HC Deb 13 February 1821 vol 4 cc608-20
Sir W. De Crespigny

presented a petition from Tadley, praying for an inquiry into the Agricultural Distresses. The petition- ers had instructed him to state, that when a Dutch governor was at the Cape of Good Hope, the salary was only. 2,000l. a year; since which time, however, it had been raised to no less than 14,000l. The whole system of expenditure, in the colonies, proceeded on the same extravagant principle, and under these circumstances, how could any expectations be entertained that the national distress would diminish? The petitioners also instructed him to pray, that her majesty's name might be restored to the Liturgy; and that an inquiry should be instituted into the conduct of ministers. The omission of her majesty's name from the Liturgy, the petitioners deemed to be as illegal as would have been the omission of the name of the king; and they also considered it as having placed her bona fide in a state of excommunication. Ministers might say, that that was absurd, because her majesty had since received the sacrament; but that was by no means a satisfactory answer. Of this he was persuaded, that in Roman Catholic countries, a similar exclusion of a queen-consort from the prayers of the people would be considered a sentence of excommunication.

Mr. C. Calvert

presented a petition, signed by four-fifths of the inhabitants of the parish of St. John's, Southwark. Itexpressed great disapprobation at the proceedings against her majesty, and astonishment that no means had been devised of diminishing the public expenditure, and extending the national commerce.

Sir R. Wilson

expressed his conviction, that by a steady perseverance in petitioning that House, the people would ultimately triumph. He should consider the restoration of her majesty's name to the Liturgy as an act of amnesty. If, on the contrary, ministers persevered in their present course, they must take the consequences, and on their heads would be all the evils that would ensue.

Mr. Bernal

presented a petition from Lincoln, signed by 1030 persons, praying for the restoration of her majesty's name to the Liturgy, and for a reform in parliament. The hon. gentleman explained the circumstances which had induced the petitioners to place the petition in his hands, and supported the double prayer of the petition.

Mr. Sibthorp

concurred in hoping that the House would take the petition into consideration, but begged not to be understood as pledged to the support of either of its prayers. He had never been able to bring himself to consider the proceedings against her majesty as unjust, illegal, and inexpedient; and as to parliamentary reform, he ever should oppose every system, which, under the pretence of reform, threatened to endanger the best principles of our constitution.

Mr. R. Smith

concurred in that part of the petition which prayed for the restoration of her majesty's name to the Liturgy, on the plain ground, that as a lawyer, he could see no legal or constitutional justification for the expulsion of it. To the question of parliamentary reform, he looked with more apprehension of evil than hope of good; and he had determined not to accede to any proposition on that subject, the consequences of which he did not clearly foresee. The hundreds of petitions in which parliamentary reform and her majesty's exclusion from the Liturgy were coupled, showed how unfortunately the latter occurrence had excited the people with respect to the former object. There was not throughout the kingdom a more quiet, orderly, and well-disposed population, than that of the city of Lincoln; and to his certain knowledge, hundreds had signed their names to the present petition, who entertained a sincere respect for royalty, and were indignant at the way in which the dignity of the royal family had been compromised by ministers. A wise government would have endeavoured to conciliate such persons, and not to set up the votes of the House of Commons against law, and the general feeling of the people throughout the kingdom.

Sir R. Heron

presented a similar petition from Holbeach, many of the signatures to the petition were those of persons who had been called upon to sign what were called loyal declarations, and which they did under the impression that those declarations were merely expressions of loyalty. Subsequently, on discovering that those declarations contained a libel on a portion of their countrymen, and were intended to support a faction in the possession of power, they regretted the delusion into which they had been betrayed, and signed the petition which he held in his hand. At a time when so many persons were apprehensive that it would be impossible much longer to discharge the interest of the national dept, the importance of compelling government to adopt that species of retrenchment which could alone be effective, was self-evident. They might talk loudly of the necessity of upholding the national faith and credit; but that doctrine came with a bad grace from those who refused to listen to any measures of retrenchment. With respect to parliamentary reform, every thing that he had witnessed since he had the honour of a seat in that House, confirmed him in the opinion of its necessity.

