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Chapter XVII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 4

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In contrast to Mr. Lowe's, the view of the supporters of the bill may be stated. The Government had not undertaken to review the whole representative system of the country, to go back to the origin of things, and weigh upon a priori grounds the rival claims of Stourbridge and Tewkesbury. Certain conditions remained unelastic. The House, for instance, refused to add to its number, so that the enfranchisement of new boroughs could only be undertaken on the most limited scale, and by a re-arrangement of old boroughs. On the other hand, the Government had pledged themselves not to disenfranchise any place altogether. Thirdly, there was a real anomaly untouched by Mr. Lowe, which it was the object of the bill to remedy - the anomaly of giving a member to Totnes, and letting the great manufacturing towns go so barely represented in Parliament that they were practically hardly represented at all. Were the claims of Old- bury to representation to be weighed against the claims of Manchester? But it was these very claims of the great manufacturing towns which was the real difficulty in the way of the " Cave." They were ready to make a sentimental grievance of the small boroughs, if only these terrible working classes, these formidable artisans, could be kept a little longer and a little more effectually out of that share in the House of Commons which their numbers seemed to promise them. The claim of mere numbers, against which Mr. Lowe went on to argue, is indeed a claim which can be only gradually conceded, but it is one which, with every year of spreading wealth and education, must be more carefully considered by a popular Government. Mr. Gladstone's Re-distribution Bill was, at least, an honest attempt to deal with the claim of numbers, and all the eloquence of Mr. Lowe's famous peroration could not change the great facts lying behind the bill - the facts of growing population, of growing intelligence among the working classes, and of a growing determination on their part to secure a fair share of the representation of the country. After protesting against numerical representation, against the lowering of the county franchise, and against the new arrangements as to boundaries, as all parts of one great scheme tending to the annihilation of aristocratic parties in England, Mr. Lowe wound up thus: -

" I press most earnestly for delay. The matter is of inexpressible importance; any error is absolutely irretrievable.... To our hands at this moment is entrusted the noble and sacred future of free and self- determined government all over the world. We are about to surrender certain good for more than doubtful change; we are about to barter maxims and traditions that have never failed, for theories and doctrines that never have succeeded. Democracy you can have at any time. Night and day the gate is open that leads to that bare and level plain where every ant's nest is a mountain and every thistle a forest tree. But a government such as England has - the work of no human hand, but which has grown up as the imperceptible aggregation of centuries - this is a thing which we only can enjoy, which we cannot impart to others, and which, once lost, we cannot recover for ourselves.... We are not agreed upon details, we have not como to any accord upon principles. To precipitate a decision in the case of a single human life would be cruel. It is more than cruel - it is parricide in the case of the Constitution, which is the life and soul of this great nation. If it is to perish, as all human things must perish, give it, at any rate, time to gather its robe about it, and to fall with decency and deliberation.

' To-morrow!
Oh, that's sudden! Spare it! Spare it!
It ought not so to die.' "

