Lord John Russell
moved the Order of the Day for the second reading of the Reform Bill.—On the Order being read, Lord John Russell moved, that the Bill be now read a Second time.
§ Sir R. Vyvyan
.—Before I make any observations upon the question which bears 630 particularly upon the county I represent, I beg permission to make one or two remarks which may be supposed to relate more particularly to what concerns myself; because it may be supposed that, in consequence of my connexion with the county of Cornwall, I may feel affected by this measure to an extent which may, perhaps, exceed its supposed influence upon other hon. Members. I venture to do this, Sir, incurring all the risks of misconception, and all imputations of egotism, to which, in pursuing such a course, I may by possibility be exposed. I must, then, in the outset, declare, that I have no interest—direct, indirect, or contingent—in any borough in Cornwall, or in any other part of the country, Indeed, so far from serving any interest of mine in opposing the measure, there are certain parts of it which, if passed in their present shape, will rather be a benefit to me than otherwise; for instance, if that division of counties, which it proposes in some cases were to take place, it would be an advantage to me, standing as the Representative for Cornwall; for it would be much more convenient, and less expensive, for a man to canvass that part of a county in which his own property is situated than to canvass the county at large. Besides, it is obvious that in cases of small boroughs, where the Corporation, a very small body, exercises the chief power in the return of a Member, it is much more difficult for a person of property, residing in their vicinity, to obtain an influence amongst them than a stranger. But this Bill, by extending the franchise to householders of a certain rate, would necessarily extend the influence of persons having property in the neighbourhood of such boroughs. So far, then, as personal interest, I have none to support by opposing the Bill, which in some points would be rather an advantage to me on personal grounds. I also know, that in the course I am about to take on this occasion, I am opposed to the wishes of my constituents. And in this respect I believe I am in the situation of very many hon. Members who object to the Bill, for it cannot be denied, that the speech of the noble Lord (Lord John Russell), which has circulated in every part of the kingdom, has produced a very strong excitement in its support, and in this respect has very fully answered the anticipations of his Majesty's Ministers. Notwithstanding, however, that the rejection of the measure would be no 631 benefit to me, and with the certainty that in opposing it I shall displease ray constituents, yet I think the measure one so full of danger to the institutions of the kingdom, that before God and my country I feel bound in conscience to oppose it. Since the year 1793, when Mr. Grey, now the Prime Minister of this country, proposed his celebrated plan of Reform,—involving a Reform of this House,— there never has been an occasion in which Reform of any kind could be more difficult or dangerous; and, what is more, infinitely more important; there never has been a concurrence of circumstances, from that hour to the present, which bore so close a resemblance to the position in which the country was placed in 1793, as the delicate and dangerous situation in which England now stands. At the present moment, there are difficulties in the way of Reform, far more imposing, in my opinion, than any difficulties that have at any previous period presented themselves. I would beg of the House to recollect the spread of knowledge which has taken place since that time. Let the House remember how, since that time, the power of the Press has been extended, and how readily, and boldly, and indiscriminately every man would be stigmatised in these days as an aristocrat who ventured to utter a word in any public place in support or advocacy of the institutions of the country. Hence, then, I will affirm, paradoxical as it may appear, that to carry the question of Reform would be a greater difficulty, and surely to accomplish it without hazard and with advantage, an achievement of infinitely greater moment, than it ever could have been at any period since the supposed abuses in the Representation of the people became an object of complaint. What, Sir, are the grounds upon which this measure is urged upon our acceptance? Have we become so embroiled with foreign countries, as that Englishmen fear to meet their enemies upon terms which, in times past, assured them of conquest? Not but that I am as willing as any man, for I feel it deeply, to acknowledge that the noble Lord at the head of his Majesty's Government has now a more arduous task to perform than has commonly fallen to the lot of a British Minister—that Ireland, though lulled, is in a state both dangerous and deceptions; that at no one period of its history were its worst agitations more to be dreaded than its present repose. 632 Hence, then, I look with the deepest apprehension to what may hereafter occur. Hence, then, I affirm, without the slightest fear of successful contradiction, that Ministers have chosen a most unfortunate time for a measure of this nature. Yes! it may be held that it is in one sense unfortunate, but I hold it to be unfortunate in every point of view. Were the measure just in the abstract, which I affirm it is not, at least to the extent to which the noble Lord proposes to carry it—were it necessary, which under no circumstances I am disposed to acknowledge—I should still say, that the time chosen for bringing it forward had been most unfortunately selected. Had this measure not been brought forward under the authority of a Minister of the Crown, I should certainly have contented myself with giving a silent vote. During the six years I have had the honour of a seat here, I have abstained from voting upon it. I mean, whenever the question of Reform was brought forward by the proposer of the present Bill. The only exception to that course of conduct on my part, was when the hon. member for Waterford made his proposition last year on the subject of the Ballot. It must, therefore be obvious to hon. Members, that I might with perfect consistency give my support to the present measure. But at any period I must take leave to say, that that support could never be conscientiously given to such a plan as this, and least of all could it be given at a period in my opinion, most unsuited to alterations of any description. The Bill now submitted for a second reading is not only revolutionary, but abounding in every element of public discoid. It goes to the abandonment of our colonial system, to the abatement of the dignity of the Crown, to the annihilation of the privileges of the Peerage, to the abrogation of the High Council of the Realm, and to the destruction of all that constituted our happiness, and rendered us an example to the other countries of the world. But come what may—confiscation, proscription, all the frightful calamities of popular violence, I will oppose it now, and to the last. I will oppose its principle; but even if I were to confine my opposition to its details, I should still find myself in the situation of one who opposed it on principle; since it is now understood from the noble Lord that a resistance to the one will be considered as equivalent to 633 an opposition offered to the other. Am I, therefore, to be called one of those who at all times, and under all circumstances, is disposed to object to the abstract principle of Reform? No such thing. I never supported the doctrine that Reform was to be invariably resisted. I never supposed the Constitution so perfect as that it should work well at all times. I have ever been, on the contrary, free to admit, that now and then material modifications might be advantageously proposed. It is chiefly on the question of time and extent that I take my stand. It is present expediency, as well as abstract right, that throws a difficulty in the way of the changes proposed. It is the position of our affairs at home, and the state of our policy abroad, that I think might well swallow up minor objections. If experience is to be admitted as throwing any light upon a question of this nature, I will ask the supporters of this dangerous innovation, to show a single instance in which the general remodelling of a political constitution, for the purpose of increasing the democratic influence, has been effected without revolution—has been effected without throwing the supreme sovereignty of the State into the hands of an absolute King, or a military despot, to the utter annihilation of all that before went to constitute a legislative body? I might be asked, am I, therefore, opposed to all Reform? I might be taunted with the supposed opinion of the King. The King, and the King's name, which has been so often improperly used for the purposes of excitement during this Debate, might now be turned against me; and I might be told that, we had no choice between Reform and Revolution. Why, Sir, this Bill is revolution. Take care that the time is not at hand when we may be brought to the bar of some future legislative body as traitors, for defending our country in the present emergency. I confess, when I contemplate the dangers towards which this measure is hurrying us forward, I cannot but tremble at the awful responsibility which the King's Government have assumed, in the excitement which they have been instrumental in creating from one end of the country to the other. Has my noble friend opposite, the Secretary for the Foreign Department, risen up to tell us, that there is any negotiation pending abroad, or any condition of our relations with, foreign Powers, which has 634 rendered this a measure of necessity? I am aware that there is not one of his noble or right hon. colleagues who has not risen to inform us of that which we knew to be a grievous truth, namely, that the present is a most eventful crisis. But how, then, do they justify themselves for having raised, as they indisputably have done, so strong a feeling as that which at the present moment animates the whole public of England? Let me not be told that the feeling which has arisen proceeds from this or that declaration of the Duke of Wellington in another place. Let me not be told either that we are to look for its cause or origin in the recent French Revolution. The Birmingham Union existed six months before either of those events. Petitions praying for Reform were presented to that House throughout the whole of last year. A vague and indefinite desire of change had long been engendered among the people; and that desire had been inflamed by the denial on the part of the last Parliament of the existence of distress in the country. The late House of Commons denied the distresses of the people, and the assembly which I have now the honour to address, elected under the influence of the Duke of Wellington's Government, is called upon to remodel the Constitution of England, and that at a moment so immediately after the remarkable occurrences in Paris and at Brussells. But I now have the satisfaction of thinking, that the people of England begin to understand those events, though we are called on to prepare for the consequences that might ensue on the rejection of such a measure as that which has been proposed to us by his Majesty's Ministers. But let us for a moment turn our attention to other considerations, and first of all to the character and conduct of that Ministry from which we derive this piece of legislation. They came into power upon giving three distinct pledges,—first, Peace, when the very mention of peace was deeply dangerous to the honour and independence of this country; secondly, Retrenchment, when they ought to have known that retrenchment was perfectly and utterly impossible; thirdly, Reform. But then not one word of the distresses of the people; not a syllable with regard to our monetary system; or the real causes of the disturbances which then prevailed throughout the country; not a single proposition 635 to alleviate the sufferings of the people, or to administer to their wants. If you refer to the people of England, and ask them what advantage they gain by it; if you meet men in their shops, in the street, in public or in private, not one amongst them can explain in what respect his situation will be improved by this so called Reform. France, in similar circumstances, looked to make a change for the better, and the next hope which engaged her attention was by making another change to avoid being worse. So it will be with us. Sir, it is not Reform that the people so much demand, as a change in that which more immediately and personally affects them. They cry out for an alteration in the tithe system. There is, I believe, at the present moment, greater discontent excited with respect to tithes, than has, perhaps, ever been called into activity on any similar subject. The contagion upon that point has spread from Ireland to England. Let us, above all things, not overlook the manner in which the Press of this country treats the question;—in which it proceeds as if the present constitution of Parliament formed an outwork, which, in order to be broken down, requires but one united and vigorous assault. Will the measure of Reform afford contentment or happiness to the lower orders? Will it give them more employment or better wages? If the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) thinks so, he will not only find himself we fully mistaken, but in twelve months after the Bill shall pass, he will find the general condition of the people to be much worse than at present. This question of Reform, as every one knows, is much talked of outside of as well as within the House, and I have heard in different quarters, that one of the first results of the Reform Bill, when carried, will be, to cause an alteration in the tithes. Previous to the agitation of the Reform question, the great outcry which prevailed in Ireland against tithes had found a willing echo in the people of this country. The tithes they said out of that House was the first out-work to be attacked and no doubt in the world they would be so, if this Reform Bill was ever passed into a law. I can see no advantage either to the public, the candidates, or the voters themselves, from the grant of a franchise upon the rental of a house of 10l. a-year. Such voters will still continue to be a source of corruption, and such a low value 636 of houses will, in reference to elections, be highly injurious to the general welfare. Once let us grant this Reform, and who can say that the Ballot will not immediately follow it? The tithes of course must be expected to go; and even the noble Lord, in introducing this measure, admitted that the shortening the duration of Parliaments was a matter for future consideration. If tithes were attacked—as no doubt they would be—upon what principle could other property rely for security and support? Attack the tithes and the landed property of the Church, and what will remain but an attack upon the funds and upon the rent of the land-holders? These are some of the circumstances which influence my vote, and by and by I will assign some further reasons to justify me in the Motion with which it is my intention to conclude. Can we imagine that, after the present Parliament has declared itself corrupt and abominable—after it has been guilty of enormities which the hon. Baronet, the member for Westminster, has said that nothing could exceed—can we imagine that the new, the reformed Parliament, will take up what their wicked predecessors had begun or continued? How, then, I will ask, can any man support this measure who wishes to preserve the institutions of the country, and who sees that tithes, rent, funds—all must be destroyed, by the system of which it forms the first step? Can any man support it who sees this, and who also sees that, with other property, all the accumulations of the Savings Banks, amounting to 20,000,000l. of the poor man's hoardings, must likewise be sacrificed in the general wreck—for there is as much danger to these small sums invested in the funds, as to the larger ones belonging to a different class of individuals. There is a common danger for the rich as for the poor. Of course, if one description of property goes, all will go; small sums are held by the same title as the thousands and the millions. Such a result of the measure is plainly indicated by the propagators of those doctrines in compliance with which the measure is avowedly brought forward. They describe the present Parliament as a set of men incapable of legislating for the interests of the people, and ignorant of the principles of commerce and of government. And who are the persons expected to come in their places after the passing of the measure, and who have 637 been pointed out for the choice of the people by the "Aide toi Societè? "Yes, we can guess from what class they were to come, for we already see many of those individuals pointed out. One is qualified by having written a pamphlet upon political economy—one by being the author of a leading article in a newspaper—one for having written a history of India which contains the doctrine that land was anciently the property of the people, and that rent was a tax paid to the Kings. Let the House consider the effect of such principles if instilled into the minds of the people by their Representatives in Parliament, and what the state of the country will then be, and what will be the security for all property. In order to put the House in possession of Mr. Mill's sentiments on the subject of rent and tithes, I will read an extract from this work, observing, however, incidentally, that we shall not only have to meet him on that ground, but also upon the various questions of our East-Indian policy. The extract to which I propose to call the attention of the House is as follows:—"The Legislature may, without any straining of language, be said to possess that power, which I have now spoken of only as a fiction." That fancied power was, by an act of its own, all other things remaining the same, to double that portion of the land which was strictly and properly rent; in which case Mr. Mill asserted that there would be no reason, in point of justice, why the Legislature should not, and great reason in point of expediency why it should, avail itself of this its own power, in behalf of the State; should devote as much as might be requisite of this new fund to defray the expenses of the Government, and except the subjects from any burthen on that account. Mr. Mill