HC Deb 09 December 1830 vol 1 cc895-901
Mr. O'Connell

presented a Petition from the parish of St. Michael, North Petherstone, in favour of Parliamentary Reform. The petitioners wished that Rotten Boroughs should be entirely done away, and he contended that no reform would be completed which left one rotten borough in the country, and which did not introduce ballot.

The Marquis of Blandford

seized the opportunity to express his great regret at the language which had been used by his Majesty's new Minister upon the subject of Parliamentary Reform—language which, though, perhaps, more prudent, was, to his mind, nearly as disheartening as was the language of his immediate predecessor. The great reformer of 1793, the man who laid upon the Table of that House that ever-memorable petition, which had been quoted with his name, as its author, ten thousand times all over the country—was it possible that he could have said this question now required much time and deliberation, particularly after declaring that he never would support the principles of universal suffrage—in which determination he (Lord Blandford) entirely agreed with him—and that he wished to stand as much as he could upon the settled institutions of his country, in which desire he also most fully concurred. How, then, could the Minister at the same time say that the task was one of no slight difficulty now. Then the close and rotten boroughs wore to be extinguished and annihilated for ever. Had the Constitution been unlearnt since that time? Were the disciples of this great master now to be told that he had not yet made up his mind upon the subject, that he could only talk "generally" upon that which used to be considered as his favourite hobby—that delay was necessary—that great consideration was necessary—and that the whole question was surrounded with no small difficulty? If the close and rotten boroughs were to be preserved, or if any of them were to be kept, then he (Lord Blandford) could understand how the question was full of difficulty. But if the principles of the petition of the friends of the people in 1793 were to be adhered to, and none short of these will, or ought to, satisfy the country—then he could see no difficulty in the matter, no cause for delay, which must be dangerous in the present momentous state of the kingdom. It was for these considerations that he did feel it to be his first and paramount duty to appear in his place last Tuesday evening, with the intention of lending his feeble support to the motion of the hon. and learned Member for Waterford. He regretted exceedingly that the hon. Member had abandoned the field to others— the more so when he called to mind the character of the proceedings of the committee on the Calne election; and when he reflected upon occurrences of a similar character at the election which had just taken place at Knaresborough. He would confess, that the unfortunate proceedings connected with these two boroughs under Whig domination were sufficient to excite in his mind considerable distrust and apprehension that the reform which was promised would ultimately prove far from satisfactory to the country. Reform, very extensive reform, was loudly called for, and must be conceded to the public voice. The delay of a single day was dangerous. With the delay would increase the demands. That which would have satisfied the country twelve months ago, had it been conceded, would not satisfy it now. What would satisfy the people this day would not satisfy them a month hence. There were two measures which appeared to him to require instant adoption, for the security of the country and its best interests. The first— reform, immediate, extensive, radical; the second, the no less speedy reduction of all payments and salaries to the scale of 1792. These payments had all been raised in consequence of the depreciation in the value of money. Now, when that money had been most fraudulently, ruinously, and, he would maintain, treasonably, raised to its former value, all payments and salaries—ay, and every other monied obligation of the country, must be reduced to their former value. If these things were not done, and that speedily, he would tell the present Ministers (from whom he really wished to hope for many measures of great reform and retrenchment, and towards whom, in making this declaration, he was not animated by any feelings of hostility)—he would tell them, nevertheless, that if these things were not done without delay, the country would be lost, the Crown would not be safe upon their Royal master's head, and they themselves would be implicated in the treason.

Mr. O'Connell,

on presenting three other petitions in favour of reform, said, that he considered the project of reform which had been contemplated by the learned Lord, to whom the noble Marquis (Blandford) alluded, was not sufficient. He thought that men, and not houses, ought to be represented in the Commons House of Parliament. Although he (Mr. O'Connell) hoped that the Government would of itself bring forward some measure of reform, yet he would then give notice, that, if it did not immediately, he would bring forward a motion on the subject three days before the vacation. But should Ministers themselves propose any measure, which would not be a mere delusion, but which would be calculated to give the House its true character, as really representing the people, and honestly watching over their interests, he would support them to the utmost of his ability. If the subject should be longer delayed by Government, he would bring on his motion and divide the House, if he had no other support than that of the noble Lord who had last spoken. It was unnatural that the money of the people should be voted away in a House, the majority of which was nominated by the House of Lords. By no means without the ballot was it possible to prevent that nomination in the present state of these countries; and he could not believe that mode of voting would be opposed by any man but by those who desired to maintain the influence of the aristocracy over the votes of the people.

