§ On the question, that the Speaker do leave the Chair,
Mr. J. L. Knight
gave notice, that he should move in Committee, that the borough of Bishop's Castle be removed from schedule A into schedule B, on the ground that it had been incorrectly placed in the former, as not containing a population of 2,000 persons.
begged, before the House went into Committee, to correct a misrepresentation which had been made in one of the Daily Journals, by which the country was made aware of the proceedings in that House; he had been made to say, that "he defended the existence of close boroughs, on the ground of their forming one of the most ancient parts of our representative system." Now, what he had said with reference to the Speech of the noble Lord (J. Russell), when the noble Lord had urged, in favour of the Reform Bill, that it contained a principle to restore the Constitution of the country, was this; that, according to the noble Lord's own showing, the existence of close boroughs was one of the parts of the Constitution, for they had existed in unity with that Constitution; and in disfranchising these close boroughs, the noble Lord did not restore, but deprived the Constitution of one of its features. He considered, that the democratic principle was checked by the aristocratic influence, which entered the House through close boroughs and corporate towns. The paper, he begged to say, in which this error had been made, was The Times.
§ Mr. Croker
wished to say, that he had 1262 been informed, that a considerable number of the population returns of the census recently taken had reached the Home-office, and were ready to be laid before the House. As he had no doubt that all the returns were at the Home-office, or very speedily would be, he must remind the noble Lord, that it was a matter of some importance that they should be laid on the Table as soon as possible. He hoped the noble lord would take an early opportunity of bringing them before the House, as, in the present stage of the Bill, they would be eminently useful.
§ Sir H. Hardinge
wished to know what particular returns were wanting. He also wished to know from the noble Lord, upon what principle he was proceeding in the Bill with regard to the borough which he had the honour to represent. He had endeavoured to understand the principle of the Bill, but he found it quite impossible to do so. He should likewise be glad to understand, whether or not it would be competent for him or any other Member to move in Committee, not that Counsel should be heard—but that evidence should be heard, the direct evidence of the parties best informed upon the subject to which they would have to speak, if called before the Committee? The House would see at once, that evidence might be derived from such a source which would be far more satisfactory, and less open to the charge of partiality, than anything could be that fell from the Members for the boroughs to be disfranchised. He therefore wished to know, whether the Government would permit such parties to give evidence at the bar of the House when in Committee? He used the word permit, because the Government, with its large majorities, could force the Bill against reason and justice, if it thought proper to make a division the only test of the value of an argument.
Lord J. Russell
replied, that he had not inquired how many of the returns were ready, as the Reform measure was not founded on them. He had no objection to gratify the wish of the right hon. Member, but he must remind him, that the returns of 1821 were those by which the framers of the Bill had been guided, at which time, those to whose charge it was committed to make these returns, had not made them out for the express purpose of 1263 saving the boroughs in schedules A and B. With respect to the other question of the hon. and gallant Baronet, he begged to say, that it was impossible to give any answer to him until some point arose, upon which the necessity of the case could be argued. At present he did not sec any probability that it would be necessary to receive such evidence as the hon. and gallant Member had referred to; but he could not say positively whether such evidence would or would not be rejected when offered, until an opportunity for exercising his judgment on some particular case should arrive.
§ Sir Henry Hardinge
was surprised to hear the noble Lord utter a libel against all the public officers whose duty it was to make the Population Returns. The hon. Alderman behind him (Mr. Alderman Wood) might talk about trickery, and from the hon. Alderman such language was not extraordinary; but for the noble Lord to insinuate, that all the public officers whose duty it was, upon oath, to make the population returns as accurate as they could, were influenced by a desire to deceive and mislead that House, from interested motives, did surprise him.
§ Sir E. Sugden
must also express his astonishment at the language of the noble Lord. Did the noble Lord mean to contend; that he had adhered to the principle upon which the first Bill had been framed? Could the noble Lord attempt to hold such a position with schedule A and schedule B before him? Those schedules had been altered again and again, and that upon amendments or alterations in the population returns of 1821. And upon what authority had these alterations been made? The House had heard something of a document upon which they were said to be founded—of a document coming from— in the parish of— in the county of — But was such a document to be accredited and acted upon, and the official returns, taken upon oath, of the year 1831 to be thrown aside, and treated as false and worthless? This was trifling with common sense. If the Government, relying upon its majorities, meant to carry things in this manner, let all population returns be set aside, and let the Bill be framed, not upon principle, but upon the caprice of its supporters, and let that be avowed. He contended that the population returns of 1831 ought to be acted upon. [" No, no," from Col. Davies and 1264 some other Members who support the Bill, but sit on the Opposition side of the House.] Such interruptions appeared to him irregular, especially coming, as they did, from the Members sitting over him. It was most annoying to a Member addressing the House to hear an hon. Member crying "No, no," in his car, and using expressions which he could not regularly notice. This was a disadvantage to which those who acted with him were exposed. Hon. Members who differed from them in opinion still sat among them, and there was, in fact, what the hon. member for Middlesex would call an enemy in their camp. For his own part he should think himself extremely blameable, if he took his seat amidst the supporters of Government, and placed himself in such a position as enabled him to hear all those confidential, although not secret, communications which hon. Members, acting together, found it absolutely necessary to make to each other. These observations had been drawn from him by the disorderly interruptions which he had experienced. There was nothing to justify the breathless haste of the Government to get this important measure through the House. If the measure was to be carried by mere majorities, and without reference to reason, then the refusal to go into the population returns of 1831 was proper enough, and perfectly intelligible, and the people of England ought to be made acquainted with the real reason of the proceedings of the Ministers. If such was the determination of Government, all debating was useless, and the measure ought to be carried at once, with all its vices, its blunders, and its faults, untouched and unreproved; but if such a course were pursued, the consequences would soon be felt, and his Majesty's Ministers would be among the first to deplore them. The census of 1831 must come, and speedily, and the right feeling of the country would soon determine which party had acted as the real friends of the people. The people of England might be mistaken for a time, though some Gentlemen seemed to doubt it. Had the people of England then never been led away by false friends? Surely hon. Members would not contend for any such position. It was not for him to tell the people of England that they were now mistaken, but he was bound in duty to act, to the best of his ability, for their good, and he would do so in the sure conviction 1265 that, even if the public were now in error, that error would soon be dissipated by the strong moral feeling and manly reason of the country. If the people were now deluded, they would soon come to their senses, and in the mean time it was the duty of that House to act circumspectly, and with the greatest deliberation.
Mr. Vernon Smith
begged to draw the attention of the hon. and gallant Member (Sir H. Hardinge) to his own confession, that he might be supposed by the House to be partial in his defence, before the Committee, of the rights of the borough for which he sat; and if that hon. and gallant Member could suppose, that he could not escape the charge of partiality, he ought not to be too severe on the noble Lord for supposing, that the returning officers of the censuses might be actuated by the same motives.
§ Sir H. Hardinge
had stated, that his testimony regarding the borough for which he sat might be supposed partial, and that therefore it would be important that persons conversant with the details of its population should be heard at the bar.
Lord J. Russell
said, that he had been accused of having libelled the returning officers, when he said that their returns might be made for a particular purpose. What would be said, then, to the fact which he now begged to state—that, in some places, the people had poured into the boroughs for one night, in order to swell the return to 2,000 or 4,000, so as to qualify them to retain the franchise. This was not the fault of the returning officer, but it showed an unfair way of making out the return.
§ Sir Henry Hardinge
.—Is the noble Lord aware that, by the" return of 1831, the population of Tavistock is represented to be less by 300 persons than it was in 1821?
Lord John Russell
.—If that be the case, it only shows, that the returning officer for that borough has not been influenced in the performance of his duty by bribery.
said, that he had had a seat in that House years before the hon. and learned Gentleman had been a Member of it; and he had always sat in the place where he was then sitting. He had not changed his opinions; and because a change in the Administration had taken place, he did not see why he was to follow the Ministers over to the other side of the House. He was no adherent of theirs; 1266 when they were right he would support them; when they were wrong he would oppose them; and he would continue as independent of this Government as of the last. If the hon. and learned Gentleman thought that his remarks were of such a nature that they ought not to be overheard, he would do much better not to make them at all, or go out of the House for the purpose. The learned Gentleman had been pleased to read them a lecture on what he called their disorderly conduct. He need not have been so severe, for he thought his noble friend quite justified in the matter of the census, because such a case as he had described could not have occurred without the collusion of the returning officer. But without imputing anything to him, it might have happened, that the electors of a borough in danger of disfranchisement had agreed together each to add a little to the number of their inmates, so as to save themselves.
Mr. Alderman Wood
had also sat in the seat which he then occupied for Sessions before the hon. and learned Gentleman was a Member of that House. It was the hon. and learned Gentleman that had chosen to come over to him. For his part he had no secrets, and he, therefore, spoke tolerably loud; and if the hon. and learned Gentleman had anything to whisper, he had better take care, since there was an enemy in the camp. He would add, that he was determined not to change his seat, unless his constituents should remove him from the House; and, therefore, he should not give it up, either for the gallant General or for the learned Gentleman. He could, however, assure them, that he had never betrayed any of their secrets, though he certainly had opposed their measures.
