Page:The House of Lords and the nation.djvu/44

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Coercion.

of Parliament means coercion of the country at large. The Government deliberately intend that the nation should be bound over, hand and foot, to swallow blindfold whatever new arrangement of the constituencies may best suit the caprice of Mr. Gladstone or the deep designs of Mr. Chamberlain. They pretend that their scheme of reform is ardently desired and impatiently expected by the people. Yet, so little confidence have they that their scheme, when it is known, will be supported by public opinion, that they desire to place the country under the necessity of accepting it, before they disclose its details. "Surely,"—as the present Lord Derby observed in the House of Commons in 1866, with reference to this very course of proceeding, when he took a different view of it to what he does at present—"surely in vain is the net spread in the sight of any bird." The Lords, by their recent action, have afforded to the people of England an opportunity of avoiding the net; and if the people, more foolish than the feathered race, reject this opportunity and walk deliberately into the snare, it will have been their own fault and not that of the Upper House. It is just possible, though it appears hardly conceivable, that they will adopt this course, and will even condemn the Peers for warning them of their peril. But if they do, a day of bitter repentance will surely come; and, whatever may be the judgment passed in the immediate present, the verdict of posterity will undoubtedly be that, since the day when they caused the Great Charter to be enrolled on the Statute Book, the Peers of England have rarely done a more signal service to their country than when they insisted that the Government scheme of Reform should be dealt with as a whole, and should be discussed by both Houses of Parliament, and by the nation at large under conditions of absolute freeedom, and not in the baleful atmosphere of coercion.

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