there had been any such admission or confession, and how does the noble Duke meet his denial? He entirely ignores the charge made by the noble Earl. He does not profess to substantiate it; he ignores the denial of it; but he invites your Lordships' attention to an entirely new issue. He asks the House of Lords to consider now, not whether the statement made by the noble Earl was accurate or otherwise, but, whether a wholly different statement which the Prime Minister has put before the country is accurate or not? But the charge which was made against the Government was this—that they made the confession attributed to them by the noble Earl when he referred to the speech of my right hon. Friend at Edinburgh. I do distinctly deny that they 1574 did, or that my right hon. Friend did anything of the kind, and I defy the noble Earl to substantiate his statement if he can. The noble Duke became extremely eloquent when he spoke of the tactics of politicians and the honour of your Lordships' House. I rejoice that in your Lordships' House accuracy of statement has always been, and will always be, regarded as it ought to be; and I think that before any Member of this House preferred a charge against the First Minister of the Crown—who cannot be here to repudiate the charge—that he made at Edinburgh a particular statement which would have the result of depriving the Government of the confidence of Parliament and the country, he ought at least to have satisfied himself that such a statement had ever been made.
§ EARL RUSSELL
My Lords, I shall offer a few observations in reply to the speech which your Lordships have heard from the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. There can be no doubt whatever that the case of the First Minister of the Crown has been entrusted to a very able and skilful advocate. I am well aware that the noble and learned Lord was not a Member of the Cabinet which produced and brought into the other House of Parliament the Reform Bill which afterwards passed through your Lordships' House. The noble and learned Lord has, however, made a speech, which, had it been delivered in the Court of Chancery, would have been admired as full of ingenious argument and showing a thorough acquaintance with the details of the subject; and it was therefore well worthy of your Lordships' attention. I venture, however, to say that neither upon that part of the question which he called by far the more important, but which I should rather term the less important of the two, both being of great importance—neither on the one point nor the other—has the noble and learned Lord shaken the argument of my noble Friend (the Duke of Argyll). With regard to rating—having had frequent occasion in the course of my duty to inquire into that subject and its bearing on the franchise, I warned the Government before they introduced their Bill last year that there were great difficulties in adopting household suffrage in its ancient and usual form, and that it was, therefore, necessary to consider a different basis. From the beginning of the reign of James I. to the end of the reign of George III., the household franchise was held to be consequent upon the 1575 payment of scot and lot, that being interpreted as the payment of poor rates. At the end, however, of George III.'s reign a system sprang up which imposed on the owner of the house, instead of on the tenant, the payment of rates, with an abatement of 25 per cent. Early in the Session I accordingly pointed out to the noble Earl the then First Lord of the Treasury (the Earl of Derby) the difficulty the Government would find in adapting household suffrage to the existing state of affairs, and that it behoved them to give the subject great consideration. The noble Earl and his Colleagues thought my interference rather an impertinence. They did not consider the subject, and owing to their ignorance of it, as has been charitably said, they have fallen into great blunders and mistakes. It was pointed out to me at the time by overseers, that a great number of the poorer tenants pay their rents weekly. They are not able, or they are not provident enough, to pay by the quarter or half-year, but the agent comes every Monday morning to receive the rent, which includes the rate. When, therefore, the Government adopted the proposal of Mr. Hodgkinson, a great hardship was imposed on the poorer class of householders. It was expected by some that the landlords would proportionately reduce the rents, but of that there was very little chance, for people find great difficulty in obtaining houses. Consequently, the evils which were foreseen by everybody who had attended to the subject, have actually happened. When it is said that the Government are not responsible for this, it is necessary to bear in mind the circumstances under which the Government accepted Mr. Hodgkinson's Amendment. Had the original proposal of the Government been adopted, there would have been a large addition of voters in boroughs such as Oldham, where no system of compounding had been adopted, and a much smaller addition in places equally or more populous, such as Leeds, where compounding was in operation. This was shown in a most able speech by Mr. Bright, and the Government were thus placed in a great dilemma and did not know what to do. Fortunately for the Government Mr. Hodgkinson came forward and proposed the abolition of compounding. The then Chancellor of the Exchequer, I am told, said he entirely approved the proposal, and, indeed, would have made it himself had he not thought it too bold to come from the Government. The 1576 proposal was sanctioned by the Government, and was adopted by the House of Commons, and, as my