Mr. Pelham

said, he could assure ministers, that if they calculated upon all the individuals who had signed the loyal declarations as their supporters, they were wofully mistaken. He was convinced that a large majority of the people wished for a change of ministers and of measures.

Dr. Lushington

presented a petition, signed by ten Clergymen of the established church. The petitioners stated, that they had always been taught to believe that the Act of Uniformity regulated the performance of divine service in all respects; and that the power of the Crown, in ecclesiastical matters, was entirely limited and circumscribed by it. He entirely agreed with the petitioners, that the Act of Uniformity had so limited and circumscribed the power of the Crown, which, in his opinion, was prevented from making an iota of alteration in the Book of Common Prayer. If this were not so—if the Crown, by means of an Order in Council, could make any alteration in the established form of divine worship, it would be difficult to say where the exercise of that power might stop. He could conceive no doctrine more fatal to the established church, or more pregnant with national evil than such a supposition. And why? Undoubtedly under the reign of our late revered Sovereign, there was no danger of any such consequences. It was also true, that in his present majesty's reign, no such evil was to be apprehended. But who could tell whether—as James the 2nd desired to overthrow the established church by the introduction of popery—some future king, in his latter days, having spent his youth in profligacy and debauchery, might not be wheedled mid deluded by that class of religious enthusiasts, called Methodists, and, under the influence of their fanaticism, be tempted to endeavor to introduce into the service of the established church that, which, in his opinion, would be attended with much greater evil than any Roman Catholic doctrines? In the petition, there was not one word of violence—not a word disrespectful to that House. The petitioners relate the state of their feelings with respect to the measure of the Liturgy, and conclude by praying that the House would take into its serious consideration the agitated state, in which the worship of the church of England stands; and, that it would restore to the church that peace and concord, so necessary to the welfare of the established religion. The petitioners, by the 55th canon, are compelled to pray for the Queen [hear!]—by that canon, they are solemnly directed to pray for the Queen by name; and yet, by the order of the king in council, they are expressly prohibited from praying for the Queen! That most unfortunate and illegal measure had introduced nothing but confusion in divine service, and excited unbounded disgust throughout the country.

Mr. Lockhart

said, that according to the plain words of the act of parliament, the order in council appeared to be illegal. It was not less so, with reference to history and precedent. The forcible arguments which had been urged on that side were combated by the law officers of the Crown by nicety and subtilty of reasoning, by precedents which did not in any way bear upon the subject. The statute appeared to him to be directory—it appeared to be more than directory—itapeared to be mandatory. But if it left, as was contended, a discretionary power, then ought the law in reference to the Queen to be construed in the most favourable, instead of the severest manner; otherwise the statute should be looked upon as a statute, penal in its nature. Of all judgments, that to an honourable and feeling mind was the most abhorrent, which was called an infamous judgment; that judgment which took away the character of the party, which excluded him from the place of virtuous and honourable society. If, instead of being mandatory, the statute was penal, it ought to be construed favourably—construed, as an ordinary man would construe it, on a fair perusal, and not upon nice and subtle grounds. The exclusion of her majesty's name from the Liturgy was most unconstitutional, and formed a dangerous precedent, as regarded the succession. He complained that ministers had not taken the advice of the twelve judges: instead of which they depended solely on the law officers of the crown. He had intended to move as an amendment to the motion of Mr. Smith, that the question should stand until the advice of the twelve judges were taken: but he anticipated, that the result of that night's deliberation would render any step on his part unnecessary.

Mr. Harbord

observed, that he was not one of those who approved of a secession, under any circumstances, of the members of the English church from their places of worship; but it was a melancholy fact, that such a secession had taken place to a considerable extent. He did not complain so much that her majesty was not prayed for, as he did that she was prayed against. He deprecated the too frequent practice of introducing political matter into sermons. He was sure there was no person in that House but would concur in the propriety of condemning such a prostitution of the pulpit. It was from no political motive whatever that he introduced this subject, but the fact was that he was lately at a parish church with two hon. members, and on that occasion the clergyman introduced politics into his sermon in the most offensive manner. He hoped that through the means of such an humble individual as himself, the practice might be reprobated and discontinued.

