The Marquis of Blandford
spoke to the following effect.—I rise, Sir, to answer the call made on me last Session; and following the course suggested for my adoption by my right hon. opponent, the Secretary of State for the Home Department, I rise to offer for the consideration of this House, "a practical detailed measure:" and first, Sir, I must preface the observations I shall have occasion to address to you, by calling to the recollection of this House the course pursued by me upon the occasion I have referred to. I then, Sir, considered it my duty to divide the House upon the Question whether Parliament would or would not be pleased by a formal resolution to recognise the existence and venality of the close and decayed boroughs, for that really was the whole of the question which I thought it advisable to submit to the House, under the very singular opposition I met with from the right hon. Secretary for the Home Department. The venality of these boroughs is as sure as their existence, and both are equally notorious; but there is a wide difference between the notoriety of such offences, and a Parliamentary recognition of their existence. Mere notoriety begets defiance of public opinion and a fearless habit of offending. But if Parliament, by a formal vote, had put its brand mark upon these transactions—if by some general resolution it had stigmatized them as crimes against the law of Parliament and the Constitution of the country, a good foundation would then have been laid for the reform of what had been declared to be wrong and true, for the prevention of what had been denounced as illegal. But it did not seem good to the majority of this House to hurt the sensibilities of the Boroughmonger, by calling his trade by its proper name, or to injure his interests by saying, that his gains were condemned by Parliament and the country. The people, however, will speak out, though Parliament may chuse to keep silence, and may try to impose silence upon others. The voice of the country is not to be stifled by a vote of this House— it will attempt in vain to smother truth— 679 not all the finesse of all the political intriguers, nor all the power of all the political despots, will be able to stem or turn aside the current which is now setting in, full and strong, against the present system of chaffering for seats in this House. It is in vain to attempt to deck these transactions in all sorts of gaudy colours, and to call them happy methods of introducing to public notice modest merit and latent talent, and virtue, and patriotism, and I know not what besides. It is in vain to reckon up the Whigs and the Tories of note, and of no note, who have contrived to bring themselves, and their independence, into Parliament, by these back-gates and bye-ways. The thing retains the same character of corruption, whether it generates the venal Statesman, or the useful Member of Parliament; the splendid fly that soars in this House upon the wings of eloquence, or the grub that feeds upon the vitals of the country—Corruption is the father of them all. Neither will all the speeches of all the approvers of such a system be able to make corruption incorrupt, or convert the Borough business into a blessing, or legalize the wholesale trade of selling seats. As matters now stand, the fury of the law may be said to mistake its objects—it passes over the daring outrages upon the Constitution, in order to fall with redoubled violence upon the petty assaults, and petty larcenies, committed against the rights and liberties of the subject, and the purity of elections. The storm of Parliamentary enactments has fallen upon the small tradesmen, and retail dealers in the bribery line—Dat veniam corvis, vexat censura Columbas.Many a wordy statute pours its thunders upon the head of the starveling who sells his vote, and dines upon his degradation; but our Code contains no store of wrath, no pains, nor penalties, nor censures, for the great and extensive ready-money trade in returns to Parliament. Seats, two or ten at a time, may be bought and sold, and all concerned will continue, all, "all honourable men" — and they will find in this House not merely apologists but panegyrists—they may be even extolled for true patriots—and the ready-money method of getting a seat is extolled too, and is called patriotic, and expedient, and constitutional, and just as it ought to be. But, Sir, I cannot concur in such sentiments; such panegyric and such philosophy are alike adverse to my views and 680 convictions—and happily for the country, and all its great interests, his Majesty's Ministers do not appear to participate in these opinions—I certainly have never heard them take that line of defence, or rather empty declamation, and most impotent delusion. They have never set foot upon that slippery and hollow ground —so that, in spite of the negative by which the right hon. Gentleman opposed my resolution last Session, I shall continue to think that Government may be disposed to treat the question of Reform, not in the spirit of party politicians or borough traders, but upon the principles of truth and reason. Agreeably, therefore, Sir, to the terms of my notice, and in conformity with what I would fain hope I might find to be the disposition of the Government, I will endeavour to make the question one of principle, and not of party. I will refer it altogether to the decision of the Law and Constitution. I will make them the criteria of what is right and wrong—true and false—sincere and corrupt,—in respect of our Parliamentary Returns.
Now, Sir, without going into any abstract question about the right of popular representation, without touching the historical controversies upon that point, without investigating the origin of Parliaments or Parliamentary Councils, it may (and, as I think, safely) be laid down that national Councils, of some sort and denomination, are coeval with our existence as a nation. Normans—Saxons — Britons—all had them. These are facts capable of being established by recorded evidence, not truths deducible by arguing from natural principles and probabilities. We find the vestiges of popular representation, the elements of a Parliament, in all parts and periods of our history. To trace the steps by which this primitive right was moulded into its present shape and size—to shew by what collision of contending interest it has been compressed and restrained from without—by what elasticity from within it has often struggled for expansion— to cast up the number of all the political conflicts in which the question has been involved, though interesting, are unnecessary speculations. The inquiries we have to deal with are, whether the people are, or are not, at this time represented according to the manifest purpose and design of the Laws and Constitution of the country—or whether by the lapse and 681 vicissitudes of time great changes have taken place in the state of our Parliamentary Representation, or rather in its very principles and efficiency; and whether any thing can be found in the altered state of our political relations, foreign or domestic, to prevent a return to the original practice, and the fundamental principles of the Constitution. As to the question then, whether the people are, or are not, represented in a manner conformable with the principles and purposes of the Constitution: notwithstanding the ingenuity of a Palcy, or the eloquence of a Canning, I assert that they are not so represented—it is contrary to those principles, that decayed and desolate places should return Members to this House—it is contrary to those principles that seats in this House should be bought and sold. And first, as to the fixedness of the returns of Representatives from towns and boroughs, the same number from the same places, let what will be their state, and condition, as to the density, or thinness, or nothingness of their population—their wealth or their poverty — their commercial or agricultural strength or weakness. Now here, Sir, we find at once a wide departure from the principle that gave birth to the returns of citizens and burgesses. Without wishing to re-invest the Crown with its old discretion of issuing its summons to this or that town or borough, according to some real or supposed superiority which it possessed over others, I cannot but observe that the variableness perceived in the issue of the King's writs, and the returns made upon them, suggest this important conclusion—that in those ancient days, which some may be disposed to call days of political ignorance, civic or municipal prosperity seems mainly to have determined the fitness of the city or borough for the elective franchise. I am aware that there are some outstanding questions upon this point; and that it has been contended that the King in early times was wont to summon none but the royal boroughs— none but his own tenants on burgage tenure, to come to his Councils, and settle their rates of contribution to his wants: but this will not account for the nature, number, and diversity of the early returns; and I think it is clear, from the history of the places themselves, that much depended upon their prospe- 682 rity. When towns and boroughs were seen to thrive, the King's favour was also seen to follow their good fortune; and when their gold was seen to glitter, the Crown discovered the means of satisfying its necessities, and found abundant reasons for calling upon them to send their citizens and burgesses to Parliament: for whether it was the King, or the King's officer, who selected the cities or boroughs, it makes no difference to my argument; it was their wealth and prosperity which determined the choice — their ability to defray the expenses of their citizens and burgesses during their attendance in Parliament—their rank as trading towns—their right to be represented, by reason of their commercial weight and greatness— in short, Sir, whatever might be the motive, public or private, which determined the royal choice, it was the consequence of the town, under some relation or another — I mean its political consequence—which pointed it out as a proper subject for these Parliamentary honours. If, then, this change-ableness in the issue of writs of summons be admitted, as it must be, for it is an historical fact, it will not only throw light upon the present unintelligible returns from places of no consideration; but further, it will suggest the fitness of recurring to primitive principles, and of transferring elective franchises from old fossways and crumbling castles, from the solitude of the plain and the ploughed field, to the busy haunts of men—to the industrious, and the intelligent, and the independent, among the sons of agriculture and commerce. But besides this departure from the ancient principles and practice of Parliamentary Representation, there is another which has taken place, and which may be said to have arisen out of it. When boroughs became the sepulchres of departed greatness and prosperity, retaining nothing of their former condition but their name, and their soil, and their custom of returning one or two Members to Parliament, they became the property of the rich and the powerful; and instead of being dependent, as they originally were, upon the pleasure of the Crown for their writs of summons, they became dependent upon the pleasure of their purchasers, for the returns to those writs—and their writs of summons and charters of incorporation (like other paper and parchment securities,) became marketable commodi- 683 ties, conveying to the buyer the certainty of honours, and the contingency of profits in this House—this also is a manifest departure from constitutional principles and practice. When towns and boroughs were first called upon to send representatives to Parliament, it was not intended to decorate these places, in their decay and downfall, with immortal honours, or to make their lifeless bodies fetch high prices, like subjects for dissection—it was not the design to invest the silence and desolation of ruined streets, and market places, with the everlasting right of sending a couple of Members to the National Council. It was never meant to help on the speculations of craft, or the gains of avarice, or the projects of ambition, by making seats and franchises, articles to be bought by the best bidder.