§ Sir H. Hardinge
would not complain of hon. Gentlemen occupying what seats they pleased; but he certainly thought that it was objectionable that they should take advantage of their situation, to interrupt speeches, by making use of such phrases as "Oh, trickery!"—" That is done for the sake of delay." It was by no means pleasant, when a Member was speaking, to be interrupted by a not courteous whisper close to his ear, which he was, at the moment, incapable of answering. He wished, therefore, if the worthy Alderman must make objections, that he would not remain sitting on that side, but would go over to his friends.
Mr. Alderman Wood
confessed he had 1267 used the word "trickery" with respect to the importance attached to the Returns of 1831.
would ask the hon. and gallant Member if such interruptions had not long been frequent in that House?
Mr. C. W. Wynn
said, that all regulations as to places, and matters of decorum, must depend upon the wishes and feelings of hon. Members, and he trusted, that that good understanding which had hitherto existed would still continue in force. He was astonished to hear his noble friend (Lord J. Russell) speak of the population returns of 1831 as if they were wholly unworthy of credit, and of no consequeuce with respect to the Bill. Upon what grounds, (hen, had the Bill been hitherto discussed? Why, upon the ground that certain boroughs returning Members to Parliament having fallen into decay as to population and importance, and other places not returning Members to Parliament having greatly increased in population and importance, therefore it was desirable that the former class should be disfranchised, and that the latter class should receive the elective franchise. This, then, being the case, if the argument was good upon a period of two centuries, it was also good upon a period of ten years. His Majesty's Government had assumed, that having a population of 2,000 persons was the criterion by which it was to be decided that a borough ought to retain the right of sending a Member to that House—that nothing could purge away the sin of a place having been a nomination borough, but the fact that it had a population of 2,000 persons. Surely, then, if that principle was to be acted upon, the Population Returns of 1831 ought to be the guide. But it was said, that these Returns were inaccurate—that they had been made up for particular political purposes; but he would ask, in reply, did not those Returns furnish the means of correcting any such scheming, supposing it actually to have been in operation? The Returns did not give a simple total of the population in the different boroughs, but they gave the classes of whom that total was composed. But there was another criterion by which the accuracy of the Returns might be tried—the number of houses at the two periods. For instance, in Calne and in Peterborough there had been such an increase in the population, as to entitle those places to the full complement of 1268 Members, and Malton had a population of five above the necessary number, and therefore he should examine as to whether there had been such an increase in the number of houses in those places, as corresponded with the increase in the population. This was obviously the course which reason and common sense pointed out, and really he did not see how the House could be asked to go back to the Population Returns of 1821, and act upon them, when the Population Returns of 1831 might be procured with the utmost facility, and must, indeed, very shortly come before the House. Suppose it should appear, that in the borough of Malton the population had declined 300, would it be said, that that legislation was justifiable or decent, which gave to that borough the privilege of returning two Members, and disfranchised the borough of Appleby altogether? It might be said, that one borough fell within the arbitrary line, and the other borough fell beyond the arbitrary line; but why, he asked, in relation to the number of people, if an arbitrary line was to be struck, should the Population Returns of 1821 be taken to act upon, when more recent Returns might be had?
§ Mr. John Wood
said, that the right hon. Gentleman did not appear to be aware, that if they took the census of 1831, it might be necessary to alter the standard on which the Bill was formed. It was necessary to disfranchise a certain number of boroughs, to make way for the large towns, and if the population should have increased much since 1821, and they were to take the census of 1831, preserving the standard adopted in the Bill, the whole measure might be destroyed. What he supposed might be necessary was, to adopt a scale of proportionate population, and that could be done by one census as well as another. In fact, if they adopted the census of 1831, they would give occasion to a great deal of trickery, and might be much duped. There would be a temptation for returning officers to make false returns, and a temptation to procure them. The returning officers were, he believed, obliged to insert in their returns all the persons who had slept for a few nights in a place, and he had heard of one borough in Lancashire—and he believed, that he should be able to substantiate the fact hereafter— into which 300 male adults had been brought to sleep for a few nights, that they might be returned as a part of the 1269 population. No such instances could be proved under the Population Returns of 1821. He believed, however, at present, that such instances would not be singular, and that there would he several boroughs which would endeavour by such means to escape disfranchisement.
§ Captain Harris
would take that opportunity to make some statements with respect to Great Grimsby, the borough which he had the honour to represent, and was satisfied that he should be able to make out "her" claim to two Representatives. He had a certificate from the Minister, Churchwardens, and Overseers, proving that" she" had 743 inhabited houses, and that there were thirty-one inhabited houses in the soke of Great Grimsby. Further it was shown, that "she" had forty-seven uninhabited houses, and that there was one in the soke, giving "her" a total, including five houses building, of 827. There were 791 families in Great Grimsby, thirty-one in the soke: she had 4,048 inhabitants, exclusively of 177 in the hamlets, so that her total population amounted to 4,225. He should be able to prove in Committee, that she had a right to two Members of Parliament [laughter.] Hon. Members might laugh, but that would not do for him. "She"—[the laughter of the House obliged the hon. Member to pause] He saw what excited hon. Members' risibility, and would put it in the other way: be would say it; then he would contend, that the borough had had the elective franchise time out of mind, and was entitled still to retain it. He was now going to "put a new question:" he thought that if he brought forward any thing novel, Gentlemen opposite might cease to laugh. Of this, at least, he was satisfied, that when Gentlemen heard his argument, they would laugh with the other side of their faces. It would be borne in mind, that at different periods many of the poorer boroughs had prayed to be excused from the burthen of sending Members to Parliament; but Great Grimsby was not one of those boroughs; it had never flinched from sending Representatives. This was his argument. Why deprive Great Grimsby of a privilege which she was qualified to possess, and had never refused to exercise? It had been said, that Great Grimsby was a "nominee" borough—if there was any patron, the patron was a Whig nobleman, and he (Captain Harris) had come in in spite of him. He undertook to prove 1270 hereafter in the Committee, that (he line adopted in the Bill was a crooked line, and unworthy of Ministers.
Mr. C. Wood
said, that the number of 2,000 and 4,000, which were the exclusions of disfranchisement, referred to the last census, and must be adhered to, unless the whole Bill was to be destroyed. The line had been drawn by Ministers, after much deliberation, for the purpose of making room for the Members of the new towns which had grown up. It had been shown by a noble Lord, in an able speech during the last Parliament, that a great many more boroughs would have been disfranchised, or that several avowedly nomination boroughs would have escaped, had the line been drawn from any other point than 2,000 or 4,000 inhabitants. He contended, then, that the Population Returns of 1821 having been adopted, must be adhered to. As to the Population Returns of 1831 being ready before the Bill went to the other House, he would only remind hon. Members, that the census of 1821 was not laid on the Table of the House of Commons till July, 1822. If that objection to the Motion for leaving the Chair were urged, he could only suppose, that it was done to delay a measure which had been received with satisfaction by the House and the country.
