HC Deb 12 April 1831 vol 3 cc1235-48

General Gascoyne, in presenting a Petition From Merchants, Bankers, and others of Liverpool, against the Ministerial Plan of Reform, stated, that the petitioners, though by no means averse from a plan of moderate Reform, nor hostile to the principle of the Bill, disapproved of many of its details. They objected to such a sweeping disfranchisement as was proposed by the measure, and particularly to the alteration which it would effect, in the established proportion of Members from the different parts of the United Kingdom. He fully agreed with the petitioners in the validity of this objection, and thought, however enthusiastic the people of Eng-land might be in favour of the Bill, that their opinion would undergo some alteration when they considered how large a number of Members was to be taken from this country, for the purpose of bestowing a portion of them upon Scotland and Ireland. The Bill would give additional Members to Ireland and in the conduct of its inhabitants he saw nothing to deserve such a mark of favour. He was convinced that when the people of England, who were now clamorous for the Reform Bill, under stood that it deprived that part of the empire of seventy-two Representatives, they would oppose it. The petitioners did not oppose the transfer of the elective franchise from insignificant places to large and populous towns and cities; but, as before stated, they were hostile to so sweeping a disfranchisement as, was now intended.

Mr. O'Brien

regretted, that any observations should be made which might tend to sow dissensions between England and Ireland. He thought that Ireland was entitled to have a greater number of Members than at present. He was not aware of any reasons why, if Ireland was not fairly represented, the international compact should not be reviewed.

Petition read. On the motion that it be printed,

Mr. O'Connell

observed, in reference to what had fallen from the hon. and gallant member for Liverpool, that it would greatly increase the discontent and dissatisfaction which already prevailed in Ireland, if it were known that such language with respect to that country had been used within those walls as they had just heard. He contended, that Ireland ought to have many more Representatives. In that respect, the Union was a most unjust and unfair measure towards Ireland, That part of the empire, considering its great population, ought to have more than 100 Representatives. There ought to be a num- ber of Representatives adequate to the protection of the essential interests of Ireland in that House.

Lord Encombe

said, that before the Easter recess he had called the attention of the House to the necessity of having laid before them new and more perfect returns of the population of the different boroughs in England that were likely to be affected by the Reform Bill. Certain papers had, he observed, been produced, but they did not appear to have been drawn up on any satisfactory system. In some instances the population of the parish, in others the population of the borough, was given: and certain notes which were appended to the population return of 1821 were omitted. Now, though in the hurry of making up the documents which had been first submitted to Parliament, those notes had been left out, it was not fit that they should be omitted in those that were subsequently produced. He therefore wished to know, on what ground it was, that the new return was called a corrected return.

