HC Deb 25 March 1831 vol 3 cc930-8
Sir George Clerk

presented a Petition from the Bankers, Merchants, and other inhabitants of Edinburgh, against the plan of Reform which had been brought forward by his Majesty's Ministers for altering the Representation of the country. The petition, he said, was numerously and most respectably signed; he agreed in all its sentiments, and he conceived that it was highly deserving of the attention of the House.

Mr. Hume

could not allow this petition to be laid on the Table without saying, that he did not think it deserved so much attention as the hon. Baronet claimed for it. He was willing to admit, that the signatures to it were respectable, but he believed that only 600 persons had signed it, out of a population of 140,000 or 150,000, which existed in Edinburgh. This petition, besides, had been agreed to at a private meeting; and when Reporters for the public Press attended, to know what was going on, with a view to communicate it to the public, they were turned out of the room. He (Mr. Hume) understood, that when the first speaker rose to address this private meeting, it was whispered to him, that there were two Reporters in the room. The Reporters stated, that they merely attended to give a correct account of the proceedings, but they were not suffered to remain, and were forthwith turned out of the room. This petition might be taken as representing the opinions of, undoubtedly, a respectable, but a very limited, class of the inhabitants of Edinburgh. Many of those who had signed it were certainly persons of considerable property and influence in Edinburgh, but they all belonged to one party that had long ruled Scotland, and whose friends had hitherto filled all the official situations in that country. He begged the House to bear in mind, besides, that a petition cordially approving of the plan of Reform had been already presented from Edinburgh, signed by 35,000 inhabitants of that city. He therefore thought it but right to enter his pro-test against this petition being considered as expressing the opinions of the people of Edinburgh.

Mr. Pringle

said, that this petition was similar to the one which had been already adopted in the city of London. It was adopted at a meeting which was not called for discussion, and therefore the Reporters were excluded. He denied that it had been signed by persons belonging to only one class or party in Edinburgh. There were many moderate reformers, and many who had supported the present Ministry until they had brought in their Bill of Reform, who had signed this petition.

Sir G. Staunton

wished to take that opportunity to set himself right with the public with regard to a misstatement which had gone forth of his sentiments on this important question of Reform. He did not rise to complain of a wilful misrepresentation, for there was no individual in that House who could admire more than he did the great and extraordinary accuracy with which their Debates were given to the public. He was the more anxious to set himself right on this matter, as it appeared to him that if ever there was a question upon which it was of importance that the sentiments of a Member should be accurately known, and the reasons for giving his vote should be correctly stated, it was upon this great and momentous question of Reform. He hoped, therefore, that the House would allow him to explain and correct the misrepresentations of his sentiments which had gone forth to the public. He was reported to have said, in presenting a petition in favour of Reform, that he not only concurred in the prayer of the petition, but that he also gave his unqualified assent to the Bill which was now in progress through that House. What he did say was this,—that he agreed entirely with the first prayer of the petition, but that he regretted that he could not give his concurrence to the second prayer of the petitioners. He added, that he was for a fair and moderate Reform, that he quite agreed with those who thought such a Reform necessary, and that, looking forward to the great alterations which might be made in the Bill when in Committee, he was disposed to support it on the second reading. He was ready to admit that there were some admirable provisions in the Bill, but there were several in it from which he totally dissented. Thinking, however, that the question was one of Reform or no Reform, he had given his vote for the second reading of that Bill, and he trusted that in Committee the Bill would be so modified as to effect a fair and moderate Reform, with safety and security to the interests of the country at large.

Sir G. Clerk

presented a Petition from the Freeholders of the county of Peebles, and another from the Householders, Commissioners of Supply, and other inhabitants of the same county, praying that it might not be joined to that of Selkirk, for the purpose of having only one Representative.

Mr. Hodges

presented a Petition from the island of Sheppey, and fifty-nine Petitions from other places in Kent, in favour of the Reform Bill. The hon. Member then presented a Petition from Sandwich, against that part of the Reform Bill which disfranchised non-resident electors.

