LORD ELCHO AND HIS COMMISSION.
[To THE EDITOR OP THE "SPECTATOR."' SIR,-I am sorry to see you writing in so condemnatory and contemptuous a tone of Lord Elcho and his proposed com- mission on Reform. To myself, as well as to many other of your fellow reformers, who are quite as earnest in the cause as you are, that proposal seems to be one of the most sensible yet made upon the subject. If indeed, as I have heard some say, it be only an attempt to shelve the question, or to postpone any real action upon it sine die, then it is not an honest move. But I think better of Lord Elcho, and I believe he is only averse from doing anything in this direction until we know what it is we do. That the subject calls for a more thorough and complete investigation than any it is likely to receive during a debate in the House of Commons, I think it is impossible to deny. How such an investigation can be secured is the very question now before us, and to which Lord Elcho has pro- posed his answer. If a better answer can be found, let it be given; but till it is given, do not let us sneer at a proposal which at least offers a common ground on which both Liberals and Con- servatives may take their stand together. You seem to think we want no information and no light upon the subject. Surely if you read over the debates on the Reform Bill of last year, or even the provisions of the Bill itself, you can hardly maintain this asser- tion. Nor is the problem before us an easy or a simple one. There is much to do, if anything effectual is done ; and if we only do a little, it will be clear that this little will be but a step and an instalment. It will be a pity, if we make any change, not to make one that will last us for a long term of years. It would be better still perhaps if, establishing the principle of our progress, we might make our future changes only gradual, regular, and anticipated steps in that progress. Now this kind of work—at least in preliminary parts of it —is not likely to be done satisfactorily either by Ministers or members of Parliament. We know how apt they are to construct a measure which is intended only to meet a pressing difficulty, or provide for an immediate occasion. We want something more like thorough work than is allowed by this mode of doing it. We must take broader ground, and a wider area of exploration, and to do this the work must be done, in the first instance, by men specially appointed for the purpose, men who have time to think, and who yet will be quickened into life by the knowledge that their thoughts must lead to deeds, and that the very fact of their consultation will be the herald of approaching action.
Of course any hope of beneficial result from the commission would depend entirely upon the men selected, and upon the nature and limits of their instructions. As to what should be these instructions reformers widely differ. For myself, I should give the commission a much wider range of action than some would think safe or permissible. Many are of opinion that it should' only collect information of existing facts, or what would be facts, if such and such changes were made in the qualification for the franchise.
I would go somewhat farther, and while the commissioners should point out the anomalies, corruptions, and desiderata that came under their notice, I would have them also examine the various plans that have been proposed for the removal of those anomalies, the correction of those corruptions, and the supply of those desiderata. They should not only gather information and compare opinions, but they should themselves give their own best thought to the solution of the problem,—give to it a complete and statesmanlike investigation. And having done this, they should give the result of their labours in a report, to be laid before the country. The attention of all thinking men would immediately be turned towards that report, and the whole political intellect of the nation would be concentrated upon its information and proposals. Light would stream in upon it from a thousand quarters, and the corrections and additions of outside observers would greatly add to the original value of the document. In this way the whole nation would be palled into council, and the subject would be thoroughly ventilated and understood before any action was taken upon it. We should have collected around us ample materials for our work, and should have secured a firm and solid foundation on which to raise it. With this report before them Ministers might then proceed to prepare some distinctly legislative measure, to be laid before Parliament for its consideration and decision, while Parliament itself would enter upon the discussion of it in a very different state of preparation to that in which it confessedly stands now.
As to the setting aside the authority of Parliament by the appointment of such a commission, or as to the impossibility of allowing such a body to make any suggestions or originate any plan, lest it should be assuming to itself a power altogether unconstitutional, I would decline to listen to such objections. We want some good legislative measure on a most important and difficult knA in our Constitution. How can we best secure the construction and passing of such a measure? That should be our only consideration. If you can do it by the ordinary Parliamen- tary machinery, do it by that. But our late experience shows that you will not do it by that. Are we, then, not to do it at all, or to do it ill, because by the ordinary means it will not be done ? This would be red-tape with a vengeance. Let the King of Spain die of suffocation, if the Grand Chamberlain be not at hand to untie his neckcloth? I hope better things of our legislators and. statesmen.—I remain, Sir, yours very respectfully,