§ Viscount Palmerston
expressed a hope that the House would permit him to pre-sent the Petition from the University of Cambridge. He thought he should best discharge the duty he had to perform, by reading to the House the sentiments of the petitioners themselves. They began by stating, that they understand "your honourable House to be at present employed upon a most important object— namely, the introducing into the mode of electing the Members of your honourable House such changes as time, and the altered condition of the country, may be found to have rendered expedient. That your petitioners acknowledge it to be right and wise thus to watch over the Constitution; but they humbly conceive that all alterations should be made with much caution and deliberation. They are persuaded that sudden and sweeping changes in a Constitution which has been so long and so deeply associated with the principles and feelings of Englishmen, are likely to be attended with great and incalculable evils: that such changes lead men to cast off the scrupulousness which has always been held to be a duty in dealing with the institutions of their country and the interests of their fellow-citizens: that in every Government a belief that alterations in its forms will be made slowly and cautiously is necessary to mutual confidence and public prosperity: and that this is eminently necessary in an empire, the wealth and greatness of which, up to the present time, have resulted from the joint and gradual growth of various classes and interests, and could not fail to suffer by any abrupt change in their mutual relations. That it appears to your Petitioners that the Bill now before your honourable House will give the elective franchise to a very large proportion of the male population of the country, and to numerous classes of persons of very small property, not hitherto possessing, or expecting to possess, this privilege: that such a privilege placed suddenly and unexpectedly in the hands of such persons would be liable, especially under exciting circumstances, to be exercised less calmly and scrupulously than might be desired in the discharge of so important a duty; and that it may thus lead to other changes, calamitous to the peace, honour, and prosperity of the country. Your petitioners humbly beg, therefore, that in the changes 1184 which it may seem good to your honourable House to introduce into the mode of electing the Members of your honourable House, care may be taken to mark strongly your sense of the caution with which such changes are to be made, of the reverence with which the Constitution is to be touched, of the seriousness of the responsibility which the elective franchise involves, and of the duty which is incumbent on the Legislature of bestowing its protection on all classes and interests, and of justifying their confidence in its considerateness and wisdom." Having stated thus much of the opinions of the petitioners, he should not further enforce its prayer than by expressing his conviction that its eloquent language, and the tone of moderation which prevailed in it on a subject which called forth so much excitement, would have its due weight with the House, and likewise ensure the petition that attention to which, on every other ground it was so fully entitled.
§ Mr. W. Bankes
congratulated the noble Lord upon having been at length delivered, painfully delivered, no doubt, of the petition now before the House, after an unexampled gestation of nine, not of nine months, but nine days. That period had now elapsed since the petition was agreed to, and transmitted to the noble Lord from Cambridge; and he could assure the noble Lord, that for several evenings past, he and his hon. friends, the members for Armagh and Boroughbridge, had been waiting the result with the utmost anxiety, and the noble Lord ought now to "return thanks for the honour of their obliging inquiries." He dared to say, the noble Lord would remember that when at school at Westminster it was said of the boys who were not ready with their lessons, that they were coming from the country by the slow waggon. Now he must say, that the Cambridge University Petition had come up by the slowest waggon that ever travelled. Why, if it had come from the University of Padua, of Pavia, or of Gottingen, in these days of railways and steam coaches, it would have reached the House in less time than had been consumed in bringing it from Cambridge. But if it had proceeded from another University, from the University in Gower-street, very different, no doubt, would have been the speed with which it would have found its way to that House; it would have travelled by the swiftest Omnibus. The 1185 distance from Cambridge to London was about fifty-two miles.Nine times the space that measures day and nighthad been fixed upon by the great Poet as the time occupied in the fall of a being from one world to another. This was the exact time consumed by the petition in its progress; and if the great mathematicians of Cambridge were to put a calculation of the time and distance to paper, he believed the result would be, that it had travelled six miles per day, and a small fraction—as the mathematicians would call it, a small uncertain quantity. He believed, however, that if the history of its progress could be told, it must appear that the delay had not taken place upon the road through Ware and Edmonton, where other journeys of extraordinary speed had been performed. He had no doubt that the coaches travelled with their ordinary regularity. No; it was the last stage of the journey—it was in getting from Downing-street to that House, notwithstanding that the road was so evenly Macadamized, that the petition had been so long impeded. But the noble Lord, in travelling that journey, was under the influence of a drag-chain, in the shape of a petition from his own constituents against a measure of his own and of his colleagues. Perhaps the nicest mathematical heads in the observatories of Cambridge would find it difficult to calculate the exact ratio in which such a drag-chain in his pocket would impede the progress of a Cabinet Minister. The petitioners were members of the Church of England, and he was not surprised that they should view the measure with apprehension and alarm. There could be no doubt that innovations had long-been meditated against the property and just influence of the Church of England, and they were now beginning to be executed. What was the object of their petition? It was a petition against a measure which was intended to add to the numerical power in that House, of Presbyterian Scotland, and of Catholic Ireland, while from Protestant England it took away eighty-two Members. He was not surprised that such men as the petitioners should view such a measure with apprehension and alarm, when he connected it with the doctrines he was accustomed to hear from some of the benches near him. He was not to be deceived by the conduct of those who occupied the benches he had alluded 1186 to now. He did not expect to be interrupted by the hon. member for Middlesex now. That hon. Gentleman was not so poor a tactician as to put forward his doctrines while this measure was in suspense. They should have no sneers at the Church now. Perhaps what he said might even gain a cheer from the hon. Member. But he was not to be deceived. The hon. Member had sent forth his hint to his friends to be quiet on the Ballot— and he would now doubtless be quiet himself upon the subject of Tithes. But if this measure should be carried, the noble Lord would soon see what would be said of the body whose petition was before the House, and of all the rights and interests of which they were the protectors. He trusted, however, that a different result would attend the prayer of the petitioners, and that every man to whom it was addressed, would retire to his chamber impressed with the conviction that the preservation of those high and important interests depended upon his own conduct.
