Lord John Russell
moved the Order of the Day for taking into consideration the Lords' amendments to the Reform of Parliament (England) Bill.
§ Order of the Day read.
§ The noble Lord said, that in rising to give the House an explanation of those Amendments which had been made by the Lords to the Reform Bill, and in moving, as he subsequently should, that the House do agree to those Amendments, he could not help congratulating the House and the country, that the Bill had been returned to them unchanged in its essential points, and unimpaired in its details. He was happy to add, that the amendments which the other House had made were such as did not require any lengthened consideration or would give rise to any doubt that this House would not agree to them. The first of those amendments was, in his opinion, an improvement of the Bill. It related to the clause in the Bill to which an amendment had been moved by the hon. member for Bodmin, for the purpose of preventing the future creation of freeholders for life, so as to prevent parties from giving votes for political purposes to those who were not bona fide freeholders. The Lords seemed to think that the clause as it stood was too restricted, and might deprive of votes those who might become possessed of bona fide freeholds, and they therefore added these words, "except such person shall be 408 in the actual and bona fide occupation of such lands or tenements, or except the same shall have come to such person by marriage, marriage-settlement, demise, or promotion to any benefice, or to any office." The Lords thought, that the former clause would open too wide a door for the exclusion of many votes which might be bona fide. However, the amendment, he was sure, was one to which the House could have no difficulty in assenting. The Lords had made another alteration as to the votes for counties. In the Bill as it left that House it was enacted, that the person claiming to vote for a Knight of the Shire, as a leaseholder for a fixed term of years therein mentioned, should show that the lease was "to him" of the yearly value of 10l. The Lords, however, thought that not the value to the particular individual, but the bona fide, should be the standard, and they so altered it. To that also he thought there could be no objection. The next Amendment was in the 10l. clause, in which, after the words "warehouse, shop," the Lords added, "or other building." So that, by this addition, the franchise was extended, for persons possessed of an outhouse or stable of the yearly value of 10l. would be thus included. As this amendment was an extension, not a limitation, of the franchise, he was sure it would be gladly accepted by the House. In another clause, enacting that occupiers may demand to be rated, an amendment was made with relation to the landlord's liability to the poor-rates. The clause, recited "that in case of the tenant's default in the payment of the poor-rate, the landlord should be and remain liable for the payment thereof, in the same manner as if he had himself been rated in respect of the premises so occupied." Their Lordships had amended this clause by the insertion of the word "alone," and the omission of the word "himself," and the clause as amended ran, "such landlord shall be, and remain liable for the payment thereof in the same manner as if he alone had been rated," &c. No other amendment had been made with respect to the qualification of voters, but an amendment had been made with respect to the registration of voters. Any person having sent his name to be registered, if the proper officer should refuse to make the registry, had power to go before the Barrister for the purpose of proving that he had sent his name and description to 409 the Registrar. Some amendments were also made with a view to secure the correctness of the registry: it was provided "that, where the Christian name of any person, his place of abode, or the local, or other description of his property, should be wholly omitted from the list, the Barrister should expunge the name of the person from such list, unless the matter or matters so omitted were supplied to the satisfaction of the Barrister, before he completed the list." According to the Bill as it now stood, therefore, a person sending his name to the Registrar with a mistake, had the power of proving before the Barrister what was defective in form, and if he neglected so to do, the Barrister might expunge the name. There had been another very important clause added to the end of the Bill, which referred to making out the lists of voters. In a previous part of the Bill, notices were required to be given on the 20th of June in the present year: that day, in fact, was fixed for the commencement of the machinery of the Bill. As it was now very probable, however, that the Boundary Bill would not have passed both Houses of Parliament before the 20th of June, it was thought right to add a clause enabling "his Majesty by an order made with the advice of his Privy Council, to appoint certain other days and dates before or upon which the respective lists of voters should be made out," and the machinery of the Bill carried into operation. Under existing circumstances it was thought that inserting any precise day would only be encumbering the Bill, and therefore power was given to the Crown, by an Order of Council to fix the dates. The effect of this clause was merely to omit the dates existing in the Bill, by which every facility would be given to voters, and every man concerned in carrying the machinery into operation would know what his business was, without defeating any personal interest. Those were the chief amendments. There had been several verbal corrections, many of which were necessary, and all of which would tend to render the Bill clearer and more effective. In conclusion he had only to state, and he did so with great satisfacfaction, that no amendment had been made in the disfranchising and enfranchising clauses, but that both were as extensive as when the Bill was sent up from the House of Commons. Whatever benefits the Bill was intended to effect, he had 410 great pleasure in saying, that none of those benefits would be in any degree diminished or impaired by what had taken place since the Bill had left that House.
§ Sir Edward Sugden
thought, that it would have been better if the House had been called to fix the date for the commencement of the registration in the present year; but considering the power to which it was proposed to delegate that authority, he would not insist on that objection. He must, however, object to the alteration which had been made in the 10l. clause, which would have the effect of considerably increasing the franchise. By the original clause, an individual having a beneficial interest in a house to the amount of 10l. yearly had a right to vote; but, as the clause was now amended, if the annual rent of the house was 10l., and the individual to whom it belonged had only an interest of 5s. or of 10s. a-year in it, he was entitled to vote. Without animadverting, however, too minutely ne some of the verbal alterations made in the Bill, he meant to call the attention of the House to the means which had been adopted to secure the passing of the Bill. The Bill had not only come back from the other House; it had come back, without one objection to it being removed, or one alteration having been made in it in the other House, even to meet the views of those members of the Government who thought some of its provisions ought to be rectified. He had himself heard the noble and learned Lord at the head of the Law express an opinion, that he could not agree to one of the leading principles of the Bill, which evidently related to the 10l. franchise; yet, as the Bill had gone up to the other House, so it had been returned. He was the more surprised at this, when he knew the constitutional objections to the Bill, and remembered the sentiments to which his Majesty had given utterance. In June, 1831, his Majesty, in his Speech from the Throne, thus expressed himself:—'I have availed myself of the earliest opportunity of resorting to your advice and assistance, after the dissolution of the late Parliament.
Having had recourse to that measure for the purpose of ascertaining the sense of my people on the expediency of a Reform in the Representation, I have now to recommend that important question to your earliest and most attentive consideration, confident that, in any 411 measures which you may prepare for its adjustment, you will carefully adhere to the acknowledged principles of the Constitution, by which the prerogative of the Crown, the authority of both Houses of Parliament, and the rights and liberties of the people, are equally secured.'* Surely it was not to be supposed, that his Majesty, when he uttered these sentiments, contemplated the introduction of a measure by which the authority of both Houses of Parliament would be virtually destroyed. Let the House look also to what fell from Earl Grey in his reply on the second reading of this Bill, and let them compare his declaration with what had since occurred. He understood the noble Earl distinctly to have stated, that the House of Lords should have the whole control of the measure, and that no improper interference should be had recourse to for the purpose of carrying the Bill. What was the language of the noble Earl? The noble Earl said: 'When the Bill went into the Committee, he should certainly feel it his duty to resist any alterations which he might think inconsistent with the main object which the Bill proposed to carry into effect. But if it could be shown, that any injustice had inadvertently crept into any of the schedules—if it could be shown, that any qualification, not so small as 10l., would be less open to fraud and abuse—he would not resist the correction of such circumstances. It was, at the same time, perfectly true, that he should strongly oppose any diminution of the number of fifty-six boroughs, which it was proposed to disfranchise, and any increase of the 10l. which it was proposed to fix as the minimum of qualification. But the decision on those points would depend on the House, and not on him.'† Here was a clear declaration, that their Lordships would be left to the free and unbiassed exercise of their judgment in dealing with the provisions of the Bill. How far that declaration—that pledge—had been acted up to or redeemed, was fresh in the remembrance of that House. What did this Bill do? Its first provision was, to destroy a large number of boroughs. Now, he would say that, in the best times of the Constitution, the rights of those boroughs were recognized. Some of the most useful* Hansard (third series), vol. iv., p. 84–5.† Ibid., vol. xii., p. 447.412 laws which appeared on the statute-books were enacted in Parliaments in which Members sat for those boroughs that they were now about to disfranchise. Ministers had resigned, because, in the other House, it was deemed advisable to take the enfranchising clauses before the disfranchising. Yet it was strange, that the point of precedence had been considered in the House of Commons as a matter of little importance. In his opinion, the enfranchising clauses ought to have been decided on before the disfranchising; because, by proceeding in that way alone, could they come to a right understanding as to what number of boroughs it would be necessary to abolish. This he would say—that, by the extensive range of disfranchisement which had been agreed upon, they were virtually questioning the validity of those laws which were brought in, or were supported, by the Members who sat for those boroughs which they were now on the point of annihilating. This measure had been forced forward by the worst exertions out of doors. A letter from the King to Earl Grey had been published, which letter contained a statement, amounting to a pledge, that full powers should be placed in the hands of the noble Earl to carry this measure. He should be glad to know from what quarter that information had been received? Again an individual, named Colonel Jones, had, in a public print, stated the substance of a letter addressed by a noble Duke to his Majesty. Whence did Colonel Jones derive his knowledge of that letter? He felt certain, that Colonel Jones derived his knowledge of the letter in question from a high Government office.
