HC Deb 27 April 1820 vol 1 cc26-38

The Speaker acquainted the House that that House had been in the House of Peers, where His Majesty had delivered a most gracious Speech to both Houses of Parliament, and of which, to prevent mistakes, he had obtained a copy. [See p. 11.] After the Speaker had read the Speech,

Sir Edward Knatchbull

rose. He said, he should take the liberty of directing the attention of the House to the gracious speech which they had heard, for the purpose of proposing such an address to his majesty as should accord with their feelings of loyalty, and their affectionate regret for the loss of his late majesty; and therefore he hoped, such an address as would be unanimously sanctioned by both sides of the House. In discharging this duty he should have occasion to refer to various topics, and he felt that his best claim to the indulgence of the House would be the assurance that he should not encroach at any great length on their attention. On the present occasion he felt particularly anxious that the address which he was about to propose should be adopted by an unanimous vote of the House. The recent accession of his majesty, and this being the first opportunity he had had of meeting his parliament, were, in his mind, grounds of very considerable weight; and, in the present situation of the country, an address from parliament in favour of its established government was of material importance. When he spoke of the government of the country, he of course did not mean the persons by whom the functions of government were discharged, but the constitution of the country itself. In the address which he was about to submit to the consideration of the House, nothing of a political nature would be found to militate against the attainment of that unanimity which was so desirable. On looking forward to the course which ministers might be about to adopt, he meant not to pledge himself, much less the House, if it should agree to this address, to support any particular measures. He could, with great truth, state to the House, that if, in moving this address, he had considered that lie was compromising the principle of any measure that might be afterwards brought forward, he would not have been found to discharge that duty. Before he proceeded to the consideration of the principal points in the speech which they had heard read, it would not be right if he did not advert to the reign which had closed, and to the exalted character of the deceased monarch. At no period had greater events occurred, nor had the nation ever stood on higher ground than during his reign. No doubt there had existed much difference of opinion on the various measures pursued through so long a period of time; nor would he allude to events still fresh in their memories, the mention of which might produce discussion, which, at present, was not desirable. But he was sure that the personal character of his majesty was a source of the greatest satisfaction to the House and to the whole of the nation. During a longer reign than any recorded in the annals of this country, his late majesty evinced an anxious and parental care for the welfare of his subjects, which justly entitled him to the appellation of the father of his people. That his successor, to whom he sincerely wished a long and prosperous reign, would follow so bright an example, they had no reason to doubt. They had heard his majesty that day express his anxiety for the welfare and happiness of his people; and that declaration, he hoped, the House would receive as they ought. He should now call their attention, as briefly as possible, to the principal topics to which his majesty, in his speech, had adverted. And, first, he sincerely congratulated the House on the stability of the friendly connexion between this country and foreign states. After the exertions which we had made, during a long and arduous war, they had heard from the throne the gratifying declaration, that foreign powers were anxious to cultivate the relations of peace with this country. It must be a source of satisfaction both to parliament and to the country at large, to reflect that, after all the sacrifices which we had made, we had secured not only our own independence, but the respect and confidence of foreign nations. The next point of the speech involved a subject which more immediately related to the House of Commons—the finances of the county. They were told, and the assurance gave him great satisfaction, that the estimates for the public service of the year would be speedily laid before the House, and that they had been formed on the strictest principles of economy. They were told that a large military force was still kept up, and that the state of the country did not render it advisable to dispense with those additions which had been made to it in the last session of parliament. In this necessity he also concurred; for he was convinced that the present military establishment was indispensably requisite to the safety of the country. But, whatever opinions might be entertained on this subject, he was sure the House would agree to give that support to government which the safety of the country required. It was, however, the bounden duty of the House to look at the pressure under which the country at present laboured. He spoke as the representative of a large and populous county, and to this principle he looked in supporting the measures of government. At the commencement of a new reign they were called upon to support the dignity of the Crown, as well as to keep up the civil list; and he hoped the House would have no difficulty in assuring his majesty, that they would make the requisite provision for this purpose, especially as his majesty had declared that he resigned entirely to their disposal his interest in the hereditary revenues. His majesty, in making this declaration, had also told them, that no additional expenditure on this ground would be necessary; and this declaration he considered highly satisfactory, not only because it showed his majesty's anxious desire to relieve the burthens of his people by every personal sacrifice in his power, but because it proved that a report which had lately been circulated was destitute of all foundation in truth. He alluded to a report—he knew not with whom it had originated, or from what motives it had been circulated—that in the course of the first week after the meeting of parliament, a large increase was to be made to the civil list. He was happy to congratulate the House on any diminution of the burthens that pressed so heavily on the country; and he was sure that the great reduction which would accrue from the royal establishment being kept at the amount settled in 1816, would give great and general satisfaction. His majesty next told them, with feelings of deep regret, that the machinations of the disaffected had led to open violence and insurrection in many parts of the kingdom; but he accompanied that information with an assurance which they would ah be glad to hear—that the attempts of the disloyal had every where been checked, by the prompt and zealous exertions of the constituted authorities. It was painful to find the country in such a situation; but, however they might grieve at the existence of disaffection, the House of Commons of the United Kingdom would not forget their duty; they would bear in mind, that every loyal subject in the realm looked to them for protection. He recollected that an eloquent gentleman had said, in the last session of parliament, that he did not dread a revolution, but an attempt to bring about a revolution. A horrid attempt had been made, but it had providentially failed. It was not a sudden attempt to which the parties were instigated by distress, but a deliberate plan insidiously and wickedly to overthrow the government of the country; and for this event they had endeavoured to prepare the people, by removing from their minds every moral and religious feeling. He was sure his opinion would meet with the concurrence of the whole House, when he said, that this was a state of things which was not fit to be endured, and which every authority in the kingdom ought to repress. But all that had passed was nothing to what might be expected to follow, if the laws of the country did not resume their efficacy, and if the people were not, by that renewed efficacy of the laws, brought back from the errors into which they had been misled. The House had interests to consult beyond those of the present moment. If it was their intention to support the constitution, they must support it by checking the principles of disaffection which had been so industriously diffused. The constitution of this country was a system which imposed on the people no restraints but such as were necessary to the well-being of the community. But if the character of the country was in danger of being changed, and if a system of immorality and disaffection was undermining the fabric of the constitution, it became the duty of parliament to interpose, and apply a check to the growing evil. Before he sat down, he would say a, word or two on the distress and disturbance which at present existed. That great distress prevailed could not be denied, but he believed there was no person, especially in that House, who was not anxious to relieve it. Whether that question came before parliament or not, or in whatever shape it came, it was essential to the interests of the country that it should be viewed free from all party considerations. The general interests of the country were involved in the question; and, viewing it in that light, parliament might be able to alleviate or to remove the evil of which all complained. He was convinced, however, that, till the country was reduced to a state of obedience to the laws, every attempt to lighten the public distress must be fruitless and unavailing. The first thing to be done was, to establish that point, and to reduce the refractory to obedience; and, compared with that object, every other was of minor consideration. In alluding to the present disturbances, he meant not to lead at present to any discussion on the subject; but he thought that no man, whatever might be his principles, would deny that it was the duty of that House to compel obedience to the laws. In his apprehension, nothing beyond this point was desirables It was neither necessary nor desirable to impose any severe restraints on the people, but merely to enforce those salutary laws which were already in existence. He had now fulfilled the promise which he made not to detain them long; and he begged to return thanks to the House for the indulgent attention with which they had heard him. The hon. baronet concluded by moving,

