in rising to move the resolutions of which he had given Notice—
"1. That, in the opinion of this House, it would be desirable to adopt an uniform Parliamentary franchise for borough and county constituencies:
said: Sir, I hope that hon. Members will allow me to express the feeling of hesitation with which I rise to call their attention to the subject of the Resolutions which are on the Paper. Having been unavoidably and most reluctantly prevented from that daily and assiduous attendance on the proceedings of the House which alone can entitle any one, except Members of the highest standing and reputation, to a favourable and attentive hearing, it is with unfeigned diffidence that I now appear as the advocate of a question of exceptional importance, and—as I think, and as many around me think—of exceptional urgency. I should never have ventured to put myself forward on this occasion except in obedience to numerous and urgent representations from my Colleagues on these benches, and to the frequently and strongly expressed wishes of many who are outside our walls, and especially of those who, on this point have, of all others, the best right to be consulted—that large class of our fellow-countrymen who by the unwisdom, or, as I am willing rather to believe, by the negligence of a previous Parliament, have been wrongfully excluded from any share whatever in the government of their native country. It is the opinion of these men that their case cannot wait, with justice to themselves or with advantage to the nation; and I trust and hope that such will to-night be the opinion of no slender or uninfluential portion of the House. The unrepresented householders of the counties have long believed that no business on which the House has been engaged—I will almost say that no business on which the House can be engaged—is of sufficient moment to stand in the way of the consideration of their immense grievance, and the redress of their intolerable wrong. And there has been nothing in the events of this Session to alter their belief. What must have been the feelings of these men as they followed the course of the debates which this year have occupied the attention of the House, and watched us day after day, and week after week, disputing with apparently inexhaustible zest over a measure which, in its very name and designation claims to be nothing more than the selection of an empty title? Is it not, they ask, an anomaly that Parliament should consume so much time and energy over an alteration in the verbal style by which we are to describe an august Personage whose effective power and influence in the Constitution the one party does not propose in the least to augment, or the other party in the least to diminish; while we turn a deaf ear to that great multitude who ask us to change for the better not their political title, but their political status; to rescue them from the humiliating position in which they now stand, possessing, as they do, the name, but unendowed with the rights of Englishmen? I suppose that we shall be told that we should not recall the attention of a House of Commons to a question upon which, by a large majority, that House of Commons has already decided; but that is a charge which we shall have no great difficulty in meeting. It has always been the wise custom of the British Parliament, in contradistinction to other national Assemblies, to give free opportunity to private Members to introduce Bills and Resolutions, and to initiate debates. And though this custom has sometimes led to a waste of public time, it has brought about one most beneficial result. Whenever any large section of the nation have set their minds upon an object which Parliament does not feel itself justified in granting, at any rate, those who have that object at heart feel that they have had the means of fully ventilating their grievance. They have had their say. They have not been condemned unheard. Above all, they have had set before them those reasons and grounds on which Parliament, acting in the general interests of the community, thinks itself bound to refuse their particular request. But that is not the case here. Whenever the householders of the Counties have come to us to ask for their political rights—and this now is the fifth time, they have met with a treatment which has a superficial appearance of being courteous and respectful, but with which we should indeed be sanguine if we expect them to be satisfied. As soon as ever their claims are mentioned there at once arises from every corner of the House a chorus of eulogy. From the front benches, from the back benches, from below the gangways, from behind the Table, we hear nothing but high praises of their virtues as men, and their excellence as citizens; and the only point on which we are at issue among ourselves appears to be that while Gentlemen on this side of the House are content with asserting that the rural labourer is as fit for the franchise as the town artizan, Gentlemen opposite will insist upon it that he is a great deal fitter. But when the moment comes to put these brave words to the proof, and when the House is cleared for a division, then those advocates and representatives of the agricultural labourer who sit under the Gallery to listen to our debates go forth with the praises of themselves and their clients ringing in their ears, and return at the end of 20 minutes to learn with astonishment that these rural householders of whom we are all so proud; these models of industry, and loyalty, and patriotism, and frugality; these Cincinnatuses of the pasture and the plough, have by a majority of 70, 80, or 120 votes been adjudged unworthy of a privilege which every peasant in France has enjoyed for a generation, and every male inhabitant of the United States has enjoyed for a century. We have, then, no resource except to persevere until the House thinks fit to decide their case upon its measures, and either to confer the franchise upon the householders of the counties, or give them an intelligible explanation of the grounds upon which their title to the franchise cannot be recognized. In a matter that concerns three-fifths of the population of the United Kingdom, it is certain that sooner or later they must get what they want, or must be told plainly why they cannot have it. Hitherto the only semblance of argument with which the claims of the unrepresented county ratepayers have been met has consisted in the assertion that an extension of household suffrage into the rural districts must be accompanied by a sweeping re-distribution of seats. This argument has been employed frequently by the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government; and whenever he has employed it within these walls I have endeavoured to show that, when used by the right hon. Gentleman, it is not a very alarming argument. As Leader of the House of Commons, the right hon. Gentleman himself introduced a Reform Bill, which provided for assimilating the county and the borough franchises; and the amount of redistribution which he thought sufficient to accompany this change consisted in the shifting of 15 seats from small boroughs to large counties and populous towns. He, at any rate, who in 1859, was willing to effect the identification of the borough and county franchises at such a very small sacrifice of existing interests, has no right whatever to frighten us, who, in 1876, wish to carry out the same object, by this bugbear of a wholesale an unprecedented, an almost revolutionary up-turning of our entire electoral system. But this argument, which, as I have clearly shown, goes for very little in the mouth of the right hon. Gentleman, has been used by others in whose mouths it goes for a great deal, and has hitherto exercised a very considerable influence in diminishing the numbers of the minority who have supported the Bill which I, on three different occasions, had the honour of introducing. It has been said, and said by statesmen whose zeal in the cause of justice and of progress has been proved by a consistent public career—for that assertion may confidently be made in the case both of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich and the noble Marquess the Member for the Radnor District of Burghs—that in proposing to reduce the county franchise we have only touched half the question; that we are bound to say plainly out what we think about redistribution, and not call upon hon. Gentlemen to vote in the dark for a proposition whose certain and inevitable consequences we ourselves are not prepared to face. Sir, as a general rule, none but a very simple-minded politician would adopt the course of action recommended to him by an opponent; but the noble Marquess is in our eyes not an opponent, but a Leader, whose name, we confidently expect, will soon be connected with this measure, which an ever-increasing majority of his Followers regard as a measure demanded alike by considerations of national equity and of national expediency. And therefore it is that this old matter is now brought forward in a new shape, and, for the first time since the notion of Household Suffrage in the counties was seriously started, the question of Electoral Reform has been submitted to Parliament as a whole. Of course, I am very well aware that, as the debate proceeds, a new set of objections will crop up to meet the new contingency. Those hon. Gentlemen who in 1872 voted against the principle of Household Suffrage because it was asserted in an abstract Resolution, and who, in subsequent years, voted against it because it was embodied in a single-barreled Bill, will now have the pleasure of voting against it as an abstract Resolution again. But these subtle and delicate considerations will not have much effect upon the conduct of those, who having already recorded their votes against the continued exclusion of their fellow-countrymen from the pale of citizenship, are now ready to repeat that protest, even when it is coupled with a declaration that the existing distribution of political power among our constituencies might easily be altered for the better. We are not so passionately enamoured of the inequalities and anomalies of an electoral system, which, even after it has been twice altered, first by our fathers, and then by ourselves, is still by far the most inequitable and the most anomalous electoral system that anywhere exists. So glaring and so universal are its defects that it is difficult to sayin which quarter of the United Kingdom they are the most apparent. In England, 800,000 electors, in the 26 largest cities return between them 73 Members; while exactly the same number of Members are returned by 70,000 electors scattered over 55 little towns or villages which are called towns only by courtesy. In Ireland 35,000 electors, in Dublin and Belfast, return only four Members; while 22,000 electors in other Irish towns return as many as 33 Members. In Wales the vote of an elector who happens to reside in Merthyr Tydvil has only one-tenth of the weight of the vote of an elector who happens to reside in Brecon. In Scotland, the vote of an elector who lives in Glasgow has only one-eighth of the weight of the vote of an elector who lives in New Galloway. We have taken nationalities as a whole. Let us take a single county. In Yorkshire 3,200 electors in Richmond, Thirsk, Northallerton, and Knaresborough return actually twice as many Members as the 32,000 electors of Sheffield; while Keighley, and Barnsley, and Batley, and Todmorden—towns whose population is equal to that of half-a-dozen pocket constituencies, and whose wealth is equal to that of a dozen and a-half—are not thought worthy to appear in the rank of Parliamentary boroughs at all. We have taken a single county. Let us take two counties and compare them together. There are ten times as many people in Middlesex as in Wiltshire, but, instead of returning only one-tenth as many Members, Wiltshire returns 15 Members to the 19 of Middlesex. There are ten times as many people in the West Riding as in Dorsetshire, but the Members for the West Riding, instead of being as ten to one to the Members for Dorsetshire, are little more than two to one. Anyone who is familiar with the talk of our Lobbies knows that many hon. Gentlemen shrink from an extension of the county franchise because they are under the impression that the re-distribution of seats which would follow upon such a measure would take the direction of diminishing the political power of the towns, and increasing the political power of rural, and, as they think, less intelligent and progressive, districts. But an examination of our existing electoral arrangements will soon convince those hon. Gentlemen that they may spare their fears. The most ingenious manipulator of statistics is welcome to spend his ingenuity on our Parliamentary Returns as long and as often as he will, for, however he may turn and torture the figures that he will find in those Returns, he can arrive at only one result. Wherever there is a district which, taking the county and the borough seats together, is over-represented by the number of Members that it returns to Parliament, it will invariably be the case that such a district is one where, by comparison with other parts of this favoured island, trade is not the most active, education is not the most advanced, wages are not the highest, and capital is not increasing with any exceptional rapidity. On the other hand, whenever a district is greatly under-represented in proportion to its population, in such a district every symptom of commercial prosperity and social and intellectual progress will be found. Let me call the attention of hon. Gentlemen to one single item of calculation which, by itself, should be sufficient to re-assure those who apprehend that a fresh re-distribution scheme will be to the disadvantage of the intel- ligence and independence of our great national constituency. A re-arrangement of political power, strictly based upon population, would considerably more than double the number of Members now allotted to Middlesex, to Surrey, to Lancashire, and to the West Riding of Yorkshire. Where will you match that list? Not in any quarter of the civilized world is now, or ever has been, collected together so much industry, knowledge, and enterprize, or so much material wealth—the natural fruit of those qualities—as in the four districts which I have named. Continental countries have regarded with admiration many of our institutions, and have imitated them with eagerness, and sometimes with success. They are not very likely to imitate a system under which political power is distributed among the different sections of a nation exactly in inverse proportion