HC Deb 28 March 1831 vol 3 cc1087-92
Sir W. Rae

presented Petitions from the Fife district of Burghs, complaining of being deprived of the privilege of voting for Representatives in Parliament by the Reform Bill. The hon. and learned Member stated, that the population of the district was 6,000, and these petitioners had had the right of returning Members to Parliament ever since the Revolution. He concurred also in their view that they ought not to be disfranchised, and he hoped the Lord Advocate would take their case into consideration.

Colonel Davies

asked how many electors the district contained?

Sir G. Warrender

said, there were at least 100 electors, who were selected from a larger body of Burgesses. The population amounted to 6,000. He was opposed to all measures of disfranchisement such as were involved in the Reform Bill.

Mr. H. Drummond

said, these were not the petitions of close corporations, but of the inhabitants generally, who disapproved of the measures of disfranchisement.

Mr. S. Wortley

declared his opinion, that the question of the Representation of Scotland rested on different grounds from the Representation of England and Ireland. He would support the Second Reading of the Scotch Reform Bill.

Colonel Lindsay

was opposed to the present plan of Reform. The people of Scotland were happy and contented, and he was of opinion that there was no necessity for an experiment to be made with a new Constitution.

Mr. Kennedy

said, the disfranchisement was not unprecedented, and, in confirmation of the statement, referred to the Scotch boroughs, which were debarred of the right of returning Members at the period of the Union with England.

Mr. Monteith

declared, that a great mass of the landed proprietors and inhabitants of the principal towns of Scotland was decidedly opposed to the measure.

Mr. F. G. Howard

objected to the principle of disfranchisement which ran through the Bill; but was ready to admit that some Reform was necessary for Scotland.

Sir C. Forbes

said, it was a little inconvenient that the Lord Advocate should not be in his place during a discussion like the present. Not that he regretted the cause of the learned Lord's absence, however, for he thought the Lord Advocate had been very properly excluded by the Committee. But he supposed the learned Lord would succeed in getting in for some convenient little borough, such as Windsor or Milborne Port, previous to the Second Reading of the Bill. It was very well for Ministers to declaim against boroughs, but they were occasionally found rather necessary.

The Attorney General

said, he hoped the learned Lord would shortly be in the House, and, till then, it might be better to postpone any discussion on the Scotch Reform Bill.

Lord Morpeth

called the attention of the House to an important petition on the subject of Parliamentary Reform, from the freeholders and inhabitants of the county of York, assembled at a county meeting, convened by the High Sheriff, in pursuance of a requisition to that purpose. The petition was signed on behalf of the meeting by a person deputed to preside over it by the Sheriff, who was prevented by illness from attending in person. The noble Lord, after referring to the numerous and important interests existing in the great county of which he had the honour to be one of the Representatives, observed, that no individual connected with one of those great interests had come forward to interrupt the unanimity of the meeting on the subject of the measure of Reform. The petition expressed the opinion of the meeting that the proposed measure for the amendment of the Representation would establish our legislative power on such a basis as would be calculated to secure the confidence of the nation, and that a Parliament so formed would be able to legislate fearlessly for all the interests of this mighty empire. In saying thus much he should have sufficiently discharged his duty, and should not have added another word in presenting the petition, had it not been for an opinion which fell from the hon. and learned member for Weymouth, in his speech on the Reform Bill that day week. The hon. and learned Gentleman, with great courtesy and infinite tenderness and consideration towards the Members for Yorkshire, was pleased to observe, that if the tri-partite division of the county were adopted (as proposed by the Bill), the members for York would no longer appear invested with the same weight and importance as at present. Now, professing himself, as he did most sincerely, deeply grateful to the general body of his constituents, he was content to submit to any personal diminution of importance which the change might occasion,—a course that he would be ashamed not to adopt amidst the examples of noble sacrifices in relation to the question of Reform by which he was surrounded,—examples presented by individuals connected with him by near ties of blood, as well as by other distinguished persons. The cases of Knaresborough and Horsham would not easily be forgotten; and it was pleasing to see virtuous examples offered, not only by our loftiest Dukes, but also by our poorest freemen. If Gentlemen wished to know whether the county of York resented the projected invasion of its territorial integrity, he could only say, that a feeling of approbation more general and complete had never attended any measure than that with which the present plan was received in Yorkshire, where it had been termed the great Charter of the fourth William. In proof of this feeling he referred to petitions, which he had already presented, from various places in the county, with from 50,000 to 60,000 signatures attached to them, and also to the present petition.

