§ Colonel Sibthorp
rose and addressed a few words to the House in a tone scarcely audible. The hon. Member stated, that indisposition prevented him from doing more than to declare, that he still entertained the most decided hostility towards the Bill, which he believed would be destructive alike of the rights of the people, the privileges of the Legislature, and the prerogatives of the Throne. He trusted that the other House of Parliament would do its duty by a manly and decided rejection of a measure that must otherwise lead to the common ruin of the country.
§ Mr. Crampton
rose to give his hearty concurrence to the great measure then before the House, which, he contended, was not only a legal and constitutional, but also a just and necessary measure. He denied, that nomination boroughs were any part of the British Constitution—much more that they were necessary to the existence of the House of Commons. That House ought to be the mirror in which the popular mind was reflected—the focus in which the rays of popular intelligence were concentrated—the place in which the voice of the people was fairly and fully heard. Could it be so when so many boroughs were in the hands of Peers and 379 other powerful personages? He maintained, that both our legal and constitutional theory placed the Government in three distinct and independent bodies. The King had his royal prerogatives—the Peers had their peculiar privileges, and were independent of the Crown and the Commons—the Commons had also their proper power, which they exercised independent of the King and the Peers. No person but a Commoner had a seat within the walls of that House, and they all sat there in their representative capacity only. The essential character of the House, according to the elements of the Common Law, and every writer on the Constitution was wholly representative, and any practice by which that principle was violated, was unconstitutional and illegal. He would not fatigue the House by quotation and references, but as the system of nomination had been advocated by several hon. Gentlemen, he would refer to one Statute to shew, that such practices were a violation of the law of the land; the Statute to which he proposed to refer was the 2nd William and Mary, sec. 1, cap. 7—it was a Statute declaratory of, and not changing, the Common Law. This Act recited, that the elections of Members to serve in Parliament, ought to be free; it also recited a pretended right claimed and exercised by the Lord Warden, to nominate Members for the cinque ports, and it declared this claim and practice to be contrary to ancient usage, and to the right and freedom of election, and contrary to the laws and Constitution of the realm, and it provided against the recurrence of such abuses, under any pretence whatsoever. If this Statute was not waste paper, then was the necessity and constitutional character of this measure of Reform doubly vindicated and asserted. The system, such as it was described by the hon. member for Thetford, was a tissue of abuses, to which the House was, he hoped, about to apply a constitutional remedy. The Legislature was about to apply that remedy which the Sovereign, in the exercise of his prerogative, might apply without any legislative enactment. He did not believe, that any danger would arise to the other branches of the State from the passing of this Bill. As to the argument that it would endanger the Church as by law established, he must say, that no one assertion was less founded in fact. The Church would be in no 380 danger from the operation of the measure; for he contended, that the Church was not upheld by the abuses to which the Bill was intended as a remedy: but he would add, that if the Church could be upheld only by rotten boroughs, and nomination of Peers to seats in that House, and other gross abuses, that Church would and ought to fall. He did not wish to be misunderstood in what he said, and to prevent it, he repeated, that if the Church rested for support only on this—that untenanted mounds and mouldering houses should send Members to that House—if its durability could be maintained only by the duration of the system of rotten boroughs, it would, and it ought to fall. But it was a libel on the Church to say that it required such support. The Church was built on a rock, and required not the arm of the flesh to uphold it, and he repeated, that they were the libellers of the Church, who declared it in danger from the removal of political abuses. The arguments of the hon. Members who opposed the Bill, amounted to the injunction, not to purify the State because the Church would be in danger of falling; but, in answer to this, he must assert, that the only mode of preserving and supporting the Church, was to purify the State from the abuses which pervaded the institutions of the country; and he must beg to say, that he was proving himself to be as firm a supporter of the Church, in giving his vote for the Reform Bill, as any hon. Member was, who, by voting against it, wished to perpetuate those abuses. He concurred with the hon. member for Thetford, as to the beauty and harmony of our Constitution, but according to that hon. Member, we had two Constitutions: the one a Constitution which, in theory, was most admirably and wisely balanced in its several parts, and the other a working Constitution, which was a deviation from the principles of the other—which was, in fact, a constitution of corruption. Now, for the Constitution as it was intended to be by law, he had the highest veneration: he would say of it, esto perpetua. He would add nothing to it—he would take nothing from it; but when he said this, he spoke of the Constitution itself, and not of its abuses. He spoke of the Constitution as the law intended it to be. He would now say a word or two upon a subject which, he admitted, was of much delicacy. He alluded to what had fallen 381 from some hon. Members opposite, and the earnest hope they had expressed, that this Bill might not pass the other House. For his own part, he should regard it as a most unfortunate event, that any difference should arise on any important matter between the two branches of the Legislature. In the speech, and a most able and eloquent one he admitted it to be, of the right hon. and learned member for Aldeburgh, it was stated, that of all the Bills which had ever originated in this House, there was none with respect to which the House of Lords was called to exercise a greater degree of vigilance, or into which they ought to make a more strict investigation; and towards the close of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, after pressing many grounds on which they were bound to reject the Bill, he added, if they did not, what was the use of a House of Lords? No man had a higher respect for the House of Peers than he had—no man set a more just value on their rights and privileges; and sincerely did he hope, that they would continue to be what they had hitherto been, and what the Constitution intended they should be—the stay and support of the two other branches of the Legislature. But without meaning in any degree to trench upon the rights or privileges of the other House, he must say, that if ever there was a bill with which the Lords should feel a delicacy of interfering—if ever there was one on which they should not even exercise a severity of criticism—it was this Bill. It should be viewed by them as a money-bill, in which they ought to make no alteration [cheers.] He knew the meaning of those cheers, and he would, if hon. Members would allow him, explain what it was he meant to argue. It would not be presumed, he supposed, that the House of Lords had, by the Constitution, any control over the Representation of the people, any more than the Commons had over the privileges of the Lords. Each branch of the Legislature had its distinct and separate rights, which it exercised without the control of the other. In any question affecting the rights of Peers, the Peers alone had the power to interfere. In any question affecting Representation in the Commons, the Commons had the right to interfere, without any control by the other House. He knew there were difficulties created as to Representation, by the annexation of Wales to England, and by the Union with Scotland and Ireland; 382 but he maintained, that by the Common-law and the usage of Parliament, the King and the House of Commons only, without any interference by the other House, had the right to make regulations respecting the Representation in that House. Let him, however, not be understood as denying that the Lords had the constitutional right to reject this Bill. He admitted they had, and he did not mean to fetter the exercise of that right. What he should contend for was, that if in the exercise of that right they should reject the Bill, one of its main objects might still be obtained without their concurrence. If he should show that he was right in this, most important consequences would flow from it. He contended, that the disfranchisement of all the boroughs in schedule A (with perhaps some exceptions to which he should presently allude) might be effected without legislation. If he was right in this, and he stated it as a lawyer, not expecting to hear it controverted by any legal authority, it would be a reason why the Lords should act with more delicacy with respect to this Bill. He maintained, that the House of Commons might address the Crown to dissolve Parliament, and not to issue writs to the decayed boroughs, to green mounds and mouldering walls, but, in lieu of them, to issue writs to those large and populous and wealthy towns which were at present unrepresented, forbearing to call Representatives from nomination boroughs and close Corporations.—[Mr. C. W. Wynn: And London is one of them.] Yes; but London is not included in schedule A, to which this Address would have reference. And, let him ask, what was there to prevent this Address from being acquiesced in? Was there, he would ask, any thing unconstitutional in this? Was there in this exercise of the prerogative of the Crown any thing which the other House of Parliament could control? Was there any thing in the law or the constitution of the country to prevent it? He had said, that there might be some exceptions in the boroughs in schedule A. He meant those boroughs which sent Members to Parliament by virtue of local acts of the Legislature, and with these the Crown had no right to interfere. The principle he had laid down, he would further observe, extended only to the Representation of England, for the Representation of Scotland and Ireland was fixed by the Acts of Union with those countries, and 383 could not be altered but by the same authority—that of an Act, in which the three branches of the Legislature should concur. But with respect to the decayed boroughs in England not sending Representatives by virtue of any local statute, he maintained that the Crown, on an address of that House, had the power to issue or withhold writs, and that, in this respect, the concurrence of the House of Lords was not necessary. He called on hon. and learned Members opposite to set him right if he were wrong on this point. But if they did, it must not be by declamation and panegyric, but by law and the Constition. It was made a serious charge against the Bill, that it deprived places not guilty of corrupt practices of their elective franchise. To this objection he thought that the conduct of his constituents would serve as a sufficient answer. He owed his seat in that House to the favour of a distinguished nobleman. It was not obtained by any unworthy traffic, or by any compromise of his opinion—his seat was neither bought nor sold. His constituents were freemen, and numerous, and he was anxious that they should, if possible, retain their franchise. But how did they act? They expressed their willingness, if the maintenance of their franchise would throw any obstruction in the way of the great measure of Reform, to throw that franchise to the winds. He had stated that he stood in that House by favour of a distinguished nobleman; but in making that admission, he wished to be understood as exempting the borough which he represented from being a nomination borough, in any sense of the expression. The influence enjoyed in that borough by the noble Lord to whom he had alluded, was a pure and honourable influence, and reflected equal honour on him who exercised it, and on those towards whom it was exercised. It was the influence of a benevolent landlord, and the homage which he received was the homage paid by gratitude to his superior virtues and elevated situation. He heard the right hon. member for Tamworth ask whether this borough should be in schedule A?—[Sir Robert Peel: I asked whether the Crown should withhold the Writ from this borough.] He thought that the Crown should not withhold the Writ. It was his opinion that the Crown should not withhold the Writ from any borough which was free and independent in character, which contained 384 large manufactories and a numerous population. The Crown should only withhold the writs from decayed places, from rotten and nomination boroughs. His opinion on this subject might be wrong, and if his error could be proved, he should be most happy to yield to conviction; but no cheers, however loud, no declamation, however fine, no acting, however good, no gesticulation, however comical, should ever induce him to give up his opinion, which he believed to be in accordance with the principles of the Constitution.
Mr. C. W. Wynn
said, that he could not, previous to the speech of the hon. and learned Solicitor for Ireland, have thought it possible, that during the Debate on the important Bill which was now in its last stage before the House, and which proposed a greater alteration in the constitution of the country than history had ever recorded, collateral matter would be introduced of still more urgent importance, which called still more forcibly for the attention of the House, and which struck, if not a more certain, at least a more immediate and direct blow at every institution of the country. He should be too rash if he said, that no proposition of similar extent to the one just made, had ever before been brought forward, for he thought that the proceeding of the House of Commons, in voting the House of Lords useless, was, perhaps, tantamount to the proposition which his hon. and learned friend, the Solicitor General for Ireland, had submitted to the House as one of the law advisers of the Crown. He thought, that before they proceeded further, they had a right to know, whether his Majesty's Ministers concurred in the proposition of the hon. and learned Solicitor? If the Ministers meant to maintain that proposition, then he said, that that House was bound, important as the Bill under discussion was, immediately to adjourn the consideration of all other matters, and proceed without delay to determine whether the Crown did or did not possess the power which had been claimed for it by the hon. and learned Solicitor General. The question was, whether the Crown possessed the prerogative of withholding the Writs from any boroughs at its pleasure. His hon. and learned friend had asked, whether he meant to deny, that the House of Commons might vote an Address to the Crown to suspend the issuing of Writs for certain places? He meant to deny no 385 such thing. The House of Commons might go beyond all its legitimate functions; it might present an Address calling on the Crown to do that which the Crown had no right to do. But, supposing that the Crown had the right to do what the House of Commons called for, the hon. and learned Solicitor General ought to know, that the Crown could exercise that right, whether addressed or not addressed by that House upon the matter. The Address of the House of Commons could confer no right or privilege on the Crown which it did not before possess. That House might advise the Crown how to exercise the prerogatives which it possessed, but the House could neither extend nor diminish the prerogatives of the Crown. Hitherto the three branches of the Legislature had held privileges and prerogatives independent of each other. No one of them, nor two of them, could dispossess the other of its rights and privileges. But if what had been stated by the hon. and learned Solicitor for Ireland was correct, the Crown might dissolve Parliament to-morrow, and suspend issuing the Writs to different places. But was the Crown to take the hon. and learned Member's view of the case, especially as to the causes which should induce it to suspend the issuing of the Writs? The Crown might say, that it would not issue Writs to such and such places, because they returned inadequate Members, or for any other cause which it thought sufficient. He had no doubt in saying, that if any bad adviser should advise the Crown to suspend any Writ, the proceeding would be as perfectly void and illegal, as if the Crown should direct a Writ to a Sheriff, commanding him to execute any individual, without having been proved guilty of any crime. If Parliament were dissolved, and the Crown determined not to issue a Writ to any particular place, a new form of Writ to the Sheriff must be devised; and the Crown must command him, not as usual to summon Members for all the boroughs in his county, but for all the boroughs, with the exception of such and such a one—Milborne Port for instance. If the proposition were good, as applied to the boroughs in schedule A, it must be good for all the boroughs in the kingdom. Now, he asked the hon. and learned member for Milborne Port (Mr. Crampton) whether, if that borough, disputing the legality of such restriction, were to re-elect him as its Representative, 386 he would not have the conrage to come to that House and demand admission as the Representative of that borough? He repeated, that it was absolutely necessary that they should know how they stood—that they should be informed whether the King's advisers adopted the proposition of the Solicitor General for Ireland. He must say, that he did feel rather the more alarmed on this point, because he remembered that something not very dissimilar had also fallen from a law officer of the Crown for England.* He was, at that time, sitting on the Ministerial bench, holding an office under the Crown; and he had felt it to be his bounden duty—his paramount duty—to that House, and to the people of England, to protest against such a doctrine, and to state, that a perfectly contrary doctrine had been maintained by the first lawyers, and the greatest patriots which this country had ever produced—by Coke, by Selden, and by Hampden, who, in the reign of James 1st, supported a Resolution in the House of Commons, that those boroughs from which Writs had been withheld by the Crown, had a right to return Representatives. That Resolution was adopted by the House on the Report of one of the most able and learned Committees that could be selected. He did not think, that if it had been possible to collect together the most eminent men of all ages, a Committee would have been formed equal in the knowledge of the laws of England, and of the Constitution, to that Committee which made the Report on which the House of Commons maintained the privileges of these boroughs which it was proposed by this Act to disfranchise. The hon. and learned Solicitor had likewise said, that the House of Lords ought not to criticise—ought not to be too scrupulous in accepting a Bill of this kind—
§ Sir Charles Wetherell
rose to order. He said, that the privileges of Parliament had been attacked by one of the King's law officers, and he should take the liberty of moving, that the Debate be suspended, until it was ascertained what the privileges of that House were, unless his Majesty's Ministers thought fit to disavow the illegal, unconstitutional, and monstrous doctrine put forth by the hon. and learned Solicitor General for Ireland.* See Attorney General's Speech, Parl. Deb. Third Series, vol. iii, p. 1200.
§ Sir Charles Wetherell
then said, that he would move for the suspension of the Debate on the Reform Bill. His reason for making this Motion was, that one of the King's law officers had asserted, in that House, that the House of Lords had no right to venture to criticise the Reform Bill; and that the operation of disfranchising all the boroughs in schedule A might be performed by the Crown, upon the Address of the House of Commons. If the Crown possessed the power to disfranchise these boroughs by its own authority, then any legislation on the subject was wholly unnecessary and superfluous; but he took the liberty of saying, that the hon. and learned Solicitor's assertion was inconsistent with the privileges of that House, and a monstrous perversion of the principles of the Constitution.
rose to order. He thought, that if the words of the hon. and learned Solicitor General for Ireland were to be adverted to, they ought to be taken down.
§ The Speaker
said, that the hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir Charles Wetherell) was perfectly in order, for he only noticed the words used by a preceding speaker in order to show the reason for his moving the suspension of the Debate.
§ Sir Charles Wetherell
continued. The hon. and learned Solicitor for Ireland had claimed for the Crown the right to suspend the issuing of Writs to all places enumerated in schedule A; but he maintained, that such an assumption of authority in favour of the Crown, was inconsistent and incompatible with the known and undeniable rights of the House of Commons. It appeared to him, that the House had only the choice of two modes of proceeding—either to suspend its proceedings altogether on this superfluous and unnecessary act of legislation (for superfluous and unnecessary would have been the labours of the Committee for some time past, if the hon. and learned Solicitor for Ireland was correct in his doctrine)—or to vindicate itself from the intolerable insult and insufferable disgrace of the arrogant and untenable attack of the learned Solicitor for Ireland, arrogantly and untenably supported, if supported it should be, by a no less illegal, arrogant, and unconstitutional Administration. The Ministers were in- 388 volved in the statement of the learned Solicitor; but if they should get up and disavow his doctrine, as being illegal and unconstitutional, then he was content to go on with the Debate. The Ministers were bound to state their opinion on this subject. They must either maintain or throw overboard the King's Solicitor for Ireland. Let the House know whether the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whether the King's Attorney General and Solicitor General for England, presumed to maintain the proposition of the hon. and learned member for Milborne Port? If they dared to maintain it, he would then move, that the words of the hon. Member be taken down, and that the further progress of the Bill be adjourned until this matter was settled. The hon. and learned Member concluded by moving, as an Amendment, that the Debate be adjourned till to-morrow.
