Page:The House of Lords and the nation.djvu/41

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37
The Attitude of the Lords.

franchise, leaving the redistribution of seats to be dealt with in the following Session. Nay, more, they declined to give any hint as to what form their proposal for redistribution would take out of the many possible forms in which it might be moulded; except that Mr. Gladstone hinted at the adoption of a principle of increasing the numerical representation in proportion to the distance from the metropolis—a principle which was afterwards characterised by Mr. Forster as being an absurdity in the present day, however proper it might have been in times of slower and more difficult locomotion. It was evidently impossible to predict with absolute certainty that unavoidable accident might not prevent them from realising their intention of carrying a Redistribution Bill in 1884, yet Mr. Gladstone persistently refused to insert a clause in the Franchise Bill postponing its operation until the measure for redistribution should have passed. Had he consented to do so, there would have been no serious opposition to this Bill in either House; but in the absence of that consent, the Conservative party felt it their duty to resist it in the House of Commons. Mr. Gladstone, however, had no difficulty in overcoming this resistance with the help of the majority of the members who were pledged to his support, and the Bill was sent up to the House of Lords and came on for second reading in that House on the 7th of July. The Ministry still withheld their consent to the proposal, that when the Bill reached Committee a clause should be inserted which should ensure that it should only come into operation concurrently with the Redistribution Bill; and the majority of the Lords taking the same view as the Conservative party in the House of Commons, instead of reading the Bill a second time, passed the following Resolution:—

"That this House, while prepared to concur in the principles of representation contained in this Bill, does not think it right to assent to the second reading of a Bill having for its object a fundamental change in the constitution of the electoral body of the United Kingdom, but which is not accompanied by provisions for so apportioning the right to return members as to ensure a true and fair representation of the people, or by any adequate security in the proposals of the Government that the present Bill shall not come into operation except as part of an entire scheme."

A few days later, in order to make it quite clear that their action in declining to read the Franchise Bill a second time was due not to any hostility to the extension of the franchise or even to a desire to delay it, but simply to their objection to the piece-meal method of legislation adopted by the Ministry, the Peers passed the following further resolution:—