begged to say a few words. He had voted for the second reading of the Bill, because he thought it would not be right to cut short the progress of a Bill of such importance on the Motion for the second reading. He was confident that if the House, in the Committee on the Bill, proceeded circumspectly with regard to its various details, the people, who were almost unanimous in its favour, would be satisfied. ["No, no!"] The hon. Gentleman might deny it, but he knew that in the part of the country in which he resided, and he believed that most other hon. Gentlemen would say the same with respect to their own particular districts, such was the fact. But he also believed that the people of England, from the mixture of good humour and good sense in their character, were more easily to be led, and from their high spirit were with more difficulty driven, than any people on the face of the globe; and that if there should appear to be in the Bill any dangerous and objectionable provisions, which he and other hon. Members might think it their duty to reject, the petitioners in favour of the Bill, if fully satisfied of the character of those provisions, would tranquilly acquiesce in their rejection.
believed that the petition correctly represented the opinions of the resident members of the University, to which the hon. member for Marlborough 1187 and himself belonged. It would seem from the hon. Member's speech, that he thought the members of the University good calculators of space, time, and velocity. No doubt they were; as a proof of which he referred to this simple fact, — that on Saturday evening at six o'clock, notice was given of a Grace to be brought before the Senate on the Monday, with a view to this petition, its promoters knowing full well that the contemplations of the members of the University would not be disturbed by the passing of the ordinary vehicles of communication on the Sunday, so that no opportunity was afforded to the non-resident members to go down and take a part in the proceeding. Thus, he said again, the attendance of the nonresidents, who had often outvoted the residents on similar occasions to the present (for instance upon the Catholic Question) was altogether precluded by the nice mathematical calculation of the resident members of the University. The petition bore the signatures of 150 residents. The number of non-residents who attended was necessarily few. In fact, it was impossible that the large body of non-residents could attend in time. Only twenty or thirty were present, and of those only four signed the petition.
§ Mr. Praed
begged to state the facts of the case. He happened to be at. Cambridge a few days before the petition was prepared; and at that time the general conversation turned on the expediency of petitioning. If the resident members of the University had been desirous of opposing the proposed measure as a change and innovation, simply because they were hostile to all change and innovation, they would not have waited until its details came regularly before them. Those details, however, they did not receive until the 16th. They then found that the second reading of the Bill stood for Monday, and apprehensive that the time would be too short for a more extensive petition, they proposed that the petition should purport to be only that of the undersigned members. But many of the members of the University who were against the Bill, declared that they would not sign any petition upon the subject which had the air of being a private petition. It had been said, that the determination of the University of Cambridge, to petition against the Bill, was consequent on the decision of the House of Commons with 1188 respect to the Timber duties. A more gross misrepresentation had never been made. The notice of the meeting had been sent from the University Press three hours before the news of the decision of the House on that subject arrived at Cambridge. The hon. member for Bridport said, that no time had been allowed for the non-resident members of the University to attend. The petition professed to be only the petition of the resident members of the University; but there would have been time for non-residents to go to Cambridge if they had chosen to do so. It appeared by the petition itself, that four non-residents had attended; and others might have done the same. With respect to the petition itself, nothing could surpass the moderation of the tone in which the petitioners expressed their sentiments. The majority of them, indeed, were prepared to use stronger language, but it was thought better to unite the suffrages of all who condemned the Bill, although in different degrees. The petitioners were men who looked on public affairs with an impartial eye, and whose opinions on such subjects were most valuable. They were not opposed to all Reform, but they looked at the Bill before the House with the most grave and serious alarm.
§ Mr. Saville Lumley
believed, that the petition was made known after the coaches had left on the Saturday; the Mail might pass through afterwards, but much time was not allowed to circulate or act upon the information as far as concerned the non-residents. The petition was only open for signature forty-eight hours: perhaps if more time had been allowed for the arrival of the non-resident members, it might have been carried the other way.
§ Mr. W. Cavendish
remarked, that the petition was directed—not against Reform generally—but only against parts of the proposed measure; and, more especially, against giving the elective franchise to individuals possessed of so small a qualification, as living in a house of 10l. a-year. He denied that the University was averse from the whole measure.
Lord John Russell
complained of the injustice of what had fallen from the hon. member for Marlborough, on the delay which had taken place in the presentation of this petition. Every one knew how difficult it was to obtain the opportunity of presenting a petition. He himself had had 1189 in his possession, for the last nine days, a Petition in favour of the Bill, from the Nobility and Gentry of Dublin, signed by the Lord Mayor, the Duke of Leinster, Lord Cloncurry, &c.; and, though he had been down at the House at ten o'clock that morning, for the purpose of putting his name down on the paper, he was apprehensive that even now his noble friend would not allow him an opportunity of presenting it. The hon. member for Marl borough was not justified in insinuating that there was any unwillingness to present the petition. He could not consider it as a petition against the measure generally. It was a petition from the resident members of the University, couched in moderate and becoming language, and directed against the measure; but it did not term it, as it had been termed by others, a Revolutionary and Jacobinical attack on the Constitution. The prayer of the petition was—"That in the changes which it may seem good to your honourable House to introduce into the mode of electing the Members of your honourable House, care may be taken to mark strongly your sense of the caution with which such changes are to be made, of the reverence with which the Constitution is to be touched, of the seriousness of the responsibility which the elective franchise involves, and of the duty which is incumbent on the Legislature of bestowing its protection on all classes and interests, and of justifying their confidence in its considerateness and wisdom." In the sentiments expressed in that prayer he entirely concurred. Connected as the petitioners were with the Church, and the other institutions of the country, the prayer that the House would use caution in making any changes by which they might be affected was a becoming one. But as to the proposed qualification for the elective franchise, to which the petitioners objected, men who lived more in the world were perhaps better judges on that point than the resident members of the University of Cambridge, who were immured in their cloisters, comparatively uninformed of what was going on in the world, and perhaps ignorant of what had for some years been taking place in the House of Commons. They did not perhaps know, that the addition of six, or even of two Members to that House had been strenuously opposed. They did not perhaps know, that when he proposed to 1190 add six Members to the House, he had been told, "the House is already too full, do not add one Member to it, or you will overturn the Constitution." When, on the other hand, it was proposed to retrench the number of Members, it was said, "Oh! do not take one away, or you will do irreparable injury." Thus every obstacle was thrown in the way of the gradual Reform which the University of Cambridge desired. It was the duty of those who knew the facts of the case to propose those changes, the necessity of which the retired residents in Colleges could not possess the means of fully ascertaining.