§ The Speaker having put the Amendment from the Chair,
§ Mr. Crampton
rose to offer a few words in explanation. He complained that the hon. and learned Member who had just sat down had misrepresented every syllable which he had uttered [cries of "No, no"]. He did not say, that the hon. and learned Member had done so designedly. The hon. and learned Gentleman must have mistaken what he had said, but he must persevere in stating, that every word which he had said had been misrepresented. In the first place, he never said that the House of Lords had no right to criticise the Bill. He never meant to submit so monstrous a proposition to Parliament; what he said was, that the House of Lords ought to criticise it with great caution and delicacy; but there was no doubt that it possessed the power to reject the Bill. In the next place, the hon. and learned Member had represented him as having said, that the Crown had the right to suspend the issuing of Writs without the concurrence of the House of Commons. What he did say, or meant to have said, was, that the Crown, on the Address of the House of Commons, had the right at common-law to issue Writs in the manner he had stated. He excepted from this proposition Scotland and Ireland, and some places in England, which had been the subject of particular Acts of Parliament. The suspension of Writs by the Crown could hardly be considered as an invasion of the privileges of 389 the House of Commons, if it were done at the suggestion and on the representations of that House. If the Sheriff presumed to return Members for any place which the House of Commons and the Crown together, had agreed should not exercise the elective franchise, it would then become the duty of the House, following up its own Address, to reject those Members. That was the proposition which he had made. He had never stated that the Crown possessed the power to suspend the Writs of itself, but only upon the recommendation of the House of Commons. The matter had been taken up with so much warmth, that one would suppose that he had seriously advised the Crown and the House to act upon the power of which he thought them possessed. Such was not the fact; he had merely mentioned the matter purely as a speculative case; and he admitted, that the argument was fitter to be addressed to the Lords than to that House. What he had stated, was entirely his own private opinion, and he had had no communication with any Member of that House on the subject. He could not but consider the interference of the hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir Charles Wetherell) most unkind. The hon. and learned Gentleman possessed great power of language; he was a giant in that House, and was able to annihilate, by his argument, such pigmies as he was. He therefore felt his interference on the present occasion as most unkind and ungenerous. The statement which he had made might be caught hold of by the opponents of the Bill, as a means of obstructing its progress; and he might be made a 'scape-goat of by the hon. and learned Gentleman, but he had said nothing, of the correctness of which he did not feel convinced. He was perfectly willing to be responsible for all he had said or done. The hon. and learned Gentleman might endeavour to extinguish him as a private individual, but he felt supported in the consciousness of the honest and upright discharge of his duty.
§ Sir Charles Wetherell
said, that the hon. and learned Solicitor for Ireland having accused him of mis-statements, he was ready to abide by the decision of any hon. Member present, as to whether he had, or had not, correctly described the hon. and learned Solicitor's proposition. The hon. and learned Member said, in plain terms, that if the House of Lords should reject the Bill, Ministers had nothing to do 390 but dissolve Parliament, and then the Crown might withhold the issuing of Writs for all the boroughs in schedule A.
§ Lord Althorp
said, to the best of his recollection, his hon. and learned friend had stated, as nearly as could be, in his explanation, the sense of what he had at first advanced. The hon. and learned Gentleman opposite assumed, that because his hon. and learned friend was connected with his Majesty's Government—because he was a law officer of the Crown, therefore any opinions which he might have expressed were to be taken as the sentiments of his Majesty's Government. He could not agree in that opinion, and he might, perhaps, be permitted to add, that it was not only an unusual course, but almost directly at variance with the usages of that House, to stop the progress of a Debate, for the purpose of calling upon his Majesty's Ministers to give an explanation of any point upon which any hon. Member might conceive certain opinions to have been propounded. He protested against such a course, as being unusual, and, he might say, unprecedented. How could his Majesty's Ministers be expected to pronounce upon the strict legality of a doctrine which they were not allowed an opportunity of considering? He really did not think the subject required to be treated with that solemnity which the hon. and learned Gentleman seemed disposed to bestow upon it. His hon. and learned friend had stated to the House an opinion of his own, which he was convinced his hon. and learned friend sincerely entertained, but his hon. and learned friend had not had (as he correctly stated) any communication with him, or, he believed, with any of his colleagues. At least, he could say, that he himself had certainly received no intimation from his hon. and learned friend upon the point. But, if the question were put to him, as to his opinion upon this as a constitutional point, he should undoubtedly say, that he should not, for his own part, be induced to adopt or assent to the doctrine which his hon. and learned friend was understood to have propounded; nor did he think such a course strictly in unison with the practice of the Constitution. But, as he had already said, it was ridiculous to call upon his Majesty's Government, in this abrupt and unexpected manner, to pledge themselves upon a legal or constitutional question.
Sir Robert Peel
said, it now appeared, that the opinion of the hon. and learned Gentleman, the Solicitor General for Ireland, was not in unison with that of the noble Lord who held the principal place in his Majesty's Government in that House, but that, on the contrary, the noble Lord considered the doctrine to which his hon. and learned friend had referred an unconstitutional doctrine. Whether it was strictly legal the noble Lord did not take upon him to say. But, when the first Minister of the Crown in that House declared, that the maxims advanced could not be defended as constitutional, he conceived that the object of his hon. and learned friend was answered, and that he might very well, with the permission of the House, withdraw his Motion. The hon. and learned Gentleman complained of the un-kindness of his hon. and learned friend. Why, undoubtedly, all motions referring to the opinions of individuals, might have an air of unkindness; but could the hon. and learned Gentleman suppose, that any thing but a paramount sense of duty had induced his hon. and learned friend to bring the matter forward? He admitted, that, generally speaking, it was not usual to make the members of a Government responsible for the opinions of their subordinates. But this was a question of prerogative, and one upon which the Ministers themselves would be the legitimate advisers of the Crown. When he heard the hon. and learned Gentleman, in the second version of his opinion, declare, that the Crown had the power, in concurrence with the House of Commons, to suspend the Writ for any place it pleased, he could not help saying, that if such were constitutional doctrine, they held every right and every privilege, however important, at mere sufferance. But let the House not proceed further in an interruption of the great question before it. He thought his hon. and learned friend had done what was perfectly just and proper, in eliciting the declaration which had been made by the noble Lord, and, that declaration having been made, the necessity of his hon. and learned friend's Motion, and of any further discussion upon it, were prevented.
§ Mr. Hudson Gurney
thought the hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir Charles Wetherell) justified in the course he had taken; for, from the time of Richard 2nd, there had been no instance of a place which had returned Members to Parlia- 392 ment being permanently disfranchised by the Crown. On the contrary, he was able to quote an old Statute, which contained words expressly contrary to the doctrine of the learned Solicitor General. In the Act 5th Richard 2nd, cap. 4, are these words—"These the King doth will and command, and it is asserted in the Parliament, by the Prelates, Lords, and Commons, that all and any persons and commonalties which shall from henceforth have the summons of the Parliament, shall come from henceforth to the Parliament, in the manner as they are bound to do, and have been accustomed within the realm of England of old times;" and then it goes on to enact. "And if any Sheriff of the realm, be, from henceforth, negligent in making his returns of Writs of the Parliament, or that he leave out of the said returns any cities or boroughs which were bound, and of old time were wont to come to the Parliament, he shall be amerced, or otherwise punished, in the manner as was accustomed to be done in the said case, in times past." How the hon. and learned Solicitor General could reconcile the language of this Statute with the doctrine he had laid down, he must himself explain if he could, but certainly, to every other person, they must appear directly at variance.
Mr. C. W. Wynn
resumed his speech. He said, he was perfectly satisfied with the declaration of the noble Lord—a declaration which he had anticipated from the noble Lord's knowledge of the Constitution, and from his constitutional principles. But, had the noble Lord not made that declaration, he (Mr. Wynn) should have felt, that the House of Commons had no security, from hour to hour, against the effects of such a doctrine. He would now dismiss the topic, which had caused an interruption of the Debate, and proceed to consider some other points of the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech. The hon. and learned Gentleman had said, that the House of Lords ought not to make any alteration in the Bill, because it regarded the constitution of the House of Commons. If it really was an encroachment on the privileges of the House of Commons for the House of Lords to make any alteration in a Bill respecting the constitution of the House of Commons, the House of Commons had been singularly negligent of its privileges; for 393 they had patiently seen the House of Lords, over and over again, enter into the discussion of bills which had been sent up to them by the House of Commons, disfranchising boroughs on the ground of corruption. And when, on entering into the consideration of such bills, the House of Lords had sent to the House of Commons for a copy of the evidence on which such a bill had been passed, the answer, if the hon. and learned Gentleman was in the right, ought to have been—"it is no business of yours: you ought to depend upon our judgment." The hon. and learned Gentleman said, that the House of Commons did not interfere with bills affecting the rights of the Peerage. Did the hon. and learned Gentleman recollect the bill introduced into the House of Lords, with the sanction of the Crown, in the beginning of the last century, limiting the prerogative of the Crown to create Peers? On that occasion, the House of Commons proved itself to be the guardian of the ancient Constitution of the country, and the undoubted prerogatives of the Crown, and threw out the bill which the Lords had sent down to them; and from that period to the present, there was no constitutional authority which did not hold, that, by so doing, they had prevented the Constitution of the country from degenerating into an oligarchy. On these grounds, he thought that the House of Lords had an absolute right, and that it was their duty, to examine this Bill, and either to approve, reject, or alter it, as might to them seem wise. In order, in times of exigence, to be enabled to resist popular clamour, the House of Lords ought to be a body wholly independent of the voice of the Commons of England. The Commons of England had their full share in the legislation of the country. For the last hundred years, their influence in the legislature had gone on increasing. With that they ought to be satisfied; and not, by an interference with the rights of the other branches of the Legislature, to set an example which might, at some future period, be applied against themselves by the people. The English Constitution—that highest effort of human intellect—had always admitted the existence of what were called close boroughs. That Constitution was to be found, not in Statutes alone, but in practice. And if any man would point out a period in which boroughs, over which influence was exercised, did not exist, he would then 394 allow that the Constitution was altered. The number of those boroughs was, however, greatly diminished. Every man could point out, from his own knowledge, many instances of their extinction, during the last fifty years—boroughs which, having once been close, were now open. The hon. and learned Gentleman said, that any one who interfered with elections, by way of nomination, was an offender, and liable to be proceeded against by indictment. Improper interference he deprecated as much as the hon. and learned Gentleman, but he thought that individuals ought not to be held up to obloquy who only exercised the natural influence of property. But could the influence fairly arising from property be considered a usurpation of power or an offence? This he did not understand to be the opinion of Ministers, for they were willing that the natural influence of property should remain unimpaired. The question then occurred, was this influence unfairly exercised with respect to places in schedule A? He thought this question was not treated as it ought to be. The hon. and learned Gent. said, that it was not unfairly exercised at Milborne Port; but were there not many Milborne Ports in Schedule A? It was in many of them merely the influence of the benevolent landlord. That sort of influence his noble friend professed that he was very desirous of supporting and of extending as much as possible; and to promote it was one of the objects of the Reform Bill. Let him ask, however, whether the object was likely to be attained by the course that had been pursued? A great deal of violent language had been used respecting those boroughs, in which influence had been exercised, and they had been designated as rotten boroughs, as boroughs that stink, with a great many more characteristics, taken from the same scurrilous dictionary. The franchise in many of these places was in the hands of persons of the utmost respectability and intelligence, and who, he was very sure, were as capable of judging of most of the questions that arise, as any persons in the country. Corruption was asserted with respect to these places, and the mere assertion was taken as a fact. Night after night, imputations were thrown out of this nature, which, when inquired into, turned out to be utterly groundless. By such means as these, a clamour had been raised, and the minds of the people 395 had been excited. Another assertion of the same character was, that the want of Reform kept the bulk of the people in a state of ignorance. In Preston the right of voting was scot-and-lot. Were the people there more intelligent than in places where the right was not so general? An argument for increasing the constituency was, that it would be a defence against bribery. The instances of Dublin, of Hull, and of Liverpool, where, as appeared by the evidence before a Committee up-stairs, 1,600 or 1,700 persons actually received a sum of money for their votes, he might also mention Westminster, which, a few years ago, was notoriously corrupt, did not prove that a numerous constituency prevented bribery. The 10l. voters would be as liable to corruption as the present electors, and much more so in large towns, for it was to such towns the worst characters flocked, who by this Bill would be entitled to vote by paying 3s. or 4s. a-week rent. He could not concur in the establishment of such wholesale magazines of corruption. The scot-and-lot boroughs were the most corrupt of all others, and this measure would not render more pure the places on which a sort of scot-and-lot franchise was conferred. In Wallingford there were 276 scot-and-lot voters; and there the miller, of whom they heard so much, regularly paid 20l. for plumpers, and 10l. for single votes. There would remain of these voters after this Bill, 216. Would the infusion of eighty new electors cure the corruption of the rest? He thought not, and was satisfied that corruption never would be cured till that House had carried the existing laws into execution; but when any case of corruption was brought forward, it was met by the observation, that it was hypocritical to select one instance for punishment when the practice was so general. He had repeatedly been in the minority when motions had been made to direct prosecutions in cases of bribery. He had voted for the second reading of the Bill, and for its being committed, that it might be fairly considered, and so improved and amended as to render it a proper and beneficial measure. But now he found it impossible to vote for the third reading. It had not been sufficiently improved or amended in the Committee; it still was calculated to effect too great a change, and he therefore felt bound to oppose it. It had been objected to the advocates of 396 moderate Reform, that they had not yet propounded their measure; but in reply to this observation, he begged to remark, that it was impossible two measures of Reform could be advantageously discussed at the same time. If a plan of moderate Reform had been brought forward, by which Representatives were to be given to the large towns, he would have most ardently supported the measure; and he firmly believed it would have encountered but little opposition. He would not, indeed, have consented to the disfranchisement clauses of the Bill, because he considered, that the existence of all the small boroughs was beneficial to the Constitution. He had no objection, however, that some of them should be united, thereby to make room for giving Representatives to the large towns. He was willing that the larger counties should be divided, the duration of the poll limited, and the expense of elections reduced. He objected, however, to the disfranchisement, to the extent of the franchise granted by this Bill, for it went to create what, in point of fact, would be only scot-and-lot voters in all the large towns. In Westminster there were, for instance, about 19,200 voters, of whom 17,600 were 10l. householders. He would not place the franchise so low as 10l. but should not object to 20l. They were told, a higher franchise than 10l. would not satisfy the country. Were it not for the cry which Members themselves had been the means of raising, the people would have been content with much less than this Bill gave. He did not approve of giving Representatives to the districts round the metropolis—such as Marylebone, which was already sufficiently represented, as the Members who resided there would be ready to attend to its interests. When his hon. and learned friend (Mr. Crampton) said, that the Members for boroughs in schedule A only represented those who sent them there, did his hon. and learned friend, who represented one of these boroughs, look upon himself in that light?—did he not think himself bound to consult the general interests of the country? Did his noble friend, the Paymaster of the Forces, now, when he represented Devonshire, or before, when he represented Huntingdonshire, consider himself more a Representative of the people, more bound to consult their interests, than when he was member for Tavistock? Many men of the first talents, 397 after representing large places, came in for small ones, and still continued to act on the same independent principles. How were such men as Mr. Burke or Mr. Huskisson to get into the House of Commons under this Bill? Men of commanding talents might, sooner or later, obtain a seat; but was there no advantage in forming the habits of men to public business by early admission into that House. It was, in his opinion, extremely useful that there should be men in Parliament who had been, as it were, bred up in the House; but he feared much, that when this Bill passed, such persons would not be able to find their way into it. He agreed with the hon. Gentleman opposite, who spoke last night, that this law would be the parent of many other laws—whether those laws were good or bad. Adverting to the objection made by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Stanley) to the right of his right hon. friend (Mr. Croker), to reserve his observations upon certain details to the present stage of the Bill, he declared, that every man enjoyed this right; because, of this measure, the details were its very substance. These details, he contended, required change—they were inconsistent with each other—they proceeded—if upon any principles—upon different principles, and must effectually prevent the beneficial operation of the Bill. It was impossible the Bill could work satisfactorily as it now stood. Numerous alterations must be made to cure all the anomalies it contained. The nine boroughs, for instance, which, by the recent census, contained above 2,000 inhabitants, would not easily submit to be disfranchised while other boroughs, with a less population, were preserved. The new boroughs, with a population between 4,000 and 10,000, would not be content to return only one Member while smaller places returned two. These were not the only anomalies in the Bill. Suppose a man had a 10l. freehold at Malmesbury, there he would have a vote only for one Member. Let him sell his freehold, remove, purchase another a few miles distant, but continue to occupy, as tenant, his house in Malmesbury, and he would thus acquire two votes for Cricklade, and two more for the county of Wilts, while he would still retain his vote for Malmesbury. Again, the rich householder in Cricklade would have only his votes for the borough, while his neighbour, the cobbler, who had a 40s. 398 freehold for the county in his stall, would have the right of voting for two Members for the county, and for Members for the town. He could not avoid also adverting to the anomaly of the borough of Wilton, with 1,967 inhabitants, retaining the franchise, while Downton, which contained four or five and twenty hundred was disfranchised. He pointed out these cases as specimens of the inconsistencies of the Bill. He should not detain the House further, but should always be ready to consider and promote any measure of moderate Reform.
