HC Deb 04 March 1831 vol 3 cc13-21
The Sheriffs of London

presented a Petition from the Lord Mayor, Aldermen, and Common Council of London, in favour of Parliamentary Reform, and especially in favour of the present measure of Reform introduced by Ministers. They declared their high approval of the principle of the measure, and expressed a sincere hope that, the Bill might be passed into a law.

Mr. Alderman Wood

said, that, after What had been stated by the hon. and learned member for Boroughbridge respecting Corporation robbery, the House might, perhaps, be surprised that the Corporation of the City of London should thus have come down to that House to give this measure of "Corporation robbery" their decided support. He could, however, assure the House, that the support was not only sincerely and cordially, but almost unanimously given; for, out of a most numerous meeting of the members of the Corporation, only one was found to hold up his hand against the measure, and that Gentleman was known to be one who would oppose not only this measure of Reform, but all Reform whatever. He had taken the opportunity of saying this, because many persons had really come to him to ask him whether the invasion of Corporation privileges contained in the proposed measure would not frighten the Corporation of London: whether, in fact, they did not fear what the hon. and learned member for Boroughbridge had threatened them with? He had assured those Gentlemen that the Corporation of London need not have the least fear on the subject; and this Petition from them fully confirmed his statement. He would add one other observation. It was the usual custom of the City of London, when his Majesty was pleased to make a change in his Ministry, to express their satisfaction at the change; but, on the present occasion, they had waited to see whether the new Ministry were in earnest with respect to the measure of Reform; and having been satisfied on that point by the measure now about to be introduced, they had come to that House to declare their support of it. They saw in that measure a wish to save the country from its dangers and difficulties, and they gave the Ministers their best thanks for it. The Corporation of London were so satisfied with the measure, that they intended also to Address the Throne. If the Corporation of London were called on to make any sacrifices under this Bill for the benefit of the country, they would do so most readily, for they were not to be frightened by them.

Mr. Alderman Waithman

begged to add to the statement just made by his hon. Colleague, that he had never witnessed any measure carried in a more cordial manner, or with stronger feelings of approbation, than was the present Petition. Many individuals, who, on other occasions, had been opposed to Reform, had changed their opinions, and gave their warm approbation to the present measure, in which they saw the safety and interests of the country so well provided for.

Sir J. Mackintosh

said, that the presentation of this Petition, and the observations it had called forth, gave him the sincerest pleasure. He regretted, however, the absence of the hon. and learned Gentleman, and of the right hon. Gentleman, and of those who with them had almost appealed to the decision of the City of London as conclusive upon the subject, whether this was or not a fatal precedent with respect to the security of Corporate rights. He did not speak of such phrases as that of Corporation robbery, for they had no meaning whatever—they were exaggerated and violent language, calculated to create exaggerated notions, not. at all applicable to the contents of this Bill. The name of Jefferies had been used to terrify the Corporations of this country, but the Corporation of the City of London were not to be terrified by the name of Jefferies, nor by the supposition that this Bill was only a precedent that would afterwards be used to destroy Corporation privileges. He believed, that the whole kingdom would follow the example of the City of London, and give the most perfect proof that the opinion of the people of England was in favour of this measure. He must say for himself, that he viewed the Bill as the best safeguard of public liberty. He was proud that it was his fortune to live in a day when the Ministers of the Crown came down with a measure of Reform of this kind —a measure which showed they relied less on private patronage and favour, than on the support of public opinion. To the present Administration he was much attached, on personal grounds, of course, for he had long known and admired the Members of it; but on political grounds also, because he was convinced that the sole object of their Government would be the good of the country. On every ground he wished them success in the task they had undertaken. If they were bound, in the event of a failure of this Bill, to leave their places (though he saw no reason for their doing so), he should say that they had enjoyed their places long enough; and for himself, he thought that he had lived long enough when he saw a Bill introduced into that House so conducive to the maintenance of the rights and liberties of the people, so calculated to preserve and consecrate the authority of the laws, and so essential to secure the stability of the Throne and preserve the purity of Parliament.

