HC Deb 13 July 1831 vol 4 cc1192-6
Mr. Hodgson

presented a Petition from 2,413 respectable Electors of Coventry, praying that the privilege of the Elective Franchise might be retained by the sons and apprentices of freemen. He would not enter further into the question, than to observe, that the petitioners stated, that the privilege of acquiring the freedom of the city, and thereby being permitted to vote for Members of Parliament, operated as a great excitement to the apprentices to attend to their business with industry. They also stated, that if this privilege was taken away, there would be reason to apprehend a great increase in the poor-rates.

Sir Charles Wetherell

said, his hon. and learned friend, the late Solicitor-general, had declared, that the alteration produced in the franchise by the enactments of the Reform Bill at present before the House, were not understood by the people, or they would not approve of them. At Coventry, however, they appeared to begin to understand the subject, and found the measure was likely to disfranchise the various useful mechanical classes, by which they would lose a valuable privilege. He was gratified that in this late, and he wished he could call it posthumous stage of the Bill, the working classes did begin to understand it. The hon. Member should have enlarged on this view of the case, and shewn that the operative classes were to lose every privilege, and not to gain any by this measure. The more the question was discussed, the sooner would the people understand its real merits, and petition against it.

Mr. Ellice

was not aware from whom this petition had emanated, but he believed the petitioners had called a public meeting, with the object of forwarding a petition to reserve the right of voting to all the future freemen of Coventry. At this meeting an amendment had been proposed and carried, that the right of elections should be vested in all the householders of the city generally. He thought it right to say this, because neither this petition nor that from the householders at large, had been sent to him for presentation, his Constituents being fully aware, that he would not support any measure which would interfere with the Bill introduced by Government. The subscribers to the other petition to which he had referred, as well as the present petitioners were respectable men, and the former did themselves honour by being ready to sacrifice their own rights, while the latter having been unable to prevail on a public meeting to agree with them, their petition could only be received as the prayer of a few individuals. It did not contain the sentiments of the great body of the inhabitants of Coventry.

Mr. Goulburn

said, that all he could understand from the speech of the hon. Gentleman was, that there were two parties in Coventry, both of which were opposed to the Bill. The minority, as appeared by this petition were averse from it, and the majority, although opposed to the minority, were also opposed to the Government, and neither approved of the Bill.

Mr. Ellice

said, the only difference on the subject was, that the great mass of the people of Coventry wished the right of voting to be given to the householders generally.

Mr. George Robinson

said, the people were not opposed to the Bill, on the contrary they approved of it, but wished to extend the franchise to the householders of Coventry generally. The hon. and learned member for Boroughbridge said, the operatives were opposed to the Bill, but he entertained quite a contrary opinion, and knew, that throughout the kingdom they were favourable to it.

Sir Edward Sugden

said, it was easy to perceive what the petitioners desired, viz., to be relieved from that part of the Bill which pressed on themselves, being willing enough to throw all the loss and inconvenience on others. The Bill went to exclude the children of the freemen of the corporation from the elective franchise, of this they complained, and he thought they were right.

Petition to lie on the Table.

Mr. Hodgson,

on moving, that it be printed said, he was totally unacquainted with the circumstances under which the petition had originated; but it was signed by 2,413 respectable persons, and this bore him out in his former assertion, that the petition was an important one.

Sir Charles Wetherell

said, the hon. member for Coventry (Mr. Ellice) appeared not to possess the confidence of either party in that city. As he had declared himself opposed to the disfranchisement, he should find it very convenient to enlarge the privileges of the House as to postage, for he had in consequence received numerous letters, and many of them double and treble, encouraging him to resist the plunder of the Corporations. He must allow, that he had not received one from Coventry, but he inferred, from all he could hear and see, that the labouring classes every where were beginning to recover from the delusion that had been practised upon them, which perhaps accounted for the fact, that the hon. member for Coventry was not intrusted with the petition.

Mr. Ellice

was ready to agree with the hon. Gentleman who had presented the petition, that the signatures attached to it were respectable, and in reply to the hon. and learned Gentleman he must remark, that he had presented himself to his constituents with the Bill in his hand, and was placed at the head of the poll. If he should go back he should be certain of the same majority in his favour. Me must add, that, although these petitioners applied for an extension of the franchise in favour of their children, yet there was not one among them who had not signed a petition in favour of the Bill.

Mr. Croker

took the present opportunity of noticing some statements that had appeared relating to the Debates of last night, which had been asserted to have been a kind of surprise to the Gentlemen on the other side; he therefore thought it right to remind the House, that the petition on which the Debate arose was presented on the 22nd of June, and the memorials respecting it were forwarded to the Secretary of State so long ago as the 2nd of March.

Lord John Russell

admitted, that the petition and memorial had been a considerable time in the hands of Government, and that notice had been given of the motion. How such a report as that alluded to, had got into the newspapers he could not say; probably in the same way as another report, which was, that a member of the Government had kept a friend in the House the other night to vote on the Liverpool writ.

Mr. Alderman Thompson

wished to avail himself of that opportunity to explain a misconstruction which had gone abroad, of some observations which he had made in the Debate of last night. He wished also to correct a misrepresentation of his feelings and motives on that occasion. He had invariably, both in this and in the last Session of Parliament, supported the Reform Bill. He intended to go along with the Bill on this occasion. He intended also to support the schedules of the Bill, but having a local knowledge of the borough of Appleby, and well knowing that one of the two parishes of that town had been omitted in the census of 1821, and that this parish formed the most important part of the town, as the majority of the burgage tenures which gave the right of returning Members were situated therein, he thought that the application made on behalf of that borough was deserving of the consideration of the House. Knowing these facts, and knowing further, that a representation of them had been made to Lord J. Russell, and that the individuals who had made the representation had received no answer to it, he thought it his duty to give them an opportunity of stating these facts, through the Mayor, or some other witness, at the bar of the House. He had no desire in so doing to throw any obstacle in the way of the progress of the Reform Bill. He thought that the time was now arrived when all nomination boroughs ought to be done away with, and that all holders of 10l. houses should be admitted to participate in the elective franchise. He considered the proposed measure would give a fair representation to all classes of the community, and that the times in which we lived required such an alteration. In justification of himself he felt bound to state, that his opinions had undergone no change. He was still ready to support the Bill; at the same time he could not forego the right of making such observations as he had done, in justice to the inhabitants of the borough of Appleby. The facts they urged were proved to be correct; but it was not the practice of the House to allow evidence to be given before a Committee without its previous sanction. The inhabitants of Appleby did not ask for two Members. They only asked, as they consisted of 2,600 persons, that the principle of the Bill should be applied to them, and they should be permitted to retain one Member.

Petition to be printed.

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