then went on to say—"By all those measures which increase the amount of population and the demand for food, the Legislature does as certainly increase the nett produce of the land, as if it had the power of doing so by a miraculous act. That it does so by a gradual progress in the real, and would do so by an immediate operation in the imaginary case, makes no difference with regard to the result. The original rent, which belonged to the owner, upon which he regulated his purchase, if he did purchase, and on which alone, if he had a family to provide for, his arrangements in their favour were to be 638 framed, is easily distinguishable from any addition capable of being made to the nett produce of land, whether it be made by a slow or a sudden process. If an addition made by the sudden process might, without injustice to the owner, be appropriated to the purposes of the State, no reason can be assigned why an addition by the slow process might not be appropriated." These were Mr. Mill's sentiments upon the subject of rent; he is one of the class who in future are to be called upon to regulate our affairs, and I will ask any hon. Member if, after land has been so treated, the funded property can last a single hour? Rent is sure to be attacked in a reformed Parliament, because we are told by such men as Mr. Mill, whose book I have quoted, that it is within the power of Parliament; and that class of men are the class of whom the reformed Parliament will be composed. We have been told also by the hon. member for Middlesex, that the army, which is as nothing compared to the preparations of foreign Powers, with whom we may soon be called upon to enter the field, and that our fleets, which are but just sufficient to perform the peace duties of the country, all ought to be reduced, and their cost applied to the emergencies of the country. Why, then, rent must be so applied also; and every other description of property which can be made available. I do not mean to impute any bad intentions to the hon. Member, but he never alludes to the fund lords when he attacks the landlords. But I wish to point out what that portion of the hon. Member's constituents who have an interest in the Savings' Banks must expect, if his doctrines upon rent and tithes came to be acted upon by a reformed Parliament. We have before us examples pregnant with instruction upon this subject. Let the hon. member look to Portugal. Let him look to Spain. Let him look to Ferdinand not recognizing for so long the bonds of the Cortes, and then only doing it in the shabbiest way. Let him look to the instance of the French Revolution. There we have written, in letters of blood, all that can happen in a State where those in command, from intimidation, surrender the power they have in their hands, and cease to regard themselves as possessors of the sovereign authority, and look beyond themselves for assistance. There we shall see how, through every step of degradation, a 639 constitutional body becomes a national convention—a constituent assembly—call them what you will, till anarchy rules the land. It may be asked, can I point out any period in the history of France, before the great Revolution to which I allude, which bears a similarity to our own condition at present? I think I can. That period was 1788, when the great discussions arose between the King and his Parliament, and the people refused to pay his taxes. We are arriving very fast at that same position. In that year the King and his Parliament having quarrelled, the States General were summoned, Necker. being at the head of affairs. In the first instance, the Notables devised an alteration in the constitution of the States General, which was, in fact, a French Parliamentary Reform, and the King was advised by Necker to give a double vote to the Tiers Etat. What was the consequence? Men were in that body who were never before in the possession of power, who had to pay the taxes whilst the nobility paid nothing. Thank God we are not in that position, for the rich, in almost every instance, contribute to the burthens of the State in equal proportion. These were the men to whom this new power was given, and was it to be expected they would allow matters to remain as they were? Having the double vote, the first thing they did was, to get the other Houses to join them, so as to form one mass. The nobles and the priests resisted, but in vain. The next thing they did was, without consulting the King, to change their name, and call themselves the National Convention. Then came the points of intimidation to which I would particularly call the attention of Ministers, as they appear to me most peculiarly applicable to the present case. The uncertainty, the instability of all affairs in France was urged; massacres were excited by the most infamous means. Thousands of pamphlets were printed and published, all urging one point; the Press was bribed; persons even were paid in distant villages to read the most revolting and outrageous articles to those who could not read themselves. Every means was resorted to, to excite and inflame the minds of the peasantry, and make them believe that all superior to them were diabolical tyrants. Thus things went on till that fatal day, the 4th of August, 1789, when, after one great debate—one great vote given under 640 the influence of one overwhelming panic, the National Convention at once conceded tithes, manorial rights, the rights of chase, and the Game-laws (for real evils and imaginary ones generally go hand in hand), the rights of fishery, and every thing that before constituted privilege. Tithes were at last abolished, but it was not till the clergy for three days had been threatened with massacre. These things being conceded, bills were brought in, and the blessed Reform was carried, and the King, the saviour of his people, went with the National Convention to sing a "Te Deum" for this happy result. Is this nothing? Is this no lesson to some individuals now pressing matters in the manner they are. Let them see this popular king, this idol king, on the 4th of August—nay, all through the month of August, 1789, within three months taken in his carriage to Paris, with the heads of two gendarmes, (who had nobly died defending his person from the attack of an infuriated rabble) carried on pikes one on either side of him. This was a popular king, the king of the people in the month of August! Trust to passing popularity and there is no safety for the State; for the very persons who hate you will praise you at the moment you do that which is to accomplish your own ruin. Those who look to the property of others for gain, who have lost all character and honesty, will praise you in such moments, and is that a popularity to be courted? I must repeat what I have already said, that I defy any man to prove an instance in which a constitution has been forced from below, that has had any other result than revolution. Take our own Revolution of 1688, for example. It cannot be doubted, that Judge Jeffries had complely terrified the land; and, unless William had landed with an army at For-bay, we should never have had the family of Brunswick upon the throne. That was a revolution effected by a power called in by the aristocracy, and is abused by those who want one now. That was a revolution of the aristocracy; that which they want to bring about is a revolution of the democracy. In all new assemblies there are many good men,—many real patriots, who are easily gulled and led away, and of course there are many profligate politicians. In the French National Convention, the good were at first the majority, and the bad the minority; and so it happens in almost all assemblies, that in the first in- 641 stance the bad are in the minority, but at last they get to be the majority, because they have a spirit of movement, of determination, which makes them more resolute in the prosecution of their objects. If we were so placed (which I am not willing to take for granted), that we must make some mighty change, is this the course great nations have pursued in similar crises. Rome, in days of peril, had a Dictator, and God grant that the time may never come when the world, weary of the tyranny of many, may sigh for one. In Venice, where the most complete system of aristocratic tyranny ever invented was in full play, where the aristocracy were at once Peers and Commoners, what did they do to give stability to their government? Did they try to enlarge the basis of the executive government, and call a certain number of persons from the senate? No—they first created the Council of Ten, and afterwards the Inquisition of State. Although they knew perfectly well when they appointed both those terrible councils, the last, the most remarkable instance of absolute authority given to invisible men ever known; although, I say, they knew, in appointing them, that they themselves were subject to them, we find that the State of Venice was saved, and that in all cases of dictatorship, till the last, Rome stood. Whilst upon this question, I would wish to refer to something that fell from the noble and learned Lord Advocate, whose speech, clever as it undoubtedly was, offers ample room for animadversion. The noble and learned Lord told us, that we had increased in wealth, and should therefore increase in freedom; and quoted to us the cases of the Italian republics, and the history of our own country after the civil wars. But has the learned Lord reflected either upon the history of Greece or of Rome? Has he seen that liberty has there followed wealth? Has he looked to the history of Persia? Did he find that freedom followed wealth there, or did a brave and hardy people, becoming enervated with wealth fall under a tyrannical government? What did he find to be the case in Athens and Sparta?—What in Rome? Does he recollect the eloquent thought of a noble poet, now no more, perhaps one of the greatest this country ever produced—Lord Byron, who with the ruins of the Palatine Hill before him, of the Capitol on his right hand, and the Coliseum on his left said, 642There is the moral of all human tales;Tis but the same rehearsal of the past,First freedom, and then glory—when that fails;Wealth, vice, corruption, barbarism at last;And history, with all her volumes vast,Hath but one page.It is my intention to move that this Bill be read a second time this day six months; but, before doing so, I will shortly explain my reasons for that step. The Bill before us appears to me radically bad in all its details, and so impossible to be moulded into any form, supposing that, which I do not believe to be the case, the present Government, or any other in a similar position, would consent to modify such a Bill; but so impossible is it that it can be substantially altered in Committee, that T consider it of no use to let it go into one. I think I could point out such a list of erroneous principles, as forming the very basis of the old Bill, that to amend it at all, a new bill must be brought into the House. This measure is so radically bad, that even if Ministers were beaten in detail upon it, it could not be made what I wish it to be. I think their plan gives an undue influence to towns. As they were determined to remodel the Constitution, and frame a new legislative body, they might have taken if they pleased, the whole of the population, or taxation of the country, and divided it into departmental divisions, as in France; or they might have kept the same system of boroughs, without attempting to introduce one universal qualification. They have adopted neither of these two courses, but have done away with all the advantages which arise from the variety of our elective franchise. They have done away with that system by which all classes, all professions, all interests, were represented in this House. I do not enter into the question of abstract right, but it is certain that the House of Commons, as it is now constituted, represents all the interests of the empire, which it certainly will not under the Bill of the noble Lord. When we look round and see all the great interests of this country which must come under discussion here— the judicial, military, and naval questions that must be adjusted here—are there not advantages in bringing persons into this House fully acquainted with their details? Have we not in the House now always persons representing the most remote colonial interest? If you wish to have a Representation of the United Kingdom merely, there, may be some appearance of consist- 643 ency in your proceedings; but if you wish to have a virtual Representation of a great colonial empire, containing 120,000,000 of inhabitants, you arc not going the way to obtain it, but rather to obtain a tyrannical assembly to rule over it. How, Sir, under this Bill, can any one representing a colonial interest, except by bribery, get into this House? How is the Bank, of England, or any other great interest, to be represented here, under that Bill, unless bribery be resorted to? With regard to property, I see not what right that gives to interfere in the administration of the government of the country. The hon. member for Preston says, consistently enough, that every man who is drawn by the ballot for the militia has a right to vote, and if you once admit the principle of a right, be it upon what it may, you will find that universal suffrage follows. But to come to another point. If the supreme government thinks it right to delegate to certain interests in this country the trust of returning to this House Members who may be supposed indirectly to represent all the great interests of the State and of the Colonies, we can easily understand why there should be this great variety of franchise applicable to all possible cases. Now, the Bill of the noble Lord goes at once to destroy all the advantages we had from that variety in the franchise; and this is my great fundamental objection to the principle of the Bill, and my reason for believing that nothing we could do to it in the Committee could make it a palatable or useful measure to the empire. With regard to the property which is made the foundation of the franchise, does the possession of a freehold, of 10l. qualify a person to choose a proper Statesman to make the laws which shall govern the land? A man with a 10l. freehold, rather than a man with one of 9l. 19s. 6d.? The property, then, is taken as a guarantee; yet we hear of population. The wisdom of our ancestors, in framing this Constitution, now so much derided, thought it right to scatter the franchise through the different boroughs of the country, and did it in every possible variety of form, so that every description of persons might find the means of election. That this somehow obtained the guarantee so much desired, is clear, for the system has gone on working marvellously through many ages, although against all the theories of all the books written upon it, I must say, however, 644 knowing what the feeling of the country is, and seeing the great interests which have sprung up in large towns, celebrated for their manufactures, celebrated for their population, but which were not thought of in 1688, or before that, at the last period of granting original franchises, I never was of opinion that such large towns should be without Representatives; but in advocating their interests I wish not to destroy those of others. It is one thing to destroy boroughs, and another to give the franchise to great towns—one thing to do away with all franchise in a place with less than 2,000 inhabitants, and half the franchise where there are only 4,000 inhabitants— and another thing to grant the franchise to 100,000 inhabitants. Upon what principle are towns with 4,000 inhabitants to retain a Member, whilst others with more than that number have none given them? Indeed, these limits of 4,000 and 2,000 inhabitants have been most capriciously laid hold of, seemingly with no other reason, if it be one, than the attainment of an uniform system. My intention is,— after this Bill has been disposed of, by being rejected on the second reading, as I trust and feel confident it will,—to propose some Resolution which will give an assurance to the country that this house is determined to strengthen its Representation, I do not give the exact words of the Resolution at present, but I pledge myself to do so; nor do I give my plan of Reform, for it is absurd to suppose that any man can improvise a constitution in a day. Indeed the noble Lord himself has found some difficulty in it, and has not failed to fall into some great blunders. Some instances come within my personal knowledge of towns which are not rated at the population they possess, not from any wilful mistake in the noble Lord, but from want of local knowledge, having taken into account too few or too many parishes. If the noble Lord, with six months' time to arrange his plans, and acquire a knowledge of the details, has fallen into an error of this kind on the matter of fact, I may well be excused from now offering any new constitutional plan to the consideration of the House. The Resolution I shall propose, however, will show, that those Members who reject this Bill as revolutionary, and having a tendency to destroy the King's authority, have still an inclination to go to a certain extent in Reform,—to that extent which I understand was origi- 645 nally intended, before certain individuals stepped in and altered the first plan. Of course, I only speak from hearsay; but this is a plan I certainly cannot accede to; and as long as I have a vote in this House, I will vote for the maintenance of the basis of the fabric of the Constitution. When I see around me generals who have fought the battles and raised the military glory of the country to the highest pitch of greatness—when I see naval commanders, who have preserved to the country that undisputed supremacy which she possessed— and when I see around me Judges from abroad, who came amongst us qualified to inform us of the manners and customs of the various races of mankind for whom they are called upon to legislate—and when, in addition to these, I see every complicated interest of a community, unexampled in its enterprise, duly represented by persons practically conversant with that interest— and when I reflect that many of these would have been deprived of sitting there and contributing to the honour and dignity of the House, if this Bill had been passed some years ago—I am determined to resist it now, and above all to resist the reiterated, usque ad nauseam reiterated arguments of intimidation by which it has been supported. The hon. Baronet concluded by moving, "That the Bill be read a second time that day six months."
