§ The Speaker, dressed in his full robes of Office, took the Chair at half-past two o'clcok, and the House was almost instantly crowded with Members.1812
§ Sir R. Vyvyan, on the motion that it be brought up, rose to address the House. Although he might on this occasion be told, as he was last night, that the present was not a fitting opportunity to address that House on the subject of the Reform Bill, yet when he saw the Speaker dressed in his full official robes, and knew as much from that fact as from the agitation visible out of doors, that a dissolution of Parliament was at hand, he thought he had a right to offer some observations to them before they were sent back to their constituents. This was, he believed, the first time for many a year, that the Parliament of this country had been dissolved by the exercise of the Royal Prerogative after the House of Commons had come to a vote which hindered the Government from proceeding with the Ordnance Estimates. In consequence of the adjournment proposed by his hon. friend, the member for Marl-borough—proposed, he admitted, for the purpose of stopping the passing of these Estimates—the Government had adopted the determination to dissolve the Parliament, although the Supplies had not been voted, and the Estimates not gone through, calculating, no doubt, on their being able to procure a Bill of Indemnity from that next Parliament, which they hoped would prove more favourable to their wishes. He thought, however, that they should not make too sure of such a result; for he doubted much whether, even with the assistance of that Bill which they now counted so securely on being able to carry, they were likely to obtain a Parliament reformed to such an extent as to grant a Bill of Indemnity under such circumstances to any Ministry, even to one much more prudent than the present had proved itself; and a less prudent one it would be difficult for any one conversant with our history to point out. He might, however, be permitted to say, that in the course of a very few years, the country, and even Ministers themselves, would bitterly repent the steps they had taken on this occasion. They had incurred an awful responsibility in this country, and particularly in Ireland, and brought into serious jeopardy their own welfare, and that of all connected with them. It was useless to conceal the fact, that even if revolution became the consequence of 1813 the course that day to be adopted, his Majesty had an undoubted right to dissolve his Parliament, and to call for a new set of men to represent the opinions of his people. But those who gave him that advice incurred a most awful responsibility; and, in his opinion, the success of that measure on which they rested their defence for the dissolution was extremely doubtful, while they had sacrificed the peace of the country for the purpose of catching at a fleeting and momentary popularity. He was glad of an opportunity to speak his sentiments on this subject; and he would take the advantage of the few moments of existence which was still left to them, to speak a few words of truth to his Majesty's Ministers, to relieve them from the errors into which they had fallen, and to show them that they had much mistaken and much misrepresented the manner and the means through which they came into power. A strong party of the Members of that House became, it was well known discontented with what had taken place with reference to a portion of the empire. They wished to see a powerful, and able, and enlightened body of men placed in the Government, because they saw every motion made for the purpose of inquiring into the distresses of the country denounced, and every other motion for the same object rendered utterly useless. They felt, therefore, that the Government of the time being, as much for what it had done, as from its refusals to listen to any remonstrances with reference to what should be done, was unworthy of the confidence of the country, and they determined to oppose it. It was the body he had just spoken of that had turned out the late Government, and brought the present into power. He could tell them that was the cause of their elevation. It was not the desire of the country for Reform, nor the declaration of the noble Duke at the head of the late Government against Reform, that had deprived his Government of power, but the unanimous wish of the country that its state should be taken into consideration. Now what had been the conduct of the present Government since they obtained office? They had not done any one act to satisfy the country, but, on the contrary, had proved themselves the most incapable and the most inconsistent set of men that were ever called to preside over its affairs making propositions one day, and aban- 1814 doning them the next, and even withdrawing their famous Reform Bill, because that House had thought fit to express an opinion that the number of the Representatives of the people should not be lessened. It was well known that the party which voted against the lute Government