HC Deb 03 March 1831 vol 2 cc1264-73
Lord John Russell

moved for "a return of the population in each borough in England and Wales, returning Members to serve in Parliament, of which the population in the year 1821 did not exceed 2,000 souls,— of the number of electors in those boroughs who had polled at the election for those boroughs during the last thirty years, and of the number of persons in them who were rated in 1830 to the inhabited house duty above 10l/ annually."

Sir C. Wetherell

wished to know the noble Lord's object in moving for those returns? Was his motion made with reference to his Parliamentary Reform Bill?

Lord John Russell, in answer, said, that the object of his Motion was, to put the House in possession of the fullest information with respect to the actual population of the boroughs and towns which his Bill would affect.

Sir C. Wetherell

must say, that the course of proceeding adopted by the Cabinet and its Deputy was, from the beginning to the end, most extraordinary, to say the least of it. They brought forward a measure involving the very integrity of the Constitution, in which it menaced the most flagrant breach,—and contrary to all precedent, in the teeth of common sense, instead of obtaining the necessary preliminary information, first getting knowledge and then acting on it, they, it appeared, asked the House to legislate on what he might call, posthumous information. Why presume to bring in a bill without having first obtained the information necessary to its thorough elucidation?

Mr. O'Connell

begged leave to remind the hon. and learned Member, first, that the Bill was not yet brought in, and that in the next place, the information was not intended so much to satisfy the minds of the advocates of the measure, as to preclude all random assertions on the part of its opponents.

Lord Althorp

had not the least expectation that any Gentleman would make any opposition to the present motion. The returns for which his noble friend moved would give no additional information to the House, but they would supply a concise and useful abstract of that which was already upon the Table. The object of his noble friend's motion was, to facilitate the researches of hon. Members, and enable them to ascertain at a glance the population and number of voters in particular places.

Lord F. L. Gower

said, that if this information were already on the Table of the House, he could see no occasion why the noble Lord should move for its production in another shape.

Lord John Russell, in reply to the hon. and learned member for Boroughbridge, said, that if he had moved for the production of this information before he had brought in his Bill, he should have let hon. Gentlemen into the whole secret of his measure.

Mr. Calcraft

objected to the course which the noble Lord was then taking, and asserted, that it appeared to him, that the noble Lord did not know what his plan of Reform was to be twenty-four hours before he submitted it to the House of Commons.

Sir C. Wetherell

again protested against the singular conduct of the noble Paymaster, who, after his Bill was brought in, called for information to elucidate it.

Mr. Stanley

said, that the hon. and learned member for Boroughbridge, and his noble friend near him—the Achilles and Patroclus of the opposite benches, for they now fought under the same shield, and displayed the same banner—might be among the very few Members of that House who wished this question to be discussed without sufficient information, but there might be others, not quite so learned, either in law or in statistics, who might be anxious to receive the information which the noble Lord now wished to lay on the Table, in a compendious form. He was convinced, that whatever object the hon. and learned Member, and his noble ally, might, have in preventing the House from receiving the information now tendered to it, the House would feel, that the more information it received on this subject, the more able would it be to form a judgment on the merits of the Bill of his noble friend, and he would add, to see the beneficial results which must ensue to the country from carrying it into effect.

Lord Nugent

knew that considerable misapprehension had gone abroad as to the reasons why the boroughs of Calne or Tavistock, and of Knaresborough, were not among the number of boroughs to be disfranchised. The reason why they had not been disfranchised was distinctly stated on the first night of this Debate, by his noble friend near him, and last night by the hon. member for Yorkshire. The returns which were now moved for would set that misapprehension at rest for ever.

Mr. Goulburn

.—These returns, then, are moved for as an answer to the speech of my hon. and learned friend, the member for Boroughbridge. An observation caused by the speech of the noble Paymaster of the Forces is to be answered and refuted by the production of returns, which but for that observation would never have been produced. The information which these returns arc to furnish ought to have been submitted to the House before the Bill was brought in.

