Page images

Mr. Pease's

Pease for the abolition of the penalty of death. speech was in itself statistically remarkable, for he showed conclusively by the working of the capital laws at home and abroad their uselessness as a deterrent, while throwing into terrible relief some of the dark passages of our former history-as when, between 1749 and 1771, 109 persons were hung for shoplifting alone, and he quoted Sir Fowell Buxton to the effect that the Plantagenets had made four offences capital, the Tudors twenty-seven, the Stuarts thirty-six, and the Brunswicks one hundred and fifty-six ! In 1832 there were 1449 executions. As to the present state of the law, Mr. Pease gave some interesting statistics from the reports of foreign inspectors of prisons, from which he showed. conclusively that "human life is as secure, and even still more secure, in civilised states where capital punishment is not in use." It is at least curious that in Russia there has been no capital punishment, except for high treason and military insubordination, for one hundred years, while we have been hanging over tens of thousands. Mr. Pease ended his speech by insisting on the utter repugnance of the sublime spirit of Christianity to the punishment of death, and in the main preached from the fine old text, "The author of an irrevocable sentence should be an infallible tribunal."

Mr. Bright, in a noble speech, insisted not only on the sin of capital punishment, but on the special horror of the English method. "Our law," said he, "in this respect has always been more barbarous and more cruel than that of any Christian State of which I have been able to inform myself. . . . I say you commit a mistake which, a hundred years to come, men will point to as one of the most extraordinary mistakes a Legislature could commit, when you endeavour to promote the sacredness of human life and the reverence for human life by destroying it in cold blood, and by one of the most barbarous methods which the most barbarous nations ever employed. Mr. Bright argued that the substitution of private for public execution had only given a new field to "the reporters. In former times they told you all about the crowd, and how the street was filled with spectators; but now in a space perhaps not half the size of this room, they see every line of the convict's countenance, they see his troubled eyes, the pallor on his cheek, the terror in every limb, and all that is given, with all the embellishments which newspaper writers are so able to add, and these details are carried into every house; and I believe, at this moment, your executions are exerting an influence as evil, and I believe, sometimes, even more evil, upon the public mind than they did in times when they were enacted under the canopy of heaven and before the faces of thousands of the people. I have spoken to a Home Secretary on questions of this nature, and I have told him, in respect of a particular case- You know if you hang this man there is no other Christian country in the world in which he would be hung.' He did not deny it.

[ocr errors]

a matter notorious, and I have seen him burst into tears; I have seen the tears rolling down his cheeks and himself greatly agitated with the burden upon his conscience which he knew not how to shift from it, the law having compelled him to decide this case, his sympathy carrying him one way and his fear of not doing what the law required compelling him the other. The time, I say, is surely coming when we shall have a Home Secretary who shall revolt against the terrible duty thus imposed upon him, and when we shall have a Parliament, too, which shall raise itself to the height of this great argument, and will believe that Christian law is of more worth than the barbarism that becomes only heathen times. And I hope the time will come when we shall show to all other nations, that whatever England has been heretofore in the barbarous nature of her punishments, now at last she takes another course, and instead of being the last, she will be foremost in that path which leads from the blind cruelties of the past to the wise and just mercies of the future. With all my heart and soul I shall give my vote in favour of the amendment of my hon. friend the member for South Durham."

The most significant division of the Session was taken on Mr. Trevelyan's motion for the extension of Household Suffrage to the counties. In a full house the motion was defeated by a majority of 56; but the importance of the debate lay in the formal adoption of the measure by the Liberals as an article of their future ministerial creed, if the Conservatives should not anticipate them. Mr. Trevelyan's motion took the form of two resolutions:


"1. That, in the opinion of this House, it would be desirable to adopt a uniform Parliamentary Franchise for Borough and County constituencies.

"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 moving these Resolutions, Mr. Trevelyan confined his arguments mainly to the extension of the Franchise, leaving his seconder, Sir C. Dilke, to deal with Redistribution; and, as a reason for persevering year after year, in spite of continuous defeat, he pointed out that each year new questions arose on which the House would be wiser for being informed of the views of the county householders, and each year brought large additions to the excluded class. For instance, on such questions as the Burials Bill, Flogging in the Navy, Recruiting for the Army, the voice of the county householders ought to be heard; and as to the increase of these classes it had occurred not in the rural districts proper, but in the outskirts of great towns and in new mining districts, such as Barrow-in-Furness. As an additional reason for giving the vote to county householders, he referred to the pledge given by the Government to confer on those householders the privilege of electing County Boards. At present the county householders were not merely not represented, but misrepre


sented, by the creation of faggot votes and in other ways. dilating on the anomalies of a system under which two-fifths of the members of the House only represented two-fifths of the population in their counties, Mr. Trevelyan concluded by an energetic appeal to his side of the House to prove by an unanimous vote that it was resolved to uphold Liberal principles.

Sir C. Dilke, in seconding the motion, showed by a comparison of the populations in counties and boroughs that many counties and small boroughs were already over-represented, and that the increase of population had occurred chiefly in the large boroughs. As to the bugbear of disfranchisement, he argued that it was not intended to disfranchise any voter or place, but simply to throw the small boroughs into the counties or to group them with others. Among other recommendations the measure would diminish the temptation to create faggot votes.

Mr. Smollett opposed the Resolutions, remarking that the leaders of the party opposite must curse the electors of the Border Burghs for sending such a disturbing element as Mr. Trevelyan into their ranks. On the topic of Liberal disunion Mr. Smollett made some caustic remarks, which moved the House to much laughter; and exhorted the Whig section, instead of practising its great virtue of abstention, to pluck up courage to vote against a motion which it must detest in its heart, and against which many of its most eminent members had spoken. "The enfranchisement

of Hodge," as he described the measure, would lead to more momentous changes than any previous Reform Bill-for its promoters made no secret that it was to be the precursor of revolutionary measures.