§ Sir Edward Sugden
believed that the information did come from a Government office. Nay, he could state the office. He would with all his heart state the office; and the only difficulty he felt was, whether he could do so with propriety after the disclaimer of the noble Lord. He did, however, still believe that that letter, or the contents of it, came from a public office of great importance in the Government of the country. The language of intimidation which was used out of doors went beyond all constitutional bounds. Colonel Jones, to whom he had before alluded, in one of his recent speeches at a public meeting had thus expressed himself:—'Last week I addressed thousands under 413 different circumstances. You are now in perfect safety: on that occasion I said, that if a few only would die, the guns that were planted on the heights would soon be in the hands of the people. Thank God! all fear upon that point is gone; and assuredly none but an ambitious soldier would calmly contemplate the murder of his fellow citizens.' Thus this gentleman, who was an eager partisan of the metropolitan clause, told the people, that if a few of them would die, the guns of the military would soon be in the hands of their coadjutors; and he insinuated that the troops were called out by those who, in fact, could not have had anything to do with the matter. Who placed those guns—if guns were placed, an assertion which he disbelieved—on that occasion? None but the Government could have caused them to be placed, and their only object must have been to preserve the peace and to prevent disorder. What were they to think of the probable Representatives under this Bill, when they found one of them, who, under its provisions, hoped to enter Parliament, telling a crowd, that if only a few persons would die, the rest would be sure to overcome the military? Such was the advice given; but he doubted very much whether the individual who gave it would be one of the first to attack the guns. In his sober and calm view of the question, it appeared to him that this measure was forced on the King by the most illegal and unconstitutional means that had ever been resorted to by any set of men. The noble member for Northamptonshire (Lord Milton) seemed to have made himself a party to those measures—those unconstitutional measures—which had been adopted out of doors, for the purpose of forcing this Bill forward. It was clear that such was the fact, if they were to believe a paragraph that had appeared in The Times newspaper of the 24th of May last. The Paragraph ran thus—'It may not be publicly known, that during the late crisis, one person, and that one of high station and rank, was ready to set a patriotic example in resisting a Government opposed to the just rights of the people. When the tax-gatherer called on Lord Milton last week, he requested the tax-gatherer would call again, because he was not certain that circumstances might not arise which would oblige him to resist their payment.' Did the noble Lord admit the truth of 414 this statement? [Lord Milton: Certainly.] Then he would say, that such a proceeding, countenanced by a man standing in the noble Lord's situation, was most dangerous. Nothing could be more dangerous than an act of this kind, sanctioned by an individual of such exalted rank and character. Here was a nobleman of high authority and of great possessions—one who ought to set an example of obedience to the laws—and what was his conduct? Why, he did that, which, if generally followed, would render powerless the whole machine of Government, by denying that necessary aid, by refusing that first and proper assistance, the call for which was founded on the laws of the land. He would ask, was it right that this Bill should thus be carried by illegal resolutions and by illegal acts? Was there, he demanded, a more dangerous or a more unconstitutional act than the refusal to pay taxes? This he would say, that if it were the last shilling which he had in the world, he should feel himself bound to pay it, if it were demanded from him in payment of a tax. Whether he paid it cheerfully or not, he should still deem it to be his duty to pay it. He might avail himself of his station as a Member of Parliament, to declare his sentiments as to any particular tax, but however he might object to it, still he would pay his last shilling to meet his assessment under that tax, and he should feel himself deeply responsible for any breach of the laws which might be committed in consequence of his pursuing a different line of conduct. He knew not how it was possible that any Government, no matter what, could stand, when assailed by strokes like these. It was also imputed to the hon. member for Southwark—a Master in Chancery, and receiving a large salary from the public money—a Gentleman closely connected with the Lord Chancellor, who must, therefore, know the law, and know his duties under the law, and who, whatever protestations he might make, would be believed by the people to be speaking the sentiments of that noble Lord—he (Sir Edward Sugden) altogether disclaimed that notion, but he repeated that it would be believed by the public—it was imputed to that hon. Gentleman, that he had told the people that it would be illegal in any number of them to agree together not to pay the taxes, and that they were liable to be indicted for a conspiracy, but that, when the tax gatherer called upon them, 415 they should follow the example of the noble Lord. Was it possible, that an individual who exercised a judicial authority, and who, as he was called upon to execute the law, ought to be the first to set an example of obedience to it, should have made such a statement as this? Was it to be tolerated that men were to fill judicial situations, and at the same time to teach disobedience to the law of the country? What obedience could be expected if persons exercising the authority of the law should themselves tell the people, "Don't you obey the law?" This was not a question between the two sides of that House—it was not a question of Reform or no Reform, but it was a question as to the existence of the State or not. He spoke as a member of the State—he spoke as one desirous of having a good and sound Government—and he would ask, whether those who had taken the course which he had described, and which was hostile to all good government, had not pursued that course for the purpose of supporting his Majesty's present Government? What effect was such proceedings likely to have upon the people? He would say, the most baneful and deplorable effect. He had a fair and honest feeling for the people—no power on earth should ever dissever him from the great body of the people—he would do every thing in his power to make the lower orders happy and contented—but he warned those who had been trying the experiment, against attempting to make the people an engine for the accomplishment of political purposes. That engine would perhaps recoil, and ruin and devastation must be the consequence. There was another measure which had been adopted, that could not be sufficiently reprobated; to bring the Government to terms, a run had been made upon the Bank. Was there ever a more dangerous line of conduct? That was destroying the prosperity of the country, in order to aim a blow at the Government, and it was done by those whose duty it was to support the Government. Again, a similar attack had been made through the means of the Savings Banks. He had a great respect for the lower orders, and he should never separate his happiness from that of the great body of the people; but he would lift up his voice, if he could make his voice heard, to warn them against making their property and its security the means of effecting a poli- 416 tical purpose. That would render it necessary for the Government to take from them the power of putting their savings into the Government securities, for it never could be borne that they should have it in their power, while their own property was perfectly safe, to damage the property of all the other creditors of the State. No Government could exist if these laws were not altered; for it was the duty of Government, while it provided for the security of others, not to do that at the expense of itself. After this example, he thought it would be necessary that the Savings' Banks Acts should undergo a revision. Let who would be in Administration, they must take care to maintain the Government. The present Government had, on coming into power, made terms with their Sovereign. Their conduct was such as to compel the other House to abdicate its functions, or else to suffer itself to be swamped and overflowed with an immense creation of Peers. When, in 1831, the King called on Parliament "carefully to adhere to the acknowledged principles of the Constitution, by which the prerogatives of the Crown, the authority of both Houses of Parliament, and the rights and liberties of the people were equally secured," he would ask, whether his Majesty could have contemplated such a measure as this? He would ask, whether the Bill had not entirely destroyed some of the most important parts of the Constitution? He had gone into the House of Lords, and he there saw, with sorrow and pain, the mockery with which that Bill was carried. He demanded whether the Bill of the noble Lord, so far from supporting the authority of the House of Peers, had not, in fact, destroyed the power which was formerly possessed by that House? Was this a measure agreed to in consequence of the calm deliberation of that House, or a measure forced forward by letters, by threats, and by denunciations, out of that House? They might now almost speak of it as an historical fact, that the Bill was not considered in the other House with due and serious deliberation. It had been acceded to much in the spirit that would have distinguished a Turkish Divan. It was carried by the sole authority of Ministers, without receiving the slightest aid from the labours of their Lordships. The former Bill had been rejected by their Lordships, and he should be glad to know what was the dif- 417 ference between that measure and the present, which had been agreed to? The fact was, that the Bill was carried by a minority, who, by illegal threats, had overcome a majority. They had been told in that House that if there were anything wrong in the Bill, it might and doubtless would, be remedied in the House of Lords. Had they not been deceived? What became now of that forlorn hope? He did not speak in that House for pleasure, but, as an independent man, he wished to do his duty to his country. He stood there as boldly and as proudly as any noble Lord, notwithstanding the smile or the sneer of the noble Lord opposite. He should hereafter watch those who, in consequence of the part which they had taken with reference to this measure, were called to the other House of Parliament. He would mark them as individuals undeserving the public confidence, undeserving the name of Englishmen. Those individuals who had undermined the honour, the integrity, and the independence of the House of Lords—who had destroyed its lustre and brightness, and who were now willing to enter that House themselves—those individuals he should most assuredly mark. He had from the commencement honestly opposed this Bill; but the House would, he was sure, give him credit for having honestly done another thing—namely, for having exerted his best faculties to render the Bill just and perfect. This he had done at some expense of time and labour. He should only further say, that if this Bill passed, as of course it would, he would endeavour to prepare himself to live under its provisions. These operations of the Government, indeed, were, in his opinion, entitled to the most serious consideration. They had already had a most alarming effect on the other House, and what might be expected when the Bill came into operation? Much responsibility would be on those who had opened these flood-gates, and let out the waters of desolation. He, like a worthless straw, might float idly and securely down them, but he should witness others sink, overloaded with honours and wealth. He would not throw the slightest obstacle in the way of this measure when it had become law; but he would prepare himself to live under that new Constitution which he had not made, but which had been forced on him. It would be idle, it would be mere folly, to say that they were not 418 about to live under a new Constitution. Already had the power of the other House been lessened, and he earnestly hoped that it would not, under the new system, be finally extirpated. He, however, relied and with confidence, on the good sense, the moderation, and the conservative principles of the great body of the people. To these he looked for preservation from those calamities which this Bill was calculated to inflict on the country. With regard to Political Unions, the noble Lord said, that they would die out of themselves, and he had no objection to try the effects of this Bill on them; but he would say, looking to the way in which it was carried, that it was absolutely necessary, whether the Government were Whig or Tory, or composed of both, that an end should be put to those local Parliaments, which, on the present occasion, had interfered so decidedly with the proceedings of the Legislature. It was absolutely necessary, let who would be Minister, to put down these Unions, which unless they were checked, would subvert the whole authority of the State.
§ Lord Althorp
said, he did not mean to trouble the House with many observations on the amendments which had been made in the House of Lords. Of most of these amendments he entirely approved. With respect to the alteration in the 10l. clause, which had been objected to by the hon. and learned Gentleman, he confessed, that it gave him great satisfaction, as its effect would be to extend the franchise. The interpretation of the hon. and learned Gentleman was opposed to the whole tenour of the clause, and therefore he could not agree with him in his conclusion. The hon. and learned Gentleman, however, had not confined himself to the amendments in the Bill, but had taken the present opportunity of going into a much larger and wider discussion with reference to the conduct of his Majesty's Government. In the course of that discussion he had imputed to Government a degree of blame on several points which he was not justified in imputing to it. The hon. and learned Gentleman had asserted, what he had before stated on one or two occasions, that the alterations which it had been contemplated to make in the House of Lords had been defeated, contrary to an express understanding, in consequence of intimidation. Now, what was the fact? His (Lord Althorp's) noble friend 419 at the head of the Government had fairly stated, that he was prepared to accede to any proper alterations that might be proposed in the Committee. He had plainly said in the House of Lords, that when the Bill was in Committee, he would leave it to their Lordships to deal with it as they thought fit—that he would leave it to them to make whatever alterations they pleased. The Bill was so left to their Lordships. But certainly his noble friend never meant to state, and never stated, that he would accede to any amendment that interfered with the principle of the Bill, or that militated against its chief provisions. His noble friend had stated, repeatedly and distinctly, that he would not agree to, but would decidedly oppose, any such alterations. He could refer to what his noble friend had stated in his reply on the second reading of the Bill (though he had not the good fortune to be present on the occasion), as decisive with respect to this point. His noble friend's statement on that occasion clearly showed that he contemplated no abandonment, neither had he abandoned any pledge which he had given. It was alleged that in a debate which formerly took place in that House, his Majesty's Government had held, that the question of commencing with the enfranchisement or disfranchisement clauses was a matter of no importance, He believed, so far as his memory served him, that he had not made any such statement. He did not mean positively to deny it, but he did not think that he had made such an observation. It was quite clear that this was not a mere question of precedence, having no importance attached to it. On the contrary, it was evident that it was connected with one of the main and vital principles of the Bill. The point on which the decision it the other House turned was, that schedules A and B should be set aside until the enfranchisement clause was carried for the purpose of seeing how many of the obnoxious boroughs might then be retained. But on what principle did the Bill proceed? It proceeded on this clearly defined principle, that those nomination boroughs were a direct evil in themselves, and therefore that they ought to be removed. This being the case, it was impossible for Ministers not to feel, that the decision which had taken place in the other House, with respect to the postponement of those schedules, was 420 directly at variance with the chief principle of the Bill; that principle being to do away with the nomination boroughs. What, then, were Ministers to do under these circumstances? Could they, as honourable men, give up every pledge which they had held out to the country, and continue in office, submitting to have the principles of the Bill which was confided to their management broken down one after another? Seeing the situation in which they were placed, they could not resist taking the step which they had done. Under all the circumstances, they felt it to be their duty to give such advice to the Crown as they conceived they were justified in giving by the exigencies of the time. The hon. and learned Gentleman had referred to several imprudent incidents which had occurred in the state of excitement which at present existed—incidents which it was extremely natural should occur during the existence of such excitement, and every one of which acts of imprudence had been exaggerated by the hon. and learned Gentleman. The hon. and learned Gentleman had referred to speeches made at public meetings held under such circumstances, and the sentiments contained in those speeches he had attributed to his Majesty's Government, and had made them responsible for them. Now, in his opinion, nothing could be more unfair or unjust than to do so. The hon. and learned Gentleman said, that Colonel Jones was in communication with his Majesty's Government. He certainly was acquainted with Colonel Jones, and he occasionally conversed with him on meeting him in the streets, but to say that therefore Colonel Jones was in communication with him as a member of his Majesty's Government, was the most unfair and unfounded charge that could possibly have been adduced against him. [Sir E. Sugden: I said no such thing.] The hon. and learned Gentleman had referred to the opinions expressed by Colonel Jones at a public meeting, and he further referred to some information which he insinuated Colonel Jones had received from his Majesty's Government. That information, he (Lord Althorp) believed, referred to a letter which it was stated had been published in The Times newspaper, and it was stated at the time that the complaint had been made elsewhere on the subject, that that letter was inserted verbatim in The Times. Now it happened, on inquiry, to turn out 421 that such a letter had not been inserted in The Times at all. The hon. Gentleman seemed to think, that this was not a matter of any importance, but certainly, when a noble Peer complains that a letter has been inserted verbatim in a newspaper, and when, in point of fact, it turns out that not an atom of such a letter has been published in that newspaper, and when only a general reference was made to it, and when a statement was given by Colonel Jones of what had taken place—a statement which he might have derived from other individuals as well as from the members of his Majesty's Government—the circumstance that he (Lord Althorp) had mentioned was not of that slight importance that the hon. Gentleman would seem to insinuate. He firmly believed, that whatever information Colonel Jones had of the letter in question, he had not derived it from any member of his Majesty's Government. That statement he could make with the utmost confidence. The hon. and learned Gentleman had proceeded to state what was the consequence of the debate in the House of Lords. The hon. Gentleman said that the House of Lords had been compelled by force, and against its conviction, to adopt this Bill, and that he imputed to his Majesty's Government. It was not for him (Lord Althorp) to decide as to what influenced their Lordships in passing this Bill; but when the hon. Gentleman talked of force, he begged to tell him, that the only force put upon the House of Lords was that put by the universal voice of the people of England; and the House of Lords, he supposed, thought it no longer desirable to resist the wishes of the united people of the three kingdoms. In that manner, and in that manner only, could it be said, that the House of Lords had been forced to the adoption of this measure. He knew not whether such were the grounds which had induced the House of Lords to take the course which they had taken on this occasion; but if they were, he would only say, that they were grounds upon which the House of Lords had acted, and by which they had been influenced, in regard to the decision of other important questions recorded in the history of the country. With respect to them (the Ministers) coming back into office, the hon. and learned Gentleman had said, that they had come back into office upon conditions. The only condition upon 422 which it was possible for them to return to office was, the having the means of carrying the Reform Bill. They did not wish to use such means in any manner inconsistent with the Constitution of this country, but they did feel that an extraordinary crisis had arisen in the country—that the safety of the country and the well-being of the people rested upon the carrying of this measure of Reform—and they felt, therefore, that they should not be doing their duty to their Sovereign or to the country, if they returned to office without being armed with full powers to ensure the carrying of the measure. That was the principle upon which they had again accepted office—that was the principle upon which they had acted; and it was their determination not to resort to the extraordinary means to which he had alluded, unless such an alternative should have been forced upon them. He was happy to say, that such had not been the case. The hon. and learned Gentleman spoke of the consequences which he apprehended from this Bill, and he had told them, that his only dependence for the future was upon the good sense of the people of England. That was also his (Lord Althorp's) dependence; and if he did not depend on the good sense of the people of England, he should not have been one of those who advised that House to place power in their hands. He had done so, because he thought them well qualified to exercise such power; he had done so, because he looked upon them as arrived at that state of knowledge, and were in that enlightened condition, and as possessed of that good sense and sound feeling, which would make them use that power only for the benefit and prosperity of their common country.
