§ Mr. Gillon
presented a Petition from the Provost, Magistrates, and Town Council of the royal burgh of Linlithgow, complaining of the delay in passing the Reform Bill, and praying, that its progress through the House of Commons might be accelerated by every means consistent with the privileges of Parliament, and the spirit of the Constitution. The hon. Member entirely concurred in the prayer of the petition, and he must say, that the indignation of the north would be aroused if further time were wasted in frivolous debates and factions opposition.
Mr. John H. Johnstone
said, any Gentleman who had watched the progress of the Bill, must be satisfied, that unnecessary delays were interposed, and this had given great cause of displeasure to the country; he therefore begged to express his cordial concurrence with the prayer of the petition.
Mr. C. W. Wynn
said, that no doubt the petitioners were disinterested parties, in offering any opinion connected with the progress of the English Reform Bill; at the same time he thought it strange that they should set themselves up as the judges of the exact quantum of time which should be devoted to ascertain whether an English borough should be disfranchised, or a populous English place enfranchised. He had a great respect for the Provost and Council of Linlithgow, but he could not conceive that they were likely to be the best judges of what were the proper places in England to send Members to Parliament, and, of course, of the arguments pro and con. Would they have only one question put on the whole Bill? What would be thought of the trial of sixty persons, where it should be insisted that the verdict should pronounce at once upon the guilt or innocence of the whole, without any distinction?
said, the right hon. Gentleman had made out no case to show that the petitioners had not a right to interfere on this occasion. The nominees of Lords, and other borough proprietors, had legislated for the people of Scotland, and they were now paying them off for it. The simile of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. C. W. Wynn), as to the sixty criminals, was not very happy. In one respect it was correct, as these boroughs 735 were charged with being at the disposal of boroughmongering Lords, and others, who put in their own nominees, without any reference to the opinions of the supposed electors. It was true there were sixty criminals charged, but no further was the metaphor correct, for who ever heard of sixty criminals being allowed to vote upon the charge against them? Let the accused parties, the nominees, leave the House, or go into the dock below the bar, until their case was decided, and then there would be less delay and less ground of complaint. He was not surprised at the impatience of the public on this subject. Was it not a fact, that there were vexatious delays? He had heard himself one hon. Member deliver the same speech fourteen times, and not only in the same words, but with the same fisticuffs on the box before him. They had entered into the Committee on the 4th of July, the anniversary of the declaration of American independence, and they had now, on the 4th of August, got no further than the third schedule of the Bill, He could have wished, that it were completed on the 10th of August, which was the anniversary of another event; but if they were to go on with such arguments, or rather such no-arguments, as had been heard on this subject, they might then get through somewhere about February next.
§ Mr. Robert A. Dundas
was well acquainted with the opinions of the people of Scotland on this subject, and he was sure they would not think well of the Members at that (the Opposition) side of the House, if they allowed a measure of this importance to pass without a minute examination of all its details. As to the remark of the hon. and learned member for Kerry, about the no-arguments of Members opposed to the Bill, he would tell the hon. and learned Member, that he would gain more for the Bill, if he could induce hon. Members on the other side to answer those which had been urged, the no-answer to which would not fail to make a due impression on the thinking portion of the country.
would not have taken any part in this discussion, but for the observation of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. C. W. Wynn), who made a demarcation of the line of duty of parties addressing the House, and who seemed to think it presumption in the inhabitants of a Scotch borough to interfere with the mode of 736 disposing of an English borough. He considered it the right and the duty of every Member, no matter what place he Represented, to state the opinions of his constituents as to any measure, whether English, Scotch, or Irish; and he owned he was surprised at such a remark from one who was so ready to come forward in support of the forms of that House. The petitioners stated their opinion very respectfully as to the delay; and in this they only partook of a feeling very general in the country—that much unnecessary delay had taken place. In this he believed many of the opponents as well as supporters of the Bill concurred. They would be glad to see it brought to a conclusion. The petitioners only stated their opinion, that the delay would be dangerous to the peace of the country, and they therefore prayed, that it might be carried through with as little delay as might be consistent with the forms of the House. Surely in this there was nothing so very objectionable as to call for the censure of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Sir Richard Vyvyan
said, it was satisfactory to think, that this petition was not so objectionable as the one presented by the hon. and leaned Member (Mr. O'Connell), from the Birmingham Political Union, a few days ago, and which the learned Gentleman read to the House, though he would not allow any one to reply to him. The hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the anniversary of American Independence, and let drop an allusion to another anniversary—that of the 10th of August. He hoped he should never see the celebration of such an anniversary in this country. Did the hon. and learned Member recollect what followed after the events of the 10th of August, 1793? If he did, he thought the allusion must call up associations not very favourable to the advocates of this Bill. What was the state of the case with respect to this Bill? The House was sitting there as a deliberative body, considering one of the most important changes which could be made in a State—the change of its Constitution—a change so important, that if they took six months to effect it, they would be still liable to the charge of too much haste. A Constitution could not be made in a day, and should not be touched at all without an absolute necessity, and then with the most deliberate caution as to every step they 737 took. For his own part, he had not taken any active part in the discussions in the Committee, though he reserved to himself the right to do so when he thought proper, but he claimed, on the part of those who had, the fullest power to defend the rights of their constituents. He would not be deterred, and he trusted no Member of that side of the House would allow himself to be deterred, by the opinions of individuals out of the House, or the taunts of any of those within, from taking that course with respect to this measure which their own sense of duty suggested.