Dr. Lushington

presented a similar petion from King's Lynn. He would take that opportunity of stating as a fact, that; a clergyman, who stood remarkable for the active part he had taken against the Queen, had lately confessed that one-third of his parishioners had left the church. The petitioners stated, that the distress and discontent which prevailed throughout the country was to be mainly attributed to the ignorance, obstinacy, and inanity of ministers. He did, from the bottom of his heart, agree in that sentiment. To the conduct of the ministers, and to the defective state of the representation, did he attribute the national misfortunes.

Mr. R. Martin

said, that if the learned gentleman should continue to deal in such broad assertions against ministers, his veracity would be liable to be questioned [cries of order, order!]. He contended, that he was not out of order; that was not veracity which was not true.

The Speaker

thought the hon. member was in the first instance somewhat out of Order; but he had no doubt but that his explanation was highly disorderly.

Mr. Martin

said, he received the decision of the Speaker in the most humble and penitential manner.

Mr. Alderman Wood

presented a similar petition from the lord mayor, aldermen, and livery of Loudon. He trusted, that neither the noble lord opposite, nor the hon. members for Surrey and Somerset, would charge the body that presented this petition with having been paid for their signatures.

Mr. Wilson

said, that the petition imputed to ministers conduct, so infamous, that if it were true, he would feel himself degraded by remaining in his present neighbourhood. He believed it was untrue, and that the noble lord and his colleagues acted from conscientious motives. He had heard much very ably urged on the question of the Liturgy, but whether it was from want of comprehension or not, he certainly went away unconvinced. He thought her majesty was entitled to all the benefit of the proceedings in another place having been dropt; but when he looked to her answers to certain addresses—when he read her Letter to the King, and the communication which she had sent down to that House, he could not help saying, that though she had peace on her tongue, there was war in her heart.

Mr. Bernal

was not surprised that her majesty had refused the provision which that House had offered; convinced as she was of her innocence, she demanded her rights; to have accepted of that provision would have been a compromise of her honour.

Sir G. Robinson

presented a similar petition from Northampton. He did not believe, that any man of sense and sincerity, could lay his hand on his heart and say, that the exclusion of her majesty's name from the Liturgy was not intended by ministers as a mark of disgrace, or that such a disgrace was not a punishment. He rejoiced that she had had the magnanimity to refuse any pecuniary arrangement until that right had been recognised. Her majesty, with that magnanimity which characterized the family from which she sprung, had twice refused to barter her honour for a bribe; and he trusted the people had too much generosity to allow their Queen to be starved at la>t into a compliance with the will of ministers.

Mr. C. Dundas

presented a similar petition from Kintbury, in Berkshire. He hoped the House would grant the prayers of the people, and thereby restore peace to the country, and congregations to the deserted churches.