noble Friend has shown in some detail, it has produced much confusion in many boroughs. Great discontent has been excited, and, I have been told by one person, everybody will hate the name of Reform, for having brought upon them the burden and inconvenience of paying rates. Now, what was the pretence—for I cannot look upon it as anything else—on which the Government adopted rating as the basis of the franchise? They said it was unwise to rest upon what was called a "hard and fast" line, and that if we deviated from the £10 qualification at all we must come down to no particular sum, but must give the suffrage to every householder liable to rates. This, they argued, would be a permanent settlement of the question. In the counties, however, a "hard and fast" line existed, the qualification being the possession of property of the value of 40s. per annum, and that franchise, when we brought forward a Reform Bill in 1831, had lasted 400 years, no condition of payment of rates being attached to it. Will any of the noble Lords opposite venture to predict that their measure of last year will last 400 years without alteration? Will they undertake to say that it will last thirty-five years without material alteration, as was the case with the measure which I introduced in 1831? Will they even say that it will remain unaltered for three years? Will there not be such a pressure as either to procure the repeal of the ratepaying clauses altogether, or else—which I think would be the better course—to restore the system of compounding? Depend upon it that to meet the convenience of the smaller ratepayers the Government and Parliament will be obliged to give way, and—if not this year then next, when the new House meets—a measure will be sent up to us from the Commons altering the condition of personal rating, which was made the great recommendation of the Bill last year, as a safe and solid ground in comparison with which the 40s. franchise appeared contemptible. Well, that is the state of the case with regard to rating, and I cannot but think that either, through the Committee obtained by Mr. Ayrton, or in some other way, a remedy must speedily be applied to the evils which have arisen. The noble and learned Lord has adverted to another question, which in my opinion is of far more 1577 importance, and for which a remedy is not so easily to be found. I stated on a former occasion that great deception had been practised as to the policy of the Ministry regarding Reform. I did not say, however, as is represented by the noble and learned Lord, that not only such great persons as Mr. Fox, Earl Grey, and Lord Althorp would have disdained to act in such a manner, but that insignificant men like Mr. Pitt, the Duke of Wellington, and Sir Robert Peel would have also disdained it. What I said was this, that not only statesmen in whom I was accustomed to confide—such as Mr. Fox, Lord Grey, and Lord Althorp, would have disdained such conduct, but that men who were the Leaders of the opposite party would have disdained it also. My purpose in saying that was not to withhold the measure of respect which I should feel bound to pay to such great men as Mr. Pitt, and the Duke of Wellington, and Sir Robert Peel; but to show that this was no question of party, and that the great Leaders, whether on the Whig and Liberal or on the Tory and Conservative side of politics, would equally, from their deep sense of honour, have shrunk with indignation from such a course of procedure. My noble Friend has adverted to the letter which was written by the First Lord of the Treasury upon the remarks I made in this House, and I may say at once that I have no doubt his statement is perfectly accurate and correct, and that he did allude at Edinburgh to the points which he mentions. My mind, however, was engaged at the time, like that of the whole country, upon the great and material question which for several years had occupied the attention of Parliament—namely, whether the borough franchise should be lowered. Upon this subject I had in my mind various speeches which pointed out the course the Government would take. We cannot in these days, when the debates in the House of Commons are printed in every newspaper, and are read by the whole country, pretend to ignore or not to be aware of what has been said in the other House of Parliament in its general outlines, although we cannot, perhaps, in some instances depend on the particular words which are reported. Well, we find, in looking over these records of the daily newspapers, which are afterwards embodied in the volumes of Hansard, that when the third reading of the Reform Bill of last year was proposed Lord Cranborne 1578 made a most indignant speech, lord Cranborne said that all the foundations upon which party confidence rested had been destroyed; that it would be of no use for the future for any one to depend on what a Government or party said; that hitherto one party had proclaimed certain principles, and another party said they would resist them and pursue a different course; but that if immediately a party comes into office it throws aside all it had professed for years—if it departs from all that it has held as most valuable and embraces entirely different opinions, then all confidence in party and in public men will be lost, and we shall have an entire change in the Constitution of England. Mr. Lowe followed in similar language. He said he had been in frequent, constant, and as he supposed, confidential communication with the heads of the Government, when they were out of office, and he had always understood that they resisted the lowering of the £10 franchise, and that they meant to oppose anything like what they