HC Deb 28 January 1818 vol 37 cc88-90
Sir F. Burdett

rose, and said he had some petitions to present in favour of parliamentary reform. He did not know what effect they would have on the proposal which was in agitation to repeal the act which was commonly called the act for suspending the Habeas Corpus. Whatever was done would not alter his opinion respecting that act, and the cruel and atrocious proceedings of the ministers under it, who had used it, perhaps, for the purpose for which it was intended—to put a stop to the great question of parliamentary reform, in favour of which petitions had been presented signed by a million and a half of persons, though many of them had been rejected on the pretence of some defect in form, or because the meaning of the petitioners was presented in printed, and not in written words. He did not much care whether the Habeas Corpus act was revived, whether it remained suspended, or whether it was obliterated from the statute book, since it was reduced to this condition, that it might be suspended whenever the ministers thought proper, or on any pretences which they thought proper to allege. It would be, perhaps, better that it should be obliterated from the Statute Book, for this reason—that the ministers now concealed the real import of their measures under the name of a suspension of the statute of Habeas Corpus; whereas, if it were altogether repealed, the people would be left to the protection of Magna Charta, under which they had the same right to personal protection: the statute of Habeas Corpus affording only a more summary remedy to persons aggrieved. The great body of the people of England who had demanded parliamentary reform, had now found it necessary to proceed cautiously, in consequence of the practice which had been pursued by the government of sending about spies and informers, if not for the purpose of entrapping the people into illegal acts, yet in such a manner that they always took on themselves to entrap those who were unwary. In the 13th year of the reign of Charles 2nd, an act was passed to inflict a penalty of 100l. and three months imprisonment, on every person who should solicit, labour, or procure the getting of hands, or other consents, of any person, above the number of twenty, to any petition for altering matters of church or state. From the disposition which had been shown to revive sleeping laws, the persons who were desirous of petitioning imagined that this law might be put in force against them. The petitioners were not to be frightened out of the course they had adopted to obtain their constitutional rights; but they also were desirous not to alarm the timid and the weak, nor to give any opportunity for the employment of spies and informers, or to bring together large numbers of people, among whom the agents of the ministers might find some whom they might excite to riot, and thus throw discredit on the cause. They had therefore determined, in order to accomplish all their objects, to present petitions, each of which would be signed by 20 persons. The question of a reform in that House, was, in his opinion, the only great and important question which could come before them; and he had therefore thought fit to lose no time in presenting the first of a series of petitions on this subject.—The petition was then brought up and read. It was from Bath, and stated,

"That the petitioners, deeply impressed with the evils that have resulted, and the ruin that threatens to follow, from the injurious state of the representation of the people, entreat the early attention of the House to the question of parliamentary reform; a great proportion, perhaps a majority of the House, so far from being the representatives of the people, are notoriously known to represent the interests of wealthy peers or trading borough-holders, or to have purchased seats in the House for the express purpose of disposing of them to the best advantage to the ministry of the day, one of whom has been himself branded with trafficking in this disgraceful barter of national honour for individual comfort; such a state of pollution in an assembly, which ought to be the source of honour, and the fountain of prosperity and freedom, has entailed upon this injured country all the mischiefs attendant upon a state of corruption so gross, and a dependence so unlimited upon the increased and increasing influence of the crown; and being firmly convinced that a radical reform in the representation, a recurrence to annual parliaments, and the adoption of universal suffrage, are the only means of preventing a fatal revolution, the petitioners ask, from the wisdom of the truly honourable members of the House, those measures, which can alone restore the confidence and secure the tranquillity of the nation."

Ordered to lie on the table.