§ Mr. Goulburn
maintained that, the opponents of the petition had been completely unsuccessful in their attempts to undervalue it; and that their cavils were wholly destitute of foundation. He expressed his astonishment that the noble Lord should imagine that the resident members of the University of Cambridge were in such utter ignorance of what took place in the House of Commons. There was no society of individuals in the country better informed on all subjects discussed in that House, as well as on all subjects of general learning. There were particular circumstances which entitled the petition of the University of Cambridge to great weight. In the first place, the measure could be judged of only by its probable consequences on the institutions of the country. Now, whatever class of men was the best instructed, was the best able to lay aside popular feeling, and pronounce by that criterion. In the second place, the Bill proposed to deal with every elective franchise in the country except the elective franchise belonging to the Universities. Non-resident freemen were objected to by the Bill, but not non-resident Masters of Arts. If the Bill passed, therefore, the Universities might boast that they were the only bodies of freemen in the country whose qualifications would remain unchanged by it. If, therefore, they had any prejudice on the subject, that prejudice would in-duce them to support the Bill rather than to oppose it. The petition was further entitled to the attention of the House, in consequence of the moderate, though firm tone in which the petitioners expressed their sentiments. The noble member for Tavistock said, that he did not consider that the petition was hostile to the Bill. 1191 Would he say that it was in favour of the Bill? It called upon the House to abstain from so sudden and wide a change in the Constitution; and it expressed the alarm of the petitioners lest the measure should lead to other changes, calamitous to the peace, honour, and prosperity of the country. As to the objection that means had not been taken for giving the nonresident members the means of expressing their sentiments, his hon. friend near him had sufficiently shown its futility. He repeated, that the petition was the legitimate expression of the wishes and feelings of the resident members of the University. If it were wished to ascertain the wishes and feelings of the non-resident members, it ought to be remembered that they were scattered over the face of the country, and that to endeavour to collect them would be as vain as to attempt any other impossibility.
The Attorney General,
after observing that the petition had been supported by two hon. Members who had been members of the University of Cambridge, and who might probably wish to renew their acquaintance with it, and by another hon. Member, who might probably wish to form an acquaintance with it, went on to remark, that it turned out, as had been originally stated, that no notice of the meeting of the Senate had been given until Saturday, and that the meeting took place on Monday. It was impossible, therefore, that the non-resident Members could be present; for, because it happened that four non-resident Members in London knew what was going forward, it did not follow that four hundred were also in the secret. What did the petition recommend? Nothing, but that which every grave and respectable body of persons—what every man, in considering a great constitutional question, was bound to do; nothing but what his Majesty's Government did, before this much calumniated Bill was brought in; nothing but what he trusted, the House would do before they adopted it—cautiously to weigh the character and value of the measure. It had been said by the hon. member for Marlborough, that the University was alarmed at the prospect of disturbing the existing proportion of English, Scotch, and Irish Representatives. No such alarm was expressed in the petition. The petition did not characterise the proposed measure as a "Corporation robbery." 1192 The petitioners did not say one word of. the alleged perjury of those who, having sworn to defend certain rights, were now prepared to relinquish them. Some allusion had been made to the University in Gower-street. He thought the members of that University had done themselves no small honour in abstaining from interfering in the discussion; for he did not conceive that the Universities, who were not at all affected by the Bill, ought to come to the House and give their advice upon it. He did not observe that the University of Oxford had thought proper to put itself forward in hostility to the Bill; and, in his opinion, it did that University as great honour as the change which, in support of its consistency, it some time ago made in its Representation. One hon. Gentleman had attributed the general demand for Parliamentary Reform to the neglect by that House of the agricultural distress; another hon. Gentleman, the hon. member for Boroughbridge, had in a grave and solemn tone ascribed it to the neglect by that House of the state of the currency. He did not believe that it proceeded from either of those causes. As he was formerly a Member, though not a distinguished one, of the University of Cambridge, he must say, that he highly commended the tone in which the petition was couched. It recommended only caution, and warned the House only against precipitation. He was sure that when the measure had received that attention in a Committee of the House which its importance demanded, it would be regarded with perfect satisfaction, not only by the University of Cambridge, but by all other learned and corporate bodies in the kingdom.
