HC Deb 30 July 1831 vol 5 cc559-65
Lord Althorp

rose to move the Order of the Day for the House going into Committee upon the Reform Bill. He trusted there would be no objection to this course, seeing that there was a full attendance of Members, and considering the great importance of the measure under consideration, and the time which must necessarily be bestowed upon its completion. He meant to propose, that they should proceed to dispose of the clause then before the Committee, with the exception of the borough of Totness, for which he understood that a strong case for exemption could be made out, and that the hon. Member who was to submit it to the Committee was unable to attend that day. In the other cases he was not aware that there would be any grounds advanced likely to occupy much time, and he should propose, that they should sit until the remaining boroughs of schedule B were gone through.

Sir George Murray

rose, not with the most distant intention of saying a word in opposition to the motion of the noble Lord, or to do any thing which should prevent the House from proceeding at once to the business for which they had met according to the decision of the previous night. But he could not, as a Member of Parliament, refrain from rising in his place to express his deep regret that a solemn engagement, entered into by the two parties in the House, had been violated by the King's Minister. He was aware that no absolute decision of the House had been recorded as to the time at which they should sit, yet he knew that it had long been the undeviating practice to regard parliamentary arrangements, founded upon a general understanding amongst the Members, as a sacred and inviolable bond, equally binding upon both parties. He deeply regretted, therefore, that an arrangement of that nature had been made to give way for the convenience of any persons, and still more that it should have been broken under circumstances which placed the minority of the House under a great disadvantage, many Gentlemen having made engagements to leave town on Saturday morning on the strength of the pledge which they had received. Expressing again how deeply it grieved him that such a circumstance should have taken place, calculated as he believed it must be, to lessen the confidence hitherto reposed in the declarations of public men, he should content himself with entering his deliberate and solemn protest against what he conceived to be an unprecedented and lamentable violation of a parliamentary arrangement. He trusted, that his view of the subject, with regard to not allowing this provocation, deep as it was, to influence his conduct in respect to the important measure now under discussion, would be generally entertained by those with whom he acted, and that they would not allow it, however strong they might think the justification, to induce them to resort to means for delaying the progress of that measure beyond what its full and deliberate examination required. In making this recommendation, however, he did it upon the condition that every fair objection and argument should receive its just hearing and consideration. As to the general charges of delay, and the allusions to the anxiety of the people for more haste, they would not move nor influence him to depart from the course which his sense of duty had imposed upon him. With no other interests in view than those of the people, he considered, that when he was doing his utmost to prevent precipitancy with a measure of this nature he was best protecting the true interests of the people and the country at large. With these observations he should sit down, and he trusted that they should proceed to the business for which they had met without any recurrence to feelings which had been very highly excited, but which had, he thought, been most wisely allayed, and which, he hoped, would not again be roused into activity.

Sir F. Burdett

entirely coincided in the feeling that had been expressed by the right hon. Baronet, and was delighted with the candid and gentle tone in which that feeling had been expressed; he, therefore, hoped that it would be met by a corresponding sentiment on the other side, and that the real purport of their meeting would be immediately proceeded with. He begged at the same time to remark, that he knew of no absolute agreement previously existing that was contrary to the spirit of their meeting that day; and he should be sorry if he had, by his vote of the previous night, broken through any such agreement.

Sir Charles Wetherell

said, that, there never was a more decided parliamentary engagement made in that House than that which was entered into by the Ministers, that the Bill should be in Committee four days in the week, from five o'clock till one o'clock. While hon. Members on his (the Opposition) side of the House were not aware of the intention, on the part of his Majesty's Government, to press the sitting of the House to-day, hon. Gentlemen on the other side were early apprised of the fact, and prepared to muster accordingly. A circular was sent round by Ministers in these words—"Your attendance is particularly requested at the House on Saturday, at a quarter before twelve." There was a general understanding that the Reform Bill was not to be proceeded with on Saturdays, yet Ministers now altogether departed from that understanding.

Lord Althorp

said, that he had never entertained the least idea that the arrangement made had precluded them from meeting on Saturday, if peculiar circumstances should arise which would render it necessary or desirable.

Mr. Attwood

said, that if unjustifiable, unworthy, and unparliamentary motives, had not been attributed to the Opposition side of the House, the other side would never have had to complain of asperity of tone. His Majesty's Government had urged on the attention of persons on the other side, the propriety of proceeding this day. He admitted the general fairness of the noble Lord, but he contended that the Administration had unfairly taken means to collect all its force on that occasion. The noble Lord had alluded, in his first speech, to the full attendance of Members. It was true that there was a great attendance on one side—and that was not to be wondered at when it was known what urgent means had been taken to ensure that attendance ["no, no," from the Treasury benches.] Gentlemen might shout "No, no," but he had a very good reply to their contradiction in his hand. He repeated, that the most urgent means had been taken to ensure the attendance of the partisans of the Bill on that day, before the noble Lord had announced to the House his intention of violating his engagement, and calling upon it to sit on Saturday [no, no]. If it was not so, it was most surprising to him that he should possess a note, in the usual form of the noble Lord's circular, dated on Friday; it was headed Reform, was dated July 29th, and stated, that the attendance of the friends of the measure was most earnestly requested before twelve o'clock on Saturday. That note, he asserted, proceeded from those parties who had detained the House with the most frivolous debate on Friday, for four hours—a debate that arose out of the fact, that his Majesty's Ministers chose to dine in the City on Monday. That note called upon the Members to come to the House at a quarter before twelve, because the House was then to proceed immediately into a Committee. He would not then enter upon the question as to whether the arrangement was a proper one or not. It had been proposed by the Government, and acceded to by the House, and it ought to have been regarded as binding, and honestly adhered to. Such, however, had not been the case, for the arrangement had not only been violated by the noble Lord, but a most unfair and unjust advantage had been taken of the opponents of the Bill.