called "a degradation" of that franchise. Well, the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Disraeli) spoke after that, and I do not find that he repudiated any of those imputations. I do not find that he said, "Such were our opinions, such was our belief; but we find ourselves opposed to an immense and overwhelming majority of the people who require a reduction of the franchise, and therefore we cannot avoid yielding to that force." If such had been his language, I certainly should have been disposed to respect it. I could well understand a man like the Duke of Wellington coming forward and saying openly and avowedly, "I have always opposed the admission of Roman Catholics to Parliament and to office; but there is danger of civil war, and sooner than incur this danger I am willing to concur in a measure which I have hitherto opposed." I could likewise understand Sir Robert Peel, when a measure was proposed which he had resisted, but which was in entire conformity with those principles of Free Trade of which he had always been the great advocate and defender, saying, "The state of the country is such that I find myself obliged to yield on this point and to change the opinions which I held." But the late Chancellor of the Exchequer said nothing of the kind. As far as I can trace those records of speeches I find that he said that in 1859, seven years before, he had been of opinion that there must be no reduction 1579 of the franchise, or if there was it must be a reduction to household suffrage, as there was no resting point between. Now, I can very well understand a man saying, as I could well understand the Cabinet of 1859 to have said, "There is no resting-place between £10 and simple household suffrage, and as household suffrage is very dangerous we will resist any reduction of the franchise." But it is a very different proposition to say, "You cannot alter the £10 franchise the least in the world without coming to household suffrage, and therefore we will adopt household suffrage." The one is a proposition that might be unsound, might be unwise in politics; but it is perfectly defensible. But Mr. Disraeli did not defend himself from the charges made by Lord Cranborne, Mr. Lowe, and Lord Carnarvon, when that noble Lord made a speech of great power in this House, in which he declared for himself that though those with whom he had been associated all the time that they were speaking against a reduction of the franchise might have meant to make a great reduction, he had been perfectly sincere in his resistance, and in proof of his sincerity he had left the Cabinet and given up the seals of the Colonial Department. I say, therefore, I could not, in the absence of any contradiction of the charges, do otherwise than conclude that they were true. Therefore, when I read in a Conservative newspaper what was said by Mr. Disraeli at Edinburgh, I took it all in what now appears was a mistaken sense. In the Edinburgh Evening Courant, a Conservative newspaper, Mr. Disraeli is reported to have said—I had to prepare the mind of the country, to educate—if it be not arrogant to use such a phrase—our party, which is a large party, and of course requires its attention to be called to questions of that character with some pressure, and I had to prepare the mind of Parliament and of the country for this question of Reform.Well, if I am guilty of having misunderstood these words, I say I am guilty with every reader of the speech and with the whole country. Seeing that he had "educated" his party, and as he said it required some pressure, it could hardly be upon those five points upon which Mr. Disraeli spoke, but which as my noble Friend has shown, were not opposed by us, and certainly required no pressure at all; but it must be that he "educated" them to adopt that reduction of the fanchise against which they had for many years constantly and vehemently protested. Well, I must say 1580 that if the opinion I formed was a mistake, or, as the right hon. Gentleman called it, a "misrepresentation," it was pardonable in me because I erred in common with many others, and that it was not until Mr. Disraeli's letter appeared that anybody thought he had been educating the people on those five points. Now, I must advert for a moment to those five points, although my noble Friend has gone over them all; for there are one or two things to be said which I cannot omit. The first point is that the measure should be complete—in other words that there should be a satisfactory measure of re-distribution, as well as a reduction of the franchise. Upon that point I do not think the Government have been very fortunate in making a final settlement of the question. The next point is that the representation of no place should be entirely abrogated. Well, that is a great principle, and I think that without a conviction for corruption, or unless there is a strong public case, some strong public necessity, the disfranchisement of a place is not justifiable. But in such cases as those which were dealt with by the Reform Bill of 1831, and such as that which existed last year when my noble Friend behind me (Lord Lyveden) proposed that some boroughs should be disfranchised, I think it was a just course to be pursued. But as the First Lord of the Treasury has recalled our attention to it I suppose it is one of the points, one of the principles upon which the Government must stand, and which they will not give up on any account. The next points are that there must be a real Boundary Commission, that the county representation should be considerably increased, and that the borough franchise should be established on the principle of rating. Upon the first two of these