"That an humble Address be presented to his majesty, to return the thanks of this House to his majesty for his most gracious Speech from the throne:—To acknowledge with the liveliest gratitude his majesty's gracious assurance, that he shall always continue to imitate the great example of our late venerated sovereign, his majesty's beloved father, in unceasing attention to the public interests, and in paternal solicitude for the welfare and happiness of all classes of his subjects:—To express the satisfaction that we feel at the prospect of continued tranquillity, derived from the assurances of the friendly disposition of foreign powers, which have been renewed to his majesty, with their earnest desire to cultivate the relations of peace and amity:—To return our humble thanks to his majesty, for having ordered the estimates for the present year to be laid before us, and for the attention to strict economy which his majesty has been pleased so graciously to assure us has been observed in framing them:—To entreat his majesty to believe that we fully participate in the deep regret expressed by his majesty, that the state of the country has not enabled him to dispense with those additions to our military force, which were found necessary in the last session of parliament:—To assure his majesty, that we shall proceed with the utmost readiness to make such an adequate provision for the support of his majesty's civil government, as may be sufficient to maintain the honour and dignity of the Crown:—To express our gratitude to his majesty for the paternal solicitude for the interests of his people by which he has been guided, in the manner in which he has been graciously pleased to bring this important subject under our consideration; and to assure his majesty, that we shall not fail to enter upon it with corresponding feelings of loyalty and attachment to his person and government:—To make our most dutiful acknowledgments to his majesty for the satisfaction which he has expressed at the vigilance and activity of the magistrates, and the zealous co-operation of all those whose exertions have been called forth to support the authority of the laws, by which the machinations and designs of the disaffected, which we deeply regret to find have led, in some parts of the country, to acts of open violence and insurrection, have been happily suppressed:—To assure his majesty, that while we trust that the wisdom and firmness manifested by the late parliament, and the due execution of the laws, have greatly contributed to restore confidence throughout the kingdom, to discountenance those principles of sedition and irreligion which had been disseminated with so much perseverance, and had so poisoned the minds of the ignorant and unwary; his majesty may securely rely upon our continued support in his determination to mantain, by all the means entrusted to his hands, the public safety and tranquillity:—That, deploring as we all must do the distress which still unhappily prevails amongst: many of the labouring classes of the community, and anxiously looking forward to its removal or mitigation, we feel it to be in the mean time our indispensable duty, to concur with his majesty in every measure necessary to give effectual I protection to the loyal, the peaceable, and the industrious, against those practices of turbulence and intimidation by which the period of relief can only be deferred, and by which the pressure of the distress has been incalculably aggravated: that we concur most heartily in the benevolent wish expressed by his majesty, that an awakened sense of the dangers which they have incurred, and of the arts which have been employed to seduce them, will bring back the far greater proportion of those who have been unhappily led astray, and will revive in them that spirit of loyalty, that due submission to the laws, and that attachment to the constitution, which we are confident subsists in the hearts of the great body of the people, which, under the blessing of Divine Providence, has cured to the British nation the enjoyment of a larger share of practical freedom, as well as of prosperity and happiness, than has fallen to the lot of any nation in the world."

