Lord John Russell
moved, that that part of the King's Speech which related to Reform in Parliament should be read. It was read accordingly, as follows—
"I feel it to be my duty, in the first place, to recommend to your most careful consideration, the measures which will be proposed to you for a Reform in the Commons House of Parliament. A speedy and satisfactory settlement of this question, becomes daily of more pressing importance to the security of the State, and to the contentment and welfare of my people."—After which
Lord John Russell
addressed the House nearly as follows:—In answer to his Majesty's most gracious Speech, delivered from the Throne, at the opening of the present Session, there was a vote of this House, that an humble Address should be presented to his Majesty, in which the following words formed a part:—"We beg to assure your Majesty, that we receive, with all humility and respect, your Majesty's gracious recommendation, that we should enter upon the careful consideration of the measures which will be proposed to us for a Re- 157 form in the Commons House of Parliament, and that we feel convinced, that the speedy and satisfactory settlement of this question, becomes daily of more pressing importance to the security of the state, and to the contentment and welfare of the people." With, that sentiment, in which this House concurred without a division, there are few now present who will not be ready to agree, for, whatever may have been the merits of the measure that was proposed in the former Session, or of that which I am now about to propose, there is no one who has attended to this great question, and noticed the manner in which it has agitated the country from time to time, the agitation increasing with every returning period of distress, but must be convinced, that the time has now arrived, when its speedy and satisfactory settlement is of an importance very nearly equal to that of the question itself. It so happens, that in this country, where freedom of debate always has existed, and I hope ever will continue to exist, that the topics chosen by the advocates of the measure, or by its opponents, have always been urged to an extreme point, so that both parties respectively exalt the benefits, or deplore the evils, of the measure they support or oppose, and they do this to such an extent, that at length the country has reached a condition in which it is dangerous to suspend any longer a final decision on a subject which has caused much discussion, and on which so much difference of opinion has prevailed. It becomes, in consequence, the duty of Parliament, with all convenient expedition, to put an end to these conflicting opinions, and to bind impatient desires on the one hand, and obstinate resistance on the other, by the compelling yoke of parliamentary law. That such has been the state of different questions which have been the topics of debate in this country, few who have attended to them, will deny. We all recollect the great measure passed a few Sessions ago—I mean the question of Catholic Emancipation. On that occasion, although I am, and always have been convinced, that right and reason, and political expediency, were on one side, yet I think it cannot be denied, that the immediate benefit to be derived from that measure for the people of Ireland, and the instant tranquillity that was expected to flow from it, were grossly exaggerated on the one hand; but, on the other hand, there can be no doubt that the topics of the utter subversion of the Established Church, and of the threatened discord between the two classes of the people, or the renewal of persecution, were in like 158 manner grossly exaggerated, until it became the duty of Parliament then not to leave any longer the topic of discussion open to agitation, but to place under the solid sanction of their authority and approval, a measure the best calculated, in their opinion, to effect a speedy and satisfactory settlement of the great question which then agitated the public mind. A similar state of things exists at present with regard to the great measure which I am about to introduce to the House; no one thinking calmly can fail to allow, that both the evils to be remedied, and the advantages to be derived from that remedy, are highly coloured on the one hand, and that, on the other, the dangers to tke Constitution, which it is said we are going to overturn, and to our established institutions, have been made the subject of many merely imaginary fears. It is, therefore, not only for the sake of the measure itself, but also with regard to the present state of the country, that his Majesty's Government has called Parliament together, to endeavour to effect that speedy and satisfactory settlement of the question of Parliamentary Reform which is so desirable, and to compose those differences which have divided parties and Parliament upon this great topic. It will be our duty so to act, that whatever may be the evils from which the country at any time suffers—whatever may be the causes that embarrass its commerce, or the difficulties under which its trade may be labouring, that to those embarrassments and difficulties, these topics of denied political rights, and disregarded political interests, shall not be brought in to aggravate the distress, and sharpen the complaints of the people. We must now do our best to settle the question, in order that we may be the more able to give our free and full attention to other important subjects, which cannot fail to demand our early, our serious, and our most deliberate consideration. It will be recollected, that at the end of last Session, when the Reform Bill was rejected by the House of Lords, the noble Earl at the head of his Majesty's Government declared, that he remained in office only with the intention of bringing forward a measure not less efficient than that which had been rejected. The noble Earl made the declaration in the face of Parliament, and he made it, too, under the eye of his Sovereign, who was graciously pleased to express his wish that the noble Earl should remain in office. By that tie he has remained in the situation he now holds, and by that same tie he holds the 159 confidence of the people, which was immediately expressed to him, on his making the declaration, that any future measure to be brought forward by him should be no less efficient than the former. This House likewise declared, that to the principles of that Bill, and to the leading provisions of it, they were firmly attached. I recal these circumstances to the minds of the Members of this House, because they will save me from the necessity of stating those general topics of Reform, or re-arguing those reasons, on which the principle of the Bill which was rejected last Session mainly rested. His Majesty's Government resting upon the foundation of Lord Grey's declarations, and upon the pledge given by this House, in favour of the Bill introduced by the Government, it is unnecessary for me to argue in support of the provisions of the Bill which I am about to ask leave to bring in. It will be sufficient for me to say, that it is founded on the principles on which alone the Government can propose a Bill of Reform to this House, and on which alone this House, consistently with its own declared sentiments, can entertain it. The arguments, therefore, which I shall address to the House, will turn merely upon the best mode of carrying these principles and these provisions into effect; upon the mode by which they can be made most permanent, and most likely to be adapted to the state of the country, without those alterations to which almost every great measure must be subject in a course of years. The first great principle of the last Bill, introduced to the House last Session, was to get rid of the nomination boroughs, by the disfranchisement of such of them as were decayed, and had become inconsiderable. The next was the enfranchisement of certain large and populous towns, and giving new Members to large counties. The third related to the right of voting which we proposed to introduce into all boroughs. With regard to the principle of disfranchisement, it will be in the recollection of the House, that we declared, in order to prevent the direct power of nomination, that it was necessary to take a certain number of small boroughs, where freedom of election could not be hoped for, or obtained, and to draw a line of demarcation between them and boroughs of somewhat more consideration, and into which we could introduce a greater number of electors, so as to establish more fully the principle of this Bill, which is the principle of the Bill of Rights, that elections ought of right to be free. In order to take certain boroughs out of the operation of the prin- 160 ciple of complete disfranchisement, we took the census of 1821, and established a certain line of population, below which the borough to be disfranchised would have no right to send Members to Parliament. Since that time the new census has been nearly completed, and it is natural that such an important circumstance should not be thrown out of view. At the aame time I think there are certain objections to that census, which I stated formerly, one of which is, that the census of 1831, being made at a time when a particular cause was assigned for the disfranchisement of boroughs of small population, it was almost impossible, that, in some instances, at least, persons would not be gathered together in certain of these small boroughs, in order to make up the number of inhabitants to the required amount of 2,000. We have thought, therefore, that as the test of population might not, in all cases, be perfectly accurate, it would be better to take the number of houses, rather than that of persons; it being less likely that improper practices could be resorted to, with regard to the return of the number of houses, than with regard to the return of the number of persons. But there was another reason why we considered it proper to take houses instead of persons. There were other difficulties, besides those I have alluded to, respecting the census of 1821, which much embarrassed the progress of the Bill of last Session. When that census was first taken, it was supposed, that the difference between the limits of the borough, with regard to its population, and the limits of the borough with regard to that portion of it which was entitled to send Members to Parliament, was not so material as to make any great difference. But it appeared, in the discussions which arose upon the Bill, that there was often a great difference between the two, and the difficulty was, to draw the line where the census ought to be disregarded, and where it ought to be adhered to. I think that we drew the line as fairly as we could, but the census itself was imperfect, and nothing could more fully prove that fact, than the statements of a right hon. Gentleman opposite, with regard to a place, which, according to another estimate, never could expect to retain its right of returning a Member; I allude to the borough of Saltash. When I say, that we drew the line as fairly as we could, I must not omit to remark upon the recommendations of two hon. Members who may be supposed to have much considered the subject. The hon. member for Thetford, who has paid a great 161 deal of attention to this subject, said, that in order to get a fair criterion, we should leave out from the Returns for the towns all persons connected with agriculture; and the hon. member for Bossiney said, that there was a great difference in extent between the parishes of the north and the parishes of the south, and that we ought not, therefore, to take parishes in the north, as from their superior size, they did not form a fair criterion for those of the south. Had we adopted either of these suggestions, especially the latter, and had we said, that beyond a certain line one way we would, and beyond a certain line the other way we would not, recognize the existing parishes as parishes, we should have exposed ourselves, not only to attack, but to ridicule. Considering, therefore, that as this census was framed, it was not calculated to give us as just and complete a view of the boroughs as was requisite, we have taken every means to obtain a correct account of them, of their importance, their population, and their size, in every instance in which this Bill will affect them. Those Gentlemen who went through the last Bill, will see that in doing this, we have had a matter of no small difficulty to accomplish. Mr. Pitt, in bringing forward his scheme of Parliamentary Reform, in 1785, said, "I will take the criterion, by which I will judge what boroughs are decayed, from the number of houses within them. This is a mode of judgment which is not liable to error, and which I conceive to be perfectly consistent with the original principle of Parliamentary Representation."* But I think, that if he had gone further than merely to make the proposition, he would have found, that the course he had marked out, was not so easy and simple as he seemed to imagine. For instance, where the borough contains the whole town, he might arrive at a satisfactory result; but in other cases, where the town goes beyond the limits of the borough, he would have found a difficulty he did not anticipate, and that it would be unjust to say, that he would strictly confine himself to the borough, and not allow to the town the importance which its growing size, wealth, and prosperity deserved. This is a matter which it is difficult to ascertain with exactness, and even within these few days, with regard to the borough represented by the right hon. Baronet opposite—I mean the borough of Tamworth—it has been doubted, whether the number of houses had*Hansard's Parliamentary History vol.xxv. P. 441162 been calculated for the town or for the borough. Persons residing there have sent up Returns, which those who have visited it on the part of the Government, have thought insufficiently represented the extent and importance of the borough. Under these circumstances, therefore, we have taken another test, which, combined with the test of houses, will give a more correct view of the importance of the boroughs. We have adopted this other test, in order that we may not place towns with a number of mean low houses, in a situation of greater advantage than towns with a smaller number of better and more respectable houses. We have not taken the number of 10l. houses only, but the amount of Assessed Taxes, up to the month of April of this year. To do this, it was necessary for us to take the assessed taxes paid by the whole town, without regard to the exact, limits of the borough. I own, that I thought, during the discussions of last Session, that it was in vain to attempt to obtain such accurate returns upon these points as would render it expedient to propose them to this House, as the basis of a legislative enactment; but although the subject is surrounded with difficulties, I hope to be able to produce satisfactory evidence to the House, that fair grounds have been taken with respect to all these boroughs. In this part of our labours we have been much assisted by those Gentlemen who were sent into the country as Commissioners with the object of defining the limits of the various cities and boroughs. They have paid much attention to this subject, and have consequently been able to give us much valuable information. Besides this, we have had letters written to the returning officers of different boroughs; and, although in some instances the instructions have not been understood, and the answers have been necessarily sent