did not expect that that Government would be succeeded by a pure Whig Administration. An Administration of that kind had, however, been formed, and relying on the unpopularity of their adversaries, and fortified by the assistance of a species of condottieri, who went round from one side of the House to the other, first declaring against Reform, and afterwards upholding the Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill, they now sought to keep their power contrary to the votes of the Members of that House. The present Ministers, he admitted, took office with the feeling of the House in their favour; for they knew well that they possessed no means of raising a majority through their own party. They were supported and upheld in their struggles for power by his friends; they had been tried, and found wanting; they had tried the right hon. Gentleman the first Lord of the Admiralty, and he was found wanting; they tried another right hon. Gentleman on measures of commerce and finance, and he also had been found wanting. The First Lord of the Admiralty, in a short speech at the commencement of his career, bad expressed himself as if he was favourable to a change of the currency; but he had been immediately afterwards contradicted by the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. This, then, was the manner in which they tampered with a question that had produced the greatest possible excitement in the country. When they proceeded to deal with others of as great importance in a similar manner, and their imprudent course was stayed by the House, then they advised his Majesty to dissolve the Parliament. The Members of that House were then to be sent back to their constituents as hostile to all Reform, stigmatised as opposed to every species of Reform, and setting at nought the feelings and wishes of their constituents. They who said this—the Ministers who proclaimed this to the country, knew it was not so—they knew that the House was not hostile to all Reform, but they felt that the House had changed its opinion with respect to them; and he would tell them 1815 one of the reasons why it had changed;— they had proclaimed, that for the first time in the history of this country it was about to possess a Ministry that scorned to govern by influence—but what had they done? they had advised his Majesty to turn out of his household those persons who held opinions contrary to their wishes, and they had drawn from the Whig boroughs all the Members who dared to vote against them—thus using that very influence they had boasted they would never have recourse to. The learned Civilian (Dr. Lushington) said, last night, that he (Sir R. Vyvyan) wished to raise the No-Popery cry in this country. He avowed that that was the feeling on which he proceeded with reference to the Reform Bill. It was necessary that he should give utterance to that feeling when he found the balance of Representation between Ireland and England about to be destroyed—when he found the number of the Members of Ireland about to be increased, and those of England to be diminished—and at a time when he found that the members of the Catholic Church in that country used their utmost exertions to support that political interest which would aggrandise their religion at the expense of that of the Protestants. He did not blame the priests for preferring the support of their own religion to that of the other but he did blame the Ministers who gave them the means to exercise their power; and who had, for the sake of supporting their own views in this country felt no dread of resorting to a dissolution of Parliament, and to a new election in Ireland. It appeared that the member for Waterford was to be brought up for judgment; but it should be recollected, that there might be such a thing as a cross. Did not the whole proceeding look exceedingly like a compact between the hon. and learned Gentleman and the First Lord of the Treasury? The noble Lord, it was well known, had avowed his determination that the Union should not be dissolved. The hon. and learned Gentleman had, on his part, avowed that the great object of his life was the accomplishment of Catholic Emancipation; and that, when that was achieved, the next great object was that of the Repeal of the Union. Which of these two persons, then, was to give up his object—the hon. and learned member for Waterford, or the first Lord of the Treasury? Was 1816 the Union with Ireland to be maintained or dissolved? Could they consider it so certain, after what they had heard, that the hon. and learned Gentleman would not persevere in his intention, the moment he obtained an opportunity? He wished that the hon. and learned Gentleman had been in his place to answer him, for that hon. and learned Gentleman really was the Governor of Ireland. He would have expressed to the hon. and learned Member his hope, that he would exercise the influence now placed in his hands—an influence more extensive than that possessed by any other man—to preserve the peace of Ireland, in mercy to the