§ Mr. Robert Grant
observed, that if all the hon. Members who had spoken upon the measure had thought proper to couch their opposition to it in terms as moderate as his right hon. friend who had just sat down, he should not have felt it necessary to trouble the House upon the present occasion; but as many hon. Gentlemen had designated the Bill as essentially revolutionary, and this not in the warmth of debate, but in the most deliberate manner, he was anxious to protest against this assertion, and briefly to state the reasons which led him to an opposite conclusion. In doing this, it was not his intention to enter into details; he would content himself with simply considering if the Bill would work well; and herein two things should be taken into account; first, the machinery; and secondly, what was the nature of the medium in which the measure was to operate—in other words, what were the feelings and sentiments of the great body of the people amongst whom this measure was to act. Now he relied on this—without saying that the machinery was as perfect as the imagination and ingenuity of some hon. Gentlemen might have suggested, he yet entertained the warmest anticipation that the Bill would work well, and prove a practical blessing to the people, who had received it so warmly, and supported it with such fidelity. It was on the feeling of the people he rested his hope. If the plan of moderate Reform, which had been so often alluded to from the other side of the House, were brought forward, he would admit, for the sake of argument, that the machinery would be more perfect. But yet it would be vain to expect from it the same benefits as from the measure before the House, because it never would receive the same favour, nor so carry with it the hearts and affections of the people. The Bill of the hon. Gentlemen opposite would be like an army in a hostile country, 399 but this Bill would be like an army which had entered a country for the purpose of expelling a band of invaders in conjunction with the inhabitants. The one would have on all sides to encounter hatred and opposition, while the other would every where find entrenchments and allies—and information to guide, and a ready hand to assist. When such was the popular feeling, it appeared to him that such a feeling would tend, in a great measure, to heal and obliterate many of those defects which Gentlemen had found out, or supposed they had found out, in this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman who spoke last, stated that the Bill exceeded not only his expectations, but those of the people; and that it exceeded also what was once intended by a noble friend of ours, not now in this House. What would be his noble friend's answer to that statement he knew not; but he knew that he presented a rare example of a man in office, more than fulfilling the promises that he made when in opposition. The right hon. member for Aldeburgh (Mr. Croker) had, in his very eloquent and ingenious speech, last night, made use of one argument which surprised him very much, as coming from a Gentleman possessing a mind so acute. The right hon. Gentleman had brought forward a sort of dilemma, to the effect, that either Reform must be admitted not to be necessary and the Bill thrown out, or else, if the House of Commons passed this Bill, the very fact of their doing so proved that Reform was not necessary. Now this was a pure sophism. As well might the right hon. Gentleman, in reference to personal reform, say, that the simple resolution to reform was sufficient, and there was no need of his taking any further steps. And yet, notwithstanding this argument of the right hon. Gentleman, in another part of his speech he contended, that they had been driven to support this measure by the momentum of the public voice, and in obedience to the pledges they had given to their constituents, which some would represent as a disgrace to them, but which he regarded as an honour. But again, it should be remembered that the House of Commons, as constituted at present, was not to be compared to the House of Commons under ordinary circumstances. This House had been elected under a particular stimulus, in obedience to the Royal appeal made to the body of the people. Observe the different conduct pursued by this House 400 of Commons and the last. See the deference shown by the last House of Commons to the declared voice of the people: not contented with the ordinary fortifications of rotten boroughs, they took refuge behind the timber duties, with the hope of defeating Reform. They opposed a reforming Ministry on this point, hoping thus to defeat Reform. They knew the people had two darling objects, Reform and Retrenchment, and yet a great majority combined to defeat the second object, for the purpose of supplanting the first. He would now apply himself to the epithet of "revolutionary," so frequently applied to the Bill by hon. Gentlemen opposite. He differed from those hon. Members who fulminated forth such charges against the measure. It was neither, in their sense of the word, innovation nor revolution, but it was really a restorative and conservative measure. He asked if it were possible to point out a period at which there was a more intelligent and independent House of Commons than the present? But even this was not the only thing to be considered. The question really to be weighed was, whether there ever was a period at which the constituency were so enlightened and intelligent? It might be true that that House was more intelligent than any House of Commons had been at any former period; but it might also be true that the people had improved in a still greater ratio; and if they had, then it followed, that though the House of Commons had improved relatively to former Houses in a great measure, yet that it had fallen back positively with regard to the people. Now, he believed that this was the fact, and that the change in the people had been so great that that House had not kept pace with them. They had been asked to show the time when there had not been nomination boroughs; but the circumstances under which they existed had materially changed. In former times, he admitted, that there had been nomination boroughs; but in those times they were the best defence of the liberty of the people, for they were close Corporations, in which commerce was fostered, and by which the power of feudal oppression was at first resisted and afterwards overcome. These close Corporations were under the nomination of those popular Barons who, in the other House, were fighting the battle of the people against the oppressive tyranny and exactions of the Crown, If, under these circumstances, he 401 was called on to state what he thought a good House of Commons, he should say, that that was so which fairly represented the popular voice at any given time at which it was elected. The House of Commons which fully answered such a purpose at one period, might be fatally defective at another; and if it was so, it ceased to be what it pretended—the real representative of the people. It was by the application of that principle that he was enabled to account for the prostration of the strength of the Commons in the time of the reign of the Tudors. The great aristocratic interest had either been directly weakened or destroyed by the civil wars—had been indirectly weakened also by the growth of commerce, the spread of manufactures and general knowledge, with the abolition of villeinage and the prevalence, as lawyers would say, of uses. The aristocracy were also materially affected by the great statute of Henry 6th for raising the franchise of the electors of counties, by requiring that they should not only be freeholders, but freeholders to the amount of 40s. a-year. He suspected, that the object of that statute was a direct blow at the aristocracy, but certainly such was its effect. For, when afterwards the contest again revived, it was not carried on by the county Members, but by the citizens and burgesses, to control whom, Elizabeth increased the number of close boroughs originally introduced by Edward 6th for religious purposes. He admitted that, from the reign of Elizabeth to the present moment, there had been no material change in the framework and constitution of the House of Commons; and he admitted also the truth of the argument urged by the other side of the House, that, although our Constitution had not changed, yet the growth of intelligence in the people had made the House more popular; a result occasioned, also, because the close system of Elizabeth had not operated so badly as it would otherwise have done from the decrease in the value of money. When the landed proprietors were destroyed, and when, from the same cause, the trade of the country was almost destroyed, there was no class of men able to resist the strength of the Royal prerogative. The consequence, then, was, that the House of Commons exhibited no feeling of independence, but Parliament was ruled by the absolute power of the Prince. That state of things was altered as soon as the continuance of internal 402 peace had afforded the means of national improvement. He would now observe upon what had been last night stated by a right hon. Gentleman, who had asserted that there was no one that would say that any close boroughs had been created since the time of King William 3rd, and yet that was the period at which all agreed the liberties of the people had been fixed. That argument had been pressed by his hon. friend, the member for Oxfordshire; and it was strongly urged, that as the frame-work of the House of Commons had been then fixed, it ought not now to be altered. He answered, that the body to be represented had changed so much, that the continuance of the framework of the House of Commons in the same state as before was an evil; for the people having changed, the framework of the House ought in the same manner to have been changed. As a proof that the state of the people had changed, he might refer to the great towns, in which alone the alteration had been most considerable; for he believed he might safely assert, that one-third of the whole wealth and intelligence of the country—one-third of its resources, had grown up since the time of the Revolution. The effect of that change was felt all over the world—in the Levant, on the shores of the Atlantic and the Pacific, on the banks of the Yellow Sea, and yet there was to be one place where the effect was not to be felt, and that place was to be the House of Commons, which pretended to be composed of the Representatives of the people. The men who were alone to be unaffected by this change were those who could take refuge in the fortress of the House of Commons, and not one single wave of the sea of changes that time had produced was to wash down any part of its ancient walls. It was said by those who were opposed to the present measure, that the whole resources of the country, those which had sprung up since the Revolution, were so vast, that they could not open the door of the House of Commons to admit the operation of their influence without being in danger of destroying the frame-work of the Constitution itself. Such at least was the substance of that argument; but that argument subverted itself, as he should be able presently to show. It was also said, that such was the force that had now arisen, moral and intellectual, that if it 403 was not kept down, or, in other words, kept out of that House, it would come and destroy that House itself. The result of that argument was, that no great, no moral and intellectual force, could exist in the country with safety to that House; for if it could not be safely permitted to enter that House, it surely could not safely be permitted to exist out of the House. He asserted, that whatever might be the danger of admitting it into that House, the danger would be tenfold greater to refuse it admission. The only safe ground of refusal would be, that it was so paltry, so insignificant, it had no right to claim admittance there. But was there any one that would venture to assert it was so insignificant? On the contrary, was not the opposite argument, of its too great strength and importance, relied on as the ground of the refusal? He admitted its strength and importance, and he declared it as his opinion, that Parliament would not long be able to shut out from that House so great a proportion of the intelligence and wealth of the people. If that argument were just, he repeated, that the plan of safety was that of the Government, not that of the Opposition. It was a true proposition, and he stated it broadly, and without the guards that would limit its effect, that there was no great political power in the State which could ever be subdued except by being conciliated. If they adopted that principle, the current of the State would run within its proper banks, and pass safely and peaceably by the ancient towers of the Constitution; but if it were restricted by dams of wicker-work, or pent-up within sluices that would not give vent to its fullness, the imperfect confinement would only exasperate the danger by which all the ancient institutions of the country might be swept away and destroyed. They had been asked, whether there ever had been a time when those which were now called abuses had not existed? That question involved this fallacy, that all those things which, in the origin of Parliament, were among its defects, were now referred to as its glories. It would almost be as good an argument to say, that we ought now to debase the currency, because the ore from which the perfect coin was formed contained much dross that had, by the subsequent labour of the workmen, been cleared from it. That they were defects, he had the authority of Acts of Parliament and resolutions 404 of that House for asserting. These proved them to be abuses—not to be quoted as admitted—but to be shunned as confessed deformities. The hon. member for Oxford, in a speech which, after delivering in that House, he had published—and which attracted more attention after its publication than it had done before—asserted, that the Officers for the Cinque Ports had regularly returned one Member for each of those towns, until the Act of William 3rd interfered, and put an end to the practice. He was sure, that if the hon. Member had read the preamble to the Act of William, he would not have spoken of the practice in the Cinque Ports in the manner in which he had done. This preamble was as follows:—"Whereas the election of Members to serve in Parliament ought to be free; and whereas the Lord Wardens of the Cinque Ports have pretended to claim, as of right, the power of nominating the Members for the same, contrary to the ancient usages in elections for those places." It then declared—he begged the House to observe, that the Act was a declaratory Act—it then declared, "that all such nominations and recommendations were contrary to the laws and Constitution of the country; and, for the future, shall be so deemed and construed to have been." He called on the House to observe, that the Act not only related to all future elections, but declared the law as to all preceding "deemed and construed to have been to all intents and purposes contrary to usage." Another principle on which the opponents of this measure relied—as they could not have the circumstances all their own way, they, like Cato, accommodated themselves to circumstances—they contended, that though direct power or direct bribery had not been permitted, yet, that until the Act of 1809, bribery, which was indirectly effected by money being given, not to the voter himself, but to his family, had been permitted, and they called for an answer to the speech of Mr. Windham delivered in opposition to that Bill. Why, they seemed in doing so to be ignorant of the language of that Act of Parliament. Not only did the speech of Mr. Windham fail to convince Mr. Perceval, but the language of the Act itself declared, that "nevertheless such gifts were contrary to the ancient usage and to the freedom of election, and contrary to the laws and constitutions of the Realm." The lan- 405 guage of these Acts had been justified in particular cases. There was a charge made by Sir John Packington against the Bishop of Worcester, who had interfered with him in a contest for that county, and who had thereby acted in defiance of that resolution, adopted every Session by that House, that Peers and great Lords of Parliament should not interfere in matters of election of Members of that House, without a high breach of the privileges thereof. The Bishop had threatened his clergy and tenants, that if they voted for Sir John Packington, he would not renew their leases. On this complaint being made, and the charge being substantiated, the Commons addressed the Queen to remove the Bishop from his situation of Almoner, and with that request the Queen thought proper to comply.* These were the principles that he contended ought to govern the constitution of this House; they were not mere empty declarations upon paper, but were important principles, with which, unhappily, the practice was at war. With these Resolutions against the interference of the Crown or the Peerage—Resolutions so recorded and so recognised—was it possible for any Member of that House to stand up and say, not in the closet, nor in a secret whisper, not in a Committee up-stairs, not within the walls of that House (for he was happy to say, that what was uttered within the walls of that House was not confined to the limits of those walls, but was published all over the kingdom)—was it possible, he said, for any Member to stand up on the House-top, to proclaim the doctrine to a people as capable of acquiring knowledge, and as capable of drawing inferences as themselves, and to a people who were ten times more interested in drawing those inferences, that all these matters of record, all these statutory provisions, all these Resolutions of the House were mere moonshine—mere pretences—mere empty declarations kept upon their books, with the intention to deceive, and without the least possible intention of being usefully applied? There was a time when that might have been said—when what happened in that House was a secret—as long as the people were not informed of what passed there. At* A full report of the proceedings in this case may be found in Hansard's Parl. Hist. vol. vi, p. 50–54.406 such a time there might have been some sense in such a declaration, though there would be neither justice nor generosity in it. At such a time it might have been said that there was one doctrine for the people—"at mihi plaudo ips—oelig; domi"—there was another doctrine for the House of Commons, which was the antipodes of that told to the people. Surely that would not be said by any one. There was not a lawyer—and many of them he saw now present in the House—there was not a lawyer writing a constitutional history of that House—there was not one who would dare (for men of honour did not dare to say what was untrue)—there was not one who would dare to assert that those things which it was now proposed to remove were not merely pardonable defects, but the blessing, the glory, and the honour of the system. There was one subject on which he was anxious to say a few words before he sat down. He had heard a great deal asserted about Members becoming the nominees of the people after this measure should have passed. He had heard from more than one hon. Member on the opposite side of the House, that after this measure should have been carried, they should become mere puppets in the hands and at the discretion of the people. He did not intend to have entered at all upon this topic, but he found it had become a serious question. It was introduced into the theoretical harangues of hon. Gentlemen, in a light, which, if there were any danger of its proving true, would be extremely hostile to that order of things which every man who viewed the Constitution of this country as a system which it was desirable to retain, should use his best exertions to uphold. It was said, that the people were to become the jurors who were to try the acts of the other House, and that they of the lower House should be made their absolute slaves. Then, after this position had been advanced, two conclusions were drawn—first they were told, that they were to become the passive delegates of the people on the passing of this Bill; and secondly, it was said, that if they became such delegates, they must, as their first act of legislation, destroy both the Crown and the Aristocracy. He had a right to say of himself, that he would never be the passive delegate of any constituency. No one in that House had better reason to do honour to the intelli- 407 gence and proper feelings of his constituents than he had; yet, although he should ever entertain the highest respect for their opinions, and should treat them on all occasions with becoming deference, he would never be their submissive slave or delegate. He would never be bound by promises or pledges, but he would endeavour to cultivate their good will by an undisguised display of his honest sentiments and feelings, and to retain that more honourable and substantial connexion which he at present maintained with them, through a sympathy of feeling and opinion. What he conceived would be the effect of a Reform in that House was this: it would undoubtedly produce a vast, and much-required infusion of the popular mind and feeling into that House; but, from this it did not follow, that on every occasion they were to conform in their conduct to the dictates and the mandates or the written instructions of their constituents. He did think, that two most important results would follow from adopting this Bill. First, that the Representatives would, more than they at present did, act up to the declared wishes of their constituents; and secondly, when they did not, that they would more frequently and more readily explain the motives and the reasons of their conduct. At present, a Representative did not feel himself called upon or required to give this explanation, but regarded the matter with perfect indifference. "Oh!" said many an hon. Member,'Populus me sibilat,'but I regard it not. I shall not be called on in the House to explain my conduct, and I do not care what may be said out of doors." What was this but to shelter himself behind a privileged screen from the just demands of constituents, who required the fulfilment of the pledges he had given to them. The infusion of popular spirit into the House would prevent such sheltering behind such a screen, and as ample opportunity would be given for explanation, the consequence would be, that the pledges of a candidate would be attended to: for either he must act in conformity with the declared wishes of his constituents, or assign his reasons for disregarding them. At present, undoubtedly, an opportunity for such explanations was given at the hustings, but it would be much better that a more immediate understanding should take place 408 between representative and candidate. He had himself heard Mr. Canning say—and the greatness of that man's mind made him pause before he ventured to differ from him—that the people invariably followed the opinions of Members when they took a stand on any particular measure. That might be true; but if it was, it must have been because the people felt the hopelessness of opposition; but if the observation was true from such a cause, how much more honourable and how much more sincere was likely to be the following of popular opinion when it was founded upon respect, not upon the hopelessness of opposition, but on a feeling of sympathy and respect? He was far from objecting to those who wished to rely on the political strength and constitutional stability of the House of Lords; but why, if it were to be trusted in reference to this Bill, was it not worthy of confidence with regard to other measures? If the power and independence of the House of Lords were good for this Bill, it was good for all others; and it was not possible, according to the argument on the other side, that it should be endangered, since, if it were equal to present difficulties, it might defy all the perils of after-times. If he were to venture to give one word of advice to their Lordships, it would be to say to them, "Do not be deterred by menaces—discharge your duty with courage and fortitude, and avoid that worst, basest, and most abject species of cowardice, the fear of being thought afraid." If the House of Lords met this Bill in the fair and honest spirit of deliberation—if it encountered it on plain, intelligible, and substantial grounds, and therefore even rejected it, they would have nothing to fear. Of this he was sure, that the people would respect an honest judgment; and while they scorned a nominal concession, they would be grateful for a genuine admission of their claims. In a constitutional sense he would say this, that after the discussion the question of Reform had undergone, the people would never be content with anything less than full, free, and unqualified justice.
could not presume to follow the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, through his long Speech, but was anxious to express a few observations in opposition to some of its leading topics. He had anticipated a different line of argument would have been pursued 409 by the right hon. Gentleman, and that he would have suited his observations on this occasion to the speeches he had previously made. His present argument had proved one position, that the desire for and support of Reform, did not advance so much in this House as they did among the people. He (Lord Valletort) was ready to admit this, but he must also say, this new light had broken very suddenly upon the people. The chief bent of the right hon. Gentleman's argument went to shew, that the House did not receive this new light in the same brilliancy the people received it. He believed there was a permanent feeling in favour of Reform, but not a permanent feeling in favour of the specific measure which his Majesty's Ministers had so injudiciously and indiscreetly brought before the House. It had been proved beyond a doubt, that this measure could not be effective, that it was wild and extravagant in its provisions, and he would venture to prophecy, would require material alterations, allowing that it passed, which he hoped it would not, before a twelvemonth expired. One of the strong arguments to induce them to pass the measure, was the responsibility which it was said would rest with this House. He denied that it would rest with the House. It would rest with his Majesty's Ministers, who, when there was no cause for such a vast innovation and change, when the country was in a state of prosperity, when satisfaction pervaded the minds of the generality of persons, when the country was beginning to regain that tranquillity and repose which a protracted war had disturbed, rushed wildly on this precipice of their own creating. It would attach to those who conceived they could produce a measure so perfect that the Parliament must pass it, or encounter a revolution. What would they say to the architect who erected a fabric which he knew was upon a bad foundation, and must fall? Would such a man be considered any other than a madman? and yet so mad were the acts of the authors of the present measure. If the responsibility fell on the right heads, Ministers would have much to fear. Then as to the probable result of this fatal Bill in the other House of Parliament. Did not the Ministers know, that it was impossible for that House to agree to it? If mischief should arise, did it not rest on those who had produced such a measure? He much ap- 410 proved of the eloquent exhortation to the other House which had been delivered by the right hon. Gentleman. He recommended that House to act with courage and fortitude, with firmness and consistency, and he declared, if they so acted they had no cause for fear. He fully and heartily joined with him in this, for he had no scruple in saying, that he looked with confidence to the other branch of the Constitution. He believed the Peers would do their duty firmly and honourably, and reject the Bill, and if any evil should arise, it must be attributed to those who endeavoured to violate the great principles of the Constitution.