down again for revision and correction, yet I am bound to say, the answers have been, in general, fair and explicit; and in the majority of cases, where they have been corrected by the Government Commissioners, the correction has rather gone to show, that the returning officer had not given a sufficient breadth to the town, than that he had taken too much for its limits. Having these grounds for our information, a particular task was intrusted to Lieutenant Drummond, by the noble Lord at the head of the Home Department who wrote Mr. Drummond a letter, requesting him to take this mass of information into his particular consideration, and from it to make out a series of 100 bo- 163 roughs, beginning with the lowest, and taking the number of houses and the amount of their assessed taxes together as the bases of their relative importance. From his return of these boroughs, the grounds on which he calculated, so as to arrive at a correct conclusion being fully detailed in the letter and appendix, explanatory of the course he has pursued (which documents are before the House), the first clause of the Reform Bill, the schedule A, has been framed. The next question for the Government to decide was, what they would take as the principle of disfranchisement, and where they would draw the line. As I have before said, the line must be in every way an arbitrary line, whether we take as our principle the number of houses, the amount of assessed taxes, or the limits of a borough. In all these cases, the line must be an arbitrary line, founded on the judgment of those who make the distinction, whether we take 2,000 persons or 500 houses, or 500l. assessed taxes. In this instance we have been guided by the number of boroughs then proposed to be disfranchised, on account of their inconsiderable size, which was fifty-six. The consequence of taking Lieutenant Drummond's report as a basis for disfranchisement, and taking the same number, is, that some boroughs which formerly escaped disfranchisement as populous and large, will now be placed in schedule A, while others, which are better towns in comparison, will be taken out of that schedule, and be placed in schedule B. The latter are five in number, and a sixth is under consideration. The boroughs that are to be taken from schedule B, and placed in schedule A, are Aldborough, in Yorkshire, Amersham, East Grinstead, Oakhampton, and Saltash. There is one other borough, which was in the list of the forty-one boroughs in schedule B, in the late Bill, and with respect to which there are even now still some doubts as to what are the proper limits of the borough. That is the borough of Ashburton. Supposing that place to be one of the fifty-six, then the boroughs that are taken out of schedule A and placed in schedule B will be Midhurst, Petersfield, Eye, Wareham, Woodstock, and Lostwithiel. Another part of the disfranchising clauses relates to the boroughs inserted in schedule B; and, in speaking of that schedule, I must apprize the House, that it stands upon a different principle from that which governs schedule A. The boroughs placed in schedule A were inserted therein because, from the smallness of their size, and 164 the limited extent of their population, elections in them could not be free, and because their representatives were returned, either by nomination or by the influence of gross corruption. But the boroughs placed in schedule B were placed there on the principle of not giving to the smaller towns such a large share in the Representation as they possess at present, and it was, therefore, judged proper, that one of the Representatives of a certain number of places should be taken away. This would also have the further effect of diminishing the numbers of the House. With respect to the propriety of a certain number of boroughs having but one Representative, the opinions of the framers of the Bill remain unchanged, but with regard to the number of the Members of the House, it has been matter of serious consideration whether, after the number has been enlarged from that point at which it was put in the last Session, so as to be only twenty-three less than it is at the present moment—whether, after that enlargement of numbers, it might not be more advantageous to retain its numbers undiminished, more especially as those who object to the diminution of the House may be conciliated without sacrificing any of the principles of the Bill. In considering that question, another advantage was perceived; namely this. It had been one of the most constant objections to the measure of Government, that many of the large towns left with only one Member would be in a state of discontent till they had obtained two. Without yielding to that argument—for I think, that in many instances one Member would be fully sufficient to represent the particular interest of these towns, it is evident that there will be a great advantage, if, by giving them two Members, these objections might be in some degree obviated, and the larger among these towns would thus be placed in a better situation; but, at the same time, it was evident, that if we proposed to give the whole number of vacant places created by the schedule B to these large towns, we should be giving a degree of weight to the manufacturing interest, which, without some balance or counterpoise, would be considered objectionable. It then came to be a question whether we should give an additional number of Members to the large counties. It appeared to us, that it would not be an advantage to adopt a further division of counties for that purpose, or to give three Members to those counties which now possess two. The only way, therefore, to avoid the difficulty was, to give a certain 165 number of these Members to the towns of the greatest importance which had been placed in schedule B, supposing, that we took the list of forty-one towns in schedule B, as it stood last Session. That course was resolved to be adopted, and it is therefore proposed, that of the twenty-three Members whose seats, after the arrangements I have mentioned, will remain to be disposed of, ten shall be given to the more considerable towns, that, under the last Bill, were to return but one Member each to Parliament. One Member we propose shall be given to Chatham, to separate it from and make it entirely independent of Rochester, and one other to the county of Monmouth, which has repeatedly petitioned for another Member, and which has, of late years, much increased in population and wealth; and the other eleven we propose, shall be given to the larger towns, which, in the former Bill, were placed in schedule B. Thus are the whole of the twenty-three disposed of. In consequence of this arrangement, there will be thirty boroughs in schedule B, instead of forty-one, and instead of there being sixty-nine places sending but one Member each, there will be only forty-nine. According to the present proposition, and to the scale which I have mentioned, founded upon the houses and the assessed taxes, we have prepared the list of the boroughs in schedule B, which are now reduced to thirty, and which, in several instances differs from the former lists, besides the eleven boroughs to which I have already referred. [The noble Lord here read the names of the places included in schedule B, for which see the Act in the Appendix to this Volume.] There is another circumstance which I deem it right to state to the House. It was the subject of much comment in a former Session. According to the returns respecting those small towns, if the number of forty-one had been taken, it would have included the borough of Tavistock. As this borough is one which has been more questioned and was likely to be more examined and scrutinized, than any other, I am, for that and other reasons, most anxious that every possible light should be thrown upon its condition and circumstances. That borough will retain its two Members according to the present scheme. But if any Gentleman chooses to say, that any unfair rule has been attempted to be established with respect to that borough—that any unfair advantage has been taken of my official situation, for the purpose of placing it beyond the reach of disfranchise 166 ment—if Gentlemen say that, I shall only assert, that such statement is utterly false and unfounded. I will now state to the House, the names of the places to which in consequence of the addition that is to be made, we propose to give two members instead of one. The towns to which I refer are Bolton, Brighton, Bradford, Blackburne, Macclesfield, Oldham, Stockport, Stoke-upon-Trent, Halifax and Stroud) I will now pass to another part of the Bill, namely, to that part which refers to the right of voting. And here let me state, that schedule A, and the 10l. clause were the two great pillars upon which the former Bill rested: without them, it would dwindle away to nothing, or to worse than nothing; with them, any defects will be compensated by the great advantages which will be derived from the disfranchisement of the small boroughs, and by establishing a right of voting in cities and boroughs, founded upon the old common law of the land, and adapted to the present state of society—a right of voting which, it is hoped, will bring into the constituency those who are best qualified to exercise the important privilege, from their education, from their general intelligence, and from the stake which they have in the country. I shall not, however, now, unless specially urged so to do, discuss the merits of that question. On the second reading, a fit opportunity will be afforded for that purpose, when I will more particularly undertake to show, that if Ministers had raised the qualification in large towns, and diminished it in small towns, they would have been making a set of small scot-and-lot boroughs, and would have been alienating from the Government a large mass of active and intelligent persons, whom they ought to endeavour to conciliate. I have only now to state, in reference to it, that our intention in making any change in this part of the Bill, is not with a view of diminishing the real value of the privilege conferred, by raising the amount of the qualification, but with the view of effecting such an alteration as will make this provision of the Bill more efficient, and better calculated to attain the object with which it was originally introduced—namely, that of adding to the constituency a mass of intelligent and well-qualified electors. In respect to this portion of the provisions of the former Bill, I am ready to admit, that it was faulty, and required amendment. The only doubt, however, which Ministers had respecting it was, whether it was drawn up in such a manner as would enable those who were to derive their franchise from it to exercise 167 it. As the clause stood in the last Bill, the right of voting in boroughs was to be enjoyed by occupiers of houses assessed to the house-duty or poor-rate at 10l., or rented at 10l., or of the annual value of 10l.; but then this right was afterwards limited thus:—that no one, whose landlord compounded for the rates, should be entitled to vote, unless he claimed to be rated in his own name; and that no one should be entitled to vote for any premises, unless he had occupied the same premises for twelve calendar months, and had not been in the receipt of parochial relief during that time. We now propose, that every one who occupies a house of the value of 10l. shall have a right to vote in behalf of it, provided he is rated, not that he shall be rated at 10l., but that he shall be placed on the poor-rates; and then the only question to be decided will be, whether the house or warehouse occupied be of the value of 10l. a year. This clause is one of such importance, that I trust the House will allow me to read it at full length, as I intend to move it in the Bill. [The noble Lord here read clause twenty-seven of the Bill, for a copy of which, see the Appendix to this Volume.] There is also another clause similar to one in the former Bill, which enacts, that any person who is not rated to the poor-rates may demand to be placed upon them, and being so placed upon them, may claim to be put on the registry. The mode of ascertaining the value of the house where any dispute arises respecting it, will be, that on a fixed day, as in the former Bill, the Barrister to be appointed for that purpose will hold his court, and will there examine as to the value of premises upon which parties claim the right to vote, and he will also decide as to whether all the names placed on the list by the Overseers shall be allowed to remain, and whether any others of those claiming shall be added. This may appear to some Gentlemen a matter of difficulty, but in some towns, where all persons assessed on houses of a certain value have a right to vote for guardians of the poor, this mode of ascertaining the right of parties claiming is in common use, and in some very populous places—at Norwich, for instance, where there are from 3,000 to 4,000 such houses of 10l. value, the matter is managed with little difficulty. Birmingham, too, I understand, affords a similar instance. In fact, it is nothing different from a scot-and-lot qualification, excepting that there is a limit affixed to the qualification. Those who know the abuses which have crept 168 into every sort of privilege in this country will, I am persuaded, feel, that this is much less liable to abuse than any other that has been suggested, and that, upon the whole, it affords every prospect of working well in practice. It will, of course, be fully recollected, that to the former Bill many objections were made, on the ground that its operation would be unjust towards Corporations. It was said, because we were about to take away the corporate right of voting for Members of Parliament, that we were destroying Corporations. That I deny. In the late Bill, however, those privileges of voting were confined to the lives of the present possessors; but the Bill which I now ask leave to introduce will preserve the rights of freemen, and the inchoate rights of apprentices and others. It goes a step further than the previous Bill, for it continues the franchise to all freemen possessing it by birth and servitude, provided they are resident in the towns for which they possess the franchise. There are many who set a great value upon those rights, and it is not intended to effect any alteration in them, further than limiting the right of voting to persons residing within the borough, or within seven miles of the place of voting. There is another point to which I do not think it out of place here to advert:—it is a clause to be introduced, to provide for the possibility of new charters being given to boroughs by his Majesty. In all cases of such charters, the returning officers appointed under the Bill will cease to discharge that duty, the Mayors or chief magistrates of the boroughs will become the returning officers. Every person must acknowledge how desirable it would be, could it be effected, to unite under charters those persons who possess the right of voting, and that giving charters on liberal principles—such as that of the most ancient privileges of the freemen of the city of London—would be, in every case, an improvement; and, whenever such an alteration takes place with respect to a borough—and it is one which will greatly contribute to the quiet, order, and good government of towns—the transfer of those duties may be made with exceeding advantage. There is another right reserved under the Bill, to which I shall now call your attention. In cities which are counties in themselves, the