Lord J. Russell

said, he should be most happy to give his noble friend every information in his power, with reference to those returns, and the basis on which they were founded. Ministers had endeavoured to procure as correct a return as possible of the population of each city and borough which sent Members to Parliament. That return was made out at the Home Office; and, as soon as it was obtained, a letter was addressed from the Home Office to the returning officer of each borough, for the purpose of ascertaining whether the limits of the borough continued the same as they were at the time of taking the population return in 1821. The sum of the information thus received, which was not altogether very accurate, was to be laid before the House in a separate paper. The papers to which the noble Lord alluded were corrections of the population returns of 1821, so far as had been required, stating merely, in the first and second line, the population, sometimes of the borough, and sometimes of the parish. All that was to be found in that book of the population, with respect to particular places, had been made use of; and therefore the noble Lord would find, in the line of observations, many of those remarks which were contained in the notes to which he had referred. The letters which had been received from the parties thus applied to, and which would be laid before the House, were now in the course of being printed. Ministers had selected from the population return every thing that regarded each particular borough, the more especially, in consequence of the notice which had been taken of the borough of Calne, in order, as far as it was possible, to come to a just and proper determination, and to place each particular borough on its due footing. Any memorial coming from any particular place, and complaining of inaccuracy in the existing population return, would be anxiously attended to by his Majesty's Ministers. He thought it right to state this, because he believed the fact was not generally known to the parties interested. Ministers had also felt it to be their duty to consider well the petitions presented to the House on this point. There were, then, four data, on which they meant to proceed in ascertaining the number of inhabitants in different boroughs:—1st. The original population returns; —2nd. The corrected population returns;—3rd. Memorials laid before the Secretary of State, by persons well known, complaining of inaccuracy in the existing returns;—and 4th. The petitions presented to the House on this subject. Carefully looking to all the documents, Ministers hoped that they should be able to make an efficient correction, with reference to the places contained in the schedules A and B; so that a fair and equal course should be adopted with respect to the different boroughs concerned. He now begged leave to mention an instance or two, to show the way in which this would be done, and how information, which was at present deficient, might be enlarged and finally acted on. There was now before the House a petition from the burgesses of Buckingham, showing very clearly that certain parts of the town of Buckingham were not contained, as they ought to have been, in the population return—and which, if added to the existing return, would, they believed, raise the population to 3,000. The whole of this statement was so particular and so clear, that it contained, in his opinion, sufficient reasons for taking the borough of Buckingham out of the schedule A. Again, with respect to the borough of Truro, a memorial had been presented to the Secretary of State, which would also be laid before that House, showing in like manner, that the whole population of the town of Truro was not fairly represented in the returns of 1821. On the other side, a memorial had been presented from the town of Guildford, stating that it contained a greater number of inhabitants than was set forth in the returns. That document averred that some streets which ought to have been included in the returns were omitted. The memorialists did not, however, state what part of the town those streets were situated in, neither did they say what was the total amount of the population, according to their view, in 1821. Under these circumstances, unless some other petition was presented to the House, or a different or more explicit memorial was laid before the Secretary of State, it would be quite impossible to omit Guildford from the schedule B. He mentioned this to show to the House on what grounds he meant, on Monday next, to remove from the schedule any borough which could make out a proper case. He thus gave notice to such boroughs as could make out a clear case that their population had been under-rated, and that they contained more than 2,000, or more than 4,000 inhabitants in 1821, in order that they might apply, in a proper form, to the House. With respect to taking the population, in relation to the borough or parish, Ministers thought it right to adopt the same rule with regard to all boroughs; because, in many places, it was impossible to distinguish the borough from the parish, especially when the parish bore the same name as the borough. There were one or two other points on which he wished to say a few words. The whole Bill had, during the recess, been maturely considered by his Majesty's Ministers. They had examined it most attentively, to see whether they could make any improvement in it. With regard to the wording of the bill, considerable alterations had been made, but nothing whatever had been done to alter the principle of the measure, as it had been originally laid down. In substance, three or four points, of no importance as to principle, but all of importance as to particulars, were altered; and these he would explain in detail on Monday next. He was ready to explain those points at the present moment, but he thought it would be more expedient to do so on Monday. There were three or four notices of instructions to the Committee on the paper, which it was right to say had been done under the consideration of his Majesty's Ministers. One of those instructions related to continuing the right to vote, under certain re strictions, to persons who might have acquired that right by birth or servitude. Now without going so far as that instruction went, the question would receive that determination by which Ministers hoped to reconcile that which was due to justice and equity with the essential principle of the Bill. With regard to another, and a much more important part of the measure, —namely, the number of Members of which that House should consist—he could not deny that while many persons represented themselves as favourable to the Bill they objected to having the number of Members reduced. The Government, however, looking to the whole subject, with reference to the advantage of the public interests, and to the prompt and speedy execution of the public business in that House, were persuaded that a reduction of Members would considerably assist in attaining those desirable objects. But, at the same time, they were not prepared to say that this was a question such essential and vital importance, that if the feeling of the House were strongly shown in a desire to keep up the present number, they might not be induced to relax their determination on that point. The hon. and gallant General had referred to many details of the Bill, and he had no fault to find with the hon. and gallant General for any criticism which he might offer on the measure, because he had for some time past expressed himself favourable to plans of Reform. He, therefore, listened with every kind of respect to the suggestions of the hon. and gallant General, which were certainly worthy of consideration. But while he said this, he wished to terminate his observations by distinctly declaring, that with respect to all that was essential to the principle of the Bill, his Majesty's Government saw no reason whatever to alter the determination which they originally came to; but, on the contrary, from what they daily and hourly heard and saw, they were more and more convinced, that the principle was eminently calculated to promote the liberty, the happiness, and the prosperity of the people of this country. An hon. Baronet, it appeared, wished to keep up the whole of the existing boroughs. To such a proposition as that, Ministers could never agree. They had, he thought, adopted a safe and a wise course, by con- tinuing such boroughs as had a certain degree of importance attached to them, and doing away with those which were the most insignificant and inconsiderable.

