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a list of things to be done, which the convenience of the country demands, and for which the intelligence of the country is perfectly ripe.
Mr. Bright, as we have said, abandons his repugnance to programmes. With good heart he furnishes the outline of a very fair scheme of work for perhaps more than one Liberal parliament. Besides his familiar gibes at the Establishment, and what ought to prove a weighty sentence about the disorder in the administration of the law, he invited his townsmen at Rochdale to consider the inexpediency of a set of artificial arrangements, expressly sanctioned by law, by which half the number of persons present at the meeting he was addressing would represent the owners of onethird of the whole land of the United Kingdom. He reminded them what ownership means, besides mere enjoyment of moneyrents; and how “this great power over the land and over those dependent on it, is a power which is always at work, which is solid, and requires almost no canvassing, and which brings constant and unceasing pressure upon the politics of the kingdom.” Mr. Chamberlain urged the same question upon the same audience with more detail. Apart from the more widespread and general drawbacks of a land-system under which the nominal owner of land has, on the largest estates in the country, so little incitement and very often so little power or opportunity to discharge the duties of an owner, Mr. Chamberlain made some highly important remarks on a part of the same question, on which his personal experience makes him a powerful authority :
“I venture to say that any one who has had large experience, whether as a member of a Town Council or of a School Board, or any other local authority, will tell you that one of the greatest hindrances to all sanitary work, to all civic improvements, is the difficulty and the cost of obtaining land for public improvements.
. In many cases, when a Corporation is disposed to exercise the general powers it possesses for the good of its inhabitants, it has to go to Parliament to obtain what is called a private Act. In that
process the Corporation flings away many thousands of pounds, and perhaps after all it is unsuccessful. I might tell you of a glaring case, the case of the Birmingham Corporation. A sewage Bill, which was prepared with great consideration for a work that was absolutely necessary for the health and comfort of the borough, and which, after having passed the ordeal of a committee of the House of Commons, was afterwards rejected upon the third reading, owing to the personal influence of two members of the House—one of them at the present moment a member of the Conservative Governmentwho, having exhausted their legal powers of opposition upon the committee, used their position as members of the Legislature to ensure the rejection of a Bill in which they had a pecuniary interest.
But even when you have got your Act, the matter does not stop there. You may be forced to arbitration with the certainty that you will have to pay very much more than the property is worth, and with the risk of loss which is enough to daunt the wealthiest Corporation. I have heard of the case of a neighbouring borough which has been almost ruined in its finances by the enormous prices it has had to pay for land. I know a case in which land worth at the utmost £10 per yard, and required by a corporation for an important street improvement, cost, with the expenses of arbitration, £90 per yard. I have been told that four of the greatest landholders in London refused absolutely to allow their agents to treat for the acquisition of any sites by the School Board of London, and they left the Board to its powers of compulsory purchase with the certainty under these circumstances that they will obtain a great deal more than their property is worth. The development of a town and its institutions is frequently checked in consequence, and it is not too much to say that the comfort, health, happiness, and even the lives of hundreds and thousands of our people are sacrificed to the rapacity of a few landed proprietors. I think it would be only fair that Parliament should declare the purpose for which, and the conditions under which, it will enable the corporations to hold land, and having done that, that corporations should be permitted, without the necessity of going for separate Acts of Parliament, to obtain such land at its fair market value, which should be ascertained by an efficient and impartial arbitrator, holding his court locally like judges of assize.”
The commercial Conservatives must see the expediency of such a change as clearly as Mr. Chamberlain himself. Yet we may be sure that there is extremely little likelihood either of their converting the territorial Conservatives to so rational and civic a view, or of their leaving the rest of the party upon it. The fact, however, that their sympathy is on his side, will some day help a Liberal minister in carrying a strong measure in this direction.
As we have said, Mr. Bright pointed one weighty sentence at the law. The laws of this country, he said, in their complexity, in their entanglement, in their costliness, are a disgrace to a civilised people. But this is not all. It is not merely that the laws of England are themselves a “tortuous and ungodly jumble.” The disgrace is that we cannot get them administered. Such an incident as happened a few days ago, when a woman was described by the judge as having undergone a longer imprisonment while awaiting her trial than she would have deserved by way of actual sentence after conviction, is nothing short of barbarous, and a detestable scandal. There are in the Equity division about four times as many cases as the judges can by any possibility hear. In the other division things are still
Consider the amount of property which is presumably at
stake in these causes, and the proportionate injury that is done by the delay to business, to say nothing of the injury to the mental comfort of the parties in the causes. It is almost beyond belief that such disorder should be endured for a month in the greatest commercial country in the world.
