Page:Dictionary of National Biography. Sup. Vol II (1901).djvu/325

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Gladstone
Gladstone
313

vice franchise, on men who occupied houses and rooms in respect of their employment. Gladstone made a powerful appeal on behalf of the agricultural labourers who would be chiefly affected by the measure. The bill would, he calculated, enfranchise about two millions, raising the electorate from three millions to five. Dealing with the argument that the extension of the franchise should be accompanied by a redistribution of seats, he said that to take this course would overload the bill; but he admitted that franchise must be followed by redistribution. This was the point on which the conservative party, who did not oppose the principle of the bill, elected to fight. On the second reading, which was moved on 24 March, Lord John Manners (afterwards Duke of Rutland) proposed an amendment to the effect that the bill was incomplete without a readjustment of political power. The debate was a long one. Gladstone did not reply till 7 April, when he pledged himself to bring in, and, if he could, to carry, a redistribution bill before parliament was dissolved. The second reading of the bill was carried on the same night by a majority of 130, and after much discussion in committee the bill was read a third time without a division on 26 June.

In the House of Lords the struggle was renewed with more serious results. Lord Cairns, on 7 July, earned an amendment to the second reading, by 205 votes to 146, which had the effect of suspending the bill until a scheme of redistribution was introduced. The refusal of the lords to pass the bill excited much popular feeling, and a procession of agricultural labourers, who marched through the streets of London with hop-poles on 21 July, was received with sympathy. Gladstone announced to a meeting of his party, and to the House of Commons on 10 July, that parliament would be prorogued as soon as possible, and that the bill would be reintroduced in an autumn session. A subsequent endeavour to arrange for the present passage of the bill, on the understanding that the government would not dissolve until a redistribution bill had been passed, was unsuccessful. The prorogation of parliament put an end to the bill.

During the recess Gladstone paid a visit to his constituents, who received him, if possible, with greater enthusiasm than before. Speaking at Edinburgh on 30 Aug. he declared that the lords claimed to force a dissolution, a claim against which he protested. The next day he dealt with the Egyptian question, saying that it was honour and plighted faith which led to the occupation, as the government were bound to carry out even the unwise engagements of their predecessors. At this time the conflict between the two houses showed no signs of a peaceful solution. But compromise was in the air. While Gladstone was in Scotland he went to Balmoral, and was followed by the Duke of Richmond, who soon afterwards received a visit from Lord Salisbury and Lord Cairns.

On 8 Oct. there appeared in the 'Standard' what purported to be the ministerial plan of redistribution. The publication was surreptitious, and the authenticity of the document was denied. But it turned out to have been drawn up by a committee of the cabinet, and, though not a final scheme, it undoubtedly represented the general ideas of the government, and the knowledge of their intentions suggested a way out of the difficulty.

The second reading of the second franchise bill was moved on 6 Nov., when Colonel Stanley (afterwards sixteenth earl of Derby) repeated the amendment of Lord John Manners. Next day the bill was read a second time by a majority of 140; no amendments were made in committee, and by 13 Nov. it was back in the lords. On the 17th the terms of the arrangement, now seen to be inevitable, were announced by Gladstone and Granville. If the lords passed the franchise bill at once, the government would consult the leaders of the opposition upon the details of their redistribution bill before bringing it in, and would then proceed with it forthwith. On the 18th the lords read the bill a second time without a division; but the committee was postponed for a fortnight, to give time for the proposed consultation. In this the government were represented by Gladstone and Sir Charles Dilke; the opposition by Lord Salisbury and Sir Stafford Northcote. An agreement was soon made, and on 1 Dec. Gladstone, in a businesslike statement, explained the redistribution bill. All boroughs whose population was below fifteen thousand were to be merged in the counties. Boroughs whose population was under fifty thousand, and which had two members, were to lose one of them. London was to have thirty-seven additional members, though the city would lose two out of four. The total number of members was to be raised from 652 to 670, England receiving six of the additional eighteen, and Scotland twelve. The representation of Ireland was not to be touched. Boroughs and counties were to be divided into districts, each returning a single member, except the city of London and towns