§ Sir C. Wetherell
asked his hon. and learned friend whether he was quite sure that what had happened at Oxford might not happen at Cambridge? His hon. and learned friend had spoken with approbation of the change which had some time ago been made in the Representation of the University of Oxford. Peradventure a similar change might be made in the Representation of the University of Cambridge. He hoped the noble Lord would not suppose that he meant to trench upon the general principle of courtesy established in that House by making this remark; but he thought that before his hon. and learned friend had permitted him- 1193 self to indulge in the observation which had fallen from him, he might have considered what might possibly occur else-where. He congratulated the noble Lord on having been at length delivered of the petition, and he would not inquire if it had come up by the Cambridge van, and had been nine days on the road, or if it had arrived by the Telegraph, or some other light coach, and had been detained elsewhere. His hon. and learned friend censured the University for petitioning the House on the subject. It should be recollected, however, that neither the University of Oxford nor the University of Cambridge ever petitioned that House with reference to any party question, with reference to any change of Ministry, or subjects of that nature. But, whenever a great constitutional principle was at stake, then, and then exclusively, the Universities thought it their duty to express their sentiments to Parliament. They had done so on the Catholic Question; they had done so on other occasions which had no connexion with party. He was sorry, therefore, that his hon. and learned friend had thrown at least an indirect censure on the University of Cambridge for its conduct in the present instance. His hon. and learned friend had said, that the University of Oxford had not petitioned on the subject. But it had frequently happened that one University petitioned when the other did not. It showed that they were independent; that they acted without any reference to party feeling or cabal. Again, his hon. and learned friend observed, that the petition did not complain of the violation of corporation charters; that it did not com-plain of cutting off sixty-two Members of that House. And because the petitioners did not enter into such details, and because they said nothing about the currency, his hon. and learned friend held that they pronounced no opinion hostile to the proposed measure. He entirely concurred in the value of the moderation of tone which the petitioners had adopted; and he entirely concurred in approving their abstinence from stating what, in their opinion, ought to be done. But did those circumstances diminish the force of their disapprobation of the measure? His hon. and learned friend had alluded to a statement which had been made by the hon. member for Boroughbridge; but as he said it had been made in a grave and 1194 solemn tone, he (Sir Charles Wetherell) was sure that his honourable and learned friend did not mean to allude to him. With reference to an observation of the noble Paymaster of the Forces, he wished to remind him that one of the cloistered monks of Cambridge was Dr. Paley. He was, in fact, the Blackstone of that University, and one of the most luminous writers upon the subject to which he had directed his attention. And he (Sir C. Wetherell) considered that the petitioners of Cambridge were men of equal liberality and knowledge of the world with those who were implicated in the contentious scenes of the House of Commons. The petitioners, like the members of the University with which he was connected, were not persons who had taken an active part in politics; they remained, too, altogether untouched by the present measure in their rights and privileges, and were, therefore, perfectly impartial; and he accordingly was of opinion that their petition should, were it only for this reason, have great weight. They were anxious only for the maintenance of the Church and the civil institutions of the country, and he hoped their petition would be taken as a signal for other corporations to pursue the like course, and that, when they did petition, it would not be thrown in their teeth that the terms in which they expressed themselves were too moderate.
§ Mr. Attwood
felt himself called on to disclaim the imputation of having ever asserted that the people had called for Reform as a measure to which they were attached of themselves; but he had said that a general feeling of distress in certain quarters had prepared those classes to look to a change as desirable, in the futile hope that it would give employment and wages to some, and bread to others who had it not. He could have wished that the hon. and learned Attorney General had restrained that disposition to put strongly and powerfully what rested on assumption, and have abandoned that habit in which he was too frequently found to indulge, of uttering libels in that House. [Order, order, by several Members.]
§ The Speaker
said he had only waited to give the hon. Member an opportunity to conclude his sentence, in the hope that he would be able to add that which would explain away whatever might be considered disorderly in the former part of the sentence, taken disjointedly and apart.
§ Mr. Attwood
said, he had no intention of making any improper allusion to the habits of the hon. and learned Member which would in the slightest degree infringe on the orders of that House and as he found the word "libels" was objectionable, he would drop it. His argument had been that the system worked well, whilst the people, finding they were subjected to a distress, from inquiring into which Parliament seemed to shrink last year, became desirous of a change, and insisted now that it worked ill. He did not charge, in this instance, the Ministers, in the part they had taken, with wishing to deceive the people, but he had said that the people rested on their promises, and when they found out that they were deceived, the Ministers power would vanish quicker than it had grown up.
Mr. Grove Price,
as an old member of the University, expressed his satisfaction at the course which that learned body had pursued in reference to the proposed measure of Reform. It had been truly stated that they habitually stood aloof from faction, and intermeddled not in the intrigues of party, and therefore it was that their opinions were entitled to especial consideration. The petition against the present proposition of Ministers was the more remarkable, as having come from those very persons who agreed with the noble Lord opposite on most other subjects, and on account of that general similarity of sentiment had elected him as their Representative in Parliament. He would take this opportunity to state, that the feeling of the Bar in favour of Reform by no means prevailed to the extent that had been supposed: in proof of which he might mention, that of the forty-two barristers on the Home Circuit, to which he belonged, but thirteen had signed the Reform petition, whereas twenty-nine had objected to do so and but four or five of the subscribing parties were connected with the University of Cambridge. That University, in his opinion, had performed its duty in a most portentous crisis, and be the consequences what they might, it at least would enjoy the proud consciousness that it had not been found wanting in the hour of danger to the Constitution.
§ Lord Morpeth
did not consider the petition opposed to the measure. Those who signed it prayed that no sudden or ill considered changes might be made which this Bill certainly did not make.
§ The Petition read.