Sir E. B. Sugden

said, the statement which had just been made by the noble Lord, proved the justice of what he (Sir E. Sugden) had observed on a former occasion, when he asserted that it would be impossible to proceed with the existing population returns. He now found that it was intended to restore some of the boroughs originally marked out for disfranchisement, or partial disfranchisement. This arose from the extreme imperfection of the information which had been laid before them, and if they proceeded in this way, they might, in the end, alter the whole scope and tenor of the Bill. He should be very sorry to say any thing harsh with respect to Ireland, but he certainly did object to increasing the number of Representatives for that country, and the more especially in conjunction with decreasing the number of Representatives for England. Let them look to the Act of Union, and he would ask, was not that question most fully considered? Was it not then decided that 100 Members was the largest number which Ireland was to have in the Imperial Parliament? When they took Representatives from one part of England, and gave them to another, he could perfectly comprehend that species of legislation. But he could not understand why a portion should be taken from the English Representation generally and given to the Irish Representation. Ministers had over and over again declared that they would stand or fall by the Bill which they had originally introduced. Now, however, he found, that they wished to alter it. This clearly showed, as he had formerly observed, that they had not brought forward their plan with that due consideration which ought to belong to so important a measure.

General Gascoyne

said that he was really a friend to safe and prudent Reform at all times; and he was glad to hear that the suggestions which had fallen from him and others with respect to this Bill, would be taken into consideration. He could not, although he was a friend to economy, go quite so far as the hon. Member for Middlesex wished to go, and though he was favourable to Reform, he could not proceed to the extent meditated by this Bill.

Lord John Russell

said, he seemed to have been misunderstood by the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Sir E. Sugden). Ministers had not altered their minds on the subject of the number of Representatives. What he said was, that if it should appear to be the sense of the House that the whole number of 658 members, should be retained, the Government would not feel that they were altering a vital or essential part of the measure by agreeing to that proposition. With respect to the number of Representatives for England, Ireland, and Scotland, he denied that that question was finally fixed at the period of the Union. At the time of the Union with Scotland it was proposed by the Scotch that they should have fifty Members, the English Commissioners wished to reduce the number to thirty-eight; but finally the compromise was forty-five. But it was not stipulated that no change should be admitted under any circumstances.

Mr. O'Connell

said, the gallant General always declared that he had a great regard for Ireland; but, in truth, he had a very odd way of showing it. The hon. and learned Gentleman had informed them that the question of the number of Representatives was definitively settled at the time of the Union. The contrary was the fact; and if the hon. and learned Gentleman would look into the act of Union, he would find there an express provision, with a view to some alteration to be hereafter made. They had no right, he contended, to treat this part of the subject as the hon. and learned Gentleman had done, as if it were an abstract question. Was there not, he asked, an identity of interest between the two countries? He could see no reason why they should not deal with Ireland, an integral part of the empire, as they would deal with Yorkshire. If the hon. and learned Gentleman treated this as an English subject, he certainly had an equal right to treat it as an Irish subject. He could see no reason whatever why, in considering this question, the large population of Ireland ought not to be taken into the account.

Sir E. B. Sugden

had never said, nor thought, that there was not an identity of interest between England and Ireland.

Mr. G. Bankes

wished to ask the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) whether it was the intention of Government to press the Bill into a Committee on Monday next. After what the noble Lord had announced of his intention of making a statement on Monday, to point out how the inhabitants of those boroughs might act in regard to which the returns made were erroneous, it would, he thought, be altogether inconsistent to press it on till the boroughs could avail themselves of the opportunity thus to be offered to them. The alterations now proposed by the noble Lord were the natural results of that secrecy which had been observed respecting the measure. If Ministers had intimated their intentions they would have acquired information on the subject; but they were acting in the dark, and the House now saw the result.

Lord John Russell

said, the hon. Member was altogether mistaken in supposing that he had promised any such statement as he mentioned. He had done no such thing. He stated on a former occasion that Ministers had gone, in the proposed disfranchisement, on the population returns of 1821, and he added, that if any material errors were pointed out in those returns, so as to make out a case for any borough, Ministers would be disposed to pay every attention to it, and to correct it. Some returns had been laid on the table, and others were asked for and were ready, to give more correct accounts, of which any borough that could make out a case strong enough to shew that it was not properly included, might avail itself.

Lord Encombe

was glad that the conversation had arisen, as it had shewn that the Returns on which the Bill was founded were erroneous.

Lord G. Somerset

gave notice, that when the Bill was in Committee, he would move that Members be given to some of the large towns in Lincolnshire.

Sir Charles Forbes

contended, that so far from adding to the prosperity of the country, it would have precisely the contrary effect. What had been its effect in Scotland? Why, from being the happiest people in any part of the British dominions, they had now become the most discontented and irritated, and the country from one end to the other was in a flame.

Mr. Hume

.—With the illuminations.