Lord Nugent

said, his observations had been misrepresented by the right hon. Gentleman. He assured him that the returns were not moved for on the grounds which he alleged, but for the purpose of convincing the House and the country that the changes proposed in his noble friend's Bill were founded in justice, and would be a great improvement.

Lord John Russell

said, that the motion for the production of these returns was not made to answer the observation of the hon. and learned Member as to Calne, Tavistock, and Knaresborough, but simply to place the information already on the Table of the House before the Members in a more accessible form. He begged leave to be permitted to tell the hon. member for Wareham, that, so far was he from being correct in his assertion that he did not know what his plan of Reform was to be, twenty-four hours before he introduced it, that he was acquainted with it, in all its great outlines, which remained unchanged, so early as the middle of the month of January.

Mr. Croker

did not rise to object to the Motion. On the contrary, he thought that not only this information, but much more, should be afforded to the House before it ventured to legislate on so important a question. He wished to ask the noble Lord, whether he had any objection to put in a short form upon paper, for the information of hon. Members, the details of the proposition which he had brought into the House? His reason for asking the noble Lord this question was, that he had asked the noble Lord, before he came into the House, for an explanation of one part of his speech, of which there had appeared two versions, and his Lordship, in answer to that question, had told him, that he could not say whether he had stated the matter either in one way or in the other.

Sir James Graham

said, that if the right hon. Gentleman opposite would only have the patience to wait eight-and-forty hours, he would have the details for which he then asked, in the most authentic shape, namely, in the shape of a printed bill. If the Gentlemen opposite did not oppose the introduction of the Bill, it would be printed as matter of course; and if they did oppose it, then he had no doubt that the House would put down their opposition by a large majority: and in that case, too, the Bill would be printed.

Mr. Croker

.—I appeal to the House whether that is not a very improper mode of answering my question; and I say thererefore—[cries of "Spoke."]

Lord Howick

said, the only opposition hitherto made, or which could be made, to it, was on general principles, and the returns moved for by his noble friend were intended to elucidate the details, which could not yet come under discussion.

Sir H. Hardinge

hoped, that the noble Lord would afford the House much additional information on the population of the borough towns of England, before he called upon it to give a solemn decision upon this Bill. He wished to have a return of the number of towns now unrepresented, of which the population exceeded the popu- lation of Gateshead, South Shields, North Shields, and Sunderland. He observed that six new Representatives were given to the county of Durham, in addition to the four which it returned at present. He therefore hoped to have some information respecting the grounds which existed for making these revolutionary changes. He wished to know whether there were not manufacturing towns of which the population exceeded that of the towns of Gateshead, South Shields, and Sunderland. If so, the House ought to have information on the point, for it appeared to him to be a little too much, that a small county like Durham should have six additional Members.

Mr. Sadler

was anxious that upon this, as well as upon all other questions which came before the House, the fullest information should be afforded by the production of returns. It was his opinion, that partial information was worse than none. He would therefore have the returns proposed by the noble Lord extend to those boroughs of which the population exceeded 5,000 inhabitants.

Lord John Russell

.—Those returns have been moved for already, and they are now on the Table of the House, and will be shortly printed.

Mr. W. Duncombe

wished that a return of the number of electors polled during the last thirty-years for all the cities and boroughs in the kingdom should be laid before the House.

Lord John Russell, in reply to the last speaker, said that the returns which would be before the House when his motion was granted would, with those already on the Table, comprise all the details which related to the different cities and boroughs in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Hume

was surprised at the very extraordinary turn which this discussion had taken. He would acquaint the hon. Gentlemen below him, that the usual rule was, that, if the information given by Government to explain any plan which it brought forward was not sufficient, hon. Members, who wanted further information, moved for it. From what he knew of the noble Lord opposite, and of the strength of the cause which the noble Lord had to advocate, he was quite convinced, that if the hon. member for Boroughbridge, or any other hon. Member should want further information, no objection would be made to affording it.

