Lord John Russell
moved, that that portion of his Majesty's Speech which related to the question of Reform in Parliament should be read.
The Clerk then read the following sentence from the Speech:—Having had recourse to that measure, for the purpose of ascertaining the sense of my people on the expediency of a Reform in the Representation, I have now to recommend that important question to your earliest and most attentive consideration, confident, that in any measures which you may prepare for its adjustment, you will carefully adhere to the acknowledged principles of the Constitution, by which the prerogatives of the Crown, the authority of both Houses of Parliament, and the rights and liberties of the people, are equally secured.
Lord John Russell
I rise, Sir, for the purpose of moving, in the name of the Government, a measure which, in their opinion, is calculated to maintain unimpaired the prerogatives of the Crown, the authority of both Houses of Parliament, and the rights and liberties of the people of this kingdom. Sir, in rising to make this motion, I cannot but ask, recollecting what took place on this subject in the late Session of Parliament, that I may have the benefit of a patient attention during the explanation I shall endeavour to give of the general principles of the measure which 323 his Majesty's Ministers have thought it expedient to propose. I trust, that on this occasion Gentlemen will so far favour me as not to repeat the cheers and gestures with which they thought that this measure was at once to be driven out of the House, and scouted by the ridicule of the great party | that was here congregated and banded together against it. Whatever may be its reception, I feel strongly this, that his Majesty's Ministers have neither yielded nor a bated their endeavours in consequence of the opposition they have encountered; that neither the taunts nor the jeers with which the first proposition was met, in no measured manner, nor the libels with which the measure itself was disfigured, nor the fair and able opposition which was made to it in this House by men of weight and talent, nor those more dangerous weapons, unwarranted and slanderous as they were, which imputed to the Sovereign of these realms a will different from that of his constitutional advisers—I say, Sir, that none of those obstacles, powerful as they were felt to be at the time, have prevented the Sovereign, or his Ministers, or the People, from pursuing that object which has been considered as dear at once to those who wish to live according to the ancient rules of the Constitution, and to all those who are sincerely attached to the rights and liberties of the people of this empire. Of the conduct of the Sovereign, or of that of his Ministers, it would not become me to speak; but I cannot proceed further without saying in a few words, how much I admire, as worthy of all praise and glory, the conduct of the people of England; and I say this without any reference to the merits of the measure itself, which, however, has successfully undergone the great test of national approbation. If this measure was of that character which it has been untruly represented to be, the praise and glory due to the people of England would still be the same; for in the sacrifices made and the devotedness shown, by the humbler classes of the community in the pursuit of what they thought their duty to their country, they have set an example of which England may well be proud to the latest generations. It has been said, that the late elections were not governed by reason but by passion—that they were conducted under the influence of passion, I do not deny, but it was that noble passion the love of country, and under its influence, the whole population of this em- 324 pire has exhibited an animation and enthusiasm which led them to forget all their own petty interests wherever the public good was concerned. Nothing but a passion of this kind could have persuaded men, with only the income of a few shillings a day, to resist all the bribes that temptation offered to their acceptance—to give up, after all that was insinuated upon the subject, the possession of a privilege which they had enjoyed, and which they were told their children ought to enjoy after them—a valuable privilege too—for the sake of what? for the sake of a measure which was not for their benefit, but for the future benefit and welfare of millions of the inhabitants of this kingdom. This must have been a lesson to those who despise the people and who never speak but with disparagement and contempt of the lower classes; it is a lesson which I should have thought would have operated sooner and more powerfully than it has done, and would have taught such men not to speak of any classes of his Majesty's subjects in a manner from which the heart of his Majesty himself would recoil; for, whatever may be the situation of any man, be his gains what they may, if he is pursuing a course of honest industry, if he acts independently and conscientiously, even though he be mistaken, is he not as much worthy of respect as the proudest or the most opulent of those who justify by their conscientious opinion their opposition to the measure I have now the honour to bring before you. I shall now proceed to speak of the measure itself. The features and details of that measure I shall not think it necessary to enter this day particularly into, because they are the same as those of the Bill that was before the House during the late Parliament; and as the slight improvements which have been made are solely intended to carry into effect the principles of that Bill, I think it will be quite sufficient if I leave the consideration of all the details of the measure till the period when this House shall have sanctioned the Bill by a first and second reading, and shall be about to consider it in a Committee. But although I do not feel it necessary now to explain those particulars of the Bill, yet I do think, that when this House, having been called together for the purpose, of considering this great question—a question affecting deeply and entirely the constitution of the House itself—I do think, I 325 say, that it will be respectful to the House that I should perform the duty of endeavouring to lay before it, in some manner, a statement of what the principle of Representation has been, what it is under the present existing state of the law, and what it will be, generally and largely speaking, under the provisions of the measure which we now propose. If we go back to the origin of Representation, we shall find, without entering into the circumstances of Europe, which at that time were the cause of many changes, that the towns and cities of Europe grew into importance, that in some countries—as, for instance, in France and Spain—Representative Assemblies were formed: while in others—as in Germany and in Italy—many towns enjoyed an independent Constitution of their own. With respect to our own country, there was no regular or defined Representation of certain cities and boroughs in this House; but the Sheriffs received writs, directing them to send two citizens from every city, and two burgesses from every borough, within their bailiwick, and they interpreted these commands as they found the cities and boroughs were capable of bearing the expense of sending Members to Parliament, or of contributing to the revenue of the Kingdom. I hold in my hand the statement of several instances in which the returns varied from each other at different times on the account I have mentioned. In the reign of Henry 6th, York and Scarborough sent Members, and the Sheriff returned that there were "not any more cities or boroughs than these in Yorkshire," from whence Members could be sent to Parliament. In the same-reign, the same thing occurred with respect to Cornwall. The Sheriff returned Members from Launceston, Liskeard, Bodmin, Lostwithiel, Truro, and Helston, and then added to the return the words "there are no other cities or boroughs within my bailiwick" that could send Members. In Lancashire the case was still more remarkable. In the 19th of Edward 2nd, Lancaster was the only borough capable of returning Members. In the 1st Edward 3rd, Lancaster and Preston sent Members: in a