Sir Robert Peel
said, that the question before the House being whether they should assent to certain Amendments introduced by the House of Lords into the Reform Bill, he, without hesitation, would declare that he was ready to give his assent to them, nay, more, that if they had been proposed for his adoption last night, without even being printed, he should have been ready to signify his acquiescence; for he was one of those who thought that it would be a mere mockery to consider the value of Amendments made by a body which was not in the exercise of its independant constitutional powers. Under other circumstances, as these Amend- 423 ments extended to five or six pages, and as they related to the most important Act that had been passed during the last century, he might have been inclined to ask for some days to consider them, yet, when he called to mind that they were Amendments made by the House of Lords under menace and compulsion, he cared not on what day, or how soon, he should be invited to agree to them. They were mere amendments of detail permitted by the Ministers, and not amendments reflecting the real opinions and independant judgment of the House of Lords. The noble Lord had gravely congratulated the House upon the well-known fact, that the essential principles of the Bill had not been altered by those Amendments, and surely he might have spared this taunt upon the other House of Parliament. Whoever dreamed that those Amendments had been introduced by a House of Lords in full possession of its legislative and deliberative powers? Was it not notorious that threats were held out to them—was it not notorious that they were menaced by a new creation of Peers, unless they passed this measure without any alteration of its essential principles? The noble Lord had acknowledged that a creation of Peers had been intended for the purpose of carrying the whole Bill, and he had justified the exercise of the prerogative, if it had been found necessary, by a reference to the circumstances of the country. But did not the noble Lord's admission prove, that the House of Lords had passed the Reform Bill under circumstances, and in a state nothing short of compulsion? He (Sir R. Peel) had no hesitation in saying, that if he had been a Peer, he would have persisted in opposing the Bill, perfectly uninfluenced by the consideration whether such a course of proceeding might possibly lead to the creation of sixty or a hundred Peers. He would rather have forced the Government into the unconstitutional exercise of power, than have refrained from giving his opposition to the Reform Bill. He was ready to admit, however, that after what had taken place—that after the failure of his Majesty to form an Administration, and after the situation in which his Majesty and the country were placed—he was ready to admit, he repeated, that, under such circumstances, he considered the case as altered, and that he did not think that the slightest reflection could be cast upon men who, in such a position of affairs, and 424 swayed by the most honourable motives, had abstained from the exercise of their legislative functions, in order to rescue the King from a dilemma in which no Sovereign in this country had ever before been placed. The noble Lord had referred to the circumstances under which the passing of this Act was about to take place, and he had stated that it was essential to the tranquillity and welfare of the country. Now, admitting for a moment the noble Lord's proposition—allowing that the country had been wrought up into such a state of excitement that no safe alternative was left to them, but to pass this Bill, still he would say, that the Government were themselves to blame for the necessity which thus left no choice, no discretion to the Legislature. The whole tenor of the conduct of his Majesty's Government since this Bill had been introduced, their studious efforts to fan, rather than to assuage the flame of excitement which the mere production of such a measure was certain to create, had involved them in their present difficulty. He was ready to admit, that it would be hardly fair to make the Government responsible for the imprudent acts of any individual. The noble Lord had admitted, that he was personally acquainted with one that had been named in this debate (Colonel Jones), but claimed a right to be exempted from any responsibility on account of his acts or sentiments. He could not deny such a right on the part of the noble Lord; but this he would tell him, that the acts performed, and the sentiments avowed by the members of the Government themselves, were calculated to add to the excitement which prevailed, and for these—and not for the violence of others—did he hold the Government responsible. The noble Lord (Lord Althorp) must recollect the declaration which he himself made at a period when this country was agitated from one end to the other—the noble Lord must recollect, that at such a period, he, being one of the Ministers of the Crown, took upon himself to justify the exhibition of the tri-coloured flag, even under the eyes of the Sovereign [hear, hear.] Some hon. Gentlemen behind the noble Lord might cheer that sentiment, and consider the expression of it creditable to the noble Lord; but he would assert, that a sentiment of the kind should never have been uttered by a responsible Minister of the Crown, who was anxious 425 to soothe the violence of an inflamed populace. He believed that it was afterwards admitted by some of the noble Lord's friends, that it was a hasty declaration; but he did not think that the noble Lord was less responsible for the utterance of it. Declarations equally dangerous to the public peace, had been made by the noble Lord, the member for Devonshire. [Lord John Russell here observed that he had not advised the refusal to pay taxes.] The noble Lord entirely mistook him. He never meant to impute to the noble Lord a participation in the abominable doctrine, that a subject of the King upon his own sense of existing grievances or imaginary wrongs, was justified in refusing the payment of taxes. What he meant to refer to was, a letter of the noble Lord's which had been published, in which the opposition of the House of Lords to the Reform Bill was characterized as the "whisper of a faction." When expressions such as these, with reference to the House of Peers, fell from persons filling the situations of Ministers of the Crown, what other purpose could they serve, but to add to the excitement that already existed, and to lead to the destruction of the independent councils of that branch of the Legislature? It certainly was not just to make individuals of a party responsible for all the violent declarations of the Journals which espoused their principles, or advocated their views; but, on the other hand, if they found one newspaper in the constant habit of publishing matters that could only come from persons in official situations, and afterwards promulgating sentiments of the most revolting nature, calculated to excite a desperate mob to the assassination of those who were opposed to them in political opinions—the public could not easily discriminate—they saw the prompters to violence on one day, made the chosen organs of the Government on the next—and inferred that while such a connection existed, the Government did not heartily and effectually condemn the atrocious language to which he referred. The acts of his Majesty's Ministers, the declarations which they had made, and the conduct which they had so unwisely, and, for the country, so unfortunately, pursued—these were the things which had brought us to the present pass, and for which his Majesty's Government were held justly responsible. He viewed with the utmost 426 anxiety and apprehension the passing this Bill. He might admit, that there was no other alternative now left to them but to pass it—he might admit, that the House of Lords had no other means of escaping from the annihilation of their independance, but to withdraw their opposition from the Bill; but they might depend upon it, that the passing of this measure, in the manner in which it would pass, would form a fatal precedent, one to which his Majesty's Government might again and again recur for the purpose of procuring assent to other measures, which, in obedience to the popular clamour, they might bring forward. Whenever the Government came to deal with the Corn laws, or other questions calculated to excite the feelings, and inflame the passions of the people, the precedent furnished by the present occasion would be appealed to; and if they should be placed in similar circumstances of difficulty and of excitement, the necessity of restoring tranquillity would be made a plea for menacing, and, if necessary, for destroying the independence of the House of Lords. He could not avoid again referring to the sentiments which the noble Lord opposite (Lord Milton) was understood to have avowed on a recent occasion. That noble Lord, it was said, had stated, that if his Majesty formed any other Government than the present, or if he refused to give the royal assent to the Reform Bill, he (Lord Milton) would refuse to pay the taxes. How could they expect obedience to the laws if such were the doctrines promulgated by persons in high station? Would the poorer classes of society quietly submit to the payment of their taxes, if the noble Lord, who was blessed with an affluence which they did not possess, should refuse to pay those to which he was subject? Upon what grounds, or by what right, would he enforce the payment of tithes, or rates, or rent, if his was the true doctrine—that men on their own view of public grievances were justified in resisting the authority of law? He (Sir Robert Peel) knew not how any regular Government could be maintained, if persons filling the situation in society of the noble Lord—the supporters and the friends of the Government—should set an example, which evidently tended to a dissolution of the bonds of society, and to the destruction of all law and all social order. How, he repeated, could Government exist, if each 427 individual, following the example of the noble Lord, was to constitute his own feelings and passions and not the law, as The rule of his conduct, and make himself the sole judge of the policy and duty of obedience to his Sovereign? He had already said, that he looked with apprehension to the consequences to be expected from the passing of this measure. At the same time, no man in the country would more desire to see the failure of his own predictions, and no man, would do more to prevent, if possible, their accomplishment. They were now upon the eve of that which the noble Lord (Lord Althorp) and his right hon. colleague (Mr. Stanley) had acknowledged to be a perilous experiment. That was the expression used by the right hon. Gentleman, and, in his opinion, most correctly used. Under such circumstances, he thought it the duty of all persons, and more especially of those connected with the executive government, to diminish, as much as possible, the admitted peril of the experiment; and as much would depend upon the issue of the first general election, he did hope that a dissolution would not take place, without the passing of those precautionary measures by which even the authors of the Reform Bill declared that it ought to be accompanied. He was aware that there was a clause in the Bill, giving the Government the power to dissolve the Parliament without waiting for the passing of the Boundary Bills, or the completion of the Registry. He apprehended, however, that that clause was assented to by the House of Commons upon the express assurance of his Majesty's Government, that it was meant to meet, not a practical, but a theoretical difficulty; not a probable, but a barely possible occurrence. The clause had been proposed and passed, for the single purpose of guarding against an embarrassment which might arise in the event of a demise of the Crown before the assembly of the new Parliament. He did not believe, therefore, that the King's Government contemplated a measure, than which, he would say, a greater fraud could not be committed on the Parliament, namely, a dissolution, under present circumstances, without the passing of the Boundary Bill and the completion of the Registry. It was only on the understanding that the Boundary Bills would be passed previous to a dissolution, that the clause he had referred to had been inserted 428 in the Bill. If a dissolution were now resorted to, and if the persons possessed of the new right of voting should be allowed to exercise it without the check of registration, the greatest calamity would be inflicted on the country, for he would again repeat, that the character of our future measures would mainly depend upon the result of the first general election. He was sure, that on that side of the House no unnecessary delay or obstruction would be thrown in the way of the passing of the Boundary Bills. Let the noble Lord opposite take what course he should think most expedient to facilitate their passing, and he (Sir Robert Peel) would promise him that no vexatious impediment should be offered. As the present was a self-condemned Parliament, it was not likely that it would ever again meet for the transaction of public business; and, as soon as the preparatory measures were completed, a dissolution would follow as a matter of course. At the same time he hoped there would be an interval in which the present excited feeling might give place to more sober views. He heard with regret the declaration last night made by the hon. member for Middlesex, who, though he formerly told them that this was to be a final measure, then said, that he did not care whether the amount of qualification was fixed at 10l. or 5l., as he was sure, after the passing of this measure, to be able to insist on the latter as the limit. Taking that declaration as an index of present temper, he thought that time should be afforded for abating the passions and cooling the excitement of the people. What man, he would ask, interested in the well-being of the country, could advocate the existence of these Political Associations, whose avowed object was, to control the right of voting? He understood that there was no intention on the part of Government to interfere with these Political Unions; but they expressed their confident hope that the good sense of the people would ensure their suppression. But if the Political Unions made their sittings permanent, if they obtained the control over the right of voting conferred by the Bill—whatever hon. Gentlemen might think of the form of Government under which we had lived for the last fifty years, in his opinion there had been no grievance heretofore sustained half so intolerable as the domination which was to come. He hoped that his Majesty's 429 Government were justified in the confidence which they placed in the good sense of the people of England, but, if they were disappointed in their expectations, he hoped they would then have confidence in the good sense of the Legislature and in the strength of the constitutional power to vindicate the authority of the law, and would rescue them from the wretched and degraded tyranny under which they would otherwise be compelled to live. By the King's Speech, made at the opening of the Session, the Ministers were in some measure pledged to this. In his Speech his Majesty says—'Sincerely attached to our free Constitution, I can never sanction any interference with the legitimate exercise of those rights which secure to my people the privileges of discussing and making known their grievances; but in respecting these rights, it is also my duty to prevent combinations, under whatever pretext, which, in their form and character, are incompatible with all regular government, and are equally opposed to the spirit and to the provisions of the law; and I know that I shall not appeal in vain to my faithful subjects, to second my determined resolution to repress all illegal proceedings by which the peace and security of my dominions may be endangered.'* They were then about to give their final assent to that Bill the desire for which was said to be the chief cause and justification of Political Unions. With the cause, then, the effect ought also to cease. If it did not, it would become the duty of this House to consider, before the separation of Parliament, the propriety of redeeming the pledges placed in the mouth of his Majesty and of putting an end to proceedings, the continuance of which, were declared from the throne to be inconsistent with all good government, and opposed alike to the provisions and spirit of the law, and to the liberty of the people.
