HC Deb 30 August 1831 vol 6 cc871-6
Mr. Hunt

presented a Petition from certain persons of the working class, denominated the Westminster Political Union, praying for Annual Parliaments, Universal Suffrage, and Vote by Ballot. They also prayed, that there might not be any pecuniary qualification for voting. The hon. Member said, that he took that opportunity to observe, that the public feeling towards the Bill now in progress, had greatly changed. The people felt much cooler towards that measure. It was now, in fact, a dead letter. The people had had time to reflect on the matter, and the consequence was, that they were dissatisfied with it. Wherever he went, among high or low, he heard but one opinion expressed with regard to the Bill.

Mr. Lawley

said, if public opinion had changed towards the Bill, public meetings should be held to give expression to that feeling. This was necessary for Members who represented a numerous constituency, that they might know what they were doing.

Mr. Hunt

said, that those who entertained any doubts that such a change had taken place, should call public meetings to ascertain the fact. Let them call a meeting in London, and he would attend, and he would venture to say, that a very different feeling would be manifested towards the Bill, from what had been displayed a short time since. If they did not find that to be the case, he would not open his mouth again in that House. He would hold his tongue for the rest of his life. The people had been deluded, and were now discontented with the measure. Hon. Members said, why were not meetings called? Why, The Times had been calling for those meetings a long time without effect. Let a meeting of the Common Hall be called, and they would discover the change which had taken place upon this subject. A short time ago, if any person ventured to disapprove of the Bill—the whole Bill—he would not be heard. The case would be very different at present. He was bold to say, that any person might now oppose the Bill in that assembly, without any fear of not being heard.

Mr. Littleton

said, that if the question was not unpopular, it was not the fault of the hon. member for Preston. He could assure the House, that, in the county in which he resided, the question had not retrograded, but, on the contrary, had risen in the estimation of every man of intelligence and education in the county. It was unreasonable to suppose, that the excitement which had prevailed on the subject, should be kept up now with the same intensity as had been at first manifested. It could not be expected. The country had fought the battle, and considered it as good as won—that the Bill was already carried. It was rooted in the hearts of Englishmen, and it was not in the power of any influence to stop its growth.

Mr. Benett

said, if the people were dissatisfied with the Bill, they would have expressed their disapprobation through the medium of petitions. They were convinced the Bill would be passed, and were waiting with anxiety for the result. He knew there were persons who were anxious to withdraw them from the Bill. He thought, the only meetings which would be held on the subject, would be, to thank Ministers for their perseverance and success.

Mr. Daniel Whittle Harvey

said, if the change in public opinion, described by the hon. member for Preston, had really taken place, let that hon. Member, and his new allies, call public meetings, and the matter would be brought to an issue. In the county to which he belonged, out of six Members, five had been returned favourable to Reform. The people, no doubt, felt regret at the tardy progress of the Bill, but if an appeal were again made to them, it would be attended with a similar result.

Lord Valletort

said, it was one thing to call forth an expression of public opinion on any subject, in a moment of excitement, and another to get the people to retract that opinion afterwards. Much had been said of the delay which had been created to stop the progress of the Reform Bill, but he would be glad to know whence that delay arose, and with which side of the House the fault lay.

Lord Morpeth

said, that as the Representative of a large county, he could assure the House, that the favourable opinion of the people towards the Bill had increased.

Sir Ronald Ferguson

said, that in Nottinghamshire the people were more anxious than ever for the passing of the Bill. He could assure the hon. member for Preston, and his new friends, that they would not be able to stop the progress of that measure, or prevent it from being carried to a successful issue.

Mr. Hodges

hoped the House would not be led into a discussion to answer the observations of the member for Preston He was convinced the people were quite satisfied with the Bill.

Mr. Paget

said, he knew of no delusion which had been practised on the people. The Ministry had not been guilty of any. They had been courageous and firm in their efforts to carry the measure through that House. If any one had practised delusion on this subject, it was the hon. member for Preston.

Mr. James

denied that any re-action had taken place in the minds of the people on the subject of the Reform Bill. He could speak from his own knowledge of the inhabitants of Carlisle, that there was no re-action there, There was, indeed, a great deal of vexation on account of the delay created in that louse by the opponents of all Reform. It had been said, that if the people had not relaxed in their zeal for the measure, they would have sent in more numerous petitions, calling on the House to hasten is progress. But the truth was, they had too much sense to give their enemies the opportunity of further delay by the discussions to which the presentation of petitions would give rise.

