HC Deb 31 January 1821 vol 4 cc222-8
Mr. Wyvill

presented thirty-two petitions from the City of York, praying for parliamentary reform. The petitioners were under an erroneous in a pression, that an act of Charles the second made it illegal to attach more than 20 signatures to a petition for parliamentary reform, and therefore it was, that such a number of petitions had been presented. They prayed, for a restoration of trienmial parliaments, and also, that all boroughs where the electors were so few as to give full scope to bribery, as well as those boroughs which were under the influence of individuals, should be considered in the nature of private property and disfranchised, and that the elective franchise should be transferred to large and populous towns. The petitioners were of opinion, and in that opinion he fully concurred with them, that, in order to give the people a fair representation in parliament, the country ought to be divided into equal districts. If any additional arguments in favour of reform were necessary, they had 310 of them, in the vote to which that House had come on the morning of last Saturday. What would the country say, if they went on as they had done? Parliament might be considered the representatives of the congress at Troppau, or of the noble lord opposite—but they could not call themselves the representatives of the people.

Mr. Hobhouse

took that opportunity to ask, at what period the hon. member for Durham intended bringing forward his motion on the subject of parliamentary reform, which he had been induced to postpone last Session.

Mr. Lambton

said, that he last year postponed his motion from a feeling, that in the then state of the country, the subject was not likely to meet with that calm and serious discussion which it required. For the same reason, he now gave notice, that he would, on the 10th of April, bring his motion, as, by that time, he trusted the question might be introduced with the best hope of success which it was ever likely to have in that House.

Mr. Grenfell

entreated the indulgence of the House whilst he submitted to their notice a few observations connected with the subject then before them. From the first clay that he had had the honour of a seat in parliament, now nearly twenty years ago, he had uniformly opposed every motion of a general undefined nature for parliamentary reform. He had done so because it was his conscientious belief, that, whatever blemishes might appear to exist in theory in our representative system, in practice it worked beneficially for the country, and secured to it as many advantages as were enjoyed in any other country in Europe. With those impressions, and he might say, with those convictions, on his mind, he had never consented to put at risk, for any theoretical benefits, that constitution which con- tained in itself so much solid practicable good. That system had appeared to him so beneficial, that he had determined never to abandon it, unless another was presented to him which offered something like a moral certainty of producing consequences still more beneficial. Another reason which had directed his public conduct, was this: he had perceived, that whatever were the principles upon which elections were conducted, whatever were the channels through which honourable members passed to their seats in parliament, the House had acted, upon all the questions of general policy, under the influence of public opinion, and that its decisions had always been in unison with the public sympathy. Such had been his impressions and convictions; but he must now confess—and it was with feelings of great pain that he made the confession—that after the vote to which the house had come on Saturday morning last, on the great subject which agitated the public mind, the principles and opinions on which he had hitherto acted had been very considerably shaken. Could any man who paid the slightest attention to public affairs assert, that the outcry which had existed for the last twelve months against ministers, for erasing her majesty's name from the Liturgy upon such grounds as they had alleged in their defence, was mere popular clamour and delusion? If ever there was a subject upon which the public opinion of this country had manifested itself, it was that upon which the House had, on Saturday morning last, come to a vote—a vote which had convinced him, that the House was acting not under but against public opinion. After such an occurrence, he was anxious to express the change of opinion which had been effected in him. He trusted, that the session would not be allowed to pass away without some gentleman of weight and consideration in the country coming forward to propose such a moderate plan of reform as a moderate man like himself would be able to support.

Mr. Philips

observed, that the avowal which his hon. friend, had made of his change of opinion on the vital question of reform, was exactly what he should have expected from his well-known candour. The vote to which the House had come on Saturday last, had made more reformers than any other within his knowledge; Mr. Burke had said, that the spirit and essence of the House of Commons depended upon its being the representative of the people, and had even proceeded so far as to assert, that a want of sympathy with the people made it cease to be a House of Commons. For his own part, he was convinced, that there never had been any period since the administration of lord North in which the public opinion had set in so strong a current against ministers sis it did at the present moment; and yet, though nineteen out of every twenty men in the community were decidedly against the present ministers, a majority of the House of Commons had determined to support them. It would not be consistent with order to say, that they were not the House of Commons—that they were not the representatives of the people: but this he could say, and still be consistent with order, that, according to the principles of Mr. Burke, they were neither one nor the other. A reform in parliament was now most urgently demanded; and though he was not inclined to indulge much in gloomy reflections, he must say, that he looked forward to the establishment of a despotism, unless some amendment were made in the election of the House of Commons, and some diminution took place of the present inordinate influence of the Crown.