§ Sir Charles Wetherell
commenced by observing, that instead of any adherence to moderation by Gentlemen on the other side, a departure from that course had been provoked by their manner of proceeding. Language had been used which, though confined within the bounds of parliamentary practice, had been insulting to the honour, integrity, and independence of Members who found their way into the House for what were called nomination boroughs. Even the King's Attorney General had most provokingly charged hon. Members with wishing to create a vexatious and frivolous delay. He did not profess to be able to repeat other phrases of the same description, as he had kept no notes of them, although, had he done so, they would have formed a considerable schedule to be added, not, indeed, to the Bill, but to the debates upon it. The measure had been read a third time two days ago, and his reason for alluding to this fact was, that it seemed instantly to have opened the flood-gates of Ministerial eloquence; until then there seemed to have been a sort of embargo upon oratory on that side of the House—a quarantine to prevent the infection of speech-making. The majority of the supporters of Ministers had come forward with their votes much oftener than with their speeches; but now that the Bill was as good as passed, they were possessed of the "torrens dicendi copia multis," which they poured forth without mercy or consideration. To-night the right hon. Gentleman had given the rein to his impatient steed, and, knight-errant like, had ridden out "a-coloneling" to redress the wrongs of the weak and injured people of England. Last night the hon. member for Calne had come forward, and he (Sir C. Wetherell) 411 must, in justice, own, had displayed a power of reasoning and a felicity of phraseology, equalled by few and excelled by none. This was only a part of the deluge of words that, during two whole days, had poured down like a torrent and overwhelmed the enemies of the measure; whether, like the Deluge of old, it was to last for forty days and forty nights, was yet a question, but, after what he had heard, he was not without his apprehensions. As he was not yet quite drowned, he would endeavour to answer a few of the points urged by the right hon. Gentleman. First, he had rested the necessity of Reform upon the fact, that the commerce, property, and population of the kingdom were doubled; but surely this was a strange reason for adopting a Bill which abridged the people of about thirty of their Representatives. He wished to hear where was the necessity for this diminution, and certainly, the most celebrated advocates of Parliamentary Reform had never made it a topic in their speeches. The mere fact that the commerce, wealth, and population of the inhabitants of Great Britain had doubled, was a most unanswerable argument for those who wished the Members of the House to be no fewer than at present. He had, before the Bill was read a third time, taken the liberty to represent to the noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer), that he thought the reduction of the number of Members to be one of the most unconstitutional parts of the Bill, and he considered how his Majesty's Government could, consistently with the cheered opinions which they had delivered in the progress of the measure, act upon such a principle. But by-and-by, perhaps, it might be explained why such an expedient had been resorted to. Next, the right hon. Gentleman had talked of the Sessional Resolution against the interference of Peers in elections, and had quoted the case of the Bishop of Worcester, in the reign of Queen Anne; but if they had become matters of form, and were now of no effect and validity, was that a sufficient reason for adopting a legislative enactment on the subject? The right hon. Gentleman had talked of yielding only to circumstances. Nothing but the Gods could conquer them. Who was the Cato of the Treasury Bench, and why had he taken his place there?Cur in theatrum, Cato severe, venisti?Perhaps he might conclude the quotation, 412 which was the reply to the question of the epigrammatist—"An ne exire." Again he asked, who was the Cato of the Treasury Bench who had been conquered only by circumstances? was it the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Paymaster of the Forces, the Attorney General, or the First Lord of the Admiralty? Lucan asserted that—Victrix causa Diis placuit, victa Catoni;but who was the hon. or right hon. Gentleman on the other side of the House who would prefer, in this instance, the unsuccessful cause? They might all be compelled, by the honest decision of the House of Lords, to adopt the unsuccessful cause—but assuredly it would not be by their own good will; and they had shown, by the result of the last Dublin election, that they did not prefer that side of the question. Another topic urged by the right hon. Gentleman was, that at one time the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports had assumed the right of naming the Members; but it was an odd argument for disfranchising the Cinque Ports, that the Legislature had interfered and prevented the practice. That was wise in the Legislature. It did not annihilate the Cinque Ports, it corrected the abuse. He contended, that the very deformities the Bill was intended to remedy were still most unaccountably allowed to remain in the notorious instances of Calne, Tavistock, Malton, and Horsham. It had been stated, that the House of Commons could not carry weight with it without the aid of public opinion. He agreed in thinking that the House of Commons never could act with weight and dignity unless it represented and carried with it the force of public opinion; but public opinion had always been expressed through that House. A new channel had, however, been discovered through which the public opinion was hereafter to flow to the aid of the House of Commons, in the 10l. tenancy. The 10l. voters were henceforward to constitute what was called public opinion, which, until now, was an aggregate of the sentiments and interests of the component parts of the House of Commons. Henceforward they were to look to the popular phalanx of 10l. householders as the representatives of the public opinion. His right hon. friend (Mr. Robert Grant) had introduced another topic, by drawing a distinction between a nominee and a delegate, and describing 413 himself as a Representative of Norwich, but not as a delegate. He congratulated his hon. friend upon the independence which he enjoyed in his seat, but he doubted much whether the usage was equally florid and virescent on the banks of the Thames. He doubted if his right hon. friend, the member for Norwich, was more independent in that House than the Representatives of nomination boroughs. The member for Calne had talked last night of a want of moderation on the part of the opponents of the Bill, but had that hon. and learned Member read the pamphlet, What will the Lords do? Was it there that moderation was to be found? or was it in the newspapers? Had the hon. Member read, within these two days, the language which had been held at a public meeting, where it had been said, that if the House of Lords should presume to throw out the Bill, mutiny and treason were to be recommended to the country. When his right hon. friend talked of the moderation of the organs of the public voice, he must have shut his eyes—no, he was a member of the Government, and must have read in the columns of a journal devoted to, and in the special confidence of, the Government—a journal which arrogated to itself (he would not deny on just grounds) the power of leading public opinion—a journal, moreover, to which it was notorious some of the most active spirits of the Government contributed—he must have read in that journal, and that not in a small type paragraph, on a back page, but in a conspicuous column, in large staring capitals, an article which was neither more nor less than an appeal to the soldiery to commit mutiny and treason. Had his right hon. friend read this article? and if so, how could he talk of the moderation of the supporters of the Reform Bill? Had he also read those appeals in other journals, devoted to the cause of Reform, in which certain no-mistake hints were thrown out with respect to the innocent practice of setting fire to haggards and barns? Were these, forsooth, "moderate" opinions—these calm and deliberate reflections on a great political question? Nor was this language confined to one or two of the exoteric friends of the periodical Press, or to one or two of their disinterested friends either in that House or out of doors. Had they not read the speeches of their exoteric friends at some of those public 414 meetings which their great organ, or rather their great dictator, The Times, had summoned into existence? Had not a Member of that House at one of those meetings, given utterance to expressions which had no other meaning than to recommend the sweeping away of the House of Lords, or putting it in a schedule A of a new Reform Bill? No doubt this language was just now indiscreet on the part of a supporter of the Bill—was a kind of letting the cat out of the bag before his time; and therefore its perpetrator's acquaintance would very judiciously be disclaimed by the noble Lord (Althorp) opposite. But an enlightened public would not be deluded by the disavowal, and would feel, what Ministers must feel, that they were under the dominion of a despotic Press, and that their acts were suicidal to themselves as a Ministry, and must inevitably lead to that worst species of terrorism—the terrorism of the Press. He had always understood the freedom of the Press consisted in supporting both sides of a question; but constituted as the Press was, there could be no freedom. It was all on one side. The Press, said an hon. Gentleman, will put an end to these votes on the part of the Anti-reformers. So, unless the domination of the Press was obeyed, they were to be held out to popular indignation, and the House of Lords despised for presuming to exercise their rights. That was the most detestable of all dominations which made the liberty of Members of Parliament to talk and act for the benefit of the public, an outrage against the rights of the people. Ho would maintain, that a domination like that could only be compared to the power of the Romish Church, which consigned a man who did not agree with it in his writings and opinions to the Inquisition. His right hon. friend (Mr. Croker) had evinced talents which made him more acceptable to the House out of office than in office. That right hon. friend had used arguments which remained unanswered. Science and eloquence had produced a materiel which proved his right hon. friend's intellectual resources. The hon. member for Calne had, in the course of his, no doubt, deservedly eulogized speech of last evening, called their attention to the conduct and fate of the French peerage in the memorable years of 1792, 3, and 4, and had drawn pictures of their sufferings 415 and of the dilapidated state of their mansions in the Fauxbourg St. Germain, and of their rural chateaux, which would have done honour to the most perfect melodramatic abortion of the Minerva press, in order to impress on the peerage of England the danger of not at once yielding without deliberation, or why or wherefore, to the demands of the popular will. Take a lesson, said the hon. Member, from that conduct and that fate, you English House of Lords, and yield in time and with grace to the constitutional demands of the people [hear, hear]. Hon. Members were very ready with their "hear," but were they aware that the parallel which their crack orator had attempted to draw between the English and the French peerage, had no foundation? Was that eloquent Gentleman himself acquainted with the facts on which he so glibly rung the changes? Certainly not, or he could not have overlooked the fact, that there was this striking difference between the English and the French peerage—that whereas the latter made no resistance to the demands of the people, yielded every concession to the tiers etat, while the House of Lords here had as yet expressed no opinion whatever, certainly not one on the side of concession. The French peers yielded every thing, and yet were extirpated root and branch; and yet the hon. Member would induce the English barons to follow their fatal example. When he heard the hon. Gentleman advance the topic, it surprised him: he could not imagine how he could think of starting such a subject, as it constituted one of the strongest arguments that could well be conceived against his own speech. But, as he had started it, he would go with him, and say, that, recollecting what did happen to the French noblesse—recollecting the tyranny, the oppression, and the suffering which they endured, not for a resistance but for a too passive compliance with the wishes and whims of the democracy, he would say to the other House of Parliament—Exemplum ab aliis sume quod tibi usui sit.Pause ere you concede—hesitate ere you surrender—and with the fall of the French House of Peers before your eyes—do not, by obeying the dictates of democratic authority, pave, for yourselves and your families, the way to ruin and desolation, if not destruction. This, indeed, was logic and "friendly advice to the Lords" 416 with a vengeance. But, says the hon. Member, there was some consolation that the ancient houses of Howard, and Talbot, and Stanley, had given the excellent example of yielding in time to the just demands of the people. Perhaps this was the case; but certainly, so far as the Bill enabled them to form an opinion, the fact appeared not so self-evident. For example, the ancient and populous borough of Tavistock, which belonged to the ancient and popular house of Bedford, was still to return two Members, notwithstanding the Russell anxiety to purge itself of such an excrescence. Then there was the ancient and populous borough of Malton still to be encumbered with Representatives, though its proprietor happened to be a member of an ancient Reform family. In like manner the ancient house of Petty was forced to retain its two Members, no doubt to secure the talents of its present eloquent Representative, though it was self-evident that the circumstance must make the heart bleed of the most noble Marquis of Lansdown. And, last of all, the illustrious head of the illustrious and princely house of Howard, was still to be thwarted with the nomination of the borough of Horsham. If a list of such sacrifices were to be put together, it would make a very pretty schedule O to the Bill—a very nice series of ciphers—a kind of algebraic negative quantities (an infinite series of which was said by mathematicians to be equal to a half positive quantity), and would be a very nice subject for a Reform Parliament. Malton would have fallen into the bottomless pit of schedule A, had it not been discovered to possess five good souls to save it. It had been thrown into the same pond with others, which were drowned; but it was saved by having just length enough to keep its chin above water. The hon. member for Calne had talked much of the fatal folly of opposing the popular will, and, per contra, of the wisdom of timely yielding to it. But if the hon. Member referred to his own darling era of 1792, in the French Revolution, he would see a man, a peer, a prince of the blood royal, courting, nay, worshipping mob popularity by every means in his power, and yet whose ultimate, and certainly just reward—the usual reward of mobs—was having his head paraded on the top of a pike, amid the jeers of his once laudatory followers. And he deserved his doom. Was the history of Philip Egalité forgotten in 417 this country. He was in 1791 at the acme of his popularity, and was as if rocked on the mountain waves of popular regard. That man had worked the greatest injury to his own order—he asked the surrender of the nobility to the Tiers Etat—he brought over other Peers to go along with him—and he would ask, were the Pettys, and the Spencers, and the Howards of this country to be seduced by any such example? Philip Egalité was the fugleman of the French Peerage, and the people had, no doubt, done him every justice. Patriots were entitled to civic honours, and he obtained them. His head was not crowned with bays, as in the old Roman times; and that idol of the people, in one short year from his onset, had his head placed on the head of a pike as the just and fitting reward of his labours. Such were the civic honours with which he had been so deservedly honoured. Was this an example of a patriot to be held up to the imitation of British Peers? The treachery of Philip led to the destruction of the splendid monarchy of France and the French people, for even after a struggle of above forty years, the people were never able to regain the same amount of liberty which they had enjoyed under the despotism of the elder branch of the Bourbons. He (Sir Charles Wetherell) did not feel inclined to say much of the appeals which had been made in the House to the conduct of the French Peerage; but out of the House the friends of Reform had constantly referred to it, as an allusion to what they considered to be the duty of the Peerage of this country. If that appeal were successfully followed up, it would not only lead to the destruction of the Peerage, but to that of the best interests of the people. The pamphlets and journals to which he had alluded, recommended the Spiritual Bench in the Lords to take warning by their brethren in France, at the out breaking of the Revolution, and yield in time and with grace to public opinion. But did these sapient, advisers forget, that the French Bishops had made every concession to the popular demand, and that their reward was, that they were immediately thrown into prison? They yielded to the times, to the cries of the then Reformers; and in the result they were reduced to indigence, and compelled to seek for support in a foreign land, and amongst a people of a different religion. September was a month congenial to Re- 418 form—to those who were fond of making and unmaking Constitutions: and thus in September did our Government and their supporters think to effect what they called Reform, but what he would call the destruction of the British Constitution. However, the French Bishops were sent to prison even after their acquiescence with the prevailing schemes of the day, and as to their sufferings he would not now attempt their enumeration. But they certainly made themselves the victims of their votes in favour of what they vainly imagined to be the interests of the people. The most savage cruelties were practised under the name of a licensed freedom; and perhaps nothing in the annals of human barbarity ever equalled the assassination of the French clergy, when once they surrendered the rights belonging to their religion and their rank. He had seen a pamphlet which was published recently under the title of The Friendly Press, and which, he must say, was very nearly in unison with the feeling of others, published on the occasion of this Reform Bill. To this Friendly Press he hoped the hon. member for Calne would direct his attention, because it gave advice to the Peers which could not be acted upon by any man who was in the possession of his faculties. This he said without meaning the least offence to that hon. and learned Member. The right hon. Secretary for Ireland said, that he should not discuss what belonged to the House of Lords, but rather what concerned the rights and privileges of this House, and so far he (Sir Ch. Wetherell) agreed with him. It might, however, be said, that what had occurred in France was not likely to occur in England. But while we were Septemberizing in 1831, who could say that others after us would not be Septemberizing in 1832, or that another holy and revolutionary September would not again arrive in this country? It was his decided opinion, that another holy September would arrive—another September consecrated alike to revolution and rebellion. September was too holy a month to be neglected or forgotten, and no doubt very important changes were meditated during its continuance. What had occurred in France might not possibly occur in England at this day, but that could only arise from the greater caution and sound feeling of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in the other House of Parliament. He trusted their Lordships would 419 take warning from all they had heard and read and seen in this country, and that they would never forget the degradation to which the French Bishops and Nobles were reduced, by yielding a too ready compliance to the call of democratic mobs. At this time, and under the present circumstances, he would not go through the details of this ruinous and revolutionary Bill, but he felt it necessary to refer to one or two of its clauses which met his most decided objection. For the purpose, he should suppose the Reform Bill a mere carte blanche—a sheet of white paper—on which the Government thought proper to place a new Constitution for this country. He could not see why the clause conferring the right of voting should be fixed at the scale of a 10l. rental, while that of a 9l. or a 5l. would not confer it; for it was well known that the smaller amount in some towns was a better proof of the possession of property and independence than the 10l. in many other places. And here he would ask, if any man could deny that in the course of the very next year some further alteration would not take place as to the qualification for exercising the elective franchise? Did any rational man suppose that such a system could be final? He denied it, and for the best of all reasons, that it had not reason to support it. Why, in the name of decency or common sense, should weekly tenants be allowed the right of voting, when every one must know, that they would be at all times under the entire control of their landlords, and that in a much greater degree than any owner of a borough held his nomination Member? It was said, that the Peers were disgraced by having nomination boroughs, and yet weekly tenants and tenants-at-will were to be left to the control of their landlords, who would exercise it over them with an unsparing hand. It was said, that the 10l. franchise would prevent bribery at elections. In his opinion it would considerably augment it. It would be nothing short of an idle prevarication to say, that from henceforth the Lord Chancellor would not be able to settle the whole constituency of the country, for what with the Commissioners to carve out districts, and the Barristers to decide upon votes—and all these persons being appointed or their apppointment being controlled by the Lord Chancellor—he would again repeat, that the constituency of England would be settled by the Lord 420 Chancellor. He said this without intending any disrespect to the present Lord Chancellor; but it must be clear, that while he had such a power vested in him, and was at the same time a Cabinet Minister, that he would naturally and almost necessarily use his influence in the return of Members who would support the Government, of which he was a leading and influential Member. As to the patronage to be conferred upon the Lord Chancellor by this Bill, if, unhappily, it should pass into a law, he would not say much, although, taking it at a very moderate average, it would be no trifle to have the appointment of some forty Commissioners in one shape or another, and also Barristers to an equal number. These were a few of his objections to this very unconstitutional and revolutionary Bill; but before he sat down he would allude to a question asked by the writer of a pamphlet entitled What will the Lords do? That question was—"Supposing a majority at present in the House of Peers against the Reform Bill, what is the Government to do?" The answer given in the pamphlet was this:—"Let the Lords look well," said the author of that pamphlet, "to what they are about, for if they do not, there may be forty or fifty new Peers sent among them; a number of new Peers may be created which will swamp the old Peers and render their voices and their opinions of no avail." Now there had been a tolerably large batch of Peers made already, which he did not object to, but he did object to those, or to any other Peers being made, if they were made upon the principle that they must vote for this Reform Bill. He objected to this being the principle of the creation of Peers. The Gentlemen who had been created Peers had been created on this principle, and being in this House functi officio in the way of voting—and only in the way, for they had never spoken—they had been promoted to do the same thing in the House of Lords. The author of the pamphlet to which he had before alluded, found out that, if his advice were taken, the Peerage would be too large, and therefore recommended, that they should do with the English Peerage what had been done with the Scotch and Irish Peerages. The pamphleteer, in one word, recommended that the English Peerage should be an elective Peerage. The hon. member for Calne had alluded to France in 1792, but he (Sir Charles Wetherell), 421 who had read the papers of to-day, would be content to look at France now, and, so looking, he found that the recommendation of the pamphleteer was a recommendation to do that in England which was now doing in France. The principle too, besides the point of election, was, that the King must elect according to the wishes of the people; so that, in point of fact the Commons would elect both the Peers and their own Representatives. He would therefore say, with the hon. member for Calne, go to France for examples. He was opposed to this Bill from the beginning of it to the end. It was quite clear that, taking any town, if A had 100 houses and B had 100 houses, and A and B combined, the two could make that town as rotten as the rottenest borough in schedule A. It was said, as a boast, that only five or six county Members opposed the Reform Bill. But let the county Members beware. A small addition was to be made to the number of county Members, which was a mere plagiarism from Cromwell's plan of a republican House of Commons. But what were the general results under this Bill? The borough Members were to the county Members as two-and-a-half to one; and when the repeal of the Corn-laws came to be agitated in a Reformed Parliament, the country Gentlemen would find, that all their arguments as to the necessity of remunerating prices would be sneered at; and they would find themselves in a minority of one to two-and-a-half upon every subject which was fatal to the landed interest. Those who supported the Bill, therefore, should be a little charitable. They should give those who opposed it, credit for not merely obstructing it because it was a Reform Bill, but because they considered, that after the passing of this Bill, the landed interest would be unable to retain itself, and must fall, with all that depended upon it. The contest was yet to come, but he feared it might terminate by the annihilation of the estates of the ountry gentlemen, and the ruin of all it was their interest and duty to protect. Cromwell's republican Parliament was more free and independent, as well as less revolutionary, than that now about to be established. It guarded the landed interest, instead of leaving it in a minority of one to two-and-a-half. He had now done. He had endeavoured to express his feelings fairly and fully on this measure. His judgment 422 was never more convinced than that this Bill necessarily laid the train for evils which those who introduced it never contemplated. For his part, he should never stand on a hustings to make promises which he could not fulfil. He should never pander to popular clamour; he should never endeavour to find his way into that House by the surrender of truth, or of his own judgment. If this was the last sentence he should utter in the House of Commons, he must state that, in his sincere and honest judgment, the Bill now about to pass was calculated to subvert the Throne, the Monarchy, the Church, and ultimately the liberties of the people.