But, Sir, these departures from ancient principles, these violations of ancient practice, have not only taken place in the manner of making returns from these close and decayed boroughs (in which returns nothing can now be discovered like "fraunche et due election," according to the ancient statute—nothing like the principle in the ancient writ, "quod omnes tangit ab omnibus approbetur;" but there are still more remarkable violations and departures in respect of the qualifications of the Burgesses returned. By the ancient laws and practice thy were to be "resident in-dwellers, and freemen of the borough or city they represented, and no others"—"Nuls autres in nulle manière." It is true that these laws were repealed— it is true also that to the repealing Act we may fairly ascribe much of the mischief that now exists. Boroughs are now supplied with representatives from every other description of persons, except residents and indweliers, or persons locally connected with those boroughs. We may look through the whole series of Cornish returns, and scarcely find a Cornish name in a list of their burgesses: we cannot even say "stat nominis umbra;'" name as well as thing are both gone—the close and decayed boroughs of Cornwall have passed into the hands of strangers to the county. The interest of the Stannaries are sometimes confided to speculators in the mines of Mexico and Peru. Paper is seen to triumph over the influence and interest of its tin. By the mere operation of paper and parchment, Cornish seats have been transferred like shares in a Joint Stock 684 Company, at the market price, to some great capitalist of London. And Sir, there is another principle, a principle well developed in a Writ of 47th Edward 3rd, which it is most important to attend to, and apply. It is there laid clown as a necessary qualification, that Borough Representatives should have a suitable knowlege of local interests: the Writ in question required the Sheriff to return "de quolibet Burgo duos Burgenses qui in navigio et exercitio mercandisarum notitiam habeant meliorem;" and the Writ concludes with an injunction that none are to be returned who want this necessary local or rather municipal information. The knowledge which was required in the Burgesses was a plain practical knowledge for every day's use; it was not a superfine knowledge of political economy; that sort of science which has filled the country with bankrupts and bookmakers, which produces thick octavos, and thin purses, and makes men very rich in fine phrases, and very poor in pocket. This was not the kind of knowledge which King Edward required for his Burgesses. They were to be knowing men "in exercitio mercandisarum," in a good sound tradesman-like information, such as was bottomed upon common sense and common experience— not upon theory and hair-splitting, and the lollies of a fanciful philosophy. The result, then, of all these references to Parliamentary antiquities is, that Borough Elections ought to be as free as those of Counties—that the Members returned ought to have some original connexion with the places they represent. They ought to have also local knowledge, a plain practical knowledge of the trade, and trading interests, of their constituents. But to all this it may, perhaps, be replied that the system is ancient, that the practice has passed into usage, and become an established custom, and that it is not safe to disturb what time has sanctioned and settled. To all this, however, the words of Lord Bacon will supply the shortest, and readiest refutation. "Time (says he) is a great innovator," meaning that time itself, and what is called the march of events, produce such changes in the circumstances, relations, and affinities of old institutions, as to make them different in fact and effect, though they may continue the same in name; they may even become so different, as to require adjustments and adaptations to the vicissitudes of time, in 685 order to secure their original utility; and that great man has followed up his remark by such pertinent illustrations of it, that I cannot forbear citing them in support of my own views upon this question: neither will they be thought the worse for being ingrafted upon some of the old adagia of our laws. "Leges," (says he) "novis legibus non recreatœ acescunt"—laws not refreshed by new laws wax sour—"qui mala non permutat in bonis non perseverat"—without change of ill, a man cannot continue the good—to take away abuses supplant-eth not good orders, but establisheth them —"Morosa moris retentio res turbulenta est œque ac novitas"—a contentious retaining of custom is a turbulent thing, as much so as innovation—a good husbandman is ever pruning in his vineyard, or his fields, not unseasonably, not unskilfully, but lightly; he findeth ever somewhat to do." And so, Sir, it is with respect to the subject of Parliamentary Reform; and I assert, upon this high authority, that to defend as a tiling that is j praiseworthy, or to recommend as a thing that is expedient, the present ownership in seats and suffrages, and writs of summons to Parliament, because it is ancient, is a sort of revolutionary doctrine; it is to hold the language and opinions of revolutionary men; it is to think, and talk, and act contrary to the principles of our representation, and the analogies of our law, and the spirit of our Constitution, and the judgment of our best writers. The theorist who sets about the defence of venal and proprietary boroughs, may, perhaps, be able to cite many ancient and modern appointments by ladies, as well as gentlemen—for, if I rightly recollect the words of the Record, Dame Dorothy Packington, in the 14th of Elizabeth, sent two Burgesses to Parliament from her town of Aylesbury; and notified, under her hand and seal, that they were her Representatives; and that whatever they did was to be considered as her act and deed.; In spite, however, of this high authority, and all other ancient precedents, it will not be possible to make these crooked transactions strait: it will not be possible to correct their deformities, or to cleanse their foulness, or to legalize their unlawfulness. They are, and ever must remain foul spots upon our drapery—dark and dirty places upon the apparel of this House. Neither are they to be washed out by rhetorical ablutions; by 686 descanting upon the beauty which results from the intermixture of imperfections, and the harmony which arises from discord, and the practical advantage of departing from the letter of the law, and of doing a little evil that good may come. All this, and a great deal more may be said, and admired, by the lovers of dexterous declamation; but if ten times more were to be said, and ten times better, it could not have the effect of altering the essential character of these transactions; for these questions still recur, Is it agreeable to the Constitution of the Commons' House of Parliament, that there should be any thing-like settled succession in the course and order of sitting in this House? that there should be any thing like purchase in the mode of getting into it? that there should be any thing like an heir loom—any thing like an heritable, or a marketable, or a testamentary property, or interest attached to these benches?—a sort of property or interest which a man may call his own if he buys it, or is born to it. Such things as these, Sir, are too monstrous to admit, I will not say of decoration, but defence; and when we find able men, politicians, or philosophers trying their best tactics to save these things from attack and overthrow, one cannot help lamenting their waste of fine words, and fine wit—their misuse of the florid in style, and the subtle in argument, and the sarcastic in reply. I might, See, proceed to point out other changes produced by time. Changes have taken place in respect of the qualifications both of the electors and the elected; and changes in the mode of discharging these great public trusts of representation; and changes in men's opinions of them, and in the way in which they are now considered, and spoken of, and sought for. Instead of being called hardships and burthens, from which poor towns prayed to be relieved, they have become lucrative deputations, beneficiary appointments, from which poor towns contrive to derive a profit instead of the Sheriff being obliged to secure the appearance of his citzen or burgess by manucaptor, and even by the seizure of their goods and chattels, he is sure to find plenty of candidates for a vacant seat, and no lack of cost or contrivance to obtain it. Instead of receiving wages—(Knights 4s., Citizens and Burgesses 2s. a day)— many honourable Gentlemen would be glad to hold their seats at no higher cost, than the daily payment of ten times the 687 higher sum. But though time has changed the face of all things, both in and out of Parliament; though it has changed all the great interests of the country, and all the relations of public and parliamentary life; and the whole moral, as well as political economy of the nation—it has produced no change in the real objects and purposes of parliamentary representation. It has not in any way affected the reasons which made the Commons of England demand and obtain an adequate appearance by proxy in the great Council of the nation. It has not weakened, nor obscured, any one of the plain and simple propositions contained in the writs of summons to the Sheriffs of the realm. What was good law and good policy upon the issue of the first writ for Knights, Citizens and Burgesses, five hundred and sixty-five years ago, continues to be so still; and there is not a better way of arriving at the Reform which is so much desired, than by reverting to ancient principles, to the manifest designs of our forefathers, to the records of their prudence, as well as of their prowess; and I believe that surer, safer, and readier guidance will be found in the light of their wisdom and the brightness of their example, than in the dreams of the enthusiasts, or in the doctrines of the philosophy of the present day; and I am convinced that it will be found that the best sort of Reform will be the restoration of what time has impaired, the cleansing of what corruption has polluted, the rectifying of what craft has twisted aside from its proper use and real design.—Nothing, Sir, it appeal's to me now, remains but that I should simply and as shortly as I may be able, state the outlines of the Bill which I hold in my hand, and which in its principal provisions I have endeavoured to construct upon ancient principles—principles which have appeared to me best fitted for amending and repairing the Constitution of this House—"Sum ex Us qui antiquos mirantur."—Now, then, Sir, I propose by this Bill, which is to restore to the Commons of England their rightful share in the Legislature, to place upon record, by way of recitals, the fundamental principles of representation, as I find them in the books, when both the theory and the practice were in the state of their greatest purity; that the clear meaning of this Bill may never be misunderstood. I find from the time of Henry 3rd, and 688 throughout the subsequent reigns of the three first Edwards (a period at which Sir Matthew Hale, and other text writers, declare the law of England to have reached the highest degree of perfection), that there can be no doubt that the Citizens and Burgesses returned to Parliament, by virtue of the King's writ to the Sheriffs of the different counties, were elected and chosen by the inhabitant-householders of the large and populous towns, paying scot and lot; and so it was declared by a Committee of the House of Commons of which Lord Coke (the great oracle of the law of England) and the learned Mr. Seldon, were both Members; for during the reigns above alluded to, and down to that of Edward IV. the practice of granting royal Charters had not been introduced—the first grant being in the seventeenth year of that reign, by which Charter the right of sending one Burgess to Parliament was granted to the Borough of Wenlock.—I propose, then, by the First enactment of this Bill, that a Committee of twenty-one Members of this House (to be chosen by ballot), shall be appointed within ten days after the passing of this Act, and hereafter within the first ten days after the commencement of each Session, with full power to ascertain the exact state of every city, borough, and port in the United Kingdom.—Secondly, That as soon as the said Committee shall have ascertained the fact that any city, borough, or port, had fallen into decay, and ceased to be such populous and wealthy place, as was originally intended to send a Member or Members-to serve in Parliament, or that the franchise granted to any city, or borough, ought to be considered as forfeited by mis-user or non-user, that it shall be the duty of the Committee to report such facts to the Secretary of State for the Home Department; and that such report shall be deemed and taken to be that which, during the purity of the representation, would have taken place, and actually did take place in many instances; namely, the petition of such city or borough to be relieved of the burthen of sending Members to Parliament. Thirdly, That upon receiving such Report, it shall be the duty of the Secretary of State to announce in the Gazette that such city or borough has ceased to send Members to Parliament, or that the franchise thereof has been forfeited for mis-user.—Fourthly, The Com- 689 mittee are directed to begin their investigation and reports with the burgage tenure boroughs, because these are known in their present state to afford a direct proprietary interest. — Fifthly, That as soon as such announcement shall be made in the Gazette, the Committee shall select such populous unrepresented, or inadequately represented, towns or places, with the hundreds, districts, or parishes surrounding the same, as the Committee shall think proper, in order to fill up the seats rendered vacant as above; and it is provided that the right of voting in such towns or places so selected, shall be according to the oldest qualifications known to the law, and the practice of the country; namely, in all the inhabitant householders paying scot and lot—or in other words assessed to any tax, parochial or parliamentary; and the Committee are directed to report such selection to the Secretary of State, who is to cause the same to be published in the Gazette, and to send copies thereof to the Lord Chancellor, the Speaker of the House of Commons, and the returning officers of such towns and places; and such report is to be deemed, and taken to be, the enfranchisement of such towns or places to send Members to Parliament.—Sixthly, As the object of this Bill is to restore the representation to its ancient purity, I propose, among other excellent old laws now either repealed or become obsolete, to restore the principle and practice of paying Members the wages of attendance, according to the value of money at the present day, which I consider should be 21. a day for citizens and burgesses, and 41. for Knights, or Members for counties. No part of our representative system is better established, and it remains the law to this day. If this principle had been strictly adhered to, as it ought to have been, few of the abuses that we now have to complain of could have existed—for, as fast as towns fell into decay they would have been relieved of the burthen of sending Members to Parliament, and other larger and more wealthy and populous towns would have been enfranchised. — Seventhly, I propose, after all populous towns and places shall be represented, that the vacant seats which may remain should be filled first by a representation of those counties in Scotland now subject to alternate representation only, and then by adding one or two Members to such other counties in the 690 United Kingdom as the Committee may think stand most in need of such addition; and it is provided, that before the Committee shall add to the County Representation, they are to increase the number of the electors of all those cities and boroughs (now open, and not justifying a Report upon the grounds stated in this Bill), by adding thereto such Hundreds and Parishes round the same as the Committee may think proper, in order that the electors so augmented may be fully able to bear the burthen of paying the wages of attendance.