HC Deb 20 April 1831 vol 3 cc1720-5
Mr. Bell

said, he had to present a Petition, which he considered of very great importance, from the county of Northumberland, against the proposed Reform Bill. It was signed by two right rev. Prelates, the Bishops of Exeter and Durham, by ten Peers, by sixty Gentlemen in the Commission of the Peace, and by a very large number— he would say about 2,700—of the Freeholders of the county of Northumberland This petition, so numerously and respectably signed, formed a convincing proof, in his opinion, that the unanimity throughout the country, in favour of this measure, was not so complete as many people believed to be the case. The petitioners prayed, that this Bill should not pass into a law, because they were of opinion, that if it did so pass, it would be subversive of the best interests of this country. In their prayer, and in the propriety of their opinion, he perfectly concurred. He could not avoid expressing his disgust at the intimidation which had been held out for the purpose of compelling individuals to support this measure. He had not given way, and he should not give way, to any such intimidation; and if it were necessary, he would continue to offer his utmost opposition to every part of the measure. He had been taunted, as not being a Reformer. In answer to that he would say, that he was a moderate Reformer, but he could not support such a Reform as was now contemplated.

Mr. Beaumont

did not mean to deny that the petition which had been presented by his hon. colleague was most respectably signed; but it would be wrong to give to it all the weight and importance which would be attached to a petition agreed to at a county meeting regularly convened. He considered the present petition as speaking the sentiments of the Duke of Northumberland, and not those of the county at large. When his hon. Colleague spoke of intimidation, he could not avoid alluding to the circular which had been sent round to the tenants of the noble Duke, and which had appeared in the public papers. He did not mean to assert that that circular had emanated from his Grace; but if it did not, his Grace's Commissioners had used his name in a way which he should suppose his Grace could not approve of. The circular ran thus:— The Duke's Commissioners send to Mr. — for his own and the signatures of the tenants of his bailiwick, counterparts of Addresses to the King and the two Houses of Parliament, in respect to the present Reform Bill, the originals of which his Grace has signed, and in the promotion of which, his Lordship desires activity may be used, as a return is expected in a few days; trusting that all persons connected with him will join in the prayer of the petitions, which their neighbours should have an opportunity of signing if they think fit. The Duke requires the names of tenants who do not sign, and hopes that they will not embark rashly in politics, if they wish to place confidence in his opinions, which can only be truly learnt through his Commissioners. Commissioners'-office, Alnwick Castle, April 5th." Now let the House look to the concluding paragraph—"The Duke requires the names of tenants who do not sign," and make their own comment on it. Could any man, either in or out of doors, suppose that this list was called for merely to be left on his Grace's breakfast-table, without any intention of making further use of it? Having seen this document in The Times, he had written to a friend in the country on the subject, and he answered in these terms:—"I have not seen The Times; but the conduct of the agents and sub-agents is such as The Times could scarcely misrepresent. The tenants and undertenants have been called on to sign; but it is a complete failure. They have got 2,700 signatures of men, women, and children; for wives and daughters signed for husbands and fathers." He greatly lamented that the noble Duke should have descended from the high station which he held to countenance such proceedings. He repeated, that the petition spoke not the sentiments of the county, but those of the Duke of Northumberland.

Sir H. Hardinge

said, when he saw that this 'petition was signed by a great majority of the nobility—when no less than sixty Magistrates had affixed their signatures to it, and 2,700 freeholders, he could not but consider it as a county petition of the most respectable character. With respect to the document to which the hon. Member had called the attention of the House,, he could state, most distinctly and positively, that the Duke of Northumberland never saw that document until it appeared in The Times newspaper. The Commissioners considered that circular as a private and confidential communication; but a copy of it had been procured improperly, and sent to a newspaper at Alnwick. With respect to that part of the circular which expressed a hope "that parties would not embark rashly in politics if they wished to place confidence in his (the Duke's) opinions, which could only be truly learnt through his Commissioners," it arose from the following circumstance:—It was found that at the very Castle of Alnwick, an individual who had been an agent to a noble Lord (Howick), when he stood for the county, actually applied for, and obtained the signatures of a great number of individuals, some of them belonging (he might say) to the Duke's household, to a petition for Reform,—that person declaring, that it was a petition which would receive the Duke's approbation, and that, by signing it they would shew their loyalty to the King, and regard for the Constitution. Therefore it was, that the Commissioners had conceived it to be their duty to state, "that the noble Duke's opinions could be only truly learnt through his Commissioners." They had been forced to take this step in consequence of the unfair means which had been resorted to by the other side, in procuring signatures to the Reform petition. He could proudly refer to the noble Duke's strictly honourable and impartial conduct in Ireland; he could refer to the munificent disinterestedness with which he relinquished 10,000l. a year of his salary; he could refer to the whole course and tenour of his life, as affording sufficient evidence to repel the idea that he had ever improperly or unjustly interfered with the opinions of his tenantry.

