§ Lord John Russell
, in rising to move the order of the day for the House resolving itself into a committee upon this bill, said, he had little more to do than to repeat the sentiments he had expressed when this question was last under the consideration of the House. Upon the necessity of passing this bill of disfranchisement in the particular case of Grampound, he thought there could be no doubt—The only question, then, for consideration was, to what place the transfer of the elective franchise should be made. For his part, he gave a decided preference to Leeds; he thought the elective franchise could not be better disposed of than by transferring it to a large town of that description. By that means the House would at once punish the corruption which prevailed at Grampound, and let into the representation of the country a large class of respectable householders who were at present without the enjoyment of the elective franchise. It was a fact which, on such an occasion as this, required great attention, that out of twelve of the largest towns in England, five were totally without representation in that House. The county of York contained, he believed, 6,000 square miles, and one million of inhabitants, and was represented by only 30 members, while the county of Cornwall, which was in every respect inferior, had 44 members in that House. With respect to a proposition already talked of, to move an instruction to the committee that the transfer of the elective franchise from Grampound should be to the hundreds of Pyder and Powder, that proposition he should oppose altogether. It was agreed 584 that Grampound ought to be disfranchised. That point being conceded, was the House to overlook all the great unrepresented bodies of the country who were most in need of that which this transfer would confer, and fix upon a part comparatively of less importance in the national scale? He was decidedly of opinion that Leeds was the more proper place to fix upon. As to the general question of parliamentary reform, he should reserve himself until a future opportunity; but he could not avoid stating, that the necessity which existed for promoting some reform became every day more apparent; and he trusted that, so far as this bill was involved in the principle of the general question, the House would see the necessity of adopting it as a safe, salutary, and practical measure.
said, he was anxious to state that he concurred in all the opinions which had been expressed respecting this bill by his noble friend, and he was the more anxious not to give a silent vote, because he had on all previous occasions resisted all general, undefined, and, as they appeared to him, visionary plans of what were called parliamentary reform. The reason he approved of the present bill was, that it applied a proper punishment to an acknowledged abuse. Any plan of safe and practical reform, directed as this measure had been, and limited to a proper object, should at all times have his hearty concurrence.
, of Galway, objected altogether to the principle of this bill, and declared his determination to resist it in every stage. It set out with reciting what was an untruth, namely, the prevalence of bribery and corruption at the last general election for Grampound. Now it was known that the two or three last elections which had intervened since the acts of bribery were committed, were conducted in an unexceptionable manner. Whatever, therefore, might have been the former transgressions of any of the electors of Grampound, they had been since amply redeemed by their subsequent conduct. He was hostile to every species of reform, in the manner in which, it was called for by certain persons. In the particular instance of Grampound, before they tried this summary punishment, they should apply the remedy provided by the existing law, and administer the bribery oath. He could not consent to a disfranchisement for ever of the des- 585 cendants of the present voters, merely because some of' the latter had, at a former period, misconducted themselves. As well might they take away the charter of the bank of England, or of the East India company, as deprive Grampound of its right.
§ Mr. Serjeant Onslow
contended, that the improvement in the purity of election, as evinced in the two late elections for Grampound, was to be attributed to the fact of this bill having been hanging over the heads of the electors. The bribery of Grampound was so notorious, that he would, without hesitation, consent to the disfranchisement of that borough. He approved of transfering the right of voting to Leeds, in preference to the adjoining hundreds of Pyder and Powder, which were already fully represented.
approved of the bill, because it went to remedy a practical evil. As to the comparison between Grampound and the Bank of England, he contended, that if a blot appeared on the charter of the Bank, it should not be held sacred, after the powers intrusted to it had been abused. He thought the only way in which parliamentary reform could safely take place was, that wherever an evil was proved to exist, a suitable remedy should be applied.
§ Mr. Lockhart
contended, that it had been proved that the king's writ for the return of members for the borough of Grampound had been regularly construed into a writ of venditioni exponas. He did not object to the disfranchisement of that borough, but he did not wish that the important principle of extending the elective franchise to the payers of scot and lot should be mixed up with the present bill. He was not prepared to say to what place the transfer should be made. Of the particular hundreds he knew nothing, and therefore could not tell whether by making the transfer to them, he should be virtually handing it over to the influence of a peer, or of a few individuals; so that, instead of effecting a reform, he might be perpetuating an abuse. He felt that the representation of this country stood upon too narrow a basis to shield the people, or support the just rights and dignity of the Crown; and he should support any plan which had a tendency to give greater effect to individual property. If the principle of scot and lot were extended, he thought the 586 effect would be injurious to the mixed monarchical form of the British government. The latter would be unable to resist the inveterate pressure of the former. The disfranchisement of Grampound was a distinct question—it was a necessary measure, and an act of political justice.