Mr. Stuart Wortley

said, he saw the vote of the other night in a very different point of view from that in which the lion, members had seen it who preceded him. So far from its being in direct contravention of public opinion it was a powerful expression of the public wishes on that subject. He begged, that he might not be misrepresented in what he had just said. He knew well in what manner the feeling of the country had been excited on the question; but if he were to be asked what was the wish of the country upon it, he would say, that it was, that the matter should be put entirely at rest, without any further persecution of her majesty, but with a strict care, at the same time, that her majesty should not triumph over any other party. In the vote which had been given on a former night, gentlemen had not looked so much at the justice or injustice of the particular question then before them, as to the point to which it was directed; and it was impossible to deny, that those who had voted for it had wished to use it as a means for turning out the present ministers and putting others into their places. Now, he was sure, the country had not sufficient confidence in any other set of public men to put them in the places of the present ministers—it had no confidence at all in gentlemen on the other side. Though the ministers had suffered much in the public estimation during the last six months, they had not yet lost the public confidence so much as to reconcile the country to having the gentlemen opposite to him as their successors.

Mr. Baring

was surprised at hearing hon. gentlemen inform the House, that the reason why they voted against the motion of his noble friend on a late occasion was, not that they thought, that ministers had acted rightly, but, that they thought, that no other set of men were to be found worthy of public confidence. Now, he, who was an humble individual, and without any inclination or pretensions to become a minister, would beg leave to ask them, what justification they had found in that averment, either for the votes which they had given, or for the administration which they had upheld? It was impossible not to perceive the shock which the loyalists, and even the ultra-loyalists, in all parts of the country, had received from the late unparalleled proceedings of ministers against the Queen; and surely they ought to be considered reprehensible for the manner in which they had impaired the attachment of the people to their constitution and their laws. Besides, it was a calumny upon the country to say—Though I cannot support the present ministers, yet I will keep them in their places for this and for no other reason—that I know of none who could fill them better."—He concurred in what had fallen from his hon. friend, the member for Penryn, regarding the necessity of some reform in parliament. He, too, had once a strong feeling against reform, but, he was now convinced, that if the House did not, in the course of the session, express some opinion in sympathy with that of the people, as to the degrading character of the late persecution of her majesty, it would do more to condemn the manner in which the House of Commons, as at present constituted, was formed, than all the speeches which had been delivered by all the demagogues from the beginning of time. He concluded by reminding those members who opposed all motions for improving the present system of representation, that it was their especial duty to pursue such a line of conduct as would convince the country, that they were acting in unison and not in opposition with its wishes (Hear).

Sir R. Wilson

concurred with the hon. member for Yorkshire, in thinking, that the wish of the country was, that the question of the Queen should be set at rest for ever, and that there should be no triumph over another party; But in saying this, he could not help observing, that the hon. member had presumed resistance in another party; for if there were no resistance, there could be no triumph. Now, he believed, that there was no resistance in the quarter to which allusion had been made; and he called upon the noble lord opposite and his colleagues to declare, whether the non-restoration of the Queen's name to the Liturgy was or was not, he would not merely say ministerially, but personally, their own act. He was sure, that the noble lord, undeterred by any obloquy that might befal the advisers of the measure, would say, that it was ministers who had advised it, and would confess, that the act of reinstating her majesty's name in the Liturgy—an act fervently prayed for by millions—would have been, nay actually was performed, had it not been for their interference. He therefore wished to remind gentlemen, when they were opposing the restoration of her majesty's name to the Liturgy, that they were not respecting the feelings of a certain quarter, but the feelings of men who had shown themselves perfectly incapable to manage the interests of a great and powerful nation.

Mr. Butterworth

said, he had voted the other night for the insertion of her majesty's name in the Liturgy, and his reason for so doing was, that she had been prayed for as princess of Wales, and he considered, that her name, when she became Queen, had been omitted unconstitutionally and without trial. He had treated the question as an abstract one, without reference to the guilt or innocence of her majesty.

Sir Francis Blake

commented on the charges of disloyalty which had been brought against the people for their conduct during the late prosecution of the Queen; and said, that to degrade the king by insulting his Queen was now considered the best proof of loyalty. The present was styled the age of revolution; and he should not be surprised if ministers had adopted their recent proceed- ings with a view of promoting one in this country. The principle of their conduct against the Queen was unjust, because by it punishment preceded trial. In reparation of their conduct let a royal palace be tendered to her and a liberal provision.

Mr. Serjeant Onslow

disclaimed the motives on which the hon. member for Yorkshire had said, that he and his friends had acted. He was clearly of opinion, that the erasure of the Queen's name from the Liturgy was an illegal act, and under that conviction he had given his vote.

Ordered to lie on the table.