HC Deb 22 March 1831 vol 3 cc702-7
Mr. Pringle

presented a Petition from the Freeholders of the County of Selkirk, adopted unanimously at a meeting convened at a short notice, and signed by most of them. It was directed against that part of the Scotch Parliamentary Reform Bill which particularly affected their rights and privileges. It was proposed by that Bill to diminish the number of Scotch county Members, for what reason had not been explained; and in order to do so, the county of Selkirk was to be added to the county of Peebles, so that they might return one Member betwixt them, though they had each had an independent Representation ever since the lesser Barons were first represented by one of their number in Parliament. This proposal was highly objectionable in principle, and most unfair in its application to this particular case. Neither for this arrangement, nor for the cutting off two county Members, had any adequate reason been assigned by his Majesty's Ministers. They had not explained why they had treated some counties differently from others; and why, having united Kinross and Clackmannan, which formerly had an alternate return, they had acted otherwise in regard to Cromarty and Nairne, and to Caithness and Bute, all of which they had treated differently, though their circumstances were the same. While Kinross and Clackmannan were to return a Member jointly, Cromartie and Nairne were to lose their Member; and while Caithness was to have a Member for itself, Bute was to be merged in Dumbartonshire. But the hardship upon Peebles and Selkirk was still greater, as those counties had always been independent. The only reason assigned was, that their population was less than that of the others, though it greatly exceeded the population of many of the boroughs in England which were allowed to retain their Members. At the Union, the principle adopted was not that of population, but valuation; the valuation of Peebles and Selkirk being greater than that of any of those counties which at present had an alternate return, they retained their independence, of which it was now proposed to deprive them. But though less populous, perhaps, than those other counties, it appeared from the Returns before the House, that they would have more electors. In the county of Peebles, there were more 10l. houses than in Sutherland and Caithness together; and they were only less populous, because they were pastoral districts, the population of which never could be crowded, though they might not be less wealthy and important. No reason, however, had been assigned for depriving the pastoral interests of a Member; and, in the absence of all explanation, it was not surprising that partial and unworthy motives had in Scotland been attributed to the Government. It was very remarkable that the whole of the new arrangements of counties and boroughs in Scotland, although full of anomalies and inconsistencies, was calculated to add to the influence of the present Ministry, and diminish the influence of their opponents. This might be accidental; he wished to impute no improper motives to any of the Ministers, and least of all to the learned Lord who introduced this Bill; but he must remark, that if accidental, it was a most lucky accident in favour of Ministers. Selkirk and Peebles, which it was proposed to unite, though contiguous, were very little connected in other respects. They were separated by a wild mountainous country, and had little interest in common, or intercourse; but each was united in interest with other neighbouring counties, and, therefore, the proposed union, while it was displeasing to both, was calculated to occasion constant dissension and rivalry, instead of peace and harmony. But this union was dangerous in principle. It was the first instance of a union betwixt two independent counties, and would establish a precedent which sooner or later might be extended. If this principle were once admitted by Parliament, what was to hinder Ministers from proposing next year to unite Huntingdon with Rutland. It had already been asked, why should Rutland send as many Members as Lancashire? The principle, if once adopted, might be followed out till all England was divided by the rule of population, and parcelled out into departments, like France at the Revolution. He trusted that the House would consider well before establishing a precedent fraught with so much danger to some of the dearest interests of the country.—Petition to be printed.

Mr. Mackinnon

presented a Petition, numerously signed, agreed to at a large and highly respectable meeting of the inhabitants of the Town and Borough of Ipswich in favour of Reform. He should do great injustice to the petitioners, as well as to his feelings of respect for them, if he did not express his sincere regret at not being able to offer his full concurrence in the prayer of the petition, because his opinions were not in unison with some of the provisions of the measure which the petition supported. He was, nevertheless, unfriendly to close boroughs, with few constituents; and favourable to the extension of the elective franchise to the large unrepresented manufacturing towns, as well as to the respectable householders of open boroughs. He had also to state, that he had received a petition, agreed to at a great court by the resident freemen of the borough of Ipswich, praying that they and their sons and apprentices might not be deprived of their elective franchise, and in the prayer of that petition he cordially and entirely concurred.

Mr. Lennard

supported the prayer of this petition. He begged to say, that the petition was a strong testimony in favour of the measure of Reform which had been introduced by the Government, as it tended to show that it not only united reformers of all descriptions, but was satisfactory to men of different and hitherto of opposite parties. The prayer of the petition was well worthy the attention of the House; and the signatures consisted of the names of many of the most respectable and important of the inhabitants of Ipswich, and of all parties.