Mr. Wilmot

rose to second the address, and said, that he did not yield to the hon. mover in the earnest hope which he had expressed, that the House would unanimously agree to the address; and he trusted that no expression would fall from him which could in any degree tend to provoke discussion, or interrupt the unanimity of the House. He would avoid the introduction of any topics which might more properly come under the subsequent consideration of the House; but there was one topic on which he could anticipate the unanimous feelings of the House—he meant the demise of our late venerable sovereign. Looking at the period of his accession to the throne in the prime of life and the pride of hope, and contrasting it with the mournful close of his life, when confined within the precincts of his palace, and bereft of that sense which might have mitigated his afflictions, he was shut out from almost all the consolations which this life affords. Whatever difference of opinion might exist as to the policy of the measures pursued during his reign, every feeling of irritation must subside at the contemplation of so awful an instance of the instability of human grandeur. The recollection of the paternal solicitude with which he uniformly watched over the interests of the. people, would secure to his memory the lasting gratitude of the country. His reign, one of the longest in our annals, was distinguished by an event so prominent, as almost to monopolize our attention;—he alluded to the French revolution, an event which might justly be considered as one of the most extraordinary in the history of nations, whether we regarded its origin, its continuance or its termination. It had terminated in a military despotism, which threatened to overwhelm the whole civilised world, but which had been, at length, triumphantly overthrown by the persevering exertions of this country. That great event had occurred in the actual reign of the late monarch, but in the virtual reign of our present sovereign. We had not only the promise of his majesty that he would follow the great example of his father, but we might look back with satisfaction upon its actual performance during the period in which he had exercised the functions of royalty. In adverting to that part of the speech which related to the finances of the country, he felt assured that the House would convey to the throne its gratitude for his majesty's renunciation of his hereditary revenues, and for the principle of strict economy which dictated the arrangement of the civil list. Without entering into a review of any of the measures of the last session, he might express his confidence that the present parliament would be most anxious to support the dignity of the Crown, and the safety of the state, without reference to past transactions. He deplored deeply the distresses still prevailing in various parts of the country, but he deplored no less the advantage that had been taken of inevitable visitations to corrupt the minds of the lower orders, the effect of which could only be to augment sufferings that might otherwise be alleviated. He trusted that the time was not far distant, when the influence of temporary irritation would be removed; and that as soon as existing delusions were dispersed, the disaffected would return to their duty. He could not avoid here referring to the opinion of a most distinguished individual (the late Mr. Burke), whose sentiments upon this subject seemed to partake of the spirit of prophecy; it was uttered in 1791, and was in these words:—"As long as by every art the disaffected keep alive the spirit of disaffection against the constitution of the kingdom, and attribute, as lately they have done, all the public misfortunes to that constitution, it is absolutely impossible that some moment should not arrive when they will be able to produce a pretended reform but a real revolution." What was here said generally might perhaps be applied particularly to the constitution of the House of Commons: for what good could result from the attempts to vilify it? Without entering into any of the questions of reform, and without pledging itself in favour of the abstract projects for its improvement, he was well assured that the House would stand by the constitution, would do all in its power to instruct the public mind, and, by removing existing delusions, establish that national prosperity which was compatible with the present state and formation of the House of Commons. He never could believe that principles of sound political economy could have a fairer chance in a body collected merely to obey the will of the people, and compelled to abandon one course of policy for another at the command of the people, than in a body constituted like that which was now assembled to promote the national prosperity. He was convinced that the House would give the present state of the country its most anxious attention; but lie should be merely aiding the prevailing delusions, if he expressed any opinion but that the distresses could only be removed by the slow but certain process of time, which would invigorate the great sources of wealth, for a moment in some degree exhausted. Notwithstanding unfavourable appearances, there was every reason to anticipate that at no distant period the real and practical blessings of peace would be enjoyed by the whole people. The prosperity and happiness of the community at large, depended upon its sobriety and industry, and he trusted that a conviction of this truth would soon supersede the false and injurious notions at present prevailing among a great body of the manufacturing classes. It was not less his sanguine hope that the unanimous opinion of the House on this subject would have the speedy effect of checking and repressing disorders. In reviewing therefore the various topics of the royal speech, he should be extremely unwilling that any thing should drop from him that might for a moment retard the state he was anticipating: he did not mean to pledge himself against any kind of amelioration or reform, but he protested against the supposition, that the lower class or any class of the community could be benefitted by a general and sweeping alteration of the constitution. The nation was blest with a system of civil polity the most perfect of any age or country, and he believed that the great mass of the people duly estimated it: if the inferior orders, in the manufacturing districts, were once convinced of its benefits, much of the power of the agitators would be destroyed for ever. He concluded by thanking the House for the patience with which he had been received.