§ Sir. J. Newport
thought it singular that the hon. member who spoke last should not hesitate to pronounce for a disfranchisement which went at once to blot out two members from the representation, and should hesitate to admit a principle comparatively of minor importance, namely, the settlement of the mode in which their places should be supplied. All arrangements upon that point he thought would come better in the committee than in the present stage of the bill. With reference to what had fallen from the hon. member for Galway, it was of course quite consistent in him, who resisted in limine every approach to parliamentary reform, to oppose this bill in every stage. But he thought his remedy of the bribery oath very extraordinary; for, if acted upon, it could only have the effect of adding perjury to the other crimes of the electors. If the House refused to adopt this bill, he thought they would inflict a greater injury upon their own character, in the eyes of the people, than could be effected by any other means.
§ Mr. Beaumont
said, that he was not sanguine enough to expect this bill would satisfy the advocates of reform in general; but as he thought it would do a great deal of good, he should give it his support. He differed in one respect from the general advocates of parliamentary reform, for he thought that public opinion had a greater influence upon their deliberations than was by many ascribed to it. Instead of Leeds, he should be for extending the right of voting to the West Riding of Yorkshire.
Mr. Davies Gilbert
said, that upon the general question of parliamentary reform he had so often declared his sentiments, that it was unnecessary for him now to repeat them. Suffice it to say, that he entirely concurred upon that question in the sentiments of the right hon. member for Liverpool (Mr. Canning), whose absence he forcibly lamented, and who had: so ably and unanswerably reviewed the subject of Reform in his eloquent speech to his constituents. The practice of the represen- 587 tation in this country had solved a problem which had never before been explained, which was, the existence and co-action of a powerful democratic body with a monarchical form of government. Ancient times furnished no parallel to the long existence and mutual well-being of such contrasted powers. The reason why they had been so happily blended in this country was capable of very clear explanation. The noble lord (J. Russell) in his able speech last session upon this subject, had eloquently said that these different bodies were kept together by a spell, like that in the magical lamp of Aladdin. He would define that spell. It was the tempered action of the aristocracy with the monarchical and democratic bodies in that House. This fine and well-tempered equipoise would be overturned, if they added to the scot and lot right of voting in the country. Popular opinion had been well described to have had its due operation in that House. Indeed, he thought they were rather more disposed than otherwise to adopt the temporary opinions of the people out of doors. On the subject of the present bill, he should only say that he could not concur in the propriety of the transfer of the elective franchise to Leeds from Grampound. The hon. gentleman concluded by moving, "That it be an instruction to the Committee, that they have power to make provision in the bill to extend the right of voting for burgesses to serve in parliament for the Borough of Grampound to Freeholders of certain Hundreds, exclusive of all towns corporate and franchises within their jurisdictions, situate within the said Hundreds, and for limiting the right of voting within the Borough of Grampound."
said, that the honourable gentleman seemed afraid that the country should have a more free and perfect system of representation; now, he differed so much with the hon. gentleman, that he lamented that the people of England did not enjoy a fair system of representation—that the feelings of the country were not fairly represented in that House—that (in the language of Mr. Burke) it did not possess "the spirit or essence of a British House of Commons." The hon. member had acknowledged the gross corruption of Grampound, and admitted that the franchise should be taken from them. But to whom did he propose it 588 should be given—to another part of the country which was uncorrupted by the example of Grampound? No! but to the very hundreds in which that scene of iniquity had been acted. A right hon. gentleman who had been referred to, and whose sentiments the hon. member adopted as his own, had stated, that it was with him no argument for admission to the exercise of the elective franchise, that a district had increased in wealth, commerce, and population. Now, wealth, commerce, and population were generally indicative of the intelligence of a district. He could not conceive, if wealth, commerce, and population were to be no rules for giving the elective franchise, on what principle a national representation could be constructed. The want of representatives at this time for the manufacturing districts was a great practical evil. Every one must have witnessed the increase, especially in the manufacturing districts, of intelligence and activity of mind within the last twenty years; that activity and that intelligence, if not admitted to its participation in the constitution, became hostile to it. The hon. member had told them of the population of Cornwall, and of the hundreds of Pyder and Powder, but he should have told them also of the population of other districts. Cornwall sent forty-four members to parliament, or an 11th part of all the representation of the kingdom; the population of Cornwall was only 1–50th of England. The population of Lancashire, which was about 1–11th of the population of England, had only a 35th share in the representation; and Yorkshire, which had 1–10th of the population of the kingdom, had only about 1–17th of the representation. Cornwall, it would be seen, had one member for about every 5,000 inhabitants; Lancashire only one for 60,000. There was no reason for this undue preference. In 1815, according to the property-tax returns, the real property of Cornwall amounted only to 1–54th part of the kingdom; the real properly of Lancashire 1–16th; and that of Yorkshire to 1–10th or 1–11th. If the hon. member approved of the present plan of representation, he must not only wish that the elective franchise should be given, not in proportion to wealth, commerce, and population, but in an inverse ratio to them. The manufacturing districts certainly felt the want of representatives more than any other; and there were obvious reasons 589 why those districts should have special representatives to refer to. Much of the discontent which existed in those districts would cease, if the inhabitants had regular means of stating their complaints. Elections in those districts would be conductors for carrying off disaffection, which, if not removed, would burst out into some violent change.
