§ Mr. Benefit, in moving a Resolution with respect to the corrupt state of the Representation of the Borough of Liverpool, said, he intended that Resolution, with the permission of the House, to form the ground-work of a Bill, which 1757 would have the effect of correcting, in future, that corruption which was so prevalent there. After the evidence taken before the Committee, and printed for the use of the House, it was unnecessary for him to say much on the subject of his Motion. He felt it necessary, however, to correct a misrepresentation which had gone abroad with reference to what had fallen from him on a former occasion. It had been reported of him, that he asserted the corruption of the freemen of Liverpool to be confined to the lower classes. On the contrary, he had expressly said, that it was his hope, through these proceedings, to get at the higher classes, who were the main spring of all that bribery and corruption which disgraced the town of Liverpool. Such was the extent of the corruption proved to exist in that town, that he hoped, for the honour of Liverpool, of the country, and of Parliament, that some means would be speedily adopted to prevent its recurrence. If the Reform Bill passed, there could be no doubt that the extension of the number of freemen would be a security for improvement, but in the meantime, it was necessary for the House to take some steps to produce a reformation of the existing state of the Representation, and he therefore moved as a Resolution, "That the system of Bribery and treating which prevails in the election of Burgesses for the town of Liverpool, demands the serious attention of the House."
§ General Gascoyne, as one of the Representatives of the town of Liverpool, utterly denied the accusations of the hon. member for Wiltshire, and declared, that if there was a spot in the whole world free [loud cries of "hear," and laughter, interrupted the hon. Member, and deprived us of the conclusion of the sentence.] He understood that cheer, but it displayed much more of prejudice than good sense. For five and thirty years he had been a Representative of that town, and he had never witnessed any of those practices Which were resorted to by others, whose estates were already deeply mortgaged.
§ The Speaker
was dertain that the gallant General had only to be informed of the irregularity and disorder he had been guilty of, in alluding to an individual, to correct it.
§ General Gascoyne
apologised, and declared that he had not alluded to any particular Member. He could lay his 1758 hand on his heart and say, that so long as he had represented the town of Liverpool, and often as he had been elected, those elections never cost him a single shilling. In the thirty-five years he represented the town, the constituents paid the Representative, but the Representative never gave anything to the constituents. He should be ashamed to mention the amount of presents he had received in the shape of plate during that, time, and he could say with safety, that he had, during the same period, received the thanks of his constituents 120 times for his services. He had been on all occasions brought in free of all expense. Whatever money might have been paid for expenses was defrayed by his friends, and he believed that all those who were brought in with him had the same advantages. There were probably many friends of Mr. Canning in that House, although they had relinquished his opinions. There were many of those friends who knew that Mr. Canning came into that House under the same circumstances; and he would say that, although there might have been ale drank, and dinners given, so help him God he had never paid for them. The hon. member for Wiltshire called on them to declare, that the freemen of the town of Liverpool were corrupt, but on what evidence? Why, upon the testimony of a person named Yates, who although a very respectable man, was certainly not the person whom he would select as best acquainted with the freemen of the town of Liverpool. What, too, was the nature of the evidence given by the witness, the only one in the whole body of examinations taken before the Committee who clearly spoke to the bribery? Why, he said, that he believed such practices were usual. There were, in fact, two parties in the town of Liverpool. He was returned by one of them, and that party which returned him took no share in the late election. The other party quarrelled with respect to the person whom they were to select, and the result was a contest, but were the whole of the electors of Liverpool to be called corrupt, and stigmatised, because there had been some treating tin that occasion, arid because one person said, he believed that bribery was usual? Of the last election, he repeated, he knew nothing. The hon. Member wished, it would seem, to take the franchise from the worthy but poor man, in order to give it 1759 to the rich man, and he would be worse than ungrateful if he did not record his knowledge of the conduct of the freemen during the time he had been connected with them. The noble Lord who at present held the Seals, as well as a noble Lord, a Member of that House (Lord Sefton) had been candidates for Liverpool, in opposition to him, but he had defeated them both, and had no doubt he should defeat his future opponents. On that occasion there were placards exhibited in every part of the town, with the words," Gascoyne's friends," "No pay," "No Out-voters," On that occasion, he was elected without his election having cost him a single farthing. The noble Lord could perhaps tell the House, if he were there, how much his election cost him. When the books of a gentleman well known to many Members of that House (Mr. Roscoe), who had been unfortunate in business, were examined by his creditors, it was found even that some thousands of pounds of expenses incurred for that election remained still unpaid. The gallant General, after repeating his declaration that it was false to impute general corruption to the freemen of Liverpool, declared his opinion that the House would be guilty of injustice in agreeing to such a Resolution.
§ Mr. John Wood
acquitted the hon. and gallant General of knowing anything of the details of the corruption which had been for forty years prevalent in Liverpool. If the gallant General was upon his oath in a Court of Justice, and sworn to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, he could no doubt say no. But three years ago, he (Mr. J. Wood) had presented a petition to the House on the subject of that atrocious corruption, and having a paper in his hand, containing the sums subscribed at Liverpool for electioneering purposes, and the favours which the subscribers were to receive in return, he had offered that paper to the late Mr. Huskisson, and to the hon. and gallant General; but neither of them chose to take it out of his hands. Some years ago he had asserted, and on having been answered by an anonymous writer in a Liverpool paper, had confirmed the assertion, that the merchants and traders of Liverpool made a profit by making a commercial speculation of the return of Members to Parliament. He had told the writer, that if he would furnish a list of the names of subscribers, and of the money they sub- 1760 scribed, he (Mr. Wood) would add a list of the favours they received in return. At the election of 1826, a friend of his, Mr. Edward Rushton, on the hustings of Liverpool, offered to produce from the papers of a gentleman, lately deceased, an account of the sum which he had subscribed to the Committee of the gallant General (no doubt unknown to the gallant General), in aid of the gallant General's election. That sum was 300l., for which he was to have a place in the Excise. After his death his executors actually made a claim on the Committee for the return of the money. With regard to Mr. Canning's election, it was managed by a certain party, called the Canning Cycle. Those merchants and others who subscribed certain sums to support Mr. Canning's election, had their share of Mr. Canning's patronage. A friend of his was asked why, knowing and approving of Mr. Canning's principles, and knowing the rules of the cycle, he had not subscribed? His answer was, that if he subscribed 100l., he might, perhaps, be asked to dinner, and Mr. Canning might drink wine with him, but that he could not afford to pay so large a sum for that honour; and that he would not subscribe 500l. or 1,000l. because he had no poor friend or relation dependent on him, for whom he wished to obtain a place. With respect to the out-voters, when Mr. Canning and a noble Lord, a Member of that House, stood for Liverpool, the Committee of the latter agreed to give the out-voters a sum averaging 10l. a man. The Committee of the former sent an agent to Manchester, with instructions to assemble the freemen of Liverpool who resided in that place, not to make a bargain with them, but, having ascertained what they were to receive from the other side, to promise them 1l. more each. He was prepared to prove that above 90,000l. had been expended during the last twenty years in Liverpool, in corruption. He was able to prove, that for a long series of years there had been the most flagrant and disgraceful bribery and corruption at the election of Members of Parliament for Liverpool. Not only was he able to prove this corruption in the election of Members of Parliament, but also in the election of Magistrates. No person could be chosen Mayor of Liverpool under an expense of 6,000l. or 7,000l. The Mayor was a Magistrate for life. The purity of the Magistrates in England was 1761 a matter of the greatest importance. He did not charge the Mayors of Liverpool with any particular corruption; but he maintained, that persons so elected were not persons who ought to have the government of a town. All that he had said, he could prove at the bar, and nothing could give him or most of the respectable inhabitants of Liverpool more pleasure than to see the elective franchise taken from those by whom it had been so abused.
§ The Earl of Sefton, having been alluded to by the hon. and gallant General, begged to say a few words. Of course the gallant General could not be offended at what he was going to state, which was, that within his own knowledge, not only at the last election (of which he had heard from others), but at every election for Liverpool of which he knew anything, there had been the greatest bribery and corruption. He begged leave also to remind the gallant General, that at the election for Liverpool, when Mr. Brougham and Mr. Creevey were opposed to the gallant General and Mr. Canning, he (Lord Sefton) took an active part in behalf of the candidates he befriended. In consequence he was subpoenaed as a witness on the election committee to which General Tarleton's petition was referred. On being asked, he believed by Mr. Adam, whether he had any conversation with the gallant General on the hustings, he had stated, that the gallant General, after remarking that the election expenses on the other side were undischarged, said, "My election expenses are settled every morning."
§ Mr. Gladstone
said, that one witness, and one only, had impugned the conduct of Mr. Canning, with respect to the elections at Liverpool. Now he must say, as the son of one of Mr. Canning's Committee, that Mr. Canning had never given, or consented to the giving, of any bribe for his return. He must also deny that any such system existed as that mentioned by the hon. member for Preston (Mr. J. Wood). Mr. Canning never gave any such authority to his friends to divide his patronage. The noble Lord (Lord Sefton) was correct in saying that bribery had existed in some of the elections at Liverpool, but let him tell the noble Lord, that it was bribery on the part of the friends of the hon. and learned Gentleman, then a candidate, now the noble Lord on the Woolsack —that the freemen of Liverpool did subscribe 10000 l. to carry on that hon. and 1762 learned Gentleman's election, and all the return he made them for it was a speech impugning the purity of election in that town. He must say also, that part of that learned Lord's election expenses there were still unpaid.
§ Mr. J. Wood, in explanation, said, that he believed he was mistaken in saying that Mr. Canning's patronage was shared by the "Canning Cycle;" but he was correct in stating that Mr. Canning's friends did sign for his patronage there.
§ Mr. C. Wood
would not have troubled the House, if he had not sat on the Liverpool Election Committee. He could not agree with the gallant General that corruption had been proved only by the evidence of one witness. He referred to the report of the Committee, to show that it had been proved by more than one witness. He was sure, that if the various members of the Committee rose and stated their opinions, they would all say that there did not exist any doubt of the fact. He did not mean to say, that it appeared that the gallant General himself had ever spent a shilling at the election for Liverpool. Nor did it appear in evidence that Mr. Ewart had ever himself spent a shilling at the election for Liverpool; and more than that, it appeared to be doubtful if he knew of the bribery that was carrying on.