§ Viscount Palmerston,
on moving that it be printed, denied that he had wilfully delayed presenting it to the House. In fact, he had received it just that day week and had attended daily for the purpose of fulfilling the wishes of his constituents, but it so happened that an opportunity of doing so had never been afforded him, except at an extremely late hour of the night when it would hardly have been consistent with the respect due to the petitioners to have presented it. Indeed, his being enabled to lay it on the Table even now, was entirely owing to the indulgence of the House. He could scarcely regret the delay, however; had it not occurred, hon. Members would have been deprived of the pleasure they had received from the elaborate pleasantry of his hon. friend the member for Marlborough, who had favoured them with the many facetious impromptus which he had employed seven days in concocting. With respect to what had been said relative to the discrepancy of opinion on this subject between the University of Cambridge and himself, he should merely observe, that he never believed that by honestly performing his duty as a public man on a great national question, he should forfeit the confidence which his constituents had reposed in him. At the same time the hon. Gentleman opposite was mistaken in asserting that this petition had originated with those to whom he was principally indebted for his seat, since many of those whose signatures were attached to it had formerly opposed him on the policy of Catholic Emancipation.
§ Mr. Goulburn
remarked that the petition certainly appeared to him to have received much less respectful treatment than it would probably have experienced had it been in support of Reform instead of being against it.
The Attorney General
stated, that he would yield to no hon. Gentleman present in respect for the University of Cambridge and it was therefore most unfair to interpret any of his observations as in the least degree disrespectful to that learned and venerable body. He did not wonder at the importance which some Gentlemen attached to every petition presented against the Bill before the House, as it was natural that they should wish to make the most of the little opposition which was made to the measure. An hon. Gentleman opposite had alluded to him, and to some of the 1197 former transactions of his life. He did not envy the hon. Gentleman any state of feeling which could prompt those allusions. He had no apology to make, and had never made any apology, for what he had done, and had been compelled to do, on behalf of the illustrious but unfortunate client whose interests had been confided to him. Personalities, it was true, had been uttered; but his most painful duty to his unfortunate and much injured client rendered such personalities unavoidable. But since this unhappy subject had now been invidiously obtruded on the notice of the House, he would not shrink from declaring, that an illustrious individual, whom it would be un parliamentary more particularly to allude to, had in his person given a more signal example of generous magnanimity than history had ever recorded of any sovereign since the time of Henry 5th, when that high-minded and chivalrous monarch presented the sword and balance to the Chief Justice who had personally offended him.
§ Mr. Attwood,
in explanation, said he had only stated that the Attorney General had employed inflammatory language which might be productive of the most injurious consequences in the present excited state of the public mind. He would put it to the hon. and learned Gentleman, whether, if an individual should be prosecuted for a libel by that House, through the intervention of the Attorney General, that individual might not place him in an awkward situation, were he to read to the jury language as inflammatory as his own, which had been used by that very Attorney General himself, in his place in Parliament? Why-should the hon. and learned Gentleman make use of expressions there for a similar use, of which it was possible he might hereafter be called upon to punish others?
The Attorney General
said, he could by no means admit that the public mind was in that state of excitement which the hon. Member described, although, certainly, attempts had been made to inflame it. He thanked the hon. Gentleman for so kindly cautioning him as to the performance of his duty, at the same time that he considered his gratuitous suggestions on the present occasion wholly unnecessary, for he had only asserted that a great portion of that House could not give an impartial or disinterested vote on the question of Reform, and that assertion he did not hesitate most emphatically to repeat.
§ Mr. H. Twiss
said, it seemed to be considered by some that the House of Commons were not to be the judges of this great question, because some of the Members might be affected by its result, and the University of Cambridge were not to be judges because they were men secluded in their closets. If neither of these bodies then, were to have a voice, who, he would ask, were to be the judges? Those promiscuous assemblies to whom some of the hon. Gentlemen opposite were so much in the habit of appealing, and whom they could easily get to second their views?
Sir John Sebright
said, that it was not a fair and correct argument to say that many of those who had voted against this measure had a direct interest in opposition to it.
Mr. Grove Price,
in explanation, said, he should have no wish to sit in that House after the passing of a Bill which would destroy the Constitution.
§ Sir R. Vyvyan,
after alluding to the predicament in which the Attorney General might be placed in prosecuting parties for libel, as already stated by the hon. member for Borough bridge, referred to the recent rumours of an approaching dissolution, and animadverted on the declaration of the hon. and learned Member the Attorney General, that it was the undoubted prerogative of the King, in such an event to issue no writs to certain boroughs which at present enjoyed the right of returning Members. He could not; however, for one moment believe it possible that Ministers would presume to advise his Majesty to adopt such a monstrous alternative after their recent experience of the result of an unconstitutional interference with the right of election in a neighbouring kingdom. In reference to his assertion respecting the vote given by the noble Chancellor of the Exchequer on Mr. Davenport's motion, for an inquiry into the distress which then prevailed in the country, he observed, that he was happy to repeat in the noble Lord's presence what he had said in his absence —namely, that he had voted against the Committee, and had spoken in justification of that vote.
§ Lord Althorp
said, it was true that he had voted as the hon. Member stated, but he had at the time assigned the reasons upon which he acted. They were, that he did not think that the inquiry would tend to alleviate the distress. Most of the hon. Gentlemen who voted for the inquiry went into a discussion upon the currency, upon 1199 which subject he entertained different views from their's, and he did not consider that the agitation of that question would have any tendency to alleviate the distress. These were the grounds of his vote. Whether they were right or wrong, it was not for him to say; but he would only observe that he was not now convinced of their not being sound and substantial.
§ Mr. George Dawson
said, that the menace of a dissolution was a most offensive attempt to intimidate members, for the purpose of deterring them from the discharge of their duty. Ministers might as well say to Parliament "We despise your opinions, for we shall soon have an opportunity of kicking you out of the House."
Sir J. Sebright,
in illustration of his assertion, observed that if the question was whether Hertfordshire should be disfranchised, he, as a Hertfordshire man, and having a seat for the county, could not give a disinterested vote. He did not mean to say they had not a right to vote, but he could not think that they were impartial observers of the nature of the measure; for he confessed, that if a Bill was introduced to disfranchise Hertfordshire, he should not be an impartial listener to the proposition, but should oppose it with all his power.