Some philosophers think that a government in modern times should do nothing but preserve the peace and make people keep their contracts. Even those who think this bald limitation of the function of government rather excessive, or even downright bad doctrine, would still very willingly admit that the good administration of the law of the land stands at the head and front of all other duties of governments. Yet this is just the duty for discharging which the existing provision and arrangements are most shamefully and avowedly inadequate. And this is exactly one of those matters which a Conservative government might have been most reasonably expected to set right, because its improvement involves an increased expenditure — which Conservatives usually incur without fear and without odium-because it does not assail any of those classes and interests which Lord Beaconsfield is so naturally proud of making comfortable, and because nothing can be so conservative in its tendency as measures that make people better contented with the law and its officers. Nobody doubts Lord Cairnes's ability, or his willingness in a general way to clothe Justice with more decent robes than the patched and ragged garment that now serves her. But somehow Conservatives seem to find a difficulty in making even such improvements as they might wisely and consistently make. Even when they might act, they do not get beyond make-believe action. Their feet are shod with lead. This is the unhappy necessity of the very doctrine and temperament that make a Conservative. If there are these immense fields of action in land reform and law
rm, in which every lover of good government sees that there is useful work to be done, it is impossible not to perceive that an increasing number of persons in the political world are becoming alive to the incompatibility between a State establishment of religion and the whole spirit of modern government. Lord Beaconsfield said, a week or two since, that it was impossible to get six men to come together to discuss a political grievance. As a matter of fact, some of the vastest halls in the great towns of the north of England have been recently crowded to the roof with eager audiences bent on disestablishment. Even the keen and vehement discussion upon Lord Hartington's words at Glasgow (Nov. 6th) shows, whatever Lord Hartington may or may not have meant, how sensitive public attention is to every breath on the subject. People would be far less ardent in proving that the Liberal leader could not possibly have meant to bring disestablishment within the sphere of practical politics, unless their alarms had made them aware that disestablishment is well within that sphere already. Lord Hartington's words were as far as possible from being those of a party man seeking to re-unite his followers, whistling for a wind, or doing anything else in the way of Taper and Tadpole. They were the criticism of cool and blunt common-sense :-
“I do not intend to take up your time in answering that point [the Burials Bill], but we come to a legislative performance of the Conservative party which raises still more difficult and perilous questions. The Public Worship Act, passed with the assistance of the Conservative Government, involved the relations between the State and the Church. That circumscribed, no doubt greatly in accordance with the wishes and desires of the vast majority of the people of England—but yet it did circumscribe—the liberty of the Established Church with regard to their practice in religious worship, and thereby it did something to take away, in the opinion of many, one of the greatest advantages and merits of the Established Church of England, viz., its wide and comprehensive character.”
Is not this strictly true? At present the Public Worship Act looks a grotesque failure, but it is not likely to remain so, and its intention and purport was undoubtedly to set new limits to that very comprehension which is the one merit that an establishment can have in these times of irrepressible movement and variety in opinion. Who can deny that the Public Worship Act raised, and keeps alive, the “difficult and perilous question”? And who can deny that the Scotch Patronage Act--whether a prudent and liberal measure, as the Duke of Argyll contends, or not-was, as Lord Hartington said, “a step towards disestablishment, because it weakened the connection of the Church, it weakened the tie which bound the Church to the State and the public, as represented by patronage.” All this is exactly what would be said by any neutral outsider, who looks at things with a certain breadth. Lord Hartington deprecates agitation for disestablishment in Scotland, but he “will be no party to an attempt to repress discussion.” He will not oppose disestablishment in Scotland merely because some persons apprehend that this must be the signal for disestablishment in England. It has long been recognised as one of Lord Hartington's characteristics, that he understates his own willingness to advance, and that his word is always less cordial than his act. The advocates of Scotch disestablishment now know that they can count upon him. An acute Scotch critic thus sums up the effect of what Lord Hartington has said:
“No Parliamentary election now takes place without the candidate having to face the question, and while a large portion of the Liberal members are pronounced advocates of a disestablishment
policy, there is not a single one, with the exception perhaps of one member—whose seat, it is understood, is about as good as lost to him on account of his attitude on this subject—who has not declared his readiness to vote for disestablishment when the leaders of the party propose it. Lord Hartington's remarks will give a decided fillip to the movement, and not improbably make it impossible for any Liberal to obtain a seat henceforth without giving a pretty distinct pledge to vote for the reform at once. This may improve the chances of Conservative candidates for a time; but if so, it will only be for a short time.”
a As to what Lord IIartington said of the English question, it would be childish to exaggerate its significance. Nor is exaggeration at all necessary to keep our spirits up. Lord Hartington holds that true Whig theory of government, which has done so much to keep England out of violent revolution. The born Whig keeps no surly dog answering to the name of Conscience or Quaker Ancestor chained up in the back yard, to let loose on any modest Dissenter or Rationalist who comes to the House with his little bill. The Whig theory is that, whatever the majority of the nation really wants that the majority must have. What Lord Hartington says about English disestablishment is exactly what might be expected.
“ That question, in my opinion,” he said, “is not one of the practical politics of the day. It is one of such vast magnitude that, in my opinion, many far more able and far bolder than myself will be at the head of the Liberal party of the House of Commons, and will turn away from the tremendous difficulties that are raised by that Act.”
This, however, is matter of opinion, and in uttering this, Lord Hartington invites or provokes discussion of the point. What he shows is, that the matter is much in his mind, and the effect of what he has said will be to bring it much into the minds of others, and the effect of that again will precisely be to bring the question more and more into the practical politics of the day. Nobody in the world thinks that the Disestablishment Act will pass in a couple of years or so. It is not practical politics in that sense. But it is emphatically practical politics in the sense of being the one political question in home affairs to which the most serious minds of the country on both sides are giving a hundred times more absorbed attention than they give to any other.
November 26, 1877.
END OF VOL, XXII.
ERRATUM.-In Mr. Lowo's article of last month, Lord Blachford's paper was referred to as having appeared in the Contemporary Revier'. It appeared in the XIXth Century.