Mr. Marryat

said, that he had been requested to support the prayer of the petition by a large out-dwelling constituency, whom it was intended to disfranchise by the Bill now before the House. He conceived, however, that the Isle of Thane from its importance and population, was entitled by the principle of the Bill to re-turn a Member; though he could not acquiesce in that part of the petition which, to accomplish that end, assumed the disfranchisement of Sandwich of one of its present Representatives. He would rather draw upon the reserved stock in trade of the noble Paymaster. He considered that he sat in Parliament, not as the representative of Sandwich merely, but as a representative of the people at large; and conscientiously believing that a Reform WHS imperiously called for, on principle he had voted for the second reading of the Bill. At the same time, he could not neglect the rights and franchises of his constituents, which, as a representative of the Cinque Ports, he had sworn to defend and maintain. He should, therefore, in the details of the Bill, follow their instructions as to opposing those provisions which not merely invaded, but went to extinguish their rights and privileges.

Mr. Grove Price

complained, that upon a former occasion it had been asserted that Sandwich was a corrupt Admiralty borough; whereas at the last election it had returned a Member against the Admiralty nomination. The voters of Sandwich now exceeded 900, and by the new Bill they would be reduced to between 100 and 200. He deprecated the Reform Bill as exceeding any measure of revolution since that effected by the venal and corrupt satellites of Henry 8th.

Mr. Hodges

presented the Petition of the county of Kent, in favour of Reform. The hon. Member said, that before he made any observations upon the important meeting which had taken place in the county, he would beg leave to read the petition itself to the House. The hon. Member accordingly read the petition, and then proceeded to say, that he cordially supported the petition, which set forth the sentiments of the great and leading county which he had the honour to represent, in so able a manner as to preclude the necessity of his addressing the House at any length upon the subject. The petition had been agreed to at a full meeting of all classes of the inhabitants of the county, and the public sentiment had been unanimous. He must make one more remark upon this latter point, which was, that although the meeting had been held in the town of Maidstone, amidst the freemen of that borough, who amounted to more than 1,200, and a great proportion of whom would be deprived of their elective franchise by the Reform Bill, yet so strongly were the opinions of all classes in favour of the measure, that not one single dissentient voice was heard in the meeting, and with the exception of the noble Lord, the member for Wootton Basset, not one single hand was raised against the petition. This unanimity amongst all classes of so wealthy and populous a county could not but have a great influence upon the minds of that House; and he anticipated the final triumph of Ministers in carrying the Reform Bill through the House, in accordance with the wishes of the whole nation, as the source of every moral and political improvement.

Mr. John Jones

complained, that while the Bill professed to lop off all rotten bo- roughs, it had left one untouched—that of Wiston—which contained but a single house, belonging to Lord Cawdor, a nobleman who always voted with Ministers. It might, too, be convenient for the political interests of the Marquis of Anglesey, that the inhabitants of Criccieth should be excluded from voting in the borough of Carnarvon, but that regulation was assuredly not just to those people. That the interest of these two noble Lords was so well protected seemed to him an extraordinary circumstance.

Lord John Russell

thought the discussion very irregular at that moment, and said, that he had no intention to enter into a history of the Welsh Representation at that period; but if the hon. Gentleman thought that the Government had consulted Lord Cawdor, or particularly attended to his interests in the framing of the Bill, he was very much mistaken. Neither did he believe that it would be found that Lord Cawdor's tenants woud be particularly benefitted by the provisions of the Bill.