freemen stand in a different situation from those in which other freeholders are placed. In some cities, being counties of themselves, the possession of a freehold gives a right of 169 voting for the county at large. In other cases, such freeholds give the right of voting only for the city; and in other cases, confers no privilege of voting whatever. It is intended that those who vote for the county at large shall remain undisturbed; those who vote for the county of the city will also be allowed to retain their vote; but it declares, that those who heretofore possessed no privilege of voting for either county or city shall be thrown into, and vote for the adjoining county at large. Another point to which I wish to call the attention of the House, is, that by the former Bill, certain Commissioners were appointed, to inquire into and ascertain the limits of boroughs, and make a report on that subject, and other matters, to both Houses of Parliament; and so soon as that report should have been received and adopted, it was intended to be acted on, with respect to such places as should be included in it. In most, instances, persons have been sent to perform the duties that would have devolved upon the Commissioners, if appointed, and such an amount of information has been acquired, by the ability and intelligence by which their endeavours have been conducted, as will, I think and hope, supersede the necessity of appointing any Commissioners by the bill. By means of the information which has thus been obtained, and which we expect to be able to lay before the House soon after the Christmas recess, we shall be enabled to prepare a separate bill, to define the proper limits of cities and boroughs, which will thus be determined by the judgment of Parliament itself, without reference to the opinion of others. I have further to state, that from the reports received from the gentlemen sent into the country, for the purpose to which I have adverted, it is thought, that the strict rule of requiring 300 electors might be advantageously departed from. It was necessary, according to the former plan, to place some limit upon the Commissioners. But Parliament will have now the means of legislating in connection with the general measure, and of making up a constituency suited to the present circumstances and feeling of the country. I have now, I believe, gone through all the essential alterations made in the Bill, of course, without entering into any of its details or wording, though, even in these, I think it will be found that many material improvements have been introduced. It will, therefore, now be for the House to determine whether or not it will adopt the present 170 measure, and to how far it can be adopted, consistently with being pledged to the leading principles of the measure of last Session. In all its leading features the present Bill will be found, I trust, the same, or nearly the same as that which was rejected last Session by the House of Lords, improved, I hope, in its details, but not weakened in any one essential point. It is not my wish now to enter further into those details. I shall, certainly, if it be the pleasure of the House to enter at once into the debate on this Bill, be ready to enter into those details immediately, but my opinion is, that it would be much more convenient to postpone the debate until some future time, when the Bill has been printed, and placed in the hands of Members. I am any thing but willing to provoke a discussion at this moment; but thus much I may be allowed to observe, that Ministers had to consider what was their duty in the present situation of the country, and of the Reform question; and their deliberate conviction is, that they could not, consistently with what they owe to Parliament and themselves, do otherwise than lay the present measure before the House; and I trust the time is coming when both sides of this House will concur with those out of doors, that it is full time to abandon that which can no longer be defended. Whatever the merits of the ancient system might have been in its time, and for its purpose, I shall not now stop to inquire; the only question for us now is, to consider how we shall best form a new system for the future government of this country—upon what principles we shall best provide for the future liberties of the people, consistently with a due regard to the privileges of the other House of Parliament, and the prerogatives of the Crown. If my noble friend at the head of his Majesty's Government has said—nay, has entered, as he undoubtedly has, into a voluntary engagement—that the measure about to be introduced shall not be less efficient than the former; there can be no question that he made that engagement, bound by another engagement not less in force, and to which he must have felt himself under the necessity of reconciling it, and in conformity with which the public must receive it. However anxious my noble friend may be to concur in laying before Parliament a measure not less efficient than the former, yet he can never lose sight of that other principle which compels him to give his support to no proposition which does not respect the privileges of the other 171 House of Parliament, and go to uphold the just prerogatives of the Crown. If there are those who, referring solely to the voluntary engagement of my noble friend, would require him to go further, I hope they will bear in mind that he was bound by both engagements. The monarchy in this country is at the present moment in a situation, which makes it our duty to watch over the rights of all the authorities of the State. There cannot be the slightest question that my noble friend was, and must have felt himself bound not to concur in the introduction of any measure inconsistent with those privileges and prerogatives. If I look back to what has been going on in this country, and throughout Europe—ever since I had the honour of a seat in this House, ever since the peace with France—during the last fifteen years, there has been a constant attempt on the part of the public mind and the intelligence of this country to obtain an alteration in the laws and institutions of England; in those very laws and institutions which we have been most accustomed to regard with reverence and affection. Whether we refer to the laws relating to trade and commerce—the Navigation Laws, which were once looked upon with a sort of superstitious reverence—to the laws relating to religion, by which it was thought to protect that Protestant Ascendancy which so long excluded Protestant and Roman Catholic Dissenters from the privileges of the Constitution—we shall find, that each and all of them have been successively attacked and successively altered. Or if we look to the frame of our criminal laws, or to the laws of property, we find, that the increasing intellect of the country, has demanded extensive change and reform. On all these subjects it had become the duty of the Government to make the necessary changes, and admitting, which is indisputble, that the demand for alteration is importunate and extensive, it becomes the Legislature and the Government, in acceding to that demand, to proceed without running the risk of destroying that which we already possess. We are bound not to put to hazard the excellent frame of our Constitution; though at the same time we cannot oppose an obstinate refusal to the well-founded demands of the people, when justified by the intellect and virtue of the country. The consequence of this general feeling is, that few now remain who think that no change should be made in our laws. The right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Robert Peel) has himself been a 172 large reformer, both in the commercial and the criminal laws. The right hon. Baronet, at least, must acknowledge, that he had not feared to introduce an extensive reform, with the view (which no one more applauds than I do) of rendering those laws more compatible with the present state of society. On one great question, connected with which there was more difficulty than with any of the rest—I mean the change which put an end to religious distinctions—Parliament yielded to the authority of those to whom it was most accustomed to pay deference, and such a change was made as greatly surpassed all others in comparison. When I see all this going on—when I see from day to day bills introduced for effecting the widest and the most extensive changes in all that we have been in the habit of clinging to with much tenacity, can I feel surprise that a loud and importunate demand should be made for an alteration—for a removal of those abuses and deformities imputed to our Representative System? Now, then, that we have arrived at the time when a change is unavoidable, let us fairly set about considering the mode in which it can be best effected, consistently with the rights and privileges of the three branches of the Legislature. The question we have to decide is, whether imperious circumstances do not require us to make a considerable alteration in the system of Representation. Such an alteration as may on the one hand bind the people still closer to the Constitution, and on the other, hold them in still stronger attachment to the three branches of the Legislature. I will not, however, now enter into the arguments which may be urged on this topic, but I will say, without dwelling upon the demerits of the ancient system, that it is now doomed to last no longer. I take the declaration from those most attached to things as they are—from their declarations at London and Liverpool and other places, where the utmost efforts have been made to excite resistance to public opinion, and where a sentiment has been uniformly expressed—even in the narrow circle of the opponents of the last Bill in favour of Reform. It is, therefore, clear, that the present system cannot last long. All parties admit, that some change must be made, and I trust they will agree that the measure which I have now the honour to propose, instead of being the monster some chose to represent the Bill of last Sessiou, is calculated to promote the peace, the welfare, and the prosperity of the country. I now move for leave to bring 173 in a Bill to amend the Representation of the people in England and Wales.
Sir Robert Peel
rose for the purpose of requesting that the noble Lord (Althorp), would be pleased to state, what course he proposed to adopt with respect to the progress of the Bill through the House.
§ Lord Althorp
said, that if the House should agree to allow the Bill to be introduced and read a first time on this evening, he should propose to carry it no further than the second reading before the Christmas recess. After the Bill should have been read a second time, he would move the adjournment of the House till after the holydays. As to the day to be fixed for the second reading, he thought, that as the Bill would be prepared and ready for delivery to Members early on Wednesday, it would not be too soon to fix the second reading for Friday. There would, he thought, be the less objection to this course, as the Bill had been so fully discussed in the last session, and no alteration was now proposed in the principle. He should hope, that if it was not intended to take the sense of the House in the present stage of the Bill, the discussion might be reserved for the second reading.
Sir Robert Peel
said, that speaking for himself only, without saying whether Friday would or would not be a convenient day, he was not disposed to take any division on the motion for leave to bring in the Bill; and was willing to let the discussion be taken on the second reading. If the House took the same view of the subject and he believed it was disposed to allow the Bill to be brought in, any discussion at present would only anticipate that which must take place in the next stage, and would be at once unprofitable and inconvenient. On that occasion they would have to discuss those great questions which the noble Lord had omitted to notice, namely, the necessity of making this extensive change; whether that necessity, if it existed, arose from the nature of things, or from the conduct of his Majesty's Ministers; whether the real motive for the Reform Bill was the practical permanent good it was to effect, or the temporary advantage of yielding to a clamour for Reform, which had been mainly encouraged by the Ministers themselves. These were questions which must be discussed on the second reading; but without entering into any of them on the present occasion, there was one feeling, which it was vain to suppress—one in which there must be general and unanimous concurrence on all sides—that of rejoicing at the 174 great escape they had had from the Bill of last session; a feeling of the deepest and sincerest gratitude to those to whom they were indebted for rescue from a danger which he had never fully appreciated till he heard the speech which the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) had just delivered. He would not say by what mode the House ought to express its thanks for that escape, and for the opportunity once more afforded to it of again deliberating on the important change proposed in the constitution of the country; but this he did know, that the speech of the noble Lord, and the new Bill, now moved and about to be introduced, were a full and complete answer to the calumnies of the last session, against the factious delays, as they were then called, of those who sought to introduce those very modifications which were now relied on as the great improvements of the Bill. The advantage of those much maligned delays and objections was now visible. He saw it in many places; for, on hearing the outline of the new Bill, he found that there was scarcely an amendment which had been offered from that (the Opposition) side of the House, which had not been adopted. The principle of population was abandoned—the census of the present year was preferred to the census of 1821—the rights of freemen by birth or servitude were preserved—schedule A was re-modelled—schedule B was totally changed, and many other modifications, which the Opposition had struggled in vain to introduce last session, were now voluntarily admitted by the noble Lord as so many improvements in his plan of Reform. Even the Commissioners, whom the Ministers had so strenuously preserved last session, were now to be given up. He would not go into the other changes which the noble Lord had mentioned: he would not stop to inquire why, when five boroughs were taken out of schedule A, as many more should be added, so as to make it contain the exact arbitrary number of fifty-six, as it stood in the last Bill, when clearly fifty-one was the proper number, according to the she wing of the noble Lord himself. He would not examine why the number of boroughs having but one Member each should be reduced from sixty-nine to forty-nine; nor would he enter into any inquiry as to the cause of the change in the right of voting in cities and counties; but leaving all these as matters for future discussion, he must congratulate himself and his right hon. friends on the opposition they made to the last 175 Bill, of the beneficial effects of which they had now such unquestionable proofs. He admired the candour and justice of the noble Lord, in commenting so severely on the blunders and defects of the late Bill, but he owned he was not prepared for such a sacrifice to the manes of the late Parliament as the adoption of the resolutions of General Gascoyne.
An Hon Member,
on the Ministerial side, here intimated, that that resolution was not adopted in the new Bill.
