HC Deb 19 April 1831 vol 3 cc1601-5
Lord Althorp

said, he rose to present a Petition from the Clergy, Gentry, Freeholders, and other inhabitants of the county of Northampton, in favour of Parliamentary Reform. He felt it necessary, in presenting this petition, to make a few observations, with reference to the circumstances under which it was agreed to. There were, now Gentlemen in the House who were present at the meeting in which the petition was proposed and acceded to, who, if he did not state the facts accurately, could correct him. The meeting was convened on Thursday last, by the High Sheriff, in consequence of a numerously-signed requisition which had been forwarded to him. The party which was opposed to Reform, and that which was in favour of it, severally made considerable exertions to secure a majority. The two parties in the county were of nearly equal strength. He believed, that the majority of the country gentlemen, though he lived on the best terms with them, were adverse to his political opinions; and therefore he imputed his return for the county rather to feelings of private friendship than to any approbation of his political sentiments on some particular points. In order to oppose with effect the petition which he was about to present, many of the gentry invited to the meeting individuals who were connected with them in various parts of the county; and that it should not be a dry invitation, they gave to these persons, as he had been informed, a breakfast. The county meetings were usually held in the Shire-hall; but when the Sheriff arrived there to preside over this meeting, there was a vast deal of noise, which was continued for an hour and a half or two hours, to so great a degree that no human being who might desire to deliver his sentiments could make himself heard. At length a motion was made by an honourable relative of his, to adjourn the meeting to the open air, on the Market-hill; and another proposition was made to dissolve the meeting. The question was put, and the Sheriff decided that the motion in favour of adjournment was carried. Those parties who were opposed to the petition declined attending the meeting in the open air. They went to an inn, and there drew up and signed a protest against the proceedings. The Under Sheriff, the High Sheriff himself being unable, in consequence of illness, to go through the duty, took the chair at the meeting on the Market-hill. It was, he contended, a regularly convened county meeting, at which there were about 3,000 persons present, who agreed to this petition. He therefore had a right to say, that this was a petition of the county in favour of the Reform measure now under consideration. It might be said, that the meeting was not attended by many respectable persons; but to this he would answer, that there were present at the meeting individuals who were as respectable as any in the county. But it ought to be observed, that at meetings held out of doors, and even at meetings held within doors, persons in the lower class of life would be present. But he thought the petition which had been agreed to at this meeting went to prove, that no re-action on the question of Reform had taken place in the county of Northampton. As to the names signed to the protest, he was bound to say, that many of them were those of persons of the highest respectability, several of them his own personal friends. But there were also the names of others, who could not, on account of rank, object to those who were present at the out-door meeting. He saw amongst the signatures to the protest that of a chimney-sweeper and of a post-boy. Those persons certainly had a right to state their opinions, and he only mentioned the circumstance as a set-off against any charge of want of respectability which might be alleged against the meeting out of doors.

Mr. Cartwright

said, that during the thirty-five years in which he had been connected with the county, he had never before known a meeting to be adjourned from the Shire-hall to the open air. There was sufficient room in the hall for 200 persons more than attended. At 12 o'clock, when he entered the hall, there was scarcely a soul there. Under all the circumstances, he must, therefore, contend that this was not the petition of the county of Northampton. It did not, he was confident, express the sense of the resident clergy, gentlemen, and freeholders of Northampton. As he had said before, he never knew an instance of a meeting being held at Northampton in the open air, except on one occasion, when the noble Lord made a triumphal entry into Northampton, and stepped from his chariot info a waggon for the purpose of addressing the populace. That was the only time when such an occurrence had taken place in Northampton for thirty-five years. If the noble Lord would examine the names appended to the protest, he would at once perceive, that a great majority of the clergy and gentry of Northampton were opposed to the present plan of Reform. Those who signed that paper admitted that some Reform was necessary in the Representation of large and populous towns, although they could not give their sanction to such a measure as was now proposed.

Mr. Vernon Smith

explained the part which he had taken at the Northampton meeting. In his opinion, the adjournment to the Market-place was proper. At the time that the adjournment was moved, the hall was as full as it possibly could be, and a vast number of people were congregated outside.

Sir R. H. Gunning

said, that he could see no reason for the adjournment of the meeting. The freeholders, and all those who were concerned with the meeting, could hear much better in the hall than in the open air; besides, it was pouring torrents of rain at the time when the adjournment was carried. He firmly believed, that there was no proposition against which his constituents entertained a stronger objection then they did against this Bill. He had not before expressed his opinion on this question, and therefore he would make one remark before he sat down. He had heard many Gentlemen in that House state that they were friendly only to moderate Reform, but that they would nevertheless vote for the second reading of this Bill. He had told his constituents that he also was friendly to moderate Reform; but no gentleman to whom he had made that declaration had called on him to support a measure of so sweeping and comprehensive a description as the present. He was quite convinced, that if the hon. member for Middlesex had proposed such a measure a twelvemonth ago, it would have been denounced by many of the pre- sent Ministers as dangerous to the Constitution. He would not withhold his support from any moderate plan of Reform which was likely to be beneficial to the country, but he never would vote in favour of the present Bill.

Lord Althorp

said, if the people of Northamptonshire were adverse, as had been said, to the Bill now before Parliament, it was rather strange that they should sign a petition in its favour.

Petition to be printed.

Mr. Littleton

presented a Petition, which he had had for some time in his hands, emanating from a most respectable meeting of the inhabitants of Staffordshire, regularly convened by the High Sheriff, in consequence of a requisition to which was attached, among other names of great importance, the name of the Marquis of Cleveland. It was a petition of very great importance with respect to the rank and property of those by whom it had been signed. He believed that every populous and wealthy parish in that Shire had sent two petitions to Parliament on the subject of Reform: the one calling for some measure of Reform, and the other approving of that which was proposed by the Government. There was not one manufacturing parish with which he was acquainted in that county that was not unanimously favourable to the Bill. There might be some few persons who entertained fears and scruples on the subject, but the general feeling was decidedly in favour of the measure. He concurred in the opinion of the petitioners, and he would sacrifice his own private opinion on some minor points in order to secure the great object which Ministers had in view.

Mr. Cressett Petham

was adverse to the Bill, because it was of too sweeping a nature, and would diminish rather than increase the number of his constituents.

Sir C. Morgan

said, that praise was due to the Marquis of Cleveland, whose name was affixed to this petition, as a Reformer; but when the House recollected the way in which he had dealt with his boroughs, it would perhaps think that he had tended to bring about the necessity for Reform.

Mr. J. Campbell

admitted, that the noble Marquis had acted well, but men in a much humbler sphere of life had acted as well. The freemen of Stafford, for example, had acted in the most independent manner. They did not insist on retaining exclusive rights. No; they came forward fairly, and said, "Let our townsmen be admitted to the same privileges which we enjoy."

Mr. Littleton, in moving, that the Petition be printed, stated, that the meeting thought so highly of the conduct of the Marquis of Cleveland, that a specific Resolution, thanking him, was unanimously voted.

Sir C. Morgan

said, that as the owner of many boroughs, the Marquis of Cleveland had conducted them in such a manner as laid the foundation of the present Bill.

Lord J. Russell

said, that the noble Marquis who had been alluded to, used his boroughs as other borough-proprietors did—to support his own political opinions.

Colonel Davies

said, that the noble Marquis could not be accused of tyrannical conduct, with reference to his boroughs, for he believed that a gentleman who sat for one of those boroughs would vote this evening against the Bill.

Petition to be printed.

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