Mr. O'Connell

said, that the noble Lord near him and the hon. member for Preston both talked of the people of England being careless about the fate of the Reform Bill. He believed, that in so saying they misrepresented the people. The people of England were too intelligent, and had too much knowledge of their own rights and interests, not to appreciate the very first clause of the Bill, which at once disfranchised so many rotten boroughs. Would the hon. member for Preston venture to say, that the people wished the Bill which contained that first clause to be rejected, and the system of nomination to be continued? No; they were not to be deluded by the representations of the hon. member for Preston, who wished to persuade them that the Bill would be improved by rendering it impossible to pass it into a law. He was ready to admit, that the measure was sailing through the Committee too slowly, but yet to certain success.

Lord George Lennox

said, that the hon. Member who undertook to speak for the sentiments of his (Lord Lennox's) constituents, the people of Sussex, had taken too little pains to ascertain what they were. The hon. Member left London on Saturday, and returned from Brighton on Monday, in time to take his seat in the House at an early hour; so that he allowed himself only the intervening Sunday to obtain information as to the opinions of that large town. He (Lord Lennox) was well acquainted with the feelings of his constituents on the subject of the Bill, and he could affirm, that there were no complaints amongst them, excepting only against the slowness of the proceedings of the House with regard to the Bill.

Mr. Hunt

had presented petitions against the Bill from most of the great towns in the north of England, and he thought it somewhat strange that noble Lords and hon. Gentlemen should pretend to know the opinions of the people better than they knew them themselves. At Preston the people wished for the rejection of the Bill, because at the same time that it would do no earthly good to anybody else, it would disfranchise them. For his part, he did not care whether the course which he chose to follow would obstruct the Bill or not, but he would on every occasion tell the truth, "whatever way it cuts." So far as he had gone, much as hon. Gentlemen misrepresented him, he had only supported the views of the immensely numerous petitions which he had presented.

Mr. Hume

said, that there was the grossest in consistency between the speeches and the actions of the hon. member for Preston. Why did not the hon. Member act like an honest man, and vote against the Bill, if he thought it as bad as he declared it to be? The hon. Member tried all he could to get up meetings and petitions against the Bill, and yet the hon. Member voted for the Bill. He must say, that the proceedings of such a Member were not worth attending to. The hon. Member had said, that everywhere he went he heard the Bill denounced. Now if this were the fact, the hon. Member ought to tell them what society he was in the habit of mixing with—for he never heard any thing against the Bill from persons with whom he conversed. Let the hon. Member call a public meeting on this subject; he would face the hon. Member at such meeting, and he would venture to say, that the result of it would be, that the people would indignantly deny the sentiments which the hon. Member attributed to them. When the hon. Member made his unmeaning complaint about the people being deluded, he would tell the hon. Member, that he was the only person in that House who could be fairly charged with practising delusion. Nothing could be more calculated to delude than speaking one way and voting another.

Mr. Sheil

said, that the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Hunt) having, on a former occasion, described himself as the Representative of the people of England, because he represented Preston, was quite consistent in taking the opinions of his constituents in that borough for the opinions of all England. Proceeding upon that inference, the hon. Gentleman predicted that the people would soon cease to think favourably of the Bill. But as the hon. Member's predictions on the same subject had before proved erroneous, he would probably allow the House to suspect, that on this occasion also he might be a mistaken prophet. In the last Parliament, that hon. Member declared, that if the sense of the people were to be taken respecting the Bill introduced in that Session, they would be found to be adverse to it. But the election came on, and from all the counties of England only six opponents of the Bill were sent back to Parliament. Such having been the event of his predictions as to the last Bill, what reliance could be placed upon his prophecy concerning the present.

Mr. Hunt

repeated, that the petitions which he had presented sufficiently proved that a majority of the people concurred with his opinions of the Reform Bill. The hon. member for Louth had charged him with designating himself the Representative of all England. But what he had said on the occasion alluded to was, that he considered himself the Representative of all the unrepresented portion of the people.

Petition to be printed.