points I need not dwell, but with regard to the last point I will say that the principle of rating means very little of itself. You will find an £8 rating, for instance, equivalent to a £10 rental, and one of the witnesses who was examined before the Committee in 1860, said—I put on everybody who is rated at £8, as a matter of course, as a £10 voter, because £8 rating is equivalent to a £10 rental.Well, another course would be to take £5 rating, which I proposed in 1852, and which is the equivalent of £6 or £7 of rental. Well, a different course was adopted by the Government, for they took no value at all, but said that every person rated should have a vote. Therefore, to say that the 1581 borough franchise is to be established on the principle of rating is obviously nothing at all; it does not contain any declaration of principle, but is a mere elastic sort of rule upon which any practical proposition could be founded. To suppose that the Earl of Derby, that Mr. Disraeli, that the Lord Privy Seal, were all educating their party in order to induce them to accept the principle of rating, without saying how far that principle should extend, and to what extent it should go, is really so ridiculous that Mr. Disraeli could hardly have been serious at Edinburgh in telling his friends that that was the principle up to which he had been educating the Conservative party. There are two views of the conduct of the Prime Minister. One, which I rather believe to be the right one, is that his own opinion and that of the Earl of Derby and others of his Colleagues—though not of those three who separated from them—was that the franchise should be considerably reduced, that it should go as low as household suffrage, but that they did not make that opinion generally known, only instilling it quietly—or, as Mr. Disraeli said, with some pressure—into the minds of the party, with the view of its ultimate adoption by their followers. But there is another far more serious view than the mere question of rating, and it is one which the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack must also think the more important—namely, that a very serious and decided opinion upon a great question of State, upon a great question of organic change, upon a great change in the Constitution of this country, has been deliberately sacrificed with a view to the maintenance of office and of power. Now, I will tell you what Mr. Disraeli said in 1865. He said—Although I do not wish in any way to deny it—we were in the most difficult position when the Parliament of 1859 met, being anxious to assist the Crown and the Parliament by proposing some moderate measure which men on both sides might support, we did to a certain extent agree to some modification of the £10 franchise—yet I confess that my present opinion is opposed, as it originally was, to any course of the kind. … Between the scheme we brought forward and the measure brought forward by the hon. Member for Leeds, and the inevitable conclusion which its principal supporters acknowledge it must lead to, it is a question between an aristocratic Government in the proper sense of the term—that is, a Government by the best men of all classes—and a democracy. I doubt very much whether a democracy is a Government that would suit this country; and it is just as well that the House, when coming to a vote on this question, should 1582 really consider if that be the issue—and it is the real issue—between retaining the present Constitution—not the present constituent body, but between the present Constitution and a democracy—it is just as well for the House to recollect that the stake is not mean—that what is at issue is of some price."—[3 Hansard, clxxviii. 1702–3.]Now, I want to know whether that is the opinion which the present Prime Minister holds at this moment. It was not an opinion formed suddenly. It was formed after some thirty years, during which he has taken a very prominent part in the debates of Parliament. It was an opinion formed, no doubt, with that consideration which the present Prime Minister is so well able to give to any subject. What I have read is followed by a passage as eloquent as any to be found in the speeches made in Parliament by the great orators of former generations. It is a description of what must follow if this country should be ruined; that you may have in America, in France, in Germany, an apparent overthrow of the State, but that those countries can recover from that apparent overthrow, whereas if England should once fall there will be no recovery and no hope of her regaining her former power. Well, I want to know whether that is the opinion of the Prime Minister at this moment; because, if that be his opinion, he has done a much graver thing, he has committed a much greater offence, than that of concealing his opinion for a time, with a view to educate his party up to the same standard. If that is what he has done he has, for this price, for the sake of power for some two or three years, endangered what he calls our aristocratic Constitution, but what is rather a monarchy founded upon an aristocracy and a democracy. He has done all in his power, according to his own opinion, to change this into a pure democracy. This is not my opinion. I do not think that the Act of last year will produce these effects. But if the right hon. Gentleman now at the head of the Government entertains the opinion which, after many years of political contest, he uttered in Parliament in 1865, and which he afterwards repeated at his election to his constituents in Buckinghamshire, a graver responsibility was never incurred by any man, and no English statesman ever made a worse bargain for his country.
