Page:The House of Lords and the nation.djvu/40

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36
The Attitude of the Lords.

elapsed. Let us see what is the position which the Lords have actually taken up in this conflict, and what is the justification for that position.

The attitude of the Lords. At the General Election of 1880 the subject of the Lords, of a further reform of the House of Commons was hardly mentioned. During the first four sessions of the present Parliament, no allusion was made to it in the Queen's Speeches, nor was any Bill on the subject introduced. It is permissible to doubt whether if the Ministry had been successful in their general policy, we should have heard anything of the Franchise Bill in the session of 1884. But the country was becoming disgusted with their disastrous failures in South Africa, in India, in Ireland, and in Egypt. Attention must, at all hazards, be drawn off from these failures by some novel and engrossing subject of interest. A mandate went forth from high places; a Radical Conference was assembled at Leeds in the autumn of 1883; and resolutions were passed that the extension to all the householders of the realm of the franchise, which was already enjoyed by occupiers of houses within the limits of parliamentary boroughs, was a question of urgent importance, and required immediate settlement. Ministers professed to be enlightened by these resolutions, and in the fifth session of a Parliament which had not been specially elected to deal with the question, and which was already in the second half of the legal period of its existence, they proposed an alteration of the Constitution which, according to the admission of one of their number, Mr. Childers, would be the greatest which the country has experienced since the Revolution of 1688. This alteration consisted first, of the extension of the franchise, which has been mentioned, and which it was estimated would add 2,000,000 more voters to the existing electorate of 3,000,000; and, secondly, of the redistribution of seats which such an extension of the franchise would of necessity require. This necessity, it may be observed, is admitted on both sides, and has always been admitted on previous occasions when an enlargement of the electorate has been under discussion. Contrary, however, to all former precedents, and to previous expressions of opinion on the part of many of their own followers, as well as the unanimous judgment of the Conservative Party, the Ministry determined to divide their measure into two, and to devote the Session of to the first portion of it, namely, the extension of the