Parliamentary Reform

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Issues of Parliamentary Reform

  • Series of reform bill introduced between 1851 and the 1866 appear to have failed 
  • Little public pressure 
  • Middle-class voters were enjoying a period of prosperity 
  • Generally satisfied with the parliamentary system in 1865
  • However, several factors brought about a change in attitude towards the question of reform 
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Changing Attitudes Towards Reform

  • Change in attitude within the political parties and also changes in their make-up
  • Helped to bring about parliamentary reform
  • The old Whig Party was transforming into the Liberal Party
  • Commerical and industrial members had growing influence
  • They sought to extend their political status and power, even if only through the redistribution of seats
  • Gladstone was converted to a belief in reform and began to lead to party this this direction
  • The Radicals in parliament were becoming more effective within the Liberals
  • John Bright increased his influence on Gladstone
  • Conservatives also accepted the need for change
  • Disraeli = degree of opportunism to win wider support of electorate 
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The Conversion of Gladstone

  • Gladstone defended the right of decent working men to have the vote
  • Believed that there was enough evidence to be confident that they would vote responsibly 
  • Offered encouragement to Radical reform groups 
  • Gladstone had become convinced of the necessity of reform 
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The Growth of Interest in the Democratic Ideal

  • American Civil War and the movement for Italian Unification 
  • Seen by many British people as struggles for freedom and democracy 
  • Created a popular surge of interest in reform
  • Visit of Garibaldi to London in 1864 excited the crowds
  • Also quickened the demand from leading Radicals for a revival of interest in British politics and reform 
  • Thousands flocked to hear Garibaldi speak 
  • Authorities clamped down on these public meetings 
  • Angry protests from supporters
  • Led to the setting up of the Reform League 
  • Influential in raising interest in the political debates surrounding the extension of franchise 
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The Reform League (1865), The Reform Union (1864)

  • Reform League:
    • Mainly working class alliance with strong trade union support 
    • Few wealthy middle-class backers
    • Aim was to work towards democracy through universal male suffrage 
    • Programme of radical reform
    • Local branches sprang up in manufacturing towns 
    • Central organisation was sometimes chaotic
    • Able to mobilise its considerable force of trade union members 
    • Make its presence felt
  • Additional pressure came from leading trade union men in the London Trades Council who met in 1866 and started to organise a campaign for reform 
  • Reform League was more active and successful than its counterpart - The Reform Union
    • Created a few months earlier in 1864
    • Largely middle-class organisation 
    • Called for a secret ballot an focused on seeking the redistribution of seats 
  • John Bright encouraged the two parties to work together towards an extension of the franchise for working men, but the class divide created tensions between them 
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Radical Pressure

  • Radicals kept up the pressure for reform both inside and outside parliament
  • John Bright toured the country 
  • Encouraging ordinary men to demand their democratic rights
  • Put forward a convincing arguent on behalf of the skilled workers in favour of franchise reform 
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The Second Reform Act, 1867

  • Death of Palmerston cleared the way for the Liberal government to address the question of reform
  • Gladstone and Russell drew up a Reform Bill
  • Well reasoned and moderate 
  • Had the backing of John Bright 
  • Proposed an extension of the franchise to those in the towns who owned or rented a property with a rateable value of £7 a year, instead of the existing £10 qualification
  • Counties = vote was given to those who rented property valued at £14 a year 
  • Give the skilled workers in industrial towns the vote 
  • Extend the electorate by around 400,000 men 
  • Reform League called a meeting in the Town Hall in 1865 to demonstrate approval
  • However, the Bill was thrown out 
  • Conservatives claimed it went too far 
  • Firece opposition from a group of 40 Liberals led by Robert Lowe 
  • He believe that the skilled workers hadn't proved themselves 
  • Rejected the idea that improving working-class status by lowering the franchise qualification 
  • Amendment = cutting the number of new skilled voters in the boroughs
  • Put forward by one o Lowe's supporters 
  • Russell resigned 
  • Conservatives formed a minority government under Lord Derby 
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The Second Reform Act, 1867

