Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

1854.]

REFORM BILL INTRODUCED.

17

of this report would cause some demonstrations to be made against the prince; and to prevent anything of the kind, the precaution had been taken-said to be unprecedented -of requiring the attendance of the whole of the Horse Guards. At the same time every available policeman was on duty along the line of the procession. It was also anticipated that the Turkish and Russian ambassadors would appear in the procession, and that a tremendous popular demonstration of favour to the former and hostility to the latter would be made. These anticipations were only partially fulfilled. The speech from the throne did, of course, touch on the impending war; a few hisses were raised against Prince Albert at certain points in the line of procession, but they were at once drowned in a roar of loyal acclamations; the Turkish ambassador was in the procession, and was uproariously cheered; but the Russian ambassador wisely kept away. The royal speech intimated that an augmentation of the naval and military forces would be required to support the representations of the English government; that a bill for opening the coasting-trade of Great Britain to friendly nations would be introduced, as well as measures for the amendment of the laws relating to the representation of the commons in parliament.' This announcement naturally drew forth from those opposed to the changes thus foreshadowed strong expressions of opinion as to the inopportuneness of the introduction of such a bone of contention at a time when the nation seemed to be on the brink of a great war.

These objections were met by Lord J. Russell, who, as might be expected, was the member of the administration who had taken the warmest interest in the question, and had, not without difficulty, obtained the consent of the cabinet to its being brought forward. He thus justified the course which he had persuaded his colleagues to adopt :

'I cannot think that there is any danger in discussing the question of reform during the excitement of a foreign war. The time that is really dangerous for such a discussion is the time of great popular excitement and dissension at home. It is said that there is no feeling on the subject; that there is a complete apathy about reform. If that really is the case, is it not the proper time to discuss questions of reform, lest in the course of the war there should be times

VOL. III.

a

of distress, when the people should become excited, and large meetings should be assembled in every town, partly crying out for more wages and cheaper food, and partly crying out for an increase of political power ? Supposing we should have the calamity of war, and with it the necessity for increasing the public burdens, is it not a fitting time to enlarge the privileges of the people when parliament is imposing fresh taxes, that in imposing them we may as far as possible impose them on those who have elected us?'

Lord J. Russell concluded his speech with an explanation of the constitutional position of Prince Albert as the consort of the Queen, of the part he took in the public affairs of the nation, and gave a distinct and emphatic denial to those charges of improper interference in the Eastern question which had been brought against the prince.

The reform bill to which Lord J. Russell referred in this speech was introduced and explained by him to the House of Commons on the 13th of February ; and as it may be interesting to the reader to compare it with measures of a similar character that were subsequently brought forward, we give a very condensed abstract of its principal provisions : A. Persons to whom votes were to be given both in counties and boroughs.

1. Persons in receipt of salaries from public or private employments of not less than 1001. per annum, payable quarterly or half-yearly.

2. Persons in receipt of 101. per annum derived from government stock or bank or India stock.

3. Persons paying forty shillings per annum of income or assessed taxes. 4. Graduates of any university in the United Kingdom.

5. Persons who have for three years possessed a deposit of 501. in a savings-bank.

B. Persons to whom votes were to be given in counties. 6. All occupiers rated at 101. per annum residing elsewhere than in represented towns.

C. Persons to whom votes were to be given in boroughs. 7. All oecupiers rated at 61. who have been resident within the borough two years and a half.

Schedule A. Boroughs having fewer than 300 electors or than 5000 inhabitants to be disfranchised:

Andover, returning 2; Arundel, 1; Ashburton, 1; Calne, 1; Dartmouth, 1; Evesham, 2; Harwich, 2; 'Honiton, 2; Knaresborough, 2; Lyme Regis, 1; Marlborough, 2; Midhurst, 1; Northallerton, 1; Reigate, 1:

1854.]

REFORM BILL.

19

Richmond (Yorkshire), 2; Thetford, 2; Totnes, 2; Wells, 2; Wilton, 1. Total, 19 boroughs, returning 29 members.

Schedule B. Boroughs having fewer than 500 electors, or than 10,000 inhabitants, now returning two members, in future to return one member only.

Bodmin, Bridgenorth, Bridport, Buckingham, Chichester, Chippenham, Cirencester, Cockermouth, Devizes, DorchesterGuildford, Hertford, Huntingdon, Leominster, Lewes, Ludlow, Lymington, Lichtield, Maldon, Malton, Marlow (Great), Newport (Isle of Wight), Peterborough, Poole, Ripon, Stamford, Tamworth, Tavistock, Tewkesbury, Tiverton, Weymouth, Windsor, Wycombe (Chipping). Total, thirty-three members.

Schedule C. Additional members to counties. Counties and divisions of counties containing a population of more than 100,000 each, at present returning two members, for the future to return three members :

Bedford; Chester, Southern Division; Chester, Northern ; Cornwall, Western; Cornwall, Eastern; Derby, Northern; Derby, Southern; Devon, Southern; Devon, Northern; Durham, Southern; Durham, Northern; Essex, Southern; Essex, Northern ; Gloucester, Western; Kent, Western; Kent, Eastern; Lancaster, Northern ; Lincoln, parts of Lindsay; Lincoln, parts of Kesterne and Holland; Middlesex ; Monmouth; Norfolk, Western; Norfolk, Eastern; Stafford, Northern; Stafford, Southern; Somerset, Western; Somerset, Eastern ; Salop, Northern; Southampton, Northern; Suffolk, Eastern; Suffolk, Western; Surrey, Eastern; Sussex, Eastern; Warwick, Northern; Worcester, Eastern ; York, East Riding; York, North Riding. WALES: Glamorgan.