§ Sir R. Peel
observed, that with respect to this question, as with respect to many of the questions in the important measure which had lately undergone so much discussion in that House, the House were acting, not politically but judicially; and ought not to decide without previous investigation. At the same time he was bound to say, that it appeared that there must be some inquiry on the subject. But why was there a variance between the Resolution proposed by the hon. member for Wiltshire and the Report of the Committee? The report of the Committee stated, "That it appears that there was gross bribery at the late election of Burgesses to serve in Parliament for the borough of Liverpool:" the hon. Gentleman's Resolution was, "That the system of bribery and treating which has prevailed at Liverpool demands the serious consideration of this House." Acting as a judicial body, they ought to adhere to the terms in which the report of the Committee was expressed.
§ Sir R. Peel
said, if he should be satisfied that the bribery existed to so great an extent as was said, he would not be content to bring in other voters—he would disfranchise the whole body.
§ Lord Althorp
agreed with the right hon. Baronet, that the House ought to confine itself to confirming the report of the Committee—that would give full means of introducing other evidence of general corruption.
§ Mr. Benett
said, that not an hour ago he had shown his Resolution to the gallant General, who expressed himself satisfied with it. He must say, that he thought some very invidious remarks had been made in the course of the present discussion. He had not spent a single shilling at his election for Wiltshire in a dishonest or illegal manner. He would ask the gallant General, though he had no wish to retaliate on him personally, whether he could say, that the same had been the case with other candidates for Liverpool.
§ General Gascoyne
acknowledged, that the hon. Gentleman had shown him his Resolution, but he thought at the time that it was the report of the Committee.
§ Mr. Benett
intimated, that he had no disinclination to substitute the expressions in the report of the Committee.
§ On the suggestion of Mr. Speaker, the Resolution in the report of the Committee was read, and
§ Sir R. Vyvyan
observed, that in the present excited state of the House and of the country, produced by the reports which for the last, four-and-twenty hours had been in circulation, whether true or not, it. remained for the noble Lord opposite to say, of a dissolution of Parliament, in consequence of the House of Commons having decided, the other night, that they would uphold the present number of English Representatives—in consequence of the House of Commons having decided that they would maintain the Protestant religion—in consequence of the House of Commons having decided, that they would not reduce the number of Members for Protestant England, and increase the number of Members for Catholic Ireland, at a moment when the Catholic priesthood had so much power in that country—it was exceedingly important that the House should know whether they were to be dis- 1764 solved, and sent back to their constituents for thus maintaining the best interests of the country. There were some hon. Members who would, no doubt, be glad to go back to their constituents, because they had been voting for the disruption of their franchises. In this period of great excitement, he felt it his duty to call on his Majesty's Ministers to state whether, the House of Commons having determined that the number of English Representatives should not be reduced, they had advised his Majesty, for the first time in the history of the country, to exercise the royal prerogative for dissolving Parliament, because, his Majesty's Ministers haying introduced a plan of Reform changing the whole character and foundation of the Constitution, the House of Commons had determined that to such a plan they would not consent? He had been much pleased the other night to hear a gallant Officer, the hon. member for Southwark, declare his opinion, and he (Sir R. Vyvyan) believed it was the opinion of every man on that side of the House, that his Majesty's Ministers were not very solicitous about the question for the reduction of the number of English Representatives; and that he had therefore made an arrangement with the gallant and hon. member for Liverpool to support his motion. Me really knew not for what reason his Majesty's Ministers had made that the great question which was to decide the fate of their measure; and he asked the House, whether their proceeding did not look very much like a trick or manœuvre for the purpose pf throwing out the Bill? Although the second reading of the Bill had been carried by a majority of only one, yet, having been carried, it ought to have been allowed to be discussed in the Committee, with a view of ascertaining whether it might not receive some beneficial modifications. He would state in public what he had already repeatedly stated in private, that he did not vote for the proposition of the hon. and gallant General for the purpose of throwing out the Bill. HE wished to make one more observation before he put the question which he had risen to put to the noble Lord. He had declared, when he moved the Amendment on the motion far the second reacting of the Bill, that if that Amendment were carried, and in consequence the Bill were not read a second time, he intended to move a Resolution pledging the House to strengthen and amend 1765 the constitution of that House. The words of his intended Resolution were—"That it is expedient to strengthen and amend the Representation of the United Kingdom, and to admit to a participation in the elective. franchise those interests which had grown into importance with the increasing wealth and prosperity of the country, due regard being had to the dignity of the Crown, to the liberties of the people, to the maintenance of existing institutions, and to the welfare of our vast colonial possessions." Those were the words of the Resolution which it was his intention to move had his Amendment been carried. He could not help believing that his Majesty's Ministers must feel themselves to be in a desperate condition. By their conduct, they had thrown the people of England into a state of great excitement; and he trusted that what they had done would fall on the heads of only a few Members, and that they and their gracious Sovereign would not, at some future period, look back upon the present step as the first that had led to the destruction of the monarchy. The question which he wished to put to the noble Lord was— "Is it the intention of his Majesty's Ministers to proceed with the Bill, or to advise the King to dissolve Parliament because the House of Commons has not consented to reduce the number of English Representatives?"
§ Lord Althorp
I have no hesitation in stating in answer to the first part of the hon. Baronet's question, that having taken into consideration the necessary effect and consequences of the vote of the House the other night, it is not the intention of his Majesty's Government to proceed with the Bill. It would be inconsistent with my duty to give any answer to the latter part of the hon. Baronet's question,
§ Colonel Davies, as the friend of Reform, expressed his regret at the course which had been pursued by his Majesty's Ministers. He did not think, that the cause of Reform would be advanced by a dissolution of Parliament It was true, that a great majority pf the people of England were favourable to that cause, but that sentiment had been expressed chiefly by parties who had not the elective franchise. Great bodies of freemen would oppose it, and probably, too, the voters in nomination boroughs would turn against their patrons who might be favourable to disfranchising them. It was most unfortunate 1766 that Ministers had staked the fate of the Bill on that particular question, on which there might perhaps be found a very general feeling in the country in consonance with the decision of the House. In his opinion they should go on with the Bill, and get as much of it adopted as they could. At present, not a single borough was disfranchised; but if they had succeeded in obtaining even a tithe of the measure, they might then have gone to the people with greater advantage.
§ Mr. W. Duncombe
confirmed the statement of the hon. member for Cornwall, that neither the hon. Member nor himself voted the other night for the Amendment of the hon. and gallant member for Liverpool, with any view of getting rid of the Bill. Their only object was, to get rid of that part of the plan which went to reduce the number of English Representatives. They did not conceive that, by voting for that Amendment, they precluded themselves from adopting such parts of the Bill as they might consider beneficial to the country. He had before stated to the House, that he was ready to oppose the Bill in a straight-forward, manly way; but would never be a party to any manœuvre. Should Ministers recommend a dissolution of Parliament, that would only confirm the opinion which had been formed of them out of doors. They had, on coming into office, promised economy and retrenchment; and had they not, in the face of this promise, increased the army and navy? He considered that an awful responsibility would rest upon the heads of the Ministry, if they dissolved Parliament in the present excited state of the public mind.
§ Mr. Portman
thought, the Ministers had done wisely in not proceeding farther with this Bill; because it was not, in his opinion, possible, with the equally-balanced slate of parties, to carry the measure through successfully. If the dissolution should take place, the question of Reform would be placed in the hands of the people, and it would be for them to decide it as they thought proper. He considered the present discussion extremely improper. The House of Commons had no right to interfere with the Crown in the exercise of one of its prerogatives.
praised the conduct of the gallant member for Liverpool; and in reference to the question actually before 1767 the House, remarked, that subscriptions had been made to ensure the return of his gallant friend (General Gascoyne) for Liverpool; which proved the confidence with which he was regarded by his constituents, and their gratitude for his services. He remarked, at the same time, that subscriptions were got up by a body called the Political Union, for very different purposes. They were entered into to oppose those Members who had done their duty by endeavouring to maintain the Constitution. For himself, he would stand or fall by the independent conduct which he had always pursued. And if Ministers hereafter gave no more satisfaction by their measures than they had hitherto done, he should never wish to see them again.
§ Mr. George Robinson
said, it was a remarkable circumstance that those Members who now found fault with Ministers for the supposed exercise of their discretion, in advising the King to dissolve Parliament, had constantly endeavoured to defeat the Reform Bill since its first introduction to the House. He thought that Ministers had acted wisely, after the vote of last night, in determining to dissolve Parliament, and to wait for a more favourable occasion for again bringing a Reform Bill forward. He believed, and so he thought did the country, that those Members who voted for the motion of the gallant Representative of Liverpool were enemies to all Reform. When he said all Reform, he meant salutary Reform, which the people required, and which would give them, not a nominal influence, but a legitimate influence in that House. He did not care a fig for the hon. member for Cornwall's Resolution, which he had read for the first time after the Bill had been withdrawn. He would ask any independent man in the House what, after all, the resolution of the hon. Member amounted to; what but a string of vague truisms? If that Resolution had been carried, a bill might have been brought in which would have effected any species of Reform, or no Reform whatever.
§ Sir R. Vyvyan
explained, that he voted with the gallant General on a single point. It was his intention, had there been a question as to going into a Committee, to have voted for it.
§ Lord Morpeth
said, that if the Ministry had determined on a dissolution, their determination showed their wisdom and spirit. As to the point at issue between him 1768 and the hon. Member (Mr. W. Buncombe) he would not shrink from the decision of the country.
§ Sir C. Forbes
congratulated the House upon Ministers having abandoned their revolutionary Bill; and, as for a dissolution, he could not believe that Ministers would dare to recommend it to his Majesty; or that, even if they did, his Majesty had not sufficient sense and prudence to resist and refuse that recommendation. If Government should resign, it would give him great pleasure; for, although he respected individuals belonging to it, he could not respect those who composed it as a body. But that they would resign was what he feared the country could not expect. They had been too long looking and struggling for place and power to give them up quietly. They might be defeated on every measure— and, indeed, they were defeated on every measure, except the tax on steam-boats, which was the only thing which remained upon which they could be defeated. They would not, however, resign—they would pertinaciously cling to office to the last possible moment. As Mr. Canning said of another Whig Ministry—when they were driven from the ship, they would take to the boat—and when they were flung overboard from the boat, they would cling to the oar.