to the share which those sections contribute towards making that nation prosperous at home and powerful abroad. What would a German statesman think of a proposal to give to the vote of a Pole or East Prussian four times the weight that he would give to the vote of a citizen of Cologne, and ten times the weight that he would give to the vote of a citizen of Berlin? What would an Italian say to the notion of favouring Calabria and Sicily in the proportion of five to one as compared with Lombardy and Piedmont, or a Spaniard to the notion that the most scantily represented places in the Peninsula should fee Madrid, Barcelona, Seville, Valencia, and Cadiz? No, Sir, my motive in bringing forward the second of these two Resolutions, and of coupling it with that which precedes it, is to afford hon. Members an opportunity of proclaiming that they will not be deterred from extending civic rights to the excluded population of our counties, merely because the consequence of that extension may be that we shall be under the obligation of giving to Manchester and Liverpool, to Leeds and Glasgow, to Southwark and Westminster, to the wool districts of Yorkshire, the cotton districts of Lancashire, and the mining districts of Durham, something better than the mere shadow of representation with which they now are mocked; and that we shall not be frightened out of one act of justice because circumstances are such that it must neces- sarily be accompanied by another. And now, Sir, having secured the ground in our rear by assuring those whose general sympathies are with us that we are prepared to treat electoral reform as a whole, and deal with it as it should be dealt with, by responsible public men, we may with renewed confidence face once more to the front, and challenge hon. Gentlemen opposite to bring forward a single valid argument which may convince those who ask for admission to the franchise that their claim, if it cannot be granted, has at the least been thoughtfully and respectfully considered. One argument which has some appearance of validity, and one only, has hitherto reached my ears. It is said that if we insist upon conferring the franchise on those who have not got it already, we shall give them something which has no tangible and material value, and which they are therefore just as well without. This argument has something about it so invidious—I had almost said so repulsive—that it is usually enveloped in a cloud of phrases which may render it a little less unattractive to an English ear. The shape in which it is usually put forward is something of this sort—We are told that the House of Commons is a practical Assembly, full of common-sense men, whose time is so taken up with useful matter-of-fact legislation that it has not the leisure to attend to a grievance which is not so much one of reality as of sentiment. Sir, it is for those who suffer under a grievance to define its nature, and not for those who obstinately refuse to redress it. It is all very well for us to be contented with the relations which at present exist between Parliament and the country. We have quite as much business as we can do. We have quite as many constituents as we want. We are, most of us, conscious that we are earnestly and laboriously striving to do our duty by the great body of our countrymen, and we honestly believe that we know quite as much about the feelings and opinions of the outside public as is required to guide our deliberations. But, Sir, we must remember that this is not the first Parliament that has taken too favourable a view of the extent to which it represents the country. No one can study the debates which preceded the passing of the great Reform Bill without being persuaded that many of those who opposed reform were sincerely convinced that the Members for the old rotten boroughs thoroughly understood the interests and the wishes of the great unrepresented cities. No one can study the Reform debates of 1866 and 1867 without perceiving that there were many hon. Gentlemen who were sincerely convinced that the Representatives of the £10 householders thoroughly understood the interests and the wishes of the unenfranchised mass of the town population. The illusion was honourable; but none the less was it an illusion; and I will venture to say that there are many borough Members in this House who will willingly confess that Household Suffrage has had an unexpected influence on their political conduct, and to a most unlooked-for extent has added to their political knowledge. And if we are obliged to make this confession, and to couple it with the natural and inevitable deduction that, if Household Suffrage were extended to the counties, we should learn a great deal that we did not know before, what do we think must be the aspect of the situation to those who view it by the light of a great wrong inflicted upon themselves? Who, standing outside the fence of political privilege, are doomed to hear their dearest interests discussed in an assembly in which they have neither part nor parcel, and their condition in this world, social, moral, and material, settled for them, without their once having the opportunity of expressing their own wishes in the matter? Why, what are the questions of this Session, and what portion of our population do they especially affect? Among the first measures which were submitted to us from the Treasury bench was a Bill relating to the preservation of commons. Now, Sir, for one piece of waste land which is valuable as a recreation ground of a neighbouring town or city, there are 20 which are important to the agricultural labourer as a playground for his children, and a pasture for his scanty live stock. And yet, in discussing the Commons Preservation Bill, we hear everything that has to be said by the Representatives of those whom it concerns but little; while those whom it concerns most have absolutely no Representatives at all. The most important matter which we shall have to decide this year is the extension throughout the country of some form or another of obligatory education, and the process by which, and the authorities by whom, the obligation is to be enforced. But already the immense majority of our town population lives under a system of compulsory education. That problem, broadly speaking, is already settled as regards the towns; it is for the rural districts that we are now proceeding to legislate, and in the rural district not one in 100 of those whom our educational legislation will touch has the means, directly or indirectly, of making his voice audible within these walls. There is another matter which has not, indeed, been brought forward by the Government, but which has been debated so ably and so seriously, both here and in "another place," and has provoked such a large and evenly-balanced expression of Parliamentary opinion, that it cannot fairly be denied a rank among the questions of the day. The law under which burials are to be conducted in our churchyards is one which, however keenly it may be contested on the ground of abstract principle, as a practical matter concerns the smaller towns but little, and the larger towns not at all, but which gains its material importance from its bearing upon the sentiments of our rural population, and it is precisely those sentiments at which we can do nothing more than guess so long as the country householders are unrepresented here; and as it is in the present, so it has been in the past. Every succeeding Session places on the Statute Book a fresh crop of laws—well-meant, indeed, and often well devised—which regulate the lives of our rural population, but on the scope and the details of which in this country is called self-government, their opinion is never so much as asked for. One year, by our system of short enlistment, we entirely altered the conditions of our military service, without consulting the class from whom the recruiting agent draws the largest part, and the best part, of our rank and file. Another year we dealt, for good or for evil, with the licensing system of the country, without consulting the class from whom the village publican draws his customers, or his victims. Sanitary laws are passed for the prevention of the spread of infectious disease, which entail on the agricultural labourer trouble, and worry, and expense, but to the framing of which he has just as little to say as the cattle have to say to the Circulars on the foot-and-mouth disease which the Privy Council may judge fit to issue. Game laws, enclosure laws, vaccination laws, poor laws, registration laws—from the cradle to the grave, the rural householder lives under the dominion of enactments which are passed for him, and not by him, and in which, freeman as he is called, he has no part except to obey them. Surely it is high time that Parliament, recognizing those disadvantages in his position which I have feebly and briefly endeavoured to indicate, should, by giving its adhesion to these Resolutions, hold forth to him at least a pledge that, at the first convenient opportunity, he shall be raised to the same political level as the peasantry of France, of Germany, of Switzerland, of the United States—of every nation, in short, which can for a moment compete with his own in the race of enlightenment and civilization. Sir, it has been said that there is no demand for this measure; but I shall leave that allegation to be answered by those hon. Gentlemen who were present at the meeting at Exeter Hall on Wednesday last, and at the Conference which preceded it. Never, I will venture to say, has there been a demonstration in favour of any public object which, in one sense, so merited the respectful notice of the Legislature; for never perhaps before was so large a body of men collected together at such cost and inconvenience to themselves. When we remember how slender are the finances of a cottager in a rural village, even when they have been eked out by the sixpences and shillings of the neighbours of his class whom he has been chosen to represent, I think that we shall allow that this assemblage of agricultural labourers, who have travelled at their own charges from Dorsetshire, Cheshire, and Lincolnshire, deserves at least as much consideration as those troops of well-to-do gentlemen in broad cloth, who flock up to London for public business on the eve of the Derby day. It is a very hard thing that we should force these poor men to leave their work, which is not overpaid to that degree as to give them much margin for political leisure, in order that Session after Session and Parliament after Parliament they may hang about our lobbies and haunt our galle- ries, pressing us to grant them a demand, the intrinsic justice of which none of us disputes. The peasantry of this country have not the time or the taste for being members of these annual deputations. Their object is to have a permanent deputation, which may watch their interests and speak their mind at Westminster, in old constitutional shape of county Members, whom they have had their share in sending to Parliament. That is what they want. That is what they have a right to get; and I am sure that, whoever may think fit to refuse them this boon on the ground that there is no call for it, such a response will never be heard from the Members of that great Party, whose historical policy it has been to anticipate the demands of justice, and to grant, in obedience to reason and equity, concessions which must sooner or later be yielded to political expediency and political pressure. On the 4th of March, in the year 1790, it was proposed to amend the representation by a scheme, the essential part of which consisted in extending the franchise to the resident householders of the counties; and on that occasion Mr. Fox pronounced that "he thought the outline of the present proposition the best of all which he had yet heard suggested." Such, nearly three generations ago, was the view of that great statesman, the father of modern English Liberalism; and we, on this side of the House, may feel confident that by assenting to the Resolutions before us, we shall be faithful to the interests of our country, and true to the tradition of our Party. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the first of the Resolutions."2. That it would be desirable to so redistribute political power as to obtain a more complete representation of the opinion of the Electoral body,"
in seconding the Motion, observed, that it would not be well for its supporters to underrate the difficulties with which they had to contend, or the obstacles they had to surmount. It might be that his hon. Friend had added to those difficulties by associating with the proposal for an extension of the franchise the proposal for a redistribution of political power; but, in doing so, he could not but think that his hon. Friend had acted with great judgment. Heretofore, an abstract Resolution or a Bill in reference to the extension of the suffrage had been invariably met with one argument to the effect that that subject could not be considered separately from the subject of a re- distribution of seats. That argument had been used last year by the Prime Minister. It had also been urged by the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition, and the opinion expressed by the noble Lord was shared by many hon. Members on that side of the House. The two questions should be considered together, because if they extended the suffrage simply they would increase the anomalies and inequalities of the electoral system; they would add to the existing inadequacy of county representation, and, in the case of populous towns not separately represented, they would more and more swamp the rural element by urban votes. In 1867 there was a small movement towards re-distribution, and it was then said that a larger measure in that direction would be taken up afterwards; but, notwithstanding, nothing more was ever heard of it until there began to be a talk of a further extension of the suffrage. It was injustice more keenly felt when a man had no vote because he lived on one side of an artificial boundary, whilst his friend who lived on the other had a vote; there was the injustice of a vote having only one-tenth the force that another vote in a smaller borough had. It might be asked why they were not content to do one thing at a time, and the answer was, that even if they secured an extension of the franchise in the first instance, they could not be sure of obtaining afterwards a comprehensive re-distribution of political power. They should no doubt be told that in order to be logical, it was necessary to go beyond household suffrage, and demand equal electoral districts, since