—Eighthly, In order to ensure to any householder assessed to any tax the right of voting, I propose to enact that any such person, who may not be included in any of the places to be enfranchised, may vote at the enfranchised town or place nearest to his residence, provided he agrees to be assessed for payment of the wages, &c. With respect to Scotland, I feel that after the Petitions for Reform from Edinburgh, and almost every borough in Scotland, now before the House, it would be most unjust towards the people of that part of the United Kingdom, and also most unwise and impolitic, to leave the representation in Scotland in the state in which it is: and, therefore, I mean by the foregoing enactments, that its representation shall be reformed and placed upon the same footing as that of England. —Ninthly, Having gone through the enactments as applicable exclusively to cities, boroughs, towns, and ports in the United Kingdom, I propose, as was proposed by Mr. Pitt, in respect of counties, that the right of voting shall be extended to copyholders, and certain leaseholders, not only because the greatest authorities in the law of England, with Lord Coke at their head, have laid it down that copyholders have an estate equal to freeholders, but because these copyhold lands and beneficial leaseholds, as they exist at this day, were tenures utterly unknown when the right of voting was limited to freeholds; and above all, because their copyhold and leasehold lands bear the same proportion of taxes, parochial and parliamentary, as is borne by freeholds. Freeholds also that happen to be situated in any town that is a county by itself, ought not for that reason to be taxed and unrepresented. I therefore propose, that the owners of such property shall be entitled to vote for the county at large. Then, again, with respect to Scotland:—it is a 691 fact well known to the gentlemen from that part of the kingdom, that voters for counties are manufactured by a sort of trick: that is, by separating what is called the superiority from the property; and thus voters have been created that have not a foot of property in the county. Is this representation of the landed interest? I propose, therefore, to put an end to all such fictitious means of creating votes; and as a large mass of landed property is now held by what are called feu-rights, that is, beneficial leases for lives, or long terms of years, and subject to a full share of taxation, I propose that this property, like the copyholds in England, shall be represented. — Tenthly, I propose that all persons now in possession of a right of voting for counties in Scotland, arising merely from superiority without property, shall be entitled to vote for the city or borough that shall be nearest to their places of residence, provided they agree to be assessed for the wages of their representatives.—By the Eleventh enactment of this bill, I propose to enact that no person, now having the right to vote for any city or borough, shall again exercise such right unless he be resident within the same; but that all such non-residents shall be entitled to vote for the city or borough nearest to his place of residence: it being the object of these enactments, that no person shall be disfianchised.—As I consider it necessary that regulations should be adopted, to prevent the enormous expense that often takes place at elections, I propose by the Twelfth enactment, that it shall be the duty of the Committee to make such regulations as they think proper for this purpose; and also to render the act of voting as little inconvenient as possible to the electors.—I find our system of representation greatly altered for the worse by some modern Acts of Parliament: these I propose, by the Thirteenth enactment of this Bill, to repeal. In the first place, it is notorious that the only reasons given for passing the Septennial Bill have long since ceased to exist. Therefore I propose to repeal that Bill, namely, the 7th of George 1st. In the next place, I do not find, from the time of Henry 3rd, down to the 9th year of the reign of Queen Anne, that there was any law that made it necessary for citizens and burgesses to be possessed of landed estates of the annual value of 3001. or any other sum, in order to be qualified to sit in this House; 692 while I find, that from the most ancient times, namely, by the 1st of Henry 5th, c. 1. it was wisely enacted, "that such citizens and burgesses of cities and boroughs be chosen men, resident, dwelling-, and free in the same cities and boroughs, and no other in any wise." I therefore propose to repeal this modern Act of Queen Anne, as it relates to the qualification of citizens and burgesses to sit in Parliament.—By the Fourteenth enactment of this Bill, I propose to repeal a still more modern, and a still more monstrous violation of our old law, namely, the 14th George 3rd, c. 58, which was the first act that was made to repeal the wise enactments of the 1st of Henry 5th, requiring that the elected should be chosen from among the resident inhabitants of each place. But as some boroughs have the right by Charter to choose from among themselves, or others, I propose that the Committee by their Report shall confirm such right either to these boroughs, or to such towns as they may select in their place; and I propose to enact that any inhabitant of any town being elected, shall satisfy the 1st of Henry 3rd, as to being free of that place, for the purpose of serving in Parliament. I find by the Act of the 12th and 13th of William 3rd, "for the better securing the rights and liberties of the people," after solemnly declaring that "the laws of England are the birthright of the people thereof," it is enacted, "that no person who has an office or place of profit under the King, or receives a pension from the Crown, shall be capable of serving as a Member of the House of Commons." Now, I hold these wise laws of our ancestors to be the land-marks of the Constitution; and therefore, I propose that the 6th of Queen Anne, c. 7, which, by allowing placemen to vacate their seats and be re-elected, has entirely defeated the wise provisions of the 12th and 13th William 3rd, be repealed; and I propose to declare that the Act of King William was intended to apply to all offices and places of profit under the King, that then existed, or should thereafter exist.—Lastly, Sir, I consider it expedient to repeal, not only such acts as have been passed for upholding what Bishop Burnett and the great Lord Chatham called "the rotten parts of the Constitution," but also such as touch the eligibility of Members to serve in Parliament, if the same shall have been made 693 in a particular case, and from personal motives towards any individual; and particularly when the rights and interests of a large and learned body of men have been thereby improperly affected. Now, I consider the Act that was passed against Mr. Horne Tooke in 1801 in this light, and as the late Lord Thurlow. whose authority I presume may be quoted in this House, pronounced this Act to be uncalled-for, unjust, levelled at a single individual, and infamous, from having an ex post facto operation against Mr. Tooke, and all who had then taken holy orders, several of whom had actually sat in this House; and as Mr. Tooke himself did, in reference to this Act, leave a most severe satire behind him upon this House (which, I think, ought to be wiped away,) by thanking his old friend, the then Prime Minister, for his great lenity and kindness in only proposing such a Bill (which Mr. Tooke accepted as the highest compliment that could be paid to the end of his political life) because, if the Minister had proposed a Bill to have had Mr. Tooke taken out of this House, and hanged in the lobby, the same majority would have been equally ready and willing to have passed it. Therefore, for the honour of Parliament, as well as in gratitude to the memory of this learned, uncorrupted, sincere, and dauntless Reformer, in whose steps I am now presuming to tread, I propose, by the Fifteenth enactment of this Bill, that this Act shall be taken off the Record of the Statute-book, and cancelled, or otherwise defaced, to the end that no such Act shall be visible in after ages, and that it shall be wholly repealed.—There is still one other principal enactment more, and that arises from the present and alarming state of the country. I believe this measure to be absolutely necessary to our safety, and I would wish to see the provisions of this Act executed in the most deliberate and considerate manner: but I cannot shut my eyes to the imminent peril of our situation, and to the fact, that it might become of the last importance for the country to have the benefit of the provisions of this Act before it could be possible for the nation to receive it from the Reform Committee. I consider it, therefore, proper to have an enactment to the following effect: —" That if this Parliament shall be dissolved before the Reform Committee shall have reported upon the Cities and Boroughs as it is required to do, so that the country 694 shall not be in possession of the benefits contemplated by this Act, then and in that case no writ for the election of Members to serve in Parliament shall be sent to those places that have so fallen into decay as to be unable to bear the burthen of paying the wages of attendance according to the provisions of this Act, and where there is notoriously a direct proprietary interest or domination in returning the Members of this House, and such places shall be enumerated in the Bill; and I propose to enact, "that writs in place thereof shall be sent to the Sheriffs of such Counties for the returns of citizens and burgesses of such large, populous, and unrepresented or inadequately represented towns, as his Majesty, with the advice of the Privy Council shall think proper: and that the returns of Members to serve in Parliament from all such towns, as well as from all other Cities and Boroughs to which the King's writ is sent, shall be made by the votes of a majority of the inhabitant householders, assessed to any tax parochial or parliamentary, and consenting to be assessed to the wages of attendance: and that all the provisions of this Act shall be in full force and virtue, the same as if the Reform Committee had made the reports which are hereby directed to be made." Then there are enactments to secure the regular attendance of the Committee—to exclude from the operation of the Bill the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, and Dublin—and that each Member of the Committee shall take the oath I will now read;—"I do solemnly promise and swear that, laying aside all private interest or motives, I will to the best of my judgment, faithfully execute all the provisions of the Act under which I have been appointed a Member of the Reform Committee, according to the plain and obvious meaning of the said Act, as set forth in the preamble and enactments of the same; and if it shall appear to me that any improvement can be made in the said Act for the better fulfilling the clear intentions of the Legislature as therein expressed,—I will not fail to propose that such improvement shall be reported to the House of Commons, or to vote for it if proposed by others, and that in a matter of such importance as restoring to the House of Commons the perfect confidence of the nation, and securing for ever the rights and liberties of the people, I will consider it my duty to be regular and punctual in 695 my attendance on the said Committee, sickness, or any other unavoidable cause alone preventing such attendance." Finally, Sir, as respects the question of Compensation, I do not propose any compensation to the proprietors of boroughs, because I maintain that it never was intended by the law that it should be possible for any body to qualify any thing like a proprietary interest in the representation of the people, and that all such interests are obtained either by means positively and strictly forbidden by the law, or in consequence of a manifest perversion of its spirit and real meaning. On this point it was well observed by the late hon. Member for Durham, in 1821, that "it would not be depriving them of any thing they ought to have—it would be depriving them only of the corrupt and unconstitutional practicability of selling seats in Parliament, or bartering them for places, pensions, sinecures, and other appointments in the gift of the Minister." I will not, therefore, at the present day, be the proposed of any compensation to the traffickers of seats in Parliament. I am aware, Sir, that Mr. Pitt, and Mr. Wyvill, and many honest Reformers of that day, did adopt the principle of compensation; and I have heard that when it was proposed to Mr. Pitt on the part of certain proprietors of boroughs to accept the honours of the peerage in full compensation, he spurned at the idea; and that he returned precisely the same answer which I have heard the present Minister returned, when a dukedom and other stipendiary compensation were required for services in Parliament. "The dukedom is out of the question, but the other terms of place and stipend shall be complied with, whenever the vacancy happens." Now, Mr. Pitt has been reproached, and I think very justly, for making so many of these proprietors of boroughs. Peers of Parliament, and allowing them to keep their boroughs into the bargain. An actor in this scene (Mr. Home Tooke) has recorded his opinion, in explaining the philosophy of the preposition "along" "Thanks to Pitt, it is along of him that we not only keep our boroughs, but get Peerages into the bargain." "Curses on Pitt, it is along of him, that the free Constitution of this country is destroyed." "I suppose that Lord Lonsdale, Lord Elliott, and the father of Lady Bath, would not mean to impute any fault to the Minister in the 696 former of these sentences, though the people of England do certainly impute an inexpiable crime and treachery to him in the latter." Not only, then, have the greater part of these proprietors been thus already compensated in advance; but among whom have the millions of debt, under which this nation is now sinking, been distributed for the most part, but among these proprietors, their relations, friends, dependents, and tools? Still, though I will not be the proposer of compensation, if there were any danger of this Bill being lost for want of giving compensation, in the case of certain burgage tenure Boroughs where no Peerage had been obtained, I would think it better, much as I disapprove of the principle, to give compensation, than to allow this measure to be delayed for a single year; because I know that millions and millions would thereby be saved to the country; and because I would buy off an unjust claim, rather than be subject to the delay and danger of a long and expensive litigation. But, Sir, when I find from a petition presented to this House in 1793, that it was offered to be proved at our bar, that a majority of the House of Commons are returned by less than two hundred individuals, how can the nation afford any thing like compensation for the command of a majority of the House of Commons? The thing is beyond all price; it must be granted as a matter of grace from within these walls; or by the Holy God it will come, as the great Lord Chatham predicted; (and, in truth it seems advancing with rapid strides) with vengeance from without. Now, Sir, I will not trespass much longer upon the attention of the House; but before I conclude, I am desirous of noticing two arguments which have been urged against Reform; both of which I think it not improbable may be used against me this evening. I am aware, Sir, that it has been asked in this House by a late splendid orator, and with somewhat of triumph, by reason of the silence that followed the question, "If it be meant to carry back the Constitution to former