Mr. George Dawson,

however irregular might be the discussion at that moment, wished to state a few gross inconsistencies in the Bill. He wished to call the attention of the noble Lord to the proposed Representation of the county of Durham, a Representation which, once known to the people of England, could not fail to give them the greatest dissatisfaction. The representation that was to be given to that county was the more worthy of notice, as it was pretty generally understood that the noble Lord who took his title from that county had been instrumental in drawing up the Bill. The county at present had four Members, to these it was proposed to add six more, for Sunderland, South Shields, and the parish of Gateshead. Now, he wanted to know on what principle these places had been selected? Gateshead contained but 11,900 inhabitants, while in Lancashire there were no less than sixteen parishes, all of which were more populous, and were still to remain without Representation; there were twelve parishes in Lancashire larger than South Shields, and four larger than Sunderland, all of which were to remain without Representatives, and there was even one unrepresented parish in Lancashire which was larger than all the three places he had named put together. This, therefore, appeared to him to be a most absurd system of legislation; because, if the whole population of one county was set against another, it would appear that the Representation of Durham was to be one Member to every 20,000 inhabitants, while that of Lancashire was only that of one Member to every 65,000 inhabitants. After such an arrangement as this, he thought some ill-natured persons might say, that all that was intended by Government in this new Bill was, to take away Gatton from its present proprietor, and bestow it on Lord Durham. Nor was this the only thing of which he had to complain; the way in which the public Press was managed by the advocates of the Bill was by no means such as to be of service to the country, or to display the question in a just light, for while the speeches of the hon. Gentlemen opposite were reported at a length to their heart's content, that of his right hon. friend was curtailed even in such a paper as The Times.

Sir G. Warrender

said, that so far from any sacrifice having been made to Lord Cawdor, the Bill annihilated his Lordship's interest in one of the Scotch counties.

Mr. C. Wood

did not believe that the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Dawson) thought that his Majesty's Ministers had been actuated by any such unworthy motives as he had imputed to them. There were many discrepancies, such as had been pointed out, in York as well as in Lancashire, but the Bill never pretended even to approximate to the principle of district Representation. The population of a parish and a township was very different.

Sir J. Sebright

protested against such discussions upon these petitions. If the practice were to be persevered in, Members had better send all their petitions back to their constituents, for there never could be time to present them.

Sir M. W. Ridley

said, that the Bill, in its relation to Durham, had very properly taken into consideration the great commercial interests of such places as Sunder-land and South Shields. It would be found that the Bill favoured the interests of Lord Londondery quite as much as those of Lord Durham, and the idea of partiality to private interests was unfounded.

Lord Stanley

said, that the views taken by the. right hon. member for Harwich had been founded in his confusion of parishes and townships as synonymous terms.

Mr. Borrodaile

denied, that the Bill gave any undue favour to Lord Durham. There were already three candidates for the Re- presentation of South Shields, one of whom had received nearly the promises of the whole town, and yet he was wholly unconnected with Lord Durham.

Petition to lie on the Table. On the motion that it be printed,

Lord J. Russell

said, he would be perfectly ready in the Committee to correct the misstatements that had been made on the subject, and to explain the grounds upon which the Bill had been framed in the particulars alluded to. To enter into them then, was neither more nor less than prematurely going into Committee on the Bill, and he, therefore, did not feel called upon to answer the objections that had been stated by the right hon. Gentleman. Sir C. Forbes said, that as quoting Scriptures was a sign of the times, he should refer to Ministers a passage which directed that every man should take care of his own household, which it seemed the Ministers had obeyed.

Mr. George Dawson

said, that he cast no personal imputation on Ministers, but merely a parliamentary imputation, arising from the facts before the House, and which imputation must remain until the noble Lord should think proper to give his explanation. As the Committee on the Bill was postponed until the 14th of April, there was no other mode of enlightening the country upon the matter, than by speaking when presenting petitions, and he therefore hoped it would be persevered in.

Mr. Hunt

said, that the people of England in genera], and the people of Lancashire in particular, would be delighted to get such a Member as the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Dawson) to defend their rights. Had the right hon. Member not spoken with so good a face, he might have mistaken him for one of those ill-natured persons whom he described as likely to attribute unworthy motives to the framers of the Bill.