later period of the same reign, Lancaster again was the only borough that sent a Member; and in the 34th year of Edward 3rd, the Duke of Lancaster, to whom the writs were directed, returned, that Lancaster was the only borough which in time past ap- 326 peared to have sent Members to Parliament. In the 38th year of that reign, a similar return was made, and the ground assigned was the poverty of the boroughs, the words being "propter debilitatem seu paupertatem." That was the manner, Sir, in which, for about 250 years, this House was constituted. Between 120 and 130 boroughs seem pretty constantly to have returned Members; thirty returned them from time to time only, and the Sheriff, in the manner I have described, took upon himself to enforce or dispense with their attendance. So that during this first period there was nothing more irregular or less settled than the right of boroughs to send Members to Parliament. The second period to which I shall refer, extends from the reign of Henry 6th, to that of the Tudors. During that period this House grew into importance and authority. It was then thought politic and useful, for the advantage of the Royal authority, that there should be summoned Members from a great number of other boroughs; and Members were accordingly summoned from places which had regularly sent them in former reigns, and from others that had since been discontinued. In looking over this list, Sir, it seems that the great proportion of the boroughs summoned within this period had not become large boroughs in the course of time, but, on the contrary, many of the small boroughs in Cornwall were called upon to send burgesses to Parliament for the first time in the reigns of the Tudors. Some of these returns prove, that of the fifty-five boroughs which we now propose to disfranchise, by inserting them in Schedule A of the Bill, no less than forty-five were created or restored during the reigns of the Tudors. I do not pretend to argue, Sir, that they are more in our power, for the purpose of disfranchisement, because they are more or less ancient; but I mention it as a remarkable fact, that the power of sending Members was given to these boroughs by the Tudors, apparently rather with the intention and object that the men sent should depend upon the Crown, than with any view of enlarging and improving the Representation of the country. During the whole of the time I have mentioned, the power of the King to summon Members was as unquestioned as it had been in former times. Especially deserving mention, as a proof of this fact, is the instance of the borough of East Looe, respecting which 327 the entry in the Journals is, that "the charter is not to be questioned in this place, but only that the persons returned shall prove whether they are burgesses of East Looe, and that they have been sent hither in obedience to her Majesty's command." So that, from the reign of Henry 6th, to the end of the reigns of the Tudors, the greatest irregularity existed in the return of Members to this House, its constitution was unsettled, and the power of the Crown enabled it to send Members hither at its pleasure. I mention this, as I wish to argue this question on this principle, that the Constitution of this House, intead of being a settled, perpetual, and invariable constitution—one which, as we were told, had never changed, and respecting which it was imputed to us as a great fault, that we, for the first time, with unhallowed hands, have ventured to violate its sanctity—a Constitution that never was, for any fifty consecutive years during a long period of time, settled and stationary, and that the Crown, which was the power that at that time possessed most influence, was able to effect changes as circumstances might require them. If the Representation of this House was not, as I have shown, settled in the time of the Tudors, it will not surely be maintained, that during the Civil Wars under the Stuarts, those wars which have been called by a foreign writer "a Revolution of fifty years," it will not surely be maintained, that in the midst of these changes it became settled. During that period of commotion, those precedents occurred which are mentioned with abhorrence—those changes effected by Cromwell — changes which, though referred to with horror by the anti-Reformers of this day, did not so affect the mind of Lord Clarendon, who, although a man not fond of revolutions, but rather an admirer of monarchical power and hereditary government, did yet think proper to say, that these alterations were fit to be made "with more warrantable authority, and in better times." In proposing changes now, we are not altogether liable to the blame thrown upon Cromwell for making them, but we may take Clarendon for our guide, and say that these changes are now proposed "with more warrant of authority, and in better times." And that we are authorised by his doctrine and opinion in making an attempt to effect those changes in the Representation, 328 changes which will make it more consonant with the present state and condition of the people. During the reign of Charles 2nd, whatever may have been the state of the Representation before that time, we are justified in saying, that then it was not what it is now; for, on a memorable question—namely, the Exclusion Bill—there was a difference of opinion between the Houses of Lords and Commons. The Commons generally were in favour of the measure, which, however, was rejected by a majority of two to one in the House of Lords. The King, in consequence of this, had recourse to the exertion of his Royal prerogative, in dissolving the Parliament. Had such a thing occurred in more recent times, we all know, however much the people might agree with their Representatives, notwithstanding the majority in the Peers, that 150 or 200 new Members would, upon the new election, have found their way into this House to vote against the sense of the people. It was not so then. One Minister was retained a Secretary of State; and when he proposed an Amendment to the Exclusion Bill, he could not find one Member to second him. That is a proof that the House of Commons of this day is not constituted as the House of Commons of that day was; for although we have the same name we have not the same influence, or the same degree of popular control which existed in the House on that day. I now come, Sir, to the glorious period of the Revolution, from which many Gentlemen date the Constitution itself—deeming that the time of political memory should extend back no further. What took place then? The first declaration made by the Parliament of that day was, that elections should be free; and one of the first Acts of the second Session of William 3rd, was the enactment of a law, that the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports should have no right to nominate two Barons for the same, as he unjustly and unlawfully had assumed to do. In the course of years that followed the Revolution, there never was any time at which this House did not declare and enact that the election of Members to serve in this House ought to be in the people of the country, and ought to be free. I will now read the preamble of the Act of the 8th George 2nd, which is framed in the same spirit:—"Whereas, by the ancient Common Law of this land, 329 all elections ought to be free: and whereas by an Act passed in the third year of the reign of King Edward 1st, of famous memory"—on a former occasion it was thought pedantry in me to quote a statute of Edward 1st, but I see that the legislature of George 2nd did not disdain that pedantry—"it is commanded, upon great forfeiture, that no man, by force of arms, nor by malice or menacing, shall disturb any to make free elections; forasmuch as the freedom of elections of Members to serve in Parliament is of the utmost consequence to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the kingdom." I have no hesitation in saying, that I think the elections ought to be free from force; and that when Parliament spoke of free elections, they did not mean elections by a gentleman's gardener, who followed the will and pleasure of his master, whether one man or another should be elected into this House. That was not their meaning; and it never can