times, name your period." The question, I must confess, always appeared to me sophistical. I am for renovating the Constitution in the important particulars I have referred to. I am for repairing the breaches which time has made in its walls.; and for conducting these repairs, and restorations upon 697 ancient principles—and am I to be told that my plan is absurd, or my proposal unreasonable, because I cannot mention the Anno Domini when those principles were all found co-existing and co-operating at the same time? Those principles were developed by degrees, and from time to time; and I confess I see no absurdity in saying that some of these ancient principles of the Constitution are to be sought for in Magna Charta. Some in the Act De tallagio non concedendo; some in the Statutes for regulating the frequent holding of Parliament; some in the Statutes for fining Sheriffs for mal-practices; some in the Statutes for fixing the qualification of Burgesses; some in those for securing frank and fair elections; and some in the Petition and Bill of Rights. All these principles I call ancient principles, and a return to them would be a return to ancient principles, although those principles do not bear the date of the same year. To tell me that I shall not have the benefit of this range of inquiry, but that I must confine myself and my observations to a particular year, is to play the dictator in argument, and to impose grievous conditions, indeed, upon the inquirer after truth. I wish to restore the Constitution to its proper form and energies, and to do it upon ancient principles—not the principles of this or that particular year of our Parliamentary history, but as they may be found diffusively, some in Magna Charta, some in this, some in that Writ of Summons; some in this, some in that Act of Parliament; but still forming a large aggregate of good Constitutional authorities for amending and repairing the Constitution of this House. The other argument which has been used against this measure, and to which I will very briefly advert is this; and strange to say it is one, which wears the mantle of Whig authority. It has been insisted that "No Reform can ever be peaceably carried otherwise than by a friendly Administration, and that all plans which will not bear the test of this condition, are either delusions or instruments of Revolution." Now, Sir, as I have before said, I really am disposed to hope that the present men in power may be inclined to look with no unfriendly eye upon such a measure. It must be evident to them that if an Administration will not peaceably concur in plans of Reform, and the system of abuse 698 shall reach its acmé, a convulsion must occur. Disorganization cannot be avoided, if they shall continue pertinaciously hostile to political amelioration, and shall: refuse to yield to the public urgency. Be these matters, however as they may, I can safely affirm, that nothing is further from my intention than to render my measure obnoxious to the charge of being an instrument of delusion, whatever other character it may attract. And now, Sir, as I strongly feel this public urgency, and as I am convinced that no one will be found at this time of day hardy enough to contend that the necessity of Reform is either the mere vapour of a dream, or the shadow of a shade, or empty whim and fanciful nothing, I do most confidently anticipate the proximate accomplishment of this great, this just, this wise, this Constitutional measure. Sir, lam aware that by adopting the course pursued by the hon. Member for Durham in 1821, by simply moving that this House will resolve itself into a Committee upon the state of the Representation, and then in that Committee proposing Resolutions embodying the principle of my Bill, I might possibly catch many votes, as there must doubtless be many hon. Members favourable to some extent of Reform, who will be unwilling to go the length I propose to carry the House. But, Sir, I should at this time of day deem such a manœuvre unworthy of the grand object I propose. I am for going straight forward at once to a clear and definite object. I am strongly upheld by precedent upon the main principle of my Bill; namely, the extension of the right of voting to all taxed householders; and the other provisions and repeals contained in it, appear to me so just and becoming, that no arguments will avail to warp my intentions, or induce me to cut down my Bill, to suit the views or interests of any party. I now move for leave to bring in a Bill to restore the Constitutional influence of the Commons in the Parliament of England.
said, he was willing to bear his testimony to the necessity of Reform, in evidence of which he would state that the county of Cornwall was by no means benefitted by the number of Members that it returned to serve in Parliament. Until the noble Mover had communicated them to the House, he had not been aware of the provisions of his Bill, nor was he 699 prepared to go all the lengths of that measure. On the contrary, he was disposed to express his entire approbation of the resolutions proposed in 1809 by the hon. Member for Westminster, which would have given a right of voting to all who were in a condition to pay taxes.
§ Mr. Benett
professed his admiration of the noble Marquis's speech generally, although he could not promise him his unconditional support. In the present calamitous state of the country, it was, in his opinion, an object of the first importance, to administer relief to the people, and most sincerely sorry was he to see that no disposition to grant that relief had been manifested by the Government. When he looked to the two past Sessions, with a grateful recollection of the important measures which they had passed, to the great benefit of the country, he had hoped that the present Session also would have been similarly distinguished. But he now saw that Parliamentary Reform must precede every suggestion for public advantage, and on that account he would support the Motion of the noble Marquis. People who were but lukewarm in the cause, or at heart disinclined to it, were accustomed to lay hold on the details of a proposed measure, and stop it in limine, under pretence of disliking such provisions. A similar advantage he trusted would not be taken on the present occasion. It was only fair that they should permit, the Bill to be introduced in the first instance, and then they might mould or oppose it as should hereafter be deemed expedient. Corruption had in these latter times advanced very rapidly, and it was now but too well known that the present Parliament did not enjoy the confidence of the people, The existing Government was an honest and well-meaning Government, heacknow-ledged, but no honest Government could be said to derive strength from the support of a Parliament which was not trusted. With respect to the conduct of the noble Marquis, he thought he deserved the highest credit for integrity and disinterestedness. It was not probable that he would long sit as a Member of that House, and in removing elsewhere, the success of his measure would operate to his prejudice, and he therefore advocated a Reform which must hereafter tend to the curtailment of his own power. Such a Reform, as far as he could judge, was at no period more necessary than now.
§ Sir Robert Wilson
said, that he had much doubted the noble Marquis's sincerity last Session, when he first introduced a Motion upon the subject, as it did not appear to him that he had really put on the armour of a Reformer. He then thought that the noble Marquis had ostensibly avowed himself a champion of Reform for the purpose of attaining better vantage ground to attack Ministers for having carried another measure which he conscientiously opposed. He had at present however, no longer any doubt of his perfect sincerity, and felt confident that if it were in his power to-morrow he would execute all that he had proposed. In short, he believed in the reformation of the noble Mover. The principle of the measure he should always support, as he was sent thither by his constituents for that purpose. If Reform had been long since accomplished he was convinced that many of the burthens under which the people suffered would have been withdrawn ere now, and many obnoxious laws would have been effaced. Some of the latter, indeed, had been repealed, owing to the liberality and wisdom of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. He was sorry not to see the Attorney General in his place, as he had wished to have made some allusion to the law of libel, which that right hon. Gentleman had been pledged, under the administration of Mr. Canning, to reform. This was assuredly one of those laws which ought to have been repealed, inflicting, as it did, transportation on a second conviction. If the Parliament had been reformed, we should not have heard of men being dispossessed of their property by a borough proprietor, because they had presumed to exercise their rights as free men. We should not then have heard of British citizens being treated on the footing of goods and chattels. The Members of that House were daily disputing as to whether the present distress was to be considered partial or general, but that question would have soon been set at rest if every Member were personally acquainted with the circumstances of his constituents, and able to declare them. He would advocate and support a fair and free representation, and he was not authorized by his constituents to go further. It occurred to him that the measure proposed was partially objectionable, as it gave somewhat too despotic a power to the Committee, who were permitted to denote, ad libitum, what 701 boroughs were fit for representation, and what not so. For his part, he was most agreeably surprised at the suggestion that Members should have wages, and certainly could not bring himself to resist what was so pleasantly recommended, [laughter] On the whole, he was favourable to the introduction of the Bill, and hoped that it would meet with a successful reception.
§ Lord Nugent
expressed his willingness to vote with the noble Marquis, as the defects in the representation were so numerous that he had long acknowledged the general necessity for Reform. His sentiments on this point he had already taken too many opportunities of expressing to require his doing so on the present occasion. Although he consented so far to support the Bill, he avowed himself to be comparatively ignorant of its details.
was anxious to hear what the opponents of the Motion could say to it, as hitherto they had heard nothing but arguments in its favour. He could feel no nicety in declaring that he had always voted for Reform, and always would vote for Reform, and all the measures that had the least resemblance to that under their consideration; and for this plain reason, viz. that he conceived the present system the worst possible system of representation that ever existed in a free Government. He would not take up the time of the House in urging the reasons for this opinion, but he would say that every day convinced him more and more of the truth: of this position. We had the forms of freedom with all the disadvantages of the most corrupt system of representation that was ever devised. He would vote for the Motion, because he was satisfied that the Bill could not possibly make us worse than we were, because the Parliament was not collected with the consent of the people but with their complete disassent; because it. was not assembled by their will, but against their conviction; and because the Members were not assembled to do the business of the people, but their own. He could not understand why some reformers should oppose the Motion, for it could not do otherwise than good. He did not understand the Bill, but he understood: that it was the object of the noble Lord to reform the House, and that was enough for him. He was anxious to vote for this measure, because the House had of late been fixing its attention on particular cases; and when it could fix its fangs 702 on a special case of corruption, to use the language of a noble Lord, they thought by sacrificing a rotten borough that they should satisfy the people. They were mistaken. The evil was not in one or two boroughs, it was in themselves. Si quœris monumentum, circumspice. Unhappily, however, they were rather disposed to look any where for the evil but in themselves. He was sorry that they should so waste their time, for they deluded nobody but themselves. The hon. Member for Clare said the other evening in speaking of a corrupt borough, that he would kill the wolf, but he (Mr. Hobhouse) quarrelled with the metaphor, as well as with the fact. While they were hunting this one poor wolf, they were allowing the choicest of their flock to be devoured; their homestead was invaded—it was in the possession of the enemy, and they satisfied themselves by hunting to death some one poor mangy feeble animal. He had lately met with an old paper, purporting to be a plan for a Reform of Parliament, supposed to be proposed for the Parliament of Charles the First's reign. It was found about eighty years ago among some old Parliamentary Papers—probably some of the Members had met with it as well as himself, but as it was pleasant he would just quote the heads of it. It was called a Scheme for the better governing the Nation,' and it pretended to have been submitted to the Protector, Oliver Cromwell. In the first place it recommended the total abolition of the House of Peers, as a body that was expensive, inconvenient, and unnecessary. Next to come to the House of Commons: In order to obviate the confusion of frequent elections by large bodies of men, and in order to put an end to bribery, it proposed that the Protector should have the nomination of all the Members, who were to be in all five hundred, and were to be the representatives of all the cities and counties of Great Britain. The Peers might be Members of this body, if the Protector pleased. The Members were not to purchase their seats for different counties, as was customary; that practice was to be repealed, and they were to pay down 1,0007. a-piece, which was to go to the Treasury. They were for this 1,000l. to receive 3501. a-year, paid out of the Treasury; and this sum was not to be paid if they absented themselves without leave, 703 or voted against the Protector. Each time they voted against him they were to be fined 51. for the first vote, 10l. for the second, and so on. They were to pay a sum also for every speech they made against the Protector. Me would not enter into further details; but the conclusion of the scheme was, that the nation by it would be saved a great expense, and useless bribery, corruption, and terrorism would be done away. The question was, whether the Reform proposed would content the nation or not; and it was foolish cajolery for them to suppose that the nation would be long contented without Reform. The scheme he had mentioned was proposed seventy or eighty years ago; but it appeared as applicable now as at that time. The best Reform that could be introduced would not change the class of individuals who would sit in that House. The Representatives of the people would still be taken from the principal gentry, the merchants, and the best portion of the lower and middling classes. But a Reform would send them there on a different principle, and with different motives; and, so assembled, they would: act on different principles. He did not mean to deny that great talents—the highest talents of the nation—found their way into that House; it was there where the stake was to be played for; "and where the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together"—but individuals of the greatest power and talents came there, not to advocate the national interests, which they did only occasionally; they: came there to advocate their own or their patron's interest. They had always some sinister motives, tempting them to act for the disadvantage of the country. He would not further trouble the House than to express his determination to vote for every general measure of Parliamentary Reform.