§ Mr. Cartwright
rose to second the Motion, and said, he regretted that a more moderate reform of the defects existing in the Representative System had not been proposed by his Majesty's Ministers, for to such he would have gladly given his support; but he could not assent to a measure which tended to the levelling of all established institutions, and which, nevertheless, as had been admitted by the hon. member for Preston, did not concede any one of the things prayed for by the numerous petitions presented to that House. The hon. member had stated, that only two of the whole number of petitions prayed for anything that was granted; and as to what was the feeling of those who advocated that measure strenuously, in the House and without its doors, they might judge from a printed letter of the hon. member for Middlesex, addressed to some persons in Scotland, and advising, above all things, to be ware of mentioning the Ballot. He would not attempt to go into the details of the Bill; for him it was enough to say, that he could not consent to a plan by which 646 rights and property were done away with, and which took off so many of the Members of that House. One objection to this measure, which he considered unanswerable was, that it could not be a final measure. He thought it more manly to oppose the whole measure, therefore, than resist particular parts of it. Members of that House should do their duty, notwithstanding the excitement which might happen to prevail outside its doors, and he was resolved to do his though he lost his seat by it. And if there should be any disturbance consequent upon the rejection of the Bill, the responsibility would rest, upon the heads of the Ministers, who brought in the measure without sufficient reflection. The Bill would introduce too large a portion of democracy into the Constitution. It would, in fact, confer universal, suffrage. He was, consequently, glad to hear from his hon. friend that he intended to suggest a plan of moderate Reform, by which injuries might be repaired and defects removed without injury to the stability of the structure. He considered that the existing evils did not justify the danger of the attempt which the Government were disposed to make, and he felt great satisfaction in seconding the Amendment.
§ Mr. Sheil
said, that on this tremendous question he was sensible that he stood in a most difficult position, and in now addressing the House, for the first time, he stood in need of its most indulgent consideration. At the same time he felt a strong conviction, that in giving his support to this measure, which he considered a constitutional, and not a revolutionary one, he was not only acceding to the just demands of the people, but contributing his humble part to add lustre and stability to the Monarchy, which he, for one, considered the main stay of British liberty. The hon. member for Cornwall appeared to him to have embraced in his speech a great variety of topics. He had commenced with referring to Ireland, and had brought, in his (Mr. Sheil's) judgment, a singular charge against that country. He said that Ireland was lulled. He confessed that he (Mr. Sheil) was surprised at that being made an objection; but he trusted that the hon. Member's apprehensions as to an interruption of tranquillity there would not be realised. The hon. Baronet had then proceeded to descant upon the evil efforts which would arise from the propa- 647 gation of the doctrines of Mr. Mill. He (Mr. Sheil) did not. say that Mr. Mill's arguments were not pertinent to the subject, but the present measure was supported on grounds distinct and independent of those. The hon. Baronet had passed in rapid transition from India to Athens, and thence to Italy, in reference to this question. When the hon. Baronet spoke of Venice and its dictatorship with praise, it reminded him of the lines of Lord Byron:—I stood at Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs.The hon. Baronet had then proceeded to animadvert on the French Revolution, and would seem to have consulted Menai's history for all his details of that event. He had taken a most discursive view; he had embraced Ireland, India, Venice, and the whole empire of France in his comprehensive disquisition. Was it not wonderful that he should not have said one word of Cornwall? He (Mr. Sheil) expected that the hon. Baronet, having peculiar opportunities of knowing the advantages of the close-borough system, would have illustrated them by some peculiarly felicitous reference. He could only account for his entire omission of this almost personal topic, by supposing that, placed on a great political elevation, from which an immense horizon was opened upon him, he did not see the petty objects immediately beneath. The hon. Baronet had talked of the subversion of Thrones and Altars, the fall of Crowns and Mitres, and had indulged in all sorts of lugubrious vaticination. He saw horrors in the past, beheld nothing but anarchy in the present and ruin in the future. It was his (Mr. Sheil's) opinion, that this measure was justified by example—that it was required by existing circumstances and the state of the national mind—and that it was calculated, as far as it was possible to penetrate the obscurity of the future, to be productive of great and lasting good. In supporting this Bill by a reference to changes which had already taken place, he should not take any distant retrospect. He would limit himself to a single fact. The disfranchisement of 200 Irish boroughs by the Act of Union had been already mentioned by his hon. friend, the member for Waterford, and he would not, therefore, dilate upon it, but observe, that there were also 100 Irish Members incorporated with this House. By this proceeding, not only was the Irish Parliament abated, but the whole structure of the British Parlia- 648 ment was changed. Was not this a greater innovation than any which could result from the proposed additions to the county Members, and was not the incorporation of 100 Irishmen, differing in habits, and having at one time distinct interests, a change more violent than the intended substitution for the Representatives of places of which the streets (to use the expression of Edmund Burke) "can only be traced by the colour of the corn, and of which the only manufacture is in Members of Parliament?" If it should be suggested that there is a difference—and he would admit that there was one—the Union was carried by expedients which, in the judgment of a rigorous moralist, must, to employ the softest term, be considered questionable; but here the Minister endeavours to accomplish a noble object by exalted means. Instead of appealing to the sordid passions, he calls for their suppression. He calls on the trustees of the public interests and the arbiters of the national destinies to dismiss every selfish consideration, and to raise up their hearts to a level with their lofty duties. He had been heard. A proud mention had been made of those who had given strong evidence of disinterestedness at a time which, beyond any other, put professions of public virtue to the test. One name he had heard with peculiar pleasure. Proof had been given that there was nothing in the religion of the premier Peer of England to disqualify him for the love and the service of his country. He should, he trusted, be pardoned for this momentary deviation, into which he had been hurried by his personal feelings, from the course which he had proposed to himself to pursue. He had shown that there was, in the year 1800, a very material modification of the structure of this House. In 1829 there was a still greater change in its constituency. If he adverted to the disfranchisement of the 40s. freeholders, it was not to go over an argument which had been already so much relied on, but to ask what answer had been ever attempted to this important precedent. The former Ministers did not prune, but mowed down, with a single sweep, the franchise of 200,000—Irish peasants if they pleased, but British subjects after all. Defects, imperfections, vices necessarily incidental to their condition, these persons might have manifested; but call it fanaticism, call it agitation, call it superstition, or 649 anything else, it must still be owned that these men, in a great emergency, did great things, and that it was a fine spectacle to see them throwing off in an instant the serfship of centuries—standing up in the attitude of freemen—withstanding with a dauntless intrepidity the little tyrant of their fields, and, in a cause which they felt to be a just one—looking ruin in the face. And if to them the House showed no mercy—if to them they dealt with a relentless, though he was sure that it was with a reluctant rigour—he might be pardoned if he presumed to ask, in the name of plain consistency and of British justice, what peculiar virtue could be detected in burgesses and corporators which should excite a sympathy so profound—which should awaken so much parliamentary tenderness, and stir to their depths the springs of legislative commiseration? But it might be urged that necessity justified the disfranchisement of the 40s. freeholders. He would see whether Reform did not impose an equal need. This brought him to the consideration of actual circumstances. It was insisted that the country prospered—that the machine worked well—that England, with that fiscal prodigy, a debt of 1,000,000,000l. on her back, still stood erect and firm—that the countless expenditure of countless treasure and the spendthrift prodigality of her life-blood were not too large a price for freedom; that whatever may have befallen, she might proudly contrast her condition with that of the Continent, and survey the "mighty labour" of other nations, who were tempest-tost in revolutionary agitation, with a pleasurable consciousness of her own security. To all this he answered, that there existed within herself a settled and general discontent, which was derived from causes of a permanent nature, and which, instead of being the mere ebullition of transitory passion, flowed out of a deep and constant source. It was idle to say that it had not long existed, because it had only recently appeared. The sudden force with which it had burst forth was a proof that the materials of eruption had been long accumulating. It was of little avail to say, that it was connected with the events on the Continent. Were we to omit to strengthen our own institutions because this island had not felt the tremor of that great shock which had levelled the governments of France and Belgium to the ground? It was equally 650 nugatory to say that the Press had done all this. Then would the Press relinquish its natural vocation? And was it not much wiser to consider, instead of inveighing against its influence, those materials, in the shape of abuses, upon which it exerted its powerful operation? Was the discontent well founded? That was the main question—almost the only one. Were all the evils of which the press and the people complained merely imaginary? Had they no existence except in the distempered fancy of political hypochondriacs, or was there a gangrene that could be felt and touched, and that was visibly and palpably eating its way into the vitals of the State? He would abstain from going through the beaten track in which so many had gone before him, and from expatiating upon the gross abases of the present Representative system in detail. He would not repeat what had been already so frequently reiterated. He would not go through what would certainly be a tedious and unprofitable repetition of what others had powerfully and minutely pressed. This single broad fact was, in his mind, sufficient to call forth the national repudiation of the House of Commons, its majority was returned, not by the people, but by 150 individuals. Some four or five great proprietors of boroughs were enabled to control the Minister, and by their oligarchical coalition, to dictate to their Sovereign, and to lord it over the people. That such a system should exist was a great calamity in itself, but the evil was heightened by many sordid accompaniments. Seats in Parliament were made the subject of bargain and sale, and an almost open mart, a common staple, a parliamentary bazaar, was established for the vendition of the franchises of the people. A parliamentary broker was a customary phrase; nay, matters had been carried to such a pitch, that boroughs had been made the subject of marriage settlement, and had been put, by the ingenuity of conveyancers, through all the diversities of matrimonial limitation. The House had all heard that a Sultana on her marriage usually had one province awarded to her for her necklace, another for her bracelets, and a third for her girdle. Under the system of parliamentary proprietorship, it would be no matter of surprise to see a lady of fashion receiving Old Sarum for pin-money and Gatton for her dower. The people thought it a perfect mockery to call this a national Represent- 651 ation; and instead of seeing in Members of Parliament the mirror of the public mind, they beheld in them pocket-glasses, in which the images of a few great nominators were faithfully reflected. By these means the moral as well as the political interests of the country were affected. The notorious sale of boroughs generated a general habit of venality. These spots were not only full of distemper, but they communicated contamination. When Lords transmuted their interest in Parliament into money, by what an easy process of imitative alchymy the humbler voter could convert his miserable suffrage into gold! How could we condemn bribery in the one, when we gave it a countenance in the other? Was the grossness of the prostitution palliated by the largeness of its wages: and was the enormity of the offence in the inverse ratio with the magnitude of its remuneration? There were Statutes, indeed, against it. So much the worse. Hypocrisy was superadded to corruption, when the law occasionally immolated some incautious offender, who committed a larceny of the people's rights, and whose guilt, upon the principles of Spartan morality, was not determined by the delinquency of the theft, but the folly of the detection! And was it to be wondered at that a nation, who prized virtue as well as freedom, should feel indignant, and even exasperated, at these misdoings? Was it matter of surprise that there should exist through the empire but one feeling of reprobation at this flagitious traffic, and that England should start up to expel from the temple those who have driven in its sanctuary their unholy and sacrilegious trade? But gross may, monstrous as these abuses were, there were men who found advantages in their existence, and whom these deformities in the Constitution inspired with the