§ Lord Althorp
said, that in rising at that late hour of the night to speak upon this important question, he felt that he had undertaken a task which required the utmost indulgence of the House. Wishing, as he did, to refer to many of the arguments which had been offered to the House during the debates of the three last nights, he felt that, after the several able speeches which had been made against the Bill, he should have some difficulty in making that arrangement of his topics which would render his statement clear and satisfactory to the House; and, therefore, he was afraid that he should occupy a much longer time than was usual with him in addressing the House upon this occasion. Before he entered into a consideration of the main question then before the House, he would briefly allude to one or two topics, which did not belong so much to the Bill itself as to the general question of Reform. He would allude, in the first place, to what the hon. and learned member for Boroughbridge had said about the French revolution. The hon. and learned Gentleman had stated, that that topic had been introduced into the debate by his hon. friend, the member for Calne. On that, as on many other points, the hon. and learned Gentleman laboured under a mistake. The topic had been referred to by several Gentlemen who had spoken before his hon. friend, and more particularly by the hon. Member who had first mentioned the influence, which a consideration of the events of the French revolution ought to exercise over the members of the House of Lords. Indeed, the greater part of the present debate consisted of speeches intended to influence the votes of the House of Lords rather than the votes of that House in 423 which he had then the honour of speaking. He believed that this topic of the French revolution had been first introduced into the discussion by the hon. and learned member for Rye, who had made an eloquent and able speech, which appeared to him to contain every merit that a speech addressed to a popular assembly ought to contain. To his great surprise, his hon. friend, the hon. member for Thetford, had stated, that he thought that that speech proved the hon. and learned member for Rye to be quite incompetent to address a popular assembly. He thought quite the contrary, and contended, that the opinion expressed by his hon. friend, the member for Thetford, only proved, that his hon. friend was incapable of appreciating the intelligence of popular assemblies, and that he did not know what sort of speeches were generally addressed to them. His hon. and learned friend who had commenced this debate (Sir James Scarlett) had praised the Trial by Jury, had praised the selection of the magistracy from the people—had praised, in short, every portion of our Constitution. He concurred with his hon. and learned friend in the praise which he had bestowed on the Trial by Jury, on the popular selection of our magistracy, and on our excellent Constitution; but he could not concur with his hon. and learned friend in the assertion with which he followed up that eulogy—an assertion which went the length of stating, that if any gentleman wished to acquire the applause of a popular assembly, he had only to propose to abolish the Trial by Jury. He was, indeed, surprised to hear his hon. and learned friend assert, in the face of the House, that the Trial by Jury was unpopular in the country. There might be one or two persons—he thought there could not be more—who, for the sake of singularity, were opposed to the Trial by Jury; but, from the conviction of its excellence, he hoped that, as it always had been, it always would remain, a popular institution in this country. His hon. and learned friend, after describing the danger which he apprehended from the changes introduced by this Bill, asked the Reformers whether they were sure that, after the Bill was passed, the country would retain the blessings which it now enjoyed? He would ask his hon. and learned friend a question in return, and that question was—"Are you sure that, without Reform, 424 those blessings can be retained? Are you sure that, with the feelings and opinions of the people, which have grown up to their present extent, you can preserve those institutions you so much value, if you do not consent to reform the Representation?" His hon. and learned friend bad said, that he, too, was a Parliamentary Reformer; he had often voted for Parliamentary Reform with his hon. and learned friend; but, if the arguments which his hon. and learned friend had urged during the present discussion were to be the grounds on which he must judge of the opinions of his hon. and learned friend, he would say, without hesitation, that no man could be more adverse to Reform than his hon. and learned friend—for his hon. and learned friend would not admit that our Constitution was capable of any improvement. It had been asked by his hon. friend, the member for Thetford, to what period of English history were they to go back to find such a system of Representation as that which this Bill established? If they looked to the mere letter of the law, and to the mode of Representation under the law, he agreed with his hon. friend, that they could not find an instance of any such Representation; but, if they looked to the principle on which Ministers proposed to form a House of Commons representing the people, not merely in theory, but also in fact, they would find that, in the best periods of our history, this principle of our history was clearly established by law—that the House of Commons should represent the property, the wealth, the intelligence, and the industry of the country. Undoubtedly, the enactments by which that object was effected in former times were the same in principle as those now proposed; for, in former times, those boroughs which returned Members to Parliament did include all the wealth, all the intelligence, and all the property which then existed in the country. But now, when many of those boroughs had decayed—when large masses of wealth and property had risen in other parts of the country—when intelligence had extended to a much lower grade of society—when new voters had sprung up in that lower grade, possessing more information as to the principles of the Constitution than the higher grade of society which used to vote in those boroughs formerly possessed—when all this was the case, he contended 425 that they were acting, if not in the letter, strictly in the spirit of the Constitution, when they proposed to extend the elective franchise to the constituency formed by this Bill. The arguments which had been used by many Gentlemen in this debate tended to prove that there was no use in Representation at all. Those arguments were, that the constitution of that House contained a sample of every class in the community, and that every interest found a representative in that House. But did it follow, that because there were in the House samples of every class and members of every interest, those persons were the representatives of the interests with which they were connected? If they were to ask an individual, whether he would have his interest represented merely by a man of his class, or whether he would choose himself a representative for that class, he had no doubt that the individual would reply, "Let me be represented by a man of my own choice, and not by a person who finds his way into Parliament through a borough over which I have no control." The same idea had entered into the mind of his hon. friend who had proposed to give Representatives to India. He had been much surprised at hearing his hon. friend make such a proposition, knowing, as he well did, that his hon. friend had often admitted to him in private conversation, that the people of India were not qualified for a representative system. His hon. friend was, however, consistent with himself; for as he thought that the looms of Manchester and of Leeds could be well represented by the green mounds of Gatton and Old Sarum, so he thought that the people of India might be well represented by the merchants of Leadenhall-street.
§ Lord Althorp
continued. Well then, just as the interests of Manchester were represented by Gatton and Old Sarum, were the interests of India, according to his hon. friend, to be represented by the proprietors of India stock. For his own part, he must say, that he could not consider such a Representation any thing like a Representation of the people of India. Under such a system the House might contain Gentlemen capable of giving them information on the subject of India, but they would not have Gentlemen representing the feelings, wishes, and interests 426 of the inhabitants of that great continent. Then the hon. and learned member for Rye had said, that the expectations of the people had been so raised by this Bill, that if it passed into a law, there would be danger of re-action taking place, from the disappointment which the people would feel on finding their expectations not fully realized. He doubted much whether the expectations to which the hon. and learned Member had referred were so extravagant as the hon. and learned Member had described them to be. He believed that those persons who looked with an eye of favour on this Bill, did not expect the beneficial effects of it to be so instantaneous or so great as the hon. Member assumed. They believed that the effect of this Bill would give them such an influence in that House, as would prevent measures from being carried contrary to their wishes, and that, if it would not amend the past, it would prevent the recurrence of similar evils for the future. But what was the cure, the extraordinary cure, which the hon. and learned Gentleman proposed for the danger which he had himself conjured up? The cure, strange to say, and hard to believe, was, to disappoint the people altogether, by rejecting the Bill at once. Supposing, however, that the people should be disappointed, and that they did not derive from this Bill all the advantages which they expected, they would still, in his opinion, be less discontented when they had confidence in Representatives elected by themselves, and would show less impatience under suffering and distress, than they would do when they were represented by men over whom they had no control. His hon. friend, the member for Thetford, had asked a question, which he said had never yet been answered, and that question was, how Ministers were to find seats in that House, and how the Government was to be carried on, after the passing of the Reform Bill? It was undoubtedly true that then, more than at present (although at present it was necessary), it would be necessary that the Administration of the day should be popular in the country, and he must say, that he saw no such enormous difficulty, if the Ministers were popular, as to their finding seats in that House from populous places. By far the larger proportion of the Ministers would be Members of that House on their appointment 427 to be Ministers, and if the Administration were popular, there could be little doubt that they would be re-elected on appealing to their former constituents. This, then, was not a practical evil of that extent which should lead the House to reject this Bill. But did any Gentleman on the opposite side of the House mean to contend, that persons whom the people would not return to Parliament were fit persons to compose an Administration? Supposing, however, that the Ministry were once in office, or in Parliament, would they not, he would ask his hon. friend, find it an easier task to carry on the Government with a contented, than with a discontented, population? His hon. friend ought to consider whether the difficulty of carrying on the Government without Reform was not increasing to such a degree, that the difficulty of electing Ministers of the Crown Members of Parliament—supposing that difficulty to exist—shrunk into nothing, when compared with that. "But," said his hon. friend, "whilst you are destroying nomination boroughs on the one hand, you are erecting an oligarchy on the other," forgetting that this very oligarchy existed at the present moment. His hon. friend had likewise stated, that as Ministers diminished the number of Members for close boroughs in the House, they were increasing the power which the Aristocracy would exercise over it, by means of the close boroughs which still remained. It really appeared to him that, to say that the possession of a small number of boroughs gave a larger power to the oligarchy than the possession of a large number, was something very like saying that a part was greater than the whole. It had been assumed, in the course of the debate, that by this Bill they were going to establish a democracy, and that they were going to change entirely the Constitution. Now the Constitution of the country would stand after this Bill as it did at present, in all its relations with the country. It would still consist of King, Lords, and Commons; and as to the measure, or any thing proposed by the Government, diminishing the just influence of property and the Aristocracy, he would only say, that there was nothing in that Bill, or in any other Bill, which could diminish that due influence. Undoubtedly it would spread that influence more over the body of proprietors than it was spread at present, for 428 at present the influence of property over that House was only exercised by such proprietors as were also proprietors of close boroughs. By the Bill it was proposed that the latter influence should be destroyed, and that the influence of property should be exercised by the mass of proprietors—not by an oligarchy of them. His hon. friend had said, that power in the Government ought to be proportional to property, and, in that position, he fully concurred. Indeed, one of the chief merits of this Bill was, that it would give to every man in the country power proportioned to the joint influence of his property and his character. Much had been said in the course of this debate regarding the House of Lords. It had been asserted, that the consequences of this Bill must be destructive to the existence of that branch of the Legislature. It had been said, that there was no instance in the history of mankind of a purely popular assembly co-existing with a peerage and a monarchy. That was true; but he believed it was true only because the experiment had never been tried, and not because any rational man had ever thought that, if tried, it would not succeed. He repeated, that the experiment of a purely popular assembly had never been tried. Something like it had been attempted in this country, and the effects had been beneficial. They would be still more so, when the Representation of that House was more correctly a Representation of the wealth and intelligence of the country; and therefore he could not agree with the argument that because that House was to be in future the real Representative of the people, it would therefore set about overturning all the institutions of the country, which, in point of fact, existed only because the people were attached to them. The power of the House of Lords consisted, not in a physical force of its Members, but in the attachment of the people; it consisted in public opinion, and when it was unsupported by public opinion, fall, he was afraid, it must. At present no one proposed to take from that House its share in Legislation. Its influence depended, not only on its share of legislation, but on the knowledge of the people of the advantages they derived from having one branch of the legislature conservative and independent of popular commotion. The House of Lords was in no danger whilst it performed its duties, and therefore, if 429 this Bill passed, there was no danger of that House losing the influence which it always had possessed, and which he trusted that it always would possess, in the Government of this country. Another argument to which he wished to apply himself was this, that the effect of this alteration in the Constitution, as it was called, so far from preventing us from falling into those evils of which we complained at present, would be to plunge us still more inextricably into those difficulties—that, as we approximated to what were called republican institutions, we should rush into wars rashly, and come out of them dishonourably. He knew not from what experience of mankind this argument, if it could be called an argument, had been drawn. He knew that the people of all countries, no matter whether their Government was monarchical or republican, were too much accustomed to rush hastily into war; but if they looked around them at the present moment, they would see no symptom of the occurrence of any such danger at the present time. He hoped that they were fast advancing to that period when the good sense, and wisdom, and intelligence, of mankind, would render the people of all nations less eager to engage in hostilities. He hoped that already they were sufficiently advanced in education to perceive that none of the phantoms of national triumphs and national glory were worth the expense of blood and treasure by which they must always be purchased. They would certainly see, that if the republics of former days had been more eager than monarchical Governments to engage in war, the greatest republic of modern times, from the greater spread of knowledge and civilization, had not shown any such disposition. At any rate, it ought not to be forgotten, that even if republics had been eager to rush into war, they had always pursued them with resolution, and had not abandoned them dishonourably. He felt that he was not arranging clearly the statements which he was making to the House; but he trusted that the House would understand his arguments, though he might not arrange them very consecutively. It had been stated by some Gentleman in the course of the debate, he did not exactly recollect by whom, that the effect of this Bill would be to increase bribery and corruption at elections. He did not see how that could well happen. There were in the Bill 430 various provisions tending to a contrary effect. The shortening of the duration of the poll would greatly tend to prevent bribery; for it was well known that bribery always increased in proportion as the poll was prolonged. The shortening the duration, the taking it in different places, the placing the qualification of the voters on the footing established by this Bill, would all tend towards the same end. In the large towns, the right of voting was extended, he admitted to a low class in society; but in those large towns, bribery would be less likely to occur, because the purchase of a few votes could have little influence on the result of the election. In the small towns, the voters created by this Bill, were acknowledged to be of a higher description, and therefore might be supposed incapable of yielding to corrupt practices. The hon. and learned member for Borough-bridge had opposed this Bill, on account of the power it would give the landlord over his tenantry. He had argued that if A had 100 houses, and B had 100 houses, occupied as they might be, and they were to unite their joint interests, they, would exercise such an influence in the election as would render the place as rotten as any of the boroughs in schedule A. Now the places where weekly tenants existed were large towns, where all the letters in the alphabet might unite, and yet find it impossible to carry the election. Therefore this Bill would not have the effect which the hon. and learned Gentleman apprehended. His right hon. friend, the member for Montgomeryshire, had that evening stated how far he had gone in the promotion of Reform. He had been glad to hear his right hon. friend's statement, for, though Ministers had had the benefit of his vote on the second reading of the Bill, he believed that there was not a single clause of it which his right hon. friend had not opposed in the Committee. His right hon. friend considered this Bill to be too extensive. Now Ministers thought, that if they did not give to the country an extensive plan of Reform, they would only be making a change in the Constitution of the Legislature which would not give satisfaction. He had every reason to hope, from the satisfaction which it had already given, that the change which they had proposed would be permanent. He did not see that any of the grounds which his right hon. friend had stated in order to show that it would not be permanent, 431 were likely to raise discontent in the country. He had every reason to hope that the Bill would inspire the people with confidence in their Representatives; and if so, they would not call hereafter, as they had called lately, for a large and important change. The hon. and learned member for Boroughbridge had addressed himself at great length to the House on the subject of the French Revolution. The hon. and learned Member had himself been an eye-witness of some of the terrible scenes to which he had alluded. For himself, though he was only a boy at the time of their occurrence, he had still some recollection of them. He could not speak as confidently regarding them as the hon. and learned Gentleman, for he had not seen them; but this must be evident to all who heard him, that the state of France previous to the Revolution was as different from the state of England at the present moment as the state of one country could be from another. When the hon. and learned Gentleman said, that the noblesse of France suffered because they gave way to popular clamour, and sacrificed their exclusive privileges, he should consider what those privileges were, and how different they were from those of the peerage of England. He should consider that though undoubtedly at last they did give them up, the surrender was not made till long after the Revolution had commenced. The Revolution began in the years 1789 and 1790, and the year 1792 was the only year to which the hon. and learned Gentleman had referred as the era of these sacrifices. There was, however, equal danger in resisting the demands of the people at a right period, and granting them at a wrong one; for resistance at an early stage to just demands excited indignation, and concession to them at a late period gave rise to the contempt of the people. The hon. and learned Gentleman, in replying to the observation of his hon. and learned friend, the member for Calne, as to the increased wealth and population of the country being a just ground for extending the Representation, had asked, how that observation tallied with the proposition to diminish the number of the Members of the House. For his own part, he did not see any analogy between these two cases. He did not see why an increase in the number of electors should lead to an increase in the number of the elected. The real 432 question in this case was, would the number of Members continued in Parliament by this Bill be sufficient to perform the business of the country, extended as it was by the increase of its wealth and population. He would answer that question in the affirmative; but if he were obliged to answer it in the negative, a difficulty far greater than that suggested by the hon. and learned Member would stare him in the face; for the only mode of