§ Sir Charles Wetherell
said, the proposition of Ministers was, that places containing 2,000 inhabitants should have one Member, and that those with 4,000 should have two; but, assuming this principle as a guide, how was the House to get at the facts of the case, for in every instance it was a question of fact, aye or no, as to amount of population? Ministers would not have an examination of facts by hearing counsel or evidence at the bar. This being the case, what criterion was the House to resort to, with a view to discover which boroughs fell below or exceeded the Ministerial principle? The noble Lord had not pointed out any criterion. He (Sir C. Wetherell) asked, what was to be done in Committee, with a view to get at the facts of each case, if counsel and evidence were resisted? Disclaiming any thing like factious opposition, he must still say, that Counsel ought to be heard at the bar, not for the purpose of making speeches (for that he was ready to give up), but of showing whether borough A had 4,000, or the borough B had 2,000. He wished to know what his Majesty's Government 1271 proposed to do in the Committee, in order to ascertain the number of inhabitants in each borough. The hon. member for Colchester objected to hear Counsel, through a dread of long speeches. He was afraid of the plethora of learned gentlemen's eloquence. That fault, that species of excess, was not imputable to members of his Majesty's Government. There was no plethora of eloquence on their part; they rested upon numbers, not upon speeches; their reliance was voting, not speaking—counting noses, not ratiocination. That was the ground they rested on. But let it pass. As the hon. member for Colchester objected to gentlemen "in silk gowns and awful wigs," he gave up Counsel and speeches; only let him have evidence to get at the facts. Again he asked for a test of the facts. To this demand they had received answers of a prodigious and extraordinary nature: first, they were told to go to the census of 1821; why that was exposed to the accusation of so many blunders, that even Ministers admitted it to be an unsafe guide in several instances, and had taken the trouble to correct some of the mistakes when they were found out. But there might be other cases of mistakes and blunders, and how were they to be discovered? A paper had been lately laid on the Table on the subject of population. It was entitled "Copies of further information." The noble Lord was asked, who were the authors of this "further information;" and the answer, as well as he could understand, was, "I do not know; or, if I do, I do not choose to tell." There was no getting at the authority of the "copies." He recollected a publication of miscellaneous and anonymous pieces, called "Dodsley's Collection of Fugitive Poetry." Perhaps the" copies of further information "were something like this; they seemed equally unauthorized. Any thing might be thrust into Dodsley's collection: as an instance, he would quote a stanza—As I write and compose without any connection, I hope to find room in Mr. Dodsley's collection.So might it be said of the present collection, which was equally disjointed and unconnected, and some of the papers in which, for aught he knew, might have been written by a poet—by a man of fertile imagination. He would not be satisfied until he knew on what authority these returns were made, and what was the proof of their authenticity; but the noble Lord would not 1272 tell, and would have the House proceed upon documents without a name. But would the House be satisfied to rely upon anonymous authors of unauthorized information, sent down by the noble Lord? Take, for instance, the case of the borough of Calne. At the bottom of the page which referred to the present and former condition of this borough, there was this short note—" The whole of this district twenty years ago employed several thousand persons in all the various branches of the woollen manufacture; but which employment, for the last twenty years, has been gradually diminishing, and is now almost extinct, which circumstance will account for the vast diminution in the value of property in Calne, as shewn in the statement above." Now, for any thing he knew, Calne might be unjustly allowed to retain its two Members. He wanted to know what was the authority on which this statement rested; and in the progress of this measure, if no other Member should deem it consistent with his duty to make a motion on this subject, he (Sir C. Wetherell) should feel it to be his duty to do so, and to call for the authority on which this information rested. Hon. Members had talked of delusion the other evening, but could there be a greater delusion, than to proceed to disfranchise a number of boroughs because the population was below a fixed number, without any evidence to shew what that number really was? Why, there was no assembly, except a reformed House of Commons, that would have the audacity or impudence to proceed to disfranchise the people upon such, he would not say evidence, but such an absence of all evidence as this. Here it was proposed by the Government to act on certain alleged facts, but when a verification of those facts was called for, it was flatly refused. He did not ask for Counsel—he asked only for evidence, to show the correctness of the data on which they went, and this was denied. Let any man look at that silly trash—that miserably idle gasconade—that Dodsley collection of Parliamentary Reform, laid on the Table, and called "further information" as to the amount of population in the several boroughs, and ask, would any Minister have—he would not say the face, but —the impudence or audacity, to tell the people of England, that this was to be the ground on which the franchise was to be taken from so many boroughs, and at the same time refuse to tell who made this 1273 collection, or on what authority it rested. There was a Solicitor General sitting opposite, and one acquainted with the practice of the Court of Chancery'; what would he think of a Court which should make a decree resting on a fact, with no fact before it, or of a Lord Chancellor who should make the law and the fact at the same time, and tell the party to rest satisfied with his decision? or would the noble Lord, who also presided at Quarter Sessions for Northampton, attempt to decide any case, even the removal of a parish pauper, on a principle which was now to be applied by his Majesty's Ministers to the destruction of the ancient franchise of thousands of the King's subjects? The idea was too absurd for the serious ridicule of the grave-digger's scene of the immortal bard; and the noble Lord would refuse to assume the facts, even in a case of such comparative insignificance, as unworthy the name of what the same inimitable writer denominated Crowner's quest law. But he questioned altogether the Dodsley's Collection of almost every thing which the Ministers chose to stuff into it, in order to make it a document meet and proper to give an apparent sanction to the disfranchisement of these places. He asked Ministers for better and less suspicious information; and if they continued to refuse to give it, he promised the House he would introduce the subject to the reluctant notice of his Majesty's Ministers, in the shape of a motion of his own. So the House and the country might, peradventure, be able to discover why it was, or on what distinct grounds it was, Ministers had proceeded to disfranchise, or to preserve, or to create, the franchise in the different places, as classified in the schedules A, B, C, D, and so on. If they wished to establish, as a practical criterion for legislating, the criterion of numerical population, why resort to the census of 1821, in preference to a census of 1831, which they might have had here now if they had so chosen, but at all events could have in a fortnight hence? He would say, in the eloquent language of the hon. member for Calne, when appealing to the House in favour of the Bill, and warning it, therefore, to take notice of what had recently occurred in France and Belgium, they should look at the ephemeral changes which were daily taking place around them, and take care not to legislate from a retrospect to the past, but from a more enlightened view of the present. Yet 1274 the framers of the Bill said, No! let us go back, for a pretext for disfranchisement, to the defective and obviously inaccurate estimate of the population in 1821. The proposition was every thing which could be conceived of ridiculous, of insulting, of disgraceful, and nugatory. The noble Lord might smile, but whether the smile was at his own Bill, or at the arguments by which its folly was exposed, perhaps the noble Lord himself did not know. The noble Lord and his friends were much more full of smilery than of argument; but if they dealt in smilery, and not in argument, the public might say, that their smilery was occasioned rather by the ridiculous absurdity of their own Bill, than by his comments on it, and they might by and by go a little further, and say, the smilery and the absence of all argument were only to conceal the dupery of the authors of the Bill. It was absurd to prefer the census of 1821 to that of the present year, on the ground that it might be supposed that there was any partiality in the returns. There could be nothing of the kind. The Act for taking the census was passed, and the Commissioners appointed, long before the introduction of the Reform question: the Commissioners were on oath, and as likely to do their duty fairly as if they had been named ten years ago. Their returns would have been a safer criterion to go by than the Ministers' own statement, because those Commissioners had not been, as respected the possible introduction of the question of Reform, appointed expressly on that account long before its agitation. It was quite a delusion and a mockery not to take those returns, and at the same time to place any reliance upon such documents as the unauthorized or nameless information that had been laid on the Table. The apology made by the Ministers for their conduct was characterized by a sort of shabby gentility—they affected to decline bringing forward the returns made by order of Parliament, under Commissioners sworn to make an adequate and just return, "lest, forsooth, it should argue," said they, "in our favour." Why, he would ask them, were not those persons who made out this Dodsley's Collection of all sorts named at precisely the time when the Reform question was agitated? This was the shabby gentility he reprobated—it was of this insult and mockery he now complained. As to the criticism on the mistake of genders made by his hon. and gallant 1275 friend (Captain Harris), he must say, that it was easier to indulge in that mode of comment, than to answer his hon. friend's statement, or to dispute his facts, which accordingly had not been attempted. He regretted to perceive, that the delicate Grecian cars of the ex-member for Great Grimsby, and the Athenian ears of the hon. member for Wareham, had been so excessively shocked by inadvertencies, or rather a lapsus linguœ, which would have been considered undeserving of castigation, or non dignus vindice, in the sixth-form class of either Westminster or Eton school. He would again put the question to any one hon. member of his Majesty's Government—he wished not to provoke them all to speak—whether they would state the ground on which this principle of the fixed population rested, or why it should be on the census of 1821, rather than that of the present year? As to the objection made to members of different parties sitting at the same side of the House, he admitted, that it was inconvenient, and on many grounds disagreeable, though he could not deny the justice of the remark made by the late Sir Samuel Romilly, that nothing could be more absurd, than that a man's place in the House should designate his political opinions. At the same time, it was inconvenient, and sometimes very annoying, to hear a cheer of derision from those at one's side, from whom one might expect aid and support — to have a sort of ear-wigging going on —to have one's heels tripped up by gibes and jokes, when one might expect to be backed and encouraged—all this was no doubt very inconvenient. He might have, for instance, a Radical sitting behind him, with his knees thrust into him, and his radical jacobinism interrupting him, though he was not the person likely to be much affected by this. These were symptoms, however, tolerably explicit of the nature of those changes which might be anticipated in the behaviour of Parliament, resulting from the change now to be made in the Constitution. Whilst others regretted the barbarisms of our policy and our Constitution, he saw strong reason to believe, from what he had witnessed, that so far from our present state being liable to that imputation, we were only now, as a consequence of the course we were pursuing, on the eve of a barbarism (which many would doubtlessly deplore, in common with himself) which would invade that mutual con- 1276 fidence and high sense of feeling which prevented on all occasions the introduction of any thing in argument or in manner contrary to the sentiments of gentlemen. In reminding the House that the freedom of speech and impartial audience to each and all, was a common right within those walls, he could not but congratulate the House on the successful exertion of personal firmness on the part of his hon. friend on a former night, in procuring for himself since, that patient audience which it was clear he could not then have expected to obtain after twelve o'clock. He must say, that if any attempt to prevent an hon. Member from delivering his sentiments should be again repeated, he should be again prepared to adopt a similar course to that which he in common with others, had taken on a former evening.
