Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

to decide whether the non-resident voters in counties, and the fortyshilling freeholders, for whom Mr. Bright confesses to a very tender feeling, shall not also lose their present privileges. The changes in the constituencies have not been proportionally extensive, but many of the smaller boroughs have disappeared, and it can hardly be doubted but that in any new rearrangement of seats, very few, if any, will survive. Such compensation, therefore, as grew up with our growing Constitution, and which at best was quite haphazard and accidental in its action, must be regarded as belonging to the past; and thus some modification of our system of representation, so as to make it approximate in some sensible degree, at least, to proportional representation, becomes a necessity, unless we accept all the demonstrated evil consequences of majority representation, without such counteracting influences as have hitherto disguised to the ordinary observer its unfair and anomalous character.

The plan of equal electoral districts has been spoken of with favour by some prominent Liberal statesmen. This plan has certainly the merit of simplicity. One elector one vote; each constituency to consist approximately of the same number of electors, and to return one member by a simple majority. Simple enough, indeed; but has the plan any other merit? Will it give a fair representation? Is it fair for the individual elector ?

In the first place, this plan of necessity involves majority representation pure and simple, with all the defects which we have just noted, for the simple reason that a single member is a unit that cannot be proportionally divided. If the whole body of electors in the country were homogeneous, so that parties were divided in about the same ratio in each constituency, the result would of course be that all the members returned would be of one party. But, though there would doubtless be left enough variety among the constituencies to prevent such an extreme result as this, it is perhaps more than probable that what we have seen to be true now of the counties of England and Wales—that they are represented by a number of members of one party altogether out of proportion to the numerical strength of the electors of that party-would then be true of the whole aggregate of constituencies in the United Kingdom. In that case the majority would indeed rule, but the minority would not be heard. Surely this is a result which every reformer, who places before himself any higher end than mere party ascendency, could hardly contemplate without the gravest apprehension.

It is foreign to the purpose of this article to do more than allude to other objections to equal electoral districts. Mr. Bright justly condemns the plan as completely breaking loose from the old lines of the Constitution, 'a change such as comes in a revolution ;' and we are reformers, not revolutionists. The division of a city or large district into wards or electoral divisions would inevitably prove a fertile source of contention and chicanery, whatever machinery were devised for effecting it; for the character of the representation might in many cases be altogether altered according as a line of division was drawn north and south or east and west; and the struggle would be renewed from time to time, as with a growing population the divisions would require periodic readjustments. Lastly, though the plan professes to give equal electoral right to all electors, it could not in reality do so, for the value of an elector's vote would depend on the district in which he happened to reside, his vote counting as nothing if his political views were opposed to those of the party dominant among his neighbours.

The exact opposite to the plan of equal electoral districts is Mr. Hare's plan of one single constituency, or perhaps two or three, corresponding to the great historic divisions of the United Kingdom—that plan which Mr. Bright has declared that he cannot understand, and which he does not scruple to assert that nobody has been able to understand. Although Mr. Bright, if he could divest himself of prejudice, and had the patience to study Mr. Hare's plan in detail, would perhaps find it less unintelligible than he supposes, it may freely be conceded that in its extreme form it is, however theoretically perfect, far too complicated for practical application--at least, until the average British elector has developed a degree of intelligence which is far beyond the horizon of the present or many generations to come.

But the principle of Mr. Hare's plan is applicable to small groups as well as to large; and if it be found necessary, as it will be, to form constituencies to return more than one or two members, it may possibly be found sufficiently simple in working, and as effective as any other plan for securing the best and fairest representation of the constituency that can be attained.

Between these two extremes of single-membered constituencies and a single constituency embracing the whole electoral body and returning all the members, lie all the intermediate possibilities of dividing the electoral body into groups so as to secure a fair approximation to proportional representation, and at the same time not de part so widely from the old lines of the Constitution as to effect a revolution, rather than a development, of our electoral system.

The great mass of our existing constituencies return two members each, and this arrangement admits of only two alternatives-either one party absorbs the whole representation, or else it is equally divided between the two. The first result generally leaves a large fraction of the electors unrepresented, and the other violates the sentiment that the majority should appear as such in the representation. The objections we have pointed out to majority representation apply with their full force to these double-membered constituencies, as indeed the examples of its defects have been chiefly drawn from its working in such constituencies.