perverse admiration of the love in the Roman poet—Turpia decipiunt cŃcum vitia, aut etiam ipsa hæcDelectant, veluti Balbinum polypus Agnæ.It had been urged that the close boroughs had supplied the means of admitting men of distinguished abilities, who could not otherwise have obtained an access to this House. They were represented as the postern gates by which talents which would have been excluded from the legitimate avenues, contrived to get in. The answer given by the member for Calne was a strong one. Was it not probable that, if 652 the doors of this House had been thrown more widely open, genius and knowledge would have found, through the more constitutional entrance, an honourable way? But who were those that pressed round the back doors of Parliament? How were the crowd made up? How few were the statesmen, the orators, and political economists, compared with those by whom they were surrounded! He admitted that a splendid catalogue, an emblazoned muster-roll of genius, had been produced by the advocates of the borough system. Mark, however, over what a vast space they were dispersed! In how black a firmament they sparkled. But was it not very remarkable, that so many of these illustrious persons, who were cradled in close boroughs, and who preserved their political soundness, although they were nursed by corruption, were themselves opposed to the very system to which it was alleged that they owed their parliamentary existence? What would be said of Chatham, Dunning, Pitt, Fox, Sheridan, and so many others? Try this case not by the votes of the living, but by the votes of the dead; enter the sacred repository within whose echo the House deliberated, count the graves of the illustrious men who were opposed to Reform, and of those who were its advocates, and on that division it would be found that the majority of sepulchres was in its favour? But even if he were to admit that they were against it, and that this House would lose the chances (for they are but contingences) of receiving men like them through the medium which is the theme of so much panegyric; yet what would be the loss compared with the certain deprivation of the public confidence? Place in one scale the antique genius of the elder Pitt—the extraordinary abilities of his illustrious son —the impassioned logic and inspired humanity of Fox—Sheridan's wit—Grattan's integrity—the sagacity of Windham— Tierney's eloquent common sense—and the multifarious endowments of the accomplished Canning, and crown the splendid accumulation with the surpassing name of Edmund Burke; and after you shall have hoarded and heaped up virtue, patriotism, wisdom, and eloquence together, throw in the opposite scale, the confidence, the affection, the devoted allegiance, the enthusiastic sympathy, the entire hearts of millions of the people, and where was the man who would for a moment 653 hesitate in determining the preponderance? It was alleged by the hon. member for Cornwall, that this measure destroyed the influence of the Aristocracy. How? There were fifty-five new county Members. From what class were they likely to be selected? Would they seek to build their fortunes out of the ruins of their country? Members were to be given to large towns. Would their inhabitants show no regard to opulence, to hereditary dignity, to ancient neighbourhood? and instead of looking for Representatives amidst noble demesnes and venerable halls, would they accept every wandering knight-errant of sedition, and itinerant visionary in codification? There was a singular variance between the logic of the non-reformers and their sarcasms. They spoke of Tavistock with emphatic signification. They meant that the influence of the House of Bedford would continue. If so, why should not the influence of other great families continue elsewhere? Thus their syllogisms were overthrown by their satire, and their argument evaporated in their vituperation. This Bill would only wrench their despotism from the oligarchy—it would not touch the legitimate influence of property, and birth, and station, and all the other circumstances which create a title to respect. It would take power from individuals, and give it to a class. It would cut off the secret and subterraneous conduit pipes, through which aristocratic influence is now conveyed to this House, and would make it flow in a broad, open, constitutional, and national channel. Away with the charge that it would weaken the monarchy. The Throne would be built on the confidence of the People, and find new pillars in the Nobility; and so far from the Crown being loosened on the head of the King, the diadem would be fastened by another band on the royal brow. But it was said that this measure was not final; not final—what was there in human affairs that was? It had in it as deep a principle of permanence as could be perhaps desired. The people ought not to be contented with existing abuses but they ought to be with their proposed remedies. All just grounds of complaint would be taken away; and it was reasonable to anticipate that the characteristic good feeling and good sense of the British nation would take upon this measure a firm stand. The objection that the measure was not final, embraced all change 654 and comprehended all Reform. It was the favourite ritual of every idolater of every abuse. Beware, they exclaimed, of innovation. "All this," said Lord Bacon, "would be true if time stood still, which, however, moves so round, that a forward retention of custom is as turbulent a thing as innovation." Were the dangers all on one side? He had observed that the opponents of Reform looked only at the possible dangers of concession, without any regard to the evils of denying it. They should not forget the principles which they themselves applied to Catholic Emancipation. It was with a very timid and cautious step that he ventured to approach that great transaction, which appeared to him to furnish the principles on which this House ought to decide on this equally momentous question. He begged to deprecate the most remote intention of availing himself of it (he was not so ungrateful) in order to turn it against a man whom he considered as a benefactor of his country, and who, in his judgment, had earned for himself a lasting renown. At that instant he felt with a peculiar force the value of his services. He trusted that he should not be considered to make any undue or thankless use of the event to which he had referred, when he said that every argument which applied to the exigency of Emancipation applied with still greater force to Parliamentary Reform. He was convinced that, when it was conceded, it was a lofty mitigation of any pain which might have accompanied its concession, that what was necessary was also just, but that it was granted from a well-founded apprehension of the consequences which might have followed from the adoption of an opposite course, was beyond all doubt. What single circumstance that rendered it unavoidable, did not meet the present case? The Irish Roman Catholics were strongly confederated; millions were in league; the popular passions were arrayed and marshalled. He passed over many incidents, to which it might be painful to revert. This dreadful agitation could not longer continue; at last the Minister came down and said, "Much as it costs me, I sacrifice my feelings to my country; and to the salvation of the empire I make an immolation of myself." God forbid that he should refer to this acknowledgment for the purpose of making any idle and thankless vaunt. He had fought for liberty with a strenuous- 655 ness proportioned to the nobleness of the acquisition: and having won it, he flung every factious recollection, as he would a viper, from his heart. It was, then, in a fair and candid spirit that he ventured to ask whether, if the pressure of the Catholic Question was such as to bear down all impediments before it, here were not as much accumulation of political necessities —as deep a mass of imperative urgency —in Parliamentary Reform? There were many obstacles in the way of Emancipation; a large proportion of the Irish Protestants, much of the property and intelligence of that country, and the deep, but honest and conscientious, and therefore the more formidable, prejudices of the English people. Compare these obstructions with those that stand against Reform. What were they? Where were the petitions against it? Who were its opponents? They might be counted. Who were its advocates? Millions of Britons, with their Sovereign at their head. If they had listened to the voice of Ireland, would they be deaf to English invocation? If Ireland had force enough in her arm when she struck at the door of the Cabinet to make the mighty Captain start, was the land of England so feeble and so powerless that they would not awaken at the thunder of her knocking? If Ireland was now in a state of evil susceptibility, the House should recollect that it was their own doing. These were the results of years of agitation, produced by the madness of delay. Let them beware how they put England through a similar process of excitement. What! would they wait till all England should have been organized? Would they tarry until a great confederacy should have sprung up? Would they abide until the rostra of agitation should have been raised in every district? Would they procrastinate until the popular passions should have been maddened by ferocious eloquence, and infuriated by revolutionary harangues? then, indeed, they would have cause to speak of the influence of the democracy;— then they would find the demands of the nation swollen into perilous enormity;— then they would behold the power of the people dilated beyond its just, and natural, and constitutional proportions, and ascending into a gigantic magnitude. He said concede; and that they might concede in safety, concede in time. He had done. His most fervent prayer was for the happi- 656 ness and prosperity of this great and glorious country, and he would say with the patrician Esto perpetua. Might that prayer be more happy in his mouth than in the mouth of its original author.
§ Sir Robert Lawrence Dundas
said, that he should certainly oppose the measure. He was surprised that the subject of the disfranchisement of the Irish 40s. freeholders should have been so often referred to by the advocates of the measure, and especially that it should have been referred to as a case of injustice, for, if he remembered rightly, many of those Gentlemen who were now the supporters of the Ministry, had at that time praised it as a liberal and necessary measure. It was said that this measure would satisfy the people. He doubted that assertion very much; and if this measure should be passed, he wished to ask the noble Lord, what security we had that fresh attacks would not be made on the rights and privileges of the higher classes of society? He feared that such would be the case, and he should, therefore, agree with the proposition of the hon. member for Cornwall, reserving to himself the power, if any moderate measure of Reform should be proposed, to give it his support.
said, that as a Representative of that county which would be most, affected by this measure, he could not but be anxious to express the sentiments of the great majority of his constituents. He was happy to say, that the present measure had their highest approval. He hoped to see it pass triumphantly through that House, and he trusted that Ministers would not consent to lose any part of the Bill in order to gain a few votes, but that they would insist on retaining all the details of the Bill as they now stood. When he said, that in supporting this measure, he was expressing the sentiments of his constituents, he made the assertion in consequence of the great number of petitions he had presented from the county of Cornwall, all of which were in favour of the measure. At the commencement of the Session he had presented a petition from the largest meeting he had ever seen assembled in that county, declaring the necessity for a Reform of an extensive nature, that should vest the elective franchise in the hands of the middle classes. That petition was signed in a very short time by several thousand persons; and several others had been 657 presented by him from the large towns of the county, all praying for Reform. Since the provisions of this Bill had been known in the county, he bad received other petitions, stating the perfect satisfaction felt by the petitioners with this measure, and their hope that this House would carry it into effect. Another county meeting' would take place in Cornwall in a few days, convened upon the requisition of 1,200 persons, among whom were no less than forty Magistrates of the county. The Sheriff, in obedience to such a requisition, had called the meeting for Wednesday, and its declared and avowed object was, to express the approbation of the people of Cornwall of this measure of Reform. The loss in the Representation of Cornwall would amount to more than two-thirds of its Members; and some hon. Gentlemen might be surprised that that county should be such a firm supporter of the measure; but he could assure such hon. Gentlemen, that the system of borough representation in Cornwall was no benefit to the county at large. The persons whose petitions he had presented were those who had seen with disgust and abhorrence the evils which accompanied the present system of borough election in that county. He need not enumerate the evils of that system, for its infamy and abominations were well known. It was an objection made to the Bill, that it would disturb the settled institutions of the country. He denied it—he did not admit that these close boroughs formed any part of the settled institutions of the country. In many of these Corporations the original right of voting had been in the burgesses at large, but that right was now vested in the Corporations, because the latter had usurped it, and long continuance of enjoyment, and the decision of Committees of that House, had sanctioned and confirmed these usurpations. The patrons of these boroughs went to Ministers and gave their votes in order to obtain influence, and Ministers were obliged to keep up places for these persons, and so these small Corporations became the cause of great evils. If this measure should be passed, the county he represented would have its interests better protected than they were now with all its numerous close boroughs. He would not further trespass on the patience of the House. He knew there was a strong and almost universal feeling among the middle ranks of society in favour 658 of this measure: and on behalf of his Constituents, as well as himself, he declared his sincere approbation of it, and his thanks to the Ministers for having introduced it.