Mr. Hobhouse

said he had three peti- tions to present, which had much the same object as the others which had been presented that evening. The first of the petitions was from the inhabitant householders of the united parishes of St. Andrew, Holborn, and St. George the Martyr, and owed its origin to a loyal address which had been got up at a select meeting, and circulated for signatures as the address of the inhabitant householders of the united parishes. It turned out, however, that out of seven or eight thousand houses, only 123 signatures could be obtained to this loyal address. The honourable gentleman produced considerable laughter by reading a list of some of the signatures, containing the names of forty persons holding office. Gentlemen opposite might laugh; but he had no doubt, that it was thought no very laughable matter by the parishioners to see this called, in the public papers, a meeting of the inhabitants of the parish. It was, in fact, no such thing; for none but those in the secret were admitted into the room; and, to prevent any others from intruding, tickets were given to those who were to be admitted. In consequence of the address got up at this secret meeting, a public meeting of the parish was called, at which the present petition was agreed to. Its prayer was, that the House would procure the restoration of her majesty's name to the Liturgy, put her in possession of all her just rights, and bring to condign punishment those infamous and disloyal persons who had sought by nefarious arts to degrade and destroy their lawful Queen. The petitioners also prayed for such a reform in that House as should secure to the people a full, fair, free, and equal representation. The noble lord had said, on a very late occasion, that he could recollect when he could have waded up to the knees in the petitions of the "veteran major," as he termed him. All he could observe on this was, so much the more shame for the noble lord, that petitions should have been allowed to accumulate without effect. But, he would endeavour to recall to the noble lord's mind—if, indeed, it were possible that he could have forgotten the circumstance—that there was a time when the cause of parliamentary reform numbered his lordship among its most eager supporters. The House would excuse him if he referred to a document which he had found lately, in turning over some old reform papers. It was in the shape of a protest or declara- tion, and was to the following effect: "We declare that we will regularly attend to our duties in parliament, and be guided in our conduct there by the wishes of our constituents; and we pledge ourselves to support a bill to promote reform in parliament; and also a bill to prevent persons receiving pensions from holding seats in the parliament. (Signed) "Edward Ward and Robt. Stewart." It was dated in the year 1792. In what he now said, he had no intention of hurting the feelings of the noble lord; but he did it to show, that before the experience of age had corrected the fervour and rashness of youth, the noble lord was an advocate of those principles which he now so vehemently decried. He did trust, that the House had at length become satisfied that they ought to attend to the wishes of the people; but the noble lord did not know what the wishes of the people were. Now he (Mr. H.) from mingling more with those classes of them which, perhaps, were most unknown to his lordship, could take upon himself to say that there was a general cry throughout the country, which was once the cry of a very great man, the illustrious lord Falkland;—that cry was "peace;" and until the great object of that large part of the population whom the noble lord and other honourable members called by names that were meant to convey some kind of imputation, sometimes "radicals," and at others "reformers only," was accomplished, peace was not likely to prevail throughout the kingdom. He was of opinion, that a reform must at length take place; and it was better that they should grant that to the reiterated prayers of the people, which at some future day must of necessity be effected somehow. It was in vain for the noble lord to manifest his determination to make no such concession; for as Pym once said to the earl of Strafford, after his elevation to the peerage, "Though you, my lord, have left us, we will not leave you, until we have that head off those shoulders." God forbid, that the House should ever hold such a language to the noble lord! but it was surely well to regard those petitions, which, from all parts of England, prayed for a measure, the necessity of which was not less obvious than its justice. As to the constitution of the House of Commons, he hoped nobody would be of the same opinion as that hon. member for Bodmin, who so happily illustrated it on the preceding night, by saying that the Commons represented the king, the lords, and the people. At that rate, the House of Lords was an entirely useless branch of the legislature, seeing that both they and the king were already represented within those walls. With respect to the king, indeed, the 72 members, who sat there either as ministers of the Crown, or as government officers, represented his majesty very adequately and effectually he would confess; but he believed that there were certain place and pension bills which were supposed to have some effect on the exercise of their privilege of voting. He believed that he might say, that they did not recognise the king's existence in that House; they did not, in form and appearance, recognise him there, excepting through his cabinet ministers; and he doubted whether they had a right to be there, any more than Charles I. had to appear in Mr. Speaker's chair. He again affirmed, that reform must come;—that sort of reform, he meant, which the noble lord supported in 1792. They must concede it. If not, they would have lord Chatham's reform; a reform, with a vengeance, from without. But that it would take place, there could be no doubt; though not, perhaps, so soon as it was imagined by some, or so late as it was anticipated by others. When that time should come, the noble lord could not complain that he had not had ample warning. In the conviction that they must ultimately adopt a radical reform, in fact, he should conclude by moving, "that the petition be brought up."