weakness of the Administration, and still more in mercy to the Irish people themselves. A circumstance had come to his knowledge, connected with the county of Cornwall, which he thought worthy of attention. He should not mention the names of persons or titles or Representatives; but he should merely say, that four persons were at the present moment confined in gaol at Bodmin, because, as it was stated in their petition, they had not voted for a certain Gentleman who had since been returned to that House for a borough in a different part of the Kingdom. The borough in which this occurred once belonged to a Whig. It had now been purchased by a Tory, and what, therefore, had the Whig done? The noble Lord who now professed himself so firm a friend to the disfranchisement of all boroughs, adhered, it would seem, most tenaciously to the maintenance of the rights he possessed in those which belonged to him. Under the Constitution as it now existed, the country had flourished for two centuries, but if the Bill brought in by the Government should be carried, the measures would be of a very different description, and the Constitution would admit of a very new construction. Already an attempt had been made on the property of the fundholder. Did the fundholders think, then, that if the Parliament was reformed according to the project of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, that their property would remain unvisited in the midst of the spoliation? He stated it as his firm belief, founded on the experience of every country of which history makes mention, that no new Government, nor any new mode of Representation, had ever much respect for the debts which had been incurred under preceding systems. He 1817 would say, that the fundholder would vainly hope to save his property if the Parliament should be altered. Past Administrations had, from their situation or their mismanagement, saddled the country with heavy debts. How, then, did the present Government propose to lower these debts, except by taxing the funds? There was no use in standing on forms at that time. It could not be expected that at such a crisis, and on such an occasion, he should speak directly to the question. The question, in fact, was simply this— was Parliament to be dissolved or not? The question was, whether that Parliament was to be dissolved, and the Members sent back to their constituents, because they had pronounced an opinion that the English representation should not be reduced.
Sir F. Burdett
rose to Order. The hon. Baronet said there was no question before the House on which the hon. member for Cornwall could address them in this manner He knew a Petition had been presented on the subject of Parliamentary Reform; but the hon. member for Cornwall said the question on which he was speaking was Dissolution or not Dissolution, and that he had a right to speak on that question. From both propositions he begged to express his dissent.
§ The Speaker
said, the question arising out of the Petition presented by the hon. member for Kent was Parliamentary Reform. The question for him to determine was, whether or not the observations of the hon. member for Cornwall had a proper application to that question. He confessed he must say that, according to his opinion of the Rides and Orders of that House, he could not see that the observations of the hon. member for Cornwall were not applicable to it. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by observing, with some emotion, that he wished to be permitted to hope that hon. Members would be good enough to compute the laws of order in that House as he had laid them down.
§ Mr. Tennyson
wished to be permitted to say a few words to the House. He should be the last man in that House to dispute the decisions of the Chair; but his hon. Friend Sir F. Burdett had disputed the relevancy of the speech made by the hon. member for Cornwall with reference to the Petition, and he reminded 1818 the House that his hon. Friend charged that hon. Member with diverging into other matters not contained in the Petition.
§ The Speaker
rose, amidst loud cheers, and said, the question was not whether the hon. Member had strictly adhered to what was contained within the four corners of the petition, but whether the general tenor and scope of his speech did not come within the subject matter introduced to the House by a petition on the subject of Reform.
§ Mr. Tennyson
again rose amidst great confusion. He entirely agreed with what had fallen from the Speaker, but he begged to repeat, that the hon. Baronet had charged the hon. member for Cornwall with speaking on a question that was not before the House; "and," added the hon. Member, "although you gainsay it, Sir, I state it still [great confusion, cries of "Order!" "Chair!" &c.]—I say it is most disorderly and unconstitutional for any hon. Member, be he whom he may, to state that the question before this House of Commons is, whether this House shall be dissolved or not" ["order!" "bar!" "chair!" and great confusion for ome minutes].