Sir Robert Peel
had no desire to misrepresent what fell from the noble Lord, but he had distinctly understood him to say, that the present number of Members in the House, 658, would be preserved. If he had misunderstood the noble Lord, he would of course set him right.
Lord John Russell
said, that he had stated his intention to preserve 500 Members for England and Wales; to have 105 for Ireland, and 53 for Scotland.
Sir Robert Peel
Which numbers, as he calculated them, would exactly make up the present number of the House. Now, what were the words of General Gascoyne's resolution but these? "That it is the opinion of this House, that the total number of knights, citizens, and burgesses, returned to Parliament for that part of the United Kingdom called England and Wales, ought not to be diminished." He had understood the noble Lord to say, that he intended to preserve the present numbers; and what, he would ask, was that but the adoption of the resolution of General Gascoyne? As to the proportion of Members to be given to Ireland and Scotland, he would only observe, at present, that they should be able to form a more correct judgment of the Bill for England and Wales, if, before they proceeded to its consideration, they were informed of what was intended to be done with respect to the Scotch and Irish Bills. The noble Lord had told them, that he still adhered to the 10l. clause. He cared little for the name: the name might be preserved, and yet the character and nature of the qualification professing to pass under that name might be totally changed. The circumstances under which the occupier of a 10l. house would be entitled to vote, were the only questions worth considering. He had not risen for the purpose of entering into an examination, or of seeking for any present explanation from the noble Lord, as to any part of the Bill. He rose chiefly to vindicate himself and his hon. friends for the course they took last session, in oppos- 176 ing the Bill then before Parliament. After all that had been said, in the House and out of the House, as to the nature and alleged object of that opposition, what was at length the result? Why, that it was now declared to be the deliberate conviction of the King's Government, that the objections the Opposition then took were well founded. On this important question of the formation of a new Constitution for the country, they now saw, that the objections then urged were not without their important use, and that the delay of a few months could not now be considered, what it had then been so constantly held up to be, as time thrown away. In a measure of this magnitude, an attention to the most minute details was of the utmost importance, and the alterations in the new Bill proved, that when they came to discuss matters of such extreme interest, involving the organization of a new frame of government, they were bound to proceed most warily and discreetly, and not to grudge the delay of a few months employed in preparing the materials out of which a new Constitution was to bemoulded. Why the opportunity was not taken last session to effect the alterations which were now proposed, it was not for him to say, but that such an opportunity then presented itself could be no more denied than that such an opportunity at present existed. Whatever might be his objections to the Bill which was now about to be introduced, he rejoiced, for the sake of the character of those on that side of the House with whom he had the honour to act, that such a triumphant refutation had been brought forward of charges which had been made against them. He rejoiced at the delay which had taken place, not only on account of the amendments which had been made in the details of the Bill, but because—if the House should determine, on the second reading of the Bill, to adopt the principle of the measure, and to make so extraordinary and extensive a change in the frame and constitution of the government of this country, they would be enabled to follow the example of the King's Government, and make still further improvements in the details of the Bill. Another, and as it appeared to him, a great advantage, arising from that delay was, that they would now have an opportunity of discussing this important question in a state of greater calmness, influenced by less excited feelings, and altogether under circumstances better calculated to enable the House to arrive at a wise and dispassionate conclu- 177 sion. It could not, certainly, be denied that this was a subject which, above all others, was deserving of a calm, and deliberate, and cool consideration. If it were true that upon subjects of comparative indifference—upon matters infinitely less extensive in their bearings upon the interests and welfare of the country at large, discussion was to be deprecated at a time when public excitement and agitation prevailed with regard to them—if it were fit, according to the just doctrines of the Lord Chancellor, that even in regulating the practice of anatomy—even in taking precautions against the continued commission of foul and systematic murder, discussion should be postponed until the first burst of indignation and alarm had subsided—surely it was at least equally fit, that when that living and nobler subject, the Constitution, was to be submitted to the amputation and dissection of, he must say, not very experienced practitioners, the most delicate operations should not be performed while their passions were heated, and their judgment disturbed by external clamour, and while their hands were yet trembling with the fever of an unusual and unnatural excitement. Greatly, therefore, did he rejoice at what had occurred at the close of last session, and highly gratified was he that they should be enabled to benefit by the suggestions which had been then made; and that, in consequence of the delay which had taken place with respect to this measure, they could now, on both sides of the House, approach the consideration of the subject with that calmness, good temper, and moderation, which the subject demanded and deserved. The noble Lord who introduced the motion to the House, said, that an absolute necessity existed for the speedy and satisfactory settlement of this question. The noble Lord said, that extravagant hopes had been excited—that undue apprehensions had been encouraged—and that there was no safe alternative but to turn the expectations of the people into realities. That statement of the noble Lord was a decisive proof how cautious a responsible Government ought to be, not to encourage expectations which it might find impossible to satisfy, and not to take a course that necessarily led to agitation and excitement which it might find it difficult to allay. The assertion of the noble Lord reminded him of what he had heard from the noble Lord opposite (the Chancellor of the Exchequer), towards the conclusion of the last session. That noble Lord then told them, that when his Majesty's Minis- 178 ters first proposed the measure of Reform, they did not expect that it would be carried by the House of Commons. It was a remarkable circumstance, indeed, that when such a question was to be brought forward, his Majesty's Government should not attempt the settlement of it by means of the free and unbiassed judgment of both Houses of Parliament, but that they should, in the first instance, introduce a measure which they expected would be rejected by the House of Commons. ["No, no," from Lord Althorp.] He might have mistaken what had fallen from the noble Lord on the occasion to which he alluded, but on one of the last days of the session he did understand the noble Lord to say, that when the measure of Reform was first brought forward, so little did the Government reckon upon the success of their measure, that they expected their bill would be at once rejected. He for one deeply regretted, however opposed he was to hon. Gentlemen on the other side as to the extent and necessity of Reform, that the same moderation and temper which distinguished the speech of the noble Lord that night, had not prevailed in the councils of the King's Government when this question had been first introduced. Whether they were to expect from the tone of the noble Lord to-night, that considerable modifications would yet be allowed in the Bill, he did not know, but of this he felt convinced, that he should best perform his duty to the people of this country by viewing such a measure as this, not in its present operation, but in its ultimate, and permanent effects; and, if he thought it would be ultimately and permanently prejudicial to the welfare of the country, by giving to the principle of this Bill a steady, and firm, though, as he was unwilling to prolong agitation, a reluctant opposition.
§ Lord Althorp
begged, in the first instance, to be allowed to explain what he had really said towards the conclusion of the last Session, and to which allusion had been made by the right hon. Baronet. It was quite possible, that what he said on that occasion might have been misunderstood, but he never intended to say, that when his Majesty's Government first brought forward the measure of Reform they had no expectation whatever of carrying that question. What he meant to say was, that, judging from the impression which the statement of his noble friend made upon the House on the occasion of his proposing the measure in the first in- 179 stance, he thought, that if a division had taken place upon that night, the great probability was, that the Bill would have been rejected. This much he was ready to admit, but he would wholly deny, that Government brought forward the measure having no expectation of carrying it. In order to ascertain this point, the motives that induced Ministers to bring forward the late Bill should be considered. They had not taken that step in consequence of any excitement which they themselves had produced; but it was the natural and inevitable consequence of the long-continued and everyday increasing opinion on the part of all the best educated and most intelligent classes throughout the country, that a Reform in the Commons House of Parliament was become indispensably necessary. That feeling existed throughout the country to such a degree, that it was not necessary for him to bring it to the recollection of the House, and that it had such an existence before his Majesty's present Ministers came into office, he supposed no reasonable man would deny. By their accession to office, he had no doubt that the expectations of the public were raised, knowing, as they did, the opinions which were entertained by his noble friend at the head of the Government, and anticipating, as they had a right to do, that those opinions would be carried into effect. In that way his Majesty's Ministers might have been the cause of some excitement; but that a general expectation and desire for Reform prevailed throughout the country, previous to their coming into office, he imagined that no man who looked back at the occurrences of the last year could for a moment doubt. He entirely concurred with the right hon. Baronet in the opinion that it was most desirable that this question should be discussed coolly, deliberately, and without heat; but he could not avoid remarking, that the speech of the right hon. Baronet did not quite accord with his very proper recommendation. He must say, that he hardly remembered ever having heard a speech in that House, which, though it preached up calmness of temper and coolness of deliberation, was so much calculated to excite heat, and to provoke warmth of discussion. The right hon. Baronet said, that all the alterations which Ministers had made in the Bill should have been made in it last Session, and that every one of them had been then suggested from that side of the House. But he begged to say, that he did not recollect that a question had been moved from that (the 180 Opposition) side of the House with respect to any one of the alterations which had been since made in the Bill. His Majesty's Ministers had certainly given their attention to every reasonable suggestion which had been made with regard to the details of the Bill; and many of those alterations which were now proposed might have been pressed upon their consideration; but he did not remember that an opportunity had been given them from that side of the House, during the last Session, for adopting such alterations. The right hon. Baronet said, that he considered the alterations which had been made in the Bill so many improvements. He conceived that they were all improvements, but the right hon. Baronet complained that they had not been introduced into the Bill during the last Session. But the state of the case was this:—After his Majesty's Ministers had brought forward the measure, objections were raised to some of its details, and various improvements were proposed in it. The Bill having been thrown out, they employed the interval that had since elapsed, in endeavouring to remove all reasonable objections to the details of the measure, and in introducing such improvements into it as were consistent with the great principle of the Bill; and because they had done so, and because they had attempted to render the measure as perfect as they could, the right hon. Baronet now taunted them with having made these alterations. Would it have been the conduct of men of sane minds, when time for consideration with regard to a measure of this description had been forced upon them, not to employ it in endeavouring to remove all the reasonable objections which had been raised to the Bill? The right hon. Baronet had remarked, with an air of triumph, that they had given up the Commissioners; but that was a necessary consequence of the fact that the Commissioners had now made their inquiry, and there was no longer any need of their services, which was the reason, and the only reason, for the omission of that clause. His Majesty's Ministers had, upon all former occasions, acknowledged that it was an objection, and a disadvantage in the consideration of the effects of the provisions of the Bill, that, previous to receiving the report of the Commissioners, some time would be left to their discretion. But they had had now time to make the necessary inquiry, and his Majesty's Ministers considered that it would have been a great dereliction of their duty if they did not submit the re- 181 suit of that inquiry to Parliament. The right hon. Baronet spoke of the great alterations that had been made in schedule A, and congratulated the country on the escape which it had had from the provisions of the late Bill. Now as to schedule A, fifty-one boroughs out of fifty-six remained as before, and whether the alteration which was proposed to be made as to the other five would be advantageous or disadvantageous, at all events it was not one from which the right hon. Baronet had much reason to congratulate either himself or the country on having had a great escape. The right hon. Baronet alluded also to the 10l. clause, and with regard to it he truly said, that no great difference had been made in that clause by the alteration which had been introduced into it. The fact was, that the clause had been merely simplified in its wording and provisions; but in its practical effect it would be precisely similar to that contained in the late Bill. He did not know whether the right hon. Baronet would congratulate the country upon having had an escape in that instance. The truth was, that the main principles of the Bill remained precisely the same as they were before, and in all points of material consequence the details even would be found similar to those of the late Bill. He should not trouble the House further on this occasion, but he could not avoid making those few observations in reply to what had fallen from the right hon. Baronet. He would only express a hope, that discussion would on that occasion be avoided, and that the motion of his noble friend for bringing in the Bill would be acceded to without opposition.