have been the meaning of those who passed this Act: but we are now told by a great authority, that such was the meaning, and a petition was presented to this House during the last Parliament, which went upon this ground, that a certain number of Members of this House ought to be nominated by individuals, and a certain number of others ought to sit here by virtue of 1,000l. or 1,200l. a year paid by them to a person on whose authority they are returned as Members. A right hon. friend of mine, the Judge Advocate, argued with great force and ability on this circumstance, that be the constitution of this House as excellent as it might, it would be impossible to persuade the people of this country to think it right, so long as they saw it carried into practice in a manner that was a defiance of all the laws and statutes now existing upon the subject. That argument it is impossible to controvert. If you mean to say it is right, that a certain number of men should sit in this House as mere nominees, and that others should sit here by virtue of the money which they have paid for this purpose, then, I ask, with what object have all the laws from the Revolution to this day been passed for securing free elections, and to what end have been enacted those which, with the same professed object, have directed punishments and penalties for bribery and corruption? Either one or the other must be wrong. I may be told, that 330 the people are wrong, and that we ought to teach them to be contented; but how is it possible they should be wrong, or that we should teach them to think otherwise, when Parliament declares, on the one hand, that it will maintain these laws, and this constitution of the House by free election of the people, and when it admits, on the other hand, Members into this House, in direct defiance of those very laws, and when, at the same time, the opponents of Reform say, they will not alter the practice, nor change the law, requiring the people to be contented under the contradiction, so that the more absurd the violence done to the understanding of the people, and the more dark and hidden the mystery with regard to the practice, the more worthy the matter is described to be of the admiration of the people. The hon. member for Oxford may think that this is quite right, but I can tell him that Parliament can no longer govern the country by the use of such contradictions. Neither do we intend to have recourse to them; on the contrary, we intend to appeal, our own Administration, to the plain sense of the people, and to ask for their obedience on grounds which are clear and intelligible. During the period when, as [have said, there has been a desire to maintain in force all the statutes and declarations providing for the perfect freedom of elections, that has taken place which is liable to take place under every constitution—the introduction of abuses the most fatal to that free choice which the laws and constitution of Parliament recommend. If I understand anything of the history of our Representation, I may assert, that a little more than a century ago, although there were elections in corporate towns by small numbers of individuals, yet, generally speaking, those small numbers did represent fairly enough the feelings and opinions of the towns from which the burgesses were to be sent. But as it was discovered, in the course of time, that it was a very valuable property to have an influence in the election of Members of Parliament, men who wished to establish a power of this kind, by means of their extensive possessions contrived so to pervert the letter and spirit of our institutions, that elections by a few persons, whether corporators or freeholders of the different boroughs, did become, in. fact and effect, elections made solely by individuals. I have looked, at the work, 331 the excellent work, of Browne Willis upon this subject; and the first instance I shall quote will certainly not be thought an unfair one—that of the borough of Tavistock. In that borough, according to the work I have named, in 1716 there were 110 persons who polled at elections. Looking at the returns from thence, it appears that the family to which I belong very often returned a Member, and the other Member seems usually to have been a gentleman of the county. At some period, I really cannot tell exactly when, the Duke of Bedford, having great property in the neighbourhood, bought up the freeholds, and in time the constituency was so diminished, that the electors varied between only twenty-seven and thirty-five. They are not persons entirely dependent; but still it will be seen, that so small a number was much more within the verge of the influence of a great proprietor than the 110 voters would be, who, a century earlier, assisted at elections. The next instance I shall notice is that of the borough of Cambridge. In 1716 there were about 200 electors at Cambridge; who seem to have been persons entirely belonging to the town, and the Representatives whom they sent to Parliament, judging from the names of Cotton and Bacon, were generally members of some of the principal families belonging to the county. Bacon is a name too familiar to every gentleman to require any remark, and the name of Cotton, particularly that of Sir Hyde Cotton, is well known to everybody acquainted with the parliamentary history of the country. I know not if the members of the University of Cambridge, in their speculations on Reform, have at all attended to what has taken place in the borough so immediately under their eyes; but I believe the fact to be, that a banker there, having considerable influence with his brother townsmen, gave the whole power of the Corporation into the hands of the Duke of Rutland, for which, it is said, the banker received a reward, to him quite satisfactory, in the possession and disposal of a considerable quantity of the patronage of Government. What is the result? The Duke of Rutland is, in fact and effect, the person who elects the representatives for the borough of Cambridge. He, therefore, sends the two Members to this House —one being a gentleman from Ireland, and the other a noble Lord of this country. I mention from whence they come, be- 332 cause it was an argument against us in the last Parliament, that we were about to break up and destroy the English Representation, and to give a preponderance to the Representatives of Ireland and Scotland. The new Members of this House will hardly believe, that we were charged with an intention to disturb the English Representation, and to rob England of her fair proportion of Members. The evident result of our measure, however, would be, and to attain that was our object, that whereas certain individuals have now got complete and absolute power over certain boroughs, and may, as they please, return gentlemen from Ireland, Scotland, or from the East or West Indies, we should restore the power of choosing Representatives to the towns of England which have been deprived of it by abuses of perhaps fifty or sixty years' standing. This might or might not be a wise plan; but to say, that it would rob England of its Members is one of the most monstrous abuses of language that was ever practised by the tongue of man. An argument of the same kind is used by an hon. Baronet (Sir John Walsh), in a pamphlet he has published, in which he says, that the effect of the Bill will be, to deprive small country gentlemen of their influence, and to give the whole of it to great landed proprietors, and to persons connected with the trade and manufactures of the places from whence Members are sent. I will venture to say, that the hon. Baronet must be entirely ignorant both of past history and of present times to make such an assertion. If he would just take the pains to look at the Returns made to Parliament in former years, he would find, that during a long course of time, various small boroughs were accustomed to send to this House small country gentlemen, and others of property, connected with the places, and that that practice has diminished, if not altogether ceased, by the changes that have more recently been introduced, and which have had the effect of returning for the greater number of these boroughs, gentlemen in nowise connected with them, they