HC Deb 03 February 1831 vol 2 cc126-30
Sir John Wrottesley

presented a Petition from Wolverhampton, praying for Reform in Parliament. The petition was signed, not only by those who had always been friendly to Reform, but also by those who had hitherto been adverse to it. The petition was signed by almost all the respectable people in the town. In the greatest part of the petition he cordially concurred; but on that part of it which required the Vote by Ballot he would not then state his opinion. When the subject came before the House, he would give it his best attention.

Mr. Littleton

confirmed the assertion of his hon. colleague, that the petition was signed by most of the respectable people of Wolverhampton, and by those who had hitherto been opposed to Reform. He knew that the greater part of those who had in that neighbourhood been inimical to Reform through their whole lives, were now to a man in favour of it.

Mr. Hunt

rose to present a petition from the Inhabitants of the parish of Thorne-Falcon, Somersetshire, the prayer of which, as it was short, he would read. The petitioners called upon the House to make a commutation of tithes, to lessen the taxes to the greatest degree possible, to abolish the malt duty, also to abolish all sinecures, to reduce salaries, and to reform the Parliament, by extending the franchise, and allowing the people to vote by ballot. He concurred in the petition in every part of it, but he differed from the petitioners in one thing; he thought that the petitioners had placed the cart before the horse. They had placed Reform in Parliament and Vote by Ballot last, while he thought they ought to have been placed first, for, without Parliamentary Reform and the Vote by Ballot, the petitioners would not get any of their other grievances effectually redressed. The petition was drawn up by the clergyman of the parish, who had signed it; and it was signed by almost every inhabitant of the parish. In that parish, the clergyman informed him, there had been no disturbances, and he was informed that only three persons who signed the petition could write their own names—he begged pardon of the House for the mistake—he meant, that there were only three persons who did not sign their own names. The hon. member for Kircudbright was not favourable to the Ballot, and he thought that they ought not to extend the franchise so as to affect the landed interest; but if the Reform to be proposed was calculated only to please the landed interest, it would displease the country. To such a species of Reform he should be opposed. What would please the landed interest would not satisfy the people. He avowed himself a Radical Reformer, and had been one since 1815— ever since the passing of the Corn-laws. He was a Radical Reformer, and he would advocate the principle, that every man ought to have a vote. He had been the advocate of voting by ballot when that was unfashionable, and he was the advocate of that opinion at present. The petition from Wolverhampton expressed an opinion in favour of the ballot, and he could tell the hon. Baronet who presented it, and the noble Lord, that all the towns of the north of England to which he proposed to give the franchise wished to have the ballot; and, unless they were granted that protection, they would rather not be cursed by elections at all.

Mr. Cutlar Ferguson

explained, that the hon. Member had misunderstood him. He wished for reform and an extension of the franchise; but he wished that the Members for a County should be elected by the landed proprietors, and not by the labourers. The elections ought to be in the hands of persons of some substance, and not approach as nearly as possible to universal suffrage, like the representation of a place he could name. He was satisfied that no species of Reform could give security or stability to the institutions of the country unless property were represented.

Mr. Hume

was not friendly to the principle of making property the basis of the representation. While every man was liable to be drafted for the militia and, to pay taxes, he ought to have a vote in making the laws.

Mr. Cresset Pelham

hoped his Majesty's Ministers would speedily bring forward their measure, and not have the question discussed on the presentation of petitions.

Petition to be printed.

Mr. Hunt, in presenting a Petition from a division of the town of Manchester, praying the abolition of the Corn-laws, Universal Suffrage, and Vote by Ballot, took occasion to say, that he held these concessions to be absolutely necessary, and that he fully agreed with the petitioners in the prayer that they be granted. In allusion to certain observations which fell from the hon. member for Kircudbright (Mr. Ferguson) with respect to the improper extension of the right of franchise in some of the boroughs of the kingdom, if the hon. Member had spoken out it would have been better, but he (Mr. Hunt) could understand him. He believed he meant the borough of Preston; but justice to his constituents compelled him to say, that this was, he believed, the very first time that Preston had been complained of. In allusion to the same subject he would add one word with respect to the conduct of his constituents during the election. In justice to them, he felt bound to declare in that place, that if any one said they misconducted themselves, or that they were hostile to his Majesty's present Government, they grossly misrepresented them. On the contrary, they felt no hostility to the men who composed his Majesty's Government, or the measures they proposed—nor did they ever feel any hostility to their late Representative (Mr. Stanley). During the whole period of the election, not one offensive word had been used towards Mr. Stanley. He had been treated like a gentleman; and no language had been used towards him which it was unfit for a gentleman to hear. With respect to the views which the petitioners entertained on the subject of the Corn-laws, and Parliamentary Reform, he must say, that he entirely agreed with them. But even if the plans of the Government did not reach the full extent of what would meet his views on the point of universal suffrage and vote by ballot, still he would not oppose them; but this he would say, that, no matter what degree of extension they might give to the right of voting, if their plan did not include vote by ballot, it would prove unsatisfactory, and it would be better for the country if they abandoned it. at. once.

Mr. Cutlar Ferguson

again denied, that he expressed himself otherwise than as an advocate for Reform, but the was for a reform which must protect the landed interests, and to such a reform he had always been favourable. He must say openly, that the sort of election established at Preston did not meet, his approbation.

Petition laid on the Table.

Mr. Hume, in presenting Petitions from Scotland, in favour of Reform, took occasion to advert to the declaration of his hon. friend, the member for Kircudbright, that the landed interest had been always in favour of Reform, and that he himself had presented a petition from that interest in its favour. Now, he begged to remind the hon. Member, that the landed interest, for the last century, had the entire control over that House, and it was their own fault, if they desired it, that they had not effected it. He believed that all our difficulties were the work of the landed interest, and he should not think them ill-used if that House repealed all the taxes? except those which pressed on the landed interest. This was, he maintained, well-deserved, but he was not disposed to retaliate. He desired nothing now but justice. The petitions he had to present were signed by a great number of the heritors and inhabitants of the different boroughs of Scotland, and some prayed for the ballot, but all for Reform. They were from Perth, Arbroath, Montrose,. Annan, Dingwall, Dysart, Forfar, Lanark, and one signed by fifty-eight of the householders of the parish of Mary-le-bone.

To be printed.

Lord Althorp

took that, the earliest, opportunity, to inform the House, that his Majesty's Government would, on Tuesday, the first day of March, be prepared to submit to the consideration of the House, that plan for the improvement of the Representative System, which in their opinion was now required. He wished at the. same time to state, that it was their intention to give to the noble Lord (Lord John Russell), the Paymaster of the Forces, the task of explaining the nature and extent of the Reform which they contemplated. They had selected that noble Lord, in consequence of the deep sense they entertained of the ability and perseverance with which he had advocated an improvement of the Representative System, through the whole course of his public life. In times when the advocacy of Reform was not popular, and when, from the difference of circumstances, a partial change — even when a partial change was proposed—was considered almost hopeless, the noble Lord had perseveringly prosecuted his object; and now, when the question of Reform was more prosperous, the Government thought that he was best entitled to propose a full and efficient improvement of the Representation, who had so often failed in his most zealous attempts to procure a partial one.