§ Mr. Hudson Gurney
said, the hon. member for Bodmin, who had so well pleaded the cause of his Cornish neighbours, when he proposed that the electoral franchise should be given to the hundreds of Pyder and Powder, had omitted to state what they had done to deserve this mark of favour. He contended, that there was no greater tendency to democracy in the members for populous places, than in the members for counties or boroughs. The principle of transfer, from one town to another, had been acted upon in numerous instances, from the reign of Edward the 1st to the reign of Charles the 2nd, a space of 400 years. Within that time 140 places had been added, and 70 taken away from the representation; but as to the principle of transferring the right of representation from a borough to freeholders, where was there a precedent for that? Such a transfer was contrary to all the analogies of the constitution. The freeholders had been wont to return knights of the shires; the freemen of cities, citizens; and burghers, burgesses; but the extension of the right of voting to the freeholders of an adjoining hundred, gave a double character to the freeholders. There was no precedent for any such confusion of rights till within the last fifty years. There was no instance before that of Shoreham,—a measure extorted from the weakness of lord North's administration, and passed by small majorities in small houses. Neither was there, by such a change, any improvement in the theory of the constitution. Through the medium of the boroughs, the colonial and mercantile interests, the army, the navy, the law, did in fact furnish their share of representation to that House. But, when the right was transferred from burgesses to freeholders, a double representation was given to a class already amply represented, to the virtual disfranchisement of all others. The next, instance to Shoreham, was that of Cricklade, in 1782. Lord Rockingham's administration supporting the measure, as tending to establish what was termed in the language of 590 those days a "natural influence:" The third and last borough so thrown open, was Aylesbury. The men of Aylesbury resisted the power of the marquis of Buckingham, and freely traded for themselves. They were reformed, by being thrown to the hundreds, and the return thereby was vested in the two families of Buckingham and Cavendish, who divided the nomination between them; though indeed latterly he understood the electors had thrown off the yoke, and vindicated their own independence. As to the particular case of the county of Cornwall that county had only five or six ancient boroughs—a number, not disproportioned to its relative importance; but there were several small towns, chartered at various times by the earls and dukes of Cornwall, which habitually sent delegates to the stannary courts of the duchy. In the reign of Edward 6th, after the fall of Somerset, the duchy being in the Crown, the duke of Northumberland, in the exercise of the Crown's prerogative, caused writs to be sent to six of these, which writs he accompanied with his famous letters, nominating to the returns in some instances, and in others, commanding the electors to confer with some member of the privy council, as to whom they should choose. Mary summoned two more Cornish boroughs, and the duchy still remaining in the Crown, Elizabeth added the six others, at periods when she was pressed by dissatisfaction amongst the commons, and was haughtily dictating to her parliaments. It seemed, therefore, clear, that, whenever a case did occur, in which any of this disproportionate number of Cornish boroughs should be fairly proved to have forfeited its chartered privileges, every consideration, both of expediency and of precedent, would go to the filling up the vacancy made by its extinction, by the transfer of the right of election to one of those populous places of later growth, which ought, according to all the analogies of the English constitution, to be summoned to send its own representatives to the great council of the nation.
The Hon. J. W. Ward
said, he did not conceive, that by voting for a bill for the disfranchisement of a borough in which bribery was notorious, and for transferring the elective franchise to a populous town, he was any more giving a pledge to what was called parliamentary reform, than he should have done if he had voted 591 for the acts respecting Shoreham, Crick-lade, and Aylesbury. He knew the noble mover was inclined to a more extensive reform, but his noble friend would not consider that he or others who voted for this bill, could be pledged to the support of the larger measure. He would not, for the sake of a small amendment, introduce a sweeping precedent; but where he saw no danger of setting u pernicious precedent, he would not renounce a clear benefit. He said a clear benefit, because the manufacturing districts suffered from the want of representatives, which was to them, not a fanciful or theoretical, but a practical want. There was, indeed, no great body unrepresented in that House; that was, none that was without a sympathising interest and an able advocate within those walls. There were cases in which this indirect mode of representation was the best, as it was effectual, while it was not burthensome to the subject. But when complicated private interests and the fortunes of great bodies were at stake, it was fit that the representatives should be persons under the more immediate cognizance of the represented, and as chosen by them enjoying their more entire confidence. This was a prima facie case in favour of the transfer to Leeds. If, indeed, by extending the franchise to that town, there was a danger of a precedent for changing the whole representation, there would be a ground of objection to it; but when the means of doing what was desirable was forced upon them—when they were obliged to be astute and ingenious in disposing otherwise of the franchise, there could be no danger of a precedent in extending the right to Leeds. He knew that where the manufacturing towns were not represented, their interests were attended to by members for the county in which they stood; but, though this was an alleviation of the evil, it by no means removed it. As far as there was a difference in the character of the classes of the House, there was a difference between the county and borough members. Even, if the commercial interest were strong enough to return a