nothing short of such a measure would give equality of representation. It seemed to him that to press such an argument upon the House was most unfair, because every one knew that no political question was ever determined in this country by the political necessities of the case. Such an argument would have been equally forcible on the occasion either of the first, or the second, Reform Bill. It was also said, and with some truth, that those who advocated a re-distribution of seats were bound to show how the present inequalities were to be redressed and to indicate the nature of the reforms they had in view. He was not going on the present occasion to sketch out the details of a new Reform Bill; yet, he would not shrink from enumerating some of the general principles of such a measure. He had no right to speak for anyone but himself; but he thought he could show that a juster distribution of political power might be attained without any tendency towards equal electoral districts or the destruction of those local associations which were so dear to many hon. Members. It would hardly be disputed that towns with 500,000 inhabitants, or divisions of counties like the South Western Division of Yorkshire with 400,000 inhabitants, should have more political power than they now enjoyed. It was also desirable that the present constituencies should be preserved as far as possible, and that, instead of disfranchising the smaller boroughs, that they should be wherever it was practicable, grouped with other towns and places. The large unrepresented towns, by becoming representative boroughs, would be taken out of the counties, and something would be done to remedy an inconvenience at present complained of. If large counties and boroughs obtained more Members, he was so anxious to avoid equal electoral districts that he would do nothing to destroy the integrity of those county and borough constituencies, and if, for example, a large town returned five Members, he would not divide that town into five wards, with a Member for each ward. In those great constituencies, moreover, which ought to have four or fire Members some plan should be adopted so as not to give the representation entirely to the majority, but to enable all important sections of political opinion to exercise the political power which was fairly their due. Those who advocated the present Resolutions would admit that whenever this question came to be dealt with by a Government, many collateral questions would have to be raised. If, for example, a uniform suffrage were adopted in counties and boroughs, there could not be a vestige of a reason why the non-resident qualification in counties should be maintained. At the present time no less than 10 per cent of the voters in counties were non-resident, and it had always appeared to him a matter of great injustice that a man who perhaps represented a purely fictitious qualification, should be able to neutralize the vote of some resident of a county whose life had been spent there. Probably the argument that would be most advanced against his hon. Friend would be that his proposals were abstract Resolutions. But had his hon. Friend embodied his proposals in a Bill, he would have been told that, as a private Member, he had been guilty of great presumption in bringing forward a scheme of Parliamentary reform. That, however, was an argument which he should be surprised to hear advanced from the Treasury Bench, because its occupants when in opposition were the great advocates of abstract Resolutions, and there was nothing that helped them so much into power as the abstract Resolutions they were perpetually moving respecting local taxation and local government. Then, too, it must be remembered that this House was not only a Legislative Assembly; it was a great Representative Assembly where the opinions and the feelings of the people found their most legitimate and constitutional expression. Perhaps at the present moment the question was not ripe for the Government to undertake; but if there was a strong—he did not say a predominant—feeling in the country in favour of these proposals, it would be wrong that such a feeling should not find expression in this House. When a deputation waited on Earl Russell in 1866, many wishing that his Reform Bill should go further, that distinguished statesman asked how many Members of the House of Commons were in favour of such an extreme opinion as household suffrage; and somebody answered, "Not 40."Yet, within a year and a-half from that time the Prime Minister had educated his 40, and 350 Members of the House of Commons supported household suffrage, thus enabling the right hon. Gentleman to perform the greatest achievement of his life. He should not venture to predict when the minority of to-night would grow into a majority, but that it would become so no one could doubt, and all the more rapidly the oftener the subject was discussed. Perhaps his hon. Friend had confined his remarks too strictly to the rural labourers, for, as the Prime Minister pointed out, this was also the case of the urban population, the expediency of whose admission to the franchise nobody disputed. During the last 20 years he had attended many public meetings as large as that held on Wednesday last; but he unhesitatingly asserted that he never attended one at which greater enthusiasm and greater earnestness were displayed, accompanied with so much moderation, sober judgment, and sound sense. At some former period doubts were entertained as to the desirability of conferring the suffrage on the rural labourers. These doubts must be removed by the conduct they had exhibited during the last few years. There had never been a greater industrial dispute in this or any other country in which so much good sense, sobriety, and desire to avoid violence had been displayed as had been by the agricultural labourers in their recent efforts to obtain an advance of wages. He hoped, in conclusion, that the House would support the Motion of his hon. Friend.
Does the hon. Member for the Border Burghs propose that the Resolutions should be put separately or not?
I propose that they should be put separately, Sir.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
"That, in the opinion of this House, it would be desirable to adopt an uniform Parliamentary Franchise for Borough and County Constituencies."—(Mr. Trevelyan.)
said, he did not propose to follow the speech of the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, a speech which did no less than shadow forth a Reform Bill. He had listened, as he always listened, with great pleasure to the speech of his hon. Friend who had introduced the subject, and he ventured to say that if eloquence of statement and brillancy of illustration could insure success, he might fairly look for a triumphant majority. The object he (Mr. Dalrymple) had, however, in now rising was to explain why, having voted for the Bill of his hon. Friend in 1874, he intended to vote against his Resolution to-night. Though this was his intention, he remained of the same opinion as before, and in no way repented of his former vote. He could not see how, if in 1867 household franchise should have been given to boroughs, it could be refused to counties at the proper time. He did not speak of parts of the country with which he was unacquainted; but he had in his mind two towns in a Scotch county, separated by some three or four miles. In one there was household suffrage, be- cause it happened to belong to a group of Parliamentary burghs, and in the other, where the people were of a superior character, the county franchise prevailed. It was almost as remarkable as where a man on one side of a hedge had a vote, and a man on the other had not. It was nothing to the purpose if it were said that the agricultural labourer, from want of education, was not fitted to have a vote; for in 1867 the suffrage was given to a large number of persons notoriously but little fitted to exercise it. Granted that his hon. Friend would give the franchise to persons not fitted for it, he would also enfranchise persons who were well qualified to use it. There was as much to be said against the Motion, and no more, as there was against the Household Suffrage Bill in 1867. He knew that these matters were not settled by consideration of logic. He knew that the franchise was not a panacea for all evils, social and political. He repudiated the notion that the franchise was an educator. It would be just as true to say that it was a great demoralizer, because there were evils connected with popular election He could not agree with the hon. Member for the Border Burghs when he said that because a man had not a vote therefore he was unrepresented in the House. He did not take so lofty a view of the franchise, nor so low a view of representation. Many a man might be thoroughly represented in the House who had not a vote. He should think himself a poor Representative indeed, if he could only represent the class to which he belonged. He supposed the Members who claimed to represent the working men did not assert that they represented them only; and it was as absurd to say that because a man had not a vote, therefore he was unrepresented, as it would be to say that because a Member of a particular class was not in the House, therefore that class was unrepresented. It was a poor compliment to the intelligence and generosity of those who sat in the House to say that they only represented the class to which they belonged. What the hon. Member said on that point, if carried out, would point to universal suffrage; because as long as any number of persons were without the suffrage, it might be said even of the extreme residuum that they were unrepresented in Parliament. Further, though he sympathized two years ago, and still sympathized, with the proposition to equalize the country and borough franchise, he must express his strong dissent from some of the proceedings which took place at a public meeting held last week in another part of London. Many statements were there made of an exaggerated and irresponsible character, which rather brought discredit than honour on a great movement. It was not the comparatively moderate proposal of his hon. Friend, but manhood suffrage that was approved. ["No, no!"] He knew that the meeting wisely and judiciously guarded itself against any resolution in favour of manhood suffrage, but many who were present pointed to manhood suffrage as the glorious goal they had in view, and towards which the movement of his hon. Friend was a mere fingerpost and stepping-stone. But, apart from all the exaggerations with which it was surrounded, he believed, when the proper time arrived, his hon. Friend would be found to have justice on his side. He had supported his hon. Friend in 1874, but he was not prepared to vote with him to-night, and it was that course which he (Mr. Dalrymple) had risen to explain. He would, however, reserve to himself that liberty and independence which he had before exercised in regard to the subject. The question did not now stand where it did in 1874. He thought that when Parliament had once expressed its opinion on the subject, as the House then did in a most significant manner, the decision should hold good while the Parliament lasted. The present was not a question within the domain of practical politics during the present Parliament, and he believed it was quite hopeless to think of carrying the equalization. But other considerations demanded attention. The Government had set to work, in fulfilment of many pledges, to carry out practical legislation. A Bill for increased education had been introduced into the House, and he could not help hoping that increased provisions for compulsory education might be introduced; but if the agricultural labourer had the opportunity of voting in the abstract, he (Mr. Dalrymple) doubted whether he would be in favour of compulsory education. Again, if the question were really before Parliament, a whole Session would be occupied with its con- sideration. The present Government had shown that they were not afraid of an extension of the franchise. In 1867 they gave household suffrage in boroughs. It might be said, and had been said, that the Conservative Party did the work of the Liberal Party. But in 1867, by a majority of 21, household suffrage in boroughs was carried against the vote of the Liberal Party. It was not, therefore, impossible for the Government to deal with the matter. But they did not come into power to disturb the franchise, and while at least they would not consent to have their hand forced, for anything he knew they were at present satisfied with the political machinery they had. Whatever the result of the vote might be, his hon. Friend might console himself with more than one reflection. Whenever the equalization of the county and burgh franchise took place his name would be mentioned in connection with the subject. Whatever might be the decision of the House that night—and no one could doubt what it would be—there were a number of Gentleman on the Conservative side of the House who had expressed themselves in favour of equalization; and many would vote in favour of it when the proper time arrived. For himself, he might say that he never gave any pledges on the subject. A vote given in 1874 in favour of equalization had probably offended as many persons as it gratified. He (Mr. Dalrymple) remained of the same opinion on the subject as he formerly held; but the time had clearly not yet arrived for the change which the Motion pointed to, and he held that it was not in accordance with political wisdom to urge on the question year after year against the clearly-expressed opinion of Parliament.
observed, that he had never in his Parliamentary experience listened to such an extraordinary speech as that of the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down. Whatever else the hon. Member might be, he was certainly not the man one would choose to go tiger-hunting with. The hon. Member had supported the Motion of his hon. Friend two years ago, and the only reason why he was not prepared to do so now was that Parliament had then pronounced against it. He had said that household suffrage in the boroughs was carried by the Conservatives; but the fact was that the Conservatives were in a minority when household suffrage was carried, and but for action in the Tea Rooms of a large number of persons who had been Radicals all their lives, it probably would not have been carried at all. Then the hon. Gentleman made a most unfounded attack on the late meeting at Exeter Hall. There was no foundation for the statement that all the chief speakers had manhood suffrage in their minds.
