HC Deb 31 January 1821 vol 4 cc228-36
Sir George Anson

presented a petition from Litchfield, praying, that there might be no further proceedings against her majesty, and that her name might be restored to the Liturgy.

Mr. Vernon

said, that this was a petition signed by a number of respectable persons. As to the first point, whatever had been the conduct of his majesty's ministers on this subject was not now the question; they had already pledged themselves not to institute any further hostile proceedings, and so far the prayer of the petition was answered. As to the second, he could assert, without having any intention of overturning the present government, that from the first day that he heard of the order in council, by virtue of which the name was erased, he was adverse to it. But, that having been once done, the consideration of the subject was placed upon different grounds, and he agreed with parliament on the subject. For his own part, he could wish that the law had been more clearly defined, and would suggest, as the better mode of getting rid of the difficulties connected with the subject, that an address should be presented to the throne, praying, that measures might be taken to give permanent insertion in the prayers to the names of all the royal family.

Lord Nugent

presented a petition from Aylesbury, which had been agreed to unanimously, at one of the most respectable and numerous public meetings which ever took place there. The petition, besides praying for the insertion of her majesty's name in the Liturgy, and the restoration of her rights, complained of the existing distresses of the country', and prayed for parliamentary reform, retrenchment of expenditure, and an effective reduction of the military establishment. His Lordship spoke strongly in support of the prayer of the petition, and said, that the petitioners were no visionary reformers, but, were of that class of middling tradesmen to whom ministers were so much indebted during the course of the late war, whose loyalty had never been doubted, but whose reward for the most patient endurance of all sorts of privations was suffixing and reproach.

Mr. Denman

presented a petition from Sutton Ashfield, praying for the restoration of her majesty's name to the Liturgy. He thought, if those various petitions were seriously considered, instead of being merely left to the officer of the House, who was nearly exhausted by the labour of reading them, they would produce a considerable impression, even on the minds of those members who were most adverse to the cause of her majesty. With respect to the striking the Queen's name out of the Liturgy, he took precisely the same view that had been taken by his learned friend (Mr. Wetherell) on a former evening. He considered that measure as a most gross and irreparable injury to her majesty, because it was prejudging her cause, and inflicting punishment before any offence was substantiated. He also was of opinion, that it was most injurious to the character of the high tribunal before which her majesty was to be tried; because many of those who constituted her judges could not come unbiassed to the trial, they having previously, by sanctioning the erasure of her majesty's name from the Liturgy, expressed an opinion on her conduct. But, above all, he considered, that, in a constitutional point of view, it tended to injure the monarch of these realms; because, standing in the situation of husband to this illustrious and unfortunate female, it was impossible, looking to the persecution which she had undergone, but that imputations would be cast on him, however unjustifiable they might be. Ministers had, indeed, on every occasion, stated, that all the responsibility of those measures rested on them. Why did they so frequently make this statement? No man could doubt that they were the responsible parties. When he heard this ostentatious parade of responsibility, it appeared to him, that it arose merely from an indulgence in the unjustifiable hope, that, by constantly recurring to the topic, they would lead individuals to believe, that their declarations were not sincere, and that, in fact, they were not the responsible parties. It was like saying—"Oh, it is very true, that the constitution requires this responsibility on our parts. We must go through the ordinary formula; but, in fact, we are not the responsible persons." The House had heard with great satisfaction, that no farther proceedings were to be instituted against the Queen. Now, the only reason ever given for not restoring her majesty's name to the Liturgy was, that proceedings against her had been commenced, and, those proceedings having ceased, the restoration of her majesty's name, ought, he contended, to be carried into effect. Why could not the House pursue the course that had been adopted in 1741, when the Crown was requested to place the progeny of Frederick, prince of Wales, in the Liturgy? On that occasion, lord Wilmington stated to the House, that some matters relative to the precedency of names was not concluded, but that, when a decision on those points took place, the names would be introduced. If an application were made at that time, and if, in consequence, names were restored to the Liturgy, he could not conceive why the present parliament should be less independent—why they should refuse to comply with the feelings expressed by the whole body of the people of England.

Mr. Denman

said, he had to present another petition from the Amicable Society of Nottingham; the prayer of which was similar to that of the petition that had just been laid on the table. The petitioners farther prayed the House, if ministers so far forgot their duty as to persist in the proceedings against the Queen, that they would withhold the supplies of the year, until her majesty was restored to that situation to which her birth, her marriage, and the wishes of the people of England entitled her.

Mr. Hume

also presented a similar petition from the Incorporation of weavers of Leith. He understood, this petition had been forwarded to the hon. member for Edinburgh, who had refused to present it. No doubt the hon. member could satisfactorily explain this circumstance. For himself, he could conceive nothing more culpable than the refusal of any honourable member to present to the House, a petition, not improper in itself, from his constituents.