.—Sir, I have long been anxious to offer a few observations on this important question. In the course of this discussion many attacks have been made on Gentlemen who hold seats for boroughs about to be disfranchised, and I have been, and am now, most anxious to rise in my place in this House, and to trespass on its attention for a short time, for the purpose of defending those Gentlemen on whom these attacks have been made. Sir, I must disagree in one observation that fell from my hon. friend the member for Cornwall; he said, that he advocated this question from no interested motives, or biassed feelings, but that he advocated it with the idea that the sentiments of those who were opposed to this measure would not have a due and proper weight. Now, Sir, I most humbly contend, that, although the observations of myself or any other individual Member, rising in his place in this House, on whichever side of the question they may happen to be made, are not to be expected to carry conviction with them, yet that the argument of any individual is entitled to that attention which it deserves; and therefore I do confidently trust, that any observations I may offer on this question although it is not very probable that they will merit much consideration, will be listened to with the attention they deserve, and that they will not be rejected because they emanate from so humble an individual as myself. I am sure, Sir, that I should be the last individual in existence to cast any invidious or unworthy imputation on the conduct of any man; and when such imputations are made on the conduct of those who are opposed to this measure, I would appeal to those Members of this House who represent large populations in support of my doctrine, and I say that a Member of this House is bound to act in accordance with the dictates of his own judgment; and although he is a delegate from the people, he is bound to act as his judgment and conscience direct him, even though his opinions may be opposed to those of his constituents. I would appeal to any man whether this is not a proper course—I would appeal even to the hon. Baronet, the member for Westminster (Sir Francis Burdett), whether, if a man is 659 convinced in his own mind of the propriety of the opinion he adopts, he is not bound to act upon that conviction, even though by so doing he should, when it again became necessary for him to apply to his constituents, lose the great object of his ambition,—namely, the honour of Representing them in Parliament. I would make no sinister observation on the conduct of any individual whatever; but when I look to the opposite side of the House, I see hon. gentlemen who are possessed of great honour, great power, and high emoluments, and who sit there solely because they support this measure; and I tell those hon. Gentlemen, that by supporting this measure they act in total variance with the whole tenor of their political life, I say, Sir, that we have heard them advance arguments in support of this measure, which we have all at former periods heard them meet and treat as if totally unworthy of consideration. I will make no imputation on the conduct of these hon. Gentlemen, as I have already observed, but I would beg to ask them, if they can get over this observation? Now, Sir, let us look again to those hon. members who are, not the projectors, but the advocates, of this Bill;—do they support this measure from pure and disinterested motives? Do they consider this subject only with reference to the measure before the House? Why, Sir, they themselves admit that they make use of this measure only as a stepping-stone to the attainment of other objects. The change that has taken place in the opinions of some of these hon. Gentlemen has certainly proceeded with great rapidity; and I think they will be ready to admit, that their conduct in this respect is totally at variance with the whole tenor of their political conduct. I do not wish to make any attack upon these hon. Gentlemen, but I certainly think that they might condescend to act with some little fairness towards those Gentlemen who think proper to act as I do on this subject. I shall now proceed to offer some observations on the Bill itself. It is not my intention to trouble the House by going into any of the details of the measure; indeed, so much has been already said on the general measure, that it would be almost impossible for any man, much less so humble an individual as myself, to advance any new argument upon it. I have, since the nature of this measure was first made known to the House, regarded it, and still 660 do, as one which can be productive of no benefit whatever. Is it beneficial because it will extend the elective franchise? The noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, has asserted in this House, that he would give every individual a voice in the Representation of the people, and yet, Sir, by the operation of this measure, three-fourths of the people of this country will be excluded from the exercise of that privilege. This principle is certainly a very different one from that which the noble Lord formerly stated his desire to act upon. Now, Sir, the noble Lord proposes to limit the elective franchise to householders rated at 10l. Is that to be the limitation? On what principle does the noble Lord draw that line? Do hon. Gentlemen think that that will afford a security to the happiness and welfare of this country? Who is there that will stand up in his place here and say, even if this Bill does pass, it will give satisfaction to the country? The right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir James Graham)said on a former occasion, that this was a measure which would be productive of great satisfaction to the country, and that we might pass it without the least danger. Sir, how can that be the fact? How can it be expected that this measure will give satisfaction to the people which excludes one half of them from the exercise of a right they already possess? When I say one half of the people, I mean a very large portion of them will be excluded from the exercise of a privilege they now possess, and to which they have an undoubted right. The hon. Gentlemen, on the other side of the House will tell us perhaps, that the numberless petitions on this subject that lie upon the Table of the House are proofs in support of their statements. Now I will tell the hon. Gentlemen who support this measure, that I have taken the trouble of examining many of those petitions, and I deny that they do express satisfaction with this measure. Some of them may express joy and exultation at the plan of Reform which has been introduced, but I say, that none of them venture to express satisfaction at it. Will the noble Lord, or any hon. Gentleman, tell me that they are acting upon the sure principles they have hitherto professed? Now, Sir, I find the principle has been laid down by a noble Lord, that those who speak in favour of an established government should be listened to, because they speak of that which they already en- 661 joy, and therefore know how to appreciate. Will any body deny that that is a principle which has been almost invariably acted upon? There are many anomalies in this Bill which cannot be got over; there are many boroughs in which the elective franchise is taken out of the hands of the people, while in others it has been allowed to remain, and I assert, that no just cause has been shown for this partiality. Before I sit down, Sir, I will beg to answer a question that has been often put to the opposers of this measure by the Gentlemen on the other side of the House. It has been often asked, "Do you oppose every species of Reform? would you oppose every proposition for Reform?" I answer, Sir, I might not; though, at the same time, I do feel that a change of this description is very, very important, and I am also willing to admit, that a want of confidence on the part of the people in this House is to be lamented. We shall presently see to what that want of confidence is to be mainly attributed. An hon. Member who addressed the House this evening (Mr. Sheil) alluded to the Catholic Question. I must say, in regard to the part I took on that question, that though I was opposed to it in the first instance, I changed my opinion after very great deliberation, and I experienced great difficulty in coming to the conclusion at which I ultimately arrived; and, in arriving at that decision, I must say I was influenced by no ordinary feelings, or by any base or unworthy motives. I have been led into urging thus much on that question, Sir, as I really do feel strongly on the subject; and I cannot submit to hear an individual's conduct or opinions adverted to without taking an opportunity of noticing that allusion, as it is but just that I should be permitted to say one word in reply. I must now beg leave to express the extreme surprise I felt on hearing such an observation as that made this evening by the learned Attorney General. I heard that hon. and learned individual say, in his place to-night, as a Member of Parliament, and in his quality of Attorney General, when the question was, whether he should prosecute the author of a libel—a positive libel—as gross a libel as was ever heard either within the walls of this House or any where else,—I say I heard him say, on a question of this nature, that he would not undertake to assert that the statement introduced in that libel was not true? What was not true? 662 Why, that "a large portion of the House of Commons were the hired lacqueys of delinquents." Sir, I would ask the House, is that the language that ought to be used by the man who ought to stand forward as the first to repel such a calumny? Sir, I confess I feel warmly on this subject, because I am persuaded that of the many evils that exist at the present moment there is none so great as that those who are in power—those to whom the defence of our rights is confided—think fit to hold the language of the members of the Opposition; and, instead of attempting to allay excitement, doing every thing in their power to increase it. I say, Sir, that the want of confidence which at present exists between this House and the country is greatly, mainly, to be attributed to many individuals whom I now see on that (the Opposition) side of the house. I say that those men who are bound to do every thing in their power to allay animosities, have, on coming into office, increased instead of allaying the prevailing excitement; for I confidently assert, that if any thing could be by possibility devised to increase that excitement, it is the Bill now before the House. In making these observations, I beg it to be understood that I am actuated by no personal feeling towards the noble Lord at the head of the Administration; indeed, if I were influenced by any such feelings, they would be decidedly favourable to that noble Lord; but still I must say that the history of the country cannot supply an example of the introduction of such a measure as this. My opinions may be erroneous, Sir, I dare say they are, but still I maintain that I have a right, as an honest and I will say, independent Member of Parliament, to give utterance to them, notwithstanding any expressions of disapprobation, to which I will bow with the most perfect calmness. I know there are many hon. gentlemen who hear me, who conceive that this measure goes too far, and who are yet prepared for some Reform. I will ask those hon. Gentlemen to state again the situation in which they would place themselves by persevering in that respect without going too far. I think they will find it utterly impossible. I ask these hon. Gentlemen if they would trust themselves to make a voyage in a vessel carrying too much sail without the power of shortening that sail? I ask them, how would they dare to trust themselves under 663 such circumstances to the fury of the tempest? And I ask them how dare they trust the institutions of the county to the operation of such a measure as this? The circumstances are perfectly analogous. This is not a time to try experiments of this description, the failure of which must produce destruction to the institutions of the country, and that will be a destruction of no common description. You must look to the situation of the country, and the probable consequences of the measure and you cannot make the slightest change without producing consequences of a most lamentable description. In this state of society, experiments of this kind will affect millions and millions of people. It is impossible even to guess the probable results of this measure, and I must declare, that in justice to the country and the people generally, I can take no other part in respect of it than that I am now arguing. I would ask hon. Gentlemen what benefits they can expect to be derived by the people from this measure? I must again say, that I cannot understand them, and will now sit down, again declaring my intention of opposing it.
Mr. Charles Grant
said—Sir, although the House is necessarily exhausted by the discussion which has taken place on this subject, and its attention has been so long absorbed by the eloquent speech of the hon. Gentleman below me (Mr. Sheil), yet I trust I may be permitted to make a few observations. I am the more anxious to do so in consequence of some observations which have fallen from the noble Lord who has just sat down. The noble Lord has no reason to deprecate the imputation of unworthy motives. I am sure that no one at this side of the House thinks of attributing anything else but correct and proper motives to the noble Lord—nor am I one of those who complain that hon. Gentlemen, the Members for boroughs about to be disfranchised, should take part in this discussion. As Members of this House they have a right to express their opinions, whatever those opinions may be. However one Gentleman may happen to represent a borough, and another a populous town or county, we are all on a level in this House, and any Member has a right to state his opinion fairly and boldly. I conceive, too, that those Members who represent boroughs may be actuated by a laudable and generous feeling to speak on the part of those who return them. I at- 664 tribute none but proper and correct motives to those who oppose this Bill, and I claim the same just construction to be put upon the motives which influence me, and other Members who support it. It has been said, in the course of the evening, and also in the discussion which took place a week ago, that no question was ever brought into this House under more favourable auspices. If the question entered this House under unfavourable auspices, I am confident that the lengthened Debate which took place left the question in a far more favourable position at the close of that Debate than at its commencement. When I heard the observations made as to the suspicious circumstances under which this question entered the House—when I heard the strong expressions that were applied to it—when I heard it designated as "revolutionary," called "a new Constitution," and "a measure tending to overthrow the Peerage and the Monarchy"—when I heard these expressions applied to the measure by hon. Gentlemen opposite, I did expect they would have barred the door against the measure.—But no; they allowed it to enter. They said, "Appeal to the country." Well, Sir, that appeal has been made, and those who brought forward this measure can safely and fairly refer to it. The measure has been received by one universal shout of acclamation through the whole country. If the conduct of his Majesty's Government in introducing this measure required explanation, that explanation has been found in the answer which the country has given to the appeal made to it; and allow me to add, it has also been found in the conduct of the opponents of this measure in the House, as well as out of doors. The opposition to the principle of the measure has been pretty well abandoned. Scarcely one Gentleman who has spoken seems prepared to take his stand on the principle of Anti-Reform. The hon. Baronet who opened the Debate this evening (Sir Richard Vyvyan) gave us an able and impressive speech, and I did conceive, from the course of his argument, that, if any one could do so, the hon. Baronet would plant himself on an impregnable position, that he would step forward as the opponent of the principle of this measure; but at the close of his speech, as was ably and skilfully remarked by the hon. Gentleman (the member for Milborne Port), the hon. Baronet admitted that he himself had 665 a plan of Reform, which he should afterwards submit to the House. Even my right hon. friend opposite (Sir Robert Peel) admitted the necessity of Reform when he regretted that my noble friend who introduced this Bill had not introduced some measure which he might support. The question as to Reform or no Reform, then, I consider is absolutely decided; and the question we are now called upon to decide is not whether we are to have Reform, but what ought to be the nature of that Reform, and at what time we should adopt it. The hon. Baronet who opened this question admitted the state of general excitement and agitation which prevails. He ascribed much, of that agitation to other causes, and disclaimed the circumstances of France and Belgium, and to which the excitement has been ascribed by some hon. Members. The hon. Baronet seems to me very much to mistake the character of that agitation to which he alluded. He described it as an excitement of a transitory character, though he admitted it was general throughout the country. Now, Sir, I think even a transient excitement ought not to be entirely disregarded; but I think the excitement on this subject is not transient nor local, but partakes more of the character of a general and settled sentiment. It does not merely ruffle the face of the waters, but the agitation is real, and springs from the deepest sources. Can any man doubt that the agitation on this question is more than transitory, who considers the great progress which the question has made within a few years? Is there any one who has spoken or written on the subject within the last four or five years, however he may be opposed to Reform, that has not felt himself called upon to make this admission, that the question was making so rapid a progress, that it must soon compel attention from Parliament and the country? The decision of Parliament on this question within a short time is inevitable. It is not merely as a question of policy or of expediency, then, that this measure is brought forward. Public opinion has taken the character of a settled sentiment, and is founded upon principle. No statesman worthy of the name will say that public opinion ought to be disdained or disregarded. No statesman will say, that public opinion should not mainly influence the decision of this House. Then, I ask can any 666 man question that public opinion exists in a strong degree in favour of this measure? The attention which the House and the country has paid for the last fifteen years, since the conclusion of the war, to every measure of inquiry, examination, and improvement into the state of the laws and Constitution of the country, shows the progress which this question has made. The way was opened for the progress of this question in public opinion by various circumstances, of which I shall only mention one. I consider that the measures introduced by my right hon. friend, Sir Robert Peel, have done much more, perhaps, than any thing else, to direct the attention of the public to this question. They have done much to remove the prejudices which existed in the minds of many persons only a few years ago, by showing that the most ardent affection for the Constitution was not incompatible with a determination to correct its obvious and acknowledged defects. There was a repugnance previously felt, to make any attempts towards correcting faults in our laws, but the course of events, assisted mainly by the example set by my right, hon. friend, in improving the laws, has done much to remove this stupifying prejudice. The removal of this prejudice has done much to advance the progress of this measure, and in this sense, its rapid progress within a few years may be referred to the exertions of my right hon. friend opposite. He taught the country, by his wise and salutary measures for the improvement of the law, that the highest respect for those laws, and the most sincere attachment to the Constitution, were not inconsistent with the most anxious solicitude to correct admitted evils; that allegiance to, and regard for, existing institutions were entirely compatible with an anxiety to examine the evils which existed, and to remove them with a cautious and reverential, but a firm and a reforming hand. My right hon. friend was amongst the first who drew aside the veil from British justice, and showed how that venerable system of ancient laws could be rendered more valuable, by being fitted to the period in which we live. Even the ecclesiastical establishments to which we are all attached, and which we are all anxious to uphold, have received the advantages which flow from the adoption of more enlightened principles. Those who would have turned pale at the 667 thought of any interference with institutions so ancient, so venerable, and so admirable, regarded the progress of improvement with composure when those improvements were directed by my right hon. friend. Those improvements opened the eyes of the people to other evils, and the defects in the Representation became apparent even to sober-minded persons, who had a religious attachment to the Constitution. When those evils first presented themselves, it was thought that the defects might be remedied by a gradual process; and that, when corruption was discovered in one place, by a transfer of the franchise to other places a sufficient Reform would in time be effected. It was found impossible, however, to introduce any effectual Reform by such means. All the efforts made proved unsuccessful. When a ease of gross corruption was brought forward and punished, instead of suppressing, it had only the effect of inducing the corrupt to resort to new arts, and to render the practices of corruption more successful. The friends of Reform found they were met by difficulties in this, and still more in the other House of Parliament; and at length it was found hopeless to carry into execution, by those means, that Reform which was desirable. The events of last year, and the mode in which the House treated a question then brought before it, compelled all the friends of Reform to take refuge in some general measure, as the only thing from which there was a prospect of relief. Such has been the natural and gradual progress of the question of Parliamentary Reform. When the hon. Baronet describes the excitement, which prevails on the subject as merely temporary, and says it only requires firmness on the part of the House and the Government, I think he is mistaken altogether in the character of that excitement. He forgets the effect which education and enlightened principles have had on the minds of the people. He forgets that for thirty years every description of machinery has been resorted to to enlighten and instruct the people. We have now, therefore, an enlightened and instructed people to deal with, and all our measures should have reference to their enlightened feelings. I say, then, Sir, that there is a deep and settled principle, resting on conviction in the minds of the people, who call upon us in this instance to restore to them their just rights and privileges. What the public opinion 668 is on this question no man can deny, but I admit it is not merely public opinion, it is the opinion of Parliament that must decide this question. Parliament, however, is bound to listen to, and be influenced by the just representations of the people. The people of England look to the state of the Representation, and lay their complaints before this House. They complain of the direct influence of other branches of the Legislature. They say that this House but partially represents the people; that instead of representing only the people, it represents but partly the people, and partly the two other branches of the Legislature. They look back to the common-law—to the spirit of the Constitution—to the declared and recorded sentiments of all those just men who have passed away, and they find all decisive against the continuance of the present system. All those decide that the present state of the Representation is hostile, to the spirit of the British Constitution. It is on this ground the people of England make their objection to the present state of the Representation. They corne before us as claimants, and we are bound to deal with them justly. I do not call upon the House to defer to the wishes of the people from any apprehension of the consequences. I know the people of England's loyalty and fidelity, and I believe they would submit in this instance, as in every other, to the will of the House. I can never admit the argument of intimidation. That was stated as one of the grounds which induced the late Government to bring forward the measure of Catholic Emancipation. I have heard it said that the Duke of Wellington, in that instance, was influenced by intimidation. I believe the Duke of Wellington was afraid—not of force—but of committing an act of injustice, or rather of not performing an act of justice which had been too long deferred. In the same spirit I should fear the rejection of this measure, because I conceive that it would tend to alienate still further the confidence of the country from this House, and by so doing would paralyse industry, and inflict a deeper wound on the national prosperity, than any measure I can imagine. Nothing has been done to conciliate the people on this question. How have their complaints been met? They have not been told that the evil was lamented—it has not been admitted that there was an evil calling for correction, but that a difficulty was found in correct- 669 ing it. On the contrary, hitherto the people have been told that the evil was the beauty—that what they complained of as a defect was the source of all the splendor and the greatness of the country. The people, however, Sir, are now too enlightened to be longer satis6ed with this. They know that it is not to this defect of the Constitution they owe their greatness—that it is to be ascribed to other sources, and that weakness results from the want of adequate Representation. At this late period of the night, and of this discussion, anxious as I am to express my sentiments, I shall not trespass on the House further, except to advert to one observation which fell from the hon. Baronet. The hon. Baronet (Sir Richard Vyvyan), referred to the state of Foreign Europe as an argument against this measure. Now, I have watched with care and anxiety what has occurred in other countries, and I have seen with him what has been the conduct of the people and the governments in those countries; but from that contemplation I draw a very different lesson from the hon. Baronet. If it be true that a democratic spirit is abroad, and that the people are encroaching on the privileges of the Government, some portion of that spirit and of those encroachments is to be attributed to the effects of disappointed hope, and the delay of concession too long deferred. What is the inference to be drawn from the occurrences of foreign Europe? Do they not call upon us to ask ourselves, is this the time when we should disregard the complaints of our own people, and exasperate them by disappointment? Or rather, is not this the very moment, above all others, when those just concessions, too long delayed, should be granted? We need not go, however, to foreign countries for an example. We have seen in our own experience, how inexpedient it is to delay till the hour of counsel has past, and the hour of necessity has arrived. We know that by the delay of a just measure we have only sown the seeds of agitation, which have brought forth an abundant harvest. This moment, in my opinion, is, above all others the most fitting for making this concession. I shall not trespass longer on the attention of the House, nor delay it from coming to that conclusion on this question, which I trust will confirm the anxious wishes of the people, and by doing so, tend to the accomplishment 670 of a work, eminently advantageous to the country, and highly honourable to ourselves.