having purchased their seats from the patron of the borough. So, that whatever may be the faults of our Bill—whatever may be its errors— the last thing that can be imputed to it is, that it tends in any way to lessen the influence of country gentlemen. I will now refer to some other instances of 333 places in which the constituency has been diminished. Plymouth and Portsmouth may be mentioned, and in the last the voters have been reduced, since 1716, from 400 to fifty-nine. In short, it would be easy to point out many boroughs where, while the buildings, population, trade, manufactures, and wealth have been progressively augmented, the number of voters has been diminished. These changes, by which individuals gradually acquired the power of sending Members to represent them in this House, at length excited the attention of the country, and for nearly fifty years a debate has been carried on, with more or less animation, attracting more or less interest, upon the question, whether this House ought really to represent the people, as it professed to do, or whether nominations by individuals to seats in this House ought to be permitted as a wholesome innovation? In the course of this discussion great men have taken different sides. The part of Reform was taken by the great and vigorous mind of Lord Chatham, and by the liberal and manly understanding of Mr. Pitt. Mr. Pitt, not in his boyhood, but after he had been six years a Minister of this country, declared that he was still of opinion, that if the French Revolution were not raging, it would be desirable to make some change in the Representation, in order to provide an effectual security for the rights and liberties of the people. On the other side appeared Mr. Burke, who put his argument with that fancy and command of language for which he was remarkable; Mr. Canning, whose loss we have more recently had to deplore, and who for some time delayed that consummation which we should otherwise have attained—and I am bound to add, that at a later date Mr. Pitt himself—declared that such a change in the Representation was not fit to be adopted. I will not enter into a history of the debates; but the question has been very long under discussion, and now only is it probable that something will be done with it. I think I may fairly say, that a period of fifty years is sufficiently protracted, and that now, when his Majesty has called Parliament together to consider the matter, it is ripe for deliberation, and we may enter upon it without any imputation that we have undertaken it rashly, or that we are attempting to introduce a complete novelty in proposing the changes. But although the subject of Reform has been 334 so many years under discussion, without having made much progress in Parliament, the same cannot be said of the Representation of the two Sister Kingdoms, Scotland and Ireland. With reward to them no respect has been paid to vested rights—no such religious horror as we have seen recently evinced when we have endeavoured to obtain the return of Members according to the ancient and acknowledged principle of the Constitution. As to Scotland, let it be recollected, that it was under the advice and authority of Lord Somers, that the knights, citizens, and burgesses of that country were swept into the narrow compass of forty-five Members, about one-third of the original number. And here let me say one word on Lord Somers, because he is one of the persons whom the admirers of antiquity profess to quote and hold up as one of the great lights by which we are to be guided. Let us look at the course of the political life of Lord Somers. He began by writing a work, which he called "A just and modest Vindication of the late Parliament," a Parliament which had proposed to exclude the next heir from the Throne. His next great act was, to assist in the exclusion of one King and in the calling in of another. Afterwards he aided in invitating the House of Hanover to the Sovereignty of these Realms; and lastly came the Union with Scotland, which parcelled out and divided the Representation of that country. Whatever, therefore, may be said of Lord Somers, he cannot be quoted as unfriendly to innovation, and not prepared, when circumstances called for it, to put himself forward to make those changes he saw were necessary. It was asked on the occasion of the Scotch Union, as it is asked now—why make so great a change? I have in my hand the protest of certain Peers against that Union, containing words very similar to those we hear now employed. They protest against the Union, because the Constitution of the country is so very excellent, and, therefore, justly applauded by all our neighbours for so many ages, that they cannot conceive it prudent to change it; some of the alterations being likewise of such a nature that the inconvenience and danger of them was already but too obvious, while into other points it would be more proper and decent not to enter. This protest was subscribed Beaufort, Buckingham, and 335 Stawell. But was Lord Somers deterred because these Lords declared the state of things could not be altered but for the worse? On the contrary he has left a note of the speech in which he answered the objections. "Objection 1, That too sudden alterations are dangerous." That was one objection made to the Union, and Lord Somers's answer to it was in these terms;—" This is certainly true, unless where the most manifest danger arises from the delay itself." Let hon. Members then quote Lord Somers as their authority; I say we are following his footsteps. I assert, that there is greater danger from delaying Reform than from adopting our measure. And I call upon the House not to be influenced by any of these fears of touching the Constitution, seeing that it is a fear which has been entertained at every change, and which has been as regularly disproved within tea years after the change was made. The Constitution, which was to be utterly destroyed, on the contrary, has derived fresh force and vigour from the change deprecated by these ignorant worshippers of antiquity. Such was the case with Scotland: it was decided at once, without any very careful looking into particulars. They wished for a certain number of Members, but the Commissioners said, you shall have forty-five and no more. In this practical and sensible manner was this question of the Representation of Scotland at once settled. Let us now look at Ireland. Has the Representation of Ireland never been touched? And by whom was it touched? By some audacious Whig? By some Radical, the enemy of the Monarchy and of the House of Lords? By no means; it was parcelled out and changed, and a number of its boroughs utterly disfranchised, by the hand of Mr. Pitt, whose memory hon. Gentlemen opposite annually meet to celebrate, and whose name, strangely, indeed, they consider the token and talisman by which they are to oppose the progress of Reform. That change occurred not many years ago; but another change took place still more recently, which I quoted when I brought the present Bill before the late House of Commons. I said, at that time, that if it were a matter of right, the 40s. freeholders of Ireland had as good a right to their franchise as the owners or voters of Beeralston or Gatton, and many other places which it is the object of this measure to 336 suppress. I never heard, I must say, any answer to that observation, and the right hon. Baronet opposite said very fairly, "Make out as good a case for the destruction of these franchises as for the abolition of the Irish 40s. freeholders, and I will not refuse to support Reform." I hope I do not misrepresent his statement, and I ask, what was the ground upon which the House of Commons was called to disfranchise the 40s. freeholders? Was it not, that they were dependent upon their landlords? Was it not, that they could not exercise a free choice? Was it not, that they were driven to the poll like cattle, that they were carried there in crowds by the agents of estates, without knowing for whom they were to vote? Hence the sacred trust was most improperly left in their hands. Then I maintain that those who vote in nomination boroughs are more completely dependent on the nod and beck of the proprietors than even the Irish 