increasing the number of Members of the House, beyond the number fixed by these Bills, would be by adding to the number of towns to which we now propose to give Members not retaining any of those boroughs which the House had said ought no longer to send Members to Parliament. The hon. and learned Gentleman had likewise said, that in spite of all our efforts to get rid of what had been called the shameful parts of the Constitution, we still retained many cases of deformity, as, for instance, the boroughs of Calne, Horsham, and Tavistock. The hon. and learned Gentleman had attended all the discussions in the Committee, and must, therefore, recollect, that the argument urged with respect to this class of boroughs was, that the Committee ought not to look so much at the present, as at the future state of the constituency of these boroughs. The constituency of all these towns would be altered, and the influence which now nominated the Representatives for them—for he did not mean to blink the fact that they were nomination boroughs—would be entirely changed. [Sir Charles Wetherell expressed dissent.] He (Lord Althorp) did not know whence the information of the hon. and learned Gentleman came. He thought, however, that his information regarding these boroughs, was likely to be quite as good as that of the hon. and learned Gentleman; and he would again repeat, that the influence of the proprietors of those boroughs within them, if not entirely destroyed, would be materially diminished. The hon. and learned Gentleman had next attacked the newspapers and pamphlets of the day; he had said that he was quite glad to find that the Gentlemen on the Ministerial benches had begun at last to speak. Finding this to be the case, it was most extraordinary that the hon. and learned Gentleman, instead of applying himself to answer their speeches, should only apply 433 himself to answering pamphlets and newspapers. The hon. and learned Gentleman must be aware, from his knowledge of the world and of Government, that such publications were not under the control of any Administration. The hon. and learned Gentleman had quoted from them many things of which he was happy to say, that he knew nothing; and that was not surprising, considering the numberless publications to which the excitement of the day had given birth. He was sure, that at the time the Catholic Question was under discussion, statements of quite as violent a character were sent forth, as any that had been published during the discussion of the Bill before the House. Indeed, this was one of the circumstances necessarily attendant on the freedom of discussion in this country. It was impossible for the Government to be answerable for the statements which appeared in the newspapers. The Government could not control those who might choose to take part with them in general politics. Indeed, the hon. and learned Gentleman must be aware, that one publication to which he had alluded, was hot under the control of his Majesty's Government, for he would doubtless recollect, that in alluding to that publication on a former occasion, he stated that he saw by the signs of The Times, that that very Journal was criticising pretty severely the conduct of the Ministry. He thought that that circumstance ought to be regarded as a proof that the Government had no power to exercise any control over that paper. The Journal to which he alluded was ably written, and was very eager, undoubtedly, in its views of Reform; and it might, perhaps, in some instances, rather exceed the bounds of prudence. But he must say, that he did not think that there was much more violence in the discussions of the present day, than had been displayed at many periods within his memory, on strongly contested questions. He now believed that he had adverted to all the different points to which he wished to call the attention of the House. They were now at the close of the discussion of this Bill. "The hon. and learned Gentleman," continued the noble Lord, "has accused us of having used violent language. Now, if I were to give a description of the discussions which had taken place on this important measure, with respect to which the party feelings of Gentlemen ran very high, I should 434 say, that they had been conducted with, comparatively speaking, very little personal violence. Undoubtedly, hard words have been used; and I think quite as much on the opposite side as on this. We have heard every epithet—but to quote violent expressions is not a good way to produce conciliation. I do not think that, upon the whole, Gentlemen on either side have great right to complain of violent language. If there have been any violent expressions employed against the Government, I am perfectly ready to forget them, and I hope and trust that Gentlemen on the other side of the House will meet me in the same spirit of conciliation." The question which had of late occupied the attention of the House was of such immense importance, whether viewed in a friendly or hostile point of view; it involved in it every interest of the country, and it was, therefore, scarcely possible for any man to form an opinion on it, without feeling very eager in favour of that opinion. He had long formed the opinion which he was pressing on the House; he had long felt it to be essential to the best interests of the country, and necessary to the contentment of the people, and the good government of this empire, that the state of the Representation of the House of Commons should be taken into consideration, with a view to ascertain whether it was not possible to render it more truly in practice than it was at present conformable to the theory of the Constitution. It appeared to him, that the measure under consideration would effect that object. It deprived those boroughs, which were so insignificant as not to be fit to return Representatives, of the power of returning them; and it gave Representatives to large manufacturing towns. It increased the county Representation much more in proportion than the town Representation; and he must, therefore, say, that the apprehension which the hon. and learned Gentleman endeavoured to excite in the minds of landed gentlemen, that the effect of the Bill would be to destroy the power of the landed interest, was perfectly chimerical. He had, indeed, been accused of quite a different object. One hon. Gentleman had stated, in the course of this discussion, that he (Lord Althorp) had contended for the division of counties, on purpose to increase the power of the landed gentlemen. What he had said was, that it might possibly increase the 435 influence of the landed interest; but the principal argument which he had used was, that the power of the landed interest was really increased, not by the division of counties, but by doubling the number of the county Representatives, who, whether elected by whole counties or by the divisions, would equally tend to increase the power of the landed interest. He did not think that the Representatives of the landed interest were in danger of being diminished to such an extent as to render them powerless in that House. The hon. and learned Gentleman had argued as if, under the new system, no person would be found to defend the landed interests except the county Members; but the hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to forget, that one of the great objections made against Ministers for producing this Bill was, that they were about to localize Representation. In that case the Representatives of the smaller towns would be country gentlemen, and therefore there was no reason to anticipate, that the only influence of the landed interest in that House would be exercised through the medium of county Members. The noble Lord, in conclusion, stated, that being convinced that the system of Representation proposed by Government would, while it conferred that power and influence which was due to the large manufacturing districts of the country, would also give a proper share of weight to the landed interest, he had naturally been very eager for its success, and he felt greatly gratified that the Bill had now arrived at its last stage, and that the labours of that House, with regard to it, were about to conclude.
§ Sir James Scarlett
, in explanation, observed, that he had never said that Trial by Jury was unpopular in this country. What he did say was, that the way to be popular was to degrade the institutions of the country; and he exemplified this by referring to the abuse of the magistracy, now so general. He had also said, that there was a party in the country, growing in strength, which was beginning to undervalue Trial by Jury.
Sir Robert Peel
spoke to the following effect:*—Sir; At this late hour, in this exhausted state of the House, and exhausted state of the Debate, I will, if the House will lend me its attention, dismiss* By authority, from the authentic Speech, published by Roake and Varty.436 the notice of every subordinate and extrinsic topic, and proceed at once, without a laboured preface or superfluous apology, which only consume time, to the consideration of the capital and paramount interests that are involved in this discussion. I pass by the exciting topics of the French Revolution—I say not a word on the details of the Bill—they have been treated already with consummate ability; and of all the objections which I have to this measure, the smallest of them is—that it is impracticable. One preliminary observation I must make, in response to the sentiments declared by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. If in this debate, from this side of the House vehement or angry expressions have been occasionally used, they have been used without the desire to inflict pain on the feelings of our opponents, and if that pain has been felt, it is now shared by him who gave it. If, on the other hand, attacks of at all a personal nature have been made upon us, they are now buried in that oblivion which extends, we trust, over our own casual warmth or intemperance.
I proceed at once to those two great questions which throw all others into the shade. First, what are the motives for making the greatest practical change that was ever deliberately made in the Constitution of any country; and secondly, what are the prospects of real and substantial good to be effected by that change? When the noble Lord (Lord Althorp) told us that he was about to make a speech of more than ordinary length, I did think, notwithstanding all our past disappointments, that the time was at length arrived when his Majesty's Government would give us some satisfactory explanation on these heads that, instead of merely repeating, that we must pass the Reform Bill—that the people require it—that we must yield to their wishes—I did expect to hear, even at this eleventh hour, first, a calm exposition of the practical evils and grievances endured by the people of England; next, a demonstration that those evils and grievances, the existence of which was so established, were fairly attributable to defects in the constitution of the Government; and lastly, that there was a reasonable prospect that the projected change in the Constitution would provide a remedy for the evil, and redress for the grievance. I have heard nothing of the kind from the noble Lord. 437 His speech was little more than a desultory answer to cavils and objections that have been made to the details of the Bill.
The noble Lord
says, the Bill makes no change in the Constitution of the country—that it leaves untouched the sovereign authority, and the functions of the House of Lords; and he consoles us by telling us, that after the Bill has passed, we shall have, as we had before, the King, the Lords, and the Commons. But what avails it to retain the name and the form, if the essence and the substance be lost? Will the Crown, will the House of Lords continue to possess the legitimate independent authority which the Constitution assigns to them? If they will not, they become unsubstantial pageants, unreal mockeries, that serve no purpose but the purpose of delusion. The names and the forms are to be retained! And when was it that power was usurped—whether that usurpation was effected through the ambition of single men—of oligarchies, or of popular assemblies—when was it that names and forms were not retained? And for what purpose? Why to ensure the success of the encroachment, to avoid too violent a shock to the prejudices and feelings of the governed—to pay a dishonest homage to those instincts of our nature, which rally round ancient institutions, involuntary and unreasoning affections. What tyrant in ancient history—what successful soldier in modern times—what democratic body, aiming at the monopoly of power, has been foolish enough to neglect the outward observance of these politic decencies? Not Cromwell—not Buonaparte—not the popular assembly in France that framed the Constitution of 1791. That assembly professed their respect for monarchy, and their devotion to the person of their king, and while they did this—Upon his head they put a fruitless crown,And placed a barren sceptre in his gripe;thus mocking him with the emblems of a power, the substance and reality of which were transferred to themselves. This Bill does not violate the forms of the Constitution—I admit it, but I assert, that while it respects those forms, it destroys the balance of opposing, but not hostile, powers: it is a sudden and violent transfer of an authority, which has hitherto been shared by all orders of the State in just proportions, exclusively to one. In short, all its tendencies are, to substitute, for a 438 mixed form of Government, a pure unmitigated democracy. It may be said, and said with truth, that it is easy to assert this, as it is easy to deny it, and that mere gratuitous assertion, unaccompanied by proof, is worth nothing. Proof we cannot have—we cannot demonstrate the future consequences of new institutions—or of changes in those that exist; but this at least cannot be denied—that all great changes in government are of uncertain issue—that the tendency of popular assemblies, in an equal degree at least with other depositories of power, is to increase their own authority, and that the facilities for that increase are peculiarly great. And it does, in my opinion, admit of clear and unquestionable proof—that the effect of this Bill is, to make a most extensive change in the whole system of government—first, by a positive addition to democratic influence—and, secondly, by a removal of those checks by which such influence has been hitherto balanced and controlled. What is the character of the change we are about to make? It is not a change limited by the necessity of the case; we are not content with the destruction of nomination boroughs, but we act as if we were seeking pretences for wanton innovations—as if we preferred change, not for the good it effected, but for the principle it established. Granted, for the sake of argument, that nomination boroughs must be disfranchised—but why alter the constituency of every county, every city, every borough, without exception, in the United Kingdom? Why enact that the ancient boundaries and limits of almost every place must be changed; and why give authority to a score of roving Commissioners to make that change in every place, if they shall so think fit? These unnecessary innovations, not required by any principle of the Bill, make of themselves, quite independently of their practical operation, a change in the temper and spirit of the people; they sow the seeds of perpetual restlessness; and they involve the certain consequence—that this cannot be a final measure.
This Bill, I repeat, gives an enormous exercise to democratic influence. It does this by the character of the constituency it establishes, and by the removal of every existing check on popular passion, without the substitution of any equivalent control. We double the weight in one 439 scale, and as if that were not sufficient to destroy the equilibrium, we make a corresponding deduction from the other. The constituency of towns is to consist of 10l. householders. Objections have been made to this right of voting on account of its uniformity. It certainly is not uniform. You take an absurd test of property and intelligence, and you just invert the principle on which it should be applied. In the small town, where a general right of voting might be exercised with comparative safety, you limit the right. In the small town, house-rent is low; weekly tenancies scarcely are known; and many a respectable and intelligent man occupies a house which is neither rated nor valued at 10l. But in the large, overgrown, manufacturing town, there, where you might with ease have constituted a very numerous, and at the same time a respectable and intelligent constituency—there, where house-rent is high, where the worst part of the Press has the greatest influence—where there is the facility for clubs and combinations—there you overbear the weight of education and property, by admitting to the right of voting every mechanic who may pay 3s. 10d. a week for his habitation. This very man, who has so little substance that his landlord will not trust him with longer than a weekly occupation, whom the Magistrates will not accept as bail, because they do not consider him in the light of a resident householder, is to have a privilege, which numbers and combination will make an exclusive one. I will do the Government the justice to admit, that they saw the danger of their own enactment; they tried to retract—they made the effort to exclude the weekly tenant—but they were soon rebuked by a higher power; were made to apologize for their inadvertence, and compelled to restore the weekly qualification, notwithstanding their admission of its danger.
Having, by the right of voting thus established, given almost a predominant weight to democracy, you studiously exclude, at the same time, every countervailing influence. In estimating the reduction of that influence, you must not look to this Bill alone, but must consider the effect of those other Bills which are to change the system of Representation in Ireland and in Scotland. In Ireland that system, as originally founded, did not overlook the necessity of guarding by 440 special precautions the interests of property, and the interests of the Established Church, as opposed to numbers, and to the religious tenets of the majority. So modified, that system did operate, in some degree, as a practical check upon democratic influence generally. That system, though the absolute necessity of new precautions was admitted three years since—was admitted almost as a condition of the removal of Roman Catholic disabilities—is now to be totally abandoned. The Scotch Representation is to be changed; it, too, was a practical check upon democratic influence. I say not whether it was a check wisely contrived—I do not contend that it must be necessarily continued because it served that purpose—I only assert the fact, that it did operate in the manner I have described; and that the removal of that check, without the substitution of an equivalent, increases the power on which it established a certain degree of control.
The influence that was exercised by Peers, not as Peers, but as possessors of property, through the nomination boroughs, is to be utterly annihilated. So rapid is the progress of the principles to which this Bill is subservient, that doctrines that were repudiated at the commencement of this discussion are now openly maintained. It was said at first, that all that was sought was to destroy the illegitimate authority exercised by the House of Peers. It was then contended, that by the original theory of the Constitution, the two branches of the Legislature ought to be perfectly independent—that all influence exercised by the House of Lords in this House ought to be carefully excluded—and the express reason given for this exclusion was, that the Lords had a co-ordinate authority with ourselves. But now a new doctrine is maintained—a doctrine extending far beyond the present case—which teaches the House of Lords, that they, like ourselves, must, conform to the popular will—that they hold no independent, authority—or, at least, that if they dare to exercise it, it is exercised at the peril of their Order—and it was reserved for this night to hear, and to hear from an officer of the Government—from a sworn legal adviser of the Crown—that there is not only a power, but a strict legal and constitutional right, to legislate without the intervention of the Lords. I am not surprised at the 441 manifest incredulity of a great portion of the House. They did not hear the speech of the Solicitor General for Ireland, and they certainly will not believe, without having heard it, as we did, that the law officer of the Crown maintained, that if it should please the House of Commons to address the Crown to omit the writ of election to any number of places specified in the Address, the Crown would be authorized, without reference to the House of Lords, to omit the writ, and thus remodel the House of Commons at his own discretion. One exception from its principle the Solicitor General did make, but that exception was limited to Milborne Port—the nomination borough which he himself represents. His doctrine was I admit, utterly disavowed and repudiated by his colleagues—but what must be the change already made in the temper of men's minds, and their views of the Constitution, when a learned and estimable man, specially selected to advise the Crown on questions of constitutional doctrine and prerogative, can gravely and deliberately maintain, in spite of statute laws to the contrary, that the House of Lords is a cipher, and that we and our constituents, if we should displease a majority of this House, incur the risk of perpetual disfranchisement at the pleasure of the Sovereign!
There remains, as a check upon democratic influence, the influence of the Crown. That influence is already so diminished, as far as patronage is concerned, that it scarcely tells in the scale. Even the prerogative of the choice of its own Ministers, though nominally left to the Crown, is confined by this Bill within the narrowest limits. The Crown will not be able to appoint to high office any man who may maintain an unpopular opinion—who may shrink from the trouble or expense of a contested election—who may despise the arts by which popular favour is frequently acquired—or may dislike the exhibition of a hustings. The single circumstance that you make every election, without exception, a popular election, has a tendency to affect the practical working of the Government, and to diminish the authority of the Crown in respect to the choice of its Ministers, in a degree, the amount of which it is difficult to calculate.
Here I close this part of my argument, the object of which has been, to show that the substantial change made in the Con- 442 stitution of this country, whatever deference there may be to forms, is one of immense and perilous extent—that it is a change entirely in favour of democratic influence, effected by the double operation of positive Addition to that influence on the one hand, and the removal of all opposing and counterbalancing power on the other.