There are, however, twelve constituencies, seven counties and five cities, which return three members each, under the limitation of Lord Cairns's clause that no elector can vote for more than two candidates, while the City of London returns four members under he like limitation that no elector can vote for more than three andidates. This system has now been applied in the three elections of 1868, 1874, and 1880, and the following table, in which are placed -ide by side the actual return and what would have probably been the return by majority voting, shows with what results :

[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][graphic][graphic][merged small][merged small][merged small][subsumed][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][subsumed][subsumed][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][subsumed][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][subsumed][ocr errors][merged small][subsumed][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][subsumed][subsumed][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][subsumed][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][subsumed][subsumed][merged small][subsumed][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

Hence, it appears that in the thirteen constituencies, returning forty members, to which Lord Cairns's clause of the Act of 1867 applies, of seats which legitimately belonged to Liberals by the voting, there were saved by the action of that clause three seats in 1868, ten in 1874, and five in 1880, which would otherwise in all probability have been occupied by Conservatives. Further, the Conservative reaction, which would have been measured by the loss of thirteen seats, was actually attended with the loss of six; while the reaction in favour of the Liberals in 1880, which would have been measured by the gain of nine seats, was actually attended by a gain of four; the former, however, leaving the Liberals with a loss of four seats as compared with 1868 and the latter with a loss of two only. Here, again, is clear evidence of the steadying influence of an approximately proportional representation over mere majority representation. But the great value of this general result is that it shows distinctly that a better approximation to a really fair representation than by mere majority voting is practically attainable.

From all the foregoing facts and arguments it appears to follow necessarily that, in the approaching rearrangement of constituencies, which must either accompany or immediately follow the equalisation of the franchise, all single- and double-membered constituencies should be merged in larger ones returning at least three members, while to many constituencies including large centres of population a much larger number should be assigned, the maximum number admissible being limited only by considerations of convenience and simplicity in the voting. Within the limits of each constituency the electors should be free to group themselves according to their political sympathies, instead of being carved out into sections determined by locality alone ; for thus only would be secured to each elector the full privilege of the franchise, which otherwise would be liable to be neutralised by his finding himself an enforced nember of a group in which he was one of a hopeless minority. The particular plan for voting, by which within each constituency the best approximation to proportional representation would be secured, whether Lord Cairns's limitation, or the method of cumulative voting, or some method involving the principle of Mr. Hare's plan, or some other plan which the ingenuity of practical politicians may devise, is beyond the scope of the present article to consider. If reformers are once thoroughly agreed as to the end to be attained, though the invention of the machinery for attaining it will demand much careful thought and discussion, there can be little doubt but that a practically satisfactory solution of the problem will soon be discovered.

ROBERT B. HAYWARD.

AN ECCLESIASTICAL OLIVE BRANCH.

It may seem a romantic quest to be seeking for olive branches within the covers of a Blue Book. But I am hopeful about the report of the large, varied, and powerful collection of representative men who have been sitting for more than two years as a Commission to dissect the grievance connected with our ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and to propose some remedy. The work to which they have set their hands is honest, laborious, and thorough; and if it is cheerfully taken into consideration by the various parties in the Church, and candidly interpreted, it may be found to indicate, as its authors intended, a peace-making solution, and be the healing treatment of a distemperature, already grave, but quite within the compass of judicious remedies. Its authors show that their diagnosis of the disease is accurate, and so they propose a treatment which is at all events sure not to aggravate the malady. Ecclesiastical politics have become matters of such general interest, that I shall make no attempt to offer a history of the growth of the difficulties which have led to this Commission, nor of its own genesis, nor will I systematically analyse its contents, including appendices and evidence. I am, I assume, appealing to readers who are more or less acquainted with the document. It will be enough to review some salient features on which, in fact, its prospects of success must turn, although I shall be compelled at first to touch upon one or two collateral complexities which must be cleared up before the report itself can be profitably approached.

It only requires the most superficial acquaintance with the history of the Church revival of the past half-century to give assent to the proposition that the discontent which has gone on increasing during these last few years, till it has baffled so many clever people, is not a recent grievance. Twenty-three years ago, after the Gorham judgment, the debates on ecclesiastical judicature turned on just the same arguments; and Bishop Blomfield, of London, brought in a Bill to transfer the declaration of doctrine in ecclesiastical appeals to the Upper House of Convocation, which had the support of statesmen like the late Lord Derby and the present Lord Redesdale, but which foundered under the opposition of Lord John Russell's

1 Tue Ecclesiastical Courts Commission.

« PredošláPokračovať »