said, that he had been so much alluded to in the speeches of the learned Gentleman opposite, and of the right hon. Baronet, that he was sure his right hon. friend near him (Mr. Stanley, who had risen with his Lordship) would allow him to take this opportunity to reply in a few words to their observations. It was in human nature, perhaps, to magnify the importance of an existing crisis. We did not always take as clear a view of that* Hansard (third series) vol. ix. p. 4–5.430 which was present as of that which was past, and he might have given an answer to the hon. and learned Gentleman which was not exactly what it ought to have been. If, in his observation to the hon. and learned Member opposite, he had admitted the truth of the hon. Member's assertion, with respect to the avowal on his part of the possibility that a state of things might occur which would entail on him the necessity of a refusal to pay taxes, he did not rise at that moment to deny or retract the statement which the learned Gentleman had attributed to him; and he would say, that if it had been thought by persons who had reflected deeply upon the Constitution of this country, and upon the nature of government itself, that occasions might arise when individuals would not be bound to follow the strict letter of the law—if, he repeated, such a principle as that was to be admitted, it must also be admitted, that cases might arise wherein dividuals would be justified in acting in conformity with such a doctrine. He had already said, that the human mind was apt to magnify the importance of a present crisis; but it was, nevertheless, for the individual to determine when the principle in question should be acted upon; and it was out of the question to say, that it was illegal to take a certain course when men were placed beyond the pale of the law. Upon what principle, he would ask, did the House of Brunswick sit on the throne of these realms, or upon what principle had the Revolution of 1688 been accomplished? Would any man say, that that Revolution was brought about according to the forms of law? Would any man say, that it was effected by two Houses of Parliament sitting there, and whose act was assented to by a King, not merely de facto, but de jure, on the throne? No; that was one of those nodi in the history of nations, where men must act upon first principles, and not the strict letter of the law. He was extremely happy that the cause of the late crisis had passed away, but they would give him leave to say, that there was something, peculiar in it. Without questioning the strict right of the other House of Parliament to interfere with a bill sent up to it from that House, he would say, that if it was possible to conceive a case in which the other House of Parliament ought to have exercised the greatest delicacy, not towards that House only, but towards the people at large, that was the 431 Reform Bill. He would not go the length of denying the right of the House of Lords to interfere with such a measure, but he would say this—that in doing so, this consideration should have weighed with them, that it was a case in which they had no concern. He wished to know what concern the House of Peers had in a question that related to the mode in which the people were to be represented in that House. He saw that the expression of such an opinion excited astonishment amongst hon. Members opposite; but he was prepared to maintain, that the Representation of the people was a matter in which the House of Lords, as a House of Lords, had no concern. Whether the people were represented by close boroughs, or through some other medium, was a question in which the House of Lords, collectively considered, was not concerned. He was ready to admit, that individual Lords were, no doubt, concerned in the matter; but that House, in its legislative capacity, was not. [An Hon. Member: What was the Septennial Act?] The Septennial and Triennial Acts were of a different nature, and related only to the duration of Parliament, not to the composition of the House of Commons. He might also observe, that the Acts for the disfranchisement of Grampound and East Retford, were, in some measure, of a judicial nature—acts of punishment as well as reformation, of which the Peers might properly judge. With reference to the conduct of Ministers, he conceived that they were perfectly justified in advising his Majesty to create a large number of Peers, if it had been necessary to insure the success of the Reform Bill. An analysis of the division of the other House showed, that a large majority of the Peers who voted in favour of the Bill were Peers who sat in virtue of titles existing previous to the reign of George 3rd; that a large majority of its opponents were Peers whose titles were of modern creation; and that circumstance, he contended, proved that the ancient hereditary peerage of the land were in favour of the measure.
said, that he did not regret having given way to his noble friend, because observations had been made on his noble friend's personal conduct, and he could, therefore, not stand in the way of affording his noble friend the first opportunity of answering them; but he did deeply regret some of the sentiments expressed by 432 his noble friend on this occasion, sentiments from which he entirely, completely, and altogether dissented. He must say, that it appeared to him, that there was no matter which should be more carefully avoided, but more especially at the present period, than the discussion in the House of Commons of such a difficult, delicate, and abstract question as that to which his noble friend had referred. If ever there was a period when such a discussion should be avoided, it was the present. If there was one subject more difficult than another, it was that which involved the theoretical principles and practical working of the Constitution of this country; and again he would say, that the nice point to which his noble friend had referred was not a fit subject for discussion in that House. He differed entirely from his noble friend in the opinion that this was a measure in which the House of Lords had no concern. He did not think, that a question like this, which went to regulate the balance of the different branches of the Constitution, was one in which the House of Lords should have no voice; and, if upon that point he agreed with the right hon. Baronet opposite, he must, on the other hand, be permitted to say, that if the House of Lords, on such a question, should persist in their opposition to that House, so as to destroy the balance between them, the other branch of the Legislature, the Crown, would be justified in restoring that balance by a creation of Peers, and thus establishing a harmony again between the two Houses. Undoubtedly the House of Lords were deeply concerned and interested in every question relating to the constitution of the Legislature; but he must not, therefore, admit, that the House of Lords, as a body, should be entirely independent of all the other parts of the Constitution. If such a principle as that were to be admitted and acted upon, we should not be under a mixed government, but under the government of an oligarchy. If such an indefeasible power as that were to be given to the House of Lords, it would obviously be inconsistent with the whole working of the Constitution, and with the respective and peculiar powers and privileges of the King and the House of Commons. The hon. and learned Gentleman had asserted, that after the passing of this Bill, those who should accept that which had been hitherto considered an honour, would be degraded by the circumstance. The hon. and learned 433 Gentleman said, that they would be degraded in the eyes of the people of England, and that he would mark them and point them out as objects for their contempt, and as persons with whom he would not associate, as persons deserving—
continued. The learned Gentleman had contradicted him, not in the most courteous manner, but he was in the recollection of the House, and would adhere to his statement.
§ Sir Edward Sugden
The right hon. Gentleman is attributing expressions to me which I altogether disclaim and deny, and turning me into ridicule for expressions which I did not use.
would repeat, that the learned Gentleman had used expressions very like them, at least, to mark the strong feeling which he entertained of the disgrace which would attach to the personal character of any man who should hereafter accept an elevation to the peerage. He should like to know how long the veto of the learned Gentleman upon the prerogative of the Crown was to be continued? and at what precise moment or period he intended it should expire? How long, he would ask, might the Bill have remained pending, if the privilege of the Crown was not to be exercised? If the hon. and learned Gentleman wished to find a mode by which to render it impossible to work the affairs of the British Constitution, it was in the use of that immutable and interminable veto, which, while the House of Lords thought fit, was to be put upon the Reform measure. The hon. and learned Gentleman had thought fit to charge on his Majesty's Government all the various acts which persons of heated and strongly excited feelings might, by word or writing, nay, almost by thought, have committed, during a period of time when the whole nation was in an agony of suspense. The conduct of Colonel Jones had been spoken of as if the Ministers were responsible for it. The newspapers, too, had been objected to, and the language of those who advocated the measure of Reform attributed to Government.
. Then the newspapers had been objected to by the right hon. Baronet, the member for Tamworth. But the hon. and learned Gentleman would not deny 434 that he had alluded to the run upon the Bank for gold, and upon the Savings Banks for the withdrawal of deposits. Did the hon. and learned Gentleman mean to bring forward these occurrences as a charge on his Majesty's Government?
The hon. and learned Gentleman says, they were the consequences of the acts of the Government. Now, he would contend, that the hon. and learned Gentleman had made it matter of grave charge against them, though he was now pleased to soften down the expression into "the consequences of their actions." The fact was, that, during the time when the present Administration was out of power, and the country full of apprehension that the hon. and learned Gentleman, the right hon. Baronet, and their friends, might come into office, the people of the country thought that their money was not safe, and hence the run upon the Bank for gold; and did not both the hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Baronet know, that the events to which he was alluding, not only produced the run upon the Bank of England and upon the Savings Banks, but also greatly depreciated English as well as foreign Government securities? Did not the apprehension that the right hon. Gentleman opposite might come into power, and the expectation of a general war consequent upon that apprehension, produce a depreciation which for a long time past had not been equalled? If the hon. and learned Gentleman doubted that, he might bring in a bill for the purpose of preventing in future the depreciation of public securities through the operation of public events flow could it for a moment be imagined that an hon. and learned Gentleman, possessing the experience which belonged to him, could suppose that the present Ministers of the Crown were to blame for that decline in the value of the public funds, which arose out of causes over which they could not by possibility exercise any control?