Mr. Beaumont

said, he had carefully abstained from making any charge against the noble Duke, because he could not prove that he had participated in the publication of the circular. He threw the whole onus on the Commissioners, not on the noble Duke.

Mr. Cornewall

reminded the hon. Member, that he had expressed his regret that the noble Duke should have descended from his high station to countenance such a proceeding.

Mr. Beaumont

was obliged to his hon. friend for having reminded him of the circumstance, and he was sorry that such an observation had inadvertently slipped from him.

Mr. Hodgson

observed, that undoubtedly there was in the county of Northumberland a considerable division of opinion on this subject.

Mr. Bell

took that occasion to observe, that he had not described the petition as emanating from a county meeting, but as a petition of great importance, being signed by many of the most influential persons in the county.

Petition to be printed.

Mr. Cutlar Ferguson

presented a Petition from Kirkcudbright in favour of Reform. The hon. Member observed, that at the meeting at which this petition was agreed to, which was most respectable, the numbers were twenty-four at each side, and the casting vote was given in favour of this petition, which supported the principle of the Bill introduced by Government (for Scotland), although it differed from some of its details.

Sir G. Murray

admitted the great respectability of the petitioners, but said, that the majority of the wealth and education of Scotland were against the Bill.

Mr. Kennedy

maintained, that the people of Scotland were in favour of the Bill. Out of thirty counties, nineteen had already expressed opinions favourable to the Bill.

Sir George Clerk

was sure, that the opinions of the people of Scotland were not in favour of the Bill. He admitted, that there were faults in the representation of Scotland, but the proposed Bill was the most ill-digested production that ever was offered to the House in shape of a law.

Sir C. Forbes

wished to know of the right hon. Gentleman, the Secretary for Ireland and the learned Lord the member for Malton, what they would have done for seats in that House but for the close boroughs which had elected them. He hoped that would reconcile these Gentlemen to those places of refuge. He could not avoid recurring to the disturbances in Scotland, which he contended were the result of the excitement caused by the Bill.

Sir R. Vyvyan

deprecated such discussions on the presentation of petitions. If the practice were adhered to of debating minor points only of local interest on presenting petitions, it would be impossible to get through the business of the House, or to have time for presenting the petitions of the people, unless the time fixed for receiving them was enlarged, which he hoped it would be this evening.

Petition to lie on the Table.

Mr. J. Wood

presented a petition from Preston, signed by 2,400 persons. He was sorry he was obliged to present the petition in the absence of his hon. colleague. The meeting at which the petition was agreed to, was called by the mayor; only two persons spoke against the Reform Bill, upon the ground of its not going far enough; and when the question was put, only a few hands were held up against the question. He therefore had a right to assume that the petition spoke the sentiments of the electors of Preston. He also had a petition to present from the Manchester Political Union, in favour of the Bill. The petition was signed by the Chairman and Secretary of the Union, who were present at the meetings which his hon. colleague had attended, and they stated, that the petition expressed the sentiments of 600,000 of the working classes, residing in Manchester and its vicinity. He had also received numerous letters expressing surprise at the statement which had been made by his hon. colleague respecting the feelings of the working classes with respect to the Reform Bill.

Mr. Fyler

said, he had received a communication from the Spitalfields weavers, expressing their indignation at the statement which had been made by the hon. member for Preston (Mr. Hunt). He was also authorized to say, that the freemen of Coventry were willing to surrender their own privileges for what they conceived to be a national advantage.

Mr. Littleton

said, he had received a petition, very numerously signed by the working classes of Darlaston, the town which was visited by the hon. member for Preston. The petitioners expressed their strong surprise at the description which had been given of their conduct by that hon. Member. An advertisement had appeared in a Birmingham newspaper, containing the resolutions passed at a meeting of the working classes and he knew from that advertisement that the meeting came to a resolution declaring Mr. Hunt deserving of their censure.

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