§ Lord Althorp
said, it was not his intention to enter into a discussion of the principle of the Bill, which had been already so fully discussed and decided by the House. This was not, he thought, the time when the House ought to be occupied with such discussions. At the same time he could not prevent any Member from taking that course which he thought proper. If the hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir C. Wetherell), with the power which he possessed of putting together a string of synonymous words, and the great fluency, and he would admit, ability, with which he urged his opinions to the House, chose to debate the principle of the Bill, at every time the question was put, "that the Speaker do leave the Chair," after the House had been two nights in the Committee, he no doubt would succeed in delaying the Bill for a very considerable time; but the people of England would know how to estimate and value such a mode of opposition. The speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman was for a great part applicable only to the principle of the Bill, and part of it was fit only for discussion in the Committee. He had seen on that night what he had never before witnessed on any occasion where the principle of a Bill had been debated and decided—that where the Committee had lasted more than one night, a debate on the principle should be again got up on every occasion when the question was put, that the Speaker do leave the Chair, for the purpose of resuming the Committee. He owned that the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman, on the present occa- 1277 sion, was, for him, not a long one; it was only three quarters of an hour. No doubt the hon. and learned Gentleman had great ability and great fluency, and this sort of exertion cost him little trouble; however, it should not induce him, and he hoped it would not induce any of his hon. friends, to add to the delay, by again entering upon the discussion of the principle of the measure. Nothing which might fall from the hon. and learned Member, or from others who might act in the same manner, should provoke him to alter his determination as to the course which he thought ought to be pursued; and he hoped those attempts at delay would not exhaust his patience, or that of his hon. friends, but that they would steadily pursue that course which was most likely to promote the great measure before the House.
Sir Robert Peel
could not avoid expressing surprise at the language of the noble Lord. He did not hear his hon. and learned friend (Sir C. Wetherell), in any part of his speech, discuss the principle of the Bill. His hon. and learned friend's observations had a direct reference to the matter before the House, and he had put questions of great importance to the Government, which the noble Lord, he must say, had pointedly evaded. The hon. and learned Gentleman had asked for information on the subject of that Bill which makes population the test of disfranchisement. He had asked what evidence they possessed on the subject of that population, and the noble Lord had not thought proper to answer him. The noble Lord said, that he appealed to the people of England. When the noble Lord made that appeal with so much confidence, the people of England might perchance reply by asking a question of the noble Lord. They might ask, whether it was fitting that the population was to be the test of disfranchisement, when the Government took the population, not as it existed at present, but as it was stated to be ten years ago? The noble Lord might answer his learned friend or not, as he pleased. It undoubtedly was in his power to refuse to do so, but declining to answer would be well understood. It was his (Sir Robert Peel's) decided impression that the Ministers were unable to answer; that they did not possess the power to give an answer. He hoped, however, that the learned Gentleman would consider well before he 1278 moved for the information he required. If the test of population were adopted, it would undoubtedly be necessary that the returns should be correct; but he thought it expedient to avoid taking any steps at present which would seem to recognise the fact, that population was to be the test. If he thought that, by voting for the more accurate information required by his honorable friend, he should, at the same time, be admitting population to be the test of disfranchisement, undoubtedly he would vote against his hon. and learned friend's Motion. If, however, a majority of that House came to the determination that population was to be the test, it would then be a question for their most serious consideration, whether they were to take as their test the old Returns of 1821, or those which they were to be in possession of in the course of the next fortnight. Could the House possibly forget what they had heard that night on the subject of the Returns? Could they forget, that the hon. member for Preston (Mr. John Wood) had told them, the Returns of 1831 were not to be depended on, because he knew, that tricks had been practised to increase the numbers in particular places; and that in one borough, with which he was acquainted, 300 persons had slept the night before the Return was made, in order to bring it within the rule? So, by this argument, if from any accident the population of a borough was increased; if the stage-coach happened to break down, and six persons more than ordinary slept in the borough of Malton, that was to save it from disfranchisement; or if a great fight happened to take place in the vicinity of a particular town on the day of the Return, that was to determine the point of disfranchisement. And yet, in the midst of all these difficulties and absurdities, they were called on to take the Population Returns as a method of determining the right to exercise the elective franchise. Nothing, he apprehended, could well be more absurd. It reminded him of an academical absurdity which was probably familiar to the House. It was this—" given the height of the mast and the name of the vessel, to determine the length of the voyage." This no doubt appeared very absurd, but the principle, if principle it could be called, on which this Bill went, by which the House was required to solve the problem—" given 1279 the number of women and children in a certain place, to determine the independence of the electors," was equally absurd. He would ask the Government to answer him this question—If your object be to put an end to the nomination boroughs— and you have declared that to be your principal object—why is it, that you permit these nomination boroughs to retain one of their Members, because they have a fraction above 2,000 inhabitants? If you wish to destroy all nominations and corrupt influence, as you say, why do you not take away their Members altogether, instead of permitting them to retain one? But then it would probably be said, that they were about to call in a new constituency. Why, it might happen, and in many places he believed would happen, that a greater number of respectable 10l. householders were to be found in boroughs which did not come within the line of 2,000 inhabitants, than in boroughs which possessed more than the required 4,000. This showed the fallacious nature of the principle on which they were required to proceed. The noble Lord had, indeed, found something of that kind himself. In the case of Downton and St. Germain's, the noble Lord had been compelled to acknowledge, that there were not a sufficient number of 10l. householders to form a respectable constituency. Could there be a stronger evidence in favour of the principle for which he and his hon. and learned friend contended—that population was not to be taken as the test of competition for the elective franchise, or of inefficiency in the exercise of the right which it confers? For these reasons he objected to population as a test at all of the necessity of disfranchisement; but if the House should ultimately be of opinion that population ought to be the test, then for the same reasons he was prepared to contend, that they should take the latest, and it was presumed to be most accurate, return, that of 1831. Under any circumstances he made bold to assert, in contradiction to the noble Lord, that the discussion was not irrelevant to the question before the House.
§ Mr. Attwood
protested against the appeal which had been made to the people by the noble Lord opposite. The hon. and learned Gentleman below him (Sir C. Wetherell) had addressed himself to the judgment of the House, and the noble Lord replied by making an appeal to the people. He 1280 told the noble Lord, that such a proceeding was unworthy of the situation he occupied, and was only suited to circumstances and times which had not yet arrived in this country. Imputations had been thrown out against Gentlemen on the Opposition side, of being actuated by factious motives; but he declared, that he for one would adopt no proceeding with a view of unfairly obstructing the course of the measure. The first clause in the Bill was, to the effect that each of the boroughs mentioned in Schedule A should cease and determine to send Members after the end of the present Parliament. On referring to Schedule A he found, that the second borough on the list was one with respect to which the promoters of the Bill admitted that there was doubt. Now he wished to know whether, if the House decided in the affirmative, that the boroughs should be disfranchised, that decision should be considered final with respect to all the boroughs, and that no question could be afterwards raised on the borough of Appleby?
§ Lord Althorp
informed the hon. Gentleman who had asked a question with respect to the course of proceeding on the Bill, that in the last Parliament it was laid down by the Speaker, that the proper course would be, to consider Schedule A as part of the first clause. That being the case, he apprehended that, according to the usual mode of proceeding, amendments might be made in Schedule A, as part of the clause, and when all the boroughs had been gone through, the clause would be put altogether for the decision of the House. If, then, any Gentleman objected to any borough being placed in Schedule A, he would have an opportunity of stating his objections.
said, that notwithstanding the learned member for Boroughbridge now objected to the House acting upon certain returns which had no signanatures attached to them, yet he remembered that the hon. and learned Member had, on a former occasion, made no protest against founding a measure affecting the liberties of the people—namely, the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act—upon unsigned papers, enclosed in a green bag.
§ Sir C. Wetherell
said, the case referred to by the hon. Member, was different from the present. The documents he then took as good evidence, were laid on the Table by a Select Committee of that House.
§ Mr. Cresset Pelham
said, as they were about to sit as a court of justice, and try the merits of certain boroughs, the rights and privileges of which their judgment might take away for ever, it was the duty of the House to hear every defence the boroughs could make. For this reason he was of opinion, they ought to receive every information, to prevent the probability of coming to an erroneous decision.
§ The question was then put, that the Speaker leave the Chair; and the House resolved itself into a Committee.