Lord Morpeth

observed, that this was the first time he had ever known his Majesty's Government censured for bringing forward a measure which was called for by the general voice of the people.

Mr. Ruthven

took that opportunity of observing, that he saw, in a publication of that morning, expressions attributed to a noble Lord, which he believed and hoped he had never made use of. The Marquis of Londonderry was said to hare stated, in a public place, that a certain Reform, or rather Radical, Society, was established in the county of Down, from which society the county of Down petition for Reform emanated. [Order.]

The Speaker

said, that the House of Commons had an undoubted right to deal with a breach of its own orders in a public print, but it did not follow that it had an equal right to interfere with respect to matters which had occurred elsewhere. It was, in fact, disorderly to mention, in that House what had happened in another place.

Mr. Ruthven

did not think that he had said any thing out of order. He had not named the House of Lords. [Order.]

The Speaker

.—Will the hon. Member give an assurance to the House that he did not refer to the House of Lords?

Mr. Ruthven

said, he recollected the other evening, when the hon. member for Middlesex wished to state a circumstance, he observed, that it had occurred in a certain place—he believed the hon. Member mentioned Brobdignag. He then would say, there was, in a certain island— [order!] If he were not allowed to proceed, as the hon. member for Middlesex had done, then he would say, that he heard that a certain Member. [Order.]

The Speaker

again admonished the hon. Member that he was transgressing the rules of the House.

Mr. Ruthven

.—Well, then, he understood that it had been asserted, no matter where, that the meeting of freeholders of the county of Down was not of so respectable a character as it had been described to be. Now, in answer to that, he would observe, that it was regularly convened by the High Sheriff, and that the petition, which was agreed to, was signed by a great number of the most respectable persons. Many of them, so far from being of the lowest class, belonged to the highest class of freeholders,—the 50l. freeholders. The meeting assembled to petition in favour of Parliamentary Reform; and the questions of Universal Suffrage, Annual Parliaments, and Vote by Ballot, were cautiously avoided at that meeting. This was no ordinary subject; and he felt himself called upon to state these facts in justice to those upright and honourable people, who had assembled on the occasion alluded to. He was glad to see the noble Lord (Castlereagh) in his place, because he, from his connexion with the county, must know many of these petitioners to be persons of property and respectability. Those who called the meeting had no wish to agitate or disturb the county; their only desire was, to speak their sentiments on Parliamentary Reform in a temperate and constitutional manner. He felt it necessary to vindicate the character of the people of the county of Down, for it was of great importance to them that they should stand well in the public mind.

Viscount Castlereagh

said, the petition was certainly signed by 1,300 freeholders of the county of Down, and he believed the meeting to have been very respectable; but, as he had said in his letter, assigning his reasons for not attending that meeting, he could not consider it as including any thing like all the wealth and intelligence of that county.

Mr. John Jones

thought, that every Member had, on the presentation of Reform petitions, a right, if he thought fit, to state his sentiments on the Bill introduced by the noble Lord. It appeared to him to be a Bill, to say the least of it, that went to disfranchise all the lower classes of voters, and which drew a distinguishing line between the richer and poorer subjects of the realm, that was never before contemplated. That part of the Bill which related to the Welsh boroughs he had already referred to, was most unjust, and he trusted that it would not pass through a Committee without the obnoxious provisions being altered.

Lord J. Russell

said, the principle of the Bill was, to give votes to resident, and to disfranchise non-resident voters; but if there were any thing in the constitution of certain Welsh boroughs, which, with respect to residence and non-residence, ought to take them out of the general rule, it would, of course, be considered in the Committee.

Mr. Philip Howard

had no objection to Gentlemen making speeches on petitions, provided they were not very long ones, and that he understood was the objection of the hon. member for Hertfordshire.

Sir James Graham

moved the Order of the Day for the House to resolve itself into a Committe of Supply.

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