HC Deb 19 March 1831 vol 3 cc582-8
Colonel Sibthorp

presented a Petition from the Inhabitants of the Bail and Close of the City of Lincoln, in favour of Reform. He willingly presented this petition, although he did not go so far as the petitioners with respect to the question of Reform. At the same time he professed himself a Reformer, but not a radical nor root-and-branch Reformer. He thought there was much that required amendment in the existing system of Representation, and should be happy to see a plan of Reform brought forward of which he could conscientiously approve. With respect to the Ministerial scheme of Reform, he thought it more objectionable in its de- privations than in its extension of the franchise. The hon. Member also presented a Petition in favour of Reform, from the Mayor and Corporation of Lincoln.

Mr. Hume

said, that although he was not often in the habit of defending Ministers, yet he felt himself bound to say, that last night the present Ministry had been extremely ill-used. The object they sought to obtain was a diminution of taxation, and yet they had been met with the most factious opposition that he had ever witnessed. It should be remembered, however, that they had to carry on the Government with materials congregated together by the last Government; in consequence, those who held what they called Treasury boroughs, voted against them. The public should take notice of this, for, in addition to the ninety-nine arguments in favour of Reform, this was the hundredth, and the best of them all.

Mr. Curteis

said, he was one of those who had voted in the majority last night; but he could with perfect truth deny the charge of having given a factious vote. He had given, not a factious, but a painful vote. He was sorry to be obliged to oppose his Majesty's Ministers; his vote was not directed against them, but against the principles of free trade.

Mr. O'Connell

said, no doubt many hon. Members were actuated by the same motives as the hon. member for Sussex: that his hon. friend (Mr. Hume) did not mean to deny. He only expressed his opinion, that, generally speaking, the vote had been dictated by factious motives. This he (Mr. O'Connell) firmly believed to be the case. But he would desire his Majesty's Ministers not to be discouraged: he told them, that the people of England and Scotland,—ay, and after all that had passed—of Ireland, too, were with them, and would co-operate in putting down the borough mongering faction, that was endeavouring to thwart the Reform brought forward by Ministers. What had occurred last night would only stimulate the people to make fresh efforts in favour of the present Government; particularly when it was seen that the Treasury boroughs were in the hands of Opposition Members, who voted against the Government to which those boroughs belonged. Were not Members who acted thus, pursuing a factious, not to say a dishonourable course? Certainly they acted differently from the nominees of private patrons. When the nomi- nee could not vote with his principal, he gave up the borough; but the Gentlemen to whom he had alluded adopted an opposite course.

Mr. Miller

took that opportunity of complaining of the use that had been made of his Majesty's name, with a view to influence the opinions of people out of doors, and to promote the getting up of petitions in favour of a plan of Reform which the King was said to approve.

Mr. O'Connell, as a constitutional lawyer, defended the practice censured by the hon. Gentleman, and declared his opinion to be, that it was legally and constitutionally justifiable to refer to his Majesty's known opinions on Reform, with a view to induce the people to co-operate with the first Reformer in the country—the King upon the Throne,—in securing a satisfactory amendment of the Representation. There was a wide distinction to be taken between allusions within these walls to the opinions of his Majesty, for the purpose of influencing decisions of the House of Commons, and references made out of doors to the royal sentiments, with a view to excite the people to express their wishes in addresses to the King and Parliament on the subject of Reform. The House considered the former course irregular, but the latter proceeding he (Mr. O'Connell) was prepared to justify.

Mr. G. Dawson

called upon the hon. and learned. member for Waterford to speak, hot as a lawyer, but as a Member of that House: whatever arguments legal ingenuity, directed to one side of a question, might suggest to the hon. Gentleman, however he might attempt to justify the practice referred to, when speaking as an Advocate, he (Mr. Dawson) did not see upon what ground the hon. Gentleman, in his capacity as a Member of the Legislature, could defend it. For his own part, he considered it highly unconstitutional to use the name of his Majesty for the purpose of exciting a cry throughout the country in favour of Reform; and he thought that if the hon. and learned member for Water-ford had not ulterior objects in view, he would not stand up to defend the practice.

Mr. Bernal

rose to order: he considered it irregular in the right hon. Gentleman to speak of the "ulterior objects" of an hon. Member, particularly as it must be pretty plain that the right hon. Gentleman meant to connect ulterior motives with ulterior objects.

The Speaker

decided, that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Dawson) was in order, and that the hon. member for Rochester was himself irregular, in confounding "objects," with "motives."

Mr. Dawson

had not imputed motives to the hon. and learned Member, he only spoke of the hon. Gentleman's ulterior objects, which were confessedly—Annual Parliaments, Universal Suffrage, Vote by Ballot, the destruction of Corporations, and the annihilation of the Protestant Church. These were the ulterior objects in furtherance of which the hon. Gentleman was prepared to support the present Ministry in their plan of Reform, and it was with a view to the accomplishment of these objects that the learned Member justified the appeal to the supposed opinions of his Majesty. He repeated, those were the ulterior objects which he imputed to the hon. member for Waterford, and he was sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman was too honest to conceal them.