§ Sir G. Murray
said, the hon. Baronet had attempted to explain his observations by what he had just uttered; but the very tendency of the explanation itself was, to throw a degree of discredit upon the opinions and votes of those who were now sitting in that House for places which were about to be disfranchised. The hon. Baronet seemed to think that the interests of none were affected except of those who opposed the measure of Reform; but in that he was mistaken, for there were persons who supported the other side of the question who had full as strong motives for their conduct as those who opposed it. A number of objections had been urged to this measure, but there was one of a very strong kind that had been passed over, namely, that if this Reform were granted, those who wished for Reform of a more extended nature would say afterwards that this was not sufficient, and could not be supposed to be so, for it had been voted by a Parliament that did not represent the people. It carried with it, therefore, the elements of further change, and opened the door to a great variety of innovations.
§ Mr. H. Twiss
.—I wish to know from the 1200 hon. Baronet, how he would vote, should it be proposed to disfranchise the county which he represents, or reduce its Members to one, the principle of disfranchisement being the same as in those boroughs which the Bill he supports goes to deprive of their Members?
The Attorney General
begged leave to say what he had said touching the King's prerogative extending to the power of omitting to send writs to places returning Members to Parliament, had been misunderstood. At present all writs were sent in the King's name; and though he had his doubts whether his Majesty constitutionally possessed the power of omitting to send writs to every place which may have returned Members, he had no doubt of the improbability, amounting to an impossibility, that such a coup d'état would ever be had resort to. He was inclined to think the King did possess that power; it certainly was exercised in ancient periods of our history, and had not been formally curtailed; but, as he had said, need not be apprehended. By the Bill the power thus formerly exercised would be defined and exercised by an act of the Legislature.
§ Mr. H. Gurney
could not let that opportunity pass without making one observation upon what the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite(the Attorney General) had stated with respect to the right of the Crown to suspend the writs. He believed that if the Crown ever did suspend the writs, the rights of the boroughs did not cease upon that suspension, for whatever length of time might have elapsed since the borough had received the writ, it would still be entitled to insist on the revival of the right at the first opportunity. There was one change which amidst all the others that their Bill proposed to make, had been overlooked, but which, in his mind, ought to be made—he meant that law which had been passed upon a private occasion—the expulsion of Mr. Home Tooke from that House-— should be abolished with respect to the two Universities; for as the Bill professed to act on the principle of giving a representation of local interests, he did not see why Clergymen should be excluded from holding seats for either of the Universities.
§ Sir H. Hardinge
begged to say, with respect to the boroughs that were to be totally disfranchised, that the one he re- 1201 presented, which was among the number, had now a population much more numerous than at the Revolution of 1688; and yet, by this iniquitous Bill, it was to be deprived of its right to send Members to Parliament. The tenure by which the right of voting was given was the same now as it had been then; it was the burgage tenure; and there was nothing in the constitution of that borough which varied now from what it was at the time of the Revolution; and therefore he asserted that any Act which took away the right of sending Members from the borough of Newport was contrary to the principles of the Revolution of 1688.
was not surprised that those Members who represented boroughs should stand up for the right of voting by bur-gage tenure; but at the same time, he must be permitted to ask them, whether it was consistent with common sense, that the owner of certain fields—for the fields alone gave the right of voting—were to be allowed to send Members to Parliament, while such large towns as Birmingham, with extensive and important interests, were excluded from that right? Some Gentlemen thought that everything that was old ought to be maintained; but the change of circumstances often rendered old customs unfit for application, and that was the case with these votes of burgage tenure. The objection of the right hon. Baronet (Sir George Murray) to this Bill being a change in itself, and being likely to open the door to other changes, was applicable to every new law and new regulation; and if it was a proper objection, it applied to some new regulations which had been introduced by the right hon. Gentleman himself.
§ Mr. Hoy
was opposed to this measure, and thought it would be highly injurious to the country. One of its objects was to disfranchise the out-voters; and he wished to observe, that the first person who would suffer under the operation of this provision was his most gracious Majesty, William 4th., for he was an out-voter of Southampton. He had examined the Bill, and he asserted that it did not restore the rights of the people, but destroyed them. He denied, besides, that any rights had been taken from the people: so that the consequence was, there were none to restore. There had been a Committee appointed to examine the petitions, and what was the result? There were 600 petitions for 1202 Reform generally, 287 of these were for the Ballot, a number for the abolition of tithes, and the reduction of taxation, and the abolition of sinecures, and for everything but for this particular Bill. He urged this country to take a warning from France and Belgium, and not to allow the introduction of revolutionary doctrines-He had stood near the noble Lord when he almost introduced the tri-coloured flag in that House, by the eulogium he passed on the conduct of the people of those countries; and in that course he had been followed by the hon. members for Bridport and Middlesex. The present Cabinet were said to be unanimous, but how had their unanimity been obtained? Not indeed by the proscription of their relations or friends, but by the proscription of principles. This measure was called a conservative measure. He denied that it deserved that title; for instead of preserving, it went to destroy everything. He asserted the excellence of the present system of Representation, and declared that the men returned to that House acted conscientiously, and for the good of the country; and he was sure that if a gulph should open in the State, as a gulph had once opened in front of the Roman Forum, that House contained many Members who, for the good of the country, would readily plunge into it.