§ Mr. Croker
Sir, if it had not been for one or two expressions which fell from the noble Lord who has just addressed the House, I should have been well content to have remained silent on this occasion, and rested my defence, and that of my right hon. friends, on the speech of my right hon. friend, and on the palinode which we have this evening heard from the noble Lord, who, as the organ of Government, has introduced this measure to the notice of Parliament. That noble Lord has stated, that the alterations that have been made in this Bill owe their origin, not to any desire of conciliation, or to the purpose of giving way either to the clamours or the perseverance of Gentlemen on this side of the House; but, to the desire of preventing the injustice, and curing the improprieties, that ought never to have been admitted into the late Bill, Now, after this statement, I 182 beg to recal to the recollection of the House what took place last Session. I then took the liberty of opposing the second reading of the Bill, because I believed, that I saw in it principles that would prove dangerous to good government, and because I could not find in its details any adequate compensation for that danger—I opposed it, Sir, because I thought I perceived in it an attempt to shake the Constitution to its very foundation, or, to adopt the phrase made use of by a learned Lord on that occasion—to leave neither a rag nor a shred of the ancient Constitution behind. But, though these were the causes that determined me to give my most decided opposition to the measure, I left my general objections to the principle of it at the door of the Committee, and endeavoured to apply to the details of the Bill, the principle of the Bill itself, so that, in the event of its passing, it might, at all events, be as perfect in its provisions as my humble efforts could make it. The first complaint that I made in the Committee was, that the noble Lord had mistook and misunderstood the principle of population on which he affected to proceed, and that he had confounded the population of parishes and towns. I was not singular in this view; for, besides many hon. friends of mine who agreed with me, there were several independent Gentlemen, in different parts of the House, who concurred in the position that I laid down. I took occasion at that time to tell the noble Lord, that its operation would be what I then called, and what he now admits to be, injustice. But did he, in consequence of my representations, change those provisions of the Bill? No; he then persisted in adhering to what he now calls erroneous, and the result was the passing of a Bill, which he justly says has been characterised as monstrous.
§ Mr. Croker
No, the noble Lord did not say, that it was justly so called; but he stated that it had been characterised with that epithet, and that he trusted, that that characteristic was now remedied. The noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, has told us, that he cannot charge his memory with a single instance in which we brought to the test of a division any of those improvements which are now proposed in the present Bill by his Majesty's Government. But let me ask the noble Lord, if he does not remember the vote on Aldborough, in Yorkshire—a motion to transfer which place from schedule B to schedule A was made on the very last night of the 183 Committee, and which was resisted by a large majority, though I have no doubt that there is just as large a majority present to-night ready to vote exactly the other way? Let me also ask the noble Lord, whether he was not told, that the principle which he was applying to Northallerton was false, and whether our advice on that point was not rejected? And yet we now find, that Northallerton is placed in that schedule which we recommended. Let me ask the noble Lord, did he never hear of Morpeth? Did he never hear of Calne? Does he not remember, that he was told, that to Dorchester and to Guildford he was applying the strict borough rule, while he was allowing Calne and Northallerton to return their full number of Members; not because those boroughs in themselves were sufficiently populous to justify the claim, but because they were made so by the addition of adjoining parishes? Does the noble Lord forget our division on the case of Chatham? So far, then, from agreeing with the noble Lord in what he has stated, I beg to repeat, that I do not remember a single point, as far as schedules A and B are concerned, that was brought to a division in the Committee by a motion from the Opposition, which has not been conceded in this new Bill.
As to the debate being adjourned to the second reading, I am perfectly content that that arrangement should be adopted; but I beg to say, that my great objection is, as it ever has been, to the principle of the Bill; and unless, therefore, I see a great alteration in the mode in which the Bill is to operate, my objection will be quite as strong as it ever has been. I am ready to admit, that improvements may make the Bill more perfect in itself; and, indeed, that was the very point which I was so desirous of enforcing on the attention of the noble Lord when the late Bill was in Committee; but though this is true, the very height of perfection in its machinery will not be sufficient to reconcile me to the Bill itself.
Before I sit down, I beg to ask the noble Lord, when we are likely to have laid on the Table of the House the very important information which he mentioned in the course of his speech? I myself have prepared a motion for the production of such information as I deem necessary; but as I am bound to believe, after what has fallen from the noble Lord, that he will supply the desired documents, and probably in a better shape than I could propose, I shall postpone my motion till I have in my hand the information which the noble 184 Lord offers, and which I hope will be laid on the Table sufficiently early to leave time for me or any other Member to move for further papers, should we find the information produced by the noble Lord inadequate to the objects which we have in view.
The Marquis of Chandos
, as it was understood that no opposition was to be offered to the Bill at present, and as the debate was to be taken on a future stage of the measure, would trouble the House with but a few observations. Whatever might be the opinion come to on a future discussion with regard to this most important measure, he, for one, could not but lament the circumstances which had happened up to the present time. He could not but lament, too, that those circumstances had not been viewed in a different light. Had a spirit of conciliation and concession been manifested upon the former occasion, and been acted upon more extensively and more liberally in that House, he was convinced that, in such a case, it would have been met with a corresponding spirit in another quarter. He hoped, that that unfortunate defect might still be remedied, and if it were possible that a Bill of Reform should pass both Houses of Parliament, that it would satisfy the country at large, and not be one adopted and supported solely by one party; although he was ready to admit that party was a large and most respectable one. He regretted the power which had been brought into action to facilitate the passing of this Bill. He could not help feeling that the House was discussing this most important subject at a moment when there were other assemblies sitting in this country, promulgating opinions and assuming powers which no other assembly whatever but the House of Commons had a right to promulgate or to deliberate upon. He hoped and trusted, that before the debate on the second reading took place, they should see a disposition on both sides of the House to conciliate and to concede. He should rejoice to behold such a disposition displayed. He must say, that he had objections to offer to many parts of the Bill, but he should reserve his statement of them for that occasion. He could not avoid, however, expressing at once his great objection to the granting of so many additional metropolitan Members. He thought that they were thus throwing away Members, for which many other places in the country, better entitled to them than the metropolis, would be grateful. He could not assent to grant additional Members to 185 the metropolis; for, after the specimen which he had lately seen of the means which might be had recourse to, to overawe the votes of the Members representing the metropolis on this question, he could not but view such a grant with alarm and distrust. He felt strongly, too, as to the giving one Member only to some towns. He did not think, that one Member could properly represent the feelings and opinions of his constituents, and he would, therefore, recommend, that to all such towns two Members should be given, by whom alone their interests could be properly represented. There were other alterations which he would recommend to be made in the Bill, but as he had said already, he would reserve the statement of them until the debate on the second reading. His principal object in rising was, not to discuss the Bill, but to guard the House against any heat or warmth which might arise from what had been said; and he would conclude by expressing a hope, that this important subject would be discussed in a cool, calm, and deliberate spirit.
An Hon. Member
said, his only object in rising was, to warn his Majesty's Ministers not to be betrayed into any unguarded expressions or concessions by the course which had been adopted by their opponents, and the opponents, until now, of all Reform. As he believed and hoped that the Bill which they had now produced, was one well calculated to satisfy the just and reasonable expectations of the country, he trusted they would stand by the whole of its essential provisions, and if there was to be any concession, it ought to proceed from the noble Marquis and his hon. friends, who must now be fully convinced, that the great majority of the intelligent people of the country were in favour of Reform.
§ Mr. Hunt
observed, that the noble Lord, when introducing the former Bill, had spoken of the Representation of the people, but upon this occasion the noble Lord had omitted that phrase altogether, and now spoke of the Representation of the property and intelligence of the country. He was happy the noble Lord had so fairly taken this distinction, for he had no hesitation in saying, though he would admit, that the alterations which had been made in the Bill were great improvements in it, that this Bill would exclude nine-tenths of the male population of this country from any share in the Representation. He had no hesitation in saying, that if this Bill should be passed into a law, and he had no doubt that it would be passed, seeing the disposition with which it had been received on 186 that (the Opposition) side of the House, that it would not be found satisfactory to the great majority of the people of this country. He had been accused of speaking favourably of the late Bill in that House, and unfavourably out of it. Nothing could be more incorrect than such a charge against him. He had opposed the late Bill on many occasions, and he had been charged as its greatest enemy in that House long before it went out of it. With regard to schedule A, he did not care one farthing whether certain boroughs were taken out or left in it; but he was glad that his Majesty's Ministers had redeemed their character for impartiality, by taking the notorious borough of Calne out of the list of boroughs with two Members, and putting it in schedule B. There was one change in the Bill which he thought would be satisfactory to the country, and that was, the new arrangements which would simplify the rights of voting. He did not see why a man living in a 10l. house should be compelled to pay up his rent in order to entitle him to vote. That was a provision in the former Bill of which he had always loudly complained. He had then said, that they might as well compel a man to pay his butcher or his baker, as to pay his rent, in order to qualify him for an elector. It appeared to him that all those who supported the former Bill had no reason to disapprove of this, except through sinister motives. It could not be denied, however, that the cuckoo cry of "the Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill," was now blown into air, and he hoped they should hear no more of it; for the present Bill, without altering the principle, was a complete alteration of the measure. He did not think that the aristocracy had anything to fear from the Bill, for it had been shown lately by the public Press that it would not operate against them. They had heard a great deal of the labours of the Parliamentary Commissioners through the country, which labours, he believed, consisted principally of eating and drinking. At all events, he knew, that in the town of Bolton the Commissioners did nothing beyond stopping at the best inn, living on the best fare, and sending to the collectors for a return of the assessed houses. In that town, with a population of 42,000, of which 14,000 were adult males, there were only 680 assessed houses. He would do the best in his power to simplify and amend the Bill. He knew it would pass, and he hoped it would give more satisfaction than the other; at the same time, in spite of the hon. member for Kirkcudbright, he would 187 speak his opinions on the subject both in and out of the House.
§ Mr. Leader
begged to say, that he would support the Reform Bill for England, even were no Reform to be extended to Ireland. He, however, deeply lamented the declaration of the noble Lord with respect to Ireland, and the limitation of the number of Members for that country, which he could not but feel to be unjust. Ireland dealt with this country to the amount of 20,000,000l. a-year, and its population were active, enlightened, and energetic. He would, however, suspend any further observations for the present, again expressing his regret that the number of Irish Representatives was not to be increased. But he must, however, be permitted to remark, that he agreed with the noble Marquis (the Marquis of Chandos) that the city of London, which drew towards it constantly the wealth of the empire, should not have such a number of Representatives as would preclude other and more distant portions of the empire from their fair share of the Representation. The proportion now fixed for Ireland and Scotland would, he feared, lead to great dissatisfaction.
§ Sir Charles Forbes
thought the changes proposed were of very little consequence. The principle of the Bill remained the same. When he saw such a mushroom place as Brighton was to have two Members, while Aberdeen and Dundee were only to have one each, as well as the county of Inverness, though all were of so much importance, he knew his countrymen would be dissatisfied with it. He had hoped, that the Lord Advocate would have done what was expected of him in Scotland, and would have protected the interests of his country. He would say loudly, considering the wealth of that portion of the empire, and the high character of the people, that justice had not been done to them. An adequate number of Representatives had not been granted to that country. In every other respect he disapproved of this Bill as much as he did of the former one, which was a monster that ought never to have been allowed to shew its face in that House. They ought to have come down and opposed it at first, and if they had done so there was very little doubt as to what would have been the result. He should continue to oppose the Bill, and no intimidation should weigh a feather in the scale against his determined opinion. He stood there to do his duty according to his conscience, and do it he would, and oppose this monster with a new face upon all 188 occasions, let who would gainsay his motives.
