Page:The House of Lords and the nation.djvu/43

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39
Coercion.

should have declined to be parties to a course of action which involved even the bare possibility that the redistribution scheme, which formed the rest and the most important part of the amendment, should be completed by a Parliament having the members of its Lower House elected by constituencies which had no place in the old Constitution, and were not intended to exist under the new one. It is scarcely necessary to point out that this indefensible result must have occurred, if by some accident the Franchise Bill had been passed and had come into operation, and the present Parliament had come to an end, without its having been found possible to pass the Redistribution Bill.

Coercion.The Government were, in fact, fully alive to this contingency, and their attitude towards it furnishes a further and most complete justification of the course adopted by the House of Lords. We have actually heard from the lips of Ministers themselves, what in the absence of their own confession we should hardly have ventured to impute to them, that they deliberately intended to use this risk as a means of forcing their redistribution scheme down the throats of a reluctant Parliament. Mr. Gladstone first threw a ray of light on this point. At a meeting of his party at the Foreign Office, on July 10th, 1884, he said:—"The good will on the part of the Opposition, which we require in order to give a Redistribution Bill a chance, cannot be had unless they know that the extension of the franchise is to take place, and that if they will not have it with redistribution, they must have it without." Sixteen days later, at Manchester, Lord Hartington let the cat out of the bag still further. His words were:—"We are all—Tories, and Liberals, and Radicals alike—required to act in this matter under some compulsion and under some stimulus, if within the next session, or within the next Parliament, or within the next ten Parliaments we are going to pass a Redistribution Bill. Therefore we maintain that the compulsion and stimulus will be provided, and can be provided only by the passing of the Franchise Bill, which will induce men of all parties. Conservatives and Liberals alike, to desire that the next and greater question of Redistribution should be settled at once, should be settled fairly, should be settled by the present Parliament." It is, then, not the Upper House merely, nor the Conservative party alone, but both Houses and both parties that the Ministry are seeking to coerce. Nor is it them alone. Coercion