HC Deb 17 March 1831 vol 3 cc496-8
Mr. Hodges

presented a Petition in favour of the Reform Bill from the Lathe of Aylesford.

Mr. Bernal

said, he had been requested to support the petition, and which he would do most cordially.

Mr. Horace Twiss

.—I rise, not for the purpose of entering into the merits of this petition, but to repel a charge which, for the last week, has been daily repeated against me, that in the original debate on this Bill I spoke of the middle classes with ridicule; and though at the earliest possible moment—that is, when the noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) concluded the speech in which he misunderstood me as implying such a ridicule, —I distinctly disavowed any expres- sion or insinuation to any such effect, yet the charge has been circulated in a most industrious manner out of doors, and even repeated here, in a way which, after my immediate explanation, I cannot but think was as un parliamentary as it was calculated to prove injurious. The classes in whose hands I said, and still say, not that all franchise would be dangerous, for they have much already, but that it would be dangerous to place this monopoly of franchise, were not those who, even in the largest phraseology, could be termed the middle classes of this country. Of the middle classes I never spoke at all—the phrase "middle classes" never passed my lips. The idea of the middle classes was not even in my mind, for my argument related to a totally different order of persons. It was to the predominance of a body far below the middle class, both in property and intelligence, that I objected; and even of this body, as a body, I spoke in no terms of disrespect; on the contrary, though I objected to place the overbearing majority of votes throughout all the town elections of England in the hands of a single class, and that the lowest in property and intelligence, and comprising, together with many whose respectability is unquestionable, many other very dangerous politicians, yet I distinctly, and more than once, repeated, that I meant no sort of disparagement to the general bulk even of the lowest rate of voters. I did, and do still, protest against giving to the inhabitants of houses rated at from 10l. to 20l. (as the printed returns show that this Bill will give to them in every quarter of the kingdom except the Metropolis), a decisive majority, somewhat, more than 3-5ths, of the elective power of all the towns in England. I did object to placing this overbearing force within the immediate sphere, not of the respectable solicitors of the country, but of inferior practitioners of the law—the description of persons whom the Act for Petty Courts would bring into operation against the more respectable members of the profession. I did not object to increase the franchise of that lowest kind of shopkeepers who, whether as out-voters or as residents, have always been found the most open to bribery; but I did not object, as has been unaccountably represented, to even the humblest class of my fellow-subjects enjoying, proportionately with every other interest, its just share in that elective power. Neither did it enter into my thoughts to attempt what has been called making merry at their expense. The absurdity which I endeavoured to expose, and that in no strain of merriment or levity, was the absurdity chargeable, not upon the voters, but upon the Bill itself, in making the whole Government of this country, its legislation, its finance, its foreign policy, responsible to a majority composed of the uninformed, however respectable, householders of the manufacturing towns. And as to the middle classes, to whose number I myself belong, —classes which I never once named, nor even alluded to, but which I am daily calumniated as though I had sought to libel—men who, in whatever branch of their various professions, or trades, or pursuits, are placed by their character and intelligence altogether upon a different level from that of the indiscriminate multitude now proposed to be made absolute in all the towns, —in a word, as to all the middle classes, so far from uttering one word of ridicule, I did not even deny their competency for the possession of political power, although I avow myself unwilling, even for the sake of these valuable electors to make any extensive alteration in the principle of the existing constitution.

Petition to lie on the Table.

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