HC Deb 10 March 1818 vol 37 cc945-6
Sir F. Burdett

said, he had several Petitions to present from Warrington for annual parliaments and universal suffrage. The attorney general had last night stated, that those who demanded annual parliaments and universal suffrage, had a design to overturn the constitution. If these persons were conspirators, they conspired in the open day. It had been proved to demonstration, that parliaments had for a long period of our history been held once a year or oftener; there were new writs, and lists of new names, for every session, sometimes two, sometimes three, and in a few instances four sessions within the year, for each of which there was a new election. The statute, that a parliament should be holden once a year or oftner, implied that a new election should take place every session. And when the nature of parliamentary business was considered, that they could not then be corrupted or bribed according to the fancy of the Crown, it was rational to suppose that the members would be dismissed as soon as the business for which they were sent was done. Members did not then expect to mend or make their fortunes in parliament; it was a hard duty and a personal risk (to protect them from which, the privilege of parliament was established), and as soon as they had performed one duty for their constituents, they were not anxious immediately to go again. It would be more difficult to prove that universal suffrage prevailed; though from the language in all ancient writings, and from a variety of incontestible documents, it was probable that something very like universal suffrage existed. He should only quote the words of the old coronation oath,—that the king should govern according to the laws which the people might have chosen—"Leges quas vulgus elegerit." He apprehended that the meaning of the word 'vulgus,' when used in our law books or historical records could not be mistaken—that, indeed, that word had an extensive signification, and that when applied to the right of popular election it could only be understood to imply universal suffrage. But this construction could not be questioned when we considered the application of the words "magnates, barones, liberi tenentes et communes totius regni." For such words in our parliamentary records could not be perverted to any other meaning than that of universal suffrage. He argued, therefore, that this doctrine could not be deemed so novel, so extravagant, or. so contrary to our ancient constitutional habits, as the learned gentleman had last night thought proper to describe it. Thus much he felt it right to say upon this occasion, without meaning to enter at any length into the merits of the principle of universal suffrage, but with a view to pro-test against the repetition of such remarks as had induced him to say so much, and to deprecate the practice which had of late prevailed in answering the petitions of the people, not by fact or argument, but by abuse.

The several petitions were ordered. to lie on the table.