§ Mr. Twiss
said, he should not have troubled the House if it were not that the hon. Member opposite had expressed his desire to hear what the opponents of the measure could say against it. He thought the opponents of the measure were absolved from saying anything against it by the opposition the Motion of the noble Marquis had already met with on the other: side of the House. All that had been said in favour of the Bill was the mere assertion—that the House did not represent the people. That assertion embraced 704 too large a question to allow him then to go fully into it; but he would meet the assertion by another. That House was constitutionally supposed to represent the people, and he was sure that it would oppose the Motion of the noble Lord. The hon. Member for Westminster admitted that the change he recommended would still bring the same class of persons into the House, so that they were called on to make a great change, the result of which was to be a House of Commons nothing different from the present. This reminded him of a story told of Mr. Sheridan, who was a little nervous during his last illness, and being one day annoyed by the servant running against the plate warmer, and making a great noise, he swore at him; the fellow apologised by saying that he had broken nothing. "What!" said Sheridan, "do you make all that noise for nothing?" So the Gentlemen who supported this Bill would make all this noise and excite all this disturbance for nothing. All those who had followed the noble Lord, and understood his plan of Reform, found fault with it; those who did not understand it voted for it. His hon. friend who said that no change could be for the worse, was quite consistent in voting for it. Those who thought with his noble friend would vote for the Bill; but those who did not go all his lengths, and those who did understand the measure, would vote against it. Some honourable Members doubted the sincerity of the noble mover; and though he had no suspicions of that kind himself, he could not avoid supposing that his present Bill was intended as a mockery of the whole question of Reform—it was a snake in the grass. Between the satire of the noble Lord and the sarcasms of the hon. Member for Westminster, he thought the opponents of the measure had no occasion to come forward to oppose it; they might leave it to be defeated by its friends
Sir F. Burdett
observed, that the hon. Member who had just sat down, who had attempted to throw a ridicule upon the Motion of the noble Lord, had so utterly mistaken the purport of the paper read by his hon. colleague, that he seemed to think the paper an irony on the present state of the House. The hon. Gentleman had mistaken, and perverted, and misunderstood the argument of his hon. colleague, who had admitted, as he (Sir F. Burdett) ad- 705 mitted, that the House was composed of men of as enlightened understandings and as addicted to the English principle of freedom, as could be found collected together in any part of the world,—a compliment which he was willing to pay them. But his hon. friend (Mr. Hobhouse) had contended that they were returned to the House under an influence which rendered them incapable of exerting the noble faculties of their minds, and made them injurious instead of beneficial to the country they belonged to. His hon. friend contended that notwithstanding the admitted ability of the Members, they must, under existing circumstances, be thus influenced; but that under different circumstances the result would be not the same, but the very reverse, and that there would then be no conflict on their part with the public interests. If a person were returned against the law of England, against the Constitution of England, and against those most sacred privileges which were founded upon the acknowledged sovereignty of the people of England, where was the security of the people? It was a high breach of the Constitution and of the privileges of the Commons of England, that a Peer should interfere in the election of a Member of that House. That was the principle which stood recorded in the Journals of that House; and it was owing to a Petition lying on their Table, from a society of patriots calling themselves the Friends of the People, and of which society Mr. Fox and Mr. Grey were Members, which Petition a right hon. Gentleman, whose loss he deeply lamented (Mr. Tierney), was said to have drawn up on the part of the Friends of the People,—that paper, in the year 1793, declared, that one hundred and fifty Members of that. House were returned, not only by the interference, but on the nomination of a very small number of Peers. The Petitioners offered to prove this fact, at the bar of the House. The House was much the same in these days as at that time. He deeply regretted that that right hon. Gentleman did not now live to vote on this question, as he always did vote, and always stood forward with great ability, in defence of those fundamental rights of the people of England which he (Sir F. Burdett) advocated. With respect to the Motion before the House, he was bound to say, that he could not comprehend at once all its details; but he understood it to be a great measure of 706 Reform, which the noble Marquis had supported by very considerable ability, and he understood that its object was to endeavour to restore to the people of England a share of the Constitution of the country, to which they had as good a right as a Peer had to his title, or the King to his seat upon the Throne. He regretted to see that, the democratic branch of the Constitution did not retain its proper share of power, and every endeavour to restore the liberty of the people he would do all in his power to advance. The very denial of the House to disfranchise East Retford, was a refusal to adopt the plan of Lord Chatham, to infuse new blood into our crazy Constitution, to enable it to bear its infirmities. When it was considered that a great portion of the talent and understanding of the country was not permitted to find a vent for its opinions in that House,—when great abilities, and every thing enlightened in the empire were excluded by the present system of things,—and when the House absolutely threw away an opportunity to gain some credit with the people, by the disfranchisement of what was called in that House, a corrupt borough, but which he (Sir F. Burdett), did not consider more corrupt than many others, and when the House refused to admit representatives from the great town of Birmingham, and as a plaister to the sore, proposed to throw open the borough to the hundred of Bassetlaw, the people might naturally feel irritated at the House for refusing to grant any concession to their moderate, perhaps too moderate, wishes. He trusted that this Motion would unite the whole country with the people of Birmingham in demanding that fair and full Reform which the people of England were entitled to, and a redress of that worst of grievances, a corrupt representation of the people. He trusted that the noble Lord would persevere in his schemes of Reform, and that he (Sir F. Burdett), after thirty-five years of unremitted efforts, might see the object accomplished. Notwithstanding the length of his career in that undertaking", let the standard of Reform be again raised, and he would be as ardent as ever he was, and prepared to enlist under its banners, be they reared by whom they might. The only struggle really worth making, was for a Reform in Parliament. The only distinction in that House should be those Members who were in favour of Reform and those who were not—those for the people 707 of England and those against them; that, was the only true distinction, and every man would know where to take his place. After the termination of that calamitous reign, the reign of George 3rd.,—he called it calamitous in respect to its foreign policy, its encroachments upon the liberties of the people, and the burthens of taxation cast upon the country, which, in spite of the virtues of the man, made that a most calamitous reign for the country, what he would ask was the situation of the country? Plunged in distress and overwhelmed with debt. He had gone through the whole process under the present system of representation, and a most ruinous one it had been. Early in life he came into that House in order to defend the Constitution of England. He purchased his seat of a borough-monger. He purchased it of the Duke of Newcastle. He was no patron of his; he took his money, and by purchase he obtained a right to speak in the most public place in England. With his views, and with his love of the liberty of his country, he did not grudge the sacrifice he made for that commanding consideration. If he had abused the right he had purchased, and passed through corruption to the honours of the Peerage, he should not enjoy the satisfaction he then felt. But he felt it to be a greater honour to be one of the people of England, in whose hearts the love of liberty could never be deracinated, than to enjoy the highest title which it was in the power of the most profligate Minister to bestow. Having thus gone through the whole system of corruption, he could not help having a fellow-feeling for the electors of East Retford, who had had the good sense at least to sell themselves, not others. Having been detected, it was very well for the House to punish the offence; but who could say "I am free?" He then felt a great compunction towards the electors of East Retford; for their behaviour, so far from being a mischief, was really a mitigation of the system. It seemed as if the House were acting on the principles of ancient Sparta, where theft was no offence, but the detection was punished. It was the mal-adroitness, not the commission of the act, that was prohibited,—not the crime, but the want of address in committing it. The House was in the same predicament. The Members for rotten boroughs were nominated by Peers, and of course they could not oppose the opinions of their patrons. A man of honour could 708 not sit in the House and vote against the opinion of the Peer who nominated him. By such a principle the people were excluded from the House of their Representatives, though they gave them power. True it was that some Gentlemen said "we represent the people of England at large" this was a fallacy which reconciled many consciences. Such was the mode in which elections were managed, that no person could stand for a county without being-ruined, or at least run into difficulties, He (Sir F. Burdett.) had gone through all this; he had stood for a county, though he would not have given two-pence for the representation of that county, his object having been to expose the abominable system and the oppressive tyranny of solitary confinement in England. To expose those abuses it was that he stood upon the hustings at Brentford, though he really would not have given two-pence for the representation of the county. He could have got returned for East Retford at a much cheaper rate, and have been a more independent man. He had also gone through the remedial operation, as it was called, of the Grenville Act; so that, he had sounded all the shoals and shallows of the system, and it was not wonderful that he should be a great advocate for an alteration. The plain question was this—ought the House to be an assembly of retainers of the Crown, or of representatives of the people of England? He would put it upon that issue. At the end of the American war there appeared a person whose eloquence and talents would have enabled him to restore the country, but who proved the remote cause of all our present distress. Mr. Pitt burst forth with an eloquence which dazzled the judgment, but there was another cause which conciliated more partisans than even his eloquence and his abilities. The strongest hold he had on the partiality of the people of England, was his advocacy of the principle he (Sir F. Burdett) was then advocating. It was Parliamenatry Reform which lifted Mr. Pitt to the cabinet and to political power. Mr. Pitt told the people, when the taxes were only 15,000,000l. a-year, that without a Reform in Parliament they might expect fresh wars, corruption of every kind, and an increase of the public burthens. He had afterwards; fulfilled his own predictions. He (Sir F. Burdett) had experienced still more of the operation of the system than 709 he had mentioned. He had been a convicted libeller. Yes a convicted libeller; and he should not scruple to venture again, when he conceived that the rights and liberties of the people demanded the risk. He did not forget, however, that by the new Law of Libel, a law which was a disgrace to the Statute-book, he might, by a second conviction, suffer the punishment of transportation. For aught he knew he might again be tried for libel; and if he were convicted, as convicted he most probably would be—for he knew not of what stuff juries must be composed, to return such verdicts as they had recently seen—he might be sent to pass the rest of his life at Botany Bay, or at any other foreign dependency of England, and if he quitted England it would be to him of little importance where he might end his then miserable life. That would not, however, deter him; nor would it, he trusted, deter any honest Englishman, from pursuing that course which was dictated by a sense of public duty. Though he was not willing to invite any man to court danger unnecessarily, nor to oppose himself single-handed to the united force of a powerful, and, perhaps, a vindictive Government, he would himself never quail before it, nor stand in awe of our atrocious Libel Act. Say it he must, be the consequences to himself what they might, that as the House was now constituted, our personal liberty, the liberty of the press, every liberty that we enjoyed, were enjoyed, one and all, as mere sufferance. What the right hon. Secretary might be inclined to do,—what his hon. and learned friend the Attorney General might be instigated by the Cabinet to do, he could not venture to predict. Of his hon. and learned friend he wished to speak with affection—even with gratitude—for he had been his able, and honest, and intrepid defender. He could not believe that his hon. and learned friend had instituted the late prosecutions of his own accord, he could not believe that he had followed them up, except with great compulsion; but be that and be all things as they might, he hoped that he should have the fortitude never to desert those principles of Constitutional liberty which he had set out in life by asserting, and which he was not reluctant to die in defending. He thought that no objection could be made in the present stage to the proposition of the noble Marquis. It was 710 so usual to allow a Bill to be introduced into the House that he could not conceive it likely that any opposition would be made to the Motion for leave to introduce this Bill. He did not mean to say, that the measure met altogether with his approbation, for it did not go to the extent to which he himself should be inclined to push it. He had himself proposed two modes of Reform, one of which consisted in giving the right of suffrage to all persons who paid direct taxes in the shape of either church-rates or poor-rates. Let that mode be adopted, or any other mode, for infusing fresh spirit into the House, and he should be content. He understood that there was already on the order-book a Motion for giving the right of election to the great manufacturing towns of England which were at present unrepresented. He trusted if that Motion were carried, there would be another proposed for communicating the same right to the great, manufacturing towns of Scotland, which were in a similar predicament. But the representation of all our large towns was so absurd in practice, and formed such an anomaly in our Constitution, that the whole system deserved to be revised. Some hon. Gentlemen had talked much that evening of assimilating the law of England and Ireland. Now, with regard to Ireland, it should be recollected that. Ireland already enjoyed a reformed representation, and that Ireland as now represented—for she had got rid of the small boroughs—would form the model of an efficient Reform for England. It was not, however, his duty to go into that discussion at present: it was sufficient for him to feel now as strongly as ever he did, the imperative necessity of Reform. He hoped,—and from the information which he had recently received from different parts of the country, he believed,—that the people of England were at last beginning to bestir themselves, and to place sufficient, confidence in their own power of exertion. He understood that petitions would be sent to the House so backed by ability and union,—such union as he had recently seen with pleasure exhibited at Birmingham,—and mixed up with so much caution and discretion, that it would be impossible for the House not to take this important question into its most serious consideration, with the honest intention of adopting such a Reform as was suited to the state of the country.