§ Lord Ebrington
said, that after the discussion which had already taken place, it was neither his wish nor his intention to prolong the debate for more than a very few minutes. As, however, at the close of the last Session, he had called upon the House to declare its confidence in the Government, he hoped he should be pardoned for the anxiety which he felt to say a few words on the present occasion. That anxiety he should have felt under any circumstances; although not in so great degree, perhaps, had the observations of the right hon. Baronet opposite been of a different character. Notwithstanding the attack which that right hon. Baronet had made upon his noble friend, and upon the Bill which he had that evening introduced, he felt, for his part, most anxious to return his grateful thanks to his Majesty's Ministers, for the manner in which he conceived they had redeemed the pledge made by them at the close of the last Session, and by which, in his opinion, they had proved themselves fully worthy of the confidence which was reposed in them. Had they made in this Bill the changes which had been called for by a noble relative of his, he (Lord Ebrington) could not have supported it. He should then have felt, that they had acted inconsistently with their duty, and with the pledge which they had given to the country, and that they were calling upon the House to agree to a measure different, in many important particulars, from that which had received the sanction of their own recorded opinions. In short, he should have felt, that a measure so brought forward would not have been well received by the great body of the intelligent people of this country. The Bill which his noble friend had introduced this evening, was, he conceived, in all its main principles, equally as effectual, equally as desirable, as that of the last Session. The alterations which had been made were such only as would tend to simplify, and, consequently, to improve it. Under these circumstances, he should give it his undivided support; and he doubted not but that it would be received by the country at large with the satisfaction and gratitude which it seemed to him to deserve.
§ Sir John M. Doyle
felt it to be his duty, both as an Irish man, and an Irish Member, to protest, with his hon. friend, the member for Kilkenny, against the crying injustice of not alloting more Members to Ireland. The Irish Members had been the stanch supporters of the late measure, they intend- 189 ed to be so of this, but they expected in return that their own country would be fairly treated, and it must be so, if the Legislature expected agitation to cease.
said, he was ready to admit, that it was desirable that this question, which agitated the country from one end to the other, should be set at rest. He felt quite confident, that there were no hon. Gentlemen in that House, who would provoke unnecessary discussion for the purposes of delay; but, at the same time, those Gentlemen who were sensible of the importance of the question at issue, could not waive their privilege of examining the subject; and all must be aware, that a measure of this nature, could not be allowed to pass without an ample discussion. There was, undoubtedly, no reason, because the country was looking, as he admitted it was, with great anxiety to the Bill, and was desirous of having whatever benefit it could bestow, that that anxiety should prevent the House from giving to the Bill due deliberation, and induce it to pass the Bill without subjecting it to a close examination. He had heard the principal part of the noble Lord's speech with satisfaction; and, though he could not say, that there were many substantial alterations in the Bill, yet he hoped, that the tone of the noble Lord's speech would be followed out by the promoters of the Bill; and the House would have the satisfaction of seeing—what was so very desirable—the spirit of conciliation preside over all the discussions. Because some persons cried out against discussion, that House was not to pass the Bill in a lump without due consideration. If that were the case, and the same persons who had protected them against the consequences of the rash measure which was last brought for ward, should not forget what was due to themselves and the country, it would be impossible that the present measure should not have the same termination as the last. It was a momentous question to alter the whole Constitution of the country, and provide hereafter for its Government; and though he would give no pledge, he would repeat, that he was sure it was the desire of the Gentlemen on that side, as well as the other—though it was impossible to know more of the Bill than had been stated by the noble Lord—that a Bill might come forth out of the discussion, which should satisfy all reasonable parties. Undoubtedly it was true, that a large portion of the people were in favour of Reform, but at the same time it was true, that among a respectable portion, 190 if not numerically great, yet in possession of great property—he might say, nine-tenths of all the vested interests of the country—the greatest possible apprehensions prevailed. If the measure were not fully discussed, these two classes would not be pleased; and the result would be unsatisfactory, and most prejudicial. He confessed, that he approved, as far as he understood them, of the greater part of the changes made in the Bill; but he was unable to judge of them as a whole, from not having the Bill before him. He would, therefore, only say, that he was decidedly of opinion, that after such a sweeping measure of Reform had been proposed—after the sweeping change which had been brought forward by his Majesty's Ministers—after the expectation which had been created, there must also be great apprehension. He admitted, that great excitement prevailed, that great expectations had been caused, by the conduct of his Majesty's Ministers, and that in consequence of this excitement, and in consequence of what had taken place, it was their duty to look at the existing state of things, to take the wishes and opinions of the people into consideration, instead of only considering what was abstractedly due to the Constitution, and what was abstractedly due to the country. He must take the question into consideration, on this principle, and endeavour, in conclusion, to ascertain what was likely to satisfy all parties. He hoped that the Bill might do this. He had no objection to an early second reading of the Bill, but as it could not be printed for some time, decency required that five or six days should elapse, after the Bill was printed, before it was read a second time. He submitted, therefore, to the consideration of the House, that the second reading of the Bill should not take place till next week.
Sir Robert Peel
asked, whether, if the debate upon the second reading of the Bill were not concluded on Friday night, it was the intention of Ministers to sit on Saturday? If that were the case, and the discussion was protracted, the Sabbath might be broken in upon. He begged, therefore, to remind them of the great inconvenience of sitting on that day, and trusted, they would accordingly postpone the discussion until Monday.
would put it to the noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer), whether, at this season of the year, when it was of importance that Members should 191 not be detained in town, it would not be better that the second reading of the Bill should be postponed until after Christmas?
§ Lord Althorp
admitted the inconvenience of sitting on Saturday, but thought, as it was intended, as soon as the discussion on the second reading of the Bill was concluded, to adjourn for the holydays, that it would be more convenient for the House to meet, with the probability of adjourning on Saturday, than to adjourn the debate from Friday to Monday or Tuesday. Under these circumstances, should the debate last more than one night, he should certainly propose to sit at an early hour on Saturday.
§ Lord Althorp
must persist in proposing Friday. The debate might extend far into the week, if Monday were appointed for the second reading.
§ Colonel Sibthorp
said, he must object to Friday being appointed for the second reading. He must be clearly understood, as not at all pledging himself to the arrangements proposed. He was greatly disappointed by the insignificant differences between the present Bill and that of last Session. He heard much of the candour and assurances of the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but he must say, that he saw nothing of the kind. The attempt that noble Lord now made to thrust the Bill upon the House, was most unsatisfactory. It was extremely hard to press such an unjust measure so hastily forward. The only reason why it was carried with such breathless haste was, to secure the popularity of Ministers. He wished for a full and fair opportunity to consider this new measure. Neither the good of the country, nor the permanent reputation of the Government would be forwarded by such conduct.
§ Sir George Warrender
could not abstain from expressing his gratitude to Ministers for the spirit of conciliation which characterised the Bill which the noble Lord had that evening introduced. He wished to receive it, and he hoped the House would receive it, in the spirit in which he was sure it had been proposed. At that moment he could not make up his mind to vote for the second reading; but he should be ready to support such a measure as, after due consideration, should appear necessary for the peace and security of the country. He wished to assure the noble Lord, that his former opposition was dictated solely by conscientious views.
§ Sir Richard Vyvyan
thought it would be convenient to the House to know, to what period the Christmas Recess was to continue. Ministers must be aware how important it was, that Members should be in the country at this season of the year. He begged to remind them, too, that they had been summoned to attend no less than three Sessions of Parliament in the present year.
§ Lord Althorp
would rather not pledge himself, at that time, to any definite period at which the House should reassemble. He was aware of the propriety—of the importance, indeed—of Members being in the country at that season; but, considering the nature of the question which they had to discuss, he thought it desirable, that they should meet again at as early a day as possible after Christmas. It would, undoubtedly, be necessary to avoid meeting until after the Quarter Sessions; but, as they would conclude on Saturday, the 7th of January, he should propose, that the House should reassemble on the Tuesday or Thursday in the following week.
said, that when the last Reform Bill was proposed, it was announced, that Ireland was to have five additional Representatives, and Scotland five also. Afterwards, as that Bill advanced, it was announced, that Scotland was to receive three more additional Members, making altogether eight; but nothing more was said with respect to Ireland. That being the case, he had ventured to ask the noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) one evening in the House, whether it was intended that Ireland, like Scotland, should receive any Members in addition to the five by which it was at first proposed to increase the Representation of that country? To that question no answer was given, on the ground, that it was irrelevant to the subject then under consideration, and that it could not be properly replied to, until the Irish Bill came to be discussed. The fate of the Bill for England determined that for Ireland, and the period of its discussion never arrived. What was now proposed? That the Members for Ireland and Scotland should remain the same as was at first proposed last Session, and that those for England should be increased. Had not Ireland reason to complain of such a proposition? He thought it was unwise on the part of the noble Lord, and of the Government of which he was a member, to submit such a proposition to the House; and he would hint to him that as, in the last Session of Parliament, it was found 193 necessary to add to the number by which it was at first proposed to increase the Representation of Scotland, so, in the present Session, he might find it necessary to add to that of Ireland. As the matter stood at present, he felt convinced, that it would only tend to create dissatisfaction and discontent in Ireland. It had been said by the noble Lord, that it was not intended to affect the rights of Corporations during the life-time of those by whom the rights were then enjoyed. It was now proposed to give a perpetuity to the rights of Corporations. That being the case, he begged to know, whether the rights of the 40s. freeholders were also to be preserved in perpetuity? When the measure of Catholic Emancipation was passed, the rights of freemen in towns were preserved in perpetuity—those of the 40s. freeholders in towns for their own lives. Roman Catholics were excluded from the Corporations of Dublin, of Drogheda, and of many other places in Ireland. If, therefore, under the present Bill, the rights of Corporations should be preserved in perpetuity, and those of the 40s. freeholders only for their own lives, when those lives had expired, the beneficial effects of the measure of Catholic Emancipation would in many places, be totally defeated. The result of this would be a repetition of the rancour and religious discord which it was hoped the Relief Bill would have totally removed. He had felt it necessary to make these observations, that the Government might know what the feelings of the people of Ireland really were. Agitated as that country was, it was impossible that she could feel otherwise than indignant, and full of resentment, at the manner in which she was to be treated by this new measure of Reform. His Majesty's Ministers had thanked the Members for Ireland for the support which they had given them when the question of Reform was last under the consideration of the House. It had been stated, in the House, as well as out of the House, that the Irish Members were the champions by whom the Reform Bill was sustained and carried through one of the Houses of Parliament. Having given such support to the question of Reform as regarded England, he demanded for them peculiar attention when they spoke of it as regarded their own country.