Lord Castlereagh

said, he would reply to the extensive appeal of the hon. gentleman on one topic only. It was true that he was, in 1790, an advocate for a Reform of the Irish House of Commons, and the hon. gentleman might be surprised, when he said that, notwithstanding the events of the last 25 years, which had been by no means calculated to encourage the general principle of parliamentary reform, under the circumstances in which the Irish House of Commons then stood, he should again support parliamentary reform. He supported it then on the practical ground that a dissolution of parliament did not produce the same effect in Ireland that it did in England. But when in 1793 the constituents were enlarged by the admission of the Catholics to the right of voting, he had stated that thenceforward he should not vote for any parliamentary reform. This would show how far he was from the hop. gentleman's theory of individual suffrage and annual parliaments.

Sir J. Newport

said, it was very true that the noble lord continued to advocate a reform until 1793, when he became connected with office, and from that time it was true that he never advocated any reform. There was a speech of the noble lord's recorded in the debates of the Irish parliament, uttered by him in support of a motion brought forward by his revered friend, and the friend of the independence of his country, now deceased, in which the noble lord declared, that if the Irish House of Commons did not attend to the wishes of the people, they would be reformed from without with a vengeance. That parliament did not attend to the wishes of the people, and the noble lord being put into a situation, in which he could play the reformer, reformed it in a truly radical style, for he altogether extinguished its separate existence. The noble lord had severed the Irish parliament from the Irish people, and the parliament fell. This should be a most impressive lesson to the parliament of England. He who led the parliament of Ireland through its degradation to its destruction, now led the parliament of England through the same course towards the same end. "I speak," continued the right hon. baronet, "from conviction. I have watched him from the commencement: and I conscientiously believe, that he gives and has given the most fatal counsels that any nation can adopt. It is my conviction that the noble lord has such impressions on his mind, that his counsels, if they have influence, must drive the nation onward in the career which was pursued in Ireland; and which ended in the debasement of the parliament, the extinction of national independence, and all the subsequent ruin which the loss of independence had brought upon that country."

Lord Castlereagh

said, that whether the right hon. baronet thought well of him or no, would not break his heart. As to that measure which he had promoted, the union, it must be decided on by posterity, and it might go down for judgment, accompanied with the right hon. baronet's criticism. A more useful member of parliament than the right hon. baronet did not exist, but certainly his irritation hurried him into frequent oblivions of fact, and exhibited him in a manner so little consistent with senatorial dignity. As to the speech which the right hon. baronet had quoted, he did not know where it was to be found; perhaps, in one of those valuable publications in which his conduct was stated, and in which there were comments on what he said or did, to which he was more indifferent than to the remarks of the right hon. baronet. The sort of strain which the right hon. baronet had got into that night, had led him to be very careless as to his statements. The right hon. baronet had said, that he (Lord C.) changed his opinion respecting reform when he went into office, whereas he did not take office in Ireland till five years after he had declared himself against parliamentary reform; for he made his declaration in 1793, and did not take office till late in 1797; so he would leave it to the house to judge of the candour and correctness of the right hon. baronet.

Mr. Martin

, of Gal way, said, he would refer the right hon. baronet to an authority which could not be disputed,—that of the late Mr. Ponsonby. Mr. Ponsonby had declared he would support the cause of parliamentary reform in Ireland, but that on no account would he consent to a reform of the House of Commons in England, which he thought really and truly represented the people.

Sir F. Blake

presented a similar petition from Berwick-upon-Tweed. He said that in all the statements of the petition he cordially concurred. He would take that opportunity of asking ministers a question; but whether they answered it now, hereafter, or never, was of very little consequence. He trusted he had only to state it to enable the House to see its object. If her majesty's name had stood in the Liturgy at the time the bill of pains and penalties was withdrawn (which by the noble lord had been called, or miscalled, a technical acquittal), would his majesty's ministers, under the circumstances of that acquittal, have advised her majesty's name to be expunged from the Liturgy? If they would have advised that her name should be erased, they would have been counteracting the good effect of withdrawing the bill itself; nay, further, they would have done what nobody scarcely in his senses would have done; but "quem Deus vult perdere, prius dementat." If they would not have advised such erasure, the inconsistency of their conduct was more obvious than ever.

Ordered to lie on the table, and to be printed.