said, he made no such statement. His knowledge of what occurred at this meeting was not derived from newspaper reports which might mislead, but from one who like the hon. Baronet was present. What he said was that the meeting guarded itself against adopting manhood suffrage, but that persons present, not the most obscure, pointed to it.
said, he wished the hon. Gentleman had named those persons; he was present, and he heard nothing of the kind. An Amendment, no doubt, was moved in favour of manhood suffrage, but it was only supported by eight votes. The real point, however, of the argument of the hon. Member who had just sat down was that he and his Party would vote for the proposal of the hon. Member for the Border Burghs when the proper time came. It seemed, however, that the proper time had arrived two years ago, when the hon. Gentleman voted in favour of the Motion; and when the question was taken up by the front Bench opposite, no doubt, the proper time would have arrived once more. To-night the House would have to argue it altogether as a question of time. It could not be contended by hon. Members opposite that the rated householders in the counties were not fit to exercise the franchise, seeing that the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government had himself said that they were as fit to exercise that trust as were the rated householders in the boroughs. The real reason for the opposition to the Motion of the hon. Member for the Border Burghs was that the question of re-distribution underlay that of the franchise, and it was for that reason that he (Mr. Trevelyan) had placed a re-distribution Motion on the Paper, coupling the two things together. The Prime Minister had thrown out a challenge on the subject, and that challenge had been accepted, a complete scheme being brought forward. The bugbear which had been conjured up in connection with a complete and logical scheme was the effect which it would have in diminishing the number of Representatives in certain counties. But the whole class of county Members, with the exception of three or four from Scotland, would be unaffected; the Members for the large boroughs also would be unaffected, and it was only Members for the small boroughs in Ireland and England who would be touched. He had presented a remarkable Petition that day from Midhurst and Chichester, in which it was stated that political life was extinct in those boroughs, and that they were entirely in the hands of certain great families. But no one who knew the county from which the hon. Baronet the Member for Midhurst (Sir Henry Holland) came could doubt, no matter how the county was divided, that he would obtain a seat; and so it would be with most hon. Members who now had seats in the House. It should be remembered that the anomalies mentioned that evening were not only enormously great, but were rapidly increasing, as appeared by a Return for which he had moved. The small constituencies were standing still or going back, while the large constituencies were increasing at a rate of which hon. Members were hardly aware. For instance, Liverpool in 1872 had 48,000 electors; in 1873, 53,000; in 1874, 56,000; in 1875, 59,000; it had now 61,000, thus increasing at the rate of 3,000 a-year. How many small boroughs would it take to make up 3,000 electors? Very lately there was an election in Manchester, and his hon. Friend (Mr. Jacob Bright) was returned by exactly 300 times as many votes as the hon. Member for Portarlington (Captain Dawson-Damer), who obtained a seat by 76. While in some constituencies candidates had secured 21,000 votes, and yet had been defeated, 76 votes and 86 votes had sufficed to send two Members to the House. Twenty-eight Members sat for constituencies with more than 20,000 electors; 72 sat for constituencies with more than 10,000;and 52 sat for constituencies with fewer than 990 electors. The Committee on Parliamentary and Municipal Elections, of which he was Chairman, had taken evidence on the working of the Ballot in large as compared with small towns, and that evidence showed that it was useless to attempt to make provisions against intimidation and corruption in very small constituencies, because they were so easily manipulated and managed; and the same reason led to the abuse of the provision for taking the votes of illiterate voters, in whose cases intimidation was made stronger than it ever had been before. These difficulties disappeared with the increase of the size of constituencies, until in one of fair average size the attempt to follow individual voters and discover how they had voted was abandoned as useless. The anomalies which existed in our representation were a scandal to the country. It was a crying scandal that boroughs should be bought and sold as was frequently the case. He had known of an instance in which landed property was put up for sale, and as an inducement to purchase it was distinctly stated that the property carried with it the representation of a particular borough—indeed, the fact was stated in Parliamentary handbooks. The supporters of the Motion, therefore, thought that not only were they right in bringing forward the question of redistribution along with the proposal to assimilate the county and borough franchises, but also that the re-distribution of political power would be a wise just reform in itself.
said, he thought that the hon. Member who had brought forward this Motion had done well in dealing with the question of re-distribution of seats, because the Prime Minister two years ago declared that his chief objection to the Bill then introduced was that there had been no instance of extensive enfranchisement without a simultaneous consideration of the re-distribution of political power. He trusted that as that objection had been met, the right hon. Gentleman would not discover any new objection. He did not desire to argue the claim to enfranchisement on the ground of abstract right, although he believed, with the right hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Gladstone), that every man not presumably incapacitated by some consideration of personal unfitness or public danger, was morally entitled to come within the pale of the Constitution, and he had never yet met with the man who did not believe that he was one of those who had the moral right. In reply to what had been said by the hon. Member for Bute (Mr. Dalrymple), he would quote the advice of Lord Palmerston—"Yield to-day that which is reasonably demanded, and resist to-morrow that which you would be borne out in resisting; do not let us put ourselves in the wrong to-day merely that we may find ourselves in the right to-morrow. "The Members of the present Government having in 1867 brought forward a Bill based on household suffrage, it was not unreasonable to ask them now to carry out the principle they had formerly adopted as their own. If it were to be suggested that working people in the counties were ignorant, he would reply that we had not laid down any educational test for the franchise. It might be that some who had it in virtue of their material possessions were educationally less fitted to exercise it than some who claimed it. He was much gratified to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister declare two years ago that, in his opinion, the householders in the counties were as fit to exercise the franchise as those in the towns, and he had no doubt would exercise it with equal prudence and advantage to the community. He could say, from experience, that the best portion of the working classes in this country thought they were unjustly excluded from the right, or, as some would call it, the privilege, of voting for Members of Parliament. They petitioned and they held demonstrations; and one recently held in the metropolis was a spontaneous one, got up without organization, and attended by delegates whose expenses were paid by the pence of their fellow-workmen. Hoping that he might be excused an apparent breach of good taste, he would mention his own case. From the age of 10 to that of 28 he worked in a coal mine, and for the last eight years he was a householder, but, although he took an earnest interest in political questions, he was on no Parliamentary or municipal register. When he was 28 years of age he took the position, at the earnest request of his fellow-workmen, of secretary of a trades union. Now, the significant fact was that, though he had taken an active interest in the political questions of the day during the time he was earning his bread by the sweat of his brow, he was never on the political register; but as soon as he became a trades union secre- tary he was put at once on the register and obtained the right to vote for the election of a Member of Parliament. He did not know whether hon. Members thought that a hard-working man, honestly maintaining his family, was a less worthy member of society than a trades union secretary; but such was not his opinion. In his judgment nobody could take a more honourable place than the man who earned his bread by the labour of his hands. His (Mr. Burt's) former position was similar to that of tens of thousands at the present time and these men considered that the deprivation of the franchise was a stigma on their poverty. The broad line of distinction between the voters and the non-voters in a country village was this. The voters lived in big houses and never soiled their hands by manual labour; whereas the non-voters lived in the small houses, and were the people who tilled the fields and performed the manual labour of the country. He appealed to hon. Members on both sides of the house to remove this injustice. The working classes did not desire patronage or favouritism, but they wanted fair play, and they did not believe they were fairly treated at the present moment. They did not entertain those chimerical notions by which the workingmen of some other countries were carried away. They did not envy the rich man his wealth. They did not care for social equality, but they believed in political equality, and in having equal civil rights with their fellow-countrymen. They might be very ignorant of the history of their country; but they had learnt that a good cause wisely and persistently advocated was irresistible, and must ultimately prevail. In conclusion, he appealed to the House to confirm them in that belief, and to show them that they could attain their object by a peaceable appeal to the justice of their fellow-countrymen and without resorting to riot or turmoil.
said, everybody must have been glad to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt), who had gained the respect of the House by the able way in which he had always addressed it; and if every working man could boast of having done as much as the hon. Gentleman, he, for one, should have nothing to say against the present Motion. But all were not in the same proud position as that of the hon. Member for Morpeth. The Motion was intended to add 1,000,000 voters, according to some, or at least 1,100,000 or 1,200,000 voters, according to others, to the constituencies of the United Kingdom. Consequently, a very great re-distribution of political power would be necessary, and the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Border Burghs (Mr. Trevelyan) was wise in his generation when he added a second barrel to his gun. Was it expedient at the present time again to tamper with and alter the Constitution of the country? The Member for Hackney (Mr. Fawcett) said it was absolutely necessary to do so, but this he entirely denied. He did not know what the alleged anomaly was. [Laughter.] The right hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright) smiled at this statement; but he would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he considered a vote to be a right or a trust, and whether it ought to be local or universal? For his own part, he maintained that it should be local; that a vote ought not to be the property of any one individual; and that it ought to be various, and not uniform. If it was various, and not uniform, where was the anomaly of which hon. Members opposite complained. Last year the hon. Member for Hackney said he was anxious that the franchise should be extended, not on account of the agricultural labourers, but in order that votes might be conferred on artizans who lived outside the towns. He ventured, however, to assert that, as a general rule, this particular class had votes at the present moment. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) went further, saying that if these men had votes education would be in a very different state from what it was now. The great difficulty was with the parents, and no doubt in many instances great excuses might be made for them, but they were the chief difficulty; and if this class of men were permitted to return Members to that House, the last thing they would think of would be the question of education. ["No, no!"] If hon. Gentlemen opposite had had a practical acquaintance with the difficulties school managers in the country had to contend with they would come to a different conclusion. [Mr Greene: Why do they want coercion?] Well, when a working man was supported by the labour of his children it was a great sacrifice to give that up, as he admitted he ought to do, for the sake of educating his children. There was no class of men more anxious than the landlords to promote the welfare of the labouring classes. The truth was, that men in the country never had the same means of educating themselves for the exercise of the franchise that those in the towns had; and even in towns many of those who possessed the franchise voted "yellow" or "blue," as the fancy took them, or rather as they always had done, without having the slightest idea of politics. He knew an instance in which a Member now sitting in the House had asked a man for his vote, on which the latter replied—"I never had a vote afore, and now I means to keep it. "He, at all events, did not mean to part with it for nothing. Education would in time do much to fit the agricultural labourer for the exercise of the franchise; but to give it to him at present would change him from a happy, contented, and an honest man to something very much worse. Much had been said about better cottages, but experience showed that where the best had been done to place the working people in a comfortable cottage they would, if possible, let their extra room to lodgers, or fill it with apples and onions. The great object of all these proposed changes was to improve the representation of that House, and it was a very serious question whether they would effect that purpose. He maintained that there was not a class in the country whose interests did not receive the greatest attention from the House, which was always anxious to do what was just, right, and fair by every member of the community. If this proposed change would not improve the constitution or the conduct of the House, he urged upon hon. Members not to bring about an agitation which might eventually have most mischievous results, without waiting to see the full effect of the very large reforms which had been recently effected.