Sir C. Wetherell

said, that he had not objected to the production of these returns. On the contrary, he wanted more information, for he was prepared to charge Government directly with having evinced gross partiality, according to the information which it had already given.

An hon. Member, on the Opposition benches, said, that he rose to congratulate the House on one circumstance, which gave an air of novelty to this discussion —he meant the appearance of a Cabinet Minister to take part in it. He could not help thinking, that the motion for these returns, after the Bill had been brought in, emanated from the same spirit which had displayed itself in the Budget, and which laid it down as a principle, that men ought to legislate first and inquire afterwards. He contended that the noble Lord in moving for these returns now, was acting in perfect consistency with the Government of which he formed a part. He had no objection to the noble Lord's motion.

Mr. Slaney

trusted that the House and the country would mark the spirit in which this opposition was made by the hon. members for Aldborough, for Borough-bridge, and for Newark, to the production of returns calculated to elucidate the Bill of the noble Lord, which, be it observed, was not yet brought into Parliament. From the tone and temper which those hon. Members and their friends had exhibited on this occasion, the House might judge of the feelings by which they were actuated. [Loud cries of "No," from the Opposition, and cheers from the ministerial benches.] They were objecting to the production of information—to the production of intelligence—and why? Because they feared the light. He hoped that the country would watch closely the manner in which these Gentlemen might hereafter conduct their opposition to the Bill.

Mr. Croker

rose, he said, in strict explanation. He must tell the hon. Member who spoke last, that so far from opposing, he had approved the motion of the noble Lord. He had even wanted more information than the noble Lord was inclined to give. He had asked the noble Lord to give him, out of courtesy, some information as to his Bill, and to that request the noble Lord had not acceded.

Mr. Sadler

asserted, that he had never objected to the production of further information; on the contrary, it was the very thing he called for.

Mr. John Campbell

did not know why the right hon. Member for St. German's (Sir H. Hardinge) should object to the increase of Members for Durham. Each of the towns to which an additional Member was to be given, was an important town and had important interests to defend.

Sir H. Hardinge

asserted, that he had not given any opinion as to whether it would be just or unjust to give six new Members to the county of Durham. All that he wanted to see was, whether the increase added to the representation of that county was in proportion to the number of other towns and boroughs not represented.

Sir M. W. Ridley

wished to call the attention of the House to the question from which it had wandered, which was simply, whether the returns moved for by his noble friend should be laid on the Table or not. If hon. Gentlemen had looked to the votes of yesterday morning, they would have found that the returns as to the population of each city and borough in England and Scotland, now returning Members to Parliament, and of each city and borough not now returning Members, and of each county in England and Scotland, had been laid upon the Table, and been ordered to be printed. If, then hon. Gentlemen, having waited till they were printed, should find that they did not contain all the information which they wanted, they had only to move for such returns as they wanted, and Government, he had no doubt, would not refuse to grant them. He entreated the House not to continue any longer so desultory a conversation, which could not lead to any practical result, and which might be concluded at once by reference to the papers then on the Table.

Mr. Perceval

denied, that those who opposed the measure were the enemies as was said by the hon. member for Shrewsbury, of knowledge and information. That side of the House wanted information, and it was the Ministers who were acting before they possessed it. He would venture to affirm, that the more light was thrown on the measure, the more it would be scouted by all intelligent men in the country.

An hon. Member said, that he would appeal to the recollection of the House, and would ask hon. Members whether the hon. and learned member for Borough-bridge had not risen to object to the production of the information which these returns would give. What else was to be understood by his sneer at this return as a return which was to produce posthumous information? Ministers, he was sure, were ready to give the hon. Gentlemen opposite every information they might require; for they were willing that the merits of their measure should be fully understood and fairly tried by the country. It was, therefore," a little too bad that the hon. Gentleman opposite, who knew that a measure of Parliamentary Reform was in agitation, and had not asked for any information to explain the extent of our unrepresented population, previously to its being proposed to the House, should now come forward to complain that information had been refused to them for which they had never asked.

