HC Deb 20 May 1817 vol 36 cc701-4
General Mathew

presented the Petition of a numerous body of the citizens of Dublin, legally and consitiutionally convened, to petition that House for a restution of those rights and privileges of which they conceived themselves deprived by a series of flagitious transactions and political crimes, digraceful to the history of the country, and still more so to the constitution of parliaments. They expressed in the petition their conviction that there existed no longer any fair or free representation of the people in the House of Commons, as constituted at this day. Ireland was now no longer a free country, governed by it sown parliamentary representatives of both Houses. The city of Dublin was not, as once it had been, the free metropolis of independent Ireland—she had, he regretted to say, sunk into the insignificance of a provincial town, remote from the seat of government and the great councils of the nation. However unfortunate they considered the circumstance of their being thus severed from their national council, and from the protecting influence of a domestic government, still it appeared from the prayer of the petition, that they were not altogether without hope, that the system of the representation might be yet changed for the better. The petitioners (continued the gallant general) are not only of opinion that the constitution of this House is not such as entitles it to be considered a fair and adequate representation of the nation, but boldly assert that it was owing to a parliament of their own, constituted as this now is, that the Irish people had lost their independence, and been sold by those who, to their eternal disgrace, had the consummate effrontery to sell the unalienable rights of a nation, until then free, prosperous and independent. The sentiments they entertained of the present constitution of parliament, have been embodied in hundreds of petitions laid before this House. These sentiments are not the sentiments of Irishmen alone—they are the sentiments of Britons also—what is more, they are the sentiments of every British subject out of place, pay, or pension, or the expectation of place, pay, or pension, throughout the empire, to a man. Lord Camden—the illustrious, the titled, the pensioned lord Camden, has expressed it to be his conviction, that a parliament convened as the British parliament now is, instead of being capable of defending the just rights and privileges of the subject, was no more or less than a corrupt usurpation of those rights and privileges. From the operation of such an united mixture of degradation and corruption, what has been the baneful results in Ireland? A degraded nobility, an impoverished gentry, an almost extinguished commerce, traders, in a general state of bankruptcy, and a beggared people. The only remedy for the growing evils appears to the petitioners and to me, the recurring, first, to short and annual parliaments, as has been the case in our earlier history. The Bill of Rights has adopted the idea of annual parliaments, and considers it conducive to the safety and happiness of both the Crown and the kingdom at large. Lord Raymond considers long parliaments mainly prejudicial to the fairness of representation and freedom of debate; as it must be clear, if a man will pay a large sum of money for a seat for three years, he will pay much more for a seat in a septennial parliament. Even Mr. Pitt was a strong antagonist to septennial parliaments, and upon the first proposal of septennial parliaments in the House, it was then admitted, that nothing but the extraordinary state in which the country then was, could authorize the bare introduction of so objectionable a measure. At that period there had been a new right of succession to the Crown acknowledged, and there existed an illegitimate or legitimate, call it which you will claimant on that succession. The country was divided in wishes and in affection—rebellion was apprehended. Where is the justification, then of septennial parliaments now? Where is the rebellion to be apprehended? Yes; you may see it in the terrified imagination of a weak and pusillanimous committee. It may be heard out of the mouths of a ministry full of mischievous machinations to keep in place, and who have succeeded so far in frightening the nobility and landholders throughout the country, that in their present panic they would believe in any old woman's tale—a story of another gunpowder-plot—a warming-pan, or a pop-gun [a laugh]. I have often heard, Sir, of the Bill of Rights, the glory, the boast, of Britons —that they never would be induced or terrified to make a base and cowardly surrender of their birth-rights, as Britons. What are the concessions of to-day but a surrender of those liberties? are not the best informed, and most public-spirited of our public writers obliged to fly from their country on account of the dangers attendant on a free expression of political sentiment in any publication addressed to the people? May not the best and most worthy member of this assembly, after an expression of his sentiments for the public good, this night be apprehended on his way home, dragged from his family, and incarcerated in a dungeon at the will of a minister?—and even in that state of degradation will he not be denied the common right of Britons—a jury of his peers? Has not almost every city, town, and village in the kingdom, protested against this alarming attack on their liberties—against the constitution of this House, which still dares to call itself the representative of the nation? And do the members not sit here nightly voting away the public money, and sanctioning the acts of administration in despite and defiance of those repeated but neglected remonstrances? Nothing will avail, to quiet the popular apprehension, but a radical and speedy reform. Remove, it is said, the ministers. It would be an useless experiment: another ministry, with so corrupt a House to second its attempts on the constitution, would be as dangerous as the present. Remember the words of that great statesman, who predicted, that if the House did not reform itself from within, it would be reformed from without with a vengeance. I have the honour to move that this petition be now read.

Mr. W. Talbot

seconded the motion. The petition was then read and laid on the table.

Sir F. Burdett

rose to present a petition agreed to at a meeting of the inhabitants of Cork and its vicinity, praying for a reform in parliament. The petition touched on the dreadful state of distress which was prevalent in that part of the empire, and prayed for a reform in parliament, as the best means of alleviating the deplorable situation of the petitioners, who compiained, that persons could not leave the country, neither could they procure employment in it.

Sir N. Colthurst

admitted that the meeting at which this petition had been agreed to, was conducted in a very orderly manner—but, as to the persons attending it, he could not say much for their respectability. He had, sometime since presented a petition on the same subject; and though he declared that he could not support the prayer of that petition, he was bound to say, that many of those who attended the meeting were persons of respectability. With respect to the present meeting, he could only say, that it was conducted in an orderly manner.

Ordered to lie on the table.