§ Sir R. Vyvyan
at length obtained a hearing, and observed, that this was the first time, he believed, within their recollection, that the law of order, as laid down by the Speaker, had been disputed by any Member of that House—[continued cheering, during which]
Lord John Russell
rose, and vainly attempted to obtain a hearing. We understood him to say, the hon. Baronet had been mistaken in supposing that the decision of the Speaker was disputed; but he was assailed with such shouts of "order" and "Chair," that he was compelled to give way to
§ Sir R. Vyvyan
The hon. Baronet recommenced by observing, that he could have wished much, when leave was obtained for him to go on, that some person had reminded him of the topic on which he was speaking. All that he had been saying came, however, to this—that Ministers were about to incur a fearful responsibility, and that the consequences must be on their heads. They had held out an invitation to every class in the country to support the Reform Bill, as the means of securing them peculiar advantages. But no change could take place in this coun- 1819 try, in favour of one class, which must not produce some injury to another. How was it possible, he would ask, for a change to be made in the condition of one class of the population without materially injuring the other? Did the farmers think that, by supporting the Reform Bill, they would secure the integrity of the present Corn Laws? If they did so they were woefully mistaken. He believed, however, they held no such opinion. Did the Ministers think that, by the dissolution of Parliament, they could command a majority in the agricultural districts? If they did, he was sure they would find themselves grossly mistaken. It was but within the last five or six months, that the farmers of these districts had their farms laid waste, and their property pillaged. No means had been adopted to prevent the recurrence of these events, and Parliament was about to be dissolved. A stronger feeling of excitement had not prevailed in the country since the time of the Administration of Sir Robert Walpole. The prevailing opinion sedulously fostered to produce the concurrence of the people was, that tithes were to be repealed under the influence of a reformed Parliament. The history of every country in the world showed, however, that when tithes were taken from the Clergy they were immediately seized by the State; and instead of being devoted to the support of religion, they would become a most oppressive Land-tax. He made no apology to those whom he addressed for having occupied so much of the time of the House; he had spoken his opinions on the subject of the course the Ministers were pursuing, and he would conclude by avowing it as his decided conviction, that if they were permitted to carry their Bill, all funded property would become unsafe. Tithes would be devoted to confiscation—the House of Lords would be destroyed—and the Crown itself shaken from the head of the Sovereign. In Ireland the bonds of society would be loosened, and fathers, and mothers, and children, would rue the day that the Ministers, for their own purposes, resolved to revive all party differences and raise animosities at elections. [The hon. Member continued to address the House for some time longer, but at the conclusion of this sentence the report of the first gun which announced the arrival of his Majesty resounded through the House. It drowned the conclusion of the hon. Baronet's sentence; 1820 and the cheers, laughter, and cries of "order!" which followed the succeeding discharges completely prevented our hearing the purport of the hon. Baronet's observations. When the discharges of artillery were almost concluded, the hon. Baronet sat down, and]
Sir R. Peel, Lord Althorp, and Sir Francis Burdett
rose at the same instant. The scene which followed was most extraordinary. Sir R. Peel was received with loud shouts, groans, laughter, and cries of "bar!" from the Ministerial benches, responded to by cries of "Order!" and "Chair!" from those of the Opposition. All the endeavours of his friends, aided on his part by the most vehement action and gesticulation, having failed to obtain a hearing, or to induce Sir F. Burdett and Lord Althorp, who on their part were not wanting in equal supplicating gestures, to obtain a hearing,
§ The Speaker
rose, and after a long interval of confusion, and repeated cries of "shame!" succeeded in obtaining a hearing. The right hon. Gentleman evidently labouring under great emotion, said this was the precise situation in which he believed they were placed:—Sir Robert Peel caught his eye at the conclusion of the speech of the hon. Baronet, the member for Cornwall. Sir Francis Burdett rose at the same time; and on there being a call raised for a preference being given to Sir Francis, the noble Lord rose, and moved, as he had a right to do, that Sir Francis Burdett be now heard. The question he had now to put was, that Sir Francis Burdett be heard, and on that question the right hon. Gentleman (Sir R. Peel) had as undoubted a right to speak, as on any other which could come before the House [cheers].
§ Sir R. Peel
rose, with this decision in his favour, to address the House; but he was received with groans, shouts, laughter, and cries of "bar!" from the Ministerial side of the House.
§ The Speaker, amid loud cries of "shame," again succeeded in obtaining a hearing. He observed, that when hon. Members appealed to him, and called on him to lay down the rules of order, he thought they should do him the favour to rest satisfied with his decision as to the question before the House, and the question to be spoken to.