Mr. W. Duncombe

would not follow the example of the noble Lord, who had turned his back on the Speaker, and addressed himself directly to another part of the House, which probably had peculiar attractions for the noble Lord. [An allusion to Lord Morpeth having turned his face towards the strangers' gallery during the greater part of his speech]. He had been assured, upon authority in which he placed the utmost confidence, that the meeting to which the noble Lord referred was a decided failure; in fact, that a thinner county meeting was never known to have occurred in the Castle-yard of York within the memory of man. He did not agree with the noble Lord as to the supposed complete unanimity of that county in relation to the subject of Reform. He admitted that there was a considerable feeling in favour of the Bill, but he also maintained, that a strong opposition to it prevailed in various parts of the county. It was not surprising, that a plan which gave two Members to each of the three ridings, and Representatives to several of the large towns, should be acceptable to many, but he denied that the measure had afforded undivided satisfaction. One objection to the Bill was, that it made the Representation that of one class only. The hon. Member quoted from a newspaper, in the political views of which he said he did not concur, to show, that at the commencement the meeting did not exceed from 1,000 to 1,500 persons, and that at one o'clock not above 3,000 were in the Castle-yard, including idlers, although it was the Assize-week. Be it recollected, that the Castle-yard at York was capable of containing 40,000 persons, and he (Mr. Duncombe) had seen it crammed to suffocation on an important constitutional occasion. Did it seem as if the great body of the county took a very strong interest in Reform when the meeting in its support was so thinly attended?

Sir J. Johnstonc

said, the inhabitants of the county had expressed their opinions in petitions on the subject of Reform, and there was no occasion for persons living at a distance to attend at the city of York to petition again. It should also be recollected that the country was thinly peopled about York.

Mr. S. Worlley

confirmed the hon. Member (Mr. Duncombe's) account of the thinness of the meeting, although held in the Assize-week. He did not undertake to say what was the opinion of the county of York on Reform; he only protested against this petition being taken as a decisive declaration of that opinion.

Mr. Sykes.

—Did the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Duncombe) pretend to say that this measure was not popular. [Mr Duncombe.—I never said so.] The petition ought, in his opinion, to be taken as expressing the opinion of the county of York. At the meeting at which this petition was agreed to, the utmost unanimity prevailed. The letters which he had received day after day informed him, that there was a strong feeling in the large towns, in the small towns, and even in the villages, throughout Yorkshire, in favour of Reform, according to the plan introduced by his Majesty's Ministers. He had no doubt that it was impossible truly to contradict the existence of that feeling. The petitions which had been presented from different parts of the county established the fact. Amongst the people, the question appeared to be, whether they were to have a Constitution of King, Lords, and Commons; or whether they were to have a Constitution of King, Lords, and Borough-mongers?

Mr. J. Fane

expressed hisdecided hostility to the proposed measure, because it would have the effect of disfranchising the labouring classes, and would reduce them to the situation of mere hewers of wood and drawers of water. He could never bring himself to believe that those who sat there as popular Representatives, and whose duty it was, to guard the rights of the people of England, would ever condescend to delegate the power of declaring how the representation of particular places was to be altered, to three Members of his Majesty's privy council.

Mr. Bethell

said, he believed that it was admitted on all hands, that this petition was not agreed to at a large meeting of the county of York; but from the information which he had received from various individuals connected with the county, he had every reason, to think that the great body of the population was in favour of the Bill.

Petition laid on the Table.

Lord Morpeth

, in moving that the petition be printed took occasion to return his thanks to his hon. friend (Mr. Duncombe) for having reminded him that he had not addressed his observations in a manner sufficiently direct to the Speaker. That circumstance, however, was to be attributed not to intention, but to mere inadvertence. He should only state farther, as he had stated before, that this petition was agreed to at a meeting, of which all the world was apprised, and at which the whole county might have been present, and yet not a single dissentient voice was heard.

Mr. Sadler

said, the meeting at York was by no means numerously attended. The inhabitants of the city of York and its vicinity amounted to 30,000 or 40,000, and if people were so enthusiastically attached to this measure as had been represented, he should be glad to know why they had not appeared at the meeting in greater numbers? Indeed, the editor of one of the county papers which was favourable to Reform observed, that he never recollected a meeting that excited less interest.

Lord Hotham

said, he was not present on Friday when the hon. member for Tamworth (Sir R. Peel) pointed out the injustice which that Borough would experience if the plan now before the House were carried into effect. Had he been present, he could have fully borne out the statement of the hon. Baronet. He did not believe, in making the proposed arrangement, that there was the slightest intention, on the part of Ministers, to act with feelings of partiality towards any interest; but he was quite sure, that if they proceeded with the plan as it now stood, they would do great injustice in many instances. It appeared, that sometimes the criterion adopted, was the population of the Borough, and sometimes of the parish. The consequence was, that in some cases the Borough would retain its Members, because the population of the whole parish was taken; and in others it would lose one or both Representatives, because the population of the Borough only was selected. In the case of the borough of Leominster, which he had the honour to represent, it appeared that the population was only 3,650; but there was a note, at the bottom of the page, by which it appeared that the population of the parish amounted to 4,601 persons.

Lord Althorp

said, that Ministers had acted on the last population returns—those of 1821. In fact, they had no other data to proceed upon. If, however, there appeared to be such great incorrectness in them as was stated, Ministers would not fail to attend to the fact.

Sir J. Johnstone

said, that the meeting at which this petition was agreed to, was a most respectable one.

Mr. W. Duncombe

observed, that he had not asserted that Reform was not popular in the county of York; but he denied that it was popular to the extent which had been represented.

Petition to be printed.

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