Lord John Russell
begged leave to state a few words to the Committee, not on the general principle of the Bill, but rather to repeat the statement which he had formerly made, when he first brought forward the Bill, and which some Gentlemen seemed to have taken pains to render obscure and doubtful. It was the wish of Ministers to render the Representation free and independent. There were many boroughs which might be fairly called nomination boroughs, but these were evidently of two kinds. Some of them were considerable enough to be made independent by the opening of the franchise; and these it was not proposed to disfranchise entirely, but to allow to retain the franchise, giving, however, the right of voting to a more extended and independent constituency. In endeavouring to separate those boroughs which Ministers proposed to disfranchise entirely, from those the constituency of which they proposed to open, they found, after consideration, that they could take no better rule upon the whole than the population census of 1821. At the same time, he was ready to admit, that it had been under the consideration of the Government, whether any other test could be taken, which was better calculated to form a fair and just line, and more particularly whether that test mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman— namely, the number of houses rated at 10l. in the different places—could be applied. But, as he had before stated, the accounts of the number of houses rated to the house duty at 10l. were formed on principles so different in different places, and so uncertain in their nature, that even if the exact number of the houses rated at 10l. in the various places could be obtained, it might be doubtful whether that test, or the one which had been taken, would be preferable. But it being extremely difficult to obtain a correct ac- 1282 count of the number of houses rated at 10l. his Majesty's Ministers had thought it better to take as a rule the census of 1821, which, whether perfect or imperfect, had been drawn up by officers in the execution of their duty, without partiality or prejudice, and which might be assumed to be a tolerably accurate test of the relative size and population of different places now, as well as in 1821. He therefore begged to inform the House, that his Majesty's Ministers proposed, that all boroughs which, by the census of population of 1821, had less than 2,000 inhabitants, should be disfranchised entirely, and that those which had a population of between 2,000 and 4,000, might be fairly allowed to retain the franchise, having their constituency opened. They did not, however, think that such places were so considerable that they ought to be allowed to retain the privilege of returning two Members; and they considered, that one Member for each place of that description would be a fair allotment, in proportion to the number of Representatives to be returned by the counties and the principal towns. He stated this merely in explanation of the criterion which had been taken, by Ministers, without wishing to enter into argument at present upon its merits; and without attempting to clear away those ingenious mists of sophistry by which an hon. and learned Member had endeavoured to defame the reputation of the measure. He certainly admitted the right of those who objected to the test which had been taken, to vote, as he believed they did vote, against the second reading of the Bill. But the House having adopted the principle of the Bill, the consideration now was, whether the boroughs enumerated in schedule A came fairly below the Line— that is, contained fewer than 2,000 inhabitants according to the census of 1821. He believed, that in very few instances would any doubt arise as to the boroughs contained in schedule A; and when any did arise, he should be ready to show the grounds on which his Majesty's Ministers thought that none of the boroughs ought to be excepted. The noble Lord then moved, "That the preamble of the Bill be agreed to by the Committee."
§ Sir Edward Sugden
said, that his Majesty's Government had departed from the principle which they had themselves laid down in both the schedules A and B, by taking several boroughs out of the one 1283 and transferring them to the other, and by omitting many from schedule B altogether, when, according to the line to which they professed to adhere, those boroughs ought never to have been removed from the schedules where they were originally placed. He therefore had reason to ask, upon what ground these boroughs had been so removed? He had heard with surprise, a reference made to-night to the speech of the noble Lord, who, he believed, was the author of this measure. Without imputing any improper motives to his Majesty's Ministers, he must take the liberty of saying, that, they were bringing forward a measure upon principles to which they did not adhere; and, although he did not impute improper motives to the noble Lord, or to any of those with whom he acted, he was entitled to express his opinion as to the policy of their proceedings. The hon. member for Great Grimsby ["No, no, for Wareham"]—he begged the hon. Gentleman's pardon; he certainly ought to have recollected that, after what had occurred. The hon. member for Wareham—who was only by accident not member for Great Grimsby— might take a different view of the schedules from him, and might hope that Wareham would not be continued in the unpleasant predicament in which it was at present placed. He was warranted in remarking upon the changes which had been made in the schedules, without imputing any unworthy motives to his Majesty's Ministers, which he had no intention of doing. He would now beg to call the attention of the Committee to what was said to be the principle of the Bill. The noble Lord who was presumed to be the author of the measure—though it was adopted by the noble Lord, the member for Devonshire, and his Majesty's Government—the presumed author of the Bill said, in another place, that the principle was the disfranchisement of nomination boroughs, without reference to their population— that if he could catch hold of them, whether they had the amount of population laid down in the Bill or not, he would disfranchise them. The noble Lord who had lately spoken, told them that population was to form a main principle of the Bill. How was the House to act under such different representations from the chief supporters of this measure? and which of these conflicting statements was to be taken as the true one.
said, that the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, either greatly misunderstood or greatly misrepresented the principle of the Bill. None of those who supported it were, he believed, so absurd as to suppose that precisely the number of 2,000 was to be taken as the line of distinction. He would repeat what he had said. The understandings of the hon. Gentlemen opposite, he perceived from their conduct, were so obscured by their hostility to this Bill, that they were incapable of comprehending obvious distinctions, and they thought it necessary to repeat, over and over again, even to perfect satiety, the same arguments, with scarcely any addition or variety. He conceived the principle of the Bill to be that which had been stated from the beginning to the end—namely, the annihilation of boroughs where nomination prevailed. And, he conceived, that the test and the rule whereby that principle was best to be ascertained were the Population Returns of 1821. He conceived it to be not of the slightest importance, whether by those returns the number should have been 2,200, or 1,800, or precisely 2,000. But it did so happen, that his noble friends who brought forward the measure, were not mistaken in the principle of applying the line at 2,000, because, on examination of schedule A, he would undertake to say, that, with one exception, there was not a single borough included in it which was not a nomination borough. He could, with perfect facility, venture to give the names of the patrons of each individual borough; and if any hon. Gentleman opposite doubted the veracity of his assertion, he was ready to make it good. He said, that his Majesty's Government had been wonderfully successful in selecting as a line that amount of population which coincided with the boroughs which ought to be disfranchised. As to the observations made with reference to his hon. friend, the member for Wareham, and late member for Great Grimsby, he must say, that there was no individual in the House from whom such observations could have proceeded, with so had a grace, as from the hon. and learned member for St. Mawes, and late for Weymouth. That hon. and learned Gentleman must have forgotten the circumstances owing to which he had ceased to seek a renewal of suffrages at Weymouth, and had taken refuge at St. Mawes. For his own part, he 1285 could not pay that veneration to prescription which Gentlemen at the other side of the House enjoined. He could not believe, that the people of England ought to be contented with the political institutions of former times, and were not entitled to the very best Constitution which the wisdom and intelligence of the present day could confer upon them. They were not bound to go back to times when the circumstances of the country were altogether different, and when, comparatively speaking, ignorance prevailed. The Constitution should be adapted to the wants and necessities of the time, and now, when every man was acquainted with his rights, he could not do otherwise than deprecate that hypocrisy of Representation, where half the Members who sat in that House had no connection whatever with the people. He deprecated the mockery of what were called nomination elections; and knowing the mockery of such election, and the misery occasioned to, and entailed upon, those unfortunate individuals misnamed independent Representatives, he could not fancy how a greater favour could be conferred upon them, than that by which they would be released from their horrible dependence upon the beck and nod of another.
Sir R. Peel
said, that if he were inclined to, renew the discussion on the principle of the Bill, the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman who sat down on the Ministerial bench afforded him an opportunity. But he would adhere to the rule which he had laid down, and not revive the discussion of the principle while the Bill was in Committee. He trusted, that both sides of the House would come to the consideration of the measure, determined to lay aside all angry feelings, and he hoped his hon. and learned friend (Sir E. Sugden) would set the first example of forbearance, and abstain from any personal recrimination. His character stood too high to be hurt by any insinuations, which could be thrown put against it, and he need not repeat to the House that explanation which proved most satisfactory to the last Parliament, relative to his conduct with respect to the borough of Weymouth. The House, he understood, was to consider the boroughs enumerated in schedule A, as being part of the first clause, and he rose to offer a suggestion which would facilitate the discussion upon the Bill, if it met with the concurrence of the House. Fifty-seven 1286 boroughs were included in the schedule, upon each of which it was competent for any Gentleman to raise a discussion, involving the consideration of the whole Bill. Now, he thought the best course would be, to take the sense of the House on this question, whether all boroughs containing fewer than 2,000 inhabitants should be disfranchised, and when the will of the House was clearly manifested by a decided majority, he, for one, should not be disposed to repeat the division in the case of each particular borough, upon the understanding that, with respect to every borough where a prima facie case could be established, that it did not fall below the line drawn by Ministers, an opportunity for full discussion should be afforded. He, however, still reserved to himself the right to speak upon the principle of the Bill, when the Report was brought up, or upon the third reading of the Bill. He trusted, that all sides would enter into the Committee with good humour, and abstain from throwing out imputations of any sort. Let them remember, that they were now forming a new Constitution, and if it was to be adopted, no time was to be lost in making it as perfect as possible.