Mr. W. Dundas

said, he had felt no wish to refuse the mere presentation of the petition alluded to. But, in the application made to him, two different points were stated:—first, he was asked to present the petition; and secondly, he was called on, to give it all the support in his power. His sentiments were not in unison with those contained in the petition; and therefore if he had presented it, the petitioners, might have turned round and said, "If we knew, that you would have opposed the prayer of the petition, we would have placed it in other hands." He had presented many petitions which contained matter not congenial with his own opinions; but it would be too much to expect that he should also support them.

Mr. Hume

begged to read the applications which had been made to the right hon. gentleman to present the petition, and his answer, and then to leave the House to judge how far the explanation was satisfactory. The application was, as the right hon. gentleman had observed, two-fold. The first part requested, that he would present the petition as early as possible; the second, that the corporation would consider itself honoured if he would favour the petition with his support. Such was the application. The answer was this, "I cannot present the petition you have sent me." Then came a full stop; after which, the letter proceeded, "Should any proposition be made for the restoration of the Queen's name to the Liturgy, I shall certainly oppose it." And this was the whole of the letter. He left it, therefore, to the House to judge, whether the former was not a direct and unconditional refusal to present the petition.

Mr. W. Dundas

also expressed his willingness to leave it to the House to judge upon the subject; and repeated, that his object had been to give the petitioners an opportunity of choosing a warmer advocate.

Lord Milton

confessed, that when the right hon. member made his first speech, he thought he had not been dealt fairly by. In that speech, he merely stated, that he had informed the petitioners, that he could not support their petition, and that he had explained the reasons which induced him to give them the opportunity of choosing another member to present it. But then came the unfortunate letter; which was totally at variance with the right explanation; for it consisted simply of a declaration, that he could not present the petition, and that, if a proposition should be made to restore the Queen's name to the Liturgy, he must vote against it. It contained no suggestion to the petitioners, that his refusal proceeded from a wish to give them the opportunity of choosing another advocate. The confidence which every man had in the rectitude of his own conduct, frequently made him view it in a light different from that in which it appeared to others. He was far from intending to state, that the right hon. gentleman wished to lead the House to believe what he did not believe himself.

Sir. R. Fergusson

presented a similar petition from Kirkcaldy. Adverting to the sentiments of the people of Scotland, he observed, that if ministers placed any reliance on the opinions of the county meetings of Scotland in their favour, they were much deceived. Contrasting the character and numbers of the opposite petitions from Edinburgh, he observed, that the first, which was in favour of government and was framed in secret, lay for five or six weeks on the council table in that city, and was signed by only about 1,000 persons. Then came the open meeting of a different description, the petition from which was in three weeks signed by above 17,000 persons. The same thing took place in Glasgow, where a petition in favour of the Queen, was signed by 18,000 persons. He was persuaded, that if the feelings of the people of Scotland on the subject were fairly represented, it would appear that 99 out of 100 disapproved of the conduct of ministers with respect to her majesty. The petition which he held in his hand, prayed, that her majesty might be restored to all her rights. Like the other Scotch petitions, it said nothing about the Liturgy, for he thanked God, there were no such trammels on divine worship in Scotland as in this country! Every man there was allowed to pray to God in his own way; and in his opinion, the spontaneous prayer of an honest man, in whatever rank of life, was more valuable than any prayer which the noble lord and his colleagues could frame in their cabinet.

The Lord Advocate

could not allow the statement of the gallant general to go forth without contradiction. So far as county meetings had expressed themselves they were decidedly in favour of the con- duct pursued by his majesty's Government. These county, meetings were assembled as on all former occasions, and with the exception of the County represented by the noble lord [A. Hamilton], all the others were unanimous in their addresses. Those meetings were composed of the justices of the peace and the commissioners of supply—[a laugh]—and decidedly represented the whole of the respectability and landed property of Scotland. At the meetings on the other side of the question, all were excluded who had any difference of opinion. He had heard that some names were signed ten times over to the Edinburgh petition; whereas those who signed the loyal declaration not only affixed to it their names, but their designations.

Mr. Kennedy

, with all his respect for the learned lord, could not sit still and hear him calumniate his country. He positively denied, that the county meetings in Scotland represented the whole property of the country. A very great part of the property in Scotland was not represented at all. The middle classes—the strength of every nation—were not represented in Scotland. They were now, however, roused to a determination to obtain their rights. No people could deserve better to enjoy them; and he trusted, that in the course of a few years, they would obtain a fair representation. In the county meetings alluded to by the noble lord, many held the right of voting—lawyers and others—without being possessed of any property at all. With respect to the two petitions from Edinburgh, they most forcibly illustrated the state of the public opinion in that city; and as to the statement, that individuals had repeatedly signed their names to one of those petitions, he had no faith whatever in it.