§ Mr. Hart Davis
said, that he approved of some parts of the Reform Bill, but on the whole he considered it a most revolutionary measure. He would describe it in those terms to his constituents, whom he was not afraid, any more than the hon. member for Worcester (Mr. Robinson), to meet face to face. He congratulated the House and the country upon the withdrawal of the Bill.
observed, that the noble Lord opposite (Lord Morpeth) had said, the determination of Ministers to dissolve Parliament would show wisdom and spirit. He strongly denied the first proposition; and as for the second, if desperate courage, reckless blindness, and total disregard of consequences to those over whom they unfortunately ruled, were spirit, the noble Lord was right. He asked if this question of Reform was a question to be decided by the country while in such a state of excitement? Certainly not; but the Ministry felt that their Bill was one which could only be approved of by the country while in such a state of excitement. They knew, 1769 that if the feeling which was then abroad was suffered to abate—if feverish excitement were permitted to subside into wholesome quiet—the measure would meet the same treatment from the country which it would have assuredly met from that House. The project for dissolving Parliament at the present moment he considered highly criminal. He compared it to the design of putting a deadly weapon into the hands of a madman; and reminded Government, that the person who put such a weapon within the grasp of a madman, was responsible for the murders he might commit in his paroxysm of insanity.
Mr. R, Price
hoped Government would not resign. They had the complete confidence of the Sovereign and the people and he hoped they would have the wisdom and spirit to appeal to the people upon this subject. It was only for those who had acted in opposition to the wishes of their constituents to fear such an appeal. It was very well for them to condemn the recommendation to dissolve Parliament, but it was the first time he had ever heard it designated as unconstitutional for Ministers so to advise the King, when Parliament was at issue with the Government.
§ Mr. M. Fitzgerald
said, he rose to defend himself from gross misrepresentations of the grounds of his vote upon the motion brought forward by the gallant General. He voted for that motion, because he considered it a most unjustifiable proposition to benefit Scotland and Ireland at the expense of the English Representation. The grounds of his vote were the desire to do justice to England; and he would strongly maintain that the keeping up the full Representation of England furnished no good reason why additional Members should not be given to Scotland and Ireland. For the leading individuals in the present Administration he entertained the highest possible respect, and he did not believe the Reform Bill was cordially assented to by these distinguished persons. He accordingly hailed the withdrawal of it with pleasure. Except some minor details, which could be adopted at any time, there was nothing in the Bill which could induce him to give it his approbation. He thought, that at present a dissolution would be a most un-advisable proceeding. The state of Ireland was most alarming; in several counties the peasantry were in actual rebellion, 1770 and there was no security for life and properly. On what guarantee or security did they then proceed, that this state of things would not be rendered worse, and more alarming, by the excitement of a dissolution? They complained of nomination boroughs—were they prepared to place the Representation of Ireland in the hands of an individual? Or, were they so encouraged by the result of the late elections as to suppose their own influence would be paramount? He could scarcely suppose this, since of the three elections which had recently occurred in Ireland, two were decided by the nomination of the hon. member for Waterford. What was all the nomination of rotten boroughs compared with the power of nomination that would be thrown by the Government, in the event of a dissolution, into the hands of the hon. and learned member for Waterford? Was it not notorious, that if the hon. and learned member for Waterford had raised the cry of the Repeal of the Union against Sir Henry Parnell, that hon. Baronet would not have been so easily returned for the Queen's County? Was it not equally clear, too, that, without the presence of an army in Kilkenny, the noble Lord now returned for that county would have been defeated by the nominee of the hon. and learned Member? Where, however, was the army that would be able to give free access to the poll to the electors of all the counties in Ireland? It might be said that there would not be any need of such an army. In one respect he believed it, for he believed that they had the guarantee of the hon. and learned Member that all should be quiet—that the elections should be free from disturbance—that the Repeal of the Union should not be agitated, nor indeed, any other question but that of Parliamentary Reform. He did not mean to say that this might not be so, at least as far as the hon. and learned Member was concerned, for he did not mean to say that Ministers were reckoning without their host on this occasion; but he believed, that great as was the power of the hon. and learned Gentleman, he did not possess power enough to secure the peace and tranquillity of that country. It was now well understood, that an appeal was to be made to the people, and he feared the consequences that might ensue. He would make one observation with respect to the speeches of the hon. member for Preston. 1771 He had never been the friend of Universal Suffrage and Vote by Ballot; but he agreed with that hon. Member, that the effect of the Bill was, to exclude the lower classes of this country from their share in the Representation. He was opposed to such a change, and he should take his stand as decidedly against the disfranchisement of the constituency of Preston, because they were poor, as he should against the other part of the measure, which Went to deprive property of its just influence in the country. It was now understood that an appeal to the constituency of the nation was about to be made, and it had become the fashion to talk of the approaching annihilation of the oligarchy; but he would assert, that the Reform which Government proposed was, in reality, calculated to raise up a more fearful oligarchy than any to which the term could have been heretofore applied, for it would empower the lower and middle classes, henceforward, arbitrarily to dictate to their superiors. With respect to himself, as individually affected by the intended dissolution, he could say with confidence, that he had no fears for the result. Throughout his entire political life he had been invariably consistent, and had shown himself always ready to go to the full length of any practical reasonable Reform. In 1797 he had opposed a proposition for Reform nearly similar to the present. His political principles and consistency, then, were too well known for him to fear the result of the election. He had always been ready to go the full length of any practicable measure of Reform, and for that reason he had given his vote for the disfranchisement of East Ret-lord. He should be glad, too, that the number of Members for Scotland should be increased, and that the important town of Belfast should be brought more politically forward. He was also willing to extend the Representation to all the great cities of England. In any measure of Reform of this kind recently brought forward, the only justifiable course would be, that it should be proposed in one Session, and decided on in the next; but the Parliament ought not to be called on to get rid of one Constitution, and to make another, all in the same Session. As the measure was now hurried forward, no class and no interest had time to consider it, or conjecture what would be its probable consequences. Sir J. Newport observed, that while his hon. friend was addressing the House, it 1772 really was impossible to know, at least so far as his speech went, what was the question before them. If the House was thus to be drawn into a debate on a question that was withdrawn, he did not know when the debates of that House were to have an end. It was certainly true, that the right hon. Gentleman had formerly refused his assent to a sweeping measure, as he called it, of this kind; but three years afterwards, he at the bidding of the noble Lord then at the head of the Irish Government, concurred in one which was ten times as revolutionary. He objected to the introduction of discussions of this kind.
§ Sir R. Peel
said, he felt himself called on to vindicate the course taken by his right hon. friend. That at an early period that House might be dissolved, was in itself a justification for those now expressing their opinions on the subject, who had not before had an opportunity. He inferred from the silence of the noble Lord opposite, that it was the intention of the Government to risk that experiment, which he thought at the present time was fraught with danger, and might end in general tumult. He quarrelled not with the noble Lord for abandoning the Reform Bill; if he thought there was such a degree of objection to the Bill, and to the details as to preclude the further progress of the Bill, he was a competent judge of the matter, and must be supposed to be right in his opinion; but he must regret the withdrawal of the measure on a motion which had nothing to do with its substance. In his opinion Reform ought to be conducted on one of two principles—either that of maintaining the relative proportions fixed at the time of the Union; or, if that proportion was departed from, a small addition should be made to the number of the Members for Ireland and Scotland, but the number of those for England ought to be retained. These—if he concurred in any measure of Reform—these would be the grounds on which his concurrence would be based; and these were the grounds on which the noble Lord, now at the head of the Government, proposed a Reform in the year 1800. At that time Mr. Grey was of opinion that the number of the Members ought to be reduced, and his plan of reduction was this:—He proposed to cut off several small boroughs, arid in that way to reduce the number Of Members for England and Scotland, and to allot to Ireland 85 Members instead of 1773 100. Thus life proposed to retain the proportion between the Members for the three countries On the same basis that had been fixed at the time of the Union—a basis determined by their relative wealth and population. Such a change might be desirable—to one more extensive; he (Sir R. Peel) certainly should object. He never meant to go into the Reform Bill for the purpose of improving its details, he was opposed to the Bill distinctly, decidedly opposed to it—opposed to it because it was brought forward at a moment when expectation was most excited. If Reform was desirable, it should be made a Substantive measure and be introduced under the existence of less excitement than at the present moment. He bad, therefore no wish to improve the details of the Bill, and at the third reading he should most probably have been found expressing his dissent from the Bill. That the Ministers should give up the Bill on a Resolution that, in case of a Reform, the number of the English Representatives should not be diminished, was to him a thing the most unaccountable. If the Government had determined to dissolve the Parliament, he deeply lamented it, on account of the hazard to which he feared they would subject the country. He thought there was no justifiable ground for their coming to such a Resolution. Because this question of Parliamentary Reform had been negatived, Government felt it requisite for the proper administration of the affairs of the country to dissolve the Parliament. In his opinion, the measure was not one of such imminent and immediate necessity as to justify them in coming to such a decision. He could, however, well understand the motives for pressing on the measure. It had been brought forward at a time of great excitement—an excitement shared by those who had in some measure created it. Let them look at the language of a publication conspicuous for the talent with which it was conducted, and supposed to represent pretty accurately the opinions of at least some of his Majesty's Ministers. Let them read The Edinburgh Review, published in last Autumn, and they would find there a reference to the "beautiful days" of Paris; and when they had seen this, let them say whether his impression was not correct, that some of the authors of this Bill were sharers in that general excitement which had recently prevailed through- 1774 out Europe. He fully believed, if time had been given, that the re-action, which had already begun in public opinion—he might say manifestly begun—would have extended itself over all classes, hardly excepting even those who thought they were interested in the success of the Bill, as it would confer on them new privileges. But whether it was so or not, he thought that no Administration ought to undervalue the opinions of those who had already solemnly declared that they could not give their assent to the Bill. The wishes of the people had been talked of. When they talked of the people, they talked as if the people were to be numbered by heads, and they forgot the influence of wealth and education. It was impossible to deny—looking at the number who had spoken at the various public meetings throughout the country, and looking at the ability and the disinterestedness they had displayed—that there was great discordance in public opinion as to the merits of the Reform Bill; and he would assert that no man was entitled to say, that this Reform Bill met with that unanimous approbation which the Government had said the introduction of that Bill had occasioned. The