The change which we are invited by this Resolution to make is no slight one. I hold in my hand a pamphlet written by a gentleman of great ability, in which it is calculated that the effect of the proposed measure would be to treble the number of voters in the counties. Now, that is a very serious consideration, because it really amounts to a complete shift, so to speak, in the centre of gravity of power—it is an enormous change in the balance upon which the working of our Constitution depends. Under these circumstances, it is not unreasonable to ask for some reason to be given before we accept that change. I have listened with the greatest attention to the two hon. Members who commenced this debate—the hon. Member for the Border Burghs (Mr. Trevelyan) and the hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. Fawcett), and I confess that I can find in their speeches no reason at all alleged for this change. Doubtless, they have reasons which appear to them to be convincing, because they evidently speak under the strongest possible conviction that this change would be beneficial to the community at large. They, however, appear to assume that the burden of proof lies upon those who withhold from any Englishman of good character and of the proper age a right to the franchise. That appears to them to be a proposition so self-evident that they do not take the least trouble to prove its soundness, but content themselves by declaiming against those who do not admit it as a matter of course. I hope I am not too inquisitive when I ask these hon. Members to tell us upon what principles their opinions are based. I want to know why it is to be assumed that every man ought to have a vote who is not disqualified by some fault or incapacity. I confess I am at a loss to understand whence that assumption arises. I heard with the greatest pleasure the speech of the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt), because he seemed to feel that it was necessary before he asked us to adopt this very strong measure to lay some foundation in reason and argument fordoing so, and thus, so far at all events, he carries away the prize of reason and logic from the two hon. Members. The hon. Member, doubtless, placed the matter on the ground of abstract right, and argued that every man ought to have a vote in the affairs of his country, whether his possessing it were for the advantage of his country or not. If that were the case, we could not limit that right to men, but must extend it to women and even to children, and we should cease to be guided by experience and expediency. I therefore cannot agree with the hon. Member's argument, although it is creditable to him that he has sought to base his opinion upon a principle. What are the other grounds upon which we have been asked to accept this Resolution? We have been told that we may learn something from the representatives of the agricultural labourers. It is doubtless a good thing to learn; but we do not come here to learn, we come for other purposes, to act and to legislate. Some people say that the franchise is a privilege that ought not to be withheld from the agricultural labourer. I, however, have yet to learn that the vote is a privilege, and is something that is to be given to people as a mark of distinction or reward. The whole of the arguments in support of this Resolution resolve themselves into some vague feeling of equality or of rights. The fallacy that runs through the whole of these arguments is this, that people think there is such a thing as science in politics—that there are certain axioms in politics so certain that they need only be stated without requiring any proof whatever. I hope the hon. Member for the Border Burghs will excuse me if I take his uncle's opinion (Lord Macaulay), rather than his—namely, that we know nothing of polities except by induction and experience. If we find that a certain thing has constantly happened we infer that the same thing will happen again under similar circumstances. Thus we have found that to tax people equally is the way to make them pay their taxes most readily and to make them pay the largest sums, and that to make no distinction of persons in the eye of the law is the best way to make them obey the law willingly. But where has our experience shown us that an Assembly is good in proportion to the largeness of the numbers by which it is elected? I know that upon these questions I hold doctrines which are unpopular, and I am sorry for it; but it is most right and proper that in this House all sides should be heard, and therefore I will in a very few words tell the House what my theory of the franchise is. Hon. Members who have taken part in this debate have said nothing about the franchise itself, they have referred only to the persons who they say ought to exercise it. They look upon it as an honour, as something to be given, or, rather, they think that to withhold it is to cast a stigma upon those to whom it is not given. I hold that to be an entirely mistaken view of the matter. We are asked to make great and sweeping change in the incidence of power in this country. Suppose that it was any other system, any other machine, or any other institution, what should we do? We should act as practical, sensible men would do. We should sit down and consider what is the end or object of that machine—what it was made to do. For instance, if it was a clock, what is the object of a clock? To tell us the time. Then we should consider whether the proposed scheme tended to promote that main object. If it did, we should probably adopt it; or if it did not promote that main object, but would accomplish some other object that was valuable and would not interfere with the main object, we should, no doubt, adopt it. But supposing a man to come to me and say—"I have discovered an invention which will make the clock in this House strike 10 times louder than it does now." I ask him "What will be the effect of that?" He says—"The effect of that will be in a short time that probably it will break the bell of the clock, and very likely it will knock down the tower on which it stands." Then I say—"My object is to have the advantage of a clock to tell me the time, and I do not approve your invention, which, though it might give a collateral advantage would injure the main object for which the clock was made. "Except from the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just sat down, we have not heard anything which touches the real essence of this case. In my opinion, what we have to consider is, what effect these changes will have on the House of Commons—whether by making these changes the House of Commons will become a better machine for the purposes for which it was made for the making of laws and for the administration of government. And I must point out to the House that this is a question which it becomes every year more delicate and difficult to answer, because the House of Commons is continually making advances on the province of the Executive Government. It is a matter of extreme delicacy and difficulty to alter the constitution of this House without seeing very clearly in what direction you are going. You are not justified, in my opinion, in altering the Constitution merely because a great number of very worthy people would be much pleased if they had the advantage of being relieved from the stigma that they have not the franchise, unless you see clearly that by making the alteration the Constitution, if it be not improved, will at least not be injured. The hon. Member for the Border Burghs seemed to think we can stop with this change, but when the number of constituents is increased to the extent he proposes, it will be absolutely impossible that the present system of electoral districts can go on. It might be said that we are not proposing these alterations with a view of improving the House of Commons, but that it was a concession to a feeling—an honourable feeling, no doubt—a feeling of equality. But we cannot stimulate those feelings of equality and then regulate them, saying we will go to a certain point and then stop. When we have given these rural voters the franchise, it will be demanded, as is demanded by the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles Dilke), that the striking and startling differences in the amount of electoral power shall be remedied. No one can be so weak as to suppose that things can stop there. We have made a little deity of equality. We have set it up as an idol, and we must take the consequences. The result will be to carry us in the direction of equalizing electoral districts. When I look at the great disparities which now exist, and at the feelings so honestly and sincerely entertained on this side of the House, and I believe on the other also, in favour of this idol of equality—which is no idol of mine—I cannot help feeling very confident that when we come really to address ourselves to this question of electoral districts, we shall find it absolutely impossible to give equality on the old basis, and I do not think it is conceivable, remembering the differences in different parts of the country, that we can maintain the old distinction of counties and boroughs. We cannot put ourselves on an equality else, and it is no use sacrificing so much, unless we give satisfaction. I feel as certain as anyone can of the future—and I hope the remote future—that the result of what we are going to do will be to drive us not to remodel our present electoral districts, but to some process of this kind. We shall have to take the whole number of electors, divide that by the number of Members, and take the quotient as an electoral district, with some such plan as that in America, for a power of revision every 10 years. I cannot conceive how we can avoid such a conclusion. The more a man studies it, the more he will see how impossible it will be to go upon the old plan. What is to prevent it? You would concede the franchise generally to men in the rural districts and towns, and you would concede equal electoral districts, or something closely approaching to them. Is any man sanguine enough, or rather weak enough, to suppose that we can stop there after sacrificing everything to equality and recognizing its principle in this way? Is it possible to go no further, and not give an equality by extending the franchise to manhood suffrage? It is utterly impossible, and we must make up our minds to the whole course. I may be told that some countries are tolerably well governed by manhood suffrage. I do not deny that, if we had a large military power to keep order, or if we would consent to have a Constitution like that of America, where they elect a King for four years, who really governs, and whom they cannot get rid of unless he is impeached for some crime, and where the Ministers are not responsible, except they commit some crime, Government under universal suffrage might somehow go on. America shows how, under very favourable conditions, it is possible to carry on the Government; but to suppose that a Government like ours, which is not merely legislative, but in a great measure the Executive Body of the country, can be carried on under uuiversal suffrage, is a dream, as it seems to me, too idle to be considered. It is impossible to do it; it must involve a reconstruction of our institutions of some kind or another under circumstances the least favourable to permanence, because it would be made under the influence of tremendous, sweeping change, and must be made by persons or by bodies comparatively unacquainted with the art of manipulating matters of this kind. I have felt it my duty, therefore, although I have already reaped sufficient unpopularity in this field, after nine years, once more to break silence and unburden my conscience by stating to the House what I believe must be the inevitable results of these proposals. You may say that I exaggerate in many respects; but I ask you, are you so very ill off now in this the happiest and best governed country in the world that you should try these tremendous experiments? If we were like some other countries you might say desperate diseases need desperate remedies, but where is our desperate disease? We are only too prosperous, too happy, yet I fear in the extremity of that prosperity and happiness we shall not be satisfied until by our own hand we have pulled down the noblest fabric of liberty and justice that human hands ever raised, or human folly ever destroyed.