This was indeed eloquence, but the Attorney-General, notwithstanding, might well ask in bewilderment, What was it Mr. Lowe wanted to have done? what was his practical object? His argument resolved itself into this - that we should stand on things as they are, because they are, and without showing any reason why they are. Sir Hugh Cairns contended against the bill's going into committee. The House was not agreed upon any one of its fundamental principles; what, then, was the use of going into committee upon it - a process meant not to re-construct, but only to amend a measure? The Lord-Advocate did his best to demolish Sir Hugh Cairns' arguments, and when he sat down, Lord Grosvenor, the nominal leader of the "Cave," upon whose support of the amendment the Opposition had counted, rose to make the important announcement, that, seeing the amendment seemed likely to be made a question of the maintenance or resignation of the Ministry, he should in this instance support the Government, as, though he had not much confidence in them in the matter of Reform, in the present state of European politics, and in the present condition of our finance, it would be a great misfortune to the country if they, particularly Lord Clarendon, were compelled to quit office. Mr. Gladstone's speech, which followed Lord Grosvenor's, was memorable for some sharp handling of Mr. Lowe's speeches contained in it. With regard to Mr. Lowe's charge of creating anomalies, instead of getting rid of them, Mr. Gladstone said: "I deny that it creates a single anomaly in the true and proper sense of the word. I ask of those who make the charge, did the Reform Act create anomalies, or not, by disfranchisement and redistribution of seats? If you choose to say that the man who destroys a gross anomaly, and substitutes a much milder form of the very same thing, creates an anomaly, to that charge we are open; and to that charge the Reform Act was open." With regard to the general tone of Mr. Lowe's speeches, Mr. Gladstone had several indignant remarks to make. One passage he called " one gross and continued error, both of taste and judgment." " And although," he continued, " it is a very great treat to listen to his speeches as intellectual exercises, yet no man must imagine that any practical good was to be got out of discussion with such a disputant. How, let me ask, can we occupy common ground with my right honourable friend? How can we cherish the slightest hope of mitigating the differences which exist between us, or of arriving at a settlement with one who approaches a question of this gravity in such a spirit, and with such a degree of license, so far as regards his own individual opinion?" Mr. Gladstone went on to argue against Mr. Lowe's objections to the bill in detail. He defended the system of grouping, and he defended the proposed extension of parliamentary boundaries. In fact, Mr. Gladstone's speech was an elaborate and eloquent vindication of the Government bill from the many attacks that had been made upon it. " We have now to deal," he said in conclusion, " I will not say with an alteration so much as with a growth of circumstances, with a growth of numbers, a growth of wealth, a growth of intelligence, a growth of loyalty, and a growth of confidence in Parliament among all classes of the community. And our view is this - that under these circumstances, we are entitled to say that now again has the time come to apply with caution, yet with firmness, those principles from the operation of which we have already reaped such blessed fruits; " viz., the principles of the Reform Act of 1832. "It is in the prosecution of that work that we are confronted with the hostility which has met us in the various stages of this bill - hostility that may be formidable; indeed, hostility of which I will not even now presume to predict that it may not meet with a momentary success; but to which I will say, that any triumph which may be gained, will recoil with tenfold force upon the heads of those who may achieve it." In the earlier part of his speech, Mr. Gladstone had made an indignant protest against the mode of procedure of the Opposition. Captain Hayter's amendment was, he said, an indirect attempt to defeat the bill altogether, and, as such, a violation of Lord Derby's pledge that it should receive fair play. Mr. Disraeli, in the speech which concluded the debate, did his best to defend his party from the charge of factious opposition; but when one considers what a much more sweeping bill than the one they were at present opposing, on the ground of its Radical tendencies, was passed by him and his party in the following year, his arguments appear hardly convincing. When he resumed his seat, the amendment was negatived by 403 to 2, the greater part of the Opposition having left the House to avoid voting, seeing that Lord Grosvenor's defection from their ranks left them little or no chance of obtaining a majority against Government.

So far, and upon questions of general principles, the Government had in the main, though with great difficulty, and at least one hair-breadth escape, been successful. That is to say, the House as a whole, with the exception, perhaps, of Mr. Lowe, were agreed that Reform in some shape or other was inevitable. But the Opposition were also agreed in the determination not to let the Russell Ministry settle the question. A successful Reform Bill would have continued the Liberals in power, as later on it kept the Conservatives in office, and Mr. Disraeli saw his opportunity and seized it. Reform, especially that side of it which is concerned with the redistribution of seats, rouses the most apathetic Conservative member, and Mr. Disraeli could therefore count upon the undivided support of his party. But Mr. Gladstone's majority would have baffled all their efforts, had it not been for the unexpected defection of the " Cave." The opposition of Lord Grosvenor. Mr. Lowe, Mr. Horsman, and others to the bill meant victory to the Conservatives; and Mr. Disraeli would not have been Mr. Disraeli had he not known how to use the advantage thus given him. So that while in committee the fortunes of the bill went wavering backwards and forwards over the debatable ground of " rateable value," or " gross yearly rental," all the world knew that it was in reality no question of details, no question indeed of Reform, but a question of a Liberal or a Conservative Ministry which was being so obstinately fought out. The general consciousness of this gave an unusual piquancy to the discussion of even the dullest of those details of which a Reform Bill is full. The cleverness and determination of the opponents of the Ministry were notably shown in a most unexpected attack upon the bill made by Lord Stanley on June 7. The House in committee was engaged in debating the 4th clause of the now consolidated bill, relating to the county franchise, which it was proposed to reduce to £14. Mr. Gladstone had just made an elaborate defence of the clause against a hostile amendment moved by Mr. Walpole, and all seemed going on as usual, when, to the amazement of the Tory side of the House, no less than of the Liberals, Lord Stanley, the member for Lynn, advanced quietly to the table and moved "that the portion of the joint bill which relates to the redistribution of seats be taken first," or, in other words, that the Franchise Bill should be postponed sine die. "This brief speech," says the historian of the year, " had the effect of a coup de theatre." Lord Stanley went on to give various plausible reasons for the motion, but the House, in spite of its astonishment, was not to be taken in.