Sir Charles Forbes

.—The hon. Member said, with the illuminations; but who set those things on? Those who thought they had achieved a great triumph. But see the effect; the damage done in one night in Edinburgh by the mob was estimated at 20,000l. Great efforts had been made to procure signatures to a petition from Edinburgh, complaining that the Bill did not go far enough. The petition was placed in the gin-shops, and persons were stationed there who told those who signed, that the effect of the measure would be that they would have whiskey for nothing; that there would be no gaugers, and that all would be quite free. The petition which no doubt would come before the House in a short time, signed by some thousands, prayed, he understood, that those who by this Bill should be excluded from voting should also be excluded from the militia, and from the payment of all taxation direct and indirect; or that if drawn for the militia, they should have the power of choosing their own officers by Ballot. This was only a specimen of what they might expect, if, unfortunately for Europe and the world, Ministers should succeed in forcing this revolutionary measure on the House. In fact, when the noble Lord introduced this measure, many Members believed that he was only in a joke, and he had no doubt that if at that time it had been grappled with, it would have been rejected by a large majority.

Mr. Hume

denied, that the measure was now a new Bill. He should like the Bill as it stood, but the change, if change it could be called, went not to the principle of the measure. He owned the conduct of hon. Members opposed to the Bill was not a little inconsistent. They first complained that part of the Bill was founded on returns which were inaccurate, and when Ministers expressed their readiness to correct those returns, having no wish to injure boroughs which they would affect, the same hon. Gentlemen turned round and said, that the Bill was a new Bill, and objected to it because it corrected the errors of which they complained. His hon. friend (Sir C. Forbes) was quite mistaken as to what was passing in Scotland. It was beyond a doubt that the people there were in favour of the Bill from one end of the country to the other. He admitted that in the Scotch counties, which were as much close-boroughs as any of those included in schedule A, those who hitherto had the monopoly of the franchise were anxious to keep it, but they were only as one in 10,000 compared with those who were favourable to the Bill. The disturbances in Edinburgh and Dundee, he believed, were chiefly caused by the anti-Reformers; but, with the exception of them, there was nothing in the state of Scotland which could create alarm.

Colonel Sibthorp

congratulated the House on the proposed change in the dress of the Bill, which he must say was not a little inconsistent, after what had been stated the other evening, that any alteration would make the measure inefficient. The population returns for some places were wholly erroneous. In Grimsby, for instance, that before the House was 3,064, but a census by the people there made it 4,000; and he hoped that since then some accouchements had added to the population, so as to make it beyond the number which would continue both Members for the borough. Though he was glad of a change in the Bill, he would not vote for it unless a still greater change were made in it.

Mr. Keith Douglas

said, he had been lately in Scotland, and he could state that the effects produced by the Bill there were inconvenient and mischievous. The noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) had said, the other day, that the Bill could undergo no change, and Members were called upon by their constituents to support the measure without any modification; but now the Bill was changed in its spirit at least. He could state that the greatest irritation had been produced in Scotland by the Bill. He regretted that the proposed alteration had not been made in the Bill at a much earlier period.

Mr. Hunt

said, they had three statements as to the state of Scotland with respect to this Bill,—one was, that it was in a flame from one end to the other; another, that Scotland was all joy at it; and a third, that it had been productive of very inconvenient irritation in that country. Now he had been lately in the country, and much amongst the people; and he could tell his hon. friend (the member for Middlesex), that the people were not quite so mad for the Bill as he imagined. The country had now had time for reflection, and there was a re-action of opinion. [Cheers from the Opposition.] Notwithstanding those cheers from those who he knew would not support his view of the Bill, he would state what he knew to be the fact as to the opinion of the people. He had been recently in Staffordshire and Warwickshire, and other populous places, where he was called upon to address the people, and he knew the sentiments of 200,000 of them, and he had not met one man who was left, out of the franchise who approved of the measure, and not one who was included who did not approve of it. So that he might say there were 700,000 or 800,000 in favour of the measure, and 700,000 or 800,000 against it. [Renewed cheers from the same side.] Let not those Gentlemen who cheered him, imagine that in this he was objecting to the Bill: he would give it his support. All he objected to was, that it did not go far enough. If it had extended the franchise to all who paid scot and lot, there would be some principle in it, but now there was none. At the same time he hoped it would pass, for it would make one great inroad into that accursed system which had brought that House into contempt with every man of common sense and with the whole world. So far he rejoiced at the measure, but he must own the truth, that a great re-action had taken place in the public mind on the subject of the Bill. He had met the people of Manchester, of Birmingham, of Bolton, of Preston, and other places, and notwithstanding what fell from the hon. member for Middlesex, that the people were all run mad for joy on the subject, he must say, that with one exception, the people thought they were deluded by it. They thought that they should have got something for themselves by it; that they were going to get meat or clothes cheaper by it; but when they found that it would have none of these effects, they were naturally disappointed at the whole measure. He asked the people whom he had met, whether, if they were excluded from the right of choosing Representatives for themselves, they would like to have Representatives chosen for them by that class of persons which would possess the elective franchise under the noble Lord's Bill,—the 10l. voters. They uniformly replied "No!" They said that they would much rather see their Representatives chosen by the gentry and the higher classes of society than by that class which was immediately above themselves. He had lately received a deputation from the Spitalfields weavers, and he was told by them that they were not now so mad as they had been; they found that they were not to be represented, and they did not, therefore, expect that the Bill would do them any good.