I have heard with pleasure, at least in one sense, and with very great interest, the speech of my right hon. Friend. I think many Members of the House who were here about 10 years ago then heard arguments somewhat of the same kind, though at that time they were not delivered with the calmness and the kindly feeling which have been displayed to-night, and I was further led to imagine that a speech of the same kind might also have been delivered previous to the year 1832. Every argument used by my right hon. Friend against the step which the House is now asked to take would have been perfectly good from this bench, if it had been adduced in company with Sir Charles Wetherell and other opponents of the Reform Bill brought in by the Government of Lord Grey. At the same time, I am not about to say that there were not words of warning which my right hon. Friend uttered, to which the House may not well pay attention. But I am glad to find that on this occasion we can debate this question in a less stormy condition of things than I have known to exist in past years. We have no anger on that (the Ministerial) side of the House, and, except from my right hon. Friend, there does not appear to be very much timidity on this side. We are, in fact, in a cool and temperate atmosphere, and we can discuss this great question now apart from the terrors and alarms with which some Gentlemen were accustomed to discuss it in past years. It is a very curious thing that these terrors or alarms should seize my right hon. Friend or affect the minds of any other hon. Members, because we must bear in mind that this country has been a country of Parliamentary representation for a great number of centuries, and that of late years—I mean within the last century, certainly within the last two centuries—we have been responsible for the spreading of representative Government of the most complete character almost all over the globe, and certainly among many considerable communities throughout the world; for instance, in what were once our colonies, and now that great nation the United States of America; again, in our great colonies of Australia and New Zealand; and also in the populous communities of South Africa under the British Crown. In all those countries representative institutions have been established on the basis of our own, but with a wider scope and including a greater portion of the population with their privileges. And, further, we may say that in most of the countries of Europe where there has been any advance of political liberty—and I doubt whether there is any in which there has not been some advance—we see that there is a representative system—following very much in the steps of ours—being gradually established. I see, moreover, in the newspapers startling news—some of which was mentioned to us this evening by the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs—to the effect that in Constantinople an educated class called the Soft as have even some dim idea of establishing representative institutions in that capital. Well, if this be so, we really have had a large experience—an experience of our own and other peoples. We have more than this. We have admitted—and admitted, I think, with great success—that a wide suffrage is better than a narrow suffrage. Indeed, my right hon. Friend himself speaks of this happy country, and says—"You are going to pull down the noblest fabric of liberty which human hands have ever reared." But of this noble fabric some of the top stones—and, as I think, some of the most ornamental stones—are the very stones against which he himself protested some 10 years ago. I should hardly have thought my right hon. Friend would have spoken in such terms of eulogy about a constitution that had so recently undergone changes which in his view were likely to involve the country in danger if not in ruin. But I will now endeavour to confine my observations to what I understand to be the precise object of this Motion and this debate—namely, whether it would be judicious to extend the franchise now possessed by householders in boroughs to householders in counties. That, I think, is the question in which, whether in the counties or in the boroughs, the greatest interest is felt by the people at this moment. It is said there is something special and different about the counties, and that it is not necessary or desirable to establish in them the same franchise as exists in the boroughs. We know that there is something different. Up to 1832, no man voted for a county who was not a proprietor of the soil. It was not so much Gentlemen on this side of the House who broke in upon the practice of that time. The Chandos Clause, which gave the franchise to occupiers of the value of £50, was a clause introduced, I believe, but certainly supported, by the great body of the Party opposite. Therefore, they were the first who broke down the rule which prevailed up to the passing of the first Reform Bill. During the discussions on that Bill the House came to the conclusion that it was not wise—I agree entirely in this—to confine the county franchise to the freeholders. In past times the freeholders were a much more numerous body than they are now; and it would be impossible at this moment—as every Member of this House must know and feel—to have confined the franchise of the counties to freeholders in the counties. Then it seems to me that when the old plan of a freehold franchise was given up, and a ratepaying or occupying franchise was adopted, that was a very great step in the direction of what we are proposing to the House to-night. But still there remained a great difference between the counties and the boroughs, for in the counties you still had the freehold franchise, and a very high occupation franchise; and in the boroughs, by the first Reform Bill, you had only an occupation franchise of the value, not of £50, as in the counties, but of £10;and that difference continued for a great number of years. But there came a time when the right hon. Gentleman, now the head of the Government, being the Leader of the House, but not then the Prime Minister, himself introduced a Reform Bill, and on that occasion he objected to reduce the borough franchise at all. He was for something that was called "lateral extension." It was a thing which nobody was able to understand, but still it sufficed, of course, for the Gentlemen who voted with him. The right hon. Gentleman was for a lateral extension of the borough franchise, but he proposed to bring down the county franchise to the same point as that which then existed in the boroughs; and the House will recollect that two of his Colleagues—the right hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) and the right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Walpole), who always sit together—seceded from his Government because they differed with him on that question. And, therefore, if anybody feels great doubt as to the constitutional propriety of having an equal franchise in the counties and in the boroughs—especially if anybody who sits on the opposite side of the House and follows the First Minister entertains any such doubt—his difficulties may be entirely removed, because it was on the authority of his own Leader that that proposition was first submitted to Parliament. In 1866 a proposal was made that the borough franchise should be reduced to £7, and many Gentlemen now present will remember the terrible denunciations that were levelled at that so-called democratic step. In the following year the right hon. Gentleman was not only willing to accept a £7 franchise, but he was willing to go down to household suffrage, and to have no qualification whatever in the boroughs except the fact of inhabiting a house or appearing on the rate books as a householder. The Party opposite—I am sorry they afford so much opportunity for unpleasant criticism—exhibited what, to my mind, was ignorant and abject terror in 1866. I did my best to disabuse them of it. I tried to show them that, with all their Conservative intentions, it would have been wise for them to accept the Bill offered by Lord John Russell's Government. They refused, but yet in the following year they plunged into an extreme far beyond that which the year before they declared to be perilous, if not destructive, to the country. Within a few years, therefore, the Party opposite—for I must identify them with their Leader—have done two things, they have proposed that the county and borough franchises should be equalized, and they have brought forward a measure which with their consent ended in the granting of house- hold suffrage to the boroughs. I therefore say that if they accept the first of the two Resolutions that have been proposed, their course will be entirely logical; but if they reject it, they will have to use arguments in support of their position which will entirely condemn what they have done heretofore in regard to this question. My right hon. Friend has asked two or three questions in the course of his speech. I would like to ask another, which I think ought to be settled before we proceed with this Resolution. I would ask whether the change that has been made in the borough franchise has proved itself fairly satisfactory to the House and the country? The Party opposite proposed it in such a manner that at last household suffrage in counties became unavoidable, and I have observed that in speeches made at the last General Election, and at single elections which have occurred since—especially when they have been speaking to numbers of working men—their orators always exulted in that which was done in regard to this matter. They saw what a grand and admirable thing it has been for the country, and, if I am not mistaken, Lord Derby, speaking at Edinburgh a short time since, referred to household suffrage and the working man's vote with something akin, not merely to satisfaction, but to exultation. I never have attempted to deny that a wide suffrage must, as a matter of course, introduce a great many persons who are of no advantage to the constituencies, and to whom, I am sorry to say, the franchise can be of no advantage either; but this is inevitable, and, on the whole, it will be admitted by everyone that the results of what was done in 1867 with regard to the borough franchise have been satisfactory and give us no cause whatever for alarm. Ignorance undoubtedly prevailed in regard to this question, but that ignorance is now more rapidly than at any former period in this country giving place to instruction and to schools; while corruption and intimidation, as shown by the experience of elections that have been held within the last 10 years, are giving way to a growing and strengthening moral sense throughout the constituencies. We now come to the question of the counties, in regard to which I think the inhabitants may be divided into four classes—owners of land and tenant farmers, labourers and shopkeepers, and inhabitants of towns and villages, of whom there must be a large number. Two of these classes have votes, and one of them mainly has the power. The great bulk of the labourers and of the householders in villages and small towns are excluded because of a franchise of £12 rating, which is equal to a £15 or £16 rental. [Cries of "£14."] Take £14 if you like, but £15 or £16 is nearer the mark. My right hon. Friend behind me did not give us a reason why a person living in a £15 house in the county town should not have a vote if a person living in a house at £5 rent in a borough has a vote. There must have been an object in giving votes to such persons in boroughs, and I can see no reason why the same reasoning should not apply in counties. It seems to me quite impossible and unreasonable on a speculative argument like that which has been used by my right hon. Friend to shut out, it may be, 1,000,000 persons from the franchise, every one of whom would have the power to vote if they happened to live in boroughs. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister gave household suffrage in boroughs as a means of settling the question for ever; and I can see no reason why the same rule, with a similar view, should not be adopted in the counties. It has been said that one result of passing the Resolution which has been proposed would be to lead to agitations for manhood or universal suffrage. So far from holding that view, my opinion is that the best means of putting an end to the possibility or probability of any such agitation would be to give a free vote to every householder in the country. Depend upon it, you will leave the discontented there of no authority, and you will add a vast number—hundreds of thousands, it may be, it will be—to the present electors, who will be satisfied with the rights and privileges they have secured, and will not be willing, for merely fanciful reasons, to extend them to those who may have less claim to a vote than themselves. Now, I must touch upon one question which has been remarked upon by the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt), and I think it fortunate that upon this subject we should have heard that speech from the hon. Member—that is, whether the persons to whom we are now proposing to give the vote are capable of the fair and judicious exercise of their franchise. Let hon. Gentlemen opposite and the right hon. Gentlemen behind me bear in mind that there is a large class between the labourer in the county and the £16 householder. I do not know whether there is any Return which gives the precise number, but it must be nearly half of the whole number who would come between £16 and £5 rental. The farm labourers in the county would be below or about £5 rental. I think the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Walter Barttelot) would scarcely object to give the franchise to persons living in houses of from £5 or £6 to £15 or £16 rental. I would say they are persons who know something of politics, and are fairly trustworthy in the matter of the vote. Suppose we were to give it to £5 or £6 householders, would it be wise to draw a line at a point which would absolutely and effectually exclude whole classes of labourers in the counties? The moment it was done you would have the excluded labourers knocking at your doors, just as the labourers in boroughs knocked at your doors. It would be seen that it had been unwise to exclude them; and then the door would have to be re-opened to admit them. The hon. Baronet said he was not to be understood as saying anything against labourers; but I am afraid that if they could have heard him they would not have appreciated his compliments, particularly his description of their ignorance. He did not seem to bear in mind that if they are ignorant of politics they are becoming less so every day; and if it be true they are somewhat ignorant of polities, I must say that is a curious plea to be put in by Gentlemen opposite. I think the labourers need not blush compared with them if we look back over 30 years in this House. I have been in this House since 1843, and I think that nearly every measure the House is now particularly proud of has been opposed in the main by hon. Gentlemen opposite. It is a terrible thing to recall such things to hon. Gentlemen opposite. There was great terror about the importation of corn. There was great terror of the importation of cattle. I remember an hon. Baronet on this side of the House, who represented a western county, and who was known by the name of "longhorns and shorthorns," because he always told Sir Robert Peel that the introduction of longhorns or shorthorns, I forget which, would be ruinous to the trade of the country. They objected to free trade in sugar, to the abolition of the duties on paper, and to the abolition of the 4d. stamp on newspapers, and the duty of 3s. 6d. on advertisements. I need not talk of church rates; we are all glad to have got rid of them. Since they were abolished churches have been better cared for than ever they were before in the history of the English Church. The Irish Church question was another on which hon. Gentlemen opposite differed from us. They differed very much with regard to the legislation on Irish land. They differed from us very much about the Ballot; but they rejoice in the Ballot. ["No, no!"] It is not a question to be argued, because their approval