§ THE EARL OF MALMESBURY
My Lords, you have this evening heard a discussion, such as, I am glad to say, I never heard in this House before, and I trust I never shall hear again. Generally speaking, 1583 in this House we keep strictly to the subject before us, and we do not bring one question before the House while pretending to bring forward another. Now, it is quite evident that the noble Duke who has introduced this subject has made a very simple question with regard to rates, the horse upon which he rides over us on the subject of the Reform Bill and of speeches made in other places by those who are not in this House, and who are not likely, for some time at least, to be in this House to answer for themselves. What is the principal subject of debate to-night—that which the noble Duke has made out to be the most important of the points laid before us? It is a speech made, or supposed to have been made, by Mr. Disraeli, 400 miles away. Is that a subject which, according to your Lordships' usages, ought to occupy a whole night in the House of Peers? From what has passed here to-night, I should almost have believed that the Bill of last year was not to reform, but to abolish the House of Commons, that that House no longer existed, and that the eminent men who spoke there up to the time when the Bill passed were no longer to be found there. The noble Earl and the noble Duke opposite have occupied your whole time in canvassing a speech made in Edinburgh by the Prime Minister, as if he were nowhere to be found and could not be got to answer it. Now, I do not think that the party opposite are so entirely without Friends in the House of Commons who could, if necessary, have extracted from Mr. Disraeli the occult sense of what he is supposed to have said, and have asked him to his face, before that House and the country, what he said, or did not say, and what he meant, or did not mean. Has the noble Duke no Colleague in opposition in the other House—no companion in official exile, to whom he could have given the task of ascertaining this? No! The noble Duke preferred, with all the virulence—I cannot help using the word—of a disappointed man in opposition, to make an attack upon the Prime Minister when he was not present to defend himself. I will not attempt to defend him. ["Hear, hear!" from the Opposition.] Yes, I understand that cheer. If my right hon. Friend were no longer living, I should feel bound to defend his memory if any speech of his had been garbled or misquoted. But at this moment my right hon. Friend is sitting in the full enjoyment of health and of his great faculties, within 100 yards of this House. 1584 Surely, the noble Duke and his party—for the manner in which the noble Duke was cheered showed that he was acting for his party—might have found some better means of attacking the Government than by misrepresenting the words and the meaning of my right hon. Friend, here, where he cannot answer for himself—with respect to a speech not made in Parliament, but 400 miles away. Then the noble Duke, no doubt, with the most sincere love and affection for the party behind me, wishes to persuade them that they have been almost insulted by the Prime Minister; that he has treated them like schoolboys, and that they ought to resent the expressions he has made use of towards them. He says that we must be a very forgiving party to pass them over, and that if any Whig Statesman had used such expressions towards his party they would never have forgiven him. Now, I think, I may say that we take no offence whatever at the words attributed to my right hon. Friend; we take them in the sense in which he spoke them and in which he has explained them. But if the Whigs are so unforgiving, I wonder what they said to expressions which seem to me much more offensive, and which are reported to have been used in "another place" by a Gentleman who is extremely respected by his party, and who has been their right hand man on many occasions, though I do not recollect just now whether he has ever held office. This Gentleman (Mr. Bouverie) not long ago described the Whig or Liberal party—I do not know whether there is any distinction between the two—as a miscellaneous multitude. I am putting his description into a mild form of words, for he used a stronger expression, and he said it was composed of two categories—those who would not lead and others who would not follow. I do not know whether the noble Duke's bringing this question before the House of Lords, to which the Prime Minister does not belong, is to be attributed to the fact that he could not get anyone to follow his lead in the House of Commons. I must make a few remarks upon what the noble Duke said with respect to the Reform Act, without, however, adopting the range of the discussion, which has exceeded the custom of the House in embracing all the Reform Bills of the last few years. When we talk of the rating clause, let me remind the House of one circumstance. Reform Bills proposed by the Governments of both parties had been rejected, 1585 but the House of Commons had never been called in confidentially to judge of its own re-construction. Both parties had laid down a plan, cut and dry, hard and sharp, and they had stuck to it. There are times when we must give up our notions and crotchets, and attempt to weld the opinions of the country into one solid mass. We are all led by a powerful deity which Byron calls "circumstance, that spiritual god and mis-creator;" and if the noble Earl does not admit that, he is not the statesman I believe him to be. If I were to hunt through his speeches I could prove that he has lost opportunities, misappropriated opportunities, and even contradicted himself; but it would be a waste of time to do so. It has been said that