member, it would be so much taken from the agricultural interest, while it was the usage of the constitution that that interest should be represented in the knights of the shires. As under certain arrangements the agricultural interest would be overshadowed, so the commercial would be shackled,—the county members would continue to be 592 chosen out of the circle of country gentlemen, who, though most respectable men, were, perhaps, not the most fitted by habits and education to manage the intricate and complicated business of a manufacturing community. Undoubtedly, if they agreed to the proposition of his noble friend, by transferring the share of the elective franchise, which was estreated by the corruption of Gram pound, to the west riding of Yorkshire, they might add to the respectability of the House, by introducing great landed proprietors, but they would not do the greatest good; they would not avoid the clashing of interests. Within the last century interests had grown up, to which it was to be wished that a more direct representation should be given, not in proportion to wealth or population; to any such apportionment he objected. So much had so absurdly been said of the old constitution, that every man of sense was almost ashamed to found any argument on it; but there was one thing certain, that though there never was a time in which the representation was in proportion to population, or in any other proportion; though they might in vain look for the times when there were no small boroughs under the influence of peers; though they might not be able to realise the fancied scene of free vassals making choice of independent representatives within bowshot of the castle of their lords; yet there was a time when no great and considerable town was deprived of what was in those days considered the burthen of representatives. Our ancestors would be not surprised if they could see the small dependent boroughs of the present day, for those they were well acquainted with; but they would be surprised to see towns, twice as large as their Loudon, without a representative. He was not sanguine as to the effect of this bill on those who asked for that which, if granted, would overthrow the constitution; but if there were any who were not violently bent on a general and theoretical reform, it could not be doubted, that they would be more satisfied if the right were given to a great town. What, it might, perhaps, be asked, was the great defect in our constitution? This:—that our extensive manufacturing towns were not represented. This was a defect so evident, that it must occur to every one—to men, women, and children, he had almost said, upon a moment's reflection. But it required an acquaintance with 593 politics, and a temperate judgment, and no small insight into the less obvious principles of the constitution, to be enabled to ascertain that in fact there really existed no great and disproportionate deficiency in the representation. It must be acknowledged that this question had given birth to a variety of propositions, and a singular discussion; but he was at a loss to understand upon what principles of the rule of succession, local proximity was to be taken as the most reasonable. He could not really understand why the fortunate hundred was to become the heir of the borough deceased. At that rate, if the corporation of London were, by any accident, to become defunct in law, the charter and privileges of incorporation ought to be removed to the nearest village; and, on the same reasoning, if the Bank of England were to be guilty of some fraudulent and improper conduct, such as should forfeit their charter and eject their directors, it might be proper to call in the inhabitants of Thread needle-street, as their immediate neighbours, to take possession. If it were intended to argue, that it was not proper to deprive of their franchise those electors of this borough, who had not been guilty of the mal-practices complained of, he could see the propriety and reasonableness of such a position; but, really, the number of innocent electors was too trifling to continue, on that account, a privilege to them, which might again be abused by the borough generally. He had heard a great deal said by hon. gentlemen, who asked what compensation was to be made to the electors of Grampound, in any case? Why, what had those electors after all? They did possess a good marketable vote that would sell for some pounds, once in every five or seven years; and now, it was proposed by one hon. gentleman, to give them a dry, constitutional suffrage, that would not sell for half-a-crown. Putting out of the question the three cases of Cricklade, Shoreham, and Aylesbury, which were of too modern occurrence to be of much force on such an occasion as this, he must maintain, that the clause proposed by his noble friend was entirely consistent with ancient usage. All those deceased boroughs, which his noble friend had dug up in the course of his patriotic excavations, had much more the air of the real constitutional antique, than the patchwork precedents which had been discovered of a later age. What had been the 594 subject of some complaint against that House, was, that they would do nothing in the shape of a reform or an improvement. For his own part, attached as he was to the constitution, even in its present shape, he would not go out of his way to effect any change in it; but when so salutary a measure might be adopted without the slightest disadvantage, but with a tendency to remedy a defect, on all hands acknowledged (as in the case of the corruption of this borough) to exist, he must give it his support. If he lived in an old and venerable house, where he had been accustomed to reside from his infancy, and a part of that house, ill-built and ruinous, fell down, he should not, in rebuilding or repairing it, feel himself bound to adhere to its original inconvenience and ugliness. So, when reformers asked him, whether the necessity of some change in our representation was not obvious, and why he did not recommend it, he always answered (and perhaps badly enough) "I will not change it at all;" but he must prefer even the chance of effecting some good and giving partial satisfaction, to the certainty of upholding what had become a manifest mischief, and to occasioning entire and universal discontent. On these principles he should support the clause that had been proposed by his noble friend.
