Over the coming weeks and months we are publishing excerpts from the book ‘A Diary of Two Parliaments’ by Henry W Lucy, published in 1885. A popular book in our library, it covers the parliament of the Disraeli government during the years 1874-1880.
Catch-up with other posts in this series here, or search our library here.
The Disraeli Parliament 1874-1880
Wednesday 13 May 1874
GERMS OF OBSTRUCTION
The County Franchise Bill
The second reading of the Household Franchise (Counties) Bill moved by Trevelyan in a clever speech, a considerable portion of which was addressed personally to Disraeli, who, unfortunately, was not present to hear it. Salt moved the rejection of the Bill, not so much on the ground of actual hostility to its principle, as because he believed the time was not opportune for the suggested reform. Burt supported the motion in an able maiden speech, brief, but weighty in argument, delivered with a considerable degree of natural grace, and losing nothing by the curiously broad dialect in which it was spoken. Newdegate was unusually moved by the proposal further to amend the representative system, and declared in sad, slow tones, that Trevelyan was one of those who think “The Constitution was intended For nothing else but to be mended.”
Forster congratulated Trevelyan upon the fact that the extension of the franchise in counties was now reduced to a mere question of time. For his own part, he believed it had become a pressing question, and it was high time it was settled. In an eloquent and warmly spoken passage, he declared that the reason why England had advanced by means of reform instead of revolution was because new social powers as they rose were taken within the precincts of the Constitution, and made a portion of it. Such a new power was the agricultural labourer, who had been deaf and dumb, but who, thanks to a cheap press, and to extended means of education, could now hear and speak. Murmurs from the Ministerial benches had formed a running commentary upon this declaration; but when Forster referred to Arch as “that eminent man,” and expressed a desire, in the interests of the Legislature and the country, that he were sitting in the House of Commons, Conservative indignation burst forth in derisive laughter and emphatic shouts of “No, no!”
Disraeli, who had entered the House whilst Salt was speaking, rose at four o’clock, the House being densely crowded, and was received with loud cheers. He spoke in his quietest manner, till he came to refer in sarcastic terms to the “passionate fervour” with which Forster had addressed the House, and to the “look of severe scrutiny” with which he had regarded him (the Premier) when he touched on the question of land tenure. Roused by the cheers and laughter these personal thrusts elicited from Conservatives, Disraeli proceeded with increased animation to “look at the question in a more business-like way.” His “great objection,” disclosed in the course of his remarks, was that it was not possible, or at least not desirable, to en franchise large bodies of the people without at the same time revising the distribution of political power. A deep silence fell over the Conservative benches when the Premier declared that in all such revisions the country had been approaching the system of electoral districts, and that in all future changes of a similar character further approaches must be made in the same direction. But the cheering recommenced when the right hon. gentleman, whilst acknowledging the inevitableness of the consequence, declared, though in comparatively mild terms, his personal objection to be an agent in hastening its approach, and cited figures to show that it would, when it came, strike a fatal blow at the system of borough representation.
After some words from Trevelyan the House divided, and the Bill was rejected by 287 votes against 173, the announcement of the majority being hailed by loud cheering from the Conservative side.
Excerpt from A Diary of Two Parliaments by Henry W Lucy published in 1885
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