The Attorney General
rose to address the House, but his commencing observations were inaudible, and during the whole of his Speech he was very indistinctly heard, owing to the emotion which he appeared to feel. After some remarks upon the Motion of the noble Marquis, he proceeded to say, that he had not risen so much for the sake of speaking upon it as for the sake of observing on the extraordinary conduct of his hon. friend opposite, who, in a debate which had no allusion to him (the Attorney General) personally, had thought proper to cast the weight of his heavy censure upon him. He thought that as there were two Motions already upon the order book, which would afford some regular opportunity for discussing his conduct, he might have expected that at least, in candour, his friends—from his enemies he could expect nothing but hostility—would have abstained from introducing such a discussion until he had received due notice of their intention. But as his hon. friend the Member for Westminster had introduced him to the notice of the House, he would commence by assuring his hon. friend that there was no act of his professional life on which he looked back with greater satisfaction than that in which he had had the distinguished honour of appearing as his defender. This he could at least say, that whether he had defended his hon. friend ably or not, he had done it honestly, zealously, and sincerely, for he felt at that time, and he felt now, that the prosecution which was instituted against his hon. friend was a prosecution which ought never to have been instituted at all. He would not shrink from stating his opinion upon that prosecution at all times and in all places; but if his hon. friend would look into the proceedings to which he had just alluded, and would impartially consider all that had been done or said in the course of them, he was persuaded that his hon. friend, for whom he felt the utmost regard and affection, would find that he had neither done nor said any thing inconsistent with the principles on which he had defended him. He could not accept the compliment which his honourable friend had wished to pay him, in supposing that the late prosecutions had been forced upon him by the compulsion of the Cabinet. Those prosecutions required to be looked upon not incidentally in the course of another debate, they were of sufficient 712 importance to be considered by themselves: they formed part of a subject which deserved consideration as a whole, and as a whole they must be considered, in order to see the reasons on which the verdicts were founded. Those prosecutions—he said it without reserve—were approved of by him, for he thought them necessary to the well being of the community. Such was his humble judgment,—for he arrogated to himself no superiority of judgment over other men.—but as an honest man, he thought, after the completion of the great measure of last Session, which in spite of all the warmth with which it was opposed was now working most beneficially for the country, that he saw in a portion of the press a disposition to licentiousness and falsehood which rendered it necessary to keep it in some check. Unless his hon. friend meant that the liberty of the press should become the tyranny of the press, and that no man should assert his right of private judgment except under the peril of being attacked by the most wicked and virulent falsehood, both in his private and in his public capacity, he must admit that there were occasions upon which some castigation must be administered to the offences of the press. There was, in his opinion, no means of destroying the licentiousness of the press, except by showing that it contained in itself the destructiveness of its real liberty. As to the Libel Law, winch the hon. Baronet had denounced with so much warmth and justice, he would only observe, that he had been in the ranks of those who had both spoken and voted against it, and that if an opportunity were given him, he would be ready to fall into the same ranks again. Let him, however, remind his hon. friend the Member for Westminster, if he had not entirely forgotten what had fallen from so humble an individual as himself, that one of the arguments which he had used against that Bill, and in which he had the concurrence of several of his learned friends whom he then saw in the House, was, that the licentiousness of the press might be corrected by the law as it then stood, and that it wanted no other correction. The House was, however, of a different opinion; and thinking some other corrective necessary, passed the Act in question. He was not ashamed to say in public—what all men were ready enough to say in private,—that no single individual could now resist the tyranny of 713 the press; so that we were come to that condition so well described by the Roman historian, in which "nec mala nec remedia pati possumus." In what he had said, he did not wish to offend any man. If he spoke with warmth—and it was perhaps impossible for an individual, assailed as he had been, to speak otherwise—he meant no disrespect either to his hon. friend the Member for Westminster, or to any other hon. Member who heard him. He could not, however, accept the insidious compliment which had been paid him, when it was said, that he had been instigated by the Cabinet to institute the recent prosecutions. He had already refused, and he must refuse again, to shelter himself under so mean-spirited a defence. In joining the present administration, it was distinctly understood that he was not to abandon any opinion and not to compromise any principle. He had joined it with the sincere approbation of his warmest political friends. In so doing he had nothing of which to repent; no reproach had been cast upon him, and he had the proud satisfaction of reflecting that he deserved none. He would not remain for a single hour in office with any administration which should presume to order him to perform the duties of his situation in any respect contrary to the dictates of his own conscience. He thought that the press of this country ought to enjoy full liberty, unshackled by any previous censure, but at the same time he thought that the press would not long enjoy that moral influence which it ought to possess, if every opinion or every falsehood which it promulgated were treated with indifference,—if its rhapsodies in praise of some men and its calumnies in depreciation of others, were both to be considered as idle words full of sound but meaning nothing. He wanted no new law, he repeated, for the correction of the errors of the press. He was satisfied with the Libel Law of Mr. Fox, which when first passed after a struggle continued for several years, was hailed as a great triumph by the friends of popular discussion. That law gave to the jury and took from the judge the power of determining what was and what was not a libel. He believed that there was not at present a judge upon the bench who would not leave it to the jury to determine whether any writing accused of being libellous were a libel or not. To the tribunal of a jury he had appealed in 714 the recent prosecutions: they had found the publications which he had brought before them to be libels, and he would venture to say that if his hon. friend the Member for Westminster had been a Member of those juries, he should have had his concurrence in their verdicts.