said, that in the observations which he was about to address to the House he had no wish to enter into any factious opposition; but still he would maintain his right to be heard, and no menace should intimidate him from the discharge of an important duty. After what had been so properly stated by the right hon. Gentleman below him Sir Robert Peel), he would not go into the general question; but it would be important for the Committee to make up their mind as to whether they would at once yield their sanction to schedule A, which would lead to the total disfranchisement of fifty-seven boroughs, many of which might be able to prove that they came within the population principle of the Bill, or whether they would hear these boroughs first upon the merits, before they decided upon the disfranchisement. The principle, as far as the schedule now went, was uncertain; in fact, there was no principle whatsoever in the Bill, Against two-thirds of the boroughs proposed to be disfranchised, there was no allegation of decay in the number of the inhabitants—quite the reverse; they had grown in opulence, numbers, and importance; and yet they were to be sacrificed, according to some 1287 peculiar measure which his Majesty's Government had resolved upon. If such a wholesale disfranchisement were to take place, and if the Members of the House of Commons were to be returned under the direct influence of an entirely democratic power, he did not know who could be answerable for the results. In the Representation as it now existed, all the different interests in the State were harmoniously blended together, and their deliberations were conducted in such a manner as was not to be found in any other portion of the civilized world. Such was the result of the existing system of our Representation, that it conduced to the preservation of the peace, the order, and the genuine liberty, of the people of this empire. He objected to the Bill because of its democratic tendency; for if once it were carried into effect, they might have a King by name, with less influence than a President of the United States; and a House of Lords so intimidated, as that they would lose the whole of that wholesome influence to which their rank, their wealth, and inheritance, so justly entitled them. When the peerage had once lost its influence, then would a democracy decidedly prevail. But they were told that all boroughs containing less than 2,000 inhabitants were to be disfranchised, because they were considered as nomination boroughs. The fact was not so; and he objected to the disfranchisement of any borough because it had a fractional population of 1,999 or its preservation if it had 2,001. Really the only anchor the Government had to hold fast by was this, that when the Bill passed this House, the old aristocratic influences would still prevail in the elections. But, according to the principle now proposed, would not the narrowing the influence of the Aristocracy—would not the partial disfranchisement of some nomination boroughs—and the permission given to some more fortunate Peers to retain their boroughs, lead of itself to the formation of a most odious oligarchy? If that were the case, and he knew, under the operation of the present Bill, it would be so, what could be said by the Ministers as to their being actuated by either fairness or impartiality in their selection of boroughs to be disfranchised? What, in such a case, would be the helpless condition of the Crown? What its condition if it - were to be made subservient to the sub- 1288 urban voters who might at any time think proper to send a majority of noisy demagogues into that House? Some persons recommended the appointment of clubs to direct the Representation of that House, and had already begun to form such clubs; and what would that lead to? Why, that such clubs, if they could force Members into the House, might force Ministers into the service of the Crown, and would thus become a dangerous oligarchical power in the State. It was very easy for hon. Gentlemen to talk of the rights of the people, and the liberties of the world, but if demagogues could once easily find their way into this House, the existing happy balance of the several estates of the realm could no longer be maintained. If a democratic House of Commons were once permitted to dictate to the House of Peers, it was very easy to see the necessary result upon the influence which the Crown had so long and so happily exercised, under our present Constitution, for the general welfare of the people. It was their duty, as Englishmen, to consider what would be the condition of themselves and of their posterity, if the noble Lord, with a majority at his back, and with a clamour out of doors, should succeed in carrying the proposed measure. In that case the Crown, having an Administration to form, would be unable to return Members to that House, except by an application to some noble Lord, who, having four or five boroughs, would thus possess a monopoly of the favour of the Crown. For, with all the hollow pretence of disfranchising so many places on the score of their being nomination boroughs, there would remain, in a small oligarchy, that power, which, spread as it now was over a large surface, had not the domination over the Crown which it would have when concentrated. If the Committee did their duty, they would at least inquire whether, by taking the line prescribed by the noble Lord, they would effectually do that which the Bill professed to do. Could the noble Lord fairly state, that by adopting the numbers of 2,000 and 4,000, the object which the Bill professed to have in view would be accomplished? He wished to deal frankly with the House on this, as on every other occasion, and he only, in conclusion, begged to express his sincere hope that they would one and all do their duty to their conscience and their country.
Lord John Russell
said, that the right 1289 hon. Baronet (Sir Robert Peel) had in a very candid manner proposed to the Committee to express their opinion, whether disfranchisement should be applied to a certain number of boroughs; and had stated, that in that case he was not disposed to take the sense of the House on every borough. That proposition he conceived to be a very fair one. The right hon. Gentleman then said, that there were some cases which might be doubtful, and wished that an opportunity for inquiry might be afforded. He thought it impossible to lay down any rule on that point until the House arrived at the particular cases, which could only arise out of disputed facts; or, secondly, admitting the facts, from these facts making some difference in the population of the places, With respect to the question before the [louse, which was the question of the principle of disfranchisement, the hon. member for Thetford (Mr. Baring), had addressed himself, with his usual talent and ability, and with that extreme ingenuity, which induced him to balance things first on one side, and then on another, so that those Gentlemen who were convinced by the first half of his speech, generally found the whole effect of it destroyed by the last half. The hon. Gentleman had, in the first place, declared, that the destruction of the rotten boroughs would introduce a perfect democracy into the country, under which the King's power would not he greater than that of the President of the United States. The hon. Gentleman had no sooner given utterance to this idea, than he raised up another phantom of an aristocratical oligarchy, which was to bind down the Crown, and depress the democracy, and produce effects the very opposite to those which he had described in the beginning of his speech. Accustomed as he was to listen to the arguments of the hon. Gentleman with much pleasure, he confessed, that he seldom listened to the hon. Gentleman with much conviction, because the working of his mind was so ingenious that he twisted a question into every shape possible, but very seldom came to conclusions properly deduced from the premises. The hon. Gentleman, indeed, never allowed his arguments to have their due weight on the mind of his auditors; but as soon as he had concluded one set of arguments, he set his mind at work upon another, and produced, by the latter part of his speech, totally different 1290 opinions from those which he expressed at the beginning. With respect to nomination boroughs, it was a notorious fact, that all the boroughs included in schedule A were of that description; and as for those which were to remain, though the influence of property would still be exercised, yet there would not exist that blot in the Constitution which at present entirely defaced it. No individuals would henceforth have that control of the votes of Members in that House which was possessed by the proprietors of the boroughs in schedule A. He did not believe that any measure of Reform would destroy aristocratical influence. If the whole country was divided into districts, and each district returned a Member, yet it was evident, that in many of those districts there would exist such preponderating property as to have an influence on the elections. He did not think, that the Bill was intended or would destroy the influence of property; but it was intended to prevent, and would prevent individuals from nominating Members to that House, by writing a Letter, or expressing their will in any other mode, without the free election of the people, which was the ancient, acknowledged, and undeniable principle of the Constitution.
§ Mr. Hudson Gurney
said, he objected to the proposition of the right hon. Barouct, the member for Tarn worth, to divide upon Aldeburgh, as there were circumstances connected with that borough which might injure the cases of those that followed it in the schedule, a body of outlying Burgesses having been substituted there, by Corporation fraud, within the last century, instead of the bona fide inhabitants of the place. He entirely agreed, however, with the objections made by the right honorable Baronet, against the disfranchisement of any borough, and therefore should be willing to move as an Amendment, that all the boroughs in schedule A, should return one Member in future.
Sir Robert Peel
, in explanation, said, that he was as much opposed to the general disfranchisement included in the Bill as his hon. friend; but as on the principle of that disfranchisement the House had overruled him, he thought that it would be a waste of time to enter into discussions on those boroughs which fell within the rule which the House had determined on. Reserving the right of pressing for the rejection of the whole clause on bringing up 1291 the Report, or on the third reading; of the Bill, he repeated, that he did not consider it would be necessary to have a separate division upon every borough. He should be content, that one decision should affect all boroughs in schedule A which had a population confessedly under 2,000. For instance, he would take the case of Blechingley, and if a vote of the House disfranchised Blechingley, he should be satisfied to consider that as extending to all boroughs✶ similarly situated. But for all other boroughs—that was to say, for all which could make out a prima facie case, that their respective populations were above 2,000—there should be separate consideration. To bring this question to issue, he would suggest that the word "each," be left out of the clause.
§ Lord Althorp
said, the course recommended by the right hon. Baronet was very fair. He proposed they should take one or two boroughs as specimens of a class, and that the decision of the House with respect to them should be binding as regarded others similarly situated. With respect to this clause, it would be better to follow the usual course, and have the whole of it read over. An hon. Gentleman might then select some words on which to move an amendment or alteration, and on these words, such hon. Gentlemen as were of opinion there should be no disfranchisement, could take their stand; this course he thought would be the most convenient that could be adopted.
, in explanation, said, he should recommend them to come to some general principle of disfranchisement before the extent of it was discussed, and that afterwards they should go into the schedule, and proceed on those cases that were necessary. He did not object to all disfranchisement, but he objected to the proposed Bill as making no necessary distinction where it ought to have been made. If disfranchisement were found in some instances to be rendered necessary, it by no means followed that it should be so in fifty-seven boroughs, against none of which had any allegation of corruption been made, much less proved. He had no doubt, that the suggestion of the right hon. Baronet (Sir Robert Peel) was offered with the best possible intentions; but still it must be clear, that in all great cases, such as the present, where so many interests were involved, too much caution was to be preferred to an anxiety to facilitate 1292 what was generally called the usual business of this House. He had no wish, however, to trespass Further at present upon the attention of the Committee.
