presented a Petition from the Corporation of Canterbury, in favour of the Bill brought forward by his Majesty's Ministers. As he saw the hon. and learned Gentleman, the member for Boroughbridge, in his place, he wished to observe, that this was a most respectable Corporation, and they voluntarily came forward, and offered to surrender their privileges, as they conceived that it would be for the general good.
§ Sir Charles Wetherell
wished to ask the hon. Member a question, in reply. The petition purported to come from certain freemen of a corporate body, and they offered to surrender their rights to the Parliament; now, he asked whether these men had not taken an oath to maintain them inviolable, and to support all the privileges of their Corporation. One of the most sacred and valuable of those privileges was the right of sending Members to that House. Did the hon. Gentleman think these persons had acted consistently with the oath they had taken, in offering to make this surrender? He asked him, both as a Member of Parliament and as a man, whether he thought a minority of eight or ten persons in a Corporation, in spite of the oaths they had taken, were justified in coming forward to make a surrender of the privileges they enjoyed in common with others? He would most assuredly continue his opposition to this new project of Reform, and his exertions to procure its rejection should suffer no relaxation. Did the hon. Gentleman according to the vulgar interpretation of an oath, not think that those who offered to sacrifice what they had sworn to maintain, laid themselves open to a charge of something like perjury?
The Attorney General
said, that his hon. and learned friend was mistaken in supposing this to be the petition of a minority; it was the petition of the Corporation, and bore the Corporation seal. 339 The case was simply this:—a most respectable corporation came forward and said it was willing to surrender an exclusive privilege, and share its enjoyment with the rest of their fellow-citizens. He presented, a few evenings ago, a similar petition from the Corporation of Nottingham, and those petitioners also expressed the same willingness to surrender their privileges, and he had no doubt that many similar petitions would be presented from corporations in all parts of the country. The members of this corporation, and of others, thought undoubtedly, that by the success of the measure submitted to the House a few evenings since by his noble friend, they would be relieved from a degrading stigma. He was surprised to hear his hop. and learned friend make any observations regarding the sacredness of an oath; and surely he could not have forgotten that no oath of such a nature as the present could prevent the Legislature from passing any measure it might deem expedient. Such rights are always in the power, and under the control of the Legislature, and these petitioners merely came forward to say, that they would not be impediments to any arrangement the Parliament might deem expedient.
§ Mr. Hunt
wished to ask the hon. member for Canterbury, whether the out-voters of that place had signed the petition. He understood that there were a few dissatisfied out-voters, who had had a meeting, and had expressed their fear of the probable success of the Reform Bill. He was not surprised at their alarm, for if the Bill should pass, the proceedings that used to take place at the Spread Eagle on the occasion of an election, were not likely to be renewed.
§ The Petition read.
had only heard of the meeting of the non-resident freemen of Canterbury, to oppose Reform, from the public prints. He did not ask any question of the hon. and learned Gentleman, but merely called his attention to the fact of petitions having been presented from corporations in favour of the Ministerial Bill.
§ Sir Charles Wetherell
could assure the hon. Gentleman, that it was superfluous in him to call his attention to the subject of Reform, because he had long attended to it. He did not want the hon. Member as a "flapper" to awaken his attention 340 to the subject. Those petitioners came forward to make an improper and illegal abandonment of their privileges. There were non-resident voters connected with this corporation, which had no authority to surrender privileges in which others besides themselves were concerned. The question was simply whether freemen who had the right of voting, whom by the noble Paymaster's Bill it was proposed to cashier, were justified in offering to sacrifice the privileges they had sworn to maintain. With every respect for the learned Attorney General, he must deny that the House had any right to deprive, volens nolens, a large body of voters, at the request of another body, of any portion of their privileges. His hon. and learned friend might have presented a petition for the surrender of the privileges of the town of Nottingham; but that did not alter the question. The Bill would inflict injustice and irreparable injury. He was as well aware as his hon. and learned friend of the power of the Legislature, but, although petitions like this were presented from the 120 pieces the noble Paymaster proposed to cashier, he could tell the House, that he would never be a party to the surrender of privileges. It certainly might be advantageous to the resident freeman, to deprive the non-resident freeman of his vote, but the House ought not to sanction such gross wrong. The whole scheme of Parliamentary Reform was in truth an extensive plan of plunder and robbery.
§ Mr. George Robinson
was surprised to hear the hon. and learned Gentleman apply such epithets to the plan of Reform, and characterize the sacrifices which the petitioners professed themselves ready to make as injustice. They did not pray the House to deprive the out-voters of their privileges, but merely said, that they were ready, if the House should judge it proper for the public good, to sacrifice their own. He could not comprehend the principle by which the hon. and learned Gentleman had arrived at the conclusion that these petitioners were prepared to violate their oaths. That was the first time he believed that the patriotic offer to sacrifice questionable privileges had been so designated.
§ An hon. Member concurred in all that had been said by the hon. and learned member for Boroughbridge. He could not see how any man who had sworn to 341 defend the privileges of the body of which he was a member could consent, without violating his oath, to surrender those privileges,