Lord John Russel
said, that he had known his hon. and learned friend (the Attorney General) for many years, and had never known him profess any opinions but such as were favourable to the cause of freedom. He should therefore wait to hear his explanation of his conduct in the recent prosecutions before he ventured to give any opinion upon it. He could not, however, refrain from remarking, that there had lately appeared in the newspapers words attributed—perhaps incorrectly—to his hon. and learned friend, which, if they were correct, he must say could not be looked upon without regret. It was only the other day that he read in the newspapers words said to have been used by his hon. and learned friend, which led him to suppose that his hon. and learned friend objected to the public's canvassing the opinions of judges and of juries. He hoped that his hon. and learned friend would be able to explain these words away at the proper time. The noble Lord then proceeded to state, that in voting with the noble Marquis upon the present occasion, he did so not upon the grounds upon which the noble Marquis had put it, but upon the grounds upon which he had not put it. He voted for it not because he thought that it was a question which ought to be referred to a Commit-tee of twenty-one, but because he thought that it was a question which ought to be referred to a Committee of the whole House. The noble Lord ridiculed the idea that the House had acted unfairly to such boroughs as it had disfranchised for corrupt practices, inasmuch as it was notorious that practices equally corrupt prevailed in every part of the country. There was no ground for applying, as the noble Lord had done, the hacknied quotation,Dat veniam corvis—vexat censura columbas.The columbœ, who received 20l. for their votes, and then went and swore that they had received nothing, as was done at Grampound, could not be considered as very innocent doves, [a laugh]
Mr. Secretary Peel
said, he was unwilling to give his vote unaccompanied by a few observations, lest he should be deemed 715 to be acting disrespectfully to the noble Marquis who had brought the Motion forward. But as he disapproved both of the object which the noble Marquis had in view, and of the mode in which he sought to accomplish it, he should imitate the fairness of the noble Marquis himself by declaring that he should give his most decided opposition to this Bill, in its very first stage. He certainly did not expect to have had a general discussion that evening on the question of Reform, and he thought that the desultory speech of the hon. Member for Westminster was a sufficient proof that it was not convenient to have such a subject thus irregularly discussed. The Bill had a most extraordinary title, it professed to be a Bill not for preventing but for regulating abuses in the elections of Members to serve in Parliament. The House then was called on, not to put down but. to regulate and preserve abuses by the noble Marquis's Bill. The speech made in support of it by the hon. Member for Westminster was particularly open to the objection that there was in it "eloquentiœ satis, sapientiœ parvum" [a laugh]; for though there was in it of declamation much, of argument there was less than he had ever heard in any former speech of the hon. Baronet. If he had stepped into the House accidentally, and without knowing the subject of the debate, he should have supposed the hon. Baronet to have been delivering an eloquent speech, not in favour of, but in opposition to a Reform in Parliament. The hon. Baronet admitted though the House was improperly constituted that it contained men of the greatest talent in the country—individuals, whose respectability in private life could not be questioned—Members, who, to use the hon. Baronet's own phrase, were addicted to all the qualities which were calculated to raise the character of the country, and who were equal to any others in any part of Europe. It was an important admission coming from the hon. Baronet that the present system of representation assembled men of eminence, talent, and private virtue, [Sir F. Burdett nodded assent] actuated by the purest views; [Sir F. Burdett, "No, no;"] and what rendered this admission the more extraordinary, was, that the hon. Baronet concluded it by contending that the mode in which these eminent, and able, and virtuous men were sent here, vitiated all their good qualities, and rendered them noxious and dangerous. 716 When the hon. Baronet entered into a history of the Constitution of the House, his arguments were all in favour of the small boroughs. The hon. Baronet was one of those individuals who would go down to posterity as one of the most distinguished men of his day: and yet he had told them, "When I was first returned to this House, I was returned for a small borough, owing no obligation to the party who returned me;" and he had then proceeded to contrast his election with that small borough with his election for a populous county. He said, "I was a candidate for the representation of a large county. I carried my election at a large expense; and yet" he added, twice over, "for the honour of representing that county, I would not give two-pence." Under such circumstances, seeing that the hon. Baronet valued his election for a small borough more than he did his election for a populous county,—seeing that Mr. Pitt, whose talents the hon. Baronet admitted to have been sufficient to render him, if he had been properly disposed, the saviour of his country, had first entered Parliament for Appleby, and that many other eminent men had made their first Parliamentary debut in a similar manner,—seeing that Mr. Fox, when excluded from the representation of a large town, found refuge in a small borough,—he thought that the hon. Baronet and the House ought to weigh well the practical good effected by the existence of these small boroughs before they involved them all in one sweeping condemnation. As to the Motion of the noble Marquis, he was quite certain that the House would never agree to it. The noble Marquis moved that the House should devolve on a Committee of twenty-one Members chosen by ballot, the power of destroying all the boroughs which that Committee should suppose were incapacitated by corruption, or otherwise, from sending Members to Parliament. He would never be a party to that wholesale depreciation of the Elective franchise; and he would never give his assent even to the first stage of a Bill which conferred such power upon any Committee. A Committee so constituted might inflict great wrong and injustice. It might be a Ministerial, it might be an Opposition Committee—but be it what it might, he would never consent to allow any Committee to report to any Secretary of "State, that a borough had forfeited its 717 privilege, and to order him to give notice in the Gazette, that such a borough had forfeited its share in the representation. Next he objected to the noble Marquis's plan for paying Members of Parliament. They had that night been occupied in discussing the propriety of Reform; and yet the Bill which was to effect that reform contained a proposition, enabling them to appropriate to themselves 250,000l. annually—a very modest proposal, and one well calculated to recommend the House to public confidence. The noble Marquis was for allowing two guineas a-day to every borough, and four guineas a-day to every county, Member; thus showing that he estimated a county Member at double the value of a borough Member. Now taking three guineas as the average sum paid to each Member, supposing the House to sit six days in every week, and the Session to last for twenty-five weeks, the sum annually paid to six hundred and fifty-eight Members would amount to a little more than 250,000l. ["Hear," and laughter] On these grounds, and thanking the noble Lord for the manly and straightforward manner in which he declined proposing the appointment of a Committee for the purpose of catching a few stray votes—thanking him for having openly declared his plan of Reform—he would state, with equal fairness and equal sincerity, that it was his intention to take the sense of the House on the Motion, and that he was opposed to bringing in the Bill.
§ Viscount Howick
observed that, from the manner in which the benches of that House were filled, it was impossible to expect any great object, for the benefit of the people would be carried. The hon. Baronet below him (Sir F. Burdett) had not been able, with all his great talents, his well-known perseverance, and his tried integrity, to prevent the passing of any one of those measures which had brought the country to its present state. Mr. Pitt, who commenced his career as a reformer, soon deserted the interests of the people. His great energies were first displayed in the strenuous support of those interests, but that he soon found was a losing game. He saw that the voice of the people in that House was weak and powerless, and that the voice of another class, which had been raised to influence, was all-powerful there; and to that class he attached himself. They now beheld before them a 718 large portion of that party on whom Mr. Pitt relied, loudly clamouring for what was little less than national bankruptcy. [hear] Such was the state of the House, that it might be justly asserted that the people of England were not represented in Parliament. The consequence was, that a system of profligacy and extravagance had been pursued which had brought the nation to the verge of ruin; and those who caused it were now afraid to meet and encounter the distress. They came down to that House almost in despair, and to relieve themselves they called for the sacrifice of the national faith; they were anxious to defraud the national creditor of what was due to him under the most solemn pledges, [hear] He knew that this was not a very popular feeling on the subject, but he could not avoid stating his opinion boldly. To him it appeared that nothing could essentially serve the country but a perfect and complete reform of that House.
§ Mr. O'Connell
said, he certainly should not have risen at that late hour, had he not been pointedly alluded to by his hon. friend, the Member for Westminster (Mr. Hobhouse). On a former occasion he did most cheerfully join in hunting down the mangy wolf, and now he would as readily join in the pursuit of the remaining portion of the flock.—[This allusion of the hon. and learned Gentleman was to the conclusion of a speech of his own in the discussion some days before, on a Motion respecting the Borough of East Retford.] If they had scotched one wolf, they certainly ought not to let the others escape. As for the Committee of twenty-one, he was as little disposed to support it as the right hon. Secretary. He was decidedly of opinion that no authority short of the Legislature itself should possess the power of disfranchising Boroughs or Cities, —but these details were matters of secondary importance—he looked to the principle of the measure; it was a Bill to secure the popular representation of the people, and beyond that it was a Bill to exclude placemen and pensioners from Parliament; as such he would support it, though he confessed that the plan for paying the Representatives of the people did not meet his approbation. He neither wished for wages from the people, nor for salaries from the crown. But when the right hon. Secretary talked of the wages as so likely to alienate the confidence of the people, he should have remembered 719 that seventy-eight Members of that House received 180,000l. of the public money. No doubt all these were right hon. men, and conscientious men; and yet, when any of them gave a conscientious vote, they felt heavy consequences.; witness the fate of the hon. and gallant Member for Sligo. Whether a Groom of the Bedchamber, or holding a higher or a lower office, the moment he presumed to give a conscientious vote, that moment the hand of the King himself struck his name out from amongst the household. Within a short space he was in and out of office; he voted for his conscience and against his interest, and immediately thereupon a new writ is moved for the place represented by his successor in office, who, no doubt, was also a conscientious man; but let him beware how he yielded to the dictates of his conscience. If he dared to oppose the Minister he must resign office instantly. As a representative of the people, he must denounce—his sense of duty called upon him to denounce—any man who, for his services in that House, took money either from the Crown or from any other quarter; but though opposed to the principle of payment, he would call upon the House, in the name of the country, to accede to the great principle of popular representation. It was a matter of the most complete notoriety, that two hundred and forty-three Members of that House were nominated by Peers, one hundred and fifty-nine by Commoners, and that twenty-two sat for Treasury boroughs; thus there were four hundred and twenty-four with scats in that House, who were anything but the Representatives of the people;—One hundred and thirty-four were all who really represented the people. This statement he made from information obtained so far back as the year 1793; humble and insignificant an individual as he was in himself, he would challenge any man to meet him on that ground, and he would pledge himself to prove the accuracy of his statement. Since the period to which he referred there had been an accession to the House of one hundred Members, and certainly that circumstance did not tend to augment the proportion of representatives of the people. Among the Irish Members he could find only twenty-one who were popularly elected, or rather, he should say, who were not nominated by individuals. Now the question which the House would decide by its vote that 720 night was, whether or not that state of the representation was constitutional or otherwise. He would say, that all who paid taxes directly or indirectly were entitled to a vote in the election of the Representatives who were to dispose of those taxes. As a radical reformer he would always maintain that principle. He would, as a reformer, appeal in support of it to the great principle of democratic liberty which made England the great and productive country which she had been for centuries. France and Spain were broader and not less fertile, but it was the great spirit of democracy which made the land of smaller dimensions overtop those which possessed the blessings of nature and all physical advantages, without the moral benefit of free institutions—yes, he would repeat, it was that democratic spirit which had imparted to her all of national glory that she ever possessed. He would not refer to ancient States—those would be mere schoolboy recollections; but he would ask, what gave to Venice eight hundred years of glory abroad and happiness at home, but the same democratic spirit? What but the same spirit gave four hundred years of freedom to the wild mountains of Switzerland, and enabled her sons by their irresistible valour to bear down the iron chivalry of Europe? What gave the States of Northern America, the prosperity, the wealth, and the solid glory which were raising them to an elevated station amongst the nations of the earth? what but the spirit of democratic freedom! That spirit then he would invoke for the resuscitation of England, for giving security, to the Throne, and placing the national prosperity upon a permanent basis. What was the result of the present system? They had 800,000,000l. of debt—and then to meet that, they had a pleasant speech from the right hon. Secretary, and a stale jest from the hon. Member for Wootton Basset (Mr. Twiss) towards whom he meant no personal disrespect; that was all the public would have in the newspapers to-morrow. Of the great principles of Reform, he had that night heard nothing which could induce him to alter his views. He never could be brought to believe that two hundred individuals were better judges of the interests of the people than the people themselves. He hoped that as the French Budget had been rejected, so would the 721 Supplies be refused by that House till the prospect of a liberal system were held out. Every day he lived he was the more and more convinced that nothing could be more debasing than the present system of Representation. When he saw Gentlemen otherwise of the highest honour, from the mere contact and association corrupted to the purposes of an oligarchical tyranny, he could not bring himself to speak of the system but with abhorrence and disgust. He raised his voice on behalf of the people; he called upon the House, which had shorn the talons of the Monarchy, to use its power to cut short the fell fangs of the oligarchical faction which lorded it over the land. Let the House but do that, and it would have little difficulty in giving to the Constitution its pristine and genuine form.