said he had no desire to enter into those exact and laboured calculations, which an honourable gentleman had favoured them with, of the precise proportion which the population of the different counties bore to the House of Commons. Whether or no, it was to be proposed that the present system was to be done away with altogether, or whether they were to sit there, as a cortes, to inquire if a more equal system of representation might be adopted, he should only say, that he was adverse, and ever should be adverse, to any general change. But here, as had been said by his hon. friend who spoke last, a practical and certain good was offered and might readily be effected. The hon. member for Galway, alone, had ventured to speak in favour of Grampound. But, could it be fit, after the glaring and undisguised bribery which had been proved to have existed in that borough, that it should still send members to parliament? The cases of Cricklade, Shoreham, and Aylesbury were, in some particulars, essentially different from the present. For himself, he never knew a borough, where 595 corruption had existed, and a cure had been attempted, that did not still retain the principle of its infection. The same borough still continued corrupt. He must here correct, having himself been one of the committee upon the Aylesbury case, the statement of an hon. gentleman, who sat beside him. That borough never was under the influence of any individual, excepting that candidate who brought with him the largest purse. Such was its character a hundred years ago, and such it was so lately as the time of Mr. Wilkes, who, at the period when he was the idol of the people, in the zenith of his popularity, and eulogized for his unsullied and disinterested patriotism, could only induce the electors of Aylesbury to accept of his pound in preference to the guinea of another man.—The hon. member said he could see no reason why, for the purposes of this transfer, the adjoining hundreds should be preferred to any other district. When, indeed, in cases somewhat similar, it was desirable to retain the power, and it was wished to infuse a. purer blood, as it were, into those by whom it was to be retained, such a proceeding might be ail very proper; but the case was entirely different in this instance. It was extremely proper that, when an opportunity offered, so impure an excrescence as this should be lopped off. Here it was proposed to do so without danger; and he would agree with his hon. friend opposite, that they would be opening a door to future innovation, and pledging themselves to adopt such a course in all future times. The very constitution of that House was, that its members were elected by bodies of different descriptions; and it would be wholly objectionable, if it was suffered, that the representation should not be filled up, as at present, but all one way, or all the other. He certainly preferred transferring the franchise to York; because, by that means, they would get rid of another great inconvenience—and that he would explain. He had no hesitation in saying that the number of freeholders in the county of York was so great, that they could not conveniently exercise their elective franchise in one place within the usual time. By the accounts which they had of the last election, contested there, it appeared that the booths to the latest moment were quite full, and that even to the close there were many individuals who could pot poll. At that election no fewer 596 than 26,000 freeholders polled. He did feel that the subdivision of those votes would be a great convenience, in the way which had been proposed by the hon. mover of that clause. He could not suppose, indeed, that they who were clamouring without doors for parliamentary reform, would receive this measure with any great satisfaction. They said the House was so constituted, that it did not represent the people. He perfectly understood their argument, which was for a change in the representation; but if it was for any change, it was for a great and extensive one. It was their desire that all the small boroughs should be disfranchised at once, and they would tell the House, that, by the present measure, it had done little or nothing. The, House, however, must do its duty. It must look to present advantage, and to present opportunity. As to what would give most satisfaction to the clamorous out of doors, it was of little use to inquire; because, whatever the House did, either one way or the other, those persons would immediately discover that it had done the worst thing in the world. He was perfectly satisfied with the House as it was now constituted. They had been told, that if it represented the opinions of the people, it would never have consented to pass bills limiting and abridging the popular rights; but an opportunity had been afforded of ascertaining what the real truth was, because a dissolution of parliament took place almost immediately after the passing of those bills. And what was the consequence? Did it appear from the result of the elections, that the public opinion was against those measures? So far from this being the case, he believed there was not a single instance in which a county member had incurred the displeasure of his constituents by the support of those measures; and, looking to the opinions of those who were most distinguished for property and consideration in the country, he was persuaded that those bills had been and were popular measures. He thought that either the proposition of the noble lord, or that of the member for Northumberland, would be a good practical measure; but he gave the preference to that of the latter.
wished to state the grounds upon which he was inclined to-prefer the measure which had been suggested by his hon. friend under the gallery (Mr. D. Gilbert), The question which 597 the House had to decide was, whether there now existed a necessity for departing from that mode of administering justice against delinquent boroughs, which in former instances parliament had thought fit to adopt? When this question was first brought forward, it came before the House under very different circumstances from those in which it now appeared; and it was formerly argued, that there did exist a necessity for adopting a different course, which necessity no longer existed; for at that time there was another bill, which had made some progress in the House, for applying a punishment to another borough, in the county of Cornwall. That bill had the precedence of the proposition of the noble lord, and the object of it was, to apply to the borough of Penryn the same principle of punishment which had been adopted in other instances. Now, as the case of Penryn was the first brought under the notice of the House, the House could not exclude from its consideration the possible inconvenience which might arise from applying a different mode of punishment to two contiguous boroughs; but as the bill for punishing Penryn was not proceeded with, Grampound, which was then the second case, had now become the first. Whatever were the reasons for supporting the bill against Penryn up to the stages to which it advanced, exactly the same reasons existed for supporting the bill against Grampound. His hon. friend near him (Mr. Ward) objected to the principle of transferring the elective franchise to the adjoining hundreds, and had commented upon the absurdity of supposing that the inhabitants of Grampound would be anxious to exchange a marketable commodity for a dry constitutional right. There would have been some weight in this argument if all the voters for Grampound had been guilty of bribery; but this was far from having been proved, and it was clearly established that some of them were not guilty. Now, it would be peculiarly hard upon the incorrupt part of the voters to deprive them of a right, which the very circumstance of their having kept themselves pure in the midst of corruption, proved that, as they were capable of appreciating its value, so they would be most sensible of the injury of deprivation. It was unnecessary for him to trouble the House at greater length in supporting those principles upon which the House had been accustomed to act in similar cases—principles of ad- 598 mitted efficacy for the prevention of those abuses to which they were applied, and to which he was disposed to adhere, unless an over-ruling necessity could be shown for departing from them.