When the hon. and learned Gentleman could prove that those things could not and ought not to affect the public credit, then, and not before, could he with any show of justice or consistency make the charge which he pre- 435 ferred against his Majesty's Government.
The hon. and learned Gentleman would have an opportunity of explaining when he had concluded the few observations with which he meant to trouble the House. The right hon. Baronet had referred to some newspapers, and endeavoured to affix the same responsibility upon Government with respect to them, that the hon. and learned Gentleman had sought to establish with respect to the rise or fall in the public securities. He had alluded to a particular paper, and no doubt it was a journal which often obtained information previously known to only a few: but could such a fact warrant the assertion, that that newspaper spoke the sentiments of the Government, even though it might obtain its information from persons connected with the Government? If, however, there was one paper more than another which was distinguished for hostility to his noble friend at the head of the Government, that was the publication in question. For what might appear in that paper it was rather hard to hold the Government of the country responsible, when the fact was not to be disputed, that, so far from giving efficient support to the measures of Government, it was marked by the most decided and rarely-ceasing hostility to the head of that Government. Was it on such grounds as these that such interference by the Government was to be inferred, or was it from this to be contended, that the Government were to be held responsible for every thing written or stated by that newspaper to which allusion had been made? The inference was one which he (Mr. Stanley) should never have imagined the right hon. Baronet would have drawn. He would now notice some other charges which had been brought against other members of his Majesty's Government. His noble friend near him had been charged with having vindicated the display of the tri-colour flag in the presence of the Sovereign, during the excitement, as it was alleged, which arose out of the Reform Bill. A short reference to facts would place that accusation on its true footing. In the first place, the day on which the exhibition took place was in the latter end of the month of November, in the year 1830; and it was not for three months afterwards, namely, on the 1st of March, 1831, that the Reform Bill was in- 436 troduced. It was, therefore, impossible to establish any connexion between the two events. There remained, however, one other fact to be mentioned, which he had just learned from an hon. friend near him, which was, that there was no tri-colour flag in the case at all; but, on the assumption that there had been, his noble friend treated its display in the only way in which, with any justice, it could be treated, not as an insult to the Sovereign, but very much to the contrary, as regarded any constitutional monarch. It was merely intended as an expression of the legitimate admiration shared by the whole British people—an admiration not at the time disclaimed by the right hon. Gentleman opposite—of the noble struggle successfully maintained by a great people against an oppressive and unendurable tyranny. His noble friend, on the occasion to which he was alluding, had truly told them, that the people of England were not democratic, that they knew the value of the Constitution which they possessed, and that to call them the advocates of democracy was to pronounce upon them one of the grossest calumnies that could be uttered against the people of England. It should not be forgotten, that, at the time of the overthrow of the late French government, it was universally felt throughout England, that the then Administration of this country were favourable to the ancient order of things, and adverse to the new. With that imputation resting on them they abandoned office. He did not wish to recriminate; but he could not help, when the right hon. Baronet talked of letting loose a torrent, refrain from reminding the House, that those who now used this language in censure and condemnation, had themselves the power, which they declined to exercise, of permitting those waters to flow off in single and separate channels, one by one; instead of which they restrained and dammed them up, till, by becoming united they formed One vast and resistless current. Then, when they felt the mound on which they stood tottering beneath them, they secured their own escape, and left to another set of workmen to throw wide those flood-gates which they had neither the power to keep closed, nor the courage to open in due time. Was Reform the only source which they dammed up? Had it not been the practice of the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who now occupied seats on the other side of the House, from the 437 moment they first attained power, to unite together as a party to keep all close as long as they possibly could? In that they acted consistently, and upon that principle they acted until they could act no longer. Would any man tell him that a calm inquiry into the state of the Church property might not have been attended with the most beneficial results, had it been entered upon some ten, twelve, or fifteen years ago? He, for one, admitted that it might have been beneficial ["hear, hear," from Sir Robert Peel]. Did the right hon. Baronet also admit that truth?
proceeded. In the speech to which the right hon. Baronet had alluded, he (Mr. Stanley) stated that his objection to the motion then brought before the House arose from the animus in which it was proposed, but at the same time he was anxious for an inquiry into the defects which existed in the establishment, and that the appointment of a Committee or Commission (those were his words he well remembered) to inquire into and remedy the system should have his cordial support. On the subject of colonial slavery, he begged to point at the Resolutions of 1823 as a most convenient mode of putting off the evil for the then Government; but if more effectual steps had then been taken than the mere passing of a series of resolutions, the present Government would not have found itself in the awful situation in which it and the country now stood in regard to the great question of West-India slavery. In respect to the foreign policy of the country, the case was precisely the same, and the present Government on coming into office, was met by accumulated difficulties surrounding every question, and was obliged to take up all at once; and having done so, it was now charged with opening dangerous questions for the consideration of the country. He was prepared fully to admit to the right hon. Baronet opposite, his regret for the circumstances under which the Reform Bill had passed the other House of Parliament; but, however he might regret those circumstances, he could not but think there remained no alternative for his Majesty's Government. The right hon. Baronet had said, that a creation of Peers should have taken place before the second reading of the Bill in the 438 other House of Parliament—a course of proceeding which might have been more acceptable to the opposers of the measure—but the Government had abstained from tendering any advice for a creation of Peers until it became clear no other course was open. Had such a course been followed as that hinted at by the right hon. Baronet, it would have then been said, that the Government had wantonly endangered the Peerage, and that they had taken that step for no purpose but to increase their power in the Upper House. What a theme would that have afforded for declamation. It would have been strongly urged, with some reason, because it had now become apparent, that a creation before the second reading was unnecessary to carry the Bill through that stage. On the principles on which the Government took office, (to which they were pledged) under which they subsequently abandoned and again resumed office, his (Mr. Stanley's) noble friend at the head of the Government had no hope left when it became evident that the Bill was in the hands of professed half supporters, as well as professed opposers, when these circumstances transpired, which left no doubt on the mind of any human being what was their intent—when it was clear that the object was by obtaining the acquiescence of the noble Earl to this or that proposition, to lose for him the confidence of his country—when it was found that there were those, who, by thus lowering his reputation, would fling him out of office, it was only then that the noble Earl and his Majesty's Government felt that they should betray their pledges to the country, and should neglect their duty to their Sovereign, if they abstained from offering, the advice they had done to the King, or tendering to his Majesty their resignation. Much as he might regret the necessity of this course, he could not hesitate to maintain that its adoption was imperative. It had been said, that the proceeding with schedule B before schedule A was not a matter of consequence, and the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Sir Edward Sugden) had read half a sentence of his (Mr. Stanley's), in which he had said, that it was immaterial whether disfranchisement or enfranchisement had precedence in coming before the consideration of the House. That half sentence, he (Mr. Stanley) did not mean to deny; and he 439 wished the hon. and learned Gentleman had done him the favour to read the entire sentence, and it would be found that he had given as a reason, that one did not take from the other, and remarked, that if there was a subject on which the feeling of the country had been more strongly expressed than another, it was the disfranchisement of the rotten boroughs. He, however, must now remind the House that this speech was made when the first Bill of Reform was under consideration, and not on the Bill now before the House, which it would be remembered kept the number of the Representatives in Parliament unchanged, and which was not the case in a former Bill. This fact made all the difference, for the less the number enfranchised, the less number of the rotten boroughs would be required to be disfranchised; and therefore it was incumbent on the Government to proceed first with the disfranchisement clause. He could not avoid adverting to the allusion which had been made by the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir R. Peel) to the speech of the hon. member for Middlesex (Mr. Hume), in which he had stated that he he should only take this Bill as an instalment. He (Mr. Stanley) had heard that speech with regret, and he must say, that so far as rested with the Government, the present was a final measure, and as such it was, that they had gone so far. For himself he would say, he accepted this Bill in payment of the whole demand, and he refused, and he thought the people of England would refuse, to seek for any further instalment on a measure the object of which was the well-being of the country. He must here acknowledge the satisfaction with which he had heard the declaration of the right hon. Baronet (the member for Tamworth), that he should offer no material opposition to the Boundaries Bill; for the House must see, that should that measure not be passed, great inconvenience would arise in case of a separation of the present Parliament, and the measure of Reform would be left in an unpleasant situation. He had now only to express his regret that there should have been even the appearance of constraint in passing the Bill through the Upper House, but much as he might regret it, he thought the measure essential to, and calculated to secure, the rights of the Throne, the authority of both Houses of Parliament, and the liberty of the people.
Sir Robert Peel,
in explanation, denied that he required a creation of Peers before the second reading of the Bill. What he had said was, that the menace was worse than a creation. In answer to the allegation that the late Government had opposed every species of Reform in the Church, he begged to remind the right hon. Gentleman, that the late Government had issued a Commission to inquire into the state of the Church, with a view to the regulation of unions, and had effected the Tithe Composition Act. He might, on some future occasion, ask the right hon. Gentleman how far the present Government had acted on the recommendation of that Commission. Reform was too wide a question for him to enter upon in an explanation, but he must remark, that it was natural that the excitement of the people should be ascribed to the Government, for he well remembered that when the noble Lord opposite (Lord J. Russell) gave his support to the Administration of Mr. Canning, who was opposed determinedly to Reform, that the noble Lord's justification of his own conduct was this, that the people of England had become careless about Reform, and that on account of their indifference he should never come forward with any measure of Reform again.