Sir Robert Wilson

said, he felt it imperative upon him to contradict the assertion of the hon. and learned Member who had imputed bad motives to all who did not profess to hold the same opinions with himself. The learned Gentleman had chosen to denounce as insincere and dishonest the avowed opinions of men whose whole public lives had proved their integrity to be quite equal to that of the member for Waterford himself. The ballot was opposed by Gentlemen who had come into that House with the sanction of their constituents for that opposition. In the House they did no more than maintain the opinions which they had professed out of it. It was well known, that in the United States of America the ballot had proved to be a deception—a cloak—and encouragement to corruption. By the privacy which it secured, it induced men to sell their votes. The most honourable men had pronounced the ballot to be fallacious and injurious; and, at this moment, there was more fraud practised in those States of America in. which the votes were concealed by ballot, than in those in which they were given openly. When the New States of Mexico were about to institute a Republic, and some of their wisest and best patriots deliberated upon the best mode of taking votes, the ballot was rejected. When the hon. and learned Member ventured to impugn the integrity of men as honourable as himself, and as attached to liberty, he arrogated to himself a license to which he had no title. For his part, he (Sir R. Wilson) had, he believed, throughout his life, done quite as much as the learned Gentleman for the advancement of freedom; and he, therefore, could not suffer such accusations, which applied to him, to pass unanswered. While he had the honour of a seat in that House, he would not allow any Gentleman's reproaches to daunt him, nor would he suffer any man to direct him in the discharge of his duty. He would be influenced only by a conscientious regard for the interests of his constituents.

Mr. Cresset Pelham

wished the question of the ballot to be fairly discussed. As yet he had heard in that House no cogent argument against it; but he did not say that his own opinion respecting it was decided. The times would admit of no delay in the consideration of Reform, and he hoped, that if the Gentlemen on the other side of the House did not bring that subject forward, the Gentlemen below him (on the Opposition Benches) would do so. At the same time he was quite willing to allow for due deliberation before they resolved upon the measure to be proposed.

Mr. Ruthven

said, that in his judgment, the member for Waterford (Mr. O'Connell) had expressed himself on that evening with a moderation which it would do him honour to observe more generally, both in that House and in Ireland. He was sorry to see him often misapply the great talents which he was well known to possess; but he (Mr. Ruthven) was of opinion, that on that evening an unbecoming violence had been exhibited, in the reply which had been a few minutes ago made to some remarks of that hon. and learned Gentleman.. No man in that House differed more widely than he did from some of the opinions of the member for Waterford. But still he would say, that the hon. and learned Gentleman had not said anything which ought to be considered offensive.—[Sir R. Wilson. He did]—He (Mr. Ruthven) did not hear a word from him that could offend any man: but he did hear a violent speech from an hon. and gallant Member, which seemed to him (Mr. Ruthven) quite uncalled for. The hon. and gallant Member had made up his mind with sufficient decision respecting the ballot; and to him (Mr. Ruthven) it was matter of surprise the gallant General had not made up his mind on a subject of great importance to his constituents, which had been a few evenings since discussed in that House— he meant the Civil List. He would not have it imagined that he doubted the honour of those Gentlemen, who, now sitting opposite, had voted in support of the late Administration. He was sure that their motives were honourable, and that they voted conscientiously. He wished men who had a duty to perform to those who sent them into that House to come forward and vote as they thought right on such important questions: and he had no doubt that the gallant Member would explain to the satisfaction of his constituents, why, on the discussion of the Civil List, he had been absent. Although he thought, that the ballot would afford to voters a protection of which they stood in need, yet he was prepared to confide in the present Ministers, and he doubted not that they would redeem their pledge on the subject of Reform.

Mr. Grove Price

supported the petition, and expressed his regret that the learned Lord, of whose talents that House had lately been deprived, had not taken an opportunity of bringing forward a Motion on the subject. He regretted too that the hon. and learned Member for Waterford had not brought forward his motion, for though he differed in many particulars form the learned Lord, and the hon. and learned Member, he was satisfied that the time was come when the question of Reform must be set at rest by conceding it.

Mr. O'Connell

said, that as he had seen the hon. and gallant Officer, who had been for a long time, he believed, member for Southwark, go out of the House before he (Mr. O'Connell) had an opportunity of replying to the remarks made upon him by that gallant Member, he waited until the last moment on the question before the House, in expectation of his return. As the gallant Officer did not return, he would, in his absence say a very few words on the subject. He should not imitate the speech of the gallant Officer, because it was characterised by a temper which he wished to avoid, and by great lack of argument. He denied, that he had said anything to provoke such an attack. He had certainly said, that those who opposed the ballot did so from a desire to maintain an influence over the votes of the people. He would ask, did the gallant Member mean to assert that those who desire to influence voters are dishonourable men? Was it not the fact, that men of the highest character in the country defended such influence on the part of the aristocracy, and insisted that it was indispensable to the well-being of the country. He did not feel himself called on to answer the speech of the gallant Member. His speech contained no one argument. What was meant by the assertion that the ballot was un-English? Was it to be called un-English because it would put it out of the power of any man to say to a tradesman, in soliciting his vote, "Unless you vole for me, you shall lose the custom of twenty families?" Was it un-English because it would at once remove the cruel and ambitious landlord from the temptation to punish the children of the voter for the honesty of their father, and drive whole families houseless upon the world? He (Mr. O'Connell) need not boast of what he had done for his country. He would let his acts speak for him. But he would say, that when the hon. and gallant General should have done for his country as much good as he might, without boasting, say he had done for Ireland, he would listen to his taunts without displeasure. Had he said anything which could reasonably offend, he would most willingly retract it. The cause of those who opposed the ballot could derive no benefit from such aid as the gallant Officer had offered to it; and it was needless for him to say more in refutation of a speech in which he had been so unprovokedly attacked.

Petition laid on the Table.

Back to