commenced by declaring, that he considered the conduct of the hon. Members for Aylesbury, Cornwall, and Wiltshire to be unfair, they having stated that, although they approved of certain portions of the noble Marquis's Resolution, and would vote for his having leave to bring in his Bill, yet that they did so with the intention of opposing it at some future stage of its progress through that House. He also considered that this project of suffering the measure to exist for one moment, that they might strangle it in the next, was senseless and ridiculous. He would pursue a different course. It was not because he disapproved of some points in that Resolution that he was to pronounce a sweeping condemnation of it, for there were others which met with his most decided approbation; and if he looked upon the question with no other view but that one, he should feel himself bound to give the noble Marquis his vote. He differed certainly from the noble Marquis in the first part of his project, as far as any one man possibly could differ from another. He also disagreed with him as to the policy of wages or payment for Members; yet, when he looked to other parts of that Bill, if he did not falsify all his just professions—if he did not run counter to all his former votes, he could not refuse to give the noble Marquis the opportunity of bringing in his Bill, and so afford him the chance of having its provisions carried into effect. Amongst the desirable objects of this Bill, he found that all copyholders were to have a right to vote—that the 722 expense of elections were to be diminished, by permitting votes to be taken at places immediately in the neighbourhood of the voters—that the Scotch cities and counties were to be placed upon the footing of those of England—a great Reform applied to that portion of our representative system which was completely without defence. In England they talked of a virtual representation—they held up one point, namely, the representation of counties, as a defence for the more exceptionable part; but in Scotland there was no such pretence. In all Scotland there was no trace, no sign, no vestige; of free Representation; the cities and counties there were worse than the most rotten boroughs of England, for they had there the complicated and peculiar evil of an election within an election, wherein both were bad. Of all the impure species of return, that by the votes of non-resident freemen was the worst; and all must agree that, if there be a safe Reform—a Reform which should unite all voices, it would be that of cutting off non-resident voters, [hear, hear] There were also other parts of the measure deserving of his warmest praise, and which ought to ensure the vote—he would not say of a majority, but. of a very large minority, of the House in its favour. His own opinion was, that the Motion would have been better and more acceptably produced under the form of a general Resolution than under that of a specific plan. He begged, therefore, to suggest to the noble Marquis, some alteration to this effect. Such an Amendment would be equally direct for its object, and not incompatible with the noble Marquis's design, because it would lead to a specific measure. For these reasons he thought it would be better, and less dangerous to the great question of Parliamentary Reform, if the noble Marquis would permit him to substitute for his Motion, a general Resolution, to the effect that this House is of opinion that a Reform in the Representation of the Country is expedient. He proposed this, not for the foolish purpose of catching a few votes. For who could suppose that it signified one straw whether the question were lost by ten votes more, or by ten votes less. If any man were so stupid, so senseless, so grossly ignorant of the resources of that great question, as to fancy it could be influenced by the paltry difference of a 723 few votes, he should hold his opinion as of less worth than even this difference between the ten votes more or the ten votes less, [cheers] But he felt that the Motion of the noble Marquis was encompassed with many difficulties, which he was anxious to remove. The measure was harnessed with details disagreeable to many persons, who might fear to vote for it, lest by so doing they might appear to sanction those obnoxious details. Thus the noble Marquis had placed those Gentlemen in this predicament—either they must vote for the Bill, and so leave it in doubt whether they did or did not approve of all the details, or else they were subjected to the still more painful alternative of voting against the measure, and so laying themselves open to the suspicion of having relaxed in their zeal for a cause which they had for so long a time professed to advocate. He, therefore, most respectfully begged to offer his humble efforts in substituting a general Amendment for the special Motion. Before sitting down, he wished to allude to some expressions which had fallen from the hon. Member for Wootton Basset (Mr. Twiss). He had heard with infinite indignation that hon. Gentleman charge the noble Marquis who introduced the question (as, he thought in a very zealous and able manner), with having made an ironical Speech in favour of the proposition—and also charge the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. Hobhouse) with having supported the motion in a tone of more stern irony than that adopted by the noble Marquis. The hon. Member had, with very questionable taste, alluded to the noble Mover, and the appellation of the snake in the grass which he had applied to the Bill of the noble Marquis was unwarranted by the frank and honourable manner in which the noble Mover had avowed his conversion. If his hon. and learned friend would bring forward, with such distinguished talent as the noble Lord had displayed that night, Motions for the good of his country, or, when others brought them forward, if he would support them with one half the ability and sincerity of his hon. friend the Member for Westminster, he would hail, with pleasure, his acquisition to the patriot list of that House.
§ Mr. H. Twiss
said, he had not the remotest idea of imputing to the noble Marquis any such feeling as the hon. and 724 learned Gentleman adverted to, and therefore he did not deserve the unjust, erroneous, and he would say, unbecoming-remarks that were made of him.
certainly did hear the hon. and learned Member speak of two sorts of irony—the one more ludicrous, the other more stern. As to his observation being unbecoming, he thought the hon. and learned Gentleman should thank him for giving him an opportunity of explaining a point, with respect to which, but for that explanation, it would appear that the whole House would have been totally and entirely mistaken.
said, he felt it to be his duty, being called on to give his vote one way or another, to declare, that he would vote against the Bill. He could not support a Bill now, which he knew he must oppose hereafter.
§ Mr. Maberly, though a Reformer, could not support the Motion. He hoped the hon. and learned Member for Knaresborough would move his Amendment, which he would support. If he did not, he would leave the House without voting.
§ Lord Althorp
declared, that he would vote for the Motion of his noble relation, if it were pressed to a division; but, agreeing with his hon. and learned friend, he thought the best course would be to adopt the Amendment. He therefore moved, "That all the words after the word 'that' be omitted, in order to insert the following:—"It is the opinion of this House that a Reform in the Representation of the people is necessary."
The House then divided on the Question "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," when the numbers were—For retaining the words 160; For omitting them to make room for the Amendment 57; Majority 113. The original Motion was then negatived.
|List of the Majority and also of the Minority.|
|Atkins, Alderman||Astley, Sir J. D. Bart.|
|Ashurst, W. H.||Ashley, Hon. W.|
|Apsley, Lord||A'Court, Capt. E. H.|
|Alexander, J.||Ashley, Lord|
|Arbuthnot, rt. hon. C.||Acland, Sir T.|
|Arbuthnot, hn. Col. H,||Bankes, H.|
|Bankes, W.||Greene, T. G.|
|Bankes, G.||Hill, Sir R.|
|Batley, H.||Hill, Lord A.|
|Buxton, T. F.||Holmes, W.|
|Burrell, W.||Hay, A.|
|Benson, R.||Hope, W. H.|
|Byron, T.||Hope, hon. Sir A.|
|Barclay, C.||Herries, rt. hon. C|
|Barclay, D.||Heathcote, Sir W.|
|Bright, H.||Holmesdale, Lord|
|Baring, B.||Hastings, Sir C.|
|Boyle, hon. J.||Irving, J.|
|Campbell, J.||Jones, J.|
|Campbell, A.||Knatchbull, Sir E.|
|Cust, hon. E.||King, Hon. R.|
|Castlereagh, Lord||Kekewich, S. T.|
|Carrington, Sir E.||Knox, hon. T.|
|Clive, hon. R.||Lygon, hon. H. B.|
|Cooper, B.||Loch, J.|
|Cartwright, W. R.||Littleton, E. I.|
|Clerk, Sir G.||Labouchere, H.|
|Courtenay, rt. hon. F. P.||Langston, J. H.|
|Cockburn, Sir G.||Lushington, Col.|
|Calvert, J.||Martin, Sir B.|
|Calcraft, rt. hon. J.||Mountcharles, Lord|
|Craddock, Col.||Meynell, Captain|
|Callaghan, G.||Moore, G.|
|Capel, J.||Morgan, Sir C.|
|Corry, hon. H.||Marryat, J.|
|Corry, Lord||Manners, Lord C.|
|Colborne, R.||Morgan, Captain|
|Corbett, P.||Macleod, J. N.|
|Darlington, Lord||Murray, Sir G.|
|Downie, R.||Milbank, M.|
|Doherty, J.||Maitland, Hon. A.|
|Dottin, A. R.||Morland, Sir S. B. Bt.|
|Downes, Lord||Mildmay, P.|
|Daly, J.||Malcolm, N.|
|Denison, J. E.||Norton, G. C.|
|Dundas, R.||North, J. H.|
|East, Sir E. H. Bart.||Northcote, H. S.|
|Eliot, Lord||Owen, Sir J. Bart.|
|Estcourt, T.||Owen, H. O.|
|Estcourt, T. H.||O'Bryen, W.|
|Egerton, W.||Palmer, R.|
|Ewart, W.||Perceval, S.|
|Freemantle, Sir T.||Petit, L. H.|
|Foster, L.||Peel, rt. hon. R.|
|Fergusson, C.||Peel, W.|
|Gower, Lord F. L.||Peel, J.|
|Graham, Marquis||Peach, N. W.|
|Graham, Sir J.||Peachy, General|
|Grant, rt. hon. C.||Powlett, Lord W. J. F.|
|Grant, rt. hon. R.||Palk, Sir L. V., Bart.|
§ The following is a Copy of the Bill as proposed by the noble Marquis:—
§ A BILL
§ To restore the Constitutional Influence of the Commons in the Parliament of England, and to secure for ever the Purity of Representation, and the Freedom of Election, of Members to serve in the Commons House of Parliament.
§ WHEREAS it has been declared and admitted from time immemorial, as well as by ancient statutes, "that the Commons of
|Palmerston, Lord||Trench, Colonel|
|Roberts, W. A.||Twiss, H.|
|Rose, Capt. G. P.||Townshend, hon. J.|
|Ross, C.||Thompson, L.|
|Rice, T.||Valletort, Lord|
|Strathaven, Lord||Vyvyan, Sir R.|
|Somerset, Lord R. E.||Van Homrigh, P.|
|Somerset, Lord G.||Vernon, G. G. V.|
|Scott, Sir W.||Villiers, T. H.|
|Smith, R. V.||Walrond, B.|
|Spence, G.||Wallace, T.|
|Spottiswoode, A.||Wood, Colonel|
|Scarlett, Sir J.||Wynn, rt. hon. C. W.|
|Scott, H. F.||Warrender, right hon. Sir G.|
|Sidney, P. C.||Walpole, Colonel|
|Sanderson, R.||Ward, W.|
|Sefton, Lord||Wigram, W.|
|Surrey, Lord||Wall, B.|
|Stewart, Sir M. S.||Whitmore, W. W.|
|Slaney, R. A.||TELLERS.|
|Stanley, Hon. E.||Dawson, G. R.|
|Thynne, Lord J.||Planta, J.|
|Althorp, Lord||Nugent, Lord|
|Benett, J.||O'Connell, D.|
|Bernal, R.||Palmer, F.|
|Birch, J.||Pendarvis, E. W.|
|Blake, Sir F.||Poyntz, S.|
|Brougham, H.||Protheroe, E.|
|Butler, C.||Ramsbottom, J.|
|Burdett, Sir F.||Robarts, A. W.|
|Calvert, N.||Robinson, Sir G.|
|Cholmeley, M. J.||Russell, Lord J.|
|Clive, E. B.||Russell, J.|
|Denison, W. J.||Saville, L.|
|Davies, Colonel||Smith, W.|
|Davenport, E.||Sykes, D.|
|Dawson, A.||Taylor, M. A.|
|Ebrington, Lord||Thomson, P.|
|Easthope, J.||Warburton, H.|
|Fergusson, Sir R.||Webbe, Colonel|
|Fortescue, hon. G.||Wilson, Sir R.|
|Gordon, R.||Wells, J.|
|Hobhouse, J. C.||Whitbread, H.|
|Howick, Lord||Whitbread, S.|
|Ingilby, Sir W.||Western, C.|
|Jephson, C. O.||Wrottesley, Sir J.|
|Lambert, J. S.||Wood, Ald.|
|Marjoribanks, S.||Wood, J.|
|Marshall, J.||Wyvill, M.|
|Martin, J.||Blandford, Marquis of Joseph Hume|
|Monck, J. B.|
§ England were ever a part of the Parliament:"
§ And whereas it is one of the most ancient and undoubted prerogatives of the Crown, with the advice of the Privy Council, to summons, by writ issued out of Chancery, Sheriffs of the different counties to return Knights, Citizens, and Burgesses to serve in Parliament for such counties, and the cities and boroughs within the same:
§ And whereas the purpose and object of conferring on the Crown this high and transcendant prerogative, was to insure, by the return of such