§ Mr. W. Bankes
.—I protest against any conclusion being drawn from the opponents of the Bill not dividing on the first stage; it was but a deference due to the petitions and the excitement of the people, not to reject all consideration of the measure; but now that that tribute of preliminary respect has been shown, the time is come for exercising our individual judgments, and we have the precedent of the Administration itself for this course, since they have made these petitions and this clamour only their point to start from; and when their prayer was for one experiment they have favoured the people with another. The word experiment is justly applied, for it is not a return to any state of things that has previously existed; yet one feature of an experiment, properly so called, is wanting, and that an important one—that if it fail it is difficult or impossible to retrace our steps. But even if I were in love with experiment, and would embark in this voyage of discovery (begging pardon of the First Lord of the Admiralty for a nautical allusion), I would look to see that my vessel was steered and manned by practical men, good navigators, men of experience and success—but if, at some remote period, those benches were filled by an Administration, whose every measure and project was a failure, at that distant and hypothetical period, the mind of man must be very differently constituted from what it is now, if any reasonable being should trust himself to such conductors. No, Sir, I would not choose them for my guides through the obscurity, though they should be furnished with "that new and burnished article" of the noble Paymaster, which will, I think, prove no safety-lamp to this Administration—and accordingly I observe that, as to the provisions of this measure, all find fault with it, aye, even those who support it in the main, exactly in proportion to the local and precise information which they possess; for what says the member for Waterford, upon whose support we have heard the Government congratulated, ironically, I confess, as it appears to me? He thanks you, in the name of England, from the bottom of his heart, but then he candidly tells you, that he knows very little of England; for Scotland, he thanks you with the same farvour, but then of Scotland he tells you 671 that he knows still less; but then, when he comes to Ireland—Ireland of which no man can be a better judge than himself— he tells you plainly, that it is unjust and abominable—and so say most of its supporters, speaking of their respective neighbourhoods. I will, therefore come to that point, and show, as a sample, how it affects the county with which I am most connected. In his celebrated reforming tour, the noble Paymaster, earlier upon his road than Callington, will hardly have failed to observe the neatness and opulent appearance of Dorchester, our county town, unless indeed (which there is but too much reason to fear) his blinds were closed fast thus early; it has never been a manufacturing place, but has an affluent and respectable population, and is rather on the increase than the decline. By this "popular" measure, that county town is to lose one of its Representatives, and when it looks round for consolation, sees ten Representatives struck off from the list of that county, and not one added, so that if gratitude is there felt, it must be on the principle ofBlest be the Gods, for what they take away!It is the largest county which receives no additional Members, nay, I will show that it is larger than Nottinghamshire, which will receive two; for, subtract the six boroughs which are to continue represented in Dorsetshire, from its gross population, and there remain 119,830; and from Nottinghamshire, subtracting the population of Newark, Bassetlaw, and Nottingham, the remainder will be only 104,349, leaving an excess of upwards of 15,000 in favour of Dorsetshire. Again, compared with Cumberland (with which the First Lord of the Admiralty is well acquainted) when the represented places are deducted, there remain only 124,420; so that, because Cumberland has an excess of a little more than 4,000, and exceeds therefore by about one-sixteenth, it is to have double the number of Representatives. I will accuse no man of partiality, but much has been said about the line that has been drawn, and it will be confessed, at least, that there are some lucky accidents: it is drawn at 150,000, and Dorsetshire is the largest county that falls below that line; had 160,000 been chosen, Cumberland would have been added to the excluded, and no other county; if 170,000, Northampton-hire would have been added, and no other county. Now, Sir, I think, even the Mem- 672 bers for those two counties, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the First Lord of the Admiralty, will admit, that these are singular and lucky accidents, similar, a little, to that of Malton, where, like the place recorded in Scripture, "peradventure there were five found, it should save the city." What principle is there in all this? and as for the permanence of modern legislation, look to Yorkshire, the only great case where in modern times an alteration has been made: we added two Members to that county by a vote of this House, and it is an object of this Bill to do that very provision away; two are now to be given to each of the Ridings, so that the West, which has nearly 800,000 souls, is to have no more than the East or the North, which, both added together, do not amount to one-half of that population. If such gross disproportion previously existed, it might be borne, but all this is to be set up on the principle of symmetry and proportion; and with such results, so glaring, so obvious, where symmetry and numerical proportion are the professed object, what permanence can be hoped for or expected? Even if the schemes of Ballot and Universal Suffrage should subside, which they will not, can any person dream or imagine that the theorists will not attempt to rectify and square these anomalies? And surely no greater inconvenience can be conceived, than that a deliberative assembly, with its hands over full of business already, should be occupied during the half of every Session in debating what is to be its own nature, and what Members it shall consist of. I am reminded, indeed, of that Spanish king, of happy memory, who said, that if he had been consulted at the creation he would have made several useful improvements. For my own part, I am very glad that Don Alfonso was not consulted, for surely it is more useful and more natural that we should be using the limbs which nature has given us, and considering how best we can exercise our intellectual faculties, than to pass our lives in debating how the soul could be better constituted, or whether four legs might not be more suitable to our figure than two, which was a favourite opinion with Don Alfonso. I make no question that he would have found proselytes; when theory is once on foot, there can be no guarantee from experiment, but some guarantee from mischief at least has been held out to us by the right hon. Secretary for Ireland, 673 whose speech cannot yet be forgotten on either side of the House, when he, pointing to some of his colleagues, reminded us of the great stakes which they possess, and the noble names they bear, and then asked, whether we could believe that such men would overturn the institutions of their country. With that good taste which characterizes him, he abstained indeed from all allusion to himself; but the mind of every man in this House supplied the deficiency, for to talent, eloquence, and industry, he adds in an eminent degree the advantages of high birth and ancient inheritance. But I will ask him in turn if he believes that my Lord Essex, and Lord Northumberland, and Lord Warwick, he who stooped at last to carry the Sword of State bareheaded before an usurper, when they in their day talked of their Reforms, ever dreamed that the blood of the head of the monarchy, that the blood of the head of the Church, the blood, the innocent and heroic blood of the right hon. Gentleman's ancestor, the Earl of Derby, would have reddened the scaffold and stained the annals of their country? Led on by a fanaticism differing perhaps somewhat in discretion, but similar in effect and principle, some among them might be men of abilities, some were weak, some vain, some rash, some ambitious, all misguided; in ruin, in poverty, in proscription, in confiscation, in exile, and some of them in contempt, rued the day when they had lent a hand to propel an engine which they could neither stop, nor moderate, nor direct, till it had borne down before it every trace of their institutions and every semblance or hope of their freedom. Do we live, at an early and infant period of the world? No, our state has long reached its manhood and maturity. If, indeed, I were living some three generations after the Flood, somewhere about the time of King Nimrod— had I still the had upon my shoulder from the building of Babel, I might then, indeed, call about me a little knot of fellow workmen (such as spoke the same language) and run up a snug little constitution for our compact society. But happily now we are not reduced to be theorists and inventors—we have the examples before us of ages to select from and to imitate. And shall we not select that which all times have conspired to praise, and all nations to copy? Shall not the British Constitution, this very Parliament, which 674 has been styled the noblest assembly of freemen in the world, be our model? No, and my friend from Babel (used as he is to confusion) will find it hard to believe, this is the very Constitution and the very Parliament which we are met to alter and to disparage! Alas! there are morbid paroxysms with States as with men; but when we see one far advanced in years growing restless at last in his habitation, and finding that narrow and inconvenient which sufficed for his forefathers and his own better days; altering, pulling down, moving and removing, are we not apt to suspect that it is the restlessness of decline and dotage, and to surmise that his end is not far off? Would to God that with our body politic the analogy may not hold, and that this appetite for change and reconstruction be not the symptom of decay, and the forerunner of constitutional extinction!
§ Mr. Slaney, in supporting the motion for the second reading of the Bill, was understood to reply to the arguments of the hon. member for Callington. It had often been said, before it was pressed on that House by that hon. Gentleman, that all the various interests of the country were virtually represented in that House; as, for instance, that the member for Gatton was an effectual Representative of Manchester and Leeds, and that the four or five cottages of Midhurst fairly represented the commerce, wealth, and intelligence of Birmingham and Sheffield; but he could tell the hon. Gentleman, that such was not the opinion held in those towns, all of which demanded a more efficient Representation than that which the hon. Gentleman considered so excellent for them, and were unanimous in approving of that which his Majesty's Ministers were desirous to give them. He could speak for the town which he had the honour to represent. In Shrewsbury, although he would admit that some of the lowest class complained that they were to be deprived of their privileges by the Reform Bill, and some of the highest were reluctant to part with influence, yet the middle class, which was the most virtuous, the most intelligent and patriotic, were unanimous in their approbation of it. He exhorted the House not to take upon them the heavy responsibility of refusing the united prayer of twelve millions of the people. If a stranger should come into this land [cries of "Question!" laughter, and other interruptions, which. 675 prevented Mr. Slaney from completing the sentence. He afterwards proceeded.] They ought not, should not, dare not reject the prayer of a united nation. The hon. members for Gatton and Old Sarum might reject the prayer of the people with little apprehension, but [renewed interruption, "hear, hear.'"] he did not wish to say anything offensive to those Gentlemen, but as the Representative of a large body of the people, he felt himself bound to speak out his sentiments manfully upon a question so momentous to his constituents. He did not doubt that the Representatives of the close boroughs acted conscientiously in defending what they considered the interests of their constituents. He was sure that was the case with the hon. member for Borough bridge. But he hoped his hon. friend (if the learned Gentleman would allow him so to term him) would well consider the grounds of his opposition, and, taking his Patroclus by the arm, retire from the contest; for that hon. Gentleman was learned in law, and must be acquainted with the maxim, that no man is a proper judge in his own cause. Whatever might be said of those who made objections to the details of the Bill, and yet were willing that it should go into a Committee, it was evident that they who would vote against the second reading were opposed to the principle of Reform. [No, no, no!] The people of England, from one end of the country to the other, were calling for that measure of Reform which had been proposed to them, and with friendly feeling he would warn the House not to deceive the just expectations of that class which most of all deserved the attention of the Legislature, on account of their conduct, industry, aggregate wealth, and influence.
said, that he came down with the intention of voting for the Bill, but he could not conscientiously vote for what he believed to be mischievous—that which he felt persuaded could not fail to destroy the balance that ought to subsist, between the different orders of the State, and the several interests of which the community was composed. In his opinion, the Bill, if carried into a law, would have the effect of giving a preponderance to the manufacturing interest. He was further strengthened in his opposition to the present measure in consequence of the announcement made by his hon. friend, the member for Cornwall, that he would him- 676 self bring forward a measure of Parliamentary Reform. In expressing thus his conscientious persuasion, and in thus declaring his determination to act upon that persuasion, was he, therefore, to be considered as opposing himself to the interests of the middle class? Quite the contrary; he merely opposed the Bill for that portion of it which he believed would endanger the institutions of the country. It had been said, with reference to the peculiar provisions of the Bill, that the framers of it must have drawn a line somewhere: true, but he must be allowed to say, that that line was drawn most unfairly, though, at the same time, with great ingenuity and adroitness. There could be no sort of doubt that the effect of the measure would be to increase the influence of Ministers in that House; for there could not be a question that the exclusion of sixty-two independent Members must increase the ascendancy that, he regretted to say, was used most disadvantageously for the country. Those Gentlemen who had large constituencies were menaced with a dissolution: he disregarded any threat of that nature; no consideration of that description should induce him to compromise his principles. The true interests of the country should be with him the primary consideration, and that which he should never be brought to sacrifice for the sake of any temporary popularity. In the discharge of his duty he would stand or fall; and he trusted that the day was not distant when the eyes of the country would be opened to the gross deceit and delusion which was attempted to be practised. Looking, then, to the approach of that period, and to the time when the hon. Baronet, the member for Cornwall, would redeem his pledge, he thought he should best discharge his duty to the country and to his constituents by voting against the Bill.