§ Mr. Croker
said, that the sentiments expressed by the right hon. Gentleman, the Secretary for Ireland, in the opening and in the termination of his speech, gave him great satisfaction, and he gladly accepted the declaration he had made of his own view, and, as he supposed, the view of the Government, upon the two great and important principles which had been advanced by high authority in this House, by persons who were the strongest supporters of his Majesty's Ministers on the Reform Bill. He thanked the right hon. Gentleman for his dissent from the statement of the noble Lord near him—a dissent which must have been re-echoed in the breast of every man who wished to see a Government of any kind in this country. He also thanked him for the denial he gave to the opinion of the hon. member for Middlesex, who considered that the Government they were about to establish by this Bill was only a temporary one. He thanked the right hon. Gentleman, also, for the declaration, that he looked upon this measure, so far as he himself and his Majesty's Ministers were concerned, to be final and conclusive. He rejoiced particu- 441 larly at that last important pledge, for; when they, or those who shall occupy these seats in a future Parliament, should be obliged to renew the contests between conservation and innovation, which some sanguine persons think we are now about to close for ever—he rejoiced to think, that! when that time came, as come, in his opinion, it inevitably would—they should have the ability of the right hon. Gentleman, and the respectability and cordiality of the persons who now promoted the Reform Bill, to aid those to whom the duty might fall of opposing that torrent which, in his conscience, he believed would be only increased in force and fury by the concessions already made, and which, he feared, would in the end be found wholly irresistible. The right hon. Gentleman asked, whether the House of Lords alone was to be subject to no control from the other branches of the Legislature. Were the House of Lords, he asked, to stand exempt from the undoubted prerogative of the King, when he was pleased to exercise it? No; and no such absurdity had been asserted; but it was asserted that the House of Commons, or more truly the populace, ought not to force both the King and the Lords, the one to exercise his reluctant authority, and the other to submit to what would be, in such circumstances, an unconstitutional usurpation of power. The right hon. Gentleman had argued this part of the case on the assumption, that the Crown was desirous of exercising this prerogative at this time—an assumption contradicted by the facts: it was notorious, that in the present case the Monarch was unwilling to make Peers. If the King had been willing to make Peers, the objection would have been only the same as was raised in the reign of Queen Anne, but stronger by the extent to which the prerogative was about to be carried. But they should always recollect, that the King was in this case unwilling to exercise his prerogative; so that it was required, not only to swamp the House of Lords, but to force the King to do what he considered to be contrary to his Crown and dignity. The right hon. Gentleman chose, very ingeniously, to represent the argument of his hon. and learned friend (Sir Edward Sugden), upon the dangers of the Reform Bill—a tolerable sample of which had already been exhibited—as being an unreasonable and misplaced charge against Ministers of having excited the acts referred to. His hon. 442 and learned friend might have made such a charge with great justice, but he had happened not to do so. When he spoke of the run upon the Bank for gold, and the withdrawal of the deposits in the Savings Banks, his line of argument did not go to charging Ministers themselves with those acts, but told them, that the state of society had been so disordered, by the unsettling of all the principles by which it had hitherto been held together, by destroying the great principles of prescription, and respect for what had been long established, which, as he had said once before, was, in the moral world, what gravity was in the physical world, keeping everything in its place—his hon. friend told them, that to this general disorganization was to be attributed those mischiefs which had already occurred, and those greater mischiefs with which society was menaced. But the charge which his hon. and learned friend had not made, he (Mr. Croker) would distinctly make—he charged Ministers, through their immediate friends, agents and supporters, with being, not merely the remote, but the proximate cause of these special attempts to disorganize society. But the right hon. Gentleman put it all upon a question of public credit, and seemed to argue, that the alarm which had affected public credit had been in no way encouraged by the party to which he belonged: but was this the case? Was it not, on the contrary, notorious and avowed, that the run was made on the Bank solely for the object of keeping the present Ministers in power? Would the right hon. Gentleman state, with that fairness and frankness which no one could deny to him, whether he did not see the walls of the city placarded with the sentence, "The way to prevent our having a new Administration is to go for gold?" It was not a question of public credit, as those well knew who put up these placards, but a question in which the interests of the public were put into jeopardy merely to serve the purposes of a party. When his hon. and learned friend alluded to the Savings Banks, he did not say that the Government encouraged the withdrawal of deposits; but he most justly and properly warned the people who were enjoying the benefit of that institution, not to prostitute it to political purposes, and that, if they suffered designing men so to prostitute it, the Government would be obliged to restrict its operation, and of course its ad- 443 vantages. The right hon. Gentleman, therefore, totally misunderstood, for of course it could only be from having misunderstood that he mis-stated the arguments of his hon. and learned friend: but again, he (Mr. Croker) would ask, was it not notorious that the partizans of the present Ministers—not their obscure emissaries, but their known and prominent supporters—had been foremost in suggesting, and most active in promoting, this run on the Savings Banks, and by thus endeavouring to turn those excellent institutions into an instrument of faction, had impaired their utility and endangered their existence? The right hon. Gentleman had assured them, that all alarm of an extension of the democratic principle among the people was vain and unfounded, and maintained that the people were not democratically, but monarchically inclined. He (Mr. Croker) certainly believed firmly, that democracy was on the surface, rather than that it had penetrated into the substance of public opinion. But then, on the other hand, he believed that the class of the people who had been the loudest advocates for the Bill, those who composed the Political Unions—those who had outraged the law, and menaced the Government, did unite the two objects—Reform and Democracy, and adopted the former only as a road to the latter. He asked hon. Members who doubted this, whether they had read the placards on the walls—whether they had read the resolutions which the different Political Unions had promulgated? No one who had observed and considered these circumstances could deny, that the wildest dreams of democracy were there mixed up with the wishes for Reform which the individuals to whom he alluded had expressed. The sacred persons of the Royal Family, the very existence of the Crown itself, had been implicated in the popular discussions on Reform. He begged not to be misunderstood. He was far from saying that there was no friend of Reform who did not desire the overthrow of the existing Constitution. It was impossible that he could say so, after hearing the speech which the right hon. Gentleman had just made; it was impossible that he could say so, when he saw on the other side of the House so many persons who owed their honours and estates to that Constitution. But what he did say was, that it was his matured and conscientious 444 opinion, that the Reform Bill was, even in that House, advocated on principles which must terminate in the subversion of monarchy, and the establishment of a pure democracy on its ruins, and that the most active and powerful supporters of Reform out of doors carried not merely their ultimate designs, but their present avowed wishes, to the full extent of such a revolution. There was, indeed, no part of the conduct of his Majesty's present Government which he more deeply lamented than their conduct towards the Political Unions. Nor was that conduct free from the marks of duplicity, as well as of positive misconduct. They had, at first, contrary to their duty, encouraged these meetings, and when they were forced, by a superior authority, to affect to repress them, their proceedings were a contemptible juggle, by which, while they seemed to frown on these Unions, they gave them, in fact, additional power. The eruptions of the popular volcano were for the moment less violent, but that temporary suppression seemed only to increase the force of the earthquake which was heaving the soil under our feet, and loosening the foundation, and shaking the superstructure of the monarchical edifice. Even at the present moment the Political Unions, by the mere change of a word, were about to become legally organized. They had only to call themselves Electoral Unions, and to assume the functions of conductors of elections throughout the country—of pointing out to the voters of popular places the persons whom they thought best qualified to sit in the House of Commons, and in this new and legalized character they might last for ever. It would be a perpetual circle of political excitement. Was it too much to believe that these Unions, under this new and legalized garb, would succeed in obtaining a bona fide and permanent influence over the Government of the country? Let those who thought not, recollect what occurred in France at the outset of the Revolution; and recollect the electoral sections of Paris, which, having set themselves above all law, first controlled the government, and in a short time destroyed it. He would, on this subject, appeal to an authority which he supposed would be allowed to be entitled to respect by all who admired high public character, obtained it, the establishment of national independence, but which authority pointed 445 out the dangers which might beset constituted order even in a republic. General Washington, in the year 1796, when, as it were, taking leave of the American nation as a public man, addressed a letter to his countrymen, in which he warned them of the great danger to which even a republican state was liable from popular associations. Having observed that, when a government was once established, it was the duty of every individual to obey it, Washington thus proceeded:—'All obstructions to the execution of the laws, all combinations and associations, under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities, are destructive of this fundamental principle, and of fatal tendency. They serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force—to put in the place of the delegated will of the nation 'the will of a party, often a small, but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans, digested by common councils, and modified by mutual interests. However combinations or associations of the above description may, now and then, answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men, will be enabled to subvert the power of the people, and to usurp for themselves the reins of government; destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.' The whole letter was indeed a lesson of practical wisdom; and he wished his Majesty's Ministers, if not too late, would apply themselves to the study of it. Yes, he heartily wished he could see those who ought to be the defenders of the monarchy, acting upon principles so conservative as those of this great founder of a republic: but alas, it was not so. Up to the present period, England had been the anchor of the social security of Europe. Equally exposed to the deluge of democracy during the existence of republicanism in France, and to the deluge of despotism when Bonaparte obtained supreme authority in 446 that country, all the hopes of social order had been preserved in England as in an ark, until both those dangers had subsided. But it seemed the design of his Majesty's present Government to convert that ark into a fireship. No longer the asylum of social order, this country would become an engine to inflame the combustible elements of France, and Belgium, and Spain. The continental nations were all looking to the progress and result of this Bill with intense anxiety [cheers]. He was glad to hear the confirmation of his assertion which that cheer afforded. The movement, or, to speak more justly, the republican party, all over Europe looked to the passing of this measure as the greatest step in the progress of revolution, since the mighty stride of revolutionary France, and hailed it, like the hon. member for Middlesex, as the precursor of an indefinite series of future changes. We ought to look at the effects of this Bill, not only upon ourselves, but others; hitherto England had been the sheet-anchor of rational liberty and constitutional monarchy—now it was about to assume a different character: heretofore we had protected those principles both at home and abroad—now we were abandoning them everywhere. If we had formerly acted upon other nations in repressing the spread of the elements of democracy, at the same time that we defended the genuine principles of freedom, so surely, by a similar impulse, but in a different direction, would this Bill produce a re-action here and elsewhere, by giving undue encouragement to the democratic spirit. And to say nothing of the direct and immediate changes to be produced by the measure at home, could we, if democracy prevailed elsewhere, be sure of retaining our monarchy, our aristocracy, and all the other institutions under which this nation had so long prospered, and of which she had so long been proud?
He was glad to understand, from what had fallen from his Majesty's Ministers, that it was their intention to proceed with, and pass within this Session, the Boundary Bill. Looking at that Bill to be a supplement to the Reform Bill, and seeing in it a perfect imitation of all the error, partiality, injustice, and danger of its parent Bill, it could not be supposed that he could look upon it but with equal abhorrence; but, in the perilous position in which the country had been placed by the 447 Reform Bill, the Boundary Bill became an inevitable evil. Indeed, he considered the Reform Bill and the Boundary Bill as inseparable; for, if the people of England were assembled for a general election after the Reform Bill, and before the Boundary Bill were passed, and therefore before it was determined who had the right of voting, the most disastrous consequences might be the result. No excesses were more terrible than those which were committed under the seeming sanction of law; and if it were permitted to assemble large masses of people, claiming to exercise the right of voting, without previous registration, or a proper definition of boundaries, the most lamentable results might be expected to ensue. He therefore took this occasion to state, that although he should feel it his duty to record his objections to the way in which that Bill was to operate, it was not his intention to protract his remarks upon it, or to carry his opposition so far as to interpose any serious obstacle to the passing of the measure.
He could not conclude without solemnly declaring, that nothing which had occurred during these protracted discussions had altered the opinion which he entertained of the Bill, at the first moment of its introduction. He believed that the hon. member for Middlesex was perfectly correct in his prognostics. He believed that principles had been set afloat which it would be impossible to check. He believed that the noble Lord, and the right hon. Gentleman opposite, were sincere in their desire to terminate their enterprise—to put, as it were, a seal upon the bond; but he also believed that the words of the bond were so extensive that their seal would only bind them the faster to its prospective operation: and that, as the hon. member for Middlesex had said, the Reform Bill was but the commencement of a career of change. What had occurred since the original introduction of the Bill confirmed him in that apprehension. The first edition of the Bill had been received with approbation, even by the most violent Reformers. They had since had two successive editions of it; and each edition had a further and a further tendency to a democratic character ["no!"]. That negation, tempting as was the opportunity it afforded, should not provoke him to enter at this moment further into the subject than to say, that 448 such was not merely his opinion, but it was a fact notorious to every man who had attended to the debates, or who would take the trouble of comparing the first Bill with the enormous engine of democracy which had grown out of it. Indeed, the arguments of the friends of the Bill had confessed the fact—"See" said they, tauntingly, "see what your opposition has done: the second Bill is worse than the first, and the third than the second, and if you do not pass this which we now offer you, you shall have a fourth, still more violent." Seeing, therefore, that every alteration was in a democratic spirit, and seeing the prevalence of that spirit throughout Europe, he could not but apprehend the ultimate subversion of the Constitution. He felt convinced that, in the natural course of events, we should be carried to democracy first; next, to despotism; and then, after a sad, but he hoped not bloody interval, we should be restored to a state something like that in which we were placed before the commencement of this dangerous experiment.