§ Colonel Sibthorp
said—I should not have trespassed upon the House upon a petition from the University of Cambridge, had I not considered it my duty from circumstances that have this day occurred. The fact is, and as long as I have the honour to be a Member of this House, I wish everything that falls from me to be strictly, truly, and unsparingly stated, that I found, upon conversing with one or two of the most respectable independent constituents, out-voters, or non-resident freemen of that city, for which I entertain, and have shewn, I trust, every feeling of regard, and am still Representative of, I trust disinterested and honest Representative—that this Bill—this Reform Bill, as itistermed—is unknown, and misunderstood; and well it may be, for it is a curious, indescribable, unintelligible Bill, and so intended. Sir, it was understood to give important extension— general, liberal, fair extension of elective franchise; and these honourable constituents—I rank none dishonourable—who have hitherto supported me, believing as I hope I can prove, that I shall act on every mea- 1203 sure an open, honest, consistent, and disinterested part, such as my family, for years and years, Sessions and Sessions, representing that city, have ever done; these constituents of mine have, since my vote in this House upon the Reform question, declared they did not approve of my vote, and have stated that they considered I was voting against the city, the country, and the sovereign. Sir, they are this day, having seen the Bill in black and white, converted; and the fact is, they have requested me to come down to shew the fallacy of the Bill in its true colours. There was an expectation that the elective franchise would be extended in the good city, according to the Returns now before the House. The Bill gives what? To the city of Lincoln, out of a population of 10,367, census 1821, 434 voters, formerly 1,233. And what will be the census in 1831? Is this just? It cuts off, without judge or jury—matk ye, for no fault, no conviction of bribery or corruption—799. Liberal, fair, just, popular Bill! In what state is poor Grimsby, mutilated Grimsby! population 3,064 in 1821: 304 voters formerly, now thirty-four. And what is Westminster and London? How stand they? And these measures are popular, giving to the people popular representation, annihilating hosts who have done no harm, committed no fault, and by destroying rights, giving to those who never had any right! Sir, I shall not now advert to the former opinions of the noble Lord who introduced this popular Bill. But, Sir, in 1819 and 1823 these opinions were very different. That noble Lord said of the House of Commons in 1819, "The principle of the construction of the House is pure and worthy:" and he also said; "I cannot agree to the wholesale plans of Reform before me." Such were stated to be the noble Lord's opinions in 1819. What are the noble Lord's Bills now? Counties will be close boroughs; cities cut up root and branch. Sir, I am a Reformer, and would Reform much. I approve of the extension to leaseholders, copyholders, in counties; to the extension of elective franchise to those highly respectable individuals who have not enjoyed it in counties corporate. I do not object to the extension, but I object to the deprivation of honest, independent men; and will this satisfy the unjust, partial deprivation without fault, without misconduct, without corruption alleged or ascertained? This Bill goes to disfranchise 1204 by a nice calculation, 286,000 individuals, according to the statements of the Returns comparatively taken. Sir, I will vote for any just, fair, and proper Reform that will be generous and liberal—just to my city, liberal and fair to the people—not partial, uncertain, and mysterious, undefined, but will ensure benefit, and not concealment for the errors of late and present Governments to soothe the people for disappointment, or promises for disappointment; as to giving relief from taxation or distress, the Bill is a fallacy throughout. I will do my duty; I trust I have done it; I will not sacrifice my conscience to gain any popularity; and the more the Bill is known the more its fallacy and deception will be proved.
§ Mr. R. Grant
said, that the petition was undoubtedly one which contained matter of great importance. It was not in favour of the Bill to its full extent, neither was it against it, as might be supposed from the observations of hon. Members who had spoken on the opposite side of the House. The petition had taken a middle course. It was obvious, from what had taken place in that House, that, at all events, those hon. Members who had opposed the Reform Bill were friendly to a moderate Reform. He was anxious to say a few words with respect to the opinions of the great body of constituents whom he had the honour to represent. He had made inquiry of persons who well knew the fact which he was about to state, considering it right to set the matter in a correct point of view, because it had been insinuated that there was a general objection in that city (Norwich) to the principles of the Bill. If there had existed such a feeling he should certainly regret the circumstance; but it was not so, and therefore he felt it to be his duty to state, from the best information upon the subject which he possessed, that not only was the measure highly satisfactory to the population generally, but to the freemen who formed his constituency. It would probably be in the recollection of the House that he himself had had the honour a few nights back, of presenting a petition from the city of Norwich, in favour of Reform, which was signed by 7,000 of the adult male population of that city, and only the day before yesterday a meeting was convened, by the Mayor of Norwich, for the purpose of considering, amongst other matters of business, the subject of a petition against the measure now pending. After the two or 1205 three subjects of business had been disposed of, one of the Tory party, a person, who was one of the chief promoters of the anti-Reform petition, got up and moved the postponement of that question, sine die. His motion was seconded and supported by a respectable person of his own party, and he was joined by a third; so that the matter was put off without one word being uttered in favour of the counter-petition against Reform; a fact which would tend to prove that the city of Norwich was not opposed to Reform. He was disposed to think that the freemen of Norwich would be inclined to support the Bill, though they would be deprived of their franchise under its operation; but he also thought that they would receive that franchise in another form, and would be included under the class of persons holding property of a description which would enable them to retain their votes.
§ Petition to be printed.
§ Viscount Palmerston
presented another Petition, from the University of Cambridge, in favour of the Reform Bill, signed by the Bachelors of Arts resident in that University. The petitioners stated it to be their opinion that the Bill was calculated to give stability to the Throne and security from danger to the Constitution. Amongst those who signed it were to be found the names of many individuals who had highly distinguished themselves in their academical studies.