Lord Althorp

said, the hon. Member who had just sat down had stated, that circulars had been sent out from the Treasury before any notice had been given to the House of the intention of meeting today. That was an error. The usual circulars only had been sent out, and they had not been sent out until last night, after he had given notice in the House of the meeting to-day. And what was more, he did not believe, that the notes from the Treasury had been received by many Gentlemen until this morning. Undoubtedly, the supporters of the measure were prepared for opposition, but he would ask the hon. Gentlemen opposite, if there had not been a meeting of the opponents of the measure? He found no fault with the holding of such a meeting. It was perfectly fair, and he thought desirable. Such meetings prevented misunderstandings, and it would be well if on all occasions those who composed a party would make regular arrangements as to the course they should take. With regard to the engagements which it was said he had broken, he had this to observe:—In the first instance he had made a proposition, that the Committee on the Reform Bill should take precedence of all other public business, petitions and all, on the days for which it was fixed, and that Saturday should be taken as a day for receiving petitions. This arrangement, however, was objected to, and it was withdrawn upon the understanding that the debate on the Reform Bill should commence at five o'clock, and be continued till one o'clock. But in making that arrangement, he did not tie himself down to discussing the Reform Bill four days in the week. He had certainly been asked if the Government could go on without the Supplies, and upon that he had stated, that Mondays were to be set aside for the consideration of the question of Supply, and that he proposed to take the Reform Bill on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. In giving that answer, however, and in making the arrangement, he had not limited himself, he repeated, to taking the Reform Bill only four days in the week, for when the Supplies were got through, he should be sorry not to take five days for that measure. There was then a full attendance of Members upon both sides of the House, and he did not see any reason why the Bill should not at once be proceeded with.

Mr. Attwood

said, the note to which the noble Lord alluded con Id not be the note which he (Mr. Attwood) had read, as it mentioned the meeting of the House a quarter before twelve. The time of meeting today had been fixed much later, therefore the note which he had read must have gone before the noble Lord's announcement to the House.

Lord Althorp

said, the House would recollect, that his first proposition was, that they should meet at twelve o'clock. It was after that, and before the final arrangement was concluded, that the notes were sent.

Mr. C. W. Wynn

had opposed the first proposition which had been made on the subject by the noble Lord, on the ground that it would occasion great inconvenience and delay. The noble Lord had consented to withdraw it, on the clear understanding that four days in a week were to be devoted to the Reform Bill. He (Mr. Wynn) had proposed that the House should meet on Saturdays to discuss the Reform Bill, but that arrangement had been objected to by the noble Lord, on the ground that many Members were in the habit of going out of town early on Saturday morning. He did not say the noble Lord was bound by any positive engagement, but the noble Lord was at least a party to a truce, and before a truce terminated, it was always usual and necessary, in fairness, to give due notice. The very moment the noble Lord had made up his mind to put an end to the truce, the noble Lord should have made his opponents acquainted with that fact. He really believed, that the present proceeding was not owing to the wishes of the noble Lord, but that he had, as the noble Lord himself threw out last night, been compelled to adopt it by some of his professed supporters. That the intention of meeting today was known to some particular Members before the House met yesterday was clear, for an hon. Member, a supporter of the Bill, who formed part of the Coleraine Election Committee, had stated in his place, that it had been arranged, in consequence of the intended meeting of to-day, that that Committee should meet at ten, instead of eleven o'clock. From this it was clear that equal notice had not been given. He trusted that nothing of the sort would be repeated, and that justice and fairness would not again be sacrificed.

Lord Althorp

said, that the moment he had decided on meeting on Saturday, he had directed that notes should be sent to the Chairmen of all the Election Committees.

Lord Porchester

said, that the object of the meeting which had been held by the Members of the Opposition that morning, to which the noble Lord had adverted, was for the purpose of allaying irritation in the discussion.

Lord Althorp

said, he had made no complaint of the meeting. On the contrary, he had said that such combination served to give a better tone to the debate.

Mr. Perceval

confirmed the statement of his noble friend, and added, that the meeting, with one or two exceptions, were convinced of the unfairness of the conduct of his Majesty's Ministers, in assembling the House to-day, after the manner, the partial manner, in which the Ministers had made known their intentions.

Mr. George Dawson

admitted he was at the meeting alluded to by the noble Lord, but he did not feel himself called upon to account to the Ministerial side of the House for whatever course he might think proper to pursue in opposition to this Bill, seeing that his Majesty's Government were determined to carry it per fas et nefas. He wished to ask the noble Lord, if he was resolved to go on with this question on Saturdays, without giving any previous notice to the House? If so, he must protest against any such proceeding. Saturday was not a day which ought to be appropriated to the Reform Bill.

Lord Althorp

could give no pledge upon the subject. He hoped, however, that after the disfranchising parts of the Bill were gone through, and they came to the more agreeable task of enfranchisement, it might not be necessary to sit on Saturdays; but again he must say, that he could give no distinct pledge.

Order of the Day read, and question put that the Speaker leave the Chair.

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