the battle of Inkerman was a soldier's battle, and that the Generals and officers had little to do with the result. Now, although I was an officer in the Reform battle of last year, I am ready to admit that the battle and the victory belong to the House of Commons itself much more than to the Government, and that is shown by the way the House of Commons took out of our hands the rating clauses. The original proposition of the Government was that every compound-householder should have a vote if he chose to pay his rates himself. It seemed to me that that was not a very hard condition to lay down. But what happened? Two Amendments followed; the House of Commons took the question into its own hands, and the present condition of things is that which the House of Commons established. The noble Duke has exaggerated the results of the law, which has not been in operation long enough for us to know how it will work. If it should be proved to be pernicious, as it has been described to be by the noble Duke, the House of Commons will be obliged to amend the law; but we have not come to that yet. It has been truly said that the principal sufferers are women, whether married or not married, who have no votes, and are yet prosecuted for the non-payment of rates. That is quite true; but I say again it was not the act of the Government; it was the act of the House of Commons. Had the original clause been accepted, women having nothing to do with the registration would not have been asked for rates, and no confusion would have taken place. With respect to the Question more particularly put to me by the noble Duke, I have to say that we have not received that large number of complaints respecting the present state of the law which he seems to 1586 imagine. Only one direct complaint has been preferred to the Poor Law Board against the system. There have been difficulties it is true in the collection of the rates, but further assistance has been provided by the appointment of additional collectors. The Government has consented to give Mr. Ayrton his Committee in the House of Commons to investigate the whole subject; and, under the circumstances, we had better wait and see the result of that inquiry. The noble Duke has exaggerated to the greatest degree the consequences of the new law. The only excuse which the noble Duke had for doing what he had done was, that he wished to make a violent attack upon the Prime Minister. He had done so, in an indirect manner, making the question of the unsatisfactory working of the rating clauses the pretence for his conduct.
My Lords, I cannot allow the debate to close without saying that I fear the noble Lord who has just sat down is much mistaken in supposing that the noble Duke has exaggerated the evils which will arise from the change made in the law of rating by the Act of last year. I believe my noble Friend has, on the contrary, understated those evils. The noble Earl says the law has not been long enough in operation to enable us to judge how it will work. True, it has not been long enough in operation to make us feel the full evil effects of it; but it has been quite long enough to make us feel that these effects will be very bad indeed. We do not feel the full pressure yet, because the time has not come when the overseers proceed to levy distress for rates. We may judge of the evil that will arise when that time comes, as it will on the 29th of April, from what has already taken place. When the Reform Bill was before you I ventured to point out how improper it was to repeal the system of compounding for rates which had been introduced, after the fullest deliberation, first by private Bills, and then by general legislation, and after inquiry by the Poor Law Commissioners and by Committees of both Houses. The law of composition, which had been proved to be necessary and useful, was swept away without discussion by a single clause agreed to by Government most unexpectedly when proposed by an independent Member of the House of Commons. I am not blaming one party more than another; I think the Opposition quite as responsible for this great mistake as the Government. The Leaders of the Opposi- 1587 tion not only promoted the adoption of the clauses suggested by Mr. Hodgkinson, but when the parochial authorities of the East End of London waited upon some of the principal Members of the Opposition to point out the very serious evils which would arise from the passing of the law, they said, "We grant the evil, but we cannot forego a great political object." [Earl RUSSELL: Mr. Gladstone proposed to continue compounding.] On the contrary, if you refer to his interview with the parochial authorities you will find that he declined to do so; and my noble Friend refused to vote upon my Motion in this House when I thought it necessary to divide upon it. That precipitate and hasty change in the law was as much the work of one party as the other. It does not follow it was not a great mistake, and neither the Government nor Parliament will be doing their duty to the country if they do not seriously consider without delay what means can now be taken to remedy the evils that have arisen. We have placed a great preponderance of power in the hands of the small householders in the country, and at the same time we subject them to hardship and inconvenience from which they have hitherto been exempt. It is stated in the newspapers that in one parish in the East of London no fewer than 6,000 summonses were issued at one time against defaulters in the payment of rates; and a great number of persons have been summoned in like manner in other parishes both in London and in the great manufacturing towns. It is true that at present no attempt has been made to enforce the payment of rates by