Sir John Wrottesley

denied that any petitions had been got up in Staffordshire by any undue influence whatever. The people being zealous in the cause of Reform, had come voluntarily forward to address the King and petition the Houses of Parliament in its favour.

Mr. Wilks

was proceeding to state that we had official information of the opinion of his Majesty, in his answer to the Address of the Corporation of London on the subject of Reform, and to argue that it was justifiable to refer to the opinion so expressed, when

The Speaker

told the hon. Member, that his allusion was disorderly, inasmuch as it might give rise to an irregular discussion as to the construction of his Majesty's answer.

Mr. O'Connell, in answer to the observations which had been made by Mr. G. Dawson, denied that he was, or ever had been, an advocate for Annual Parliaments. He certainly approved of Triennial Parliaments, as established at the Revolution, which the right hon. Gentleman had so often denominated "glorious;" and, in his opinion, the right hon. Gentleman should be the last man to object to the principles which triumphed at that period. He confessed that he was a friend to Universal Suffrage; but upon that point he gave way to the pending measure of Reform, because he thought that it was calculated to produce the self-same ends; namely, good government and cheap institutions. The right hon. Gentleman had thought fit also to charge him with being an enemy to the Protestant Church, and as one who wished for its overthrow; but he denied this accusation in the most decided manner. He respected the hierarchy of the Church of England, as a faint image of that of his own Church, and he was only opposed to its enormous temporalities and overgrown wealth.

Mr. G. Dawson

called on the House to compare the statements of the hon. member for Waterford in that House with the sweeping anathemas he had repeatedly fulminated against the Protestant Church and Parliament out of doors. He was astonished, that not only the hon. member for Waterford, but his particular friends, the members for Preston and Middlesex, should give up their extensive plans of Reform, for the weak milk-and-water measure now before the House.

Sir J. Newport

spoke to order. The right hon. Gentleman was not justified in imputing to the hon. member for Waterford that that hon. Member had falsely stated his opinions.

Mr. G. Dawson

said, he had no intention of imputing anything like falsehood to the hon. member for Waterford. He had his own opinions as to the motives which influenced that hon. Member.

Petition to be printed.

Mr. Stanley

said, he rose to present a rather singular and important Petition in favour of Reform. It was a petition signed by a respectable body of Commercial Travellers, principally communicating between London and Birmingham, and its neighbourhood. The petitioners set forth, that from the nature of their avocations, they had opportunities which few other classes of the community possessed, of ascertaining what were the opinions, sentiments, and wishes, of numerous bodies of society, of different grades, and of very various occupations. The petitioners had taken pains to inform themselves upon the subject, and they could state, that the people were unanimous and ardent in favour of Reform, and that even those whose views were not precisely accordant with the measure brought into that House by his Majesty's Ministers, would sacrifice all differences upon minor points, and zealously support the Bill, upon the conviction that it was calculated to effect the greatest good to the country.—To be printed.

Mr. P. M. Stewart, in presenting a Petition from the Freemen and Inhabitants of the Town of Lancaster, and its vicinity, in favour of Parliamentary Reform, said, that he was unwilling to trespass upon the time of the House, considering the mass of petitions that still remained to be presented. He begged, however, to say, that the meeting at which this petition was adopted was of the most intelligent and respectable character, and had carried the resolutions and the petition by acclamation, and among them were many individuals who, by thus supporting the measure of Reform, submitted to being immediately denuded of their franchise, and others submitted to the limitation of it to a mere life-rent, instead of a perpetuity, all concurring in sacrificing their individual advantages for the good of the public. The petition lay for seven hours for signature, and was subscribed by upwards of 1,100 names. To any person acquainted with Lancaster, and with the community which he had the honour of representing, this fact spoke forcibly of the irresistible progress which this great question was making over the whole country; and so impressed was he with this, that he felt convinced, in the event of their being sent back to their constituents before this saving measure was secured to the country, they would, with a few exceptions, have to return here and appear as he (Mr. Stewart) now did, with a petition like the present as the credentials of their appointment.—Petition printed.

Sir G. Nugent

presented a Petition from Buckingham against the Bill. The petitioners complained that they had been improperly included among the disfranchised boroughs, inasmuch as Buckingham contained many more than 2,000 inhabitants.

Sir T. Fremantle

thought the petition well worthy of the attention of the House. The Bill then in progress proposed to disfranchise all boroughs, the population of which was less than 2,000 according to the census of 1821; and though the population of Buckingham was actually 3,460, it was included in the list of the boroughs to be disfranchised. He had had a conference in private with the noble Lord (John Russell) who brought in the Bill, on the peculiar hardship—indeed injustice, even on his own principle—of including Buckingham within its disfranchisement provisions; and he trusted the noble Lord would make public his private avowal, as it would afford great satisfaction to the inhabitants of that borough.

Mr. Stanley

was enabled to state to the House, that the case of Buckingham was at that moment under the peculiar consideration of the framers of the Bill.