viewed with great pleasure the alterations which had been made in the plan proposed by Government, in conformity with the spirit of the proposition which had been submitted to the last Parliament 194 by his hon. and gallant friend the late member for Liverpool. The present Bill, when compared with the late measure, evinced a spirit of conciliation on the part of the Government, for which he was sincerely thankful. He had no doubt the alterations would be considered as improvements, and be, therefore, acceptable to the country. He felt it necessary that, in the present state of the country, something should be done to satisfy the people. In the course of its progress through Parliament, he hoped it might still receive further improvements and amendments, such as would simplify its provisions, and facilitate its operations, and render it more conformable to the preservation of our existing institutions. In this spirit he must refer to the speech of a noble Lord (Sandon) a few nights ago; he trusted he was not in error in supposing that the Government felt inclined to adopt the sentiments of that speech, and to produce such a measure as might meet with the general concurrence of Parliament. At present he would abstain from going into the general question, but there were three points on which the present Bill differed from the last, which he felt called upon to notice. The first was the 10l. franchise. In the former Bill there was no criterion by which 10l. houses were to be judged, but by the present Bill a criterion was to be applied. The next point was the appointment of Commissioners to settle the boundaries of all boroughs. That proposition was not to be introduced in this new measure, but the whole was to be determined by Parliament. He had always entertained a strong objection to it, and he was glad to find it had been superseded. The last alteration he should notice, and perhaps it was the most important one, was, the preservation of the rights of freemen, by birth and by servitude, in perpetuity. That was an alteration he highly approved of. He certainly regretted, that more alterations had not been made; he regretted that the metropolitan districts were adhered to; but still he felt bound to say, that he was thankful to the Ministers for the changes which had been made. He admitted, in the present state of the country, the necessity for some Reform, and he was anxious to have that Reform as consistent as possible with the preservation of the established institutions. He hoped, however, that he should not be considered, in thus expressing his acknowledgment to the Government, as, giving any pledge as to 195 what would be his future conduct with respect to the particular provisions of the measure. At that preliminary stage of the Bill he did not feel himself at all called upon to go into details, or to offer any further remarks.
§ Mr. Portman
would not trespass at any length upon the time of the House, but he could not, after the speech of the noble Lord, help congratulating the House, on the prospect they now had, of a speedy and satisfactory termination of the Reform Question. For after the speech of the noble Lord who had just spoken, and that of the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Robert Peel), he trusted his right hon. friends would persist in bringing on the second reading of the Bill on Friday; and when he also heard the hon. member for Thetford's admission, that something like Reform was necessary, he thought himself justified in assuming, that the discussion was not likely to be very protracted. It was so desirable, that hon. Members should be in the country at this period of the year, that he hoped his noble friend would by no means delay in taking the second reading on Friday next, so as to admit of their adjourning for the holidays as soon as possible. He could not anticipate any objection on this head from hon. Members opposite, after the conciliatory tone expressed by them with respect to the Bill announced by Ministers: indeed, he hailed that tone of conciliation as auguring well for its future stages. He conceived himself warranted to infer, particularly from the observaiton of his noble friend (Lord Clive) opposite, that the opponents of the former Bill were disposed to consider that just announced in a spirit of conciliation; and it was a matter of great satisfaction to the supporters of the former Bill, and consequently of that shortly to be before them, that those alterations which tended to conciliate its opponents, were not calculated to raise difficulties or misgivings in the minds of the advocates of Reform. The principle of the two Bills being identical, there could be no doubt on the part of the friends of the former Bill, as to their course with respect to the new measure.
Sir Robert Inglis
was anxious, so far at least as he was himself concerned, to guard against the inference which might be drawn by some persons, from what had just fallen from the hon. member for Dorsetshire. He was no party to the mitigated hostility, alleged by that hon. Member to exist on the part of the opponents of the former Bill, as having been just announced by the 196 noble Lord; and would not be a party to any such compromise. He conceived the principle of both Bills equally objectionable, as both were destructive of those institutions under which this country had enjoyed so many blessings.
§ Sir Charles Wetherell
said, the hon. member for Dorsetshire had, from very contracted and confined premises, drawn marvellously large conclusions. His noble friend (Lord Clive), had very courteously thanked the noble Paymaster of the Forces for the alterations he had made in the new Bill, which his noble friend had called concessions; but he had said nothing whatever to justify the pretended inferences of the hon. member for Dorsetshire; He was one of those who had not abated, and would not abate, one jot of his hostility to a measure, which in his conscience he believed would be fatal to the established institutions of the country. At the same time, he did not hesitate to say, that he conceived the present Bill to be, in many of its provisions, a great improvement of that formerly under their notice. Those improvements, be it understood, had been suggested by those on the Opposition side of the House, so that their approving them could not be considered as, in any way, a compromise of their hostility to the main principle of the Bill itself. For instance, he had himself more than once raised his voice against the unconstitutional principle of depriving the freemen of corporate boroughs of their chartered rights—and had particularly cited the cases of Oxford and Bristol as a proof, that the acting on such a principle would be productive of great discontent throughout the country; adding, that in his mind, great misunderstanding existed, both within and out of doors, with respect to the tendency of such a principle. He was told, that he was in error, and that policy and expediency recommended the extinction of these corporate rights. But what was the case now? Why, that his suggestion was adopted by Ministers, and that not only existing freemen, but those who would be entitled to their freedom by birth, were to retain their rights in perpetuity, in those places to which the disfranchising schedules would not apply. This was an important alteration in the measure of Ministers; one, too, not the result of what the noble Paymaster of the Forces called "the whisper of a faction," but, as it was to be presumed, of the well-grounded conviction of reasoning men. He would not, however, then go at length into the topic. He had risen chiefly 197 for the purpose of denying the justness of the conclusions of the hon. member for Dorsetshire, with reference to the speech of his noble friend. These was nothing in that speech which justified the supposition that his right hon. friend (Sir R. Peel) had lost the vote of the noble Lord. But even if his right hon. friend had that misfortune, his right hon. friend would, he hoped, continue his opposition, if on consideration it appeared just and necessary, and he should command to the last his (Sir Charles Wetherell's) vote, and he believed also, the vote of every other hon. Member who opposed the late Bill. The 10l. clause had been altered several ways, but whether it was now so altered as to be satisfactory he should not then argue. It had formerly been altered in obedience to the mandate of the Political Unions; it was now altered again, so that, if Ministers restored it to its pristine objectionableness in their rejuvenescent measure, they would have to consider how far the alteration, might call down upon them the censure of their masters and allies, the Political Unions. It was when the noble Lord at the head of the Government was in correspondence with the Birmingham Union, of Ministerial epistolary memory, that the first alteration was made in the 10l. clause, so that they might expect another correspondence between the same parties, ending in another alteration; but there was no mode in which it could be shaped in which he could give it his support. The hon. member for Dorsetshire had expressed a hope and an expectation, that there would be no division on the second reading. The hon. Member was most egregiously mistaken—and it was to correct so monstrous an assumption that he had risen. He must, however, notice a phrase which had fallen from his hon. friend, the member for Honiton. His noble friend (Lord Clive) had praised the concessions made by Ministers, and the hon. Baronet had spoken of the tendency to concession which the present Bill displayed. He could neither see the concession nor the tendency to concession. As far as he could understand the statement of the Paymaster of the Forces, there was not one objectionable principle of the old Bill given up. His objections, therefore, remained unaltered, and he should urge them upon every opportunity. The noble Paymaster of the Forces had used one expression which he did not perfectly understand. That noble Lord had spoken of the boroughs in schedule A as doomed to destruction. So the 198 noble Lord had told them before; but those boroughs had once outlived the prediction, and he knew of no reason why they should not again survive it. He entirely agreed with those who wished that the discussions should be carried on with temper, but that was no reason for superseding them altogether. With regard to the period of the second reading, he must say, that if the Bill could only be printed by Wednesday, Friday was a very early day; still he should not make that a point, of fixed objection. Let not hon. Members on the other side, or the Government, however, imagine that there was no dissatisfaction at the present Bill. Was Ireland content? And would no dissatisfaction be heard on the part of Scotland?
§ Mr. Shaw
could not permit the assertion of the hon. member for Louth (Mr. Sheil) to pass uncontradicted—he meant the assertion, that the perpetuating the franchise rights of freemen would tend to preserve the Protestant strength in corporate towns in Ireland. The fact might be so in some of the towns, if the clause stood by itself; but when the clause extending the franchise to all householders was taken into consideration, it would be found, that the general result of the Bill would be the placing the choice of the Irish Members wholly in the hands of the Catholic electors. In Dublin, for example, there were at present about 4,000 freemen—that is, Protestant electors; but the Bill would extend the franchise to upwards of 20,000 householders, the large majority of whom were Catholics. Again, he could hardly persuade himself that the hon. Member was serious when he contended, that if the Reform Bill passed, the Irish 40s. freeholders now existing in corporate cities, and who were most of them fictitious voters, ought to be retained in order to counterbalance the votes of the freemen, when it was evident, from the extension of the household franchise, there could be no possible necessity for such a measure. He was free to admit, however, that the alterations proposed, of extending the present privileges of freemen to perpetuity, made the measure more palatable to him than it was, but he had some suspicion, that the advantage would be more specious than real, in as much as the ancient privileges of the freemen would virtually merge in the newly-acquired and much more extended right of the house-holders.
Mr. Stuart Wortley
felt himself called upon to say, that the hon. member for Dorsetshire had misconceived the observa- 199 tions of his noble friend (Lord Clive) near him. His noble friend had most distinctly avoided pledging himself with respect to the future stages of the Bill, and had only, on the present occasion, expressed his gratification—he would not say exultation—at seeing alterations, the suggestion of which had emanated from the Opposition side of the House. He agreed with his noble friend in considering those alterations in the light of improvements, but he still felt his objections to the extent and principle of the Bill itself to be so strong, that he could not bring himself to vote for it, however disposed to do so from the consideration of the present circumstances of the country. Upon this point he had little to add to what had fallen the other night from his noble relative Lord (Sandon). Every man must feel, that the time was come when something must be done to allay the public excitement with respect to Reform. After the decision of that House—after the marked declarations of the executive—the good of the country required the speedy settlement of the important question before them, and every man must feel indisposed to protract by an irritating contest that settlement. In saying this, it was not to be inferred that his objections to the principles of the late Reform Bill were at all changed. The proper inference was, as had been stated by the hon. member for Thetford (Mr. Baring), that hon. Members were compelled to look at the Bill, not as it squared with their own abstract opinions, but in relation to the present circumstances of the country. When considered with reference to the present state of the public mind, it could not be denied that the question of Reform was a very different one now from what it was a very few years ago. It was then but occasionally touched upon by Members in their individual capacity. It was now brought forward by Ministers in their official capacity, after having obtained the sanction of a large majority of that House, rendering it incumbent upon every sincere patriot to promote its settlement in the spirit of mutual concession, and of statesmanlike and practical policy, so as to relieve the country from the evils of protracted suspense and excitement.
§ Mr. Portman
in explanation, begged leave to say, that he had not represented the noble Lord (Clive) opposite as having abandoned his ground of hostility to the, principles of the Reform Bill, but as disposed to receive the alterations in the 200 present plan, in a spirit which warranted him in considering that his opposition would be of a less uncompromising character in future.
in explanation, said, that all he had intended to say was, that it was a gratification to him to find in Ministers a spirit of conciliation towards the opponents of the Bill, inasmuch as Ministers had adopted several of their suggestions in the measure now under consideration; and that though he would not make, in that preliminary stage, any formal objection, he did not, therefore, pledge himself not to oppose it in its future stages.