§ Mr. James Grattan
admitted, to the fullest extent, the right of every Member to defend his own borough; and he regretted that the hon. Baronet was not in his place at the right time to defend that one he Represented; but he did protest against half a dozen Members taking upon themselves the character of champions of all the boroughs, and repeating, night after night—not the same arguments, for arguments he could not call them, but—the same statement of facts, which had been answered over and over again.
§ Mr. Cresset Pelham
said, if the hon. member for Wicklow expected, that the debates in future would be more contracted than before, in consequence of these sort of remarks, he would find himself greatly disappointed. The hon. Gentleman might apply his remarks to the past, but they would only influence future debates unfavourably. It was essential to free discussion, that every Member should have an opportunity of calling the attention of the House to any thing likely to improve any measure before them, and that every Member should embrace that opportunity if he thought proper.
§ Mr. D. W. Harvey
said, any one who looked at the debates would see, that, night after night, the same statements of facts were made by nearly the same speakers, and that the number of speakers on each side did not exceed half a dozen. When the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. C. W. Wynn) denied the right of the petitioners to interfere in the discussion as to the English Reform Bill, did it not occur to him, that the delay of the English Bill would be greatly injurious to the progress of the Scotch Reform Bill? Surely on that ground the Scotch people had a right to interfere in urging the more rapid progress of this Bill. He had been astonished to observe the unconstitutional ground taken 738 on the occasion. It had been argued, that Members should not take a part in matters which might refer to places not connected with the places they Represented. Why, it was one of the strongest arguments made use of in favour of small boroughs, that the parties who sat for them were Members for the whole country.
Mr. C. W. Wynn
said, he was in the recollection of the House as to what he had said, and if there were any Member present who conceived him to have denied the competency or the propriety of the people of any part of Scotland taking an interest in the progress of the English Reform Bill he should wish to undeceive him. He had made no such denial; what he stated was, that though the Provost and Council of Linlithgow might be very respectable people, he thought them the very worst judges of the time which might be required in deciding whether an English borough should be disfranchised or enfranchised. As to the allusion made by the hon. and learned member for Kerry to an hon. and learned Gentleman who was not in his place, he must state, that it would have been more fair, and more consistent with gentlemanly feeling, if he had reserved his remark until that hon. and learned Member was present, who, no doubt, would be able to give him a satisfactory answer. He was not surprised at the hon. and learned Member's allusion to the anniversary of the 4th July, as that of American Independence, but he owned, that he did not expect to hear it coupled with an allusion to another anniversary, that of the 10th of August—a day memorable in the annals of lawless outrage, and distinguished by a massacre from which the streets of Paris ran with human blood.
said, he had made the allusion to the hon. and learned Member (Sir C. Wetherell) playfully. He certainly was wrong in alluding to only one orator as having thumped the box; for he might have mentioned five or six who impressed their oft-repeated arguments—or no-arguments—in that manner. When he spoke of the 4th of July, he spoke of it as the anniversary of an event at which every friend of freedom should rejoice; but his coupling it with the 10th of August was not because he thought the events of the day ought to be imitated, but because he wished to call to the remembrance of some hon. Members, that 739 the events of that day, deplorable as they were, were the result of along and dogged refusal to restore the usurped rights of the people, who had been opposed and trampled upon in a worse manner than they had been by the boronghmongers here, and in that feeling only did he express a hope, that the Bill might be over by the 10th of August.
§ Mr. Hunt
said, the petition reminded him of the case of a person who came up to town when the Reform Bill was brought in, and who, on being asked how long he intended to remain, said, he would stay a few days, until the Bill passed, that he might carry it home in his pocket. The petitioners, or rather petitioner, for there was only one signature, might have made the same estimate of the time it would take to carry the measure. With respect to the meeting of the Livery of London, which had been alluded to on a former occasion, he wished to observe, they were a distinct body from the citizens, of which they formed but a small proportion. The citizens would, no doubt,however, have met, to petition the House, had they not seen the fate of the Birmingham petition, as well as those of other places.