Lord Binning

maintained, that the county meetings in Scotland, constituted as they were, did represent the opinions of the country. He did not deny, that in Scotland as in England, there was a great impression in favour of her majesty, among certain classes of the people, but, when the gallant general talked of 99 out of 100 entertaining those sentiments, it was a very great exaggeration. His learned friend had stated the nature of the Edinburgh petition. The meeting was called in the theatre, and several ingenious individuals, well known over the whole country, addressed the audience from the stage. The petition then agreed to was signed by all manner of people. He believed a strong feeling prevailed in Scotland for burgh reform; but he denied, that there was any desire for that species of general reform so often alluded to on the other side.

Mr. J. P. Grant

observed, that the meeting at Edinburgh, had assembled in the theatre because no other room would have been sufficient for their accommodation; and even as it was, above 3,000 persons were unable to obtain an entrance. As to the signatures to the petition, they were accompanied with the place of abode of the individual; so that if any such practice had been resorted to, as that alleged by the learned lord, it might easily be detected. The other address had been got up in secret, the promoters of it not daring to face a public meeting of the inhabitants. It lay on the table of the council-chamber for several weeks, and, after every possible effort, it received only l,600 signatures. The population of Edinburgh was about 110,000. The petition complaining of ministers, particularly with reference to their conduct towards her majesty, had 17,000 signatures. He would leave the House to judge, what were the real sentiments of the inhabitants of Edinburgh. In the most remote corners of Scotland, where political discussion had never before taken place, a strong feeling had manifested itself on this subject; and, as to county meetings, the learned lord had greatly overstated the fact. He (Mr. Grant) had attended the meeting of the county in which he resided. So far was it from comprehending the property of the county, that, of only thirty-three gentlemen who were present, but fifteen possessed a single acre of land in the county; and, on casting up their rentals, he found that they did not average a thousand pounds a-year a-piece.

Mr. Abercromby

expressed his astonishment at the signal indiscretion of the learned lord, in maintaining, that the county meetings in Scotland expressed; the sense of the people of property in Scotland. This was by no means the case. In one of the largest counties, there were only two or three hundred persons called freeholders, who had a right to vote; and many of them (like himself in two counties) had not a single acre of land. In a small book, which might be bought for 2s. 6d. the names of all the persons entitled to vote at county meet- ings in Scotland were recorded. To speak therefore, of county meetings in Scotland, expressing the public opinion, was perfectly ludicrous.

Sir G. Warrender

declared, that the great mass of the persons of landed property in Scotland, were decidedly friendly to ministers. He allowed, that among those classes of the people least informed on the subject, there was a strong feeling in favour of her majesty. Knowing, however, the good sense of his countrymen, be had no doubt, that they would soon come back to their senses; and he trusted the people of England would follow their example.

Mr. Brougham

observed, that some persons seemed to be under a great delusion on this subject, and to consider that all who in their addresses to his majesty had not expressed themselves hostile to the proceedings against her Majesty, were in favour of those proceedings, which was any thing but the fact. He had yet to see an address in which those proceeding were favourably spoken of. The hon. baronet had said, that the people of this country would return to their senses, and, that the people of Scotland were about to take the lead in that return. It was not to be endured, that the people should be told, that all ranks, from the highest to the lowest, were mad. Such was not the respectful and conciliatory manner in which the people of a great nation ought to be treated. If they really were out of their senses, that was not the most effectual way to bring them back to a sane mind.

Mr. Forbes

said, that the petition presented from Aberdeen had not been respectably signed, and that the names of a number of boys and persons of no consideration had been affixed to it.

Mr. Hume

knew, that such an assertion had been made, but, from the best inquiry he could make, he believed there was no foundation for that statement.

Sir R. Fergusson

said, he would state it as a fact, that at every county meeting that had been held, even the party calling the meeting were loud in the declaration, that they did not mean to say one word in favour of ministers.

Sir R. Wilson

presented a similar petition from the parish of St. Saviour, Southwark. Having attended that meeting, lie could vouch for its respectability. The proceedings of that meeting had received the sanction of many who had never before mingled in politics, and who would sacrifice their lives and fortunes in support of the king and constitution; but they wished to see the administration of public affairs put on a better footing than at present. He was convinced, that, so strong was the feeling on this subject, if the name of her majesty was not restored to the Liturgy, not only the new churches would be useless, but the old ones would be deserted.

Mr. Calvert

supported the petition, and bore testimony to the respectability of the inhabitants who had signed it.

The several petitions were ordered to lie on the table, and to be printed.