is notorious; and in the course of another year they will be bringing in a Bill to make it permanent, and not a single voice will be raised to protest against it. With regard to education, when Lord John Russell proposed the first Vote to be given by the Privy Council, I believe it was objected to almost unanimously by the Party opposite, and it was carried only by a very small majority. Again, the French Treaty, about which there seems to be now no difference of opinion either in England or France, so advantageous has it been, was made a Party question by hon. Gentlemen opposite. I do not say this for the sake of saying anything unpleasant to hon. Gentlemen opposite. I ask hon. Gentlemen opposite, when they speak of the ignorance of farm labourers, whether they might not make a little allowance for them? As far as they have had the opportunity of reading newspapers, attending meetings, or otherwise expressing their opinions, I will be bound that during all this time they have favoured the policy which hon. Gentlemen opposite have stubbornly and, I think, unwisely objected to. If they are ignorant, their ignorance is lessening everyday. The condition of the farm labourer just now is one to my mind of extreme interest. I reckon wages to be a first-class question. If they can be doubled, you will double many things; you will give the labourer a better home, his children a better education; you will lift him gradually, it may be slowly, but certainly, in the scale of the society in which he lives. I recollect the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, in one of those speeches which may be amusing to his friends, but which are sometimes distressing and even painful to us, and in which he declaimed to the House about the vast sufferings of the agricultural interest, concluded by saying he was willing to rest his whole case upon the effect which would be produced on the agricultural labourer. I was speaking lately to one from his own county, who was working as a navvy in Lancashire. He was at his mid-day meal, resting from his work, and I asked him where he came from. He said from Buckinghamshire. I said—"How are things going on in Buckinghamshire?" and he replied—"A good deal better than they used to do. When I was a lad my father worked for 7s. a-week; but when I left home he was getting 11s., and I have since heer'd as they're givin' him 14s." That was double the wages received there 30 years ago. Now, about that time I went with a gentleman now in service under the Government to visit Stonehenge. It was a miserable, drizzling day; the shepherd of Salisbury Plain made his appearance in a long coat, and I asked him, among other things, how many children he had. He said—"Only one, thank God." I said—"Do you thank God, then, for having only one child?" and he said—"If you had to be on this plain seven days a-week for 8s. a-week, would not you thank God you had only one child?" I do not know exactly what a shepherd of Salisbury Plain gets now; but I rather think he gets double that. [An hon. Member: More.] Only the other day I was going down to the North, travelling with a gentleman from Northumberland, who is a landed proprietor and farmer, and, I think, has some interest in collieries. He told me he gave 26s. a-week to the labourers on his farm—21s. in money, house, coal, and potatoes. [An on. Member: Where?] I will not give the name to anyone; but I have no doubt the statement was quite true. If that be true, the wages of the agricultural labourer have risen very greatly indeed—in some cases fully double. This brings me to the meeting held last week. I think it is a deplorable thing that the newspapers being pressed with matter at the time it was held, the proceedings were not adequately reported. There were more than 600 farm labourers, who came from various counties and districts, not at the expense of any general association, but at their own expense and the expense of their immediate friends, to discuss this very question which we are now discussing. I am sorry I was not able to attend, but the accounts I have received of it from several Members of this House who were there show it to have been one of the most remarkable political meetings held for many years in this metropolis. All these men have now their newspapers. There are newspapers printed for them, and circulated by thousands every week. Hon. Gentlemen opposite know there are such papers. There are, no doubt, many things in some of those papers which it would be better if the agricultural labourer did not read. I have seen many things that no intelligent friend of the agricultural labourer would have placed before him for his mental instruction. But the papers are there; the labourers are reading; their wages are greatly increased; their independence is increasing; and among them all there is a gradual movement which it is quite impossible for this House to undertake to suppress—a movement in the direction of asking that they should be placed on an equality with their fellow-countrymen in the towns, and that they should have that small but fair share of political influence which the man has who is intrusted with the elective franchise. Now, we know—the hon. Member for the Border Burghs (Mr. Trevelyan) referred to them—of questions which are before the House in which the labourers and the population of the counties are greatly interested. These are the question of education; the question of local government, which hon. Gentlemen opposite find so difficult; the administration of justice; the laws relating to land; they may think some day that the land is to be made as free as the produce of the land has been made. Well, the question is a fair question; shall their Representatives speak no word on their behalf with regard to these questions? I will not enter into the question of distribution. I think that the theory that the two questions should be proceeded with together is not a wise one. I believe it would be better if the House concentrated its view upon the question of the franchise, not that it will not be necessary to touch the matter of the distribution of seats, but because that is not a matter which requires to be argued. The moment the franchise is amended, all men's eyes who look with interest to this question, will be turned to the question of distribution. But the question of the franchise is one which presses much more than the other, because a great body of the labourers feel that they are aggrieved. They are not aggrieved on the question of distribution any more than we are. We all feel alike about that. But all these people feel the question of the franchise, and I believe that the true policy of the people moving in this matter is the true policy of any honest Government; that when a due registration is made of the enfranchised bodies and a Return shown so that you can get an exact return of the number of electors throughout the towns and boroughs, then you will have a great amount of accurate information upon which you can proceed if you think the time is favourable and right to deal with the question of the distribution of seats. I ask the House with great sincerity to consider the question as it has been discussed on the whole to-night. It cannot be called a Party question. ["Oh!"] It is not a Party question. There is scarcely a Member on the other side of the House with whom I have gone into the question, who has not said that it cannot be put off for very long, and when the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government proposes that it shall be done, no doubt it will be accepted and adopted by an overwhelming majority even in this House. And when it is done a great thing will be done. We shall have the counties put in as favourable a position for legislation on their behalf as the boroughs occupy now. The freedom of the towns will be extended to the counties, and we shall have what I fear is a great amount of social tyranny in the counties broken up. We shall have what I have described as the paralysis of half the political interests and power of the country removed and healed, and we shall have the industry, the intelligence, and the freedom of both town and country brought to combine in the election of a really free Parliament, that shall be a credit and a permanent safeguard to a great and a free people.
The right hon. Gentleman is never more at home and happy than when he dwells on the history of successive Reform Bills and of the political struggles in which he has taken part. To-night his memory is completely historical. He has taken the opportunity, in the first place, of attacking my inconsistency in proposing the schemes for Parliamentary Reform which at different times of my life I have made. Whether the right hon. Gentleman attacks me or not, I accept his remarks in the spirit in which they were offered, and what that spirit is I do not stop to inquire. The right hon. Gentleman says that in 1859 I brought in a Bill on reform, the principle of which was identity between the borough and the county franchises—that is to say, I proposed to reduce the county franchise to the £10 franchise of the boroughs. We were induced to take that course for this among other reasons, but for this principal one, that we were convinced no lowering of the borough franchise could be a final settlement. Well, that Bill was not successful. A Bill was introduced by the Friends of the right hon. Gentleman, which proposed the reduction of the borough franchise to £7. I and those who acted with me opposed that measure, and the right hon. Gentleman says this was very inconsistent. He says—"You opposed this reduction of the borough franchise to £7, and yet the year after you proposed household suffrage." I maintain, as I have ever maintained, that our course was perfectly consistent. We took our stand upon the £10 franchise on the ground that if you once tampered with it you could have no final settlement; that every year—I will not say every year, but every period—when a Party was in distress and wished to increase and strengthen their popular balance, a new Bill would of course be brought forward, and that we should soon have had, as was adumbrated in many speeches at the time, a £5 borough franchise. I, and many others were sick of these proposals of £7, £6, or £5, and this tampering with the liberties and franchises of the people for 10s. or 20s., and accordingly we brought in a measure which would meet the difficulties of the case, and upon the success of which the right hon. Gentleman has to-night congratulated us. Then the right hon. Gentleman has made a severe answer to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London (Mr. Lowe), whose speech he says might have been made in opposition to Lord Grey's Parliamentary Reform Bill of 1832. There is no end of saying things of that kind. I might say, for instance, to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham—"Why have you just made a speech which might as well have been made in favour of a Parliamentary Reform Bill based on manhood suffrage?" For every single argument of his tended in that direction and indicated that course. The right hon. Gentleman also took refuge in a very original observation—namely, that the debate now going on in the House was not on a Party question. Why, we have heard this every night and on every subject. Hardly any colonial, financial, or other question has been brought before the House this Session that has not been baptized by that title of peace. The right hon. Gentleman had in this case, however, some reason for the statement, because the scope and tendency of his speech was entirely to throw over the hon. Member for the Border Burghs (Mr. Trevelyan) and his Motion. The hon. Gentleman the Member for the Border Burghs, for reasons which he deemed good, brought forward Resolutions to-night which not only aim at equalizing the franchise between counties and boroughs, but meeting objections which he deemed valid, which had been urged before, he also proposed that the House should reconsider the re-distribution of seats. That was the Motion, and the hon. Member for the Border Burghs and the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles Dilke), his most efficient supporter, were not justified in making their speeches unless they were prepared to adopt this combination of measures. That is the very basis on which this Motion has been made to-night; but what says the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham? He says he is not one of those who approve the policy of considering the re-distribution of seats. He does not admit that it is at all a corollary of the other question. He protests against their being combined together, and he makes a speech which, as an avowed supporter of the hon. Member for the Border Burghs, he was not justified in making, for it was an argument against the very policy which the hon. Member for the Border Burghs has pressed upon us to-night. When this question of equalizing the franchise in boroughs and counties was first brought forward, it was my duty to oppose the proposition, and I opposed it on broad grounds. I said that by this measure of reducing the county franchise to the level of the borough franchise you will have an enormous increase in the constituencies. I gave figures, and I am almost tired of giving figures to the House on a subject on which it has been my duty to address them so often. However, I gave figures which may not be as striking as those to which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London has adverted, and which are to be found, I believe, in a pamphlet of great authority, but which I have not had an opportunity to look at. Still, the figures I gave were taken from authentic records and Parliamentary Returns. From them I showed that we had in England and Wales 1,800,000 houses in the boroughs, which furnished us with 1,250,000 electors giving the proportions of votes to houses as 25 to 36. I further stated that in counties there were 2,500,000 houses and 720,000 voters, and the House saw from the Returns upon the Table that the figures would add 1,000,000 of voters to the counties, and cause the county voters to exceed the borough voters by 500,000; and I said—I take the liberty of quoting my own words—
The House felt that that was a state of affairs which it was impossible for the moment to admit, and the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Border Burghs, and the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea, admitted that it was impossible for them to say that nearly 2,000,000 of voters should return only 187 Members to Parliament, while little more than 1,000,000 returned 297. Everybody said, indeed, that that was a proposition which never could for a moment be entertained by Parliament, and I call the attention of the House to this fact, that the necessary consequence of adopting the policy which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham professes to-night, and which I did believe he was the only person of authority who could for a moment sanction, was a great re-distribution of political power—one that must necessarily break up the borough system of England. I gave no opinion on the expediency or inexpediency of following that course, as another time would come for the consideration of that question. All I did was to impress upon the House the facts to which I have alluded. Well, Sir, the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Border Burghs and the hon. Baronet have admitted frankly and completely to-night that the view I took was a just one—one which has been adopted by the House and the country—and that they have felt that this question could never be brought before us again unless the extension of the franchise was associated with the re-distribution of seats. I cannot say that I think the manner in which they have dealt with the second part of the question is entirely satisfactory. Still, it is, at least, a homage to the convictions of Parliament. The hon. Baronet said—We have come forward to-night with a complete scheme of re-distribution. Now, the language I find on the Paper on that subject is scarcely satisfactory. The second Resolution is—"Now as to the result, 1,740,000 county voters would return 187 Members to Parliament, while 1,250,000 borough voters would return 297 Members."