§ Mr. Lefroy
could not conceive on what ground, as the Committee had refused to hear Counsel, hon. Members should be prevented or restrained in any manner from giving their opinions in every case of disfranchisement, as it was brought before them. These boroughs had no assistance from their judges, in the absence of Counsel, but rather found in their judges a disposition to condemn by wholesale, without giving the accused an opportunity of making a separate defence.
§ Petition to lie on the Table.
§ Mr. Gillon
, in moving it be printed, said, the people of Scotland had a great interest in the speedy passing of the Bill, as upon it depended their own deliverance from an oppressive system, which had caused them to sustain a load of taxes, while their petitions were treated with neglect. He should be ready to support the prayer of his constituents.
§ Mr. Burge
deprecated this and every other attempt made to dictate to the House of Commons, when they were engaged in the discussion of a measure which so ominously threatened the safety of the British Constitution, and all our happy existing institutions. It was a new era in legislation, for that House to have a course of discussion 740 prescribed, and to be called upon, at a few days notice, to make such a great and decided innovation. It was the duty of those who saw defects in the Bill, to point them out, and its advocates acted inconsistently in hurrying it through the House, for if they considered it so excellent as they pretended, they would not fear its suffering in public estimation, by examination and discussion. The Ministry of this day had neglected the warning admonitions of History, which had been well defined to be philosophy teaching by example, and contemplated without apprehension the completion of those changes and innovations, upon which all rational men in times far more pregnant with ability than these, and all intelligent men of our own day, looked, or had looked, with the most fearful anticipations.
§ Mr. North
was not, in the least, surprised that some hon. Members should rejoice and congratulate themselves upon every occurrence which, like this, as the hon. member for Kerry had insinuated, was but a stage or more towards a general change, including in it the dissolution of the Union between this country and Ireland; but that the Ministers of his Majesty should be indifferent under such circumstances, was what he could not reconcile to their avowal, that they thought in this Bill was to be found a firm base for the political welfare, and final arrangement of the Legislature, of this great nation. There might have been some ground for Ministerial impatience to pass their favourite measure if they had brought it forward originally without any error or blemish in its inception; but when it was by others found, and by Ministers acknowledged, to be replete with numerous and admitted errors, which they, with singular precipitation, hastened to correct and set right, when ordered so to do by their masters, the daily Press, he confessed he could not see how they could object to that calm examination which had already so frequently corrected numerous errors. Hitherto, he had taken no part in these discussions, of which, and of the Bill, he was heartily sick and weary; and he could safely say, he should feel but little concern were the Bill to be carried with all the expedition the Ministry seemed to wish; for he had little doubt in his mind, that the measure of 1831 would be soon superseded by the measure of 1832 or 1833; for the progress of innovation was not likely, 741 he was sure, to be stopped by the present measure. He was weary of the continued and renewed discussions, night after night, if discussions they might be called, which seemed to lack all the essentials of deliberation worthy of an enlightened Legislature. That they were impatient, or seemed so, was naturally to be expected, because they were obliged to assume an air of reckless haste in accomplishing the measure of Reform, in compliance with the cry raised out of doors in its favour, by those who had taken up the pledge of the Ministers as the sole qualification necessary for their very unexpected and sudden elevation to power.
§ Mr. Cutlar Ferguson
said, he disapproved of such petitions as this, because the proceedings of the House ought to be perfectly free. He protested against their being interfered with, either by intimidation or otherwise. Great delay, no doubt, took place, not, however, in discussing the principle of the details, but in consequence of repeating the same arguments, night after night, upon each individual case. He hoped no representations from the metropolis, or any other part of the country would be permitted to influence their deliberations; but, that the House would be always alive to its own independence.
§ Mr. George Robinson
protested against the line pursued by the non. and learned Gentleman (Mr. North). He had a full right to claim good intentions on his own part, and those with whom he acted, but not to attribute bad ones to those who differed from him. What had been the means employed in all preceding legislation, but majorities, and former majorities would be found, he believed, more objectionable in principle than those on this Bill. He wondered, that hon. Gentlemen had not discovered the inconvenience of majorities formerly, when they were always on the winning side. Petitions of this kind might, generally speaking, be inexpedient; but the language was respectful in the present petition, and he saw, therefore, no objection to receiving it. He considered, that imputations on either side were highly improper.
§ Sir Charles Forbes
was of opinion, that the House had done more mischief in one short month than could be repaired in centuries. The argument was all on the Opposition side of the House, and no answer had been given to it on the 742 other. If the majority were resolved to pass the Bill, let them avow it at once, let them dispense with the usual forms of the House, and agree to all the clauses at once, let the question be put upon the Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill, this was the way to satisfy the Press, and put a speedy end to the necessary discussion of the Bill.
§ Petition to be printed.