Sir Robert Inglis
requested to know what the question was, to be decided by the Committee, and he further begged to suggest, that as the schedule was to form part of the clause, the best mode would be, to put the question in the first place, namely, that Aldeburgh stand part of. schedule A, that Boroughbridge stand part of schedule A, and so on. He was more anxious, however, to suggest to his Majesty's Government the expediency of embodying into a legal form as a new and preliminary clause of the Bill, those principles of disfranchisement and enfranchisement, on which the Bill was founded, and which principles, although they had been enumerated in the speeches of Ministers, were no where to be found in the Bill itself. No reasons were given why any particular borough was inserted in the various schedules.
§ Mr. John Campbell
had to offer a suggestion, which, he thought, might be attended with convenience, the first question was, whether any disfranchisemenl should take place, and the second was, what was to be its extent. At present the question was, that in the first clause the word "each" be left out, he would suggest the word "none" be put in its place if this arrangement were entered into, the question would be easily decided.
Sir Robert Peel
said, it might be very well for the hon. and learned member for Stafford, as a friend to the Bill, to make the suggestion that the word "none" should stand instead of the word "each," but the opponents of the measure must follow the course that seemed best to them. The Bill said, that each borough inserted in schedule A should be disfranchised. Now the proposition before the Committee was, with a view to prevent this disfranchisement, to leave out the word" each "which, no doubt, in this case, meant" all;"and it was on the withdrawal of that word he wished to take the sense of the House. The word he proposed to leave out would make nonsense of the whole clause. He begged leave now to propose, pro forma, that instead of the words in the first clause" That each of the boroughs enumerated in schedule A, &c. shall cease &c." that the clause stand "That of the boroughs, &c."
§ The question was put.
§ Sir Charles Wetherell
concurred with his right hon. friend, that the best mode of deciding on the general question of disfranchisement was, by adopting the course he recommended. Undoubtedly the inventors of this clause were desirous of carrying it. It provided that each borough in schedule A should be disfranchised, but the amendment would put a direct negative on the proposal; the division would be taken on that, and then the general proposition would be decided, whether disfranchisement should take place or not. The clause no doubt stated, or at least implied, that the Constitution was a system of rottenness and corruption, and certainly they had thought it expedient to avoid the cantata so much sung by the Gentlemen opposite.
§ Sir George Clerk
wished to know what was the principle upon which the disfranchisement of schedules A and 13 proceeded. It had been stated as depending, for instance as to schedule A, upon the number of 2,000 people. He wanted to know whether the principle was absolute in that respect—whether it was nomination or population that was meant to be struck at in these schedules. If nomination, then he would like to be informed whether, if a borough came within a few hundreds of the number, it might be allowed to add to its constituency and be preserved. He would suppose a borough which, according to the census of 1821, contained 1,900 inhabitants, but which, since that time, had increased beyond 2,000; was such a place to be visited by disfranchisement? There ought to be some fixed principle embodied in the Bill for their guidance. Suppose that a borough with less than 2,000 inhabitants, had the materials within itself of forming an independent constituency of 300 persons, was that to be continued in the schedule? Several such places might be found, that, with the surrounding districts would furnish a respectable constituency, and ought, therefore, to be removed from schedule A to B. He would therefore recommend, that the principle on which they were to proceed should be inserted in the first Clause, for hitherto they had heard nothing of the inducements that had led to the arbitrary placing of certain boroughs in certain schedules, and excluding others.
§ Mr. Cutlar Ferguson
objected to the course recommended, as it would lead to 1294 considerable difficulty. Suppose the Committee thought any borough ought to be excluded from schedule A; Appleby, for instance, it would be impossible to do so after the question had been put and assented to in the manner now suggested. The best course that could be pursued would be, to postpone the consideration of the boroughs to be disfranchised until they had determined the general question of disfranchisement. He further wished to observe, that the principle upon which the Bill proceeded in selecting the number 2,000 was, not that that particular number carried with it disqualification, but that it was evidence of the unfitness of the place which contained no more than 2,000 inhabitants to send Members to Parliament.
Sir Robert Peel
did not intend to consult hon. Gentlemen opposite as to the course he thought proper to pursue. They wished not only to draw up the Bill, but also to propose the amendments that the opponents of the measure were to make. He had suggested that the word "each" should be left out to save time, and with a view, undoubtedly, of defeating the Bill. Nothing was more common, than to pursue such a course, and propose that all the words after the first should be left out.
§ Lord Althorp
approved of the mode of raising an objection against any particular word in a clause, and he would proceed to the question on that Motion. He was at the same time ready to go to the division on the general question of disfranchisement, though he could not agree to the proposal, that if the House came to a decision that Aldeburgh should be disfranchised, that vote should be considered as applicable to all the boroughs in the schedule, but should rather be considered as the determination of the Committee as to boroughs similarly situated. He thought they had better proceed in the regular course, and after the Committee had determined the general question, the clause should be read over, and any Gentleman could state objections to particular words as they occurred to them. His noble friend had, he thought, stated very clearly the principle which Ministers had in view, namely, to disfranchise certain nomination boroughs. Some of those boroughs were large, some of them were small, and it was proposed to disfranchise those, the inhabitants of which were under 2,000. Those which contained a greater number of in habitants than that, would, to a certain 1295 extent, retain the elective franchise, but the effect of the measure would be, to throw open such boroughs. This was the ground on which they had adopted the present line. They certainly proposed, that one or two boroughs should be altogether deprived of the right of franchise in, which the population was nominally above 2,000, but this was done, because, by the addition of adjoining districts, they could not give such places a constituency calculated to secure them from improper influence.
Mr. J. L. Knight
said, that the question which had been put by the hon. and learned member for St. Mawes (Sir E. Sugden) had not been answered, up to that time, by any individual connected with his Majesty's Government. They had been told, that the test of fact with respect to numbers was to be applied by that Committee judicially, in disposing of the rights and privileges of persons belonging to that class of whose rights and privileges Gentlemen opposite had spoken so much. Now, what he wanted to learn, and what Ministers had been called on to explain, was, whether the test to be applied, and on which their decision was to be founded, was that of nomination or of population? Aye or no. To that question, as put by the hon. and learned member for St. Mawes, no answer had been returned. If certain hon. Members, who usually acted with the Government, laid down a principle at variance with that propounded by the framers of the Bill—as had been done—how, he asked, were the Committee to proceed? Members of the Government, it was true, aided by an unlistening and pledged majority—members of the Government, he repeated, aided by an unlistening and pledged majority— might, with safe and silent scorn, hear the arguments of their opponents. But the time would assuredly come when the reasoning people of this country would ask— "Were not those arguments worthy of being answered?" Was the speech of the hon. and learned member for St. Mawes so inconclusive—so feeble—so full of fallacies, that there was no necessity to vouchsafe any answer to it, except that of the right hon. member for Windsor, which was, in fact, the only answer it had received on the part of Government. Let then the country know, that the members of his Majesty's Government were either unable or unwilling to combat the argu- 1296 ments adduced in opposition to their measure—let, then, the country know, that they were unable or unwilling to argue a proposition of law and of morality—but that, with silent scorn, they were ready, without reasoning, to carry every thing they chose by a majority. If Members on that (the. Opposition) side of the House, had not relieved them from some of the inconsistencies, follies, and incongruities, with which the Bill abounded, he had no doubt that it would have been sent by acclamation to the other House, a specimen of attempted legislation, such as had never before been seen. He again asked, did the principle of the Bill proceed on nomination or population—and farther, whether population was to be received as evidence of nomination? No man knew better than his hon. and learned friend opposite, the difference between evidence and conclusive evidence, and he would demand of him, whether evidence of population, implying nomination, was to be considered as conclusive evidence? He (Mr. Knight) represented one of the boroughs included in schedule A, and he would contend that it was not a nomination borough. He stood there to deny the assumption. He represented as respectable a constituency as any that would be created, or that could be created under the new system. He was elected by 190 constituents, members of almost every class and station in the commons of this country; gentlemen of fortune, Yeomen holding considerable tracts of land, surveyors, mechanics, and artisans, undoubtedly, but all of them individuals holding independent situations in life. By those individuals he was elected, because he professed principles in opposition to this measure, and he was perfectly convinced that no power on the face of the earth could compel those individuals to act against the principles which he maintained. That borough—the borough of Bishop's Castle— had been the scene of the most determined election contests. A double return was made for it some years ago, and he believed the contests there were carried on as warmly as they were in any other part of the kingdom. He said, that 190 persons had voted for him; but that was not the whole constituency, there were 200 more. The constituency of that borough amounted at least to 390 persons. The borough he represented,' as was shown in the returns of the assessments, went 1297 on increasing year after year in its contributions to the revenue, and contribution to the revenue had something to do with Representation, upon the principle that taxation and Representation were reciprocal. Therefore this paper of returns shewed glaring inconsistencies in the Bill. But there was something more. Harwich was not in schedule A or B, and it returned two Members; and Helston was in schedule B, yet their assessments were as nearly alike as possible. Petersfield was in schedule A, and Malmesbury in schedule B; the contribution to the assessed taxes made by Petersfield was in proportion, about one-third, more than that of Malmesbury; yet Petersfield was totally disfranchised, and Malmesbury was to have one Member, although the contribution to the assessed taxes of the former, bore so large a proportion to that of the latter. These instances afforded the strongest illustration of the remark of the right hon. member for Tarn worth, and he pressed upon his Majesty's Ministers the necessity of informing the House, before they proceeded to this judicial decision; and he begged to ask the noble Lord what was the principle of the measure, was it population or nomination?