§ Mr. Villiers Stuart
would only occupy the attention of the House during a few minutes, while he briefly accounted for the vote which in duty he felt himself bound to give. He had hoped before that night to have transferred to other hands the trust which had been reposed in him; but circumstances, over which he could assure the House he had no control, had placed him in this painful dilemma, that either he must on the one hand leave the electors of Banbury without a Representative at the very moment when their rights and privileges most wanted support, or, on 677 the other hand, he must, if he seconded their views, sacrifice his own individual feelings. He conceived that he was bound in honour to act upon the wishes of his constituents, and he entreated the House to believe that that consideration, and that alone, induced him to adopt the resolution of voting against the second reading of the Bill. Having thus pledged himself to discharge the point of honour to his constituents, he felt that it was due to his own character to declare, that his own opinions were decidedly at variance with those of his constituents. He also had to declare himself as holding his seat only till the electors of Banbury had time to select a successor to that seat which he had then the honour of filling. He trusted that the statement of the feelings and motives with which he then took the liberty of troubling the House would procure him the credit of disinterestedness. His vote belonged to his constituents, but his opinions were his own, and those opinions, he had no hesitation in saying, were favourable to the measure; and in voting against the Bill he hoped and trusted he should vote in a minority.
§ The Solicitor General, owing to the low tone of voice in which the hon. and learned Gentleman spoke, and to the noise which prevailed in the House, was nearly inaudible. He was understood to deny, that there was any thing in the present measure of a revolutionary tendency, and as no one imputed any thing like revolutionary intentions he therefore thought it needless for him to assure the House, that he was the most decided enemy to anything revolutionary. The whole of the argument as against the Bill seemed to proceed upon the assumption that there was something in the British Constitution inconsistent with change, and that to make an alteration would be nothing less than to effect a complete destruction. Now, if hon. Gentlemen would only take the trouble to cast a retrospective glance over the parliamentary history of this country, and over the history of its institutions, they would find that there had been an almost uninterrupted series of conflicts between the principle of democracy and despotism, with alternations of success, and the inevitable consequence of that, a system of perpetual change. The present Bill was, therefore, in every point of view, in perfect harmony with the whole current of our Legislature, and instead of deserving to be designated 678 as revolutionary, deserved rather to be called a great and healing measure—not a departure from, but a recurrence to the great principles of the Constitution. It followed most faithfully in the steps of their parliamentary predecessors, neither destroying nor innovating, but falling back upon the fundamental principles upon which our ancestors acted. He had said, that the whole course of our parliamentary history presented nothing but a series of changes. He believed that, with respect to the period antecedent to the Revolution of 1688, there would be no difference of opinion; and he was sure that, when they came to consider the period which had elapsed since then, they would feel there was equal ground for assuming that, to take away from the British Constitution the principle of mutability, would be to deprive it of an essential attribute. In six years after the Revolution, the Triennial Act was passed, distinctly admitting, on the part of the Legislature of that period, that the Revolution was not a settlement to be permanently unchangeable; neither was the Triennial Act itself treated with undeviating respect, for in the year 1715, its repeal was sanctioned by some of those identical Statesmen, such as Lord Somers, the great champion of the Revolution, and the author of the Bill of Rights, who brought about the Revolution itself, and afterwards the Septennial Act was passed, and another great change effected in the constitution of Parliament. That Parliament, which, under the principles and by the authors of the Revolution, had its duration and powers limited to three, suddenly, and of its own authority, extended those powers to a period of seven years. Did any one at that period hold that the Septennial Bill was a revolutionary measure—or had any Gentleman in the course of the present Debates so designated it? So far from any such character being imputed to it, the measure had always been treated as one within the constitution of Parliament to enact. He would ask the hon. and learned member for Boroughbridge who so stoutly defended all boroughs, what he would say to the Septennial Act? According to the argument of the hon. and learned Member, that Act must have been completely a revolutionary measure, for it affected all Corporations, which it, pro tanto, disfranchised for four years. Under that very Act were those Gentlemen now 679 sitting in Parliament who branded the present measure as revolutionary. But that measure did more than disfranchise a few boroughs—it disfranchised all the people of England for more than half their existence. Neither the 6th of William and Mary was then ever treated, nor was the Septennial Act objected to, as an innovation—it was merely felt that the Parliament of that day was following up the principles of the Revolution, and treading in the parliamentary footsteps of their predecessors. It must even be in the recollection of those hon. Members whom he had then the honour to address, that many boroughs being deemed corrupt, attempts had been made in Parliament to disfranchise them, yet that was never held to be an attempt beyond the legitimate powers of Parliament. In his opinion, however, a general and sweeping measure of Reform would be infinitely preferable to such occasional disfranchisements, for he conceived that nothing could be more dangerous to the liberties of the State—nothing more dangerous to the interests of justice, than to mix, oftener than absolute necessity demanded, the legislative with the judicial functions. To take an example;—In the year 1781, the Borough of Cricklade was brought under the consideration of Parliament—certain electors of it were charged criminally—some were convicted—some were tried and not convicted—and a third class were neither tried nor convicted. Those who were convicted, of course suffered the full penalty of their of Fenee, part of which was, that they lost the right of voting. In the first place, it would, according to all principles of justice to which he had been accustomed, be assumed that those who were tried and acquitted were in every point of view innocent; and with stronger reason might it be concluded, that the parties who were not even accused must be deemed innocent. But how did the House deal with that case? Why, after the trials, the House made these proceedings the foundation of a legislative measure, which completely altered the elective franchise of that borough, affecting equally the innocent and not suspected, as well as those tried and convicted, and who had paid the full penalty of their crime. This was done on the ground that the facts having come to the knowledge of Parliament, it was incumbent upon it to secure the public against the consequences of this abuse of the elective franchise in the bo- 680 rough of Cricklade.. It was, therefore, not with a view of punishing the guilty, by an ex post facto law, but by a great constitutional principle, that Parliament looking to what might in future take place in that borough, considered that the people of England had no security that the persons returned for Cricklade would be returned by a constitutional constituency. Other attempts of a like nature had been made but, with one or two exceptions, they had failed, and the delinquents had escaped; but the public knew, it had been stated in that Mouse by the highest authority, that it was as clear as the sun at noon-day that seats in that House were bought. All these cases, however, shewed that Parliament never had regarded the franchise as property, but as a trust which it might regulate as was best for the public good. In all the cases of the boroughs mentioned in the present Bill, although there might not be the same evidence of corruption as in the places already disfranchised, there was the same moral certainty. This was the conviction out of doors, founded upon a moral certainty of the fact. The present Bill was founded upon the same conclusion that Parliament came to in the Cricklade case, that the people had not adequate security for the proper exercise of the elective franchise; and he contended that it was as much in the power of Parliament to disfranchise all these boroughs at once, as one after another. He admitted that there must be a just cause for any change that was made in that House. If there was not a just cause, any change must be unjust; but he contended that it was not only as much within the competency of Parliament to disfranchise all these boroughs, as it was to disfranchise them one after another in succession, but it was more convenient, if sufficient evidence could be obtained, to convict them according to the strictness of law. Was it meant to be argued that boroughs were not to represent the constituency but the nominees? If not, then the whole case was proved against them. But it was said, that no just cause had been made out. Were the people to have confidence in that House—and was the mode of election in those boroughs so secret that the people could not get at it? The Government contended, that that mode of election was against the feeling of the country, and that the people of England complained of it. He was one 681 of the last of those who would yield to popular clamour. But this was not popular clamour. This was not a sudden ebullition. Let Members look at the middling classes of society. Formerly politics were abstained from because it was apprehended that there might be a difference of opinion on Parliamentary Reform, but within the last six or seven years there was felt to be no such need for refraining from the subject, for the necessity of it was generally admitted. The Reformers of this country were an active body of men, and were not to be put off: the cry for Reform was generally diffused, and it would be found that it would not cease till the just demands of the nation were satisfied. The whole House admitted, that Reform of some sort or another was necessary; but those who thought proper to oppose the present measure would not condescend to propose one of their own. In fact, every Member must feel, that they had upon them as strong an external pressure as was consistent with the law—as strong as was at all consistent with the public peace; and if they could not satisfy the expectation that was raised, the consequence would be, that the pressure would become stronger, so as at last to endanger the public peace. One of the great hopes that was built upon this measure was, that it would be the means of separating the respectable part of the community from those who thought they could never demand enough. The opponents of the measure themselves had told them, that they would not rest without the Ballot and Universal Suffrage; but it was certain that the public feeling, as far as the Constitution would allow its display, was decidedly in favour of this measure without the Ballot; and he, therefore, was justified in saying, that if this measure was passed, the more respectable portion of the people would be satisfied. But even if they were not, was that House to refuse justice, because the people might afterwards ask what was more than justice? Was it to resist all that was reasonable, for fear that what was unreasonable should be demanded? He supported the Bill, because he thought that it would be a restoration, not a revolution, and be the means of satisfying the minds of those who felt that they had as take in the country, and that that stake was not adequately guaranteed Under the present Representation.682
§ Sir E. B. Sugden
rose, amid loud cries of "Adjourn," and "Go on." He was sorry that there was a call for adjournment, especially after the address of the Solicitor General, which, he would venture to say, was the most unconstitutional that had ever been delivered in that House. His hon. and learned friend had mentioned the changes that had taken place in the early days of the Constitution, up to the time of the Revolution, and had contended, that because changes took place then, there ought to be changes now. But his learned friend had forgotten that in those early times there was not to be found that perfection which existed now. And his learned friend had forgotten who it was that had restored the Charters after they had been taken away, under which the Corporations exercised their rights. It was King William 3rd. His learned friend asked, whether the Septennial Bill was revolutionary? It was not a revolutionary, but, it was a highly unconstitutional measure, which those who represented the Administration of the present day had forced upon their constituents; and now the same Gentlemen told the people of England, that they would grant them this measure for the purpose of keeping their places. He would venture to assert, that the great object of the Government, in bringing forward this measure, was to preserve their offices. He did not speak in a personal view, but of the desire of his Majesty's Ministers, who had gained their places on the strength of the popular ferment—who, instead of joining the late Administration in supporting the institutions of the country, took advantage of the popular feeling to turn them out, and now sought, by cultivating the voice of the people, to maintain that power which they had thus won. The hon. and learned Gentleman had told the House, that it was improper to mix the legislative and judicial capacities, and that, though there was injustice in the case of Cricklade, where there was evidence of corruption, therefore it was proper to disfranchise all the boroughs without any evidence at all. The hon. and learned Gentleman talked of moral evidence when he should talk of legal evidence. He talked of the agitation which prevailed, and of the universal cry which was made for Reform; but the agitation had been the work of the Ministers themselves. It was true that a great difference had taken 683 place in the style of the petitions that had been presented to that House. But who had been the cause of that? The present Ministry. They had followed the advice of the hon. member for Waterford who had said, that he wanted agitation for Ireland that the Repeal might be carried, and agitation for England that the Reform might be carried: this hint the Ministers had adopted, and had agitated the country that they might carry this measure. He had looked at the petitions that had been presented, and he would take on himself to say, that the people did not want the Reform that had been forced on the House. The Ministers were forcing this Reform on the country,—the people of England did not want it. [Cries of "Oh, oh."] He maintained that such had not been the object of the petitions which had been presented to that House previous to the introduction of this Bill, and which, while nominally calling for Reform, had very different objects in view. He would defy any hon. Member to point out any of those petitions in which the people asked for such a measure as this. All their petitions, before this Bill was brought forward, called for the Vote by Ballot and Universal Suffrage. [Cries of "No, no."] They all asked for the destruction of tithes [Reiterated cries of "No, no."]