  • The Reform League responded by organising demonstrations across the country
  • Message was clear 
  • The protesters were not going to give up until they had achieved their aim 
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The 1867 Reform Act

  • Introduced by the Conservatives and Disraeli
  • The Frachise was extended in the towns to:
      • All male householders over 21, who had lived at the same address for 12 months
      • Lodgers who paid £10 a year in rent and had lived at the same address for 12 months
  • In the counties to:
      • The forty-shilling freeholders
      • The £5 copyholds
      • The £12 tenants 
  • Redistribution of seats:
      • 53 seats were taken from boroughs with a population of under 10,000
      • 25 seats were given to English counties
      • 20 seats given to larger English towns
      • 8 seats given to Scottish counties 
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Effects of the 1867 Reform Act

  • Number of voters increased from 1.2 million to 2.5 million
  • Roughly 1/3 of the male population
  • No women could vote
  • Greatest increase in voters occured in the boroughs, where skilled workers had the vote for the first time
  • Impact for artisan class reduced because of the limited nature of the redistribution of seats
  • For example, Birmingham was only given 1 extra seat in addition to the previous 2
  • Distribution of seats did not correspond to the size of population 
  • Rural areas remained over-represented 
  • Midlands = under represented
  • Smaller increase in the electorate in the counties
  • Boroughs with a population of just over 10,000 had the same representation as broughs with a population of almost 400,000
  • Increase in the electorate led to both parties improving their organisations
  • Indirectly led to the Education Act 
  • Many thought it expedient to educate new voters
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The Secret Ballot Act, 1872

  • Removed bribery, corruption and intimidation at the polls 
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Gladstone's Electoral Reform (Second Ministry)

  • Corrupt Practices Act (1883)
  • The Franchise Act (1884)
  • Redistribution of Seats (1884)
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Gladstone's Electoral Reform (Second Ministry)

Terms of the Franchise Act (1884)

  • Counties - the vote was given to all male householders over 21 and £10 lodgings
  • A £10 occupier franchise was created for those living in shops/offices
  • The older franchises still applied

Terms of the Redistribution of Seats Act (1885)

  • Boroughs with a population under 15,000 lost both their MPs
  • Boroughs with a population of under 50,000 lost one MP
  • 142 seats were redistributed 
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Constitutional Reform

  • Each step in progress of parliamentary reform = power of the House of Commos increased
  • House of Lords powers were diminishing
  • 1901 = even footing
  • A Parliamentary Bill could be introduced into either the Lords or the Commons and, as long as it passed each of three reading in bth Houses and amendments were considered, it would become a law with the monarch's approval
  • Last word really lay with the Lords
  • Had the power to veto a bill after it had passed the commons
  • Become the custom for money bills to be raised only in the commons and not be vetoed by the Lords, as parliamentary business would be brought to a standstill
  • Commons became more democratic
  • Power of the Lords to veto = questionable
  • 591 members of the House of Lords  - over 2/3 were Conservative
  • Constitutional Crisis of 1901 led to the reform of the House of Lords as a result of the budget
  • Frustrated with Lords' tactics in blocking worthwhile legislation
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The 1911 Parliament Act

  • Sought to end the power of veto of the Lords
  • Proposed to deny the Lords power to amend or veto a money bill
  • Impose a maximum delay of two years on any other act
  • Hold elections every five years instead of the current 7 years
  • Redmond agreed Irish Nationalist support to get the act through 
  • Lords finally passed the 1909 budget 
  • 1911 = Parliament Act was passed through the Commons
  • Lords employed delay tactics
  • Asquith revealed an agreement between George V to create enough Liberal peers to swamp the Conservative peers in the Lords if they rejected the act
  • Threat was enough to convince the Lords to accept the Act
  • Became a law y a majority of 17 votes
  • Triumph for democracy and reduced the power of the Lords 
  • End of political dominance of the aristocracy and marked the ascendancy of the House of Commons 
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