Well, I think that before the House could sanction any Motion of the character of the first Resolution we should have a statement of the principles on which the re-distribution is to be made. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham will not give any attention to the subject, and his whole argument has been not only in favour of the lowering of the franchise, but against a re-distribution of seats. [An hon. Member: No.] Yes. The right hon. Gentleman may take refuge in saying that when we have got an extension of the franchise then we can consider the question of re-distribution, but at this moment he has advocated a lowering of the franchise without a re-distribution of political power. Well, from the right hon. Gentleman I expected nothing, but I certainly expected from the hon. Member for the Border Burghs, and especially from the hon. Baronet, who is very learned in Parliamentary statistics, that we should have some idea of what, after all, is one of the greatest Parliamentary revolutions that could be carried into effect, even in what the hon. Baronet said might be a more mitigated form. Sir, I contend, as I have ever contended, that we cannot deal with the franchise of this country or extend it in any way without some general survey of the distribution of political power, and, without going back to 1832. I beg to say, with reference to the measure of 1867–8, that the re-distribution was by no means contemptible;45 new seats were added to Parliament. The absolute necessities and claims of the most considerable counties were entirely met, and a number of very considerable towns were enfranchised. The fact that 45 new Members were introduced into the House shows at once, as regards the re-distribution of political power, how very considerable the measure was. Well, now, I want, before we divide, to bring before the House the real question for its decision. The question before us is not the political biography of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham—although a more interesting and agreeable one it would be somewhat difficult to find; it is not the Bills on the subject of Parliamentary Reform which I may have brought in; it is not what financial and economic measures have been passed during the last 30 years; it is not any of the various questions which the right hon. Gentleman has included in his self-complacent catalogue; we have before us a very important, but very single and simple issue. It is really pretty well the same question as we had before—namely, a proposition to lower the franchise in counties to the same rate as exists in boroughs; because, although we have had a great homage to truth paid by the acknowledgment that the House ought to come to some Resolution as to the re-distribution of political power, that part of the subject has not been placed before us in that practical way which alone would enable us to deal with it. We must urge against the proposition of the hon. Gentleman the argument that we have urged before—Your Resolution, if it were carried, would add enormously to the county constituency, and this county constituency, with its enormous numbers, would command much fewer seats in this House than the borough constituency, with its numbers so diminished comparatively with the counties. You cannot practically advance in this way without breaking up your present borough constituencies. The question is, are you prepared for that? Do you think it desirable that it should be broken up? Because it is vain to suppose that when you come to business in this matter you can take refuge in the vague expressions of the hon. Member for Chelsea, that men of the world would know how to manage these things, that when the changes take place they will not be so great as we anticipate, that some Gentlemen may lose their seats, but that if they do they will come in for others. These are not considerations that you can put into a Parliamentary schedule. Here are the facts. That a constituency of 2,000,000 will be represented by 143 votes, while a constituency of 1,200,000 will be represented by 300 votes in Parliament. Everyone believes that if it came to a vote in favour of equalizing suffrages the necessary consequence must be that we should pledge ourselves to a policy which must destroy entirely the whole of the borough constitution. Some of it may be re-constructed. I do not mean to say that Parliament would not recover or survive such an event, or that the House would entirely consist of the Representatives of electoral districts. But do not conceal from yourselves that it will immensely alter the character of Parliament and in a great degree affect its popular character. The variety of character which this House derives from its municipal communities is one of the important features of Parliament and one of the richest elements of representative power. This, then, is the issue before us. We must not be distracted from it by the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham, which had in fact nothing to do with the question. It is a mere plea for a wide extension of the franchise, without a due and statesmanlike consideration of the consequences of such an act. I therefore trust the House will vote against it, and oppose the Resolution of the hon. Member for the Border Burghs."That it would be desirable to so re-distribute political power as to obtain a more complete representation of the opinion of the Electoral body."
wished to say a few words in reply, as very few Members were in the House when he moved his Resolution, an done of those who had followed him had contrived greatly to misunderstand him. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lowe), who in old days led the Conservative Party from the back benches of the Liberal Party, now appeared to lead those Conservatives from the front benches of the same Party. The absence of the noble Marquess the Member for the Radnor Burghs was regrettable, but it was now seen to be explicable. It now appeared that their Leader took counsel, not with the majority of his supporters in that House and the country, but with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London, and to spare his susceptibilities the chosen Leader of the Liberal Party was not in his place to-night. The right hon. Gentleman taunted him with not having given any practical reason why his Motion should be adopted, but he should be so audacious as to attempt to give the right hon. Gentleman a lesson in history. The franchise was extended in 1832, and the consequence was that within two or three years slavery was abolished, municipal government was set up in our towns, the Church of England was reformed to a state in accordance at least with the feelings of Churchmen, the Corn Laws were abolished, and the fiscal condition of the country improved with great rapidity. The franchise was extended in 1867; and what was the consequence? The Factories and Workshops Acts were dealt with so as to protect the women and children employed there; the Artizans' and Workmen's Act was passed, and was supplemented by the excellent measure passed by the Home Secretary on the same subject last year; protection was given to miners; the power of wealth was abolished in the Army; Acts of great importance were passed relating to Ireland which he did not expect hon. Gentlemen opposite to approve, but which he knew the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lowe) approved very strongly; and, finally, the education of the country was extended in a manner with which hon. Gentlemen opposite found fault in some respects, and with which hon Gentlemen on his own side found fault in other respects, but which both Parties agreed to have been an immense improvement. Judging from experience, therefore, a further extension of the franchise would result in a fresh crop of beneficent legislation; and, believing that the enfranchisement of the agricultural labourers would have this result, and would give us a better Parliament, he hoped that the House would, at all events, support the first of the two Resolutions.
I would not have risen after the hon. Member for the Border Burghs has replied, but I failed earlier to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, had I not some information that I desire to convey to the House. I have made inquiries with regard to the means by which the meeting in London was brought together in support of these Resolutions, as well as a similar meeting which has been held in my division of Warwickshire. The former meeting has been spoken of as if it were spontaneously drawn together solely by the action of the labourers themselves. We, who live in North Warwickshire, know something of what is going on in Birmingham; and to-night I presented a Petition to the House from a meeting which was held at Merriden, in North Warwickshire, but which really emanated from Birmingham; that Petition was in favour of, and embodied the terms of, the Resolutions of the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Border Burghs. I thought it rather strange, after my speech and my vote of last year upon this question, that I should be desired to present such a Petition, so I set myself accurately to ascertain from whom this Petition really came; and I discovered that the meeting at Merriden, at which the Petition was adopted, was attended by two delegates from the Liberation Society and by the President of the Labourers' Union. One of the delegates from the Liberation Society informed the meeting that, finding the action of the Labourers' Union was parallel with that of the Liberation Society, that Society had elected the President of the Labourers' Union, Mr. Arch, to be one of the Council of the Liberation Society, and that the future action of the two bodies would be combined. When, therefore, we hear the hon. Member for the Border Burghs citing the advantageous legislation which this House has from time to time carried out, and the peaceful state of this country as the effects of the last Reform Act; when, too, we hear the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright) assuring us that, if we do this act of what he calls justice to the agricultural labourer, the future legislation of this House will be as moderate, as reasonable, and as beneficial as it has hitherto been—I beg to mention to the House that this does not seem to be the expectation of those who convene these meetings. I assert this from what occurred at this meeting in Merriden. At that meeting it was boldly stated that the clergy of the Church of England have robbed the people of education. Mr. Arch declared that he challenged any one to contradict that assertion; and, speaking of the farmers also, he accused them of having caused pauperism and misery among their labourers; and, quoting an expression once used in this House by a Member of the House, and applying this expression to the clergy and the farmers, he said—"It is our object to unmask these villains," and inferred that he would treat them accordingly. Such are the objects of those who, being out of this House, are promoting the Motion now before it. Sir, I do not believe that the agricultural labourers will generally unite for such objects; I am firmly convinced that the working classes would not unite for such objects; yet it is for those objects that they are invited to give their support to the Motion of the hon. Member for the Border Burghs. His active supporters are, indeed, those who would bring the clergy and the farmers of the country into antagonism with the labouring classes of the country. I think it right, therefore, when we have a Motion like this brought before us, and laudatory allusions are made to the peaceful manner in which it is supported in the country, that the House should know what are the ulterior objects of the prime movers and promoters of these meetings, and that the peaceful assurances which we receive here should be contrasted with the language that is used elsewhere. I am not surprised that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham should seem so anxious to get rid of the question of re-distribution of seats. He and I have some recollection of what occurred during the re-distribution of seats that followed upon the Reform Act of 1867. There happened to be a large parish forming part of Birmingham—the parish of Aston—in which is situated property belonging to the Corporation of Birmingham, and it was proposed by the Boundary Commissioners that that parish should be included in the borough of Birmingham, but the right hon. Gentleman, who is so zealous for the extension of the household franchise elsewhere, joined a combination in this House to overrule the decision of the Boundary Commissioners, and by excluding Aston from the borough he represents, he deprived thousands of his neighbours of household suffrage, and left them to be, as I conclude he thinks, misrepresented by myself and my Colleague as county Members. The right hon. Member seemed to fear that he might have too much of household suffrage near home. The right hon. Gentleman has now recommended that the re-distribution of seats shall be postponed, until after the extension of household suffrage to the county constituencies has been effected. Many of the county constituencies would thus be encumbered by an enormous and disproportionate number of voters; and the right hon. Gentleman actually proposes that to a House of Commons, returned by these reformed constituencies, acting as a sort of confused Convention, should be committed the delicate task of re-distributing the seats for all the constituencies. I will only, in conclusion, say that the warning given by the right hon. Member for the University of London seems to me founded in true wisdom; and that the proposal submitted to the House in the first Resolution without the second appears to me inconsistent with common sense.
who spoke amid loud cries for a Division, was understood to express his intention to support the Motion with a free heart, because there was no distinction drawn between one part of the country and another, and it would include Ireland.
The House divided:—Ayes 165; Noes 264: Majority 99.