HC Deb 11 March 1830 vol 23 cc181-3
Mr. O'Connell

said, he had two Petitions to present, praying for a Radical Reform in that House. He feared that the position for which the petitioners contended was likely to meet with but little favour in that House; but, in his opinion, and he had little hesitation in stating that opinion, the reform of the House was a debt due from Parliament to the people—that was an assertion which he advisedly made, and which he felt bound to sustain, as well from a deep conviction of its truth, as from the additional reason for sustaining it, which he derived from the solemn pledge upon the subject which he had given to his constituents, and which formed one of the conditions upon which he had accepted the situation of one of their representatives. One of the petitions which he had to present on this subject, was from certain inhabitants of Ireland; the other emanated from a meeting held in London, where no less than 30,000 individuals were present—it was a meeting at which the utmost order and decorum prevailed—it was conducted in the most regular and peaceable manner—he was sure with the most loyal intentions—he knew with the most perfect unanimity. The Petition prayed for Radical Reform: it came from 30,000 British subjects, who considered that that House of Parliament ought not to be an instalment of the other House—that the people of England ought not to allow themselves to be made the property of an oligarchy. He had the highest respect individually for many of those who commanded seats in that House, but he could not shut his eyes to the usurpation of popular privileges of which they were guilty. The petition which he had to lay before them from Ireland, bore two thousand signatures; and with the permission of the House, he would briefly and rapidly go through the statement and prayer of that petition. It contended, in the first place, that all persons under the degree of a Peer, had a right to be represented in that House; that no Peer was entitled to interfere in elections of Members to serve in that House; that it was robbery to levy taxes upon any class not duly represented there; and that it would be murder to put any man to death under laws enacted by a Parliament in which the suffering party was not duly represented; that when not represented, the people of this realm were deprived of their rights; that no single person ought to be allowed to nominate to seats in that House; that it had become a matter of notoriety these seats were bought and sold; that there could be no purity of election without election by ballot, and without radical reform; it called attention to the fact, that the poor were taxed to the extent of 120 per cent, and the luxuries of the rich only to 27 per cent. From this they inferred, that the people were not fairly represented in that House; for, if they were, a principle of greater humanity might be expected to prevail, and the interest of the poor would be more attended to. These petitioners, he observed, obeyed the unconstitutional law, by which a Lord-lieutenant in Ireland was enabled to disperse any such meeting. They accordingly did not meet; but the petition bore the signatures of two thousand persons. The other petition, to which he should as briefly advert as to the former, came certainly from a meeting composed of not less than 30,000 individuals. It was voted by that meeting unanimously voted, but it bore the signatures of only ten, and as the petition of those ten he knew it must be received. The petitioners stated that, owing to the existing distress, their industry had become useless, and that there existed no prospect of relief—that they attributed the distress under which they laboured, in a great degree, to the long, bloody, and disastrous wars which a venal Parliament led the Crown to carry on, especially those against the independence of America and the liberties of France, by which a debt of 500,000,000l. was contracted, and an accumulation of fiscal laws and regulations brought upon the people, which offered to industry the most serious interruptions. They prayed the House to restore the efficacy of Magna Charta and the Bill of Rights, and to secure for the people of England those rights and privileges which every King of England had sworn to maintain from Edward 1st to George 4th. It prayed further that in any alteration which the House might make in its own constitution, it would secure to the people the right of voting by ballot, as the most effectual means of preventing bribery; for the secrecy of a ballot set bribery and intimidation at defiance.

The two Petitions to be printed.