. He would maintain, notwithstanding those cries from the benches opposite, that at least a great proportion of those petitions did make such a demand. All the petitions to which he alluded only asked for Reform in vague and general terms, but they distinctly demanded the redress of what they seemed to consider more pressing grievances. [Cries of "Name, name."] He could not at this moment name the particular petitions which made such demands, but he would contend for it, for he had read all those petitions over carefully, that the petitioners only asked for Reform, coupling it with the reduction of tithes, and rents, and taxes, and the redress of other grievances which they supposed existed. ["No, no."] It was very easy to say "No" to that assertion; but he would maintain, that the petitions which were then presented had totally different objects in view from those which were now presented to the House. The hon. member for Preston said, "hear hear!" and he, therefore, entirely agreed with his statement ["No, no!" from Mr. Hunt], The petitions, however, which he 684 had described as they formerly existed, now wore an entirely new form. They did not now contain a word about Universal Suffrage; and the people who formerly at the meetings were received with applause when they spoke in favour of the Ballot and Universal Suffrage, were now, if they mentioned the subject, received with execrations, lest such a course might endanger the measure. They acted, no doubt, upon the impression, that having once succeeded in getting such a measure as this carried, the other measures which they had in view, the ulterior objects which they contemplated, would of necessity speedily follow. They had been called upon to bear in mind the late proceedings in France: look, then, to France and see what had been the termination of the popular struggle there? It had ended in the annihilation of royalty—it had overturned some of the best institutions of the country. When the noble Lord said, he was for Triennial Parliaments,—[Lord J. Russell "No, no!"]. He understood the noble Lord to say, that he had sacrificed certain opinions of his own on that subject,— in the introduction of this plan of Reform. But he would pass to other topics. He believed, that the hon. members for Preston and Waterford were anxious to diminish the powers of the aristocracy, and to increase the influence of the democracy: and was it possible for persons entertaining the opinions of those hon. Members not to require further measures? Many Gentlemen, declared that the measure did not go far enough. He had to express his surprise that no one had entered into the details of the Bill now that it was before the House; no one, however, had thought it to be worth his while, and the House was called upon to agree to the second reading, without any portion of the measure having been explained. As a lawyer, he had carefully read the Bill, and he could conscientiously declare, that he was incapable of understanding many of its details. He, therefore, was not surprised that no one got up to state how it was to be carried into execution. He also begged to deny the moral power of the House to strike off sixty-two Members from the imperial Parliament, when the population of the country was increasing at the rate of a quarter of a million every year. And if sixty-two were to be struck off, why not 100 or 150? Where was the computation, and on what was it grounded? Was 685 it with reference to the business required to be done? But was it not said by the framers of this measure, that the ground upon which they proceed, is that of giving a larger Representation to the people? And yet while there are millions unrepresented, who, it seemed, were calling upon the Government to extend the elective franchise, the Government met their wishes by first cutting off sixty-two Members from the number of their Representatives! It did appear to him to be utterly impossible to maintain any such ground, or defend such an anomaly. It might be said, there was a great many idle Gentlemen among the Members; who seldom attended, and who frequented the House as a lounging place, and therefore, said, the noble Lord, "I will cut off these sixty-two Members." But would the noble Lord shew the House that such men would not be there again; and would he shew upon what constitutional ground he, presumed thus to exclude these Representatives? He called upon the House, and upon the country, to declare by what right they could proceed with this measure. It was nothing but a Bill of Pains and Penalties, founded on an inclination to destroy, and having no better principle for its guide than a love of change. The great feature of the British Constitution was, that it adapted itself flexibly to every change of circumstances and of times. That Constitution had worked well for all the purposes for which it was made, and was itself the work of time, and was not created by any man. No man could have created it. That Constitution this Bill was about to destroy. The people were to be disfranchised; even the voters of Preston. Their-rights were not reserved by the Bill; there was not even any provision for allowing them to hold their franchise for their lives; they were to be disfranchised at once; and the hon. member for Preston was by his vote prepared to disfranchise his own constituents. The Bill professed to be founded on the principle of population, but it was most wild and extravagant. For example, the boroughs with one Member, not having 300 voters, were to be supplied with voters from the neighbouring hundred. Now it might happen that some of these boroughs might have only one voter, and the other 299 voters must be gathered from the neighbouring county. He did not understand this principle, nor know 686 why the number should be limited to 300 For his statements he had relied on the returns on the Table, which he now understood were wrong, and that showed with what precipitancy this measure had been brought forward. The Government was ignorant of many of the circumstances which it ought to know. The Government, as a Government, was bound to have correct information on every point on which it proposed to legislate. And what was the reason for this precipitancy? Why, the people, it was said, won't be denied; so that the Constitution was to be destroyed with indecent haste, without any body surmising what was to be substituted in its place, because the people were impatient. He did not deny that they were knocking at the door, but he thought if spoken to reasonably, and with sincerity they would wait. He knew the people, he belonged to the middle classes, he sprung from them, and among them he was destined to remain. He, therefore, had no interests separate from theirs, and he was sure that he felt for the lower classes as much as any man, and he would advocate their rights with as much independent zeal as any man. But he would not sacrifice the people of England to their own passions, nor give up to their prejudices their own real interests. By such conduct he should show that he was their real friend. The measure as he understood, was calculated to bribe a large number of persons to support it. It was said, that it would be based on a constituency amounting to 500,000 persons: that he doubted, and he saw no means by which that number could be made out. The advocates of the measure recommended it on various grounds. To the peoit was said, that it would give them a share in the Constitution; the middle classes were told that it gave the whole power of the country into their hands; and to the aristocracy it was said, see how completely it places the people of England in your power. He could not believe that the member for Milborne Port (Mr. Sheil) whom he had heard that night for the first time, really represented a borough, when he heard him commence a crusade against boroughs. He would ask, what sent learned Gentlemen to the House? That learned Gentleman had spoken of a borough being a dowry for one, and given for a necklace to a second, and bestowed as a jointure on a third fair person, which made him inclined to ask if his own 687 borough had been so bestowed? That hon. and learned Member argued, in favour of the Bill, that it would give additional strength to the county interest by increasing the county Members; but when the hon. and learned Member said that, it showed that he had not read the Bill. Each county Member was now respectable, and of weight and importance, from representing a whole county; but this Bill cut all the counties of England up into petty paltry districts, and destroyed the weight of the county Members, by destroying them as Members for the whole county. The very way in which a county was divided to take the poll would have an influence on the election; and knowing, as he did, the habit of Englishmen to form confederacies, which they sometimes put to a good, and sometimes to an evil purpose, he did not doubt that the parishes on the two or three districts round each polling place, would return the Members for each part of the county. Thus the county Members would be deprived of all that weight they now derived from representing a whole county; and in this respect he believed that the measure would destroy the aristocracy, and root out their influence in the country. The excuse of haste and impatience on the part of the people might be admitted if this Bill could be executed when passed—if it ever should be passed. But what did the Bill provide? Why, after the Bill had destroyed the present constituency, leaving no man in England acquainted with the principle on which he was to give his vote, it provided that a riding Commission of the Privy Council should go round the land to settle the rights and the votes of all the constituency of England. He should like to see such a Commission starting forth from Whitehall. What was the actual operation of the measure, as it now stood? —Nothing less than calling upon them, as the Representatives of the people, to abandon the principles of the Constitution, and to give up all their rights into the hands of the Riding Commissioners, who, according to the proposition contained in the Bill, were to be the future referees of the constituency of England. Why, if the House of Commons were to dare to give to individuals a power so overwhelming as that which would be possessed by these Commissioners, or to confide to them such important functions, it would by that act, and from the moment of the measure pass- 688 ing that House, declare itself incapable of executing the trust confided to it. The Government would thereby be possessed of the power of parcelling out, by the means of these Riding Commissioners, the whole country, into such divisions as might suit the purposes which were to be attained, and individuals might be favoured, as would be found most convenient to their own views, or those of the Privy Councillors to whom these powers should be confided. He was of opinion that the House would not do its duty to the people if it were to confide such powers to the Government, for they would be in the hands of the Government and of the Monarch; and such powers were not based on any one principle of the Constitution, but were an utter violation of all principles. The Government, by this measure, called upon the House to make its will, as it were; and, in answer to the objections urged by the dying Members to an act which signed their own death-warrant, said to them, "Leave us trustees to your will, and we will take care to see all your wishes executed." Was that the part of provident men? He believed not, and he thought the House would say not. The whole Bill was full of inconsistencies. Thus the boroughs were separated from the counties in which they were situated. Thus Leeds, Halifax, Wakefield, Sculcoats, and the other large towns, were quite cut off from any share of the Representation of Yorkshire, and the consequence was, he believed, that many of the County Members would now have much fewer constituents than before. No longer must the Members for York say they represent that county. They will not represent the sixth part of it. The householders who had votes for towns were not allowed to vote for counties, because they were not to have double votes; but at the same time, the copyholders were given votes for the counties, while the freeholders retained them, thus doubling the votes in these instances. The Bill had not been explained by any of the learned Gentlemen who had spoken on the other side. It was not indeed fitted for discussion, and he believed that it was never intended that it should be discussed. It was a monstrous provision of the Bill which gave the King the power, by the advice of his Whig Council, to parcel out the country, for it was known that the King did nothing but by the advice of his responsi- 689 ble advisers, so that to them would in fact, be left the power of rejecting or adopting the whole of the regulations recommended by the Commission of the Privy Council. The Bill, in fact, abolished the whole constituency of England, and gave his Majesty the power, which meant the Government, which meant the men now in office, to organize it anew. That was not sufficient for him; he could never consent to delegate the power of that House to persons who were unworthy of his confidence. Their Budget had shown how incapable they were of providing for the common wants of the State, and was he, therefore, to intrust them with a power to re-model the Constitution by a law, the working of which no man could tell? They did not comprehend their own measure, nor did any body else. There was nothing said in the preamble of the Bill about bribery, or about disfranchising a great portion of the people, and yet the people were disfranchised by the Bill, and the rights of all the Corporations in the kingdom were destroyed. He did not understand by the Bill, nor would the constituency of the country understand, how the elections were to be regulated. Thus the whole Constitution was changed by persons who could not express their intentions and wishes on paper. He could not, in many cases guess at their meaning, and he believed that they were ignorant of it themselves. In one point the Bill gave a great boon to the landlords, and he should like to see the landlord who inserted that clause in the Bill. According to it, before any man was allowed even to register his vote, and that was to be done thirty days before the elections, he was obliged to pay up all the arrears of rates, taxes and rents. It was an excellent Bill for the landlords, and they were careful legislators for rents, rates and taxes. It was quite a relief to find a line so clearly drawn as this which settled the rights of registry by an appeal to the tax, rate, and rent gatherers. So excellent a landlord's bill had never yet been known, which placed the right of registration on the ground of the voter having paid his rent. There, again, was the appointment of the referee on all these rights of voters, which was to be vested in the Lord Chancellor. Was it to be endured that the constituency of the country should be at the mercy of an Assistant Barrister, who would be a functionary of the Lord Chancellor, and, in consequence 690 of the Ministry, and at whose sittings the attendance of Counsel was forbidden, together with the refusal of all appeal from the decision of this Barrister, except by having recourse to law, which method was open to abuse. Was a measure which struck off sixty-two Members of that House, without any regard to the necessity for so doing, and which doled out five to Scotland, three to Ireland, and one to Wales, as baits, he supposed, to obtain the support of those countries, to be considered as Reform?. The hon. Member then made some observations on the conduct of the hon. member for Waterford, and the Repeal of the Union, respecting which he expressed his intention to bring a motion before the House. He contended that a compromise had been entered into by the Government with the hon. member for Waterford, for it was impossible to bring that hon. and learned Member up to receive judgment after he had received the applause and cheers of that House — he repeated that there had been a compromise between the Government and the hon. and learned Member, for no subject would have dared to write letters to the Lord Lieutenant of a kingdom on the subject of proclamations, without either being punished, or some compromise being entered into with him, by which his punishment was obviated.
rose, amidst confusion, and objected to this question being mooted, and repeated his declaration of a former evening, that no compromise whatever had been entered into with the hon. and learned member for Waterford.
§ Sir Edward Sugden
—The letter which was read by that hon. and learned Member had produced a conviction in his mind that such was the case; he should, however, pass on and ask if the state of Ireland was such as to render it necessary, or politic, to give her additional Members at the expense of England, at a moment when it had been declared throughout that country, that, in the event of a dissolution of Parliament, there would be a pledge required from every man who stood forward as a candidate, that he should use every endeavour in his power to bring about a repeal of the Union. Was he to be curtailed of his just proportions to give to another person? and was England to be deprived of her Representatives in order to add to those of Ireland?—In opposing this Bill he had done his duty, and he should de- 691 tain the House no longer than to declare that, having pointed out what he considered would prove injurious in the operation of the Bill, he should never feel so satisfied, nor experience so great a pleasure as he should in giving his cordial vote to the amendment proposed by his hon. friend the member for Cornwall.
§ Several honourable Members here rose and attempted to address the House, but one voice was predominant in repeatedly crying for an adjournment of the debate.
§ The question of adjournment was put and carried.