HC Deb 23 February 1832 vol 10 cc689-91

Lord Althorp moved the Order of the Day for the House to resolve itself into a Committee on the Reform of Parliament (England) Bill.

Mr. Dawson

said, he had a petition which he was desirous of presenting that evening respecting Reform, otherwise it might be too late. He had attended for five days, having put his name down on the Speaker's list, in order to present the petition, but had not yet had the opportunity of doing so. He hoped, therefore, that the noble Lord would not object to the petition being now presented.

Lord Althorp

said, under the circumstances named by the right hon. Gentleman, he would not object to the petition being presented, but would suggest the propriety of waiving all discussion upon the point to which the petition referred, otherwise there might be two discussions upon the same subject.

Mr. Dawson

said, it would be impossible for him to present the petition without stating its objects, but he had no wish to raise a discussion upon it, although he could not answer for what might be said by those who were opposed to its prayer. The petition he had now the honour to present was from certain inhabitants of the parish of Chelmsford, and it stated, that that town was an ancient borough, and formerly returned Members to Parliament; and they now, on account of the increased importance of the town, prayed to have that privilege restored to them, under the new system of Representation. The petitioners further stated, that, by the Reform Bill, it was proposed to divide the county of Essex into two parts; that the western division of the county would then only return two Members, while the eastern division would return eight; that the difference in the population of the two divisions was not considerable, but that that difference was in favour of the western division, which contained 82,000 inhabitants, while the eastern only contained 76,000. They stated also, that several flourishing towns were in the western division, which, in an agricultural point of view, ought to be represented in that House, consequently, they objected to the arrangement which would give that division so small a share in the Representation. The town of Chelmsford contained 5,500 inhabitants, and was, besides, the county-town, both of which circumstances entitled it to a favourable consideration, and it would be the only county-town, except Okeham, the county, town of Rutland, which would not be represented in that House under the Reform Bill. This petition had originated with a public meeting, though, undoubtedly, it was not the petition of the meeting. The fact was, that a meeting was held on the subject of the Bill, when the Reformers and Anti-reformers, as might be expected, disagreed about it. The former were for refusing Members to Chelmsford; the latter held the opinions expressed in the petition. The meeting divided, and the numbers were so equal that the Chairman did not know how to decide. Under these circumstances, the petition was left at the Town-hall for signature—and between 200 and 300 persons had signed it. Among these were—and he appealed to the hon. Members, op- posite for confirmation of this fact—the most respectable inhabitants of the town. As a petition proceeding from Anti-reformers, and presented by an Anti-reformer, the prayer of it might excite some surprise, but, so far as regarded the extension of the franchise to Chelmsford, under the circumstances of the present time, he saw no objection whatever.

Mr. Western

said, as he had been appealed to by the right hon. Gentleman, he felt bound to say a few words on the subject of this petition. He admitted, that, among the number of those who had signed it, there were the names of many most respectable individuals. At the meeting to which the right hon. Gentleman had referred, there certainly was a difference of opinion, and he believed that the Reformers declined to join in the petition, as they feared that to do so at this late period, would only embarrass the passing of the great measure of Reform. No person could imagine, that the petition would receive the sanction of the House, and he was sure the right hon. Gentleman who had presented it, did not anticipate that it would. He did not say this, as wishing it to be inferred that Chelmsford, as being an ancient borough, and having a considerable population, did not deserve Representatives, but with reference to the principles laid down in the Bill, that town had no claim to Members. Considering its population, extent, and intelligence, he believed Essex would return rather under its proportion of Members by the Reform Bill; but, with respect to its division into eastern and western, he did not see how that county could be otherwise divided, so that the argument of the petitioners founded on the disproportion of the Members in one division, compared with the other, fell to the ground.

Mr. Mackinnon supported the prayer of the petition.

Mr. Wellesley concurred in the statements made by his hon. colleague, Mr. Western.

Petition to be printed.