strenuously supported the principle of the bill. He entered into a history of the conduct of government towards the labouring classes of the people since the time of Henry 8th, and pointed out the justice and good policy of giving to the manufacturing classes their due weight in the state.
§ Mr. Wilmot
thought that the House should confine itself strictly to the consideration of applying a remedy for a specific grievance, and not mix up this subject with the general question of parliamentary reform. It was not even necessary to consider in the abstract the propriety or impropriety of extending the elective franchise to large unrepresented towns. He saw no constitutional objection to such towns being represented, but at the same time he saw the palpable inconvenience of introducing general subjects of reform into the discussion of a measure, of which the object was, to remedy a glaring abuse, and a specific grievance. In applying a punishment to the offending borough, he could not put out of his consideration the moral effect of the decision of the legislature, and he, for one, should not feel satisfied, unless the name of Grampound was expunged from the representative system. He thought it equally impolitic and inconvenient to enter into general topics of commercial distress, and therefore should offer no comment upon what had fallen from his honourable friend who preceded him. His objection to the substitution of the west riding of Yorkshire for Leeds was, that he was not aware of any constitutional precedent for the representation of a riding. He could understand why the west riding of Yorkshire should be selected as a district which might be benefited by more direct representation; but the transfer of the election from Grampound to Leeds, would equally accomplish the object, and, as he contended, in a more constitutional manner. To those who were afraid of letting in the principle of reform, he begged to say, that in that hour, when the royal assent was given to the bill for extending the right of voting for the borough of Shoreham to the freeholders of the adjoining hundred; the principle of reform was admitted and 599 sanctioned in a manner far more innovating and objectionable in his opinion, than by the plan proposed by his noble friend. His right honourable friend below him (Mr. Robinson) had defended the extension to the hundreds, and had asked whether it would be fair to visit those voters who were not guilty of bribery, with the same measure of punishment as the guilty? But this was an inconvenience, for which he (Mr. W.) saw no remedy; and as he was called upon to strike a balance between the apparent injustice on the one hand, and the moral necessity of inflicting justice on the other, he felt himself bound to prefer the latter alternative. The elective franchise was a trust delegated individually, but exercised collectively; and when that trust had been extensively betrayed, the punishment must be general. If his noble friend opposite, in transferring the elective franchise to the borough of Leeds, was prepared to consent to a suitable qualification for the voters, he was perfectly ready to support his measure, and should infinitely prefer it to the proposition of the member for Northumberland for extending the right of voting to the west riding of Yorkshire.
, while he fully concurred in the propriety of applying some remedy, thought the House was bound to look to the consequences which would probably result from the measure which they should now adopt. Looking to the question now before the House as a practical question, he wished to bring it to a practical result. There were not wanting gentlemen who would consider the loss of this measure as so much gain; because, if nothing were done in this case, the refusal of the House to apply a remedy to an admitted grievance would furnish additional ground for complaint. What he wished the House to consider, therefore, was, the practical result of this measure, and in order to secure a practical benefit, he thought they ought not to take a wider range in applying a remedy, than the necessity of the case required. They were bound to look to what parliament bad done in former instances, and to apply such a remedy as was calculated to introduce as little innovation as possible into the existing state of the representation. This was the first instance of a system of reform of transferring the elective franchise: from small boroughs to large and populous parts of the country. His hon. 600 friend (Mr. Ward) had been inconsistent with himself in deprecating parliamentary reform, and advocating the present bill. His hon. friend had said, on a former occasion, that the representatives of Old Sarum were as much representatives of the people as those who were returned by the most populous places; and upon that principle the bill now before the House could not be supported as just or salutary. The way to correct glaring abuses in the representation was, when the mass of the electors of a borough had been found notoriously corrupt, to extend the right to the adjoining hundreds, and thereby make an addition of wholesome voters, to prevent the possibility of a repetition of the offence in the borough. He considered it absurd to grant the right of voting for the county to the uncorrupt voters of Grampound, seeing that they were not freeholders. He thought it bad in principle, and dangerous in its consequences, to act in the present case differently from all former instances, and to go beyond all the precedents before them, in order to hold up Grampound as a terror to others.