40s. freeholders who were driven to the poll. But there was another reason for their disfranchisement. It was said, that even where they were not dependent, they were men so bigotted and ignorant, that they were guided and governed by their priests, and that they voted as the priests directed, because they thought it was necessary for their salvation. Therefore the position was, either that they were so dependent upon the landlord, or so controlled by the priest, that they were not in a condition to retain and exercise the franchise. I say, that in all the nomination boroughs the voters are either under the direct influence and absolute dominion of the proprietor, or they are what is called independent, which means, voting for a particular candidate on consideration of a bribe, the acceptance of which violates Acts of Parliament, and is an offence punishable in the Courts below. My position, then, is this—that all the boroughs we introduce into the Schedules afford causes of disfranchisement as strong as those which convinced Parliament in the instance of the 40s. freeholders of Ireland. I contend, that the electors do not exercise a choice, because they are either not independent or corrupt; and I call upon you to destroy their franchise, to purify their corruptions, and to restore the Constitution to its word, letter, and spirit, and to what I hope before long will be its practice. A certain number of boroughs return Members at the will of individuals 337 —nine Peers return sixty-three Members to this House. In other boroughs the elections are carried on by the most notorious and shameful bribery. In some cities and large towns the elections are open and free; in some large counties the elections are fair, but the expenses to the candidates are so heavy, that men of small fortunes are ruined by them, and none will venture to become candidates who are not possessed of most extensive resources. I beg any Gentleman to recollect the elections of the year 1826, during which every kind of bribery was openly practised, and masses of corruption were exposed. In some cases, after many days of contest, electors were brought drunk to the poll— the wildest riots occurred, and men voted for one candidate in preference to another, because one party had given him five guineas more than his rival. Numbers went to the hustings without once thinking of the qualifications of the party for whom they appeared—price was all they cared about; and surely this cannot be considered a state of Representation fit for an enlightened nation. Looking at the Constitution, it shocks me to see, that a great majority of the Members of this House may be returned by a few individuals. Looking at the cause of morality, it offends me to see, that an election is an excuse and an occasion for every species of perjury, bribery, and drunkenness. Looking at the dictates of wisdom and policy, I am shocked to see—or I should rather say, I regret to see—that large populous places, where much wealth and intelligence are congregated, have no influence in the choice of Representatives. We propose to alter his system—we propose to substitute a different system for it, altering the original form as little as possible. We propose to preserve the elections in counties and in cities, and boroughs, where they exist, on the true principle of the Constitution. According to the amendment we recommend, about 150 Members will be sent by the counties, and the larger counties being divided, each division will have as much population and more wealth than the whole county possessed a hundred years ago. I have gone through the calculation, and I find that such will be the fact; and so far from the number of inhabitants being small, so as to open the door to individual influence, the population will vary, perhaps, from 70,000 to 120,000, Next, according to 338 our scheme, about 180 Members will be sent from great cities and towns, not omitting Manchester, Leeds, or Sheffield, and giving to all the great manufacturing interests, such as the woollen and cotton, the mining districts, the coal trade, and the potteries, the opportunity of having their claims duly regarded, by giving them a due share in the Representation. Putting politics aside—I mean putting aside the immediate contests of politics—will any man deny, that it will be a great advantage to places of great wealth and trade, instead of sending deputations to my noble friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to have Members in this House capable of watching over the interests committed to their charge, and capable of guarding them from any encroachment or injury? It is true the effect will be, to displace a certain number of Members (Representatives I cannot call them), well qualified to make speeches of great amusement, and sometimes of great eloquence, but whose presence does not, in my mind, compensate for the absence of those who are immediately connected with our commerce and manufactures. In the Representation, as we propose to leave it, there will still be a class which some may think a blot on our system, but the existence I think, will add to the permanence of Parliament, and to the welfare of the people—I mean that there will be a hundred or more Members from places of three, four, five, or six thousand inhabitants, who will not perhaps immediately represent any particular interest, and who may, therefore, be better qualified to speak and inform the House on great questions of general interest to the community. If we had proceeded as some recommended, viz., to destroy the existing system, and to allow none but Members from counties, and large cities and towns, although it would have been a Representation of the landed, commercial, and manufacturing interests, something would still have been wanting to its completeness. That something I find in a number of persons not connected either with the land, commerce, or manufactures, but who are certainly well worthy to enter these walls, and able to give advice and advance opinions important to the welfare of the community. When I say, that the smaller boroughs will have an opportunity of choosing such Members, I do not, of course, mean that they will return them 339 all in the way of nomination. By fair and free means, candidates may obtain the suffrages of such constituents without any infringement of the Constitution. Such are the improvements we propose with regard to places sending Members; but in addition, there will be an immense extension of suffrage in counties and in large towns; and that extension will in part be accomplished by the admission of copyholders and leaseholders. The latter species of qualification we propose to extend further than in the original state of the Bill, from which some were omitted—I mean those who had leases for a long term of years. I propose now, that instead of fourteen years, seven years shall be sufficient to entitle leaseholders, paying.50l.a year to vote for the Members for counties. Such an alteration will establish a numerous constituency, and a very respectable constituency, for counties. With regard to towns, the suffrage will be vested in householders in dwellings of 10l. a year rent or value. This, although not, perhaps, the ancient right, I must hold to be in the spirit of our Representative system. During the last half century towns have so increased, that all householders are not to be considered in the same light as householders in the reign of James 1st. I apprehend that we are acting in the spirit of the Constitution, and of the well-known Resolution of the House of Commons in the reign of James 1st, when I say, that householders of 10l. a year will form an excellent constituency in cities and boroughs. I need not now explain that the Bill contains every provision for the registry of voters, which will tend to prevent the bribery that takes place at elections, and to check the taking of false votes, a practice known to be frequent in the heat of an election contest. The regulation for taking the poll in two days, I apprehend, will also prevent the disgraceful scenes we have so frequently witnessed, and lessen the possibility as well as the inducement to corruption. But, I think, we are bound, if possible, to go even further, and the