Bill was based upon no principle; but proceeded throughout its several enactments on a matter of assumption, several of its enactments being most arbitrary, yet they pretended that no other could be received in the country with any feeling but that of dissatisfaction. If the Parliament was to be dissolved because this measure could not be carried, then many measures relating to the internal tranquillity of the country, and to its foreign relations which were requisite, would be postponed, or altogether passed over. There was, however, as it seemed to him, no immediate necessity for dissolving Parliament. What was the pretext for it? Why the Ministers were afraid to keep alive and perhaps increase the excitement that now existed. They need not fear. It would die of itself. A greater degree of excitement than the present had died out before. He had indeed heard complaints from the opposite side of the House that the people had become indifferent to the subject of Reform, after they had manifested a desire for it in a greater degree than at the present moment. Let the events of Paris fade from recollection, and let the people of this country calmly consider the effects of these Revolutions in Paris and Brussels, and he would venture 1775 to say that the excitement would die away and then, at any future period, this country would be in a fitter state to consider of a proposition for amendment in the Representative system; but, if his Majesty's Government were prepared to advise a dissolution of the Parliament, in what state would they put themselves by giving that advice? From the course the Government had pursued, he did feel a strong confidence that, with regard to Ireland, they would have asked from the Parliament a coercive measure, limited, of course, but still vesting them with more powers than they now possessed. He had not pressed them to ask for the Insurrection Act, for, after the experience he had had, he was fully convinced that nothing: but absolute necessity could justify it. He agreed with those who said, that though that measure might sometimes produce the effect of tranquillity, it was yet a most unconstitutional measure; and wherever sentiments of a particular kind existed among the body of the people, and those sentiments were thought to create danger to the State, the remedy for that danger had better be intrusted to the usual administration of the laws than be provided for in such a manner as to constitute the upper classes the judges of it. Indeed to vest the power of decision and of action, at such a time, in the hands of one portion of the people, to be exercised over the rest, so far from diminishing discontent, though it might seem to effect a cure, left a rankling sore behind, and had a tendency to perpetuate the evil. Under such circumstances, he should rather suggest to the Government the possibility of making some provision by which another tribunal could be instituted for the trial of offenders; but if the Parliament were now to be dissolved, no such thing could be done. He rejoiced that the necessity for these measures did not seem to exist at present. He knew nothing of the state of Ireland but what he saw in the public papers, but what he did see convinced him that the state of society in the western parts of that country was such as no man could look at without a feeling of the greatest sorrow. It was to be hoped, however, that the permanent laws of the country, and the powers conferred on the Government by some existing Statutes, would be found sufficient, without its being expedient to add to those powers in any way. If, however, it should be found necessary to have recourse to 1776 extraordinary powers, they certainly ought to be effective. It appeared to him but a misplaced humanity to let discontent grow to a head, until no authority but a large military force, or the operation of the Insurrection Act, was sufficient to put it down. He, having confidence that such a measure would have been produced without going too far, should, in that case, have lent his humble aid to the Ministers to extinguish the evil. Would not, he would ask, would not the general election add to the previously existing discord? What had taken place in Clare? In order to maintain the public peace, it was necessary to station a military force in the county. That election had taken place while the present Ministry were in office. He was told, that there was nothing political in these disorders: he was not of that opinion; but if it were true, then the only relief that could be expected was, from some change in the relative conditions of landlord and tenant, and Reform could effect no diminution of the evil. Under these circumstances, he was afraid of the destruction of that force by which the public peace had been preserved, and afraid of the circumstance of their being left for six weeks, at least, without the means of resorting to any extraordinary remedy in case of disorder. He must say, that the Ministers who, in such a state of things, advised a dissolution of Parliament, incurred a heavy responsibility. Was that all? What would be the immediate effect of the dissolution? The powers they already possessed would be extinguished: by that Act which enabled the Government to suppress illegal associations, it was provided, that the power thereby created should expire at the end of the present Session of Parliament. That Session would be determined by the dissolution, and by the dissolution of Parliament, not only might all the evils of Ireland break but afresh, but the powers now possessed by the Government would be put an end to, and it would be prevented from making a fresh application to Parliament for additional powers. On these grounds he deprecated the expressed intention of the Government. He conceived that the dissolution of a Parliament so lately assembled—which had executed so little in the public service — which had scarcely passed one measure worth recording—was not justifiable. He found on the Journals of that House reasons as- 1777 signed against the dissolution of Parliament, which were so well worded, and were so applicable to past circumstances, that he should take the liberty of reading them, and with the view of ensuring more attention than was usually paid to written documents, he would state, that these were the Resolutions put on record on the Journals of that House, in 1807, by the noble Lord now at the head of the Government. They were Resolutions condemning the dissolution of Parliament. He called on them to weigh well the sentences of the noble Lord. The Resolutions were moved at the re-assembling of Parliament in 1807. They were in these words: "That by a long experience of his Majesty's virtues, we well know it to be his Majesty's invariable wish, that all his prerogatives should be exercised solely for the good of his people." He had told them how much the words of these Resolutions demanded their approval. He would now go on:—" That our dutiful attachment to his Majesty's person and government obliges us, therefore, most humbly to lay before him the manifest misconduct of his Ministers, in having advised the dissolution of the late Parliament, in the midst of its first Session, and within a few months after his Majesty had been pleased to assemble it for the despatch of the urgent business of the nation. That this measure, advised by his Majesty's Ministers, at a time when there existed no difference between any of the branches of the Legislature, nor any sufficient cause for an appeal to his Majesty's people, was justified by no public necessity or advantage. That by the interruption of all private business then depending in Parliament, it has been productive of great and needless inconvenience and expense, thereby wantonly adding to the heavy burthens which the necessities of the times require. That it has retarded many useful laws for the internal improvement of the kingdom."— He doubted much whether this could be truly said, indeed, of the present Parliament, as he feared that no measures for the internal improvement of the kingdom had ever been introduced by the Ministers; but the Amendment moved by the noble Lord went on to say—" and for the encouragement and extension of its agriculture, manufactures, and commerce. And that it has either suspended, or wholly defeated, many most important public measures, and protracted much of the 1778 most weighty business of Parliament, to a season of the year when its prosecution must be attended with the greatest public and private inconvenience. And that we feel ourselves bound still further to submit to his Majesty, that all these mischiefs are greatly aggravated by the groundless and injurious pretences on which his Majesty's Ministers have publicly rested their evil advices; pretences, affording no justification for the measure, but calculated only to excite the most dangerous animosities among his Majesty's faithful subjects at a period when their united efforts were more than ever necessary for the security of the empire, and when to promote the utmost harmony and co-operation amongst them would have been the first object of faithful and provident Ministers."✶ These Resolutions contained the general arguments on the question of dissolution at such a moment. There were, he repeated, no such circumstances as now called for a dissolution. He admitted the necessity of Reform; but he again denied that it was an immediate and imminent necessity. He could not refrain from availing himself of this opportunity, the last he might have, of protesting against the contemplated dissolution, and of making his declaration that Ministers by resorting to it, incurred, perhaps, a more serious responsibility than had been risked by any previous Government.
had neither intention nor authority to enter into the discussion; he, therefore, only rose to remark that there was this difference between the conduct of Earl Grey in 1807, and the right hon. Baronet upon this occasion. The Resolution of 1807 was brought forward when the dissolution of Parliament was not only announced, but had taken place, and when those under whose responsibility the step had been taken were ready and at liberty to justify it. The dissolution had not yet taken place—it had not been announced, —and the lips of the King's advisers were necessarily sealed.
§ Mr. Brownlow
was not a little surprised that the complaint against the possible exercise of an undoubted prerogative of the Crown should come from the other side of the House, which until now had so stiffly stickled for those prerogatives. Unless he were greatly mistaken, such was the effect of what had been advanced against a dis-✶ Hansard's Parl. Debates, Vol. ix, p. 583.1779 solution, for although some care was taken to Word their advice as delicately as passible, the object was, to deter the King from resorting to the contemplated extremity. He was also astonished that hon. Members who had opposed the Reform Bill should not be happy to seize the earliest opportunity of resorting to their constituents; for throughout the discussion they had constantly vaunted that they required nothing more than their resistance to that measure to recommend them to the country: how often had the boast been heard—"With your Bill in my hand I Will meet those who send me to Parliament." It was difficult consistently to account for this change; but On, perhaps, the last day of the existence of the present Parliament, it might be convenient to hold language different to that which had been used at a period of less immediate peril. For his part, he (Mr. Brownlow) rejoiced that an appeal was about to be made to the people, and he trusted that the natives of England would remember with gratitude, that they owed the Reform Bill, as far as it had gone, to the Representatives of Ireland. He did not deny that Ireland was in a state of excitement as far as great distress was calculated to produce it; but he did deny that that excitement was even remotely connected with politics, and the movements in the West arose only out of the wants of the people. There was now happily an end of all fear of religious warfare—the feelings which produced it were allayed for ever, and the people of Ireland regarded the Reform Bill as a measure of civil improvement, calculated to remove the very distresses of which they complained—as a sure pledge and guarantee of better Government than they had experienced for a melancholy series of years. Of this Ministers might rest assured, that the measure would receive in Ireland unanimous approbation.
§ Mr. Wyse
also bore testimony that no political excitement existed in Ireland, and expressed his conviction that none would be produced by the Reform Bill and the consequent Dissolution. The Marquis of Anglesea had done much to satisfy different classed, and to tranquillise the public mind, and a general election would be followed by none of the evils which the other side were so anxious to predict. Hon. Members on the opposite side seemed to entertain much apprehension of the influ- 1780 ence of the hon. and learned member for Waterford. That influence, no doubt, was very extensive and very great, but it should also be remembered, that they who now most loudly complained of it, were the men who, by an obstinate adherence to old abuses, and a continued system of mal-administration in Ireland, were chiefly instrumental in creating and consolidating that power. On the present occasion, the exertion of that influence had been almost anticipated: there were few in Ireland who Were not favourable to the Bill. Put an end to the misgovernment of Ireland, and the influence of the hon. Member, which was so much dreaded, would cease as a necessary consequence. As to the threat of commotions, he had no fear that any would take place; he apprehended no such events as had occurred in France; for ours Was an aristocracy, not of name only, but an aristocracy that lived with the people, and depended upon the people's love.