Colonel Davies

had listened with pain to the extraordinary speech which had just been delivered. The hon. member for Preston professed himself to be a Reformer, and yet he had done as much as the worst enemy of Reform could do against the Bill. The hon. Member had told the House that the people were recovering from their frenzy, and from their delusion. It was to be hoped that the good people of Preston, at least, had recovered from their delusion. They fancied that they had sent a Reformer to Parliament; but they would now find that that Reformer was doing every thing in his power to defeat Reform. He would inform the hon. Member of the remarks, not heard, perhaps, by the hon. Member himself, which were made upon his speech in his own neighbourhood. [Colonel Davies and Mr. Hunt both sat on the Opposition side of the House.] Some Gentlemen sitting around him thought that speech "the best which had been made against Reform," and others said that "it had done more for their cause, and against Reform, than any speech yet delivered." The hon. Member had said that the people of Preston had discovered that they would not have bread, meat, or clothing cheaper in consequence of this measure. If he thought that it would not have the effect of making all those articles cheaper, he, for one, would not vote for it. By whom had the abominable system of taxation existing in this country, and the enormous establishments which ground down the people, been upheld? The hon. member for Preston had himself answered the question in 150 speeches which he had made out of that House and had declared that a Reform in Parliament was wanted to do away with that system which had so long been the curse of the country. He was convinced that with a Reformed Parliament no Administration could stand six weeks unless they proposed measures of economy and retrenchment. The hon. Member had said that the people had recovered from their delusion; and that now when they found that they were to receive no benefit from the Bill, they were all to a man against it. He flatly contradicted that statement,—a different feeling pervaded the country. People were to be found, he asserted, who were willing to make a sacrifice of the privileges which they held to be most valuable for what they considered a public benefit. It was impossible for him to sit still, after hearing the hon. Member who professed to be a Reformer, deliver the speech he had done. If the Bill now before the House was thrown out, what was to be done then? Did the hon. Member wish to go on from bad to worse, until some convulsion took place in the country —when the Radicals would get what they wanted—Universal Suffrage, and Annual Parliaments? If that was not the hon. Member's object, he could not conceive for what reason the hon. Member should have made a speech, which had done more to prejudice the measure of Government, than any which had yet been delivered.

An Hon. Member denied the accuracy of the statement which had been made, that the whole of Scotland, from one end to the other, was delighted with the Ministerial plan of Reform. Every regularly convened county meeting in that country, comprising the property, the intelligence, and respectability of the district, had, with one or two exceptions, passed resolutions, and prepared petitions, expressing their disapprobation of the measure.

Mr. Hunt

said, he had been denounced by a gallant Colonel as one of the worst enemies of Reform. The gallant Officer, however, had not ventured to deny one of his assertions. He had never disguised his sentiments. He was a Reformer, but the particular measure before the House did not come up to his idea of Reform. He did not accuse his Majesty's Ministers of having deluded the country, by holding out expectations that their Reform Bill would make bread and clothing cheap; but if they had not, others had. The people had been deluded, but they had discovered their error upon reflection, and would be deluded no longer. If the measure was to be what the noble Lord opposite said it should be, he then was an enemy to the measure so far as thinking it did not go far enough made him an enemy to it.

Sir Charles Forbes

said, that Edinburgh and Dundee were not the only places in Scotland where evil consequences had ensued from the introduction of the Reform Bill. Much mischief had likewise been done in Perth and Glasgow, in the latter of which places the mob went so far as to hoist the tricoloured flag.

Lord Mahon

wished to know whether, if any proposition should be made to preserve the relative proportion of the Representatives of England, Ireland, and Scotland as it now stood, Ministers would consider that it involved a violation of the principle of the Bill.

No answer was given to this question.

The Petition to be printed.

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