attention of Government has been most seriously directed to those laws on our Statute-book which have for their object the prevention of bribery and treating. Although no plan is yet mature, yet I trust that, in the course of the present Session, I shall be enabled to present a bill to the House, which will make the existing laws in that 340 respect more effectual and executive. Let me, however, remark how much the measure I now propose to introduce will tend to the prevention of crimes of that description. One mode in which the due punishment of bribery and corruption under the existing law was interfered with was by that argument often put in this House, but never so strongly as by Mr. Fox, when he said, "How can you call to the Bar a wretched man, a poor labourer, earning only 10s. a week, and send him to Newgate for receiving a bribe of ten guineas, when you know that there are Members sitting in every part of this House, who have been guilty of bribery on the largest scale, by giving three or four thousand pounds for the places they occupy among us?" I trust that hereafter that forcible rejoinder, quoted as a screen for bribery and corruption, will be taken away, and that we shall find reformers of all degrees ready to prevent and punish bribery, whether in the House or out of it. I know that some persons still think that such a Reform as would correct and punish this iniquitous practice would be sufficient to satisfy the nation; and upon this point I have seen a declaration by a noble Lord, who, among others, started as a reformer in a northern county. He says, that he shall be ready to disfranchise all boroughs convicted of bribery; but let me ask, is that the only corruption that ought to be punished, or could we fairly and honestly stop short there, while we allow men to sit here who have made a traffic of seats in Parliament, or for other objects, not computable, perhaps, in pounds, shillings and pence, have made Representation a matter of barter and exchange? I come now to speak of some few, and but few, of the objections urged to this measure in the various writings that have appeared from time to time. The first of these objections, and the most general is, that it is a plan far more extensive than is necessary or proper for the occasion. It is, of course, impossible to answer an assertion of that kind to the conviction of those who make it; but I beg to remark, that those who introduced this measure were not pledged by any previous promise — they were not bound by any previous declaration with regard to the nature and degree of their plan of Reform. Neither Lord Grey, nor the Lord Chancellor, nor other members of the Cabinet who were formerly advo- 341 cates for Reform, have laid down expressly to what point they would or would not go; and I think it fair to argue, that having been bound by no promise or pledge, and the course being evidently much easier to do less than to do more, establishes to conviction that they have brought forward this measure, because they are satisfied it is necessary, in order to lay a lasting foundation on which to erect the Representation of the people, to support the prerogatives of the Crown, and to preserve the authority of both Houses of Parliament. The House may remember that I myself have been an advocate for a less extensive and less thorough Reform. I have said, on former occasions, that if one Member were taken from each of the small boroughs, it would be a Reform sufficient and satisfactory; but when I came to a consideration of this kind—attached to and belonging to a Government—I was obliged to ask myself whether, if I propounded that the plan should go no further, I could say, that the change would not only be effectual but permanent. If upon my former plan of Reform, Gatton and Sarum preserved one Member each, would not the first motion in the reformed Parliament have been to do away with the remaining Representatives of those places? Had I wished it, it would have been impossible for me to have resisted such a motion, and what then would have been the state of things? We should have proposed and propounded a measure, as a satisfactory measure of Reform, when in fact it would be only laying the ground for fresh dissension. It would be exposing the country to a discussion on the minimum or maximum of Reform, at a time, perhaps, when her affairs could ill bear such disputes; and we should have lost the opportunity, which we hoped to have embraced, of giving a measure at once which exposed us, as it may and as it has, to the risk of obloquy and opposition, but which, if carried, will give such stability and security to the system, that we may then proceed to the discussion of other great and pressing interests without fear that the people will reproach, us with not having done what was sufficient for the protection of their rights and interests, or reproach ourselves with having brought forward a scheme of Reform which could not be final, and concealing or disguising that we thought other measures must be its necessary consequence. But 342 if this Bill be not too extensive, it is found, as the next argument against it, that it is very unequal—that, after all, it leaves such places as Halifax and Bradford with fewer members than Tavistock or Knaresborough. Our opinion is, that anomalies of this kind are not grievances that excite discontent. It is the practical evil which the country has felt which calls for redress, and by remedying that practical evil we trust we shall be able to defend anomaly, and stand out against those who wish to see a complete model of symmetrical Representation. But do they who object to the inequality of our Reform, object in the hope that the plan they advocate will be equal and perfect? On the contrary, they say—"God forbid that Tavistock or Knaresborough, with 5,000 or 6,000 inhabitants, should send as many members as Halifax or Bradford;" and I ask them how they will reconcile with that mode of reasoning their determination that Gatton or Sarum, or a place with 700 or 800 inhabitants, should send as many Members to Parliament as Halifax or Bradford? So that the defenders of the Constitution have much more to answer for on the score of inequality than we have: they would preserve a system more anomalous, more irregular, and still less agreeable to the correct measure of proportion. When I speak of the defenders of the Constitution, I am supposing that they propose to adopt some kind of Reform; and adopting some kind of Reform, they at once lose the benefit of the argument of inequality. Mr. Canning's argument was, that as we found Representation an anomaly, so we should leave it. But the strong ground taken by Mr. Canning and the Duke of Wellington, is abandoned by their less skilful associates. They have adopted a Reform—they admit its necessity, and their Reform is more anomalous and irregular than ours; so that the argument against inequality is that which destroys the very system they would erect, and at once convicts them of inconsistency and absurdity. We can wish for nothing better than that they should so continue to reason; and when I heard them take that line of argument I was disposed to say with Cromwell, when he saw the Scotch army descending from the hill into the plain, "The Lord has delivered our enemies into our hands." But, besides the charge of inequality interfering with symmetrical proportion, we are charged with having 343 taken an unfair basis, and with having thus endeavoured, by undue means, to favour particular interests. Our answer is, that we took our measure from a well known statistical book, as free from error and doubt as could be expected. Our adversaries say—"What an inconsistency you are guilty of when you take population as a test of the right to enjoy the franchise, and yet make the right of voting depend upon holding a house of 10l. a year;" but I will call attention for a few moments to the consequence of adopting a different course. We thought that there was an unfairness in the returns to the Tax-office of the number of houses of 10l. a year value, and we instituted some inquiries with a view to correct those returns, by sending persons into the neighbourhood of some of the boroughs who could inform us as to the real number of