said, had he risen before the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel), he should have confined himself to a few sentences; but having risen after him, it would be necessary for him to extend his observations, though to no great length. Reference had been made to the state of the county of Clare, and to the troops it had been thought necessary to quarter in it during the election; but that experiment of itself established, that political excitement always diminished illegal outrage; the soldiers had not been called upon to protect a voter in a single instance. The causes of disturbance were very different, and if he were anxious for a Dissolution, it was because it would give to the people of Ireland a legitimate hope, which would prevent all resort to lawless violence. Grant Reform, and every chance of political commotion would be removed. It was highly edifying now to listen to the right hon. Gentleman, while he talked so philosophically about the Insurrection Act and its unconstitutional vices; but it was singular that these enlightened views should never have occurred to him during the twenty-three years that he had been in office. It. was very well for the opponents of the Reform Bill to exclaim, "Do not dissolve;" but he (Mr. O'Connell) called upon Government to dismiss the present Parliament for the very reason that was urged against it. A gross delusion was attempted when it was said, that the extinction of rotten boroughs was necessarily 1781 to be translated into a diminution of the number of English Members. This was almost as barefaced as the endeavour of an hon. Baronet to show that the Reform Bill was meant to increase Popery, and who said, that he upon that ground had voted against it. In the present enlightened age, and with such a talented Press, it would not be easy to persuade the people of England to believe, that the Reform Bill ought to be rejected for the sake of protecting them from the encroachments of the Roman Catholic priesthood. Some hon. Members had urged that the dissolution ought to be postponed; but if it were postponed, what pledge of security would Ministers give the people of England that they meant hereafter again seriously to bring forward the question of Reform? He hoped that Ministers would at once advise the King (and God bless him!) to appeal to the deliberate good sense of the people, and to call upon them to aid in the abolition of that corrupt system which had already degraded Great Britain among the nations of Europe. If the Poles had been conquered instead of being victorious—if the barbarous hordes of Russia, having scoured the North of Europe, even threatened to make war upon England from the opposite coast of France, still hostilities ought not to be commenced without a dissolution of Parliament. Sure he was, that in Ireland such would be the wisest course, and the elections would proceed and terminate with the most perfect tranquillity. There was no principle afloat in Ireland that would not aid the Reform Bill, and he trusted that the fifty-trine Members who had voted in favour of the Reform Bill, would, by the new election, be increased to eighty. Grattan, whose name was canonized—Ponsonby, who had been Lord Chancellor—and Curran, who had died in obscurity, as Master of the Rolls—led the public mind in Ireland; but the measure of Reform was scouted in the Irish House of Commons in 1797. The people were driven to despair, and the result was the rebellion of 1798. The people of England now knew their friends from their enemies, and an opportunity ought to be given them of confiding in the one and rejecting the other. Let Reform be refused, and he must be a bold man who could prophesy the result. The right hon. Baronet might taunt the Belgians, and cast what reflections he pleased upon the three beautiful 1782 days of Paris. They showed what was to be expected by a despotic Monarch, who dared to trample upon the chartered lights and privileges of a people. The French nation did right not to lie down in a tame and miserable subjection arid Subserviency. They hurled from the throne the tyrant who wished to overthrow their sacred liberties. They did but that which he should be glad to see the people of England do, if that occurred in England—which never would occur while the present illustrious family presided over her destinies—which it was impossible should ever occur while the present august Monarch ruled over a faithful and attached people—namely, if an attempt were made to turn the nation into one entire rotten borough. If, for instance, an ordinance were to come out to-morrow that the Representation of England should be similar to that of Scotland, would the people of England submit to it? Certainly not; or they would belie their ancestors and themselves. How many atrocious corruptions and abominations had been already submitted to, merely from despair? The people were now beginning to hope— give their hopes a legitimate channel. Let Ministers follow Up their great and majestic measure. Let them say to the people, "there is a question to be tried between the borough mongers and us. You, the people of England, are the tribunal to which the question is to be referred—you are to judge between us, and to decide whether there is to be still a borough mongering system, or a Ministry which is to stand Only upon the judgment and the support of the people."
said, he would not attempt to conceal the motives which had actuated him in voting the other night. He would say honestly and candidly, it was to defeat the Bill. He had been lately in the country —he found a Variety of opinions—the towns generally in favour—the landed interest generally averse, from the Bill. This Bill was, to all intents and purposes, prejudicial to the agriculturists. It was evident the landed interest must be outvoted on every occasion; and would not that in the end affect the towns? Were not trade and manufactures bound up and inseparably connected with the land? What trade could prosper—what manufactures flourish—what money would be circulated through the country with landlord or tenant in a depressed state? Did the country know that—though Lord Grey 1783 had not been one of them—nearly the whole of the Ministers had been connected for many years with the Government of the country, and that they had introduced that system of policy, the evil effects of which the country were now experiencing? They had first broached the principles of free trade!—they had advocated and finally succeeded in carrying, through the want of firmness on the part of the late Government, the alteration of the currency, which by affecting the land in the first instance, afterwards created a stagnation in trade, and a general distress, which, with the refusal of the late Government to inquire into that distress, had given the country too good reason to cry out for Reform. One of their first acts had been the abolition of the yeomanry, which he must contend to have been a most weak and pusillanimous policy—a most false and paltry economy, the impolicy of which their having been forced now to re-establish them, sufficiently proved. The country had before now trusted to their vain and fanciful projects; they had embarked in false political experiments, no beneficial results of which had ever been realised, but, on the contrary, they had brought with them ruin and distress. He cautioned the country, that it might not be led away on this occasion. He regretted the course which had been pursued; he regretted that Ministers had not. brought forward a more moderate plan, for he would venture to assert, had they introduced a moderate and constitutional measure, no true friend to the country would have dared to have opposed them; but whatever the course it was now their intention to pursue, whether a change in the Executive Government of the country, or an appeal to the nation, must be attended with excitement and agitation. If an appeal to the country, he should not be afraid to go before his constituents; he should go before them, whatever was the result, with a consciousness of having done his best for the country. He considered it the duty of a Member of Parliament to be guided by a sense of duty to the country in preference to all other considerations. He was afraid popularity on this occasion had been too much looked to; popularity had been courted.— Tuus, O Regina, quid optesExplorare, labor; mihi jussa capessere fas est.
said, that the question was, whether on this occasion, there was sufficient reason and ground to justify the 1784 adoption of the great and important measure proposed by his Majesty's Ministers? The right hon. Baronet had read the Resolutions proposed by the noble Earl, now at the head of the Government, so long back as twenty-four years ago. There was not one of them in which he (Dr. Lushington) did not perfectly concur, and if the circumstances were at all similar, he would give them his consent; but the cases were widely different. He thought that nothing could be more dangerous, and more likely to excite the disappointment and indignation of the people of England, than to find that the measure, of which they universally approved, was postponed for an indefinite period, when his Majesty's Ministers had the power, by appealing to the people, to obtain their final sanction. It would be for the people to do their duty —Ministers had so far done theirs:—it would be for themselves to determine whether they were to be governed by Representatives of their own choice, or by the nominees of those who had interests which could only be advanced at the expense of theirs. "But," says the right hon. Baronet, "wait till the present excitement has passed over, till the recollection of the three days in Paris has faded from the minds of the people, and then come forward with a moderate measure of Reform which we can all calmly discuss and approve of." But he asked, could the three days of Paris ever pass away from the recollection of the people of this country? Could such a bright incident in the history of the human race be so readily forgotten? It could not be forgotten; and were he a Frenchman, he should feel, that for the first time in his life he could be truly proud of the name; that the victories of Louis 14th, and the military splendor of the iron reign of Napoleon, were as nought compared with the glorious resistance of freemen to the attempts to enslave them of a despotic monarch. But there was no danger of excitement in this country, for at no period were the people better able to appreciate the merits of such a measure, and to assert them without violence. And from whom was it that the advice not to dissolve Parliament emanated? Why, from those who all their lives scouted every measure of Reform, and would continue to do so still were it in their power. For twenty years every plan for improving the Representation of the people had received the opposition of these Gentlemen; 1785 but now forsooth they all were "friendly to the principle" of Reform—admitted its necessity, but objected to any plan but their own. The hon. member for Cornwall, seeing that to set his face openly against Reform would not just now answer, had attempted to indirectly raise a "No Popery" cry against it. Yes, the hon. Member made such an attempt; and he had heard him with indignation, as he was sure did every honest and enlightened Gentleman in that House. But the day for such a paltry attempt had passed away; the people were no longer to be deluded by such subterfuges of bigotry, and the scenes, so unworthy of the English Ministry of 1807, could never be again repeated in this country. Allusions had been made to the state of Ireland, and to measures of coercion to be adopted for that country. He did not think that violating established institutions, and introducing new measures increasing in severity, were the best means of preserving tranquillity. If the Government had adopted the determination of advising his Majesty to dissolve the Parliament, he would hail it as a measure denoting courage—a courage befitting so good a cause—a courage which would not exist were it not for the conviction that the cause warranted the advice;—and it need not be feared that the people would show, by those whom they would send to represent them in a new Parliament, that they were sensible of the merits of the measure, and that they considered as their enemies those individuals who had given it their opposition. The right hon. Baronet would have the country suppose that, if the Members of that House were now sent back to their constituents, it would be upon the question whether 530 should be the number of the House, while it was well known that it was on account of the opposition to the measure itself, and because there was no rational prospect of carrying, in the present House of Commons, that which was in itself of vital importance—that which admitted not of postponement—which the people desired, and upon which the safety of the whole State depended. He would take the liberty of saying—and he cared not who denied it—that, after the Government had been in the hands of an Administration who, he took for granted, had done their best in the discharge of their duties, and, after the extinction of 4,000 places amounting to 600,000l. a year, that House 1786 was in such a state as fully to verify Mr. Pitt's words, "that no honest man could be a Minister." Whether Ministers were chosen from this side of the House or from that, it mattered not, for till the House was so constituted as to speak the sentiments of the people, it would be utterly impossible for any honest Government to carry on the affairs of the country.