Mr. Tierney

said, he was not disposed to quarreh with a great deal that had fallen from the hon. mover and seconder; on the contrary, he agreed with them entirely upon some points; and if at all times he felt it unnecessary to bring forward matter of difference where none was offered on the other side, he should be peculiarly unwilling to do so on the present occasion, when the first speech of a new sovereign was before the House. The fair, cool, and temperate tone of the hon. gentlemen who had just taken their seats, formed another inducement for him not to express any dissent; or, supposing the. speech from the throne had contained any particular phrase, ambiguous or liable to misconstruction, what they had said on the various points would probably have rendered explanation needless. He congratulated the House on the prevailing unanimity; he hoped it was an earnest of the future, and that all parties in the House would unite in the expression of unshaken loyalty to the Crown, and of a firm determination, while the true liberties of the people were supported, to set themselves honestly and steadily against those machinations alike directed against the happiness and security of the sovereign and his subjects. In that direction he would go as far as any man; and beyond that, happily, on the present occasion, it was not necessary to say more. He therefore again congratulated the House on the favourable auspices under which the new session was commenced.

Sir Francis Burdett

said, that he should be very sorry if he were supposed capable of showing any disrespect to the throne, by disturbing the unanimity so desirable on the present occasion. He should certainty be reluctant to do so for the reasons already stated; but he could not at the same time avoid observing, that for some few years past the House had been placed in rather an awkward and disagreeable predicament with regard to the speeches from the throne, Formerly it was expected that they should be a full and fair statement of the whole situation of the country, instead of being frittered away, as at present, into mere matters of form and compliment, in which gentlemen might or might not concur according to the state of their own feelings, and the respect which all ought to feel towards the person of the sovereign, but a non-concurrence in which need not be intruded upon the House when all questions of state policy, and all general principles involving the conscientious opinions of individuals, were so carefully avoided. He could not help thinking that an extreme want of courtesy had been shown by the executive government in not pursuing the wholesome practice of former times—he believed from the Revolution downwards. It might be considered a privilege, and a very important privilege, of the House, that the tenor and nature of the king's speech should be made known to the members on the day before it was delivered from the throne. The custom used to be, for members to attend in the cockpit, where the speech was read; it thus formed the topic of thought and conversation on the evening anterior to the meeting of parliament. By this means gentlemen were able to attend in their places after they had given due reflection to the great topics that ought to form, and then did form, the main features of a speech from the throne. To be called upon, however, to agree in whatever sentiments the minister of the day might think fit to put into the mouth of the king, more especially in the present state and circumstances of the country, was most extraordinary: it was calling upon the House to do a little more than its duty enjoined. In loyalty, and in a love for the constitution, he would yield to no man; he also felt an unfeigned respect for the sovereign: but surely it was a little too much to expect, that, on the first showing of the minister, he should be prepared to say, that he concurred in the various parts of the royal speech. On the spur of the moment he should not like to enter into a consideration of it; nor, by so doing, should he think that he discharged his duty either to the people or to the Crown. When a younger man, and when first this new practice was introduced, he bad proposed on one occasion that the consideration of the speech should be adjourned to the following day: in the present instance, however, he should be sorry even to make that proposition; but he begged, while he consented to the compliment on the commencement of a new reign, to guard himself against being supposed to concur in any of the sentiments of the address, excepting those of congratulation and condolence—in short, in any thing that was not matter of mere and absolute form. He protested therefore, generally against being precluded on any future occasion from stating where he differed, and on what grounds he differed: indeed, one or two points were so prominent, that but for the respect he wished to evince on the opening of a new reign, he should have felt imperiously called upon to notice them; he should, however, reserve his remarks upon them until a future occasion, when they should be brought forward in another shape, and should not disturb the unanimity which it was his wish, as well as that of the House, to preserve.

The Address was agreed to nem. con.