HC Deb 30 May 1820 vol 1 cc632-4

Mr. Sheriff Rothwell presented at the bar, a Petition from the Lord Mayor, Aldermen, and Commons, of the city of London, in Common Council assembled, setting forth,

"That the great excellence of the British constitution must arise from the independent exercise of the several powers vested in the King, Lords, and Commons; that as the king, by the creation of peers, can add at any time to the members of the House of Lords, if these powers were to unite under evil counsellors, or if by patronage or undue influence they could command a majority of votes in the House of Commons, a despotic power might be established without altering the forms of the constitution; that when the petitioners considered the distressed condition to which the country is reduced in respect both to its agricultural and manufacturing interests, its financial embarrassments and the overwhelming prevalence of pauperism, they are persuaded that for a nation enlightened, honourable, and enterprising, and possessed of vast resources, to have fallen into such a calamitous state, can only have arisen from the want of a due share in the choice of its legislators; that the freedom and purity of election is an essential principle of the constitution, as appears from many of our most sacred laws passed in various periods of our history, especially the third of Edward the 1st, the Bill of Rights, and the second and eighth of George the 2nd,in which it is declared, that the election of members ought to be free; that the election of members of parliament should be free and indifferently made without charge or expense, and that the freedom of election of members to serve in parliament is of the utmost consequence to the preservation of the rights berties of the kingdom; that it has been declared by the House to be a high infringement of the liberties and privileges of the Commons of Great-Britain for any lord of parliament to concern himself in the election of members to serve for the Commons in parliament; that nevertheless, by various changes which have gradually crept into the system of representation, it has become such as to produce a general and notorious violation of these essential laws; about 160 members of the House are said to be returned by a number of votes not exceeding 50 (in several instances indeed by less than 10); about 70 other members each by a number of voters not exceeding 100; about 60 others each by a number of voters not exceeding 200 or 250; also that 81 members of the House are returned by peers possessing burgage tenures, and 150 by the interference of peers, asis more fully and exactly set forth in a petition presented by the hon. Charles Grey in the year 1793, and now lying on the table of the House; that although the bribery and corruption disclosed under the recent prosecutions have met with just reprobation from a learned judge, and have exposed some of those who were concerned to severe punishment, the petitioners are, nevertheless, convinced, that so long as the power of electing so great a proportion of the House is exercised by small and inconsiderable bodies of men, all attempts to secure the purity of election by penal enactments and inflictions must be vain, and that the occasional punishment of a few detected offenders will only be subversive of respect for the administration of justice, and rather tend to the concealment than the prevention of such offences; that the abuses to which the petitioners would call the attention of the House, have produced a most injurious change in the nature of our government, and though the system which has been thereby substituted for the ancient and legal constitution of parliament has been openly defended by persons high in office, under the specious appellation of "The Constitution as it exists in Practice, yet it appears to the petitioners, that inasmuch as it encourages bribery, venality, and perjury, and leads to a constant violation of the laws, as it gives to corrupt traffickers in parliamentary interest that control over the government which should belong to the people, and as it is destructive of that happy union and good agree- ment of the king and people, and of the confidence and esteem which the House ought by its purity to command, the petitioners consider it equally their duty to protest against such a change as to resist any that might be attempted by force or treason; that although the petitioners humbly conceive the extension and better regulation of the right of voting, and the shortening of the duration of parliaments, would be a great and effective reform, they will not presume to recommend any specific plan to the House, but being persuaded that a due inquiry would tend greatly to allay the present discontents, which have been chiefly manifested in unrepresented districts, the petitioners earnestly implore the House to appoint a committee to inquire into the premises, and to take such measures as to the wisdom of the House shall seem meet."

Ordered to lie on the table.