Admiral Sotheron

said, his hon. colleague (Mr. S. Lumley) had to present a petition, signed by 2,500 freeholders of the county of Nottingham, in favour of the Bill. He feared his hon. colleague would not have an opportunity of presenting that petition this evening; and he therefore wished to take that opportunity of stating, that he had listened patiently and anxiously to the Debates on this question, with a desire to support the Bill. He had expressed himself to his constituents as favourable to Reform, and, though he might have some objections to the details, when he came down last night he was fully prepared to support the principle of the Bill, and to vote for the second reading. After hearing the Debate last night, however, he had come to the conscientious conclusion, that he could not vote for the measure. It was very probable that this declaration might sever the connection which had bound him to his constituents for four successive Parliaments, and induced them to send him to that House without any restriction; but he felt himself bound to take the earliest opportunity of honestly coming forward and declaring the change which had taken place in his sentiments, and the determination he had come to on this question.

Mr. Saville Lumley

said, that the petition to which his hon. colleague had referred, and with the presentation of which he had been intrusted, had been signed by 2,500 most respectable persons in Nottinghamshire, and he regretted very much that his hon. colleague had felt it necessary on this occasion to express his dissent from the prayer of that petition.

Lord J. Russell

had no doubt but the gallant Admiral intended to act in perfect fairness on an occasion so important as that to which he had alluded. But the gallant Admiral had been surprised into a course of conduct which was neither fair nor impartial. Having come down to the House last night with a mind made up to vole for the second reading of the Bill, he had made up his mind, after hearing-part of the Debate, to vote against it, and had not waited to hear the whole of the argument. The concluding speech of the last night's Debate was full of errors and delusions that could be totally dispelled. The gallant officer had pursued a course which was neither consistent with fairness nor justice.

Sir Joseph Yorke

contended, that no man could act a more fair or candid part than the gallant Admiral did, in declaring his honest conviction as soon as it was formed. He had a right to say, whatever his original intention was, that he would go no further with the noble Lord when he was resolved to stop.

Lord Althorp

said, his noble friend did not impute any thing intentionally unfair or unjust to the gallant Admiral. His hon. friend had very naturally regretted that the gallant Admiral should have made up his mind before he had heard the whole of the Debate. The House was aware that the Mover of a bill did not go into the details until after the second reading. Every thing that had been said yet respecting the details had been said by persons adverse to the Bill.

Lord Encombe

did not see why any objection should be made to the course which his gallant friend had taken. He thought he had acted a manly part, more consistent with his character than waiting for the close of the Debate and then declaring his sentiments against it.

Lord Morpeth

did not complain of the course taken by the gallant officer, nor disapprove of it, for he hoped that, by the same process, he would soon see reason to change his mind again.

The Petition to lie on the Table.

Lord John Russell

here rose, to move the Order of the Day for resuming the adjourned Debate on the Reform Bill. Though he was most anxious that all petitions should be received, yet he considered it of more importance to come to a decision on the present stage of the Bill as soon as possible, and, therefore, he hoped the House would concur with him that no further petitions should be received that day.

Sir C. Wetherell

admitted the importance of coming to a decision, and he only wished to say, if there were petitions in favour of the Bill, there were some against it. There was a petition from the University of Cambridge against the Reform Bill. At the same time, he would not oppose the wish of the noble Lord.

Sir G. Clerk

said, he also had a petition to present from the Bankers and Merchants of the city of Edinburgh against the Reform Bill. It was most numerously and respectably signed. He would, however, postpone it to another opportunity.

Mr. Ward

regretted that he must be precluded by the arrangements from presenting the petition of the Bankers and Merchants of London, which they had intrusted to his care.

Mr. W. Bankes

said, there was a petition in town from the Senate of the University of Cambridge.

Sir T. Baring

said, he had a petition to present from Hampshire in favour of the Bill, and he thought time should be given to present all the petitions. The Government had appealed to the people, and the people had answered by numberless petitions in favour of the measure.

Mr. W. Cavendish

observed, that the petition from the Senate of Cambridge was against certain provisions of the Bill.

Lord Stormont

still wished that the petitions would go forth to the world, as he was persuaded the sense of the English people was against the measure.

Mr. Calcraft

said, that he thought time ought to be given for receiving the petitions upon this important question. He felt the more anxious that the sentiments of the nation should have an opportunity of being known, as it was his intention to vote for the second reading of the Bill. As such was his intention, he requested that time might be given for the reception of the petitions for, as well as against, the measure, which was the most important that had over been discussed within the walls of Parliament.

Lord John Russell

said, that as the right hon. Gentleman had put his request in so agreeable a manner, he felt that it would be very ungracious not to comply with it. He should, therefore, withdraw his Motion, in order to allow the petitions then in the House to be regularly presented, in the order in which they stood in the Speaker's paper, until seven o'clock.

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