§ Colonel Torrens
said, he should rise with great diffidence, were it necessary to follow the right hon. Gentleman through the creations of his fancy and the flashes of his wit. Fortunately, however, the right hon. Gentleman had wandered from those fields of fancy on which he could raise such brilliant bowers, and had embarked upon the sea of argument, on which, to borrow his own beautiful lines, he did notBreast the waters at his easeLike sea-bird on its native wave.The right hon. Gentleman would pardon him for the suggestion, that he would best consult his reputation, when he remembered that a jest was his argument, and his argument a jest. The right hon. Gentleman deprecated the influence exerted over the other House by the apprehension of a creation of Peers, but seemed totally to forget that an analogous influence was frequently exercised over that House by the apprehension of a dissolution of Parliament. The power of the Crown over both Houses was in this respect identical, and it was altogether illogical to contend that the one was unconstitutional any more than the other. The right hon. Member contended that danger had been created by a departure from prescription. He (Colonel Torrens) maintained that the popular excitement had 449 arisen in consequence of prescription having been enforced too long. The rising spirit of the people, originating in the increase of knowledge, was compressed, until it acquired an expansive force which threatened destructive explosion. The danger was created by continuing the pressure of prescription, and not by removing it. There was no danger, as the right hon. Gentleman apprehended, from the democratic principle. The people had obtained increased power because they had acquired increased knowledge. But it was to be remembered that knowledge was a conservative principle, which, while it gave the people increased power, rendered that power safe in their hands. An educated people would demand good laws, and would obey the laws to which they gave their sanction, because they would perceive, with a force and clearness of evidence in proportion to the degree of their intelligence, that on obedience to the law their well-being depended. He (Colonel Torrens) rejoiced in the passing of this Bill, not because he thought it would be a final measure, but because he believed it would lead to such further improvement in our laws and institutions as would render the people of England more happy than their fathers, and not less prosperous than their brethren in the United States of North America.
§ Mr. Praed
did not perceive, that there was much in the speech of the hon. and gallant Member to call for reply; and he was not disposed to apply to it mere comment or criticism in such harsh terms as those he had himself addressed to his right hon. friend the member for Aldeburgh. But the hon. member for Ashburton was unfortunate in his application of words. When he said, that with the member for Aldeburgh his jest was argument, and his argument a jest, he had most unguardedly called the attention of the House to the peculiar and singular force and facility with which that right hon. Gentleman frequently compelled attention, by pointed sarcasm, to important truth. The hon. and gallant Member was led into an unintended compliment by his appetite for a brilliant antithesis. His command of rhetoric was fatal to him.—"TORRENS dicendi copia multisEt sua mortifera est facundiaHe regretted that the Bill had passed; but though the House could no longer prevent 450 the crime, it was in their power to punish the criminal. He believed that when history should sum up the crimes of Engglish Statesmen she would have no page so black as that in which the passing of this Bill was commemorated. The noble Earl at the head of his Majesty's Government had come into office with a declaration that the measure of Reform which in the heat and rashness of his youth he had been prepared to advocate he would advocate no longer, and yet he had introduced a measure which could not be carried into effect without disturbing the higher classes of the nation. He would ask, could the Bill pass without increasing the disaffection of the people to the old institutions of the country? The right hon. Secretary for Ireland had declared it a doubtful point where resistance to despotic measures should begin, but he would tell the right hon. Gentleman that measures perfectly justifiable in themselves might be most pernicious and unjust from the danger attending their introduction. When the noble Earl at the head of the Treasury had supported the second reading of the Bill he had endeavoured to drag the House of Lords into an acquiescence in the measure, by saying, that every objection to the Bill could be remedied by allowing it to go into the Committee, although to certain alterations which he specified, such as the alteration of the 10l. clause, he added, that he should give his decided opposition. And yet it was now contended that the noble Lord never had promised to agree to any amendment which could alter the principles of the Bill. This was true. But he would ask what was the impression intended to be made upon the Peers, but that of inducing them to vote for the second reading, under the idea of their effecting amendments in the Committee? The House, having been thus induced to go into a Committee, commenced by only making an alteration of precedence, and the conduct of the noble Earl he had no occasion to describe. The noble Earl had been guilty of acts of perfidy. He made the charge hypothetically, and, not to relieve the noble Lord, but to relieve himself, he would fully acquit the noble Lord of the guilt of his perfidious conduct. The noble Earl had not falsified his pledge by his own act of violation. He had been dragged by a power greater than his own, and which he would have 451 put down, except that it proved too great for the arm of the Minister to control. When he saw the noble Lord with his high station and his exalted talents, give way to such a power he did indeed tremble for the consequences, and for the struggles which were to come. Gentlemen opposite had justified what they had done, upon the idea of the importance of the occasion; but he must observe, that any occasion would seem sufficiently important to those whose political existence depended upon the occasion. They thought that by their Reform they had been confirming the institutions of the country; but if there should be others in their places whose aim was different, whose object was to overthrow and destroy, if they found a crown or a coronet in their way, the policy which Ministers had taught they would execute.
said, they had met to consider of the Lords' amendments in the Reform Bill, and the discussion had lasted a long time, but without throwing much light on the subject, for the debate had turned upon any thing rather than the ostensible object of it. He professed, that he was not able to understand the speeches of the hon. Members below him. The hon. Member (Mr. Praed) had talked of a crime, and he had denounced a criminal; he would be glad to know what was the crime, and who was the criminal? He could not imagine—he did not understand what the hon. Gentleman meant, though he could compliment him on the solemn tone which he had assumed. Neither could he comprehend what the right honourable Gentleman (Mr. Croker) meant by democratic waves and the deluge of despotism. He differed, too, with the hon. Member (Mr. Praed) that the account of this period would form a black page in our history; he thought, on the contrary, that the description of the events of the late ten glorious days, and the glorious moral triumph of the people of England, would form the brightest page in our history. He looked with exultation at the glorious struggle, by which the Tory and rotten-borough faction had been put down for ever. The right hon. Gentleman talked of the monarchy tottering to its fall. Who caused it to totter? The right hon. Gentleman and his friends; when they almost dared, but, fortunately for themselves and the country, feared to take into their 452 hands the helm of Government. The right hon. Gentleman and his party had done all they could to oppose the Bill, but the nation had risen, and, with a moral courage, crumbled them to the dust. The hon. Member had referred to the French Revolution, but he might have found in "The Recollections of Mirabeau," complete proofs, drawn from that Revolution of the folly of continually resisting the voice of the people. It had been asked why Ministers did not put down the Political Unions? First prove their illegality, and then the prudence of attempting to put them down, otherwise than by abolishing the abuses which gave rise to them. But it had been said, "the Unions were certainly illegal; had not a proclamation been issued against them?" He was yet to learn that a proclamation could make that illegal which the law of the land did not denounce. The King's proclamation per se was worth the ink and paper used in printing it, and no more. Was a proclamation to be allowed to over-ride the law? He would not give a pin for the Bill if we were to stop there. The object of the Bill was, to get rid of the principle of nomination, and to constitute an honest House of Commons—he meant politically honest. The people of England hailed the Bill with grateful acclaim, because it would identify the interest of their Representatives with their own; and they were willing to forego much that they might otherwise be anxious to obtain, in order that they might give it a fair trial. He was actuated by the same feelings. On the original introduction of the Bill, he (Mr. Hume) had expressed his opinion that a 5l. qualification would best meet the wishes of the people. He thought, too, that 5l. suffrages might be safely admitted. Finding, however, that Ministers were strongly disposed to adhere to their proposition fixing the minimum of qualification at 10l., he yielded his own opinion, and supported theirs. Now, that the Bill had been agreed to by both Houses of Parliament, all that he desired was, that it should have a fair trial. But, if it did not answer the purposes for which it was intended, if it should fail to remove completely the load by which the country was now oppressed, and of which it so justly complained, he, for one, should be prepared to amend it, and to extend the suffrage much further.
§ Mr. Praed
said, the hon. member for Middlesex had called upon him to explain to what crime and to what criminal he had alluded. He was sorry he had not made his meaning clear. Everybody, he was aware, could not attain the perspicuity of language which distinguished the hon. Member. The crime was the extinction of the independence of the House of Peers, and the criminal was the man who had advised it. The hon. Member had in some measure misunderstood what he had said of perfidy and baseness; and he was anxious to remove the misunderstanding, because his language had been designedly harsh. He had said, that if when a noble Lord avowed himself ready, in the event of a collision between his order and a large portion of the people, to stand or fall with his order, he was contemplating, in the event of such a collision, the annihilation of his order by his own act—if, when he stated that he had abandoned the rash speculations of his youth, he was meditating a measure wilder than his youth's wildest theory—if, when he enumerated to the House of Lords certain questions as proper for their discussion in Committee, he was proposing to deny them the power of discussing these questions in Committee, then he (Mr. Praed) knew nothing more base and perfidious than the making of those professions by the holder of those intentions. If the hon. member for Middlesex thought otherwise, little as he liked his politics, he liked his morality still less.
§ Mr. Croker
wished to say a word in explanation of some remarks which had been made on him personally by the hon. member for Middlesex. The hon. Member had alluded to him as one of those who, after having provoked the crisis, had not dared to avail themselves of it, and had refused to undertake the responsibility of office upon a late occasion. In all that the hon. Member had chosen to suggest as to his (Mr. Croker's) views or motives he was entirely and absolutely mistaken. He had not considered himself of sufficient consequence to think it necessary to offer any explanations of any share he might have had in that matter; but being challenged, as it were, by the hon. Member, he would tell him, that it was well known to all those who were acquainted with his sentiments and conduct since he went out of office, that there was not the slightest pretext or colour for such an imputation 454 as that which the hon. Member had made.
Mr. Charles Grant
deprecated the tone of personal attack which had characterised so considerable a portion of the debate of that night. Hitherto, amid the many conflicting opinions expressed upon the measure, attacks of a personal nature had been avoided. A tone of good feeling, of high-mindedness, had pervaded the debates of that House, worthy of the subject they were discussing. But now, at the eleventh hour, in the last stage of the measure, in its progress towards completion, it was thought proper, because argument failed, to resort to the mean expedient of personal invective. The hon. and learned Gentleman who sat opposite, had denounced a member of the Government as a criminal. Who was that criminal? He asked the House—he wished he could ask the people—who was that criminal? [cheers]. The House, by its cheer, replied to this question—replied in the same tone that the people would do if they could hear him. Earl Grey was the criminal, and the carrying of the Reform Bill was his crime. Already had that noble Earl run a career of splendor almost unparalleled—already had the honesty, the integrity, the consistency, of that noble Earl gained him a name by which he would rank among the greatest men of the country. If anything were wanted to increase his fame, to ingraft his memory more deeply in the hearts of the people, to render his name more beloved, or to add to the confidence which all reposed in him, it was the consummation of that very crime of which the hon. and learned Gentleman had accused him. Earl Grey assumed the management of affairs at a time almost of unprecedented danger and difficulty. Revolution, the rebound of public opinion, the exertions of a people determined to be free, had swept from the throne of France its hereditary monarch. Occurrences strange in the history of this country were spreading alarm and terror through many of its wealthiest districts. The call for Reform, which awhile had slumbered, was renewed—was echoed from mouth to mouth—became an imperative demand. The Minister of the day resisted the call, and expressed his determination not to yield to the demand. But a measure of justice demanded by an unanimous people could not be so lightly refused, and the Duke of Wellington relinquished a power which 455 he found he could not hold. It was then that Earl Grey, pledged to Reform, and determined to carry it, accepted the seals of office. He had been true to his pledge. But his truth was not admired by the hon. Gentlemen opposite. Had the noble Earl been false to his pledge, nothing would that night have been said of his crime. To have forgotten his pledge would have been no crime—the having fulfilled it was an unpardonable one. But by the statement of the hon. and learned Gentleman, it seemed that the noble Earl, independently of the crime of truth and consistency, had been guilty of perfidy. Guilty of what perfidy? In what did his deep perfidious guilt consist? It was in this, that in the House of Lords he had had the astonishing hardihood and effrontery to declare that, believing the Reform Bill to be necessary to the welfare of the country, and the security of the Throne, he was prepared to stand or fall by it, and to exercise every constitutional power which he could render available to carry it into execution. That was the accusation against him; and further, that having found he was unable to carry it, he had relinquished office, which might have charms for others, but had none for him, if it was only to be preserved at the expense of not performing the promises he had made. Then they were told that the opposition in the House of Lords did not affect anything but the details of the Bill. Details, indeed; if they were only details, that could be of no consequence, why was there so much importance attached to getting rid of them? He would tell the House what the other side would have rejoiced to see. They would have rejoiced to see those details one by one conceded, till disfranchisement ceasing to be a leading principle of the Bill, had become only a sequel and corollary to it; and when it had become so, it might have been admitted only as an act of special grace and favour. They would have rejoiced to have engaged the noble Earl in a series of amendments, apparently, as it might seem, upon mere details, but bearing, in fact, upon the vital principles of the measure—they would like thus to have involved him in difficulties which might have placed him in an invidious light in the eyes of the country—they would like to have artfully seduced him into some concessions which should shake his consistency, and diminish his popularity with the people. Day by 456 day they would have had the noble Earl and his Government concede the true principles of the Bill, though disguised under the name of details, until the Bill would have been no longer an advantage to the people, but an advantage gained over them. They would have had these small imperceptible concessions hourly repeated, till the Government would have found themselves in a totally new sphere, insulted by those who had dragged them through those calamities, and justly condemned by that people, whose confidence they would have betrayed. They would have been condemned, too, by their own consciences, for having sacrificed to the mere mockery of conciliation, the substantial interests of this great and mighty empire. He thanked God that from that perfidy he had been preserved. As for the crime of which the noble Earl and his colleagues had been accused, he (Mr. Grant) was glad to have some small share of participation in it. It was a crime that would become immortal—a crime whose perpetrators would be blessed.