Mr. Grove Price
thought it a little too much for the hon. and learned Gentleman to charge that House with a want of political honesty, when it was to the decision of that House that the learned Gentleman and his friends were indebted for the situation in which they stood. He was then addressing the House most probably for the last time, under the peculiar circumstances in which the country was placed. Yes, this was most likely the only opportunity that would be presented to him of delivering his sentiments there. While he thanked certain parties for their willingness to get rid of one who belonged to no party whatever, he could not, at the same time, but recollect that when, on a late occasion, he had appeared before his constituents, he received no less than five votes of thanks from a majority of 1,000 of the persons who had sent him to that House. He could only say, that whether remaining in that House, or retiring from it, he was resolved to do his duty to the utmost of his power. It would seem that an hon. Gentleman opposite thought proper to cheer him, but he was willing to receive that cheer for his honest and independent vote. An hon. Member, who was not now in his place, and of whom, in his absence he wished to say nothing, had dwelt upon the glorious days of France—in the "three glorious days of July"—" glorious" they were called with a disunited and distracted people—with order trampled under foot, and wild anarchy raging round in all directions—till at last the miserable agents in the wretched scene were now become the sport of despotism. Let him ask the hon. Member who had spoken of the Ordinances of the late King of France, what would now be the opinion of Monsieur Mauguin and others as to what was passing in England? What would be the opinion of those parties who, in their detestation of England, hated that Government which had determined to remain at peace with us? Such parties detested us because, to use an appropriate quotation, 1787 "The trophies of Waterloo did not suffer these men to sleep." Let the House only consider for a moment what effect those Ordinances had in producing the late Revolution in France. The fact was, that a conspiracy had been going on in that country for years; and when the Ordinances were issued, they became the pretence for, and not the cause of insurrection. It appeared that the Members of this House were now threatened with being immediately sent back to their constituents. He himself was quite prepared for the event; of one thing he was quite convinced, that if an epitaph were to be written for the present Parliament, these words would be found peculiarly appropriate— "this Parliament was dissolved for its independence, and firm determination not to sacrifice the Constitution of the country." Again he would say, that so far as he him self was concerned, he cared not haw soon a dissolution took place, hut he should consider himself disgraced for ever if he were deterred by a threat from doing his duty; "I should, indeed," continued the hon. Member, "think myself disgraced if, at such a moment as the present, I should be capable of shrinking from my duty; if I did not, to, use. the language of Mr. Burke, ' add my feeble mite of service, not by speaking, for in that I have little power, but in whatever other way my humble aid might be made useful to that side of the Constitution which needs it." The political horizon was now overcast with hazy clouds, and a dreadful tempest was at hand. The very existence of the Constitution was fearfully threatened, and its last hour would he that in which this measure should be carried into a law—Venit summa dies et inpluctabile tempusDardaniæ.It was possible, that a still more portentous revolution might take place than that of a change of dynasty. A dynasty might be changed, in some instances, without injury to the people, but not the Constitution. If, as would result from the adoption of this measure, they once destroyed the equipoise of the Constitution, there would be no means of restoring the balance. He would ask if ever there was any instance known, in which popular power predominated, without a decided tendency to increase that power? He would ask, was there ever any instance known of a tendency to limit it on the part of the people? It was true, as they were told in Holy 1788 Writ, that kings had frequently manifested a disposition to limit the power they possessed, but in popular institutions no limitation of the kind was ever known. He had often heard, from various quarters, the borough mongers taxed as being a disgrace to the Constitution. He had heard numberless arguments adduced in support of this charge, and, among others, that well-known passage from Lord Bacon —" Time is the greatest of all innovators." Let hon. Members only see how that argument ought to be applied in the present instance, and what innovation really meant in reference to the question now under consideration. It was quite clear that, down to a comparatively recent period, the House of Commons had gone on gradually increasing its power; but there were no sudden or violent innovations. During the last fifty years, however, this increase had been extremely rapid, and its effects were, now visible m the present measure. Would any statesman of the least knowledge or experience presume to say, that in a trading and commercial country like this, democratic power was not likely to increase? He contended— and no fact was better ascertained—that, in every country which depended upon trade and commerce, the democracy must necessarily increase in power, and the aristocracy decrease. What was the reason? It was this—because all persons engaged in trade and commerce consulted only their own private views, and when once independent in their circumstances, they had no respect for rank or hereditary talent. Before they brought this Bill into operation, they must first divest man pf v all his natural jealousies and antipathies, and of all his dislike to those above him. When the supporters of the Bill should have effected this preliminary Reform, and made man an angel, then, and not till then, they might call upon the House to adopt their views. But he had been told, that the House of Commons was not, as it ought to be, predominant in the Constitution. Indeed. Could not one angry vote of that House, by stopping the supplies, put an end to the Aristocracy and the Crown together? What had De Lolme said upon this point? Had he not compared the Crown to a three-decker, which lay magnificently upon the waters, with its yards manned, and its streamers flying, but which was incapable of rolling its volleyed thunders over the deep until it had 1789 received its stores and ammunition from some other quarter? What was that other quarter but the people? What, top, He would ask, was the House of Lords? A body inferior to ourselves in wealth and power. Was it, in its constitution, aristocratical or democratical? He had heard a noble Lord say, on a former evening, that there was a more popular feeling in the House of Lords than there was in the House of Commons, and that the reason was, that the heirs of great families having imbued themselves with liberal notions and popular feelings, in order to make a display of their abilities in the House of Commons, carried their liberal notions and popular feelings along with them to the other House of Parliament, when the lapse of time gave them a seat there. Was the House of Lords, then, purely aristocratical? Was the Crown perfectly independent? If the House of Lords was neither purely aristocratical, nor the King perfectly independent, ought the House of Commons on its part to be purely democratieal? It was necessary that in the third branch of the Legislature, which was the most powerful of all, there should be some counterbalancing check upon its own power. Here let him observe, that this had been remarked as one of the most curious characteristics of our Constitution, more than eighty years ago, by that philosophical historian, Mr. Hume. Mr. Hume, in one of his essays, observed, that Tacitus had declared, that in any government which consisted of three powers,—such as the monarchical, the aristocratical, and the democratical,—the balance could not long be preserved, for the power which was predominant would aggrandize itself at the expense of the two others and the result of such aggrandizement would be the destruction of the whole. Mr. Hume asked, how was, it, that the prediction of Tacitus had proved incorrect with regard to the British Constitution? and he solved the question by stating, that it was owing to the Peers haying in the House of Commons an interest and influence, which preserved their equipose in the Constitution. If that interest and that influence must be preserved, how could it be preserved except by the existence of those nomination boroughs, on which so many unmeaning sarcasms, so many idle jests, had of late been vented? It was because he wished to see the House of Commons preserve is due influence,— 1790 because he wished to see the House of Lords in possession of its proper privileges.— and because he wished to see the Crown not independent of, but connected with, the two other branches of the Legislature, and acting in harmonious concert with both, that he did not desire to witness such an influence in that House, as would convert the Mace on the Table into an Imperial Sceptre. He wished to see the spirit of democracy in this House; but he did not wish to see it predominant. He should never wish to see such an accession of weight as would make it necessary, when the vessel was overladen, to throw the additional burthen overboard. When the measure of Reform should be once carried, they would no longer find in that House men of moderate property and temperate views, but men of immense wealth, or needy panderers to public opinion. The school of subserviency was a very bad one in which to educate large classes of the people. He viewed such a state of things as the close and destruction of the British Constitution—that Constitution under which our ancestors had so long flourished, and which, in, point of excellence, far outshone any system ever established in the proudest days of Greece or of Rome. The man who most admired that Constitution, with all its defects, was no less a character than Montesquieu; and, according to him, the man who looked only at certain parts of it resembled the fly, mentioned by Thomson, which perched on a pillar at St. Paul's might be capable of perceiving the irregularities the hills and holes of the stone, without having any power of forming the least estimate of the beauty and harmony of the whole structure. History sufficiently informed us that a body purely Representative, when associated with a Monarchy and an Aristocracy, must destroy the two latter powers. The three could not co-exist when such an ascendant was given to popular control. He warned the noble Lord opposite of the danger into which he was rushing-This was only the first essay, as was the case at a former period, when bold men being afraid to go, thinking they had already gone too far, found still bolder men to succeed them. History informed us that Fairfax found Cromwell; and the virtuous and amiable Lafayette found Mirabeau and Robespierre. He assured the noble Lord that he would have to encounter such opposition and such difficul- 1791 ties as he could not now anticipate; he would therefore earnestly conjure him to pause before he proceeded further, and took a step which he might never be able to retrace.—"facilis descensus Averni;Noctes atque dies patet atra janua Ditis;Sed revocare gradum, superasque evadere ad auras,Hoc opus hic labor est.In 1654, the democratic body was so powerful in England, that Cromwell was obliged to dissolve it, fearing that otherwise it might wrest the sword from his hand. The House needed only, as a further illustration of this argument, to look to the period of the Spanish Cortes, who were all-powerful, and the King nothing. Mr. Burke had very justly said, that those who would build up a Government should have the Crown for a basis, and popular power for their materials. But the sort of democracy which this Bill would establish was only what might be called a "royal democracy," under which the Crown should be placed on the head of an individual only to be thrown off whenever the popular voice might so decide. He had heard a great deal said about political economy; but he was an economist of evil. He maintained that, if this Bill once passed, there would be a greater revolution than any ever yet witnessed in the country from the earliest period of our own history. He would then earnestly call upon all those who would assent to such a state of things, not to countenance it, for he was an economist of evil; and they ought to be above all things careful not to cause it.