The tendency of the motion and the animus which prompted it were very plainly visible, and the indignant Liberal benches applauded every word of Mr. Gladstone's speech in answer to it. The Chancellor of the Exchequer ironically complimented the Opposition upon their perfect knowledge of the " art of ambush." At last, it seemed, they had made up their minds, so long in uncertainty, as to what step they should take next, and this new strategy was the result of their cogitations. Loudly cheered by his supporters, Mr. Gladstone went on to say that the Government would never suffer the conduct of the measure to be taken out of their hands by such a motion. They were pledged to accomplish, or at least to attempt, the enfranchisement of the people, and to that object they would adhere so long as they retained the support of the House. Lord Stanley's motion was defeated by a majority of 27, a larger majority than had yet fallen to the lot of the Government since the beginning of the Reform debates, for the strong sense of unfair treatment among the Liberals kept several waverers loyal to the Ministry who would otherwise have voted with the Opposition. Nor was this all. " The engineer was indeed for once hoist with his own petard," for the feeling awakened by Lord Stanley's motion did the Government good service in the next division which they had to encounter upon Mr. Walpole's amendment, the debate upon which had been interrupted by Lord Stanley's speech. Mr. Walpole was beaten by a majority of 14.

A far more vital question, however, was raised on June 11th by Mr. Hunt, member for Northamptonshire, and one leading to much more important consequences. He proposed to make the basis of the county franchise, not the " gross yearly rental " of any given property, but its " rateable value; " while Lord Dunkellin followed suit with a similar motion with regard to the borough franchise. The bill as originally drawn up gave the borough franchise " to the occupier, as owner or tenant of premises of any tenure within the borough, of a clear yearly value of seven pounds or upwards;" and the same expression was used in the case of the county franchise; clear yearly value meaning the same as " gross estimated rental." In order that it may be clearly understood what is meant by " gross estimated rental " as opposed to " rateable value," we will copy the headings of a valuation list as it is prepared for rating purposes by the parochial overseers: -

"Name of Occupier.
Name of Owner.
Description of Property.
Name or Situation of Property.
Estimated Extent.
Gross Estimated Rental.
Rateable Value."

A valuation list classifies every house in the parish under these heads, for purposes, as we have said, of local taxation. The " gross estimated rental " of a house, according to the Union Assessment Committee Act of 1862, is defined as " the rent at which the hereditaments might reasonably be expected to let from year to year, free from all usual tenants' rates and taxes and tithe commutation rent-charge, if any." But the rateable value, the yearly value, that is to say, at which the house is assessed in the rate-books for rating purposes, is computed from the " gross estimated rental " by making various deductions. The scale of these deductions varies according to local needs; thus, in some places, "rateable value" is ascertained by deducting 10 per cent, from "gross estimated rental," in others 15 per cent., and in others as much as 35 or 36 per cent. One parish may be richer than another perhaps, and so be able to assess its inhabitants at a lower rateable value, or accidents of physical situation may make municipal operations more expensive in one case than in another - from whatever cause, there is not, and never has been, any uniform standard of " rateable value." In the judgment of the framers of the bill of 1866, "gross estimated rental," though subject, no doubt, to some local variations, yet afforded a far safer and more uniform basis for both the borough and the county franchise than the "rateable value," which was dependent upon " local usage and personal caprice." The arguments of Mr. Hunt, Lord Dunkellin, and their supporters seemed to show at least some misapprehension of the state of the case. The rental valuation was spoken of as if it was something wholly unofficial and dependent upon the will of the tenant himself, instead of being just as much a parochial and official matter as the computed " rateable value," which occupied the next column to it in the rate-book. People who had never seen a rate-book, and had not taken the trouble to listen attentively to Mr. Gladstone's explanations, talked as if " gross estimated rental " had nothing to do with the rate-book, and was being put by the Government in opposition to it. Whereas it was all along merely a question between the sixth and seventh columns of this same rate-book. At least, so it appeared outwardly; really, these two amendments were part of the general tactics of the Opposition, as we have already described them, and were aimed against what was most vital and essential in the Government measure. The substitution of " rateable value " for " clear yearly value " in clauses 4 and 5 of the bill would, as will be easily understood by any one who considers the difference between the two as given by the rate-book, considerably diminish the number of new voters to be enfranchised by the bill. That is to say, a £5 rating franchise even would hardly admit Ôs many voters as the £7 rental franchise, because /he "rateable value" was always something below the "gross estimated rental," and sometimes, as we have seen, very much below it. Mr. Hunt said frankly that the object of his amendment was to raise the county franchise to a higher standard than if the clause passed without amendment. He thought the £14 franchise would admit an excessive number of votes.

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Pictures for Chapter XVII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 4

Sir Alexander Cockburn
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Westminster Hall
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Robert Lowe
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Benjamin Disraeli
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