Surely there is tremendous hazard in this change—why do we incur it? Give us the satisfaction of feeling that we are justified in making this great experiment—that there are some evils, felt or impending, from which we shall escape—some good, some real and substantial good, which we may reasonably hope to attain. To repeat to us night after night, that the people demand this change, and that, whether for good or evil, it must be made, is any thing but satisfactory to a rational and dispassionate mind. We are here to consult the interests, and not to obey the will of the people, if we honestly believe that that will conflicts with those interests. It is to invert the relation of the people to their Representatives, if we are to exclude all exercise of our unfettered judgment, all calculation of probable consequences, and to yield without resistance, and against our reason, to the prevailing—perhaps the temporary—current of popular feeling. If the object sought were a definite one—if we could estimate the just extent and value of the concession—we might have the less reluctance to the grant; but we fear that our first advance will be on a declivity, that our first resting-place will not be a secure one; we fear, that the prophecies of good may not be realised, that we may have to contend hereafter with the suggestions of defeated hopes and mortified pride, unwilling to admit an error, too prone to attribute failure not to the extent, but to the limited character of the first innovation; and to insist on the progress of the mouvement, as indispensable to the accomplishment of its object. Where is the madman that would refuse compliance with these demands of the people, on any ground of private interest—of the loss of borough influence by this Peer or that great proprietor—on any ground, in short, but the honest one, of rational doubt, whether the change required is for the general and permanent good? If that doubt be sincerely entertained, it cannot be satisfactorily resolved by the vain repetition, 443 "the people will have the Bill and you must pass it."
I propose to review those arguments in favour of this measure which have been mainly relied on in the course of the present debate. They are almost exclusively confined to one speech, the speech of the member for Calne (Mr. Macaulay), who felt that, for decency's sake, something more was wanting than a mere appeal to the number of petitions, and the general demand for the Bill—and who, from his acuteness and eloquence, was wisely selected to supply the deficiency.
One hon. Gentleman who preceded him (Mr. Hawkins, member for Tavistock,) made an observation which I will notice before I examine the argument of the member for Calne. He said in a speech, which, by the way, coming as it did from a man of great ability, and therefore considerable authority, was an example of eloquence which I hope will not captivate the Reformed Parliament. The age of concocted witticisms is past, time is too precious for laboured antitheses, and long strings of elaborate and frigid conceits. The hon. Gentleman was profuse in his attacks upon us; we do not deprecate his wrath, we only entreat him to visit us with some more intelligible and less tiresome infliction.
The hon. Gentleman argues that there are anomalies in the present system of Representation, which are revolting to reason and good sense; that there may, he admits, be anomalies in the new system; but as they are fewer in amount, and less in extent, than those discoverable in the old, therefore we who cling to the old have no right, on the score of anomaly at least, to object to the new.
I answer, in the first place, that no system of Government, no institution, must necessarily be condemned on account of apparent or even actual anomalies. A mixed government is an anomaly in the eye of him who is a professed admirer either of absolute monarchy or a pure democracy. A mixed government implies the necessity of mutual checks and controls on opposing elements. The check and control, abstractedly viewed, may be, and probably is, an anomaly; but viewed with reference to its object—to its influence on the general working of the system of which it is a part—it may not be open to condemnation—nay, so far from it, it may be an inherent part of the system, 444 and an indispensable condition to its successful operation. The more complicated the system, the more mixed the relations which enter into the frame of it, the more caution is necessary in determining the real character and value of apparent anomalies. In the case of simple institutions—the existence of very striking anomalies—of objections, which would appear à priori to be insuperable—is anything but an argument for their destruction, nay, the very anomaly itself is sometimes of the essence of the institution. Not an hour since, the Chancellor of the Exchequer declared his admiration for the Trial by Jury, and was indignant with some one who doubted the love and veneration of the whole body of the people for that process of judicature. And are there no anomalies in the Trial by Jury? Conceive the case of an educated and intelligent man, versed in the principles of jurisprudence, but knowing nothing of their practical application to any state of society. Tell him there is a country, in which every question of life and death—of all heavy penal afflictions—of almost all controversies about property and civil rights—must be determined by twelve men selected by chance, each of whom calls his God to witness that he will give his verdict according to the evidence. Tell him, that in that country the twelve men, so constituted Judges, must be unanimous, that no sentence can be inflicted, no right decided without it, and that the mode of bringing about unanimity is by the process of confinement and starvation of the Judges. Will he believe that this is the system extolled by the noble Lord as perfect in practice, and endeared to a civilized and enlightened people by the actual experience of its result? Is hereditary monarchy no anomaly? "Of all forms of government," observes Gibbon, "it presents the fairest scope for ridicule. You cannot relate," he says, "without an indignant smile, that, in a country teeming with the bravest warriors and wisest statesmen, the government of a nation descends to an infant in a cradle. But," he adds, "our more serious thoughts will respect a useful prejudice that establishes a rule of succession independent of the passions of mankind; and experience overturns those airy fabrics of government, devised in the cool shade of retirement, which confer the sceptre on the most worthy, by the free and incorrupt suffrage of the whole community." It is clear, too, 445 that, an hereditary aristocracy must share the fate of hereditary monarchy, if mere anomaly and speculation, apart from experience, were to be decisive of the question of their existence.
But, says the hon. Gentleman, if there are anomalies in the old system, why may not there be anomalies in the new? There may; but we require a reason for them, and we require it the more, if the anomalies admitted into the new system are at variance with its own principles. There is this distinction between them and the old. They have no prescription to plead in their favour—they must rest for their defence on reason and reason alone; they have no hold on the feelings and affections of the heart; they have derived no charm from the mellowing hand of time. The anomalies of antiquity are to the anomalies of yesterday what the hereditary honours of a Russell or a Howard would be to mine, were I to present myself to the House of Lords with a new patent of peerage—the reward or the condition of my support of this Bill of Reform.
I return to the argument of the hon. member for Calne (Mr. Macaulay.) he says, and says justly, that we must not denounce the Reform Bill because it cannot fulfil extravagant expectations of good to be derived from it. He says, there is much evil and much distress which are beyond the reach of political institutions—that Government has no power in these days to feed the hungry with miraculous supplies from heaven, and that we must submit with patience to privations and disorders for which there is no remedy. But if all this is true of the Reform Bill, it is true of the present Constitution. There is evil—notorious and admitted evil—but the question is, not whether it exists, but what is the proportion in which it can be fairly imputed to defects in the system of Representation, and what is the prospect that Reform in the Representation will be the cure for it? The hon. Gentleman has attempted to solve this, by far the most important problem. He has not contented himself, as many others have done, with the mere argument—The people will have the Bill, and therefore it must be passed; there are anomalies, and therefore they must be removed; but he has attempted to shew, that there are actual evils and grievances resulting from the present constitution of the House of Commons, and that Reform 446 is the proper remedy for them. Now, there is satisfaction in reasoning with an opponent who takes this as the true ground of defence of the Bill; and the hon. Gentleman is fairly entitled to demand, either an answer to his arguments, or the admission that they are well founded. Let us, therefore, take his list of practical evils, and examine whether they can be fairly imputed to the want of Reform, and whether they are likely to be removed by the grant of it.
First, says the hon. Gentleman, what we desire is, that there shall be an open field for the exertions of industry, facility for the accumulation of property, and security for the enjoyment of it when accumulated. Now, I never heard it denied, that, under the institutions by which this country has been long governed, there existed, and in a very marked degree, that facility and that security. There have been complaints of too rapid accumulation; of too great a monopoly of wealth; but I never heard the complaint, that there was any obstruction to the most successful development of industry. As for the security of property, there seems to have been in the past times at least, as much confidence on that head as there is likely hereafter to be, should the present Bill pass into a law.
The hon. Gentleman then complains of monopolies, and says a reformed Parliament will ensure the destruction of all monopolies, and the establishment of free-trade, and the removal of commercial restrictions. Why, Sir, of all the measures that for the last ten years have occupied the unreformed House of Commons, these have been the most prominent. They have been brought forward, and have been completed mainly through the exertions of those who were hostile to Reform. There has been opposition, no doubt, strenuous opposition to the progress of some of the measures that were founded on the principle of commercial freedom. When Mr. Huskisson proposed to remove the restriction on the silk manufacture, he was encountered by the most vehement opposition, and I well recollect a speech delivered by Mr. Canning, which inflicted on one of his opponents a memorable castigation, and which compared the spirit in which that opponent acted, to the same hostility to all improvement which dictated the persecution of Galileo, and worked the downfall of Turgot. But who was the 447 opponent? Was he an Anti-reformer? No, but a strenuous Parliamentary reformer—the Gentleman (Mr. John Williams) who, only last night, made a very vehement and able speech in favour of this very Bill. There seems then no necessary connexion between the support of Reform and the support of liberal principles of commercial policy. I, with many other persons hostile to Reform, have supported those principles—I still adhere to them—unshaken in my support of them. But, suppose they have not been carried far enough—suppose the crying evil under which this country is now suffering is the want of free-trade—let me ask, is that the prevailing opinion? Is the public outcry just at present for more free-trade? Does the learned Gentleman really think that the new constituency of 10l. householders is precisely the class which will insist on the free importation of foreign manufactures? Will he inquire from the glove-makers of Worcester, or the ribbon-weavers of Coventry, or the persons employed in any other manufacture in any other town, whether they attribute the dulness of trade, the lowness of wages, or any one of the privations which they may occasionally suffer, to the want of more free-trade? In this case then, first, I deny the existence of the evil; and secondly, if it exist, I deny that Reform will ensure the remedy.
The next grievance to which the hon. Gentleman referred, is the want of enlightened legislation generally. He laments over the indisposition of Parliament to promote the comfort and enjoyment of the lower classes of society, and complains that the penal laws, and the laws for the security of property, are not founded on enlarged principles of jurisprudence. Now, on this head, I have some comfort to offer the learned Gentleman. The last time he spoke he was haunted by the apparition of fines and recoveries. That ghost is laid—for in this unreformed House of Commons, a bill has been brought in with very general assent, by the member for Stafford, in which fines and recoveries are treated without the slightest ceremony. And where, Sir, are the obstructions at present to the enlarged and enlightened legislation which the learned Gentleman calls for? It ought surely to originate with the King's Government. They command a large majority in this House; and the same men who support them on Reform, will no doubt 448 support them in any measures for the improvement of the law. If there has been delay in the introduction of them, the fault rests not with the House of Commons, but with the Government. It may be said, and said with truth, that the House of Commons has been so occupied with Reform, that there has been no time for the consideration of such measures here. But the House of Lords has not been overburthened with labour. There the Government had an open field for their philosophic and benevolent exertions—there they might have easily and conveniently originated those great schemes of reform that are to promote the enjoyments of the labouring classes, and to embody the sound principles of jurisprudence. Government have not wholly lost the opportunity. While we have been engaged on Reform, the House of Lords has been considering two measures brought forward by the Government; one for regulating the consumption of beer, the other for the security of property endangered by wicked incendiaries. Here was a glorious occasion for exemplifying the new principles—for contrasting our indifference to the comforts of the poor, our ignorance of the true principles of legislation, with the liberal and enlightened policy which is to be the offspring of Reform. But what are the Lords doing? They are actually, at the instance of the present Government, correcting the excesses of our too liberal policy. We have made the trade in beer too free—we have been too enlightened—we listened to the Edinburgh Review—we were assured by the great advocates of improved legislation, that the consumption of beer was exactly like the consumption of bread—that as no man would eat too much bread, so no man would drink too much beer—that men are the best judges of their own interests, and, therefore, would never get drunk. It is now discovered that we were in error, and that, so far from being chargeable with stinting the comforts of the poor, and with being enamoured of restrictions on free trade, we have erred in the opposite extreme.
Now for the penal legislation, for the laws that are to secure property. The noble Lord (Lord Althorp) informed us some time since, that there were under the grave consideration of this Government, laws for giving that security, and for repressing the crime of incendiarism. I had not a doubt, that the new principles 449 were now to be called into action, that property was to be protected, through the instrumentality of laws—sanctioned by the sage of the law (Mr. Bentham)—eschewing all severity of punishment, appealing to reason and nature, and deriving support from their conformity with the general feelings and sympathies of mankind. Really, sir, I burst out into an involuntary and incredulous laugh, when I first read, that the great measure for the security of property, that had been under the grave deliberation of the Government, was the restoration of mantraps!
I could hardly believe that this enlightened Government had been driven to the sad resource of hunting in the index of repealed Acts of Parliament, and that the only product of their united wisdom was the repeal of the Spring-gun Bill. I felt sorely for the member for Stamford (Mr. Tennyson). It was hard, that after raising a proud monument to his own character as a lawgiver, by the abolition of spring-guns—it was hard on him, that his own colleagues should undermine the foundations of that monument, and rob him of all his fame. Here was again the error of following the Edinburgh Review. It wrote articles indignant at the use of spring-guns—convinced the House of Commons that they ought to be abandoned:—and here is another instance wherein the Lords are obliged to correct the blunders, not of our illiberal, but of our too liberal policy. How shall we in this respect gain by Reform?
The hon. Gentleman, in speaking on this part of the question, taunted the members of the late Administration with having fled from the Government at a time of general embarrassment. Sir, if we did fly, it was not until this House gave a significant hint that it had withdrawn its confidence from us. It left us in a minority on the first proposition which we made for the maintenance of the dignity of the Crown. Our flight was not very unexpected; for I well remember, such was the eagerness for our departure, that scarcely had the division been proclaimed, when I was pressed from this side of the House to state, whether the Government did not intend forthwith to resign office? It was considered by our opponents as a matter of course, that, being in a minority on the Civil List, we had no alternative but to retire. Now, that we are out of 450 office, we are taunted with having fled from it; but while we were in office, the charge was, that we clung to office with too much pertinacity. I very much doubt whether the moral quality of this offence—the flying from office—does not materially vary with the parties that commit it, and with the position of the men who condemn it. The learned Gentleman sitting behind his friends in the Government, denounces it as a heavy political sin. But it was not so before. It is wonderful the change that takes place in the appearance of the same identical object, when it is viewed from different quarters. Given—a Commissioner of Bankrupts as the spectator—flight from office as the object to be viewed—what will be the variation in the appearance of that object, when seen by the Commissioner from the back benches of the Opposition, and from the front benches of the Ministerial side of the House? This is a curious problem in moral optics; and as the learned Gentleman is, no doubt, a mathematician, he probably will attempt to solve it.
The hon. Gentleman says, that when we had carried the Catholic Question, and had thereby forfeited the confidence of our former supporters, our hold upon the country was lost, and our ability to carry on the Government was at an end. Why then taunt us with abandoning it? The hon. Gentleman also says, although he approves decidedly of the act, that we carried the Catholic Question against the feelings and wishes of the middle classes of the people. What, Sir, are the 10l. householders ever in the wrong? Are they (the new constituency) sometimes on the illiberal and intolerant side? Are there occasions when it is wise and just to oppose popular opinion, and to risk the loss of popular favour, by preferring the real interests of the people to their present wishes and demands? If this be true of one question, why may it not be true of another? Why is that doctrine, that was sound on the Catholic Question, to be scouted as absurd on Reform?
But to return to the public grievances and public calamities of which Reform is to prevent the recurrence. Reform is to prevent war. We are speaking in the sixteenth year of peace, maintained with an unreformed Parliament, and we are to reform it as a security against war. But was the last war commenced or continued against the sense of the people of this 451 country? The learned Gentleman is himself an evidence that it was not. He wished to illustrate, by comparison, the present unanimity of the people in the cause of Reform, and he says such unanimity has not prevailed among the people of England since Bonaparte threatened us with invasion from his camp at Boulogne—this was in 1805. The country threatened with invasion must take precautions against it. The people, who are unanimous for resistance, demand defensive measures proportionate to the means of attack. The war that is thus continued is a war for existence as a nation; and it is the war of a people, and not the war of a Government, or of a corrupt, unreformed House of Commons. The truth with respect to war is this; it is very popular at its commencement, but, like a convivial entertainment, the most disagreeable part of it is the payment of the bill. Can any man doubt that, when Bonaparte returned from Elba, in 1815, the feeling and the rational conviction of this country was in favour of war. When an Address was proposed in this House—the spirit of which was decidedly warlike—it was met by an amendment, moved by Mr. Whitbread, the object of which was to deprecate war. The number that voted for that amendment, out of 658 Members, was thirty-seven. Men of all parties supported the Address. Mr. Grattan, Mr. Ponsonby, Mr. Plunkett, spoke and voted for war. Now what was the expenditure of that single year, 1815—an expenditure not at variance with, but in strict conformity with the sense and wishes of the people? It exceeded 110,000,000l. The Navy, Army, and Ordnance Estimates alone amounted to 54,000,000l.* The people themselves would have hurled from their seats any Ministers that refused to make the exertions which led to the battle of Waterloo and the overthrow of the power of Bonaparte. If the people now murmur at the cost of those exertions—if they have changed their opinion as to the policy of them—if the recollection of the glorious successes of the last war is now become painful—if Trafalgar and Waterloo are odious sounds—let the people, repenting of their former enthusiasm, make good resolutions for the future, but do not let them offer up as the atonement for* See the Annual Finance Accounts in Hansard's Parl. Deb. vol. xxxiv. p. xxiv.452 their own folly—if they deem it folly—the ancient institutions of their country.
This topic, and those immediately connected with it, are of all the most important. The public burthens are the chief stimulants of the cry for Reform, and they would justify the demand for it if they had been really imposed to defray profligate and useless expenses—if they had dried up the resources and exhausted the strength of the country—or if, by an unjust partition, their chief pressure was not on the rich, but on the productive and industrious classes. It cannot be denied that those burthens are heavy—but in determining their relative weight to those of other countries, it is not enough to take merely the amount of taxation in this or any other country—you must also take, in each country, the amount of the capital and wealth out of which that taxation is to be defrayed. One country may be much more heavily burthened than another, though the rate of taxation, on every necessary or luxury of life, be lighter in the one than the other.