§ Sir Thomas Acland
said, that in voting for the Motion of his gallant friend, he had expressed his great objection to that part of the Bill against which the motion of his gallant friend, last night, was directed. He thought the proposed alteration of the Members of that House a very unnecessary intermeddling with long-settled international compacts, which ought never to be disturbed, except on grounds of the most obvious expediency. He, therefore, entirely concurred in the Resolution of the gallant General; and he only regretted one circumstance by which it was attended—that was, that it gave an opening to the representing any person who voted for it as an enemy to all Reform. Even if the Resolution of the gallant General had been carried into effect, and adopted by his Majesty's Government, the princi- 1792 ple of Reform would still have been secure; but he differed toto cœlo from those who supported disfranchisement for its own sake, nor could he let pass that opportunity of declaring that there had been the utmost want of consideration in so anxiously calling for the Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill. In fact, its supporters would force it upon the House and the country, even before that time was given for consideration which a measure of such magnitude and importance, and complexity, demanded. He certainly voted for Reform, but he did so with the full conviction that it would be most dangerous to push Reform beyond very moderate limits indeed. Brought up, as he had been, in the commencement of his political life, at the feet of one of the most eloquent men who had ever adorned that House, he could never fail to receive, as the chief guide of his conduct upon the subject of Reform, the language which he heard from the lips of that eminent man —" Reverence the Constitution of your fathers, and if you ever attempt to alter or amend it, let that alteration be commenced by no rash innovating hand, lest you incur the loss of that blessing which it ought to be your constant endeavour to preserve uninjured." Those were the sentiments which he ever held in veneration, and from which he could, under no circumstances, be induced to depart. Not that he was otherwise than a Reformer, for the present times, he feared, demanded some change. What did they rind during the last two or three years? In the minds of the most sober men there had been during that period a growing doubt, whether, sooner or later, it would not become necessary to enter into the question of Reform. The events of the late general election could not but be fresh in the recollection of hon. Members; for his part, he could look without dissatisfaction upon the course which he had pursued upon that occasion, because he could with perfect truth say, that he made no compromise of feeling or of principle. But when he remembered the period to which he alluded, he could not but remember, in connection with it, the fact, that men not accustomed to interfere in politics—men of the most sober modes of thinking, when asked what should be done to prevent the extreme of Reform, replied, "You cannot stand where you are." He would not follow up that statement by any observa- 1793 tion on, or allusion to, what had occurred in both. Houses of Parliament since they had assembled, further than this, that nothing had occurred during the whole period of their sitting, which did not most distinctly prove, that a change had taken place in the spirit of the times. Admitting that, he might then be asked why he hesitated in conceding at once all that Reformers demanded? He would reply, that he was a young Reformer, and, therefore, naturally cautious, and susceptible of alarm, averse from great and rapid change. With those feelings, how was he brought to regard the present Bill—a Bill so entirely unexpected, not looked for by any class in the community—a Bill the least in the world calculated to effect that gradual, temperate, and judicious Reform, by which he, and those who thought with him, were to be converted; however, he rejoiced that he had had an opportunity of delivering his sentiments upon the occasion of the second reading, were it only for the sake of proving his sincerity. He should now come to a subject which supplied, as he conceived, just ground of complaint—of complaint against his Majesty's Ministers, for the situation in which they placed the independent Members of that House. It was unreasonable in any set of men to come down to that House with a measure so complicated, and give the House only six weeks to consider of its details—a measure demanding such nicety of arrangement, instead of six weeks consideration, required, six months. It was really too hard upon those who declared for the principle of the measure, to be called on to support its details at the short notice of six weeks—it was dealing with them too stringently to say, when they hesitated respecting some of its provisions, that the Government would have the Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill. It had, not unfrequently, been the practice of an Administration to stake their existence upon the fate of a single measure. That might not perhaps be quite so convenient in a Reformed Parliament. The present Administration, however, had staked the fate of the measure upon the result of the question raised by the motion of the gallant General, the member for Liverpool, while, in point of fact, it meant their own fate. They told the House that they would go out unless they had the Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill. Nothing, in his mind, could be 1794 more unreasonable than to object to the Bill merely on the ground of a proposed change being made to the extent of preventing the reduction in the Members of that House originally contemplated. That, he really thought, had nothing to do with the principle of the measure; yet, the moment it was adopted by the House, Government came down and declared that the whole character of the measure was changed, and that they would appeal to the people. He confessed, he could not look upon such a state of things otherwise than with regret. There was no independent Member in that House who was not interested in seeing a strong Government, for he really believed that most of the difficulties with which the country had to contend arose from the want of a strong Government; and he hoped that a Reformed Parliament, whenever they had one, would confer upon the country that blessing, though he could scarcely venture to anticipate such a result. He begged to call the attention of the House to a remark made by the Attorney Genera! in the course of the discussions on the Reform Bill. He asked, "Had there ever been any great principle without compromise or without sacrifice?" That might be perfectly true—he believed, that no Cabinet had ever been formed without sacrifices; but when the present Cabinet was formed, he thought they ought to have come down to that House, and amicably entered into a discussion of the question of Reform. In his opinion the Government ought to have been content to take in the way of Reform such concessions as a majority of that House was disposed to give them, and not make matters of detail a point of honour. The mere concession of the principle of Reform would have been hailed by the Reformers as a victory; and such changes might afterwards have been introduced as the course of events rendered necessary. He voted for the second reading of the Bill on the principle of conceding some change; but surely to have voted for the proposition of the gallant General ought not to be imputed to any Gentleman as proceeding from a wish to defeat the Bill. He had a full and certain persuasion that when the present delirium had had time to subside, a much more sober measure of Reform would be matured. He had always avowed himself a moderate Reformer; and if those were the last words which he should have an 1795 opportunity of uttering in that House, he would say, that, he did not repent having always adhered to that declaration.
§ Mr. Fyler
said, having heard the speech of the hon. Baronet who had just sat down, the sincerity of whose motives he could not but admire, he begged to he allowed to say a few words, by way of explanation of the reasons which had induced him to give his vote. He did not rise for the purpose of making what had been called an electioneering speech, but he hoped to be allowed to state why he had voted against the motion of the gallant General. He was not a Reformer of to-day. He had long advocated Reform, even before it had become so fashionable. He had given his support to the second reading, because he was anxious to see rotten boroughs abolished; and he had voted against the gallant General's motion, because he wished to see the Bill go unhampered into the Committee. When the noble Lord (Lord John Russell), some, sessions back, introduced a Bill of Parliamentary Reform, proposing to give Members to large towns, not at present represented, he had given the motion his support. With regard to the assertion of the hon. member for Preston on the measure brought forward by the present Government not being as that hon. Gentleman had declared, satisfactory to the people of England, he (Mr. Fyler) begged leave to deny that assertion. He believed, on the contrary, that they were not opposed to the Bill; and he denied that it was revolutionary in its principles.
§ Mr. A. Baring
commenced by observing, that as the House was likely to be indulged with no further discussions on this most important subject, he was anxious to say a very few words; and the more so, as the Members were about to be sent to their constituents, under circumstances which required that their conduct should be fully understood. He might perhaps subject himself to the ridicule of some of the Gentlemen on the Ministerial side of the House when he avowed now that he had at all times been a moderate Reformer. He had been at all times willing to give, and had at all times voted for giving, a share in the Representation to those large and populous towns which had in the progress of time and by the increase of trade and manufactures grown up in this country, and he had been willing to consent to such a degree of disfranchisement of the decay- 1796 ed and corrupt boroughs as might be required to give effect to that change. He had, he repeated, been at all times a friend to the improvement of the Representation, but he had at the same time always maintained that they could commit no greater or more fatal error than to render that House the perfect organ of the popular will, and to make its Members, although avowedly at liberty to exercise freedom of opinion, yet. so much the image and acting so much under the control of those who sent them to that House, that they would be liable any morning to receive a notice to quit, such as that which had just been served on his hon. friend the member for Southwark. He would tell that House and the country, that they would bitterly rue the day when its Members were thus converted into the mere tools of popular opinion. The question of Reform was to be considered in two different points. The first was with reference to the proportions to be preserved between the three Estates of the Constitution, and the second with respect to the different interests which that House was intended to represent. He maintained that the people of this country were not as much from wisdom as from chance and circumstances placed, by the blessing of Providence, in a situation in every respect the best calculated to secure the integrity of those three Estates, and to secure the preservation of those separate interests. If, however, he was told that the three Estates could stand on their sole and separate strengths, independent of each other, he denied it most positively. Every page of history proved, that although nominally equal, these three Estates were closely blended in their powers; and he was confident, that if the House of Commons ever became the pure and unalloyed organ of the people—that House of Lords, which now held its head so high, and which had acted such an illustrious part in the preservation of the liberties of this country—which had, in truth, laid the grounds of all the freedom they at present enjoyed—that House of Lords would soon sink into insignificance before the giant power of the daily increasing influence of the House which emanated directly from the people. They would, it was true, have three nominally equal Estates; but it would be the contest of the giant and the dwarf," theoretically of the same power, but really possessing the relative strength of such a difference, and 1797 not the Monarch, but the House of Commons would rule, and the Government would become not only a democracy, but a democracy the most perfect that ever existed in the world. An hon. Baronet maintained, in reference to that subject, that the Crown would always possess the veto on all the acts of the Commons. He denied the force of that argument. The power of the Crown, in such matters, was nominal. Theoretically the King; might possess such a power, but what was it in practice? He did not know what the people might, in time, be brought to bear; but he contended that the veto was, at the present, a mere illusion. Supposing, for instance, that the Lords were driven to such a pass, that their assent was either delayed or considered of little consequence, did any one suppose that the King could refuse his assent to a measure which was forced on him by a purely popular House of Commons? The King of this country would, in effect, possess less power than the President of the States of America. He remembered a case which illustrated this point in a very peculiar manner. A treaty had been concluded by the President between America and this country, and agreed to be ratified in the usual manner by the Council and Senate. It was necessary, however, to pass a Bill through the Congress, and on its being sent down to the Lower House, they debated it for one-and twenty days, and the Opposition having called for further Papers, they succeeded in carrying a motion to that effect by a large majority. A Message was, of course, sent to demand the Papers; and what did the House suppose was the answer of the President? Washington, be it recollected, no trifling friend of liberty and free institutions. Why, that the House had nothing to do with the Papers —that their contents were nothing to them—that the power was with him to make the treaty, and that they should have no Papers from him. What was the result? Why, all parties were quite satisfied, and matters went on as before. But he should like to see the Minister who would advise the King of this country to return such an answer to a demand of the British House of Commons. In theory, he repeated, the King might have the power of refusing his assent to the demands of that House; but if such a reply had been made, or such a request refused to that House, he believed there was not a man in 1798 it who would not have cried out against it. as a gross exercise of prerogative. They had been told that the Reform Bill was to restore the Constitution to its original purity; but none of those who said so, condescended to tell them at what period that existed. They did not mention the time. They could not place their anno Domini in the precise period when that perfection existed. They had now been for upwards of 200 years under the working of the present system, and those who advocated the present measure were bound to point out those instances of oppression, misgovernment, and destruction of national prosperity, of which such a period must produce numberless examples, before they went into that wide field of constitution-making, into which they were now disposed to lead the House. Some persons, to be sure, who were fond of theories, declared that the new Constitution was most beautiful, and anticipated from it the greatest benefits _: but he confessed he should prefer, before they tried it, that its advocates would show how they suffered under the old one. It had been, he admitted, bandied about in all directions that the Members of that House took the money out of the pockets of the people, and wasted the substance of the nation on their friends and dependants; now, he should wish to know the Gentleman of that House who did so. He should like those who made these accusations to name the persons in the present day who were guilty of such practices. He did not mean to say there were