Mr. Calcraft

denied the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman, that the hon. and learned Gentleman, and right hon. Gentleman on that side of the House had appealed to the decision of the Corporation of London for confirmation of their fears for the precedent set by this Bill. For himself, he fully agreed with those fears, when he saw property so invaded as it was by the present measure. He asserted, that public and private rights were unjustifiably interfered with. He set at nought the rights of those Gentlemen who were patrons of boroughs, but the rights of the voters in those boroughs were not to be treated so lightly. He saw no justification for this wholesale condemnation of what were called rotten and decayed boroughs. His hon. friend (Mr. Baring) had told them that there were in the borough which he had the honour to represent 200 scot and lot voters, who had never been guilty of any crime. Another Gentleman had told them that in the borough which he represented there were 500 persons in the same situation, and yet,; when the franchise of these voters was taken from them Gentlemen had the courage to get up and declare that the rights of these 700 voters were not sacrificed. The voters in the borough which he had the honour to represent were to suffer a similar confiscation; but as he intended to enter into their cases when he addressed the House on the motion of the noble Lord, he would not say a word more on that topic at present. In his opinion the innocent voters in the majority of boroughs ought not to be punished for the guilt of the voters in a few of them.

Lord Morpeth

said, that though he was at such a distance from his Yorkshire constituents as not to be enabled to state with accuracy the opinion of the freeholders of that county, yet, as the calls of business, especially at this season of the year, brought a great number of Gentlemen from Yorkshire to town, he had some opportunity of forming an opinion on the subject; and as far as he was able, from these auguries, to form any opinion, he was induced to think that his constituents cordially approved of the measure, and were most highly gratified by its introduction.

Lord G. Lennox

said, that after what had been stated of the opinion of the Corporation of the City of London, he begged to state, that that Corporation was not the only one in favour of this measure. The Corporation of the town which he had the honour to represent, uninfluenced by the alarming forebodings of the hon. and learned member for Boroughbridge, had also shown their inclination to support the Bill, and he should, at the first opportunity, have a Petition to that effect to present from them. He begged leave now to thank his Majesty's Ministers in the name of the Corporation of Chichester, and in his own name, for the Bill they had thus introduced, and he expressed his sincere hope that the Ministers would fearlessly pursue their course, and if they were not supported in it by that House, that they would call on the country for its opinion by dissolving the Parliament that had thrown out such a measure.

Mr. John Smith

confirmed the statement of the noble Lord, his colleague, as to the opinion of the Corporation of Chichester. He believed that these sentiments of the Corporation were not of very ancient duration; but since the Corporation had made up their minds on the subject, they had but one opinion upon it, and he believed that those who had formerly been most averse from Reform, were now most ardent and earnest for the success of the measure. He believed that the whole population of England, from Sutherland to the Land's End, entertained but one opinion on the subject; and for proof of that he referred to the great number of Petitions now on the Table of the House. That number, if time had permitted would, he had no doubt, have been doubled.

Mr. Sykes

said, that the noble Lord (the Member for Yorkshire) had rightly estimated the feelings of the people in that county, at least he (Mr. Sykes) could speak positively as to that part of the county with which he was connected. In a few days he should lay on the Table of the House a proof that the population of that part of the county were to a man in favour of the measure now before the House,

Mr. C. Calvert

made a similar statement with respect to Southwark, from which, he said, he expected, in a few days, to present a Petition most numerously signed.

Mr. Hunt

said, he could not let this petition from the Corporation of the City of London pass without making a few observations upon it. He was one of those who would suffer by the present measure being carried into effect—he should be one of the disfranchised; for, as he was a non-resident Liveryman of the City of London, he should lose his vote there; but he thanked God and his Majesty's Ministers for the measure, for all that. He could not, however, but feel some surprise at this petition from the Corporation of London, as expressive of the opinions of the Livery, for the Corporation had little to do with the Livery, except jobbing in the City—they were no political body—they were not even chosen by the body who elected the Members for the City; they were a body appointed to look after the paving, the watching, and the lighting of the City. The Livery themselves would meet on Monday, and he had no doubt they would express their full concurrence with the measure. He had always advocated the cause of Reform, carried to an extent far beyond that approved of either by the Livery or the Common Council. He was therefore inclined to go, not only the length of this Bill, but far beyond it. An hon. Member had just stated, that all the population was satisfied with this measure. He could not hear such an assertion advanced without saying that all the population was not satisfied with it. That all the country was delighted that this measure of Reform was introduced into Parliament he readily admitted, but he denied that they were satisfied with it. Numbers of petitions had been presented in favour of Reform; but in two petitions only, one of which came from Bristol, did the petitioners pray for a Reform Bill of exclusion, or, in other words, that one part of the community should be freemen and the other slaves. He had always contended, and as long as he lived he always would contend, that the only difference between political liberty and political slavery was this,—he who has a share in making the laws which affect his person, his property, and his life, is a free man; he who has not a share in making them, is a slave. Now this Bill would place a vast proportion of the community, and the most valuable part of it too—the mechanics, who lived in small houses and tenements,—in a state of political slavery, for it would exclude them from the right of choosing Representatives. Ought he, therefore, who during all his political career had always contended for the equal rights of all,—ought he, because certain excellent friends, with whom he was proud to act, declared themselves to be satisfied with this measure, to conceal his dissatisfaction with it for not going far enough? It had been said that this Bill did not touch corporate rights. Now one of the great reasons which he had for approving this Bill was, that it did touch corporations, and that it would take from them the infamous influence which they now enjoyed. It would take influence from the corporation of the city of London, and that was with him a good reason for supporting the measure.