§ Mr. Lennard
said, that an hon. member had stated, that no seats had been lost at the last election, in consequence of hon. members having voted for the six unconstitutional bills. He did not intend to contradict the inference that must be drawn from the speech of the hon. member, that the House did not sympathize with the feelings of the people; but in justice to his constituents he must declare that he believed he owed the seat which he had the honour to have, to the disgust which was created among his constituents by the votes of the late members for Ipswich in favour of those bills. With regard to what had fallen from the president of the Board of Control, who had stated that the disfranchisement of Grampound would serve as a warning to other boroughs, it was his opinion that it would have no such effect; he had no hope that it would have any such effect. He was convinced that boroughs of the same sort would, while they continued to exist, act like other hardened delinquents: with the example of punishment before their eyes, they would still go on in their evil courses. With respect to the proposal of the noble lord to throw the elective franchise where it was most wanted, he should have thought there could be no question. Although in former cases the forfeited 601 franchise was given to the hundreds adjoining the delinquent borough, he could see no reason why the House should be prevented by a bad precedent from doing substantial justice. The constitution of the House was formed on the principle of a broad and extended representation, of giving to distinct and separate interests distinct and responsible representatives in that House. If this principle had been carried into effect—if the seats filled with the representatives of decayed and rotten boroughs had been filled with representatives from the great manufacturing towns, would ministers have been able to persevere in that long course of taxation and extravagance which had brought the country to ruin?
§ Mr. Littleton
said, he did hope that a case so clear, so glaring as the present, would be met, not by evasive or Jesuitical conduct on the part of the House, but by that immediate infliction of condign punishment which alone would satisfy the country. If, when a case of plain, unqualified, indisputable crime was brought before the House of Commons, the people of England saw that House temporising, wavering, and endeavouring to sooth with palliatives that evil for which an obvious and an efficient remedy presented itself; if the people of England saw such a course adopted by the House of Commons, it could scarcely create surprise if those people, in the disappointment of their reasonable and honest expectations, did fall into the hands of demagogues, or visionary and vicious schemers. The people of the country were always inclined to act with honesty and justice; and, upon an occasion like the present, the House, he thought, ought to take the lead. The proposal of the noble lord seemed perfectly unobjectionable; it embodied a principle which, serving as an example to future parliaments, might preserve the country for ages to come against the danger to be apprehended from revolutionary sentiments. The objections of the hon. member for Bodmin were not, coming from that hon. member, at all surprising; but he could not see why Cornwall alone should be so peculiarly blessed with electioneering grace. To him it had always appeared most improper and most impolitic, that so many large and populous towns, furnishing so much support, both of talent and of riches, to their country, should remain unrepresented. To him it did appear, 602 that the present motion was calculated to restore to the House of Commons the confidence of the people; that it was a motion calculated to place the House upon the basis of a pure, a liberal, and an enlightened policy.
§ Lord John Russell
, before the question was put to the vote, thought it necessary to make a few remarks upon the objections which had been urged against the motion. In the first place, he should endeavour to rescue his hon. friend (Mr. Ward) from the imputation which the president of the Board of Control had attempted to cast upon him; namely, that any hon. member who should support the present, or any proposition of reform, was exposing the constitution to serious danger; as, if the principle of reform were once admitted, no one could say to what length that principle might be carried: on the contrary, he felt that a member might consistently vote for his proposition, and yet resist any general plan of reform, or refuse his support to any measure of this nature, unless where a similar chasm was created by similar corruption, which chasm it became necessary to fill up. The hon. member for Bodmin had argued, that Cornwall did not, in fact, possess any undue share in the representation; because, truly, only five out of the 44 members returned by that county were actually resident. But this argument admitted of an answer which did not appear to be in the contemplation of the hon. gentleman; for as there was such a number of non-resident members returned for Cornwall, that number was of course taken out of the common stock of representation, and from that common stock it was proposed by his motion to have still two members returned. But instead of having these members elected by Grampound, which had forfeited its rights by corruption, or fixing that right in any part of Cornwall, the freeholders of which were already sufficiently represented, he would have it transferred to a large, populous, and important town, which had at present no direct representative in that House. This town, then, had a right to complain, while no such right could belong to the freeholders of Cornwall, even though the franchise of Grampound, or any other borough convicted of corruption in that county, should be transferred to other populous towns. The president of the Board of Control had objected to the proposed transfer of 603 the right of representation from Grampound to Leeds, on the ground that such transfer would involve a departure from the principle laid down by the House in 1771, and that therefore it proposed an innovation that ought to be resisted. But, if the right hon. gentleman had been a member of the House in 1771, he would most probably have resisted the principle then established, as an innovation also; for it was much more an innovation than that which he had on this occasion submitted to the House, the only difference being, that instead of extending the right of voting to the freeholders resident in the vicinity of a corrupt borough (which measure would still include the inhabitants of that corrupt borough), he proposed to transfer that right to another and more populous district. In acting upon this principle, too, he was acting in conformity with the ancient usages of the constitution. With respect to the argument that it was unfair to propose disfranchisement of all the electors of Grampound, in consequence of the corruption of some, the only answer it required was a statement of the fact that this borough had been, for a series of years, notoriously corrupt. One of the witnesses indeed had deposed that, according to his belief, there were three or four electors in Grampound who were not bribed. But this was all that appeared in evidence to save that borough from the charge of corruption, and could such an expression of belief be urged in favour of such flagrant criminality as had been proved against Grampound? The president of the Board of Control had said, that there were persons who would be pleased with the rejection of the bill, as it might afford them an opportunity of saying that the House discouraged every step towards reform. If there were such persons he could assure the gentlemen opposite, that he had no disposition, whatever, to countenance or support. He would, however, invoke the House to adopt that course of reform which was called for by all the rational, constitutional, and sober friends of liberty, justice, and the country, as the best means of guarding against the views of those who looked for reform through violence and mischief.