not some old sinecures of twenty years' standing, and not yet worn out, in the possession of Members of that House; but he defied any one to name a place other than those he had alluded to, which was enjoyed by any of the Members of that House, and for which he did not perform sufficient duty. With the exception of the great Officers of State (who were, by the bye, not half enough paid), and some of the Officers of the Army and Navy whose emoluments no man grudged, he called on those persons to name a single individual who had of late years received a sinecure office, or who was receiving pay without efficient service. If they could not name any such, then he would say they had not required the force of a regenerated House of Commons to carry into effect all plans of economy and retrenchment. There had been upwards of 4,000 public offices reduced or retrenched in the course of a few short years. He happened 1799 to have been Chairman of a Committee which sat on public salaries, and he believed he might say there was no place allowed to exist which did not require the performance of efficient duty; and yet when the Members of that House were sent back to their constituents, there was not a place in the kingdom in which they would not hear it thrown at the Members of that House, in some way or other, that they supported useless places and an extravagant expenditure, to the injury of their constituents and the destruction of their own character. Of all the Legislatures in the world he would say, nevertheless, that that of this country was the best; and of all the vile and dirty jobs that ever were conceived or executed, those of a Government of demagogues were the vilest and the worst. He repeated that he challenged those who accused the House of mean practices to lay their finger on the individual who was guilty of them, or on the persons who received improper favours. No one could say, that those who served the Government in the higher offices of State did so for the money it brought them, for no one could hold such an office, even for a year, without being the poorer for the possession of it. He admitted there had been abuses of a gross description, but since the termination of the war they had been gradually diminishing, until he believed he might challenge the production of a single case of the kind which were then numerous and notorious. Up to the end of the late war, the public accounts were kept in such a manner, that none but a few of the clerks of the public offices could under stand them, and they very imperfectly. He remembered, that even the member for Middlesex was silent on the subject of those abuses and extravagancies, for the exposure of which he has since become celebrated. And why was he so? Because the nature of the expenditure and the public accounts, and the war itself rendered inquiries into the finances of the country almost hopeless; but, since the commencement of the peace, so zealous had been the inquiry, and so rigid the economy practised in every branch of the public expenditure, and the accounts of every branch of the service were stated so plainly and perspicuously, that he defied any man to point out the instance in which public money was corruptly misapplied. The hon. Baronet, the member for the county of Devon (Sir T. Acland), had that night 1800 explained the reason of his conduct on the Reform Bill, in a manner so manly, straight-forward, and honourable, that he very much mistook the nature and character of Englishmen, if, after such an explanation, he should be ill received by his constituents. That hon. Baronet had complained of the course pursued towards the House by the framers of the Reform Bill, and he (Mr. Baring) must agree with him, that no House of Commons had ever before been treated so uncourteously by the Ministers of the Crown. A measure of the greatest—the most vital importance to every class in the country—one on which there were, of course, and very naturally, a great variety of opinions—exciting the surprise, by its provisions, of even the most ultra-Reformers, was thrown on the Table of the House by the Government. They threw the Bill on the Table —a Bill of such complicated details, and involving such extensive interests; but it was not for the consideration or examination of that House. No. They were not to touch a word of it. They (the Ministers) were all wisdom. They could make no mistakes. There was the Bill. That House, a deliberative assembly, was not to deliberate on that which of all others concerned them most nearly. They were to take the Bill as it was presented to them—to take it as they found it—and if they did not like it, why then they were ordered to go about their business. He challenged any man to produce any case, or anytime in which a House of Commons had been presented with such a proposition, and treated in such a manner, for daring to exercise its constitutional privilege of examination and inquiry into the merits of its principles and its details. Speaking of the Bill itself, he should like to be told how the Crown was to find a place for its officers in that House? He might be told, through popular Representation. But supposing that the Crown found it necessary to fight a battle with popular prejudice. What would be the consequence? And supposing that the Crown was to have no power to oppose the prejudices and the impulses of the third Estate, and that the most fickle of the three—of what use would the Crown be? If, however, it were intended that the Crown should have servants to support its interests, how were they to get into that House; and when in, how were they to retain their seats? He was not aware of any clause in the Bill 1801 which gave the King's servants an ex officio power to sit in that House, as in France, either with or without a vote; and how, then, was the King's business to be con- ducted? They would have those who had taken an oath to their Sovereign to keep his commands and support his interests, looking, not to the fulfilment of their pledge, or to the discharge of their duty, but to the opinion of the people, and to the probable consequences of their actions on the feelings of their constituents at the next election. The effect of such a state of things might be easily foreseen, although those who talked theoretically, but wildly, on such matters, would lead them to believe that the popular voice would always give way, or be perfectly in unison with justice on all urgent and trying occasions. It was scarcely possible to believe that men could be serious who advanced such arguments. Why, all the great blunders and follies of the Government of this country were committed at the sound of popular clamour. To go no farther back, he would mention the Convention of Cintra as an evidence of popular folly and delusion. Then there was more recently the religious question with respect to Ireland, on which the popular opinion was decidedly expressed. He might mention, as a third, the West-India question, on which there prevails so much of error and misapprehension; and last, though not least, he might mention by way of illustration, and without meaning the slightest offence to his learned friend, the Attorney General, the case of an illustrious client of his, which had been wholly sustained and supported by popular opinion. It was the force of this public opinion, and its correspondent rankness, and restlessness, and fickleness, that he dreaded from the experiment of the Government. At the present moment that House had just power enough to deliberate well, and to act cautiously, independent of the popular voice; but not power enough to resist the popular will; and it was this union—this perfection of deliberation and of action, and yet of sympathy with the popular feelings, which he preferred to that which was offered them; because he doubted much whether even the wisdom of the Government could produce anything better fitted to the advantage of the country, than the present House of Commons, or which would work better for the other Estates which shared the power of the House of Commons. 1802 After the Ministers, he might ask, how the Crown was to find seats for its Law Officers? He knew that the new Bill would give the House lawyers enough, but by what means was the Crown to obtain Law Officers fitted for its service? It might be said, that the hon. and learned Gentleman, the Attorney General, was himself an answer to that question. But without intending to cast the slightest disrespect on his learned friend, it should be recollected, that the learned Gentleman had throughout the whole of his political life, been remarked as one of those politicians who held high and extreme opinions; and was the King then always to have an Attorney or Solicitor General who hold high and extreme opinions? And was it not to be recollected that the very nature of Crown prosecutions, unless they were never to be undertaken but at the popular instigation, tended to injure a lawyer in the opinions of popular interests? At the present moment the Minister of the day could go into the King's Bench, and select any able and popular lawyer for the King's service; because, looking up, as all young lawyers now did, to the Bench, and to the places in the gift of the Crown, they naturally laboured to court the favour of the Monarchy and the Aristocracy more than the Democracy; but if the Reform Bill was once passed, the young lawyer could not look to the Crown or to the Ministry, but to his Constituents of Holborn or of Tyburn; and he would seek to raise himself on the steps of the ladder, not by fitting himself to serve the Crown, but the populace, lie felt strongly on this subject, and, perhaps, he expressed himself too strongly; but no one could look without apprehension at the prospect of the Crown being denuded of all its influence, and the Sovereign power placed in the hands of those who must wield it to those base purposes which moralists had already so strongly depicted. He did not wish to increase the power of the Crown, but he did not wish to see it diminished or destroyed, as it must be if the principle now prevailing was allowed to operate. He thought that the country stood well as it was, and that there could not be any greater, nor more melancholy mistake, than to suppose there was anything in the present state of the world which called on them to make a great effort, for the purpose of strengthening the popular portion of the Legislature. 1803 A great deal had been said of the purity of future Parliaments and future elections but were they going to become so wonderfully pure? Of all the impurities of which they had lately heard so much, down to that Cloaca Maxima, the borough of Liverpool, he believed there was not one that would not remain the same, or be even increased. They were about to increase the number of voters in the great towns, and the class of voters among whom corruption most prevailed; and therefore, although people might flatter themselves that they were likely to gain other advantages, he would say, if he knew anything of the people of this country, that greater freedom from bribery would not. be one of them. But then it was said they were going to get rid of the nomination boroughs. To a certain extent they undoubtedly were about to do so; but they were at the same time leaving some marked and singular instances of Nomination Boroughs of the worst description wholly untouched. He did not like to mention names, for it was frequently considered an invidious and unjust thing; but as the names of Newark and Stamford had been bandied about in every corner of the kingdom, he might just take leave to remind them, that as they were nomination-boroughs of a description much worse than Sarum or Gatton, they would remain wholly untouched by any of the provisions of the Bill. The Bill would make Newark a closer borough than at present, and place it more strictly under the nomination of the Duke of Newcastle than ever. And how was that power of nomination exercised? Why, by turning poor people out of their houses after the election was over. Again, a learned friend of his was lately turned out of a borough on account of a vote he gave on that Bill; and the borough of Malton was left with two Members. It was not only left, but it would be made closer by the Bill. He was rather sorry that the Bill had not gone into a Committee, that all these points might be clearly made known to the people of England, and that they might not be deluded by being told that they had got rid of the nomination boroughs. It was all a deception on the people. It would give a monopoly of these places to a few great families, and strike off all intermediate interests. Four or five great families would get the whole of that sort of property into their hands, and all the intermediate, families—all the 1804 lesser gentlemen were to be swept away and held up to opprobrium, as the great impurities of the country. It was recommended to the landed interest, by saying that it would strengthen that interest. But when that interest was so strengthened, it would come into conflict with a more numerous manufacturing interest, and between these two interests, who had many causes of contest, the battle would be fought. All intermediate interests would be swept away, and these two great interests would divide the whole between them. But when the battle came, it was not difficult to foresee, looking at the superior intelligence of the manufacturing classes, how it would terminate. He had heard a phrase of a noble Lord in another place, which he cherished. The noble Lord said, that he "sincerely believed that the House of Commons of England, with all its defects, was the best Representative body that ever was formed." This was a valuable admission from the noble Lord who would re-construct the whole of it? He would take this admission of an enemy, and he would ask— should they abandon this old Constitution, so marked by wisdom, to adopt a new one, the merits of which could not be known. For his part he would stick to the old one, which was recommended by such an authority. He had always professed himself a friend to moderate Reform; but he never expected that anything should have come from his hon. friend which he could not agree to. If in the new Parliament they were to have the whole Bill and nothing but the Bill, that Bill should have his opposition, and nothing but his opposition. He should have been proud to have been one of the Barons whose name was attached to Magna Charta; but he should feel almost as proud to have his name preserved as having opposed this Bill.
§ Lord Leveson Gower
succeeded, after some time, in obtaining a hearing, and went on to say, that he rose principally to protest against the measure of the dissolution before hand, that the whole of the responsibility might rest on those who advised the dissolution. He apprehended great danger from Ireland, as there were circumstances which made him think that country was not tranquil. Unless the Ministers had some means of preserving tranquillity which other persons could not know, he dreaded the state of that 1805 country. The measure would unite the enemies Of Monarchy here with the enemies of the Church in Ireland. The people of Europe, who watched the course of events would be astonished at such a suicidal proceeding. He protested against it.
Mr. Cutlar Ferguson
begged to be permitted to say a few words. He wished only to say, that he disapproved of the conduct of the hon. member for Devon and his party, m having voted for the second reading of the Bill, and in then having voted for the amendment of General Gascoyne, which was intended only to defeat the Bill. That the hon. member for Devon must have known, and yet he voted for it. Ministers were pledged to give an additional Representation to Ireland and Scotland; they were pledged to decrease the number of Members in that House; and therefore it must have been plain to every man that the Amendment of the hon. and gallant General was intended for nothing else but to defeat the Bill.
§ Lord Althorp
said, that he was always ready to consent to an adjournment when many Gentlemen had to address the House; but as not one hon. Member had during the whole debate confined himself to, or spoken on, the question before the House, he should feel it to be his duty to resist the proposed adjournment to the utmost of his power.
§ On the motion for adjournment the House divided—
§ For the adjournment 164; Against it 142—Majority against Ministers 22.