houses, which, according to our plan, would entitle the holder to the right of voting. The results vary so excessively from the returns to the Tax-office, as to establish that we were justified in suspecting that they ought not to be taken as the criterion. I will mention a few. At Agmondesham, according to the Tax-office, there are only twenty-five houses of the rent of 10l. a year, yet the fact is, that there are 126 such houses. At Ashburton, the Tax-office returns gives fifty-four, when there are upwards of 227. At Christchurch, eighty, when there are certainly 300. At Grinstead, twenty-six, when there are perhaps 150. At Shaftesbury, seventy-five, when there are at least 150. At Thirsk, seventy-five, when the real number is 110. At Wilton, thirty-four, when there are 150. At Wycomb, 206, when there are 446. And at Westbury, only fourteen, when there are no less than 318. Also by the Tax-office returns, there were sixty-seven boroughs under 300, while according to the inquiries made, we find twenty-nine of these are above that number, and twenty-three of them above 200. In others the difference does not appear material, and in many places the collector values them at about two-thirds or three-fourths of the real rent. Now, in Tavistock, although, according to the tax-return, the number is 284, the real number is found to be at present no more than 277. Let me show what might be said if we had taken the Stamp-office returns as our guide. We should be told that we had adopted estimates which are well known 344 to vary according to the caprice of the tax-collectors, who have each their partial friends, with whom they make arrangements that the taxes upon those persons shall not be too heavy. It would be said that, disregarding population, which would have furnished a safe rule, and adopting those estimates which we ought to know, if we understood the task upon which we had entered, were inaccurate, and not to be relied on, we had disfranchised Tam-worth, a town having 6 or 7,000 inhabitants, and preserved Tavistock, which has no more than 2,692 inhabitants—we should be told that we had chosen those estimates, because they favoured our own partialities, although we could know nothing of their correctness. For these reasons, Sir, we have not taken so insecure a basis; which would have made us liable to such objections. It is quite clear to me, Sir, that there are two places which, according to the increase of their population, cannot be comprehended in the list on the score of population, and yet, as we cannot make up 300 voters, to leave the franchise with them would be giving the nomination to a few individuals. One of those places is Downlon—and it is but justice to Earl Radnor to say, that the noble Lord himself was the first to call our attention to the circumstances with regard to that town. Upon making the inquiry according to his suggestion, we found it to be our duty to except Downton from the rule which we had laid down, and to include it in the Schedule of disfranchisement. The other of those towns—St. Germain's—is merely a straggling village, principally inhabited by fishermen, and comes under the same exception as Down-ton. We shall, no doubt, be told that, in including those two boroughs in the list of the disfranchised, we are in some measure departing from our own rules. I grant, Sir, that in these cases we have done so. But I think it is impossible to devise any rule to which, upon investigation, some necessary exception must not be made. I believe, Sir, that I have now done with the exposition of our plan, and with the principal objections which may be brought against it. There is, indeed, one objection, Sir, and that a very comprehensive one, to which I have not yet alluded; that is, the question which may be put to us, as to what benefit we hope to confer upon the people by our plan of Reform? We may be asked, "Will you 345 relieve the distresses of the people by Reform; or will you not leave them precisely as they are?" But, Sir, I say, that such a question is totally irrelevant to the matter. Sir, it might just as well be objected to my noble friend's intentions to relieve the people by taking off the duty on coals, "Oh, what signifies your reduction? It does nothing whatever towards improving the Constitution." Any Gentleman might just as well arraign my noble friend in this way as tell me that this Bill will not improve the condition or increase the comforts of the people. Nor am I one of those who would debate the theory on which such exceptions are founded. I am not one of those, Sir, who would hold out to the people vain hopes of immediate benefit from this measure, which it could not realise. Neither am I one of those who maintain the opposite theory, such as is expressed in a well-known couplet, which I remember to have been once quoted by the late Lord Liverpool—How small, of all that human hearts endure,That part which laws or kings can cause or cure.Far am I from agreeing in the opinion which the poet has so well expressed in those lines. They are very pretty poetry, but they are not true in politics. When I look to one country as compared to another, at the different epochs of their history, I am forced to believe, that it is upon law and government, that the prosperity and morality, the power and intelligence, of every nation depend. When I compare Spain (in which the traveller is met by the stiletto in the streets, and by the carbine in the high roads) to England, in the poorest parts of which the traveller passes without fear, I think the difference is occasioned by the different governments under which the people live. At least, Sir, it cannot be denied, that the end attained by the two Governments of these respective countries, is essentially different. Is it possible, indeed, for any intelligent person to travel through countries and not trace the characters and conduct of the inhabitants to the nature of their institutions and Government? When I propose, therefore, a Reform of Parliament when I propose that the people shall send into this House real Representatives, to deliberate on their wants, and to consult for their interests— to consider their grievances, and attend to their desires—when I propose that they shall, in fact, as they hitherto have been said to do, in theory, possess the vast 346 power of holding the purse-strings of the monarch, I do it under the conviction that I am laying the foundation of the greatest improvement in the comforts and well-being of the people. Let what will be done, the laws of such an assembly will not be voted by men hurrying from the country, almost ignorant for what purpose, and arriving in this House at twelve o'clock at night, in time to give a vote upon a subject of which they have scarcely heard, and which they have never considered. In such an assembly, the Representatives of the people will consider, not with whom they are voting, but for what measure they vote. The measures of such an assembly will be deliberately weighed—and will be carefully designed to remedy the evils which may have been brought upon the country by bad laws, and to rescue it from their operation. When I am told, that the government of a country does not affect the condition of its people, I say, look to Ireland. What has caused the state of that country to be such as it now is? What, but the want of due, kind, paternal attention on the part of its government—a want of fellow-feeling in the Legislature with the great mass of the people? I say, then, that if we identify this House with the people of the three kingdoms, if we give England, Ireland, and Scotland, the right of having legitimate Representatives in Parliament, however slow may be our progress—however we may be reproached by the factious for the tardiness of our advance, in giving to the people all the rights and privileges they claim, we provide for carrying into effect the acknowledged principles of the Constitution, preserving undiminished the prerogatives of the Crown, the authority of Parliament, and the rights and liberties of the nation, guarded by the faithful Representatives of a free people and the loyal subjects of a generous King. I move, Sir, for leave to bring in a Bill to amend the Representation of England and Wales.