§ Sir R. Vyvyan
begged to say, he had felt on a former occasion great regret in understanding, from an expression which had fallen from an hon. and learned Member opposite, that the prerogative of the Crown extended, in that hon. and learned Member's opinion, to the extent of suspending at pleasure the issue of writs for boroughs, which it might be deemed necessary to deprive of Representation in that House; he, however, rose on the present occasion to express the satisfaction with which he had since heard, that in the hon. and learned Member's opinion, as one of the Law Officers of the Crown, the kingly prerogative did not extend to the suspension or intermission of writs to any boroughs.
The Attorney General
said, that his observations only went to show that the power which, the Reform measure was to give the Parliament was only a power which had been formerly possessed by the Crown. There was a resolution of the 1206 House of Commons, in the time of James 1st, which declared the Crown not to possess the power of withholding the writs for certain boroughs, or of sending those writs to other places;—but then that was only a resolution of the House, and not a law; nor was there, as far as he knew, any doctrine laid down to that express effect. The suggestion, however, of suspending the writs for any boroughs whatever was not likely to be acted on under any circumstances, however advantageous it might appear to be.
§ Mr. Hudson Gurney
observed, that but one writ had ever been intermitted since the time of Richard 2nd, and that was the case of Fareham. He was clearly of opinion that the Crown could by its writs call on places to send Members which had never sent them before, as it could create new Peers; and he was inclined to think, as the Crown could not deprive a family of its peerage, so it was not in its power to deprive a place once possessing the right of sending a Member to the House of Commons.
Mr. C. W. Wynn
concurred in the observation which had fallen from the hon. Member who spoke last; he begged to remind the House, that this was no light matter of consideration, but concerned one of their most important privileges. In the reign of James 1st, the Law Officers of the Crown had settled the point which was brought under their consideration, and the learned Selden was one of those whose judgment, aided by the House, decided that the Crown had not the power to intermit or suspend the issue of writs to any one borough that had formerly sent Members to that House. The House of Commons asserted their rights on this point, the suspended writs were issued to those boroughs which James 1st. attempted to deprive of Representation, and one of the Members who were returned to that House under those writs was John Hampden.
§ Mr. Charles Wood
observed, that, in his opinion, the hon. and learned Member who sat below him did not, on the occasion to which the hon. Baronet, the member for Cornwall, alluded, assert that the prerogative of the Crown extended to the power of suspending the writs for boroughs; the hon. and learned Member had certainly said, that it was once in the power of the Crown to do so, and that the Reform measure now proposed to do by Act 1207 of Parliament, what was formerly in the power of the Crown to effect without any Act of Parliament—namely, to deprive certain boroughs of the right of sending Representatives, and transfer that right to other places.
§ Mr. M. Fitzgerald
said, that the present was not a question of prerogative, but one of the parliamentary constitution of that House. If the Crown were to possess an influence over the constitution of that House, as one of the doctrines of Reform, he conceived that the House of Commons would receive a fatal stab; the question ought to be set at rest, and he trusted that it would not be suffered to remain in the present state, or to be discussed only in a loose conversation. The matter was one which the Crown lawyers, and not county Members, ought to decide upon, and thus set the House of Commons at rest on one of the most important points connected with its constitution.
§ Sir Charles Wetherell
remarked, that he had certainly understood the hon. and learned member for Nottingham to assert that the prerogative of the Crown did extend to the right of omitting and suspending the writs for boroughs, and that the reign of Richard 2nd afforded precedent for the intermission. This was not, however, a question to be discussed as a postscript to a petition from any University, whether the petitioners were Doctors of Law or Bachelors of Arts; nor was it a time to meet an illegal and an unconstitutional statement of that nature. If the hon. and learned Member would rise and state that, in a barbarous time, the Crown had usurped a power to which it never had a right, and which it used in the most illegal manner—if the hon. and learned Member would rise and state this, he would say that he was satisfied; but he could not condescend to enter upon a subject of this high importance on an occasion like the present. He hoped that the hon. and learned Member, as one of the Law Officers of the Crown, would not leave the matter where it stood, or suffer a proposition which left the Members of that House in such doubt as to its consti- 1208 tution to remain in uncertainty, but that he would come forward at once and say that it was not law, and never could be law, that the Crown possessed the power of suspending the writs for boroughs.
§ Mr. Sadler
said, that nothing could be more unconstitutional than to leave the Crown the option of issuing or suspending the writs for boroughs at its pleasure. Such a power would place all the institutions of the country in jeopardy, and would hazard all that had been gained from the Crown by the glorious Revolution of 1688.
§ Sir R. Vyvyan
could not refrain from expressing also his sense of the dangerous consequences of the doctrine of the hon. and learned Attorney General. It was by the exercise of the power which, according to him, the Crown was still in possession of, that the county of Cornwall came to have so many Members; for writs were sent to places in it for the purpose of carrying into effect the plan of the Government of the time being, whether that plan was to attaint an innocent person, or to raise supplies to carry on needless and expensive wars, or any other purpose of the monarch hostile to the interests of the subject; so that it became of double importance just now, on the eve of a threatened dissolution (which, by the way, he did not expect), that it should be distinctly known whether the Crown might still issue new writs here, or withhold them there, as it might enable Ministers to retain the reins of power. He said he did not expect an immediate dissolution, because he thought that Ministers knew too well that a new Parliament would be still more hostile to them than the present?—that the boroughs which they proposed to disfranchise would be opposed to them to a man, and as the late election for the county of Clare showed that Ireland was in such a ferment on the Repeal of the Union question, that it would not be safe to increase the excitement by a new election. In a new Parliament, Ministers would not have to propose their Reform measure, but to fight for their places, whence they would doubtless be ejected in the event of a dissolution. In saying this he was not actuated by any factious opposition, but by a sense of public duty, which he would ever assert, be who might the Minister; and he hoped he should never again see the day when a Ministry must have recourse to an excitement of the public mind as their only means of retaining office.
§ The Petition to be printed.