Mr. Stansfeld remarked that the difficulty of the promoters of these Resolutions was that they had no opposition to grapple with. The demand for Household Suffrage in counties was real and earnest, and it could not longer be resisted. Least of all did it lie in the mouth of the Conservative party, which had given Household Suffrage to towns, to refuse its extension to counties.

Mr. Goldney believed that the present electoral system gave adequate representation to numbers, and apprehended that the Resolutions would lead to equal electoral districts and universal suffrage. There was no urgency in the matter, as our representative system had been so lately reformed, and constant change would diminish our reputation for stability.

Lord E. Fitzmaurice, who was interrupted by an unsuccessful attempt to "count out" the House, after replying to some of Mr. Smollett's strictures, warmly supported the Resolutions, as the member for a small borough (Calne) which must be disfranchised by them. With regard to the first, he pointed out that the enfranchisement of a class had always been advantageous to it. Its claims were more carefully considered, and the average of its intelligence and public spirit would be raised. As to disfranchisement, Lord Edmund was prepared for the sacrifice of 150 seats,

which he would distribute partly to unrepresented towns and partly to the existing county divisions with the minority vote, in favour of which he argued at some length.

Viscount Emlyn, while admitting that there were anomalies in the present system, required that some more definite plan for remedying it should be produced, and denied that Household Suffrage would produce all the results which were expected

from it.

Mr. Serjeant Spinks, speaking from the Conservative benches, warmly supported the Resolutions. Regarding himself as a pioneer of his party, he ridiculed the fears which had been expressed of the consequences of the measure; and pointed out that the great majority of those who were to be enfranchised belonged to the same class as those who already possessed votes, and as to the uneducated, the best mode of commencing their education would be to enfranchise them.

Mr. Macdonald supported the motion, and Mr. Gregory spoke against it, though he believed it would benefit the Conservative party.

Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen remarked that he had been an advocate of Household Suffrage all his life, because he believed it to be a limit which the State might reasonably and justifiably impose on the prima facie right of every taxpayer to take a share in the government of his country. Householders already enjoyed the franchise in towns, and agricultural labourers were as fit to vote as any other class in the community.

Mr. E. Stanhope, speaking from the Treasury Bench, contended that the Resolutions and the principles on which they had been supported, would lead much further than Household Suffrage, and that there was no finality in the scheme. With regard to the extension of the suffrage, the claims of the urban populations were not so urgent as to justify the great constitutional change which was demanded. Moreover, there were other ways of meeting it by extending the boundaries of boroughs, for instance. The case of the agricultural class stood on a different footing, but the experience of that class which he had gained as an Assistant Commissioner of Education compelled him to say that their wants and wishes were not correctly represented by the promoters of this movement. The wholesale enfranchisement now proposed would so entirely upset the relations between town and country that a large redistribution of seats would be necessary, which, if conducted on the principle of population, would entirely crush out all variety from the representation. Sufficient time, he urged, had not been allowed for the trial of the last experiment of electoral reform, and it would be unwise, therefore, to sacrifice for years all chances of useful legislation by entering on the agitation which would be commenced by passing these ill-timed and vague Resolutions.

Mr. Goschen said he was unable to assent either to the

assimilation of the Borough and County Franchise, or to the redistribution of political power at the present moment. Whether Household Franchise in counties was inevitable or not, it was more likely to become so if the attitude of both parties towards it was that of watching each other lest one should get the advantage of the other. There had been remarkable reticence on the Conservative side on the question, and the reason he believed was the existence of a widespread impression that it would be taken up by their leaders. After reminding the House that it was only ten years since the County Franchise was settled on its present basis, Mr. Goschen proceeded to examine the experience of the last electoral experiment and to review the political situation as it appeared after ten years of Household Suffrage. Dealing first with the rural classes to be admitted, he pointed out that they had not had the political training which municipal institutions had given the urban voters, and that pauperism entered largely into the organisation of rural parishes. But the great bulk of those to be introduced were of the same class as the voters enfranchised by the last Reform Act, and our experience of them hitherto had not been such as to justify a further extension at the moment. We had no experience as to how they would bear additional taxation, or how they would take the denial of any of their favourite demands. The latest budgets had all been democratic, and all the legislation of this Parliament had been directed to the gratification of the newly-enfranchised classes. But chiefly he feared that the reign of numbers would lead to the dethronement of political economy, the bugbear of the working classes, and the substitution for it of its idol, philanthropy. Mr. Goschen concluded by expressing the pain with which he differed from his party, but it gave him a right to call on the party opposite to speak out boldly without fear of offending the newly-enfranchised classes.

Mr. O'Donnell spoke in favour of the motion, and Mr. Mundella, in answer to Mr. Goschen, mentioned a number of cases in the rural districts of men holding important local offices who did not possess the vote.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer said the Government saw no reason to change the opinion which it had expressed on former occasions, but he rejoiced that the discussion had arisen, because it would assist in clearing men's minds as to the exact nature of the demand. He agreed with Mr. Goschen that it was the duty of both sides to speak out boldly, and for himself he distinctly repudiated the doctrine that every citizen of this country was presumably entitled to a vote regardless of all consequences. The principle of redistribution put forward would involve perpetual rearrangement of the electoral bodies as population shifted. He did not put the question on a footing of finality, and he admitted that as time went on the incidence of our electoral system must be changed-it was an experiment which ought not to be rashly or frequently undertaken. Looking to the necessity of allowing


« PreviousContinue »