Sir Robert Peel
said, he should be ashamed of himself if he could be supposed capable of seeking to induce hon. Members to vote with him by any twisting or unworthy modification of his opinions; and he should also be ashamed of himself if it could be thought, that if other hon. Members saw reasons to modify their opinions, he should therefore charge them with inconsistency. If his noble friend (Lord Clive) should differ from him with respect to the great measure shortly to be before them, he would give his noble friend full credit for his motives, and their friendly intercourse would receive no interruption. For his own part, he could not consider the alterations which had been made in the proposed Bill from that discussed last session—though they were improvements, and suggested by the opponents of that Bill—such as to do away with the main objections which he had stated to the former measure. Indeed, he took it for granted that no statement could be more painful to the Ministers, than one which went to prove, that there were any important changes in the spirit and principle of their measure. That, however, was not the occasion to state his views on this head. All he would then say was, that when the noble Lord (Althorp) stated, that Ministers could not think of proposing a measure of Reform less efficient than the last, he did not expect that such alterations and concessions would have been made as would have induced those on the Opposition side of the House to support it at all. Whatever other hon. Members might do, he should oppose the second reading.
was rather surprised, when such a great alteration was to be made in the Constitution, that something more was not done for the satisfaction of Ireland; but he was not surprised that the alterations which had been made should 201 not give satisfaction to Irish Members. He confessed he felt bound to accede to the opinion expressed by the member for Louth (Mr. Sheil), that the course now pursued towards Ireland would strengthen the power of the agitators and the discontented and afford a handle for still stronger language of complaint. The right hon. Baronet (Sir Robert Peel) had observed, in the course of his speech, that the Members of the other branch of the Legislature deserved the thanks of that House, and the gratitude of the country, for having so honestly and conscientiously discharged their duty, and enabled the members of the Government, and of the lower House, to reconsider the question of Reform. He was one of those, however, who did not feel this gratitude. On the contrary, he saw many evils arising from the rejection of the former Bill, although he admitted, that some advantages had been obtained by the reconsideration of the provisions of the Bill. He, however, could not see why the other House of Parliament had not sent the Bill down with these amendments and improvements, instead of throwing it out altogether; and by that means have enabled the country to escape many evils which had resulted from the loss of time, and the continued agitation of the question. He as well as others would, he believed, have been ready to give the suggestions and amendments of the other House their best consideration, and to have adopted any measures which were likely to procure that degree of unanimity and conciliation which the interests of the country demanded; and he considered it, therefore, unfair to claim for the Members of the other House, a gratitude to which they were not entitled. He for one should never cease to regret the decision of the Peers on that occasion, It would be long before the Members of that House recovered the respect they formerly possessed. It would be long, very long, before the heads of the Church recovered the same situation and power which they possessed before that unfortunate rejection of the Bill. It would be long before the Church establishment, to which he was sincerely attached, would obtain its former influence over the people, and be restored to that affection in their hearts, which, he regretted to say, had been so much diminished since the unfortunate connection of the Church with the question of Reform. Feeling this, and looking to the consequences which had followed the 202 course pursued by the House of Peers, he confessed he could not remain silent, when it was said they were entitled to claim the gratitude of the country.
was happy to express his approbation of the principle of the measure proposed by the Government, but he must join with the member for Louth, and the other Members for Ireland, in regretting that some measures had not been adopted to put an end to the complaints of the people of Ireland. He feared much, indeed, that the passing by the claims of Ireland to an enlarged Representation would give inveterate offence to the people of that country; and he must say, that, if he was an Irishman, he should feel, that he had a right to complain loudly of the injustice with which his country had been treated. The noble Lord, although he explained very clearly, on a former occasion, his desire to preserve the relative proportion between the Members of England and Ireland, seemed to have now entirely forgotten his own former remarks in his speech of that evening; and, consequently, he (Mr. Hume) feared much that the noble Lord had added one more that night to the many other grounds of complaint which the people of Ireland had already against the Government of this country. He trusted, that Ministers would, at all events, re-consider that part of their plan. He must say, that he thought they deserved the thanks of the country for their exertions, and that they had rendered the Bill as perfect as circumstances would permit. He doubted, however, the propriety of giving two Members to so many boroughs, and thought that it would have been better if they had proceeded on a different principle, and given one Member to twenty-six new boroughs possessing a population of from 5,000 to 10,000 persons. The noble Lord, the member for Liverpool (Lord Sandon), had the other night said a good deal of the necessity of conciliation, and of the opinions of his constituents with respect to the principle of the Bill. He (Mr. Hume) was quite satisfied, notwithstanding what the noble Lord said of the opinions of the people of Liverpool, that the feelings of the country were decidedly in favour of the principle of Reform; and that, if Ministers had offered any thing short of the Bill, the people would not accept it. He was happy, however, to see that the principle had been fully adhered to; and he trusted, that the Government would not, in the discussion of the details, 203 abandon one iota of the principle they professed to adhere to.
said, that as he had been so pointedly alluded to by the hon. member for Middlesex, he felt himself bound to offer one or two words in explanation of what had fallen from him on a recent occasion. The hon. Member had not correctly stated the tendency of his observations. To the great principles of the Reform Bill of last session, that is, to the clauses for the extinction of the nomination boroughs, for the investing the large towns with the right of returning Representatives, and for extending the franchise, he begged it to be understood that he adhered. What he had said by way of objection was, that Ministers had been too pertinacious as to the details; and that many of them might have been so modified as to obtain the support of moderate men, without a compromise of the great principles of the measure. Some such modifications had, as they had that evening learned, been introduced into the Bill now before them, and more might be made with advantage. He approved of the alteration, for example, with respect to the population basis of the former Bill, and was glad to find that a plan embracing the household wealth of the country was to be acted upon. He was also glad to find, that the rights of freemen in corporate towns were to be preserved inviolate. He was convinced that all parties would best promote the interests of their country by assenting to the destruction of nomination boroughs, as a basis of a mutual good understanding throughout every class of the British community without the walls of the Legislature. Entertaining those sentiments, which he ventured so briefly to express, and being convinced that it was for the interest of all parties to endeavour to raise a fabric of mutual conciliation, he trusted that ere long they should see an effective measure of Reform carried, to the satisfaction of an intelligent and excited public, without in any way unduly interfering with the just rights and privileges of the other House of Parliament.
was happy to see some satisfactory prospect of the settlement of the question of Reform. The former measure, it was admitted by all, had several details from which some dangers were apprehended by certain parties. He agreed, therefore, with his noble colleague, that some modifications of the measure were necessary; but he understood the noble Lord, on the 204 previous occasion on which he had declared his sentiments to the House, to have asserted that their common constituents did not approve of the 10l. qualification. He had then declared, and he must still adhere to the declaration, that that clause met with the approval of the majority of the community which they had the honour to represent. He rejoiced to see this qualification retained in the Bill before them, and he was therefore fully determined to support the Bill, convinced that by doing so he was acting on the confirmed conviction of the intelligence of Liverpool.
was sorry to say, that the measures of the Government, as far as they related to Ireland, would prove anything but satisfactory. He owed it to his constituents and the people of that country, to declare, on the first opportunity, that he considered his Majesty's Ministers had acted most unwisely, by departing, in the measure of Reform they had now introduced, from the principle of giving additional Representatives to Ireland. He was confident that the objects of those who were interested in the progress of Political Unions would be strengthened by the declaration of that evening; and although it would be to him a matter of great regret to forfeit his position in that House or in the country, yet he would say, that if Ireland could not obtain redress in the English Parliament, she must seek it elsewhere, and by other means. He would and must seek it in political agitation. He knew the consequence of political combinations. He had seen their effects in other countries, and he could well imagine what they would prove in his own; his countrymen possessed strong feelings, and he was sure that the course pursued by the noble Lord would add force to the opinions of those who were at present influenced in favour of agitation. He, therefore, did hope Government would, in settling the great measure of Reform, reconsider the question, so far as related to Ireland, and taking into account her present political condition, allow her such an additional number of Representatives as would entitle the author of the measure to the thanks and gratitude of her people.
Lord John Russell
said, that he was happy to understand, that the alterations which had been made in the Bill had met with the approbation of several hon. Members who had been opposed to the former measure; but leaving that question at present, he begged to add a few words 205 with regard to the question of the number of Members to be given to Ireland. He must be permitted to say, without intending the slightest disrespect to the hon. Member who had introduced the subject, that he must be excused for not entering into so large a field of discussion on the introduction of the English Reform Bill. This much, however, he would say, that before the question of Reform was introduced at all, the number of Members for England was 513, and for Ireland 100; whereas, by the plan now proposed, the number of Members for England was to be reduced to 500, while the Members for Ireland were to be increased to 105; so that whatever alterations were to take place, were in favour of, and not against the Representation of Ireland. With regard to that, however, as well as to all other points, he was perfectly ready to enter into a full explanation of the views and motives of the Government, when the question was fairly brought before the House. With regard to the question of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Croker) on the subject of the additional information that might be required, he had only to say there was no objection to supply all the information which the Government possessed; but he hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would give notice of the time it was required, as the persons now employed in obtaining information for the Government, were already so hard pressed that it would be very inconvenient to burthen them with much additional labour. With respect to the limits of the boroughs, he believed they could not be fully settled before the Recess.
Mr. Stuart Wortley
wished to know when Ministers intended to bring in the Irish and Scotch Reform Bills?
Sir Robert Peel
Probably the noble Lord will have no objection, before the adjournment, to state on what day the Bill will be committed? This information will be desirable for Gentlemen who are in the country.
§ Lord Althorp
said, he would state before the recess the fact which the right hon. Baronet wished to be acquainted with.
said, that anxious as he felt to give his support to his Majesty's Ministers, and sure as he was, that Reform would benefit his country, he could not refrain from, expressing his disappointment that his Majesty's Ministers had not en- 206 deavoured, by increasing, not only the franchise, but the number of Irish Representatives, to conciliate the Members at present returned by that country. For his own part, anxious as he was to continue the support which he had hitherto given to the Ministerial measure of Reform, he could not pledge himself to follow up that support on the present occasion, unless some more satisfactory course should be adopted for equalizing the Representation of the country at large, by giving additional Members to Ireland, than the Bill which was about to be introduced promised to do. He would not, at present, enter into the question further than to say, that he had regretted to understand last Session from the right hon. Secretary for Ireland, that he had no intention to introduce any measure of enfranchisement with regard to that country. He was fully persuaded that there was an absolute necessity to do away with exclusive privileges, or at least neutralize them, by extending the franchise to resident householders, and he further belived, from the inquiries he had made, that it would be necessary to reduce the qualification below 10l. or the existing constituencies in several large towns would be very much reduced. He, therefore, trusted that Government would consider the propriety not only of giving additional Representatives, but also of extending the franchise generally in Ireland.
§ Leave was given, and Lord John Russell brought in the Bill to amend the Representation of England and Wales. It was about to be read a first time, when
Sir Robert Inglis
objected to the Bill being now read a first time, on the ground that the title of it was printed. He considered this a departure from the usual forms.
said, he believed it was the wish of the House that bills should be laid on the Table in manuscript, but he did not think this an objection to the Motion.
suggested that the circumstance, although contrary to rule, wan frequently permitted for public convenience, and had grown into a practice.
§ Bill read a first time.