Sir R. Peel
said, that his sole object in rising on the present occasion was to make a few observations tending, as he thought, to promote the convenience of the House in this discussion. He trusted that his so limiting himself at present, would not prevent him from entering more fully into the subject on another occasion, on the ground that the strict forms of the House would not allow him to speak to the question twice. He thought the noble Lord wrong 347 in supposing that this Bill could be committed without a lengthened discussion, in which the sense of the House should be pronounced. The noble Lord, towards the conclusion of his speech, stated that he had answered the objections to which his Bill is liable. But he trusted, that the noble Lord would allow Gentlemen upon that side of the House to stale their objections themselves. At the same time he assured the noble Lord and the House, that he had no wish but that the measure should be fully and fairly discussed, both as to its principles and as to the manner in which it would involve the interests of this country. He was willing to have this discussion, and to take the sense of the House on the second reading of the Bill. He remembered that in the last Session leave was given to bring in the Bill without opposition; and although there was no apparent alteration made in the Bill, and he for one was prepared already to record his vote, yet he recollected that many Members of the present Parliament had not heard the former discussion upon the Bill. Nor could he but bear in mind also that the subject of Reform had been especially recommended to the careful attention of the House in the Speech from the Throne, which called on Parliament to give it an early and full deliberation. He was willing to waive all opposition to the first reading of the Bill, if that was the opinion of those around him. From the experience of the last Session he was of opinion, that a debate, on which it is understood that there shall be no division, was productive of great inconvenience, and, therefore, as there was not now to be a division, he thought it much better that there should not be a debate. If they were now to commence a discussion, it might be protracted for six or seven nights, as before without an object. Wishing the Bill, for these reasons, to be then read, and discussed on another night, he would forego even the temptation to reply which the noble Lord's sarcasms held out to him. He should allow all the sarcastic allusions of the noble Lord to pass without notice, as any reply to his speech would lead to a discussion. He wished only to request, that if he were silent respecting the Bill on that occasion, it should not be supposed that he concurred in any of the noble Lord's conclusions from his arguments, or adopted his inferences from history. He thought that one free and full discussion an the princi- 348 ple of the Bill would be sufficient previous to going into the Committee. He spoke as an individual; but he would say, that nothing should hinder him from taking the sense of the House upon the second reading. As he waived all opposition to the first reading, he hoped the noble Lord would allow a fair and sufficient interval to elapse before the second reading, so as to give hon. Gentlemen, who now first heard the principles of the Bill stated, time for full deliberation. The noble Lord had thought proper to make a speech of two hours' length; he (Sir R. Peel) did not complain of it; but he thought that it showed the subject to be one which called for grave deliberation. He, therefore, hoped the noble Lord would give the House an opportunity of complying with the recommendation of the Crown, by carefully considering the Reform upon which they should decide. He hoped, also, that before the House was called on to come to a decision upon the Bill to be read a first time that evening, they should be put in possession of the principal provisions of the Bill for reforming the Representation of Ireland. To that Bill the noble Lord, in his speech that evening, made no allusion. Although the Irish Bill was not brought in during the last Session till after the English Bill was read a second time, yet the House was made fully aware of the changes intended to be made in the Representation of that part of the kingdom. He did not mean to insist that all the details of the Bill should be minutely explained; but he at the same time, thought it essential that they should be informed of the chief points of the Irish and Scotch Bills, before they decided upon the English Bill, which was in fact but a part of one whole subject, to complete which the other Bills were necessary. The Speech of his Majesty had not particularly directed their attention to the Representation of England, but generally to that of the whole people, including of course, Ireland and Scotland. If, therefore, the House would keep the promise to which the Address now pledged it, to take the Representation of the whole people into its early and careful consideration, the English Bill could not be discussed until the House was in possession of the provisions of the Irish and Scotch Bills. He did not desire that those Bills should proceed pari passu with the English Bill; but that they should be known 349 to the House before it came to any conclusion or decision upon the latter. He concluded by expressing his hope that he had confined himself within the limits which he had prescribed at the commencement of his remarks, and by requesting the noble Lord to name a day for the second reading of the Bill, sufficiently distant to allow of full deliberation, and not too late for strict compliance with the King's recommendation, that they should give the subject their early attention.
Lord John Russell
was anxious to do what the House wished, and would therefore propose, that the Bill to be brought in should be read a second time on Thursday next. The principles of the Bill had been for a long time known to the whole country, and the hon. Gentlemen who were opposed to those principles must be as ready to maintain their opposition on Thursday next, as they could be on any day which might be named, consistently with following the recommendation to which the right hon. Baronet was so desirous the House should attend. As to the Bills for Ireland and Scotland, he did not think that it would be convenient to bring them in at present, considering the state of parliamentary business. The Bill for altering the Representation of Ireland would be submitted to the House by his right hon. friend the Secretary for Ireland, and that for Scotland by the Lord Advocate, giving due notice of their intentions; and whenever his Majesty's Ministers should see that the state of public business gave an opportunity for their introduction they would be brought in.
Sir Robert Peel
had not supposed, that he could give rise to so much difference of opinion, by proposing that which he considered an amicable arrangement. He thought that the first thing to be looked for respecting a measure making in the Constitution the important changes contemplated by his Majesty's Ministers, was a minute understanding of all its bearings. If, therefore, the majority of the House agreed with him, he should propose, firstly, that the Bill be read a second time on Monday se'n night. If they began on that day the discussion might be completed, uninterrupted by Saturday and Sunday. He would also repeat his hope that the Government, who must be themselves aware of their own intentions respecting Ireland, should not make them a secret to the House; because it was impossible 350 fully to judge of the English Bill, without knowing in what manner the Representation of Ireland and Scotland would be adjusted. He wished to assure the noble Lord, that when he made those remarks, he was prepared to enter upon the discussion without any preliminary acerbity of feeling.
§ Lord Althorp
thought, that, after all the time that had been occupied in the consideration of the same Bill in the last Parliament, the interval between that night and Thursday next would be sufficient between the first and second reading; but if the majority of the House seemed to think that it would be better to fix the second reading for Monday, the 4th of July, he should have no objection to that day. As to the Bills for Ireland and Scotland, the inconvenience which was occasioned in the last Session by the attempt to carry them through the House pori passu with the English Bill, was such as to induce the Ministers to depart from that course in the present Session. Besides, as there was no material change in the English Bill, so there was no intention to make a material change in the Bills for Ireland and Scotland. At the same time no objection would be made to explain those Bills to the House, if the right hon. Gentleman should press his proposition.
said, that with respect to the Irish Bill, with which he was more intimately acquainted, he should not have the smallest objection to lay it upon the Table of the House previously to the second reading of the English Bill. He hoped, however, it was not asking too much of the spirit of compromise (of a compromise not dishonourable, or entered into for any unworthy purpose), especially as the right hon. Baronet had threatened the House with a seven nights' discussion, if he begged that the Irish and Scotch Bills might be treated in the same manner as the English Bill. The Irish Members were treated very ill when the Irish Bill was debated. Upon the English Bill, Irish Reform was discussed, but when the Irish Bill was before the House, Members took that opportunity, not to discuss Irish Reform, but to make long speeches upon Reform in general.
Sir Robert Peel
said, that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman answered every thing he had to desire. He had only to hope that the Lord-Advocate of Scotland would likewise lay his Bill on the Table.
§ The Speaker put the question, and leave was given to bring in the Bill.