Divisions of counties to be subdivided, and each subdivision in future to return three members :

Lancashire, Southern Division ; York, West Riding.

Schedule D. Cities and boroughs to return for the future additional members. Cities and boroughs containing more than 100,000, at present returning two members, for the future to return three each :

Birmingham, Bristol (city), Bradford (Yorkshire), Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Southwark, Wolverhampton.

Boroughs now returning one member to return in future two members. Salford. Additional members, ten.

Schedule E. Unrepresented places to return members in future. Towns containing 20,000 inhabitants to return in future one member each.

Birkenhead, Burnley, Staleybridge. Inns of Court to return in future two members, London University to return in future one member. Additional members, six.

The City of London was to continue to return four members, but each elector was to have only three votes. This was the first step towards the representation of minorities, which has since been more fully developed.

Such was the measure which Lord J. Russell introduced and explained; but in spite of the able and ingenious reasoning by which he justified the introduction of such large organic changes, at a time when the country was entering on a most arduous and doubtful struggle, the House of Commons soon showed that it was not convinced by his arguments, or at least was not prepared to accept his conclusions. Lord John found himself under the necessity of withdrawing his carefully elaborated measure with a mortification he was unable to conceal. In making the announcement, he was so deeply moved, that it was not without difficulty he could finish his speech; but he was in some degree repaid for the sacrifice he thus made, the propriety of which all parties in the House fully admitted, by the testimonies of respect for his character and consistency which were freely given by his opponents as well as by his friends, and by none more cordially or more eloquently than by Mr. Disraeli, who, while strongly condemning the measure, professed the highest respect for its author, whose character and career he declared to be the 'precious possession of the House of Commons.'

Mr. Gladstone brought forward his budget under cir. cumstances strongly contrasting with those by which he was surrounded when he made his last financial statement. War had then been alluded to as a bare possibility ; now it had to be dealt with as an almost inevitable certainty. However, considering the circumstances in which he was placed, the position of the finance-minister was very satisfactory. He had estimated the revenue of the country for the year 1853–4, after all the reductions that had been effected, at 52,990,0001. ; it actually reached 54,025,0001.; thus exceeding his estimate by more than a million. On the other hand, the expenditure had fallen short of his expectations by above a million; so that he had at his disposal upwards of two millions more than he had hoped for. Nothing could be more gratifying than the financial condition of the country at this moment, and it would have enabled Mr. Gladstone to make great progress in fiscal reform if this unfortunate event had not effectually checked his farther advances, and arrested him in the midst of his brilliant career. If it was a source of deep mortification to Lord John Russell to be obliged to relinquish a measure of parliamentary reform on which he had bestowed much pains, it must have been no less

1854.)

INCREASED TAXATION.

21

a

mortifying to Mr. Gladstone to be compelled to abandon his plans of financial reform, and to increase that burden of taxation which he had so successfully laboured to alleviate. One thing, however, he wisely and courageously resolved to do: instead of devolving on posterity the chief share of the cost of this war, as had been done in the case of so many previous wars ; instead of adding to the debt of the country more millions than he had taken from it, he determined, as far as practicable, to raise within the year the funds that would be required to meet both the ordinary and extraordinary expenses of the year; and in order to effect this, he proposed to the House of Commons to double the income tax during the continuance of the war. For the present, however, he only asked the House to sanction the duplication of the tax for six months, reserving to himself the right of making a fresh appeal to it for a renewal of the increased tax if the war should be prolonged beyond that period. He also proposed to increase the duty on Irish spirits by 8d., and on Scotch spirits by 1s. the gallon; to raise the malt-tax from 28. 9d. to 48. per bushel ; and to postpone the reduction of the sugar duties. By these changes he expected to be able to raise 6,859,0001. in addition to the amount yielded by the increased income and property tax, to levy above 10,000,0001. more than in previous years, and to make the annual revenue of the country up to 66,746,0001., which would exceed the anticipated expenditure of the year by more than 3,500,0001. These proposals were very favourably received both by the legislature and the country; and notwithstanding some criticisms of the plan by Mr. Disraeli, it was adopted in all its points. Nothing more fully proves the progress of the wealth of the nation and the buoyancy of its resources than the cheerfulness with which the burdens thus imposed were borne. Before the passing of the reform bill Lord Castlereagh bemoaned the existence of an ignorant impatience of taxation. Mr. Gladstone, on the contrary, might rejoice at an enlightened endurance of taxation.

It may perhaps be thought that a public dinner is an event which ought not to figure in a serious history; and as a general rule the opinion is correct. But when a public dinner has excited the interest and riveted the attention of a large portion of the nation ; when English statesmen

« AnteriorContinuar »