Neither can it be denied that there may have been occasional instances of extravagance. These things must and will occur under every form of Government; but the question is, whether the great mass of the public expenditure has not been incurred, in an almost infinite proportion, for honest and necessary purposes. Has there not been also, concurrently with that expenditure, an increase of the national wealth and resources? Hear the testimony, not of Anti-reformers, but the testimony of the most competent witnesses, those witnesses being, at the same time, strenuous Reformers. Says Mr. Ricardo—"Notwithstanding the immense expenditure of the English Government during the last twenty years, there can be little doubt but that the increased production on the part of the people has more than compensated for it. The national capital has not merely been unimpaired—it has been greatly increased, and the annual income of the people, even after the payment of the taxes, is probably greater at the present time than at any former period of our history. For the proof of this we might refer to the increase of population—to the extension of agriculture—to the increase of shipping and manufactures—to the building of docks—to the opening of numerous canals—as well as many other expensive undertakings; all denoting 453 an immense increase both of capital and annual production." So far Mr. Ricardo. Now hear the comment on this, in 1830, of Sir Henry Parnell:—"As ten years have elapsed since Mr. Ricardo wrote this opinion, and as similar proofs can be referred to, to show a continued increase of production, the conclusion is, that the national capital and income are now much greater than they were in 1819."
But it may be said, although the expenditure was necessary—although the national resources remain unimpaired—yet the partition of the public burthens among the various classes of the people, is unequal and unjust. Hear again Sir Henry Parnell on this important point. He estimates the total amount of the taxes raised from the people at 50,000,000l.; of these, he says, 38,000,000l. are paid voluntarily, and out of the surplus income of individuals, over and above what is requisite for purchasing the necessaries of life. He adds, "that so long as 50,000,000l. must be raised, the above-mentioned large portion of it (38,000,000l.) is obtained in a way but little liable to any real objection; and if the remainder was provided by taxes of the same kind, the whole revenue would be paid without any serious injury."
Now, of the remaining 12,000,000l., some part has been already remitted and modified; and what is there to prevent the present House of Commons making any remission or modification of the remainder which it may be prudent or just to make?
In those desponding views of the future, which are so frequently taken, Sir Henry Parnell does not participate. He says—"As to our future prospects—there is no reason to doubt that a continued augmentation of capital will take place, even in defiance of many obstructions. The same moral, physical", and external causes, which have contributed to the existing amount of national wealth, are still in operation. The free constitution of the Government—the exact administration of the laws—the protection afforded to foreigners, and the toleration of all religions—will produce the same effects they have hitherto done. Whatever evils press just now on our manufactures—the more we examine our situation—the more we shall find it possible to trace them to causes of a temporary character."
454 Here, then, is a picture, drawn by a Reformer, of this great and powerful country. Some temporary causes of distress—but those causes sure to be dissipated by the more powerful operation of permanent causes of posperity—a free Constitution—laws exactly administered—protection to foreigners—perfect religious toleration. How can this Reformer, on his own shewing, with any semblance of justice, expect me to assent to the reasonableness of the change which he proposes under the name of Reform?
Here I conclude this part of the argument. I have attempted to show, that there do not exist any such practical grievances—any such insecurity of the blessings we have actually enjoyed—as would warrant us in incurring the risk of so extensive an alteration in the Constitution of the country as that proposed—that of the admitted evils which we suffer, none are fairly attributable to the state of the Representation; and that this measure of Reform is not, for those evils, the effectual and appropriate remedy. If no practical grievance calls for the change—if we are to make it merely that we may gratify the wishes of the people, or may conform to some more plausible theory of Government—in that case I foresee no stability in the conduct of public affairs—nothing but a series of future changes. The same practical evils will continue to be endured. The people, disappointed in their expectations of relief, will call for new experiments; and what is it to be opposed to the demand? What argument used against the present state of Representation, will not be urged with equal force against that which is about to be established? Those who attack the present, fortress, will soon be the garrison of that by which they replace it. It behoves them, before they leave the entrenchments from which their successful assault has been made, to spike their guns, and carefully to remove every instrument of offence which has contributed to their victory; for be assured that there is not one that will not be directed against themselves—there is not a missile, from the heaviest to the meanest, from the largest shell to the smallest sparrow-shot, which has been discharged in the present conflict against this House of Commons, that will not be discharged against its successor. If any exception be made—if any instrument of offence be left behind—let it be the 455 unlucky detonator which was used to-night by the Solicitor General for Ireland, the recoil of which is fatal to the hand that fires it. All the quotations of the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) from the Statute de Tallagio non Concedendo—his doctrine that Representation ought to be co-equal with taxation—that those who contribute to the taxes ought to vote for them—are good, not for confining the right of voting to 10l. householders, but for extending it, at least, to all inhabitant householders who are competent to bear their share of general and local burthens. The argument of the Attorney General, that the more you multiply the number of voters, the greater is the security against the influence of corruption, will be appealed to in favour of a more popular right of suffrage. What is the objection that you—the advocates of this Bill—can make to the extension of it? Surely you will not then exclaim that the people are not the best judges of their own interests? You will not say that resident householders, who occupy houses below the value of 10l., cannot be trusted with the elective franchise? You will not impute to them any desire to convert that franchise to purposes dangerous to the State? I repeat it, your own arguments are conclusive against the stability and permanence of the arrangement you are about to make.
I wish not much longer to trespass on the time and patience of the House. I thank them for the indulgent attention with which they have heard me. I have been desirous, in this last stage of its progress, to detail the grounds on which I shall continue that opposition to this Bill which I offered on its first appearance. I am not blind to the difficulties and dangers by which we are environed. I know not whether there has been a decided re-action in the public mind with respect to the merits of this Bill; but I cannot deny that it has been received with so much favour out of doors, and has met with such support within, that it is incumbent upon every man to reconsider his first impressions, and maturely to compare present difficulties with those that are future and contingent. Let the people also reconsider their first impressions; let them also—now that the first intoxication of enthusiasm has passed away—let them, while there is yet time, apply their calm and serious thoughts to the events that are 456 passing in other countries, and estimate the full extent of that risk, by which extensive changes in government are accompanied.
Let them look at France, and compare its present condition, in respect to the ease and comfort of the middling and industrious classes of society, with its condition, in the same respect, before the Revolution of July, 1830. I ask the people of this country not to refuse their sympathy with those who resisted illegal acts of power—I only ask them, admitting the justice, admitting the necessity of resistance—to reflect on the difficulty of reconstructing that which has been destroyed. What are the obstacles to the re-establishment of order and tranquillity in Paris? Why is it that peace is with difficulty preserved, not by the regular operation of the laws, but through the constant intervention of an armed force? Why is it that the National Guard has one hand on the sword, while they wield with the other the implements of their daily industry? The French have the Monarch of their own choice—the party of the exiled Sovereign offers no impediment—the Government has been held by the authors and patrons of the Revolution—philosophers and friends of liberty have had the fullest scope for their exertions; whence all the restlessness—want of confidence—want of employment—that cause the periodical disorders of Paris? It arises from this—that the minds of men have been unsettled on the principles of government—that habits of obedience have been interrupted—that the magic lamp of which the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) once knew the influence, has been extinguished, and cannot be relumed.
If foreign warnings will not suffice, look at home: see if there are no indications, even before the actual coming of Reform, of its probable consequences. These great changes in government cannot be made without such indications—they are events that cast their shadows before. Though the great luminary, moving in an eccentric orbit, has not yet appeared above the horizon, there is a glimmering twilight by which you may judge whether its advent will be baleful or propitious.
What has been the influence of the promised Reform on the industry of the people, on their habits of obedience, on the action of the Government? Is there increased confidence in commercial dealings—is there a greater demand for the products of in- 457 dustry—a greater application of capital to the encouragement of it, or a stronger feeling of security in the quiet possession of property? Inquire from the retail dealers of this metropolis—from the very class which is to acquire new influence and increased power in the State—ask them whether their present experience of the bearing of Reform upon their own peculiar trades and occupations is very encouraging? I discover no indications that the influence of Reform upon the character and actions of Government will be for the advantage of the country. I see, indeed, that it will multiply, in an extraordinary degree, the power that is exercised by the daily Press; and unpopular as may be the avowal, I do avow that I foresee no benefit from that increase. Oh, it is said, you want to shackle the Press with new fetters! I want no such thing: but seeing that that Press exercises enormous and irresponsible power; seeing that its most successful appeals are to the passions, and not to the reason of mankind; that it has the means of rousing the impatience of the multitude against every restraint which is necessary for the purpose of good government; I do object to a measure, the tendency of which is to submit, in a still greater degree, the conduct of public affairs to the influence and direction of the Press. Of late, the Press has spoken with a new authority. Whether right or wrong, the general impression is, that it occasionally conveys the sentiments, and speaks in the name of the Government. If no such connexion exists, the public mind should be disabused—it should not be left under an impression, fatal to the public peace—that the scandalous menaces by which it is sought to intimidate the House of Lords—that the appeals to the army, encouraging mutiny and resistance to the constituted authorities of the State, are encouraged or connived at by those who possess the confidence of the Crown. When, in this House, I hear members of the Government, the legal advisers of the Crown, claiming for the House of Commons, and the Crown, the right to remodel the Constitution of one branch of the Legislature, without reference to the House of Lords—when I hear those who speak with the authority of the Government, bid the House of Lords to take warning by the ruined chateaux and pillaged halls of the nobility of France, and to legislate for their country, not on the principles of a calm and 458 dispassionate consideration of the general interests, but under the menace of personal vengeance—I lament the folly of those who are raising every impediment they can to the accomplishment of their own object; and I inquire with just alarm, whether these are the doctrines and the principles which are to be encouraged and established by Reform?
If, Sir, the people of England, after meditating on these things—on the condition of foreign States—on the signs and indications at home of the probable consequences of this measure of Reform, still insist on its completion,—their deliberate resolve, will no doubt, ultimately prevail. I shall bow to their judgment with the utmost respect; but my own opinions will remain unchanged. To all the penalties of maintaining those opinions—the incapacity for public service—the loss of popular favour—the withdrawal of public confidence—I can and must submit. The people have the power and right to inflict them; but they have neither the power nor the right to inflict that heavier penalty—of involving me in their responsibility—of making me an instrument for accomplishing an act—by which we, the life-renters of those institutions, that have made our country the freest, the happiest, the most powerful nation of the universe, are to cut off from those who are to succeed us the inheritance of what we ourselves enjoyed.
Lord John Russell
spoke as follows: In rising to undertake the difficult duty now imposed upon me, I have the pleasure to congratulate the House on the tone in which this debate has been conducted—for when I consider the long-established interests which the present measure threatens to overturn, can I complain that more anger has been expressed than it was natural to feel on such an occasion? though it was our duty to consider the public and paramount interests of the country, in preference to any partial or private regards.
The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, began his eloquent speech by declaring, that with such a House of Commons as we propose to make, the power of the other orders of the State will be "an unreal mockery." But if the very apprehension of such a result produces so much indignation, cannot the right hon. Gentleman imagine that the people may have felt aggrieved when they saw the House of Commons called Repre- 459 sentatives of the people, not so in fact; assuming to be "the same with the Commons at large" but, in fact, having a separate origin, separate interests, separate opinions, separate desires?
That this House does not, in fact, fairly represent the people, has been, in these debates, hardly denied. An hon. and learned friend of mine, who commenced this debate, has adverted to a proof of the fact which I formerly gave, by analyzing the divisions. My hon. and learned friend, who, observing the rule of Horace, has kept his answer nine years by him before he gave it to the public, has said, that I assumed, that one side was right and the other wrong—I beg his pardon—I assumed no such thing; I assumed only that county Members represented the people, more than the Members for close boroughs; and by showing that the first class of Members were constantly in a minority, I ascertained the fact, that this House did not represent the people.
The right hon. Gentleman says, this measure has been introduced without necessity; I am astonished at such an assertion. If there were no necessity for Reform, why did the Duke of Wellington and his colleagues resign? Was it not expressly on the ground that Parliament and the country insisted on Reform, with a voice not to be withstood?
But, perhaps it is only meant that there was no necessity for a measure of so great an extent. Let it be remembered, however, that the demand for Reform had increased with resistance, and that a trifling change, in answer to a deep and general call, would have been mocking the expectations of the people. I have been accused, personally, of inconsistency, in proposing so large a measure. I cannot better illustrate my own views than by taking the example of a building; an architect will often tell you, "If you repair your house immediately, it may be made to last, without much alteration, but if you delay it, the whole building must be taken down." I have advised repairs, when gradual repairs were possible and expedient my opponents now say, "We omitted what was necessary; the tempest has carried away our roof, and the wind drives through our chambers; you may now attempt the repairs you formerly recommended." My answer is, "It is too late; your neglect has caused this ruin; I warned you of the consequence; I now advise a more com- 460 plete restoration, and if you delay it, your whole edifice will be in danger." Is there anything inconsistent in such language?
The right hon. Gentleman has alluded to attempts which he says are made, to intimidate the House of Lords; others who spoke before him, went further: but what do they mean by intimidation? Do they not seek to confound the personal honour of a Gentleman, with the public duty of a member of the Legislature? Do they not endeavour to excite the high spirit of private character, in contradiction to the more sober feelings of public duty? To yield to personal fear is unworthy, contemptible, and base; but to fear for the public welfare, for the public tranquillity, is the part of deliberative wisdom—nor need I go far for an example. In 1828 the Peers of England rejected the claims of the Roman Catholics by a great majority: in 1829 a full concession of those claims was proposed to them by the Duke of Wellington. By what reasons did he urge their concession? Did he appeal to any of those arguments of religious freedom, of political right, of eternal justice, which Fox and Pitt, and Grattan and Canning had enforced with so much eloquence, and yet in vain, to assembled Senates? By no means; he detailed to them his fears for the public peace; he related the outrages which had taken place, described the disorders of society in Ireland, and pointed out the dangers of further resistance: after this history, and these harangues, he declared, with memorable emphasis, that he would rather sacrifice his life than expose to the evils of civil war, even for one month, any country to which he was attached. What said the Peers of England? Did they reply indignantly, "We will not sacrifice our consistency—we will not sacrifice the Protestant Constitution to your fears: our patrician pride—our solemn engagements—our regard for our own characters, oblige us to reject your proposition, and we leave to you the responsibility of the event?" No; the Peers of England had too much real patriotism to indulge in this manner a false honour: conscious of their own courage, a courage to defy the miserable taunts by which it was sought to deter them from their course—looking to the actual state of Ireland, and not to their own recorded votes—providing for the peace of their country, and not aiming at the glory of a fatal firmness—they acknowledged the fear which a 461 General who had exposed his life thousands of times for his country, was not ashamed to avow—and while they revered the brow which was adorned by the laurel, they blessed the hand which held forth the olive branch. May we not lose the benefit of this example! Now, when the peril is not in Ireland, but around us, in our own homes, and on every side, unknown in its nature, and indefinite in its extent, may the Peers of England not forget the prudence of their former conduct! Assuredly they have it in their power to disregard the recommendation of the Crown, to despise the acts of the House of Commons, and to trample on the petitions of the people. But should such be their resolve, they will ill fulfil the charge of preserving harmony among the different branches of our Legislature, which our Constitution has imposed on them, and by the fulfilment of which they obtain the respect they now enjoy.
Let me, however, address some words to those who are the advisers of the people upon this occasion. I trust they will on no account encourage any acts of illegality. The derangement of a country like this, even for a short time, is an incalculable evil. Let those who would pursue such courses, be assured that they are unnecessary. With a House of Commons elected by a stronger popular feeling than any that has been seen for fifty years, they may rest satisfied that the passing of this Bill cannot long be delayed. Let them rely, therefore, on those whom they have charged with their interests, and not begin a resistance to law, by which the whole peace and tranquillity of the country may be endangered. Let them be confident that the House of Commons is not without power, when acting in conjunction with the Crown, to obtain the satisfaction of demands which are founded in justice, supported by reason, and rendered imperative by necessity.
The right hon. Gentleman has alluded to the present state of France. Does any man doubt, that a revolution is in itself to be deplored? That daily tumults, the suspension of trade, the insecurity of Government, are evils to be, if possible, avoided? But, on the other hand, does any man hesitate as to the cause, of the late Revolution in France? Was it not clearly to be traced to the open violation of the liberties of an enlightened nation, guaranteed by the oaths of a sove- 462 reign who held his crown by the same tenure? And as foreign affairs have been alluded to, may I not ask, why my noble friend near me (Lord Palmerston) is obliged to pass laborious days, and anxious nights, to obtain the settlement of Belgium? Why the fortresses, erected at enormous expense, are now to be demolished, with the consent of all the Powers of Europe? For what reason but this—that the negotiators of 1815 raised their barriers on the soil, instead of planting their security in the mind of Belgium?
It has been said, and said with truth, that there is a tendency in the present time towards democracy. But there is a much greater tendency to make the natural and solid interest of nations predominate over the force of arms, and the watch-words of faction. It is by opposing this direction that a government runs the risk of subversion; it is by consulting and guiding it, that the danger of transition (the only danger of our present course) may be passed over, and the security of our ancient institutions confirmed. Our engagement is, to make such a Reform as shall be consistent with the prerogatives of the Crown, and the authority of the other House of Parliament; this engagement we have sought to fulfil, and by it we are determined to abide.
§ Mr. Hunt
rose amidst loud cries of "Question." He wished the Government had more explicitly and decidedly disclaimed the language of certain papers which tended to excite the people to rebellion in the event of the Bill not passing, and to withdraw the military from their duty. He had no expectation that this Bill would ultimately pass, yet he did not expect that any such consequences as those proclaimed by the Press would attend its rejection. The people took by no means so warm an interest in the fate of the Bill as they at first did. Let hon. Members look to the Common-hall held the other day. He himself was a Liveryman, and he could say, that never were there such exertions to get together a Common-hall; never was there so much solicitation; never was so much money expended in advertisements and placards. Yet what was the result of these unusual exertions? The result was a very small Common-hall, and that out of 16,000 or 17,000 liverymen not so much as 1,000 attended the meeting. He was indeed told by an Alderman, that not more than 500 were present. Then again as to 463 the meeting at Westminster this day. He would put it to the hon. Baronet (Sir Francis Burdett) whether he had ever seen so small a meeting of the inhabitants. Their numbers were about 150,000, and of these not more than 1,000 appeared at the meeting. The people he knew were not satisfied with this Bill, nor was he satisfied with it. He would, however, vote for it, reserving to himself the right of petitioning the House of Lords to alter certain clauses of it.
Mr. Alderman Wood
rose to answer one of the statements of the hon. member for Preston. That hon. Member had talked about the attendance at the Common-hall; but what of that? Were not all the Wards of the City meeting to support the Bill; meeting he might say, almost at this very moment?
§ The House then divided on the motion, that this Bill do pass: Ayes 345; Noes 236;—Majority 109.