Mr. Hobhouse

could not help culling the attention of the House, to an obiter dictum of the late right hon. Secretary for Ireland, who had denounced this Bill as introducing into the Constitution revolutionary changes. Though the right hon. Gentleman might think that the Bill had a tendency to produce such changes, unless he was prepared to prove that the changes were revolutionary, he had employed a phrase which ought not to have been used against a measure which was supported by more than half the aristocracy, and the whole of the people in this empire. He thought that more cautious terms ought to have been employed by a Gentleman who enjoyed so much of the personal respect and esteem of the House, on account of his high character. Language, coming from him, produced an effect, which it would not produce coming from an ordinary person, for every one knew that the sentiments which the right hon. Gentleman expressed he also felt. He was surprised that the right hon. Gentleman should have used language which in his cooler moments he must condemn.

Sir Henry Hardinge

said, that after the personal allusion which had been made to him by the hon. member for Westminster, for his use of the term revolutionary changes, he trusted that the House would bear with him for a. few minutes. He would now deliberately repeat, that this measure, in its tendency, was most revolutionary, and he would further add, that when it suited the convenience of the House, and it pleased the House to listen to him, he should be prepared with proof to make good his assertion, that it was most revolutionary. "I say," continued the gallant Member, "that it is calculated to pull the Crown off the King's head, and I do hope that, if leave should be given to introduce this Bill, the noble Lord will, before we come to the second reading of it, introduce a clause by which the House of Lords may be passed by, in order that the Peers may not irritate the country by the rejection of it."

Sir George Warrender

objected to this measure as much as any man, but thought that all intemperate language should be avoided in opposing it. Intemperance of language would not produce in the public mind that resistance to this measure which he still hoped to sec generated against it. As to the noble Lord's Motion, it seemed to him a matter of course, and he was not prepared to oppose it.

The question was then put, when

Mr. W. Duncombe

rose to move an Amendment, when the Speaker told him, that as he had already spoken, he was not competent to do so.

Mr. Baring

rose to move an Amendment, of which the substance was for similar returns of the Population, &c. of all Boroughs containing more than 4,000 inhabitants.

Sir C. Wetherell

seconded the Amendment, because he wished to promote every means for gaining information on this important subject.

Mr. W. Duncombe

wished to have 7,000 substituted in the Amendment, instead of 4,000.

Mr. Keith Douglas

said, that he should move for the production of returns of each of the boroughs in the southern parts of Scotland.

Lord John Russell

said, that if such a motion were made, no objection would be offered to it on his side of the House. As to the Amendment moved by the hon. member for Taunton, the information which it called for was already before the House. If he wished to have it in the same paper with the returns for which he (Lord John Russell) had moved, to that also there would be no objection.

Sir Henry Hardinge

said, that he hoped that the noble Lord would have no objection to state the population of the different boroughs to which the elective franchise was to be transferred, and the population of those towns, if any, which exceeded them.

Lord John Russell

said, that if the gal- lant officer would bring clown his Motion in writing,—for at present he did not perfectly understand it,—he had no doubt that it would not be opposed.

Mr. K. Douglas

begged to move as an Amendment the following words—"And a similar return respecting all boroughs in Scotland."

Mr. Kennedy

did not rise to oppose the Amendment, but he thought it would be necessary to alter the words of it. In Scotland the word "borough" often meant only a small part of the town, and would frequently include only one-third of the population of the town.

Mr. F. Baring

said, that that observation was equally applicable to many English boroughs, and he trusted that the noble Lord would not overlook that fact in wording his Motion.

Mr. S. Wortley

must suggest to hon. Members the propriety of their taking the trouble to put their motions into writing. The time of the House, especially at this moment, might be much more profitably employed than in discussing in what terms returns ought to be made out.

Mr. K. Douglas

would alter his Amendment thus:—"And a similar return respecting all royal burghs in Scotland."

The Motion, with the several Amendments, above proposed, was then put and agreed to.