distress, but, nevertheless, the time is coming when it will be necessary to do so. The parochial officers will be thus brought into direct contact with the poorest of the ratepayers, and in the event of the latter not being able to pay the money due from them it will be necessary to call upon the ratepayers immediately above them, who are already hardly able to keep their heads above water, to make up the deficiencies caused by the defaulters. At a time when everybody admits that the relief in the East of London is extremely inadequate, is Parliament prepared to allow a percentage—as much, in some cases, as 25 per cent—to be taken off in consequence of the occupiers of small houses being personally rated? Or is Parliament prepared to adopt the alternative of levying distresses upon thousands of working-men—a process by which their homes would be sold 1588 up, while perhaps not sufficient money would be recovered to defray the legal expenses incurred? I confess I see with great concern a question so deeply affecting the welfare and even the safety of the kingdom treated with such inconceivable lightness, merely because last year it suited the convenience of both political parties to pass the matter over hastily and inconsiderately. The Government rashly proposed a measure, and the Opposition offered no objection to the ratepaying clauses because they did not wish to appear to limit the franchise. The result was that both parties concurred, without any serious discussion, in adopting a measure which is now leading to the serious consequences which were predicted at the time by the parochial authorities, and to which I also ventured to call your Lordships' attention. This is a subject of such great and pressing importance that it ought not to be left in its present uncertain and unsatisfactory state.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
said, he was perfectly satisfied with the speeches which had been delivered on that side of the House, and he might also remark that he was satisfied with the answers which had been made to them. He did not wish, therefore, to add a single word in reference to the general subject of the debate, but the noble Earl who had just sat down complained that the two parties in the House of Commons were equally responsible for the unfortunate position in which they had been placed by the ratepaying clauses of the Reform Act. He wished to remind the noble Earl that the Opposition had to choose between two great evils. Mr. Gladstone had in the strongest manner pressed upon the House the importance of the Acts relating to compound householders in the different boroughs, but when it came to the point that the House were called upon to agree to a clause affecting to give household suffrage, yet, in fact, taking away the greatest part of that boon, the Opposition sacrificed the greater for the lesser evil, and passed that clause, which was proposed, not by Mr. Gladstone, the Leader of the Liberal party, but by an independent member of that party, who had himself never been in office.
§ THE EARL OF DEVON
rose principally for the purpose of expressing his concurrence in what had been said by his noble Friend the Lord Privy Seal, as to the fact of one communication only on the subject having been received by the Poor Law 1589 Board. But, though the Board had not received more than one personal application, they were, nevertheless, fully alive to the serious character of the change which had taken place, and would not fail to watch with anxiety and care the consequences which might result from it. He believed that sufficient time had not yet elapsed to enable them to judge of the effect of the change upon large populations. There were several large towns in England in which no rate whatever had been struck since the passing of the Act last year, and in regard to them it was obviously impossible at present to ascertain the operation of the statute. With regard to the statement of the noble Earl opposite, that there would be a great loss of rates, he might mention that there was no detailed or general Report on which a judgment could be formed; but he was bound to say that, from private inquiries which had been instituted, there was reason to believe that in those cases, at least, in which inquiry had been made there would be as large an amount of rates collected as was raised under the old system. With regard to the difficulty of collecting rates in the East of London, he could only repeat what his noble Friend had stated, and refer to the exceptional circumstances in which several large parishes in that part of the metropolis have been placed during the last six or eight months. It was, however, undoubtedly true that a large number of summonses had been issued; but this was an evil which might be modified by the introduction of some new provisions respecting the process by which persons unable to pay their rates might obtain the right of being excused from payment. At present, every person who wished to be excused had to make a personal application to a magistrate; and it was only with the consent of the overseer that individuals were excused; but he thought it would be better to abolish the necessity for a personal application, and to empower the overseers to prepare and submit to the consideration of the magistrate a collective list of the persons who were unable to pay their rates. Such a change would, in his opinion, greatly diminish the hardship and difficulty which at present obtained, and was well deserving of, the consideration of the House. Without expressing any opinion on the Reform Act or its political bearing, he might state that the party with whom he was associated would not fail carefully to watch its operation and effect on the ratepayers of the country.