§ The amendment was negatived.
§ Mr. Beaumont
then moved, "That it be an instruction to the Committee, that they have power to enable the county of York to send four Members to serve in 604 Parliament, of whom two to be sent from the West Riding, and two from the North and East Ridings of the said county."
§ Mr. N. Calvert
seconded the motion, observing, that if the right of representation were transferred to Leeds, the members returned would not be independent, as they must expect to be turned out whenever they should vote against the opinion or interests of the majority of the clothiers by whom they were returned. Such members must, indeed, support all the commercial speculations of their constituents.
§ Mr. Stuart Wortley
observed, that the objection urged by the last speaker against the proposed transfer of the right of returning representatives to Leeds, would operate equally against the present system of representation for all populous towns—for Westminster, Bristol, or Liverpool for instance. Putting aside all general opinions as to the necessity of parliamentary reform, here was a blot hit; and if a remedy was to be applied, let it be applied in the way best calculated to benefit the public. Now, in giving two additional members to the county of York, nothing was done for the improvement of the representation. Every freeholder in that county had someone present in the House of Commons to protect his interests; but in Leeds, as in other great towns, there was an immense body of persons in the habit of thinking much upon political subjects, who had no organ whatever in that House whereby to express themselves. It was a considerable advantage to the House to have within it the immediate representative of a large body of men, and particularly of a large body of manufacturers. With respect to the county of York itself, did the hon. member think that (as regarded the transfer which he proposed) mere instructions to the committee would be sufficient for his purpose? Much machinery must be put in action before Yorkshire could be divided into two counties. At present Yorkshire had but one sheriff and but one county court; in the event of division, there must be two sheriffs and two county courts. The proposal of the hon. member brought with it many other disadvantages. Yorkshire was accustomed to meet as a whole county, and it was the boast of its inhabitants that it carried with it more weight, from its great extent, than any county in England. 605 True, there were separate ridings, and each riding had its separate lord-lieutenant, and its separate clerk of the peace; hut there were no meetings of ridings. The gentlemen met at the assizes, and upon grand juries; and every where it was a meeting of the county of York, not of a separate riding. It was a mistake to suppose that York, as a county, had a very great number of voters. Upon that point, Yorkshire was far exceeded by Lancashire—Lancashire having 60,000 voters, and York, at the last election, only 26,000. If, however, the House did meditate any thing like reform, a transfer to Yorkshire was not the mode of carrying such an intention into effect. If the House made up its mind to say, "We will not give members to these great towns, but we will give them to the counties," the consequence must be, that the whole representation would fall into the hands of the aristocracy;—there would be nothing but county members and members for nomination boroughs. The plain and obvious course in taking away the right of representation from a town which had fallen into decay was, to give it to some other town which had risen in point of population and of importance. To Leeds, therefore, he should be inclined to transfer the franchise from Grampound. He thought that a representative from that town, as the center of a great clothing country, would be efficient in the House, and he thought that the right of representation would, to the town of Leeds itself, be matter of very considerable advantage.
Mr. Alderman Heygate
supported the extension of the right to the town of Leeds. He thought its adoption would give satisfaction to the country.
§ Mr. H. Sumner
supported the amendment. An hon. gentleman had spoken very properly and impressively of the benefits resulting from an adequate representation of the trading interests. He was aware how powerful that interest was, and that it would secure its own adequate representation. The House recollected the consequences which followed in Yorkshire, when a noble lord, now called to the upper House (lord Lascelles), had ventured to oppose the clothing interest. It so drew on him the displeasure of that interest, that he was turned out of his seat on the next election. He considered it no small additional objection to conferring the representation on a large town rather than 606 on the half of the county, that the expenses of an election for Yorkshire were so enormous, that there were not above five or six individuals in the country who were, in point of finance, capable of entering the lists as candidates. By dividing the representation, the expense of contested elections to the candidates would be considerably diminished, and the representation itself would be rendered more easily attainable, and the number of canditates would, of course, increase.
§ The House divided: Ayes, 66; Noes, 126: Majority against the Instruction, 60. The chairman reported progress, and asked leave to sit again.