§ Sir R. Peel
after some slight interruption) was then suffered to proceed. He 1821 said that the rules under which that House had acted for centuries were not, it would appear, to be the rules of a reformed Parliament. The House had that day seen an example of a defiance of all regular authority, even from the place which was occupied by the Ministers of the Crown. He did not complain of the dissolution of that House: he complained merely of the manner in which it was done. He did not, however, share the desponding feelings of his hon. friend the member for Cornwall. He had better hopes for England. He did not advise his countrymen to sit with their hands before them, patiently expecting the confiscation of their funded property. He had a proper confidence in the good sense, and intelligence, and just appreciation of character of the people of England; and he was satisfied, that if they united religiously in a just cause, and unite he knew they would, that there were no fears of a successful issue to that struggle into which they were about to enter. [Loud cheers and groans, and cries of "Bar!" and "Order"] He would ask, was it decent thus to attempt to produce confusion, under the pretence of calling to order? If this was a foretaste of what was to take place hereafter, he might, indeed, call on them to beware of a reformed Parliament. He would tell them what they were about to establish by a reformed Parliament. If they carried that Bill which the Ministers had proposed to them, they would introduce the very worst and vilest species of despotism—the despotism of demagogues. They would introduce the despotism of Journalism—that despotism which had brought neighbouring countries, once happy and flourishing, to the very brink of ruin and despair. But, when he looked to Ireland; when he saw the state of society in the western counties of that kingdom; when he was told that rebellion had almost hoisted its standard; and when it was known that landed proprietors, well affected to the State, were left without the slightest protection to their property, and were compelled to move their families into the towns, for the protection of their lives and properties from the marauders, who, in open day, threatened them with pillage and destruction—he confessed he could not call up words to express his astonishment and regret at the course adopted by the Government. Instead of coming to Parliament to ask for 1822 new powers and new laws, to vindicate the outraged authority of the Government, the King's Ministers, at such a crisis, and under such a state of society in Ireland, had come to a Resolution to dissolve the Parliament, in order that they might protect themselves from that loss of power with which they were threatened. If the Crown was to be so easily influenced — if its independence was so far extinguished— it ceased to be an object of interest to enter into its service. He perceived, indeed, that the power of the Crown had already ceased. Ministers had, however, adopted this course to protect their places; and they held them with the established character, in the eyes of the country, of having, during the time they had been in office, exhibited more incapacity—more unfitness for the conduct of public business than was ever shown by any Ministry which had attempted to hold power in England. They had been in office for some months, and not a single measure had emanated from them from the day they took office till that moment, for the benefit of the country. They had pursued the course adopted by all Governments called liberal. They had tossed on the Table of that House some Bills—a Game Bill and an Emigration Bill—and after having established, with respect to them and other measures, what they called liberal principles, they abandoned them to their fate. What, then, was to be—
§ [The right hon. Baronet was here interrupted by loud and vehement cries of "bar!" He continued standing and speaking, when
§ The Usher of the Black Rod appeared at the Bar of the House, and said, "I am commanded by his Majesty to command the immediate attendance of this hon. House in the House of Lords, to hear his Majesty's Royal Assent to several Bills; and also his Majesty's Speech for the Prorogation of Parliament."
§ The Speaker
accompanied by several Members, left the House in obedience to the summons, and after a short absence returned to the House, and intimated to the Members, that having been summoned to attend his Majesty in the other House, his Majesty was pleased to pronounce from the Throne a gracious Speech, declaring the present Parliament prorogued, with a view to an immediate dissolution.
§ The Speaker
called the Members round 1823 the Table at which he took his seat, and read the Royal Speech to them. [For which see the Lords, ante p. 1810] The Members left the House; all who could ap- 1824 proach the Speaker, amid the confusion, having shook hands with the right hon. Gentleman, with the utmost kindness and cordiality.