Lord John Russell
had no difficulty whatever in answering the question of the hon. and learned Gentleman; but he did feel a difficulty in being called on to give the answer so many times. That answer he had declared at the very commencement of their going into Committee. The test they took was population. Whenever the population, according to the census of 1821, amounted to 2,000, the borough was allowed to retain one Member; but though this was their test, the object of the test was, to destroy nomination in every one of these boroughs. That object they proposed to effect by the two clauses now before the House. There were two exceptions to the rule he had laid down—one of these was to be found in the borough of Downton, the other in that of St. Germain's. He would state, when those boroughs came under the consideration of the House, why they were to be made exceptions. He did not know why the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite charged them with caprice in the test they had adopted, or in the mode of their applying it. The returns on which they founded their proceedings were at first those that 1298 were found in the office of the Secretary of State for the Home Department. They had afterwards endeavoured, on the suggestion of the right hon. Baronet opposite, to correct the errors of these returns, and if they had not corrected them thoroughly, it was not because they were disposed to favour certain individuals, in preference to others, from the belief that those individuals were favourable to the Government; yet such was the imputation thrown on them by the hon. Gentlemen opposite. They ought, perhaps, to bear with these imputations, as the almost necessary consequence of undertaking the labours of an official life. He had not, however, been long enough in office, and he had not been sufficiently brought up to office, to accustom himself to hear with indifference those remarks, which he could not but think somewhat tended to affect the personal honour of those against whom they were directed; and who were thus accused of attempting to carry through a grand measure by the most petty means. They were accused of not answering the speeches of those who opposed them; and particularly of not having answered the able speech of the hon. and learned Member opposite. He acknowledged that he thought that speech was able; but he must say, at the same time, that it had received a most able and complete answer in the speech of his right hon. friend, the member for Windsor. But it was also asserted, that they were generally incapable of answering their opponents, either on points of law or morality. He did not know, till this moment, that the law said it was lawful for Peers of the Realm to nominate Members for boroughs. Then with respect to the morality. Some of these boroughs boasted of their independence. He knew nothing of Bishop's Castle. They spoke of the usual "avenues" by which the Representatives of the East and West-Indian interests found their way into that House. That gentle and delicate phraseology meant, that a certain number of electors would receive twenty guineas each, and then go up to the hustings, and take an oath, before their God, that they had received no promise or gratuity whatever for their votes; and that was what the hon. Gentleman opposite was pleased to call morality. He said again, that if they had not given an answer before, it was not because they were unable to do so. He did not think that they were confuted 1299 upon either the law or the morality of the question. The present system was contrary to both—contrary to every known rule of law and contrary to every known rule of morality.
§ Mr. Cutlar Ferguson
said, that observations had been made about individuals pledged to vote upon this Bill. He was not on of those who were pledged, and as he had been alluded to, he must say, that he was as independent as any Member in that House. He was not before aware that Bishop's Castle was an independent borough. He asked the hon. member for that borough, whether he was independent enough, if he should change his opinion in the course of the discussion, to change his vote also; Of whether, if he did so; he would not receive an intimation from a certain noble Peer, that, as this was the first, so it should be the last time he sat for that borough? He denied, that nominee Members of that House ever could be independent. He had looked at the papers exhibiting the state of the constituency of England, and he found, that by the present system eight houses returned no less than twelve Members. It was that system which this Bill went to cut up by the roots; Whenever such a system was in existence; he should wish it to be destroyed; and if any hon. Member would prove that any other borough besides those included in Schedule A ought to be included in it, he would give that Member his support in a motion to disfranchise such a borough.
, in answer to the question just put, declared, that his seat did not depend on his vote on this or any other question. Whatever might be the case with other Members', he wished to state, that he never would have accepted a seat on such terms. He was as free and as unpledged as any Member for the greatest county in England, and he believed freer too, If he should take on this, or any other question, a line of conduct different from his constituents—not different from any one particular person among them— he might, from a feeling of delicacy, resign his seat, but from no other motive.
An Hon. Member
begged to ask, what the hon. Member meant, then, by saying that no person could be returned for the borough if their political opinions were different from his. If this was not tantamount to a pledge, he did not know what was.
§ Mr. Hunt
observed, that the noble Lord opposite (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had threatened another appeal to the people. He had asked, in allusion to what passed the other night, What the people would think of it. Now the noble Lord had appealed once to the people, and that appeal had been answered, not by the people, but by the Press. The people had not answered the appeal, except that portion of them which had been misled by the gross falsehoods of the public Press—the gross and scandalous misrepresentations of the public Press. He knew what he was courting—but he feared not the beastly Press. He did not mean to accuse the gentlemen who were in the habit of giving reports of what passed in that House, but he accused their employers of forging falsehoods and misrepresentations. He did not mean to say that they were in the pay of Government, but he did mean to say, that they were in some way or other bribed by his Majesty's Ministers. There were such things as Government advertisements to be given away. That Press, the leading Journal of which had been up to its very neck in support of the Administration of the Duke of Wellington—-that corrupt and knavish Press, the leading Journal of which was now up to the neck in support of the present Government, had gone far beyond the Ministry in its support of the present measure of Reform. The people would think much of what took place that night, if it should ever reach them, or if the Press would give it, for, instead of discussion, there had been going forward nothing but personal attacks, which had nothing to do with the question before the House. After this Bill should have passed, the people would find that a large portion of the present system was still to be retained. Indeed, the moment they came to reflect, they would not be quite so mad for this Bill as they had been. He had formerly said, that he acquitted Government of having had any share in the delusion practised on the people; but he had a little thing in his hand which would prove that they had operated a little in creating this delusion. It was a medal struck at Birmingham, intended to be in commemoration of the passing of the Reform Bill. It had been got up by a gentleman at Bath, and one struck in gold had been sent to the King. One had also been sent to three of his Majesty's Ministers—one at 1301 least to each. One had been sent to Earl Grey, one to the Lord Chancellor. [" Question."] What he was stating related wholly to the question. On one side was engraved "The Patriots, William the Fourth, Earl Grey, Lord Brougham, Lord John Russell, and the People," and then followed the motto "Salus populi suprema, lex." On the other side the word "Reform" was in the centre, and radiating from it, at different points, were the words "Representation of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales—Reform in the Church—Reform in the Tithe-laws—in the Aristocracy—in the Boroughmongers—in the PublicExpenditure—in Corporations—in the Army and Navy—in the Corn-laws—in Slavery—in Immorality—in Sinecures—in Bank and East-India Charters—in the Colonies— and in the Currency." The motto was "The rights of the people, commerce, trade, cheap bread, and happiness." He understood that Ministers had given a very gracious answer to the gentleman who designed this, in which they thanked him for his patriotism. Now he begged to ask the noble Lord (for he saw there were many things on the medal which they had no intention to reform) whether he intended proposing any reform in the Corn-laws? It might be a very unpleasant question to many hon. Members, but he knew, that it was a very important one; and the people—the starving people of England—wouldthink so too. He supposed hon. Members did not like ah adjournment. If hon. Members would not hear him, he would move an adjournment; and he could tell them, that he had those around him who had promised him that they would always second such a motion, whenever he might make it. If they wished for the names, they had only to continue the interruption; in which case he would move the adjournment, and they would then see who the persons were. A gallant Colonel had predicted in the late Parliament, that he (Mr. Hunt) would never be returned to that House again; but be was mistaken; and he had to inform him, that he was sent thither by as numerous and as respectable a constituency as that of the gallant Colonel. There would be close boroughs left after this Bill should have passed. He could refer to some of them which belonged to that (the Ministerial) side of the House; but as he did not wish to be personal, he would refer to one which belonged to the Opposition side. He would refer to 1302 Newark, which had at present 1,200 voters, but which, after this Bill passed; would have only 300, all of whom would be under the influence of the Duke of Newcastle. With respect to the borough which he represented, though it was not in either schedule A or B, yet the Bill would have the effect of throwing it into the hands of a noble family, under whose influence it had long been held in a stole of thraldom. It had now 7,000 voters, but the Bill would reduce that number to 300. It might be asked "As you disapprove of this Bill, why do you vote for it?"—to which he would answer, because it was a first step—it was an inroad upon the most accursed system which had ever been inflicted upon any country.
§ Mr. Croker
begged to remind hon. Members that, in dividing upon leaving out the word "each," the word was not objected to on account of its grammatical construction; but upon that word came the question, whether there should, or should not, be a total disfranchisement. No matter what the word was which was taken away, for any would leave the clause open, so that any boroughs might afterwards be retained or disfranchised.
§ The Committee then divided—
§ For the Amendment 193; Against it 290—Majority 97.
§ The House resumed. The Committee to sit again on the following day.