Mr. Alderman Thompson

said, that, after what the lion, member for Preston had just stated, the House could not be surprised if he said a few words upon this subject. That hon. Member had described the Corporation of London as jobbers; as persons who had little else to do with the City than to superintend the scavengers, and manage the ditty work of the City of London. He was surprised at that observation from the hon. member for Preston, for the members of the Corporation were elected on the principle that the hon. member for Preston most approved—namely, that of annual elections by the freemen householders of the City of London. He had himself express-ed his apprehensions of the principle of this Bill with reference to corporate rights. They took a different view of the subject but he had stated to the Corporation what was his view of the subject— namely, that the disfranchisement was large and important, and affected the whole of the body that had hitherto been the electors of the City of London. If, however, the Livery should on Monday next differ from him in opinion, and believe that the measure tended so much to the public good as to be ready to make the sacrifice of their own franchise, he should feel absolved from the engagement he had made to protect, as far as he could, their rights and privileges.

Mr. D. W. Harvey

observed, that if it were true that the Corporation of London were so corrupt as the hon. member for Preston had stated, he should be inclined to regret that he could not congratulate the hon. member for Preston that its power to do mischief was extinguished by this Bill. It was a mistake to say, that this Bill interfered in any respect with Corporate rights. Whatever power any Corporation had for good — whatever resources for evil—would remain in full vigour when this Bill was passed into law. He rose at present as a Liveryman of London, to express his concurrence in the measure which the petition of the Corporation supported. He could not reconcile the hostility which the hon. member for Preston felt to this measure with the past declarations of that hon. Member on the subject of Reform, but he must say, that if Ministers had withheld their plan of Reform until they had devised a plan likely to meet the unanimous support of the people of England, he was afraid that the Corporation of London must have waited long before it had its present opportunity of affording the homage of its gratitude to Ministers for this wise and statesman-like measure. He begged leave to inform the hon. member for Preston, that this measure was not one of exclusion but of regulation. There was not any man of ordinary industry in the country who might not become a recipient of its benefits. The assurances which he had that morning from several of his constituents at Colchester, enabled him to inform the House, that the tidings of this Bill had received the assent of all the most enlightened and intelligent members of that place. There was no individual Member of Parliament whose electioneering interests would be more affected by the results of this measure than his would be; and yet he was prepared, from a sense of the benefits which it would confer upon his country, to give his vote in its support, even though the effect of that vote might be to close the doors of Parliament against him. With respect to what fell from the hon. member for Ware-ham, he would merely observe, that the question, in considering whether the small boroughs should be disfranchised, was not whether the electors were pure, but whether they were independent.

Mr. Capell

said, this Bill would deprive of their rights many of his constituents who did not rent houses of 10l.. a year. It would also deprive him of his vote as a liveryman of London, and therefore he meant to oppose it.

Mr. Calcraft, in reply to the hon. member for Colchester, contended, that his constituents were perfectly independent, and might reject him as their Representative if they were displeased with his conduct. They were all scot and lot voters, holding leases for life, and therefore exonerated from any improper influence.

Mr. Alderman Waithman

did not think it necessary to vindicate the character of the Corporation of London, in which there were no more jobs than in other large communities. Of this he was certain, that no public body in the empire was more fairly chosen.

The Petition to He upon the Table, and be printed.

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