§ Colonel Sibthorp
observed, that the hon. Members on the opposite side of the House spoke as if they alone had acted from conscientious motives, an assumption which he begged leave to deny; for those who opposed the Bill had, he was sure, been actuated only by the most conscientious feelings. He doubted even whether hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House were not a little disappointed at the Bill having passed as it had done through the House of Peers; and whether the right hon. Gentleman did not regret that he was not now Earl of Inverness, instead of member for the county; and whether the hon. member for Middlesex was not disappointed at not being Marquess of Marylebone; and even the right hon. Gentleman, the Secretary-at-War, would not have had quite so long a face if he had now been flourishing in the other House. This Bill was not a final measure. The hon. member for Middlesex declared that he was not satisfied with it, but wished Reform to go further; and there was little doubt that the hon. and learned member for Kerry would be glad to see the House of Lords lowered and trampled on. He was sure that if they gave them, according to the old saying, rope enough, they would hang themselves—not that he wished to see the noble Lord opposite (Lord Althorp) sus- 457 pended, except from his office. He had opposed this Bill throughout, because he thought it was not for the good of the people; and if the hon. member for Middlesex brought in another Bill to remedy this, he should be willing to sit by the hon. Member's side, and teach him, not how to destroy, but how to restore the Constitution.
Sir Robert Inglis
should not have spoken, but for the observations which had recently fallen from the right hon. Gentleman opposite, who, in one part of his speech had used the expression "Dragged us through those calamities." When he heard such expressions used, much as he esteemed his right hon. friend, and much as he had esteemed him for years, he must get up and observe upon them. To whom were these expressions applied? Did his right hon. friend mean that the Government of the Duke of Wellington, or that of Mr. Canning, or that of Lord Liverpool, had dragged them through these calamities? for, if he meant any or all of these Governments, his right hon. friend was the last man who should denounce their acts, since for those acts he was responsible, as he had formed part of all those Governments. With respect to the Bill itself, it was only regarded as the beginning of more serious changes. It was regarded as a means, and not an end, and such was the opinion which in private had been avowed to him by an hon. and learned friend of his. He honed that that opinion would be expressed, as he knew it was felt, in that House, and then they would see what he stated was perfectly correct. He was sorry to be obliged to believe that this Bill had put an end to the Constitution. When the Bill had passed the House of Commons, it was spoken of as a Bill that must pass the House of Lords, who were to be allowed no deliberative voice upon it; and now that it had passed the House of Lords, he observed in a paper of the day the remark, that "only a form" remained to make it law—in other words, that the assent of the Sovereign, which he had always looked upon as of equal great importance to that of either of the two branches of the Legislature, was a mere form. He must again express his anticipations of evil from the measure, though he knew that there was no use in resisting it.
Mr. Charles Grant
thought that the House would agree with him, that the lion. Baronet had most unjustly given to the 458 words he had uttered a meaning that, it was clear, they were never intended to bear, and had fastened on that a charge for which there was no pretence. The hon. Baronet had said, that he (Mr. Charles Grant) had cast imputations upon former Governments, and had spoken of them as dragging them through calamities. At first he had hardly recollected having used the words, for, if they had escaped him, it was in the heat of debate; but, as far as he could bring back the circumstances to his mind, he had used them after speaking of the situation in which the present Government would have been left, had they allowed themselves to yield up every principle of the Reform Bill, under the name of conceding unimportant details. In that sense alone he had used them. He appealed to the House, and even to the hon. Baronet himself, whether, that being the case, he had not been subjected to a most unjust aspersion? He had not made any charges whatever against former Governments. On the subject of Reform he knew—and never had hesitated to avow it—that he had changed his opinion; he had changed it because of the changed circumstances of the times, and of the advance of knowledge of every kind among the people; but he had never for a moment, throughout these debates, uttered the remotest aspersions on those who now held those opinions which he had formerly entertained. His change of opinion was not recent. He had stated it at the time of the East Retford question, full two years ago, and had then said, that unless the motion then made was carried, greater concessions must be granted. But for entertaining and avowing that opinion he might have returned to office prior to the formation of the present Government, if he would have done it with any degree of surrender of that principle.
Sir Robert Inglis
should not have made the charge, had he not believed that his right hon. friend had used and applied the expression as he stated, and no one would be more rejoiced than himself to find that his right hon. friend had not subjected himself to the charge.
said, that this Bill removed their neighbours' landmarks, and they ought to remember, that "cursed is he who removes his neighbour's landmarks." If Old Sarum was to be taken away, why was Tavistock retained?—it must go—it was an insult to the nation, and a biting 459 sarcasm on the disinterestedness of the Ministers. This Bill was said to come from the House of Lords, What was the House of Lords. What was it? It was nothing but a body of living Old Sarums. It mattered not what the House of Lords had been—what was it now? It was defunct. The life of a legislative body was its independence. They had destroyed that: its life was extinct—it was a defunct corpse—it was a stinking carcase—it was in a state of putrefaction—a nuisance in the nostrils of the people. They were told that the Monarch was for Reform, and that Monarchy and Reform could exist together. So they might, as abstract rights; but could they in any other way? There were those who would bring that question before the House, but he was not the man. This Bill was neither a concession to the demands of the people, nor was it in the spirit of the times. Had they taken ten of the smallest boroughs, and thrown their franchise into ten larger towns, they would not only fully have met, but would have exceeded the demands of the people. They had done more; and as much as they had exceeded the demands of the people, they had fallen short of the spirit of the age. That spirit was against all privileged classes; it was against Kings and Nobles—against Priests and Prelates—against prerogatives and prescription—against monopoly of power; aye, and against monopoly of riches. The spirit came upon us from East and West. From the West, from America, where it was deeply rooted, and had become indigenous in the soil; and from the East, from France, where, after a fierce struggle of forty years, it was again triumphant. The nobility and gentry of England had manfully fought the battle, but they were overpowered; and he would not anticipate the consequences. It was his opinion, that the Members of that House, in passing the present Bill, were betraying their King, betraying their country, and betraying the people who sent them as Representatives to watch over their interest.
Lord John Russell,
as so much had been said in the course of the Debate on the conduct pursued by various members of the Government, as well as the Government itself, and as insinuations had been thrown out against himself—felt bound to offer one or two observations before the discussion was brought to a termination. 460 In the first place he would remark, that one of the principal accusations brought against the noble Earl at the head of the Government was, that after having promised, if the Bill was read a second time, to allow all fair, and just, and reasonable examination of its provisions in Committee, the noble Earl had, on the very first opportunity, taken means to violate his pledge, and to compel the House of Lords to adopt the Bill without any alteration or amendment whatever. Now he could assure the House, that no man desired more earnestly, from the very outset, that the Bill should have every fair and deliberate examination, than his noble friend did. No man was more anxious to preserve the freedom of debate, and to allow a thorough discussion of the principles of the measure of Reform, but with that reservation which was necessary at once to the preservation of his political character and his personal honour—to the welfare of the people, to the progress of the Bill itself, and to the maintenance of those principles which he had openly pledged himself to his country should remain inviolate. Under such circumstances, and after that vote in the House of Lords which went at once to overturn the declaration in the preamble of the Bill, he contended that his noble friend had no course left him save that which he had adopted. He came now to that other accusation against the Government, of having aided and abetted in the extension of commercial distress and the destruction of public confidence. Without entering into that subject, or attempting to defend them against, such accusations, he would ask the hon. Gentlemen opposite, if they had ever considered the consequences of the other alternative? Had they ever looked to what might have been the effect on public credit and public confidence, if one clause of the Bill after another had been erased or mutilated—if, as an hon. Gentleman near him had properly expressed it, one victory after another had been carried against the people? If the people had seen the Bill reduced to that state, and perhaps at last utterly destroyed, there would then have been the same commercial disorders, the same political agitation, the same violent declamation at the Unions, the same incendiary speeches; and, beyond all that, in proportion as the hope of seeing the Bill carried became diminished, 461 the confidence of the people in its supporters would have been destroyed, so that at last they might have arrived at such a melancholy state of things, that there would have been no centre of authority left to preserve subordination and ensure the observance of the laws and the tranquillity of the country, while they might rest assured, that as the people were determined to pass the Bill, they would have sought the means of doing so in a course still more violent and more destructive. The right hon. member for Aldeburgh (Mr. Croker) had adverted to the Proclamation for the suppression of Political Unions, put forth sometime ago by the Government, and observed that the intentions of the Government, had been completely thwarted by those against whom that proclamation was directed. He denied that the Proclamation alluded to had been issued against persons who were guilty of no illegal act, but against those who formed themselves into a kind of police force for the preservation of the peace, under the direction of their own leader. Against this the Proclamation was directed, because it was illegal; but when men met under the name of a Union, however inconvenient it might prove to the Government that they should do so, he knew no law to prevent them, whether they were assembled as Unionists or Conservatives (and they might as well call themselves a Club as a Union); whether the Government could approve of their doctrines or not, so long as they refrained from uttering language which was seditious, he knew not that there was any law to prevent them so assembling, nor could he agree that it was right in the Government to assume a power which the law did not recognize for their suppression. At the same time, he had no hesitation in declaring, that political Unions, if kept up for any length of time in any country, would lead the people to the continuance of an agitation not more injurious to the constituted authorities than to the people themselves, and which would finally, by interfering with all their ordinary pursuits, be productive of the greatest mischiefs. But what did he infer from this? Relying on the sound sense and right judgment of the people of England, he was convinced that, when they had an opportunity of choosing their own Representatives, who would zealously perform their duty, they would not persist in attending those 462 assemblages, to the injury of themselves, the Government, and the Constitution itself. In conclusion, he felt it necessary to say, that as far as the present Government were concerned, this measure they considered a final one. This, indeed, as they had declared at first, would be one of the results of the carrying the whole Bill; for, if they had succeeded in carrying but a part of it, they must have again and again agitated the question till the necessary Reform was accomplished. Having so carried it, he saw a better, and indeed a most satisfactory security against further change, because both those who supported and those who opposed it were alike determined to go no further, but to use their best efforts to preserve the renovated Constitution, entire and unimpaired.
amid cries of "Question," said, he supported the Amendments because the Bill had come down from the Lords with a greater extension of franchise, and a broader basis of principle than when it was sent up there.
without renewing the protest he had already made against many parts of the Bill, begged to ask, as he considered it most important, whether it was the intention of the Government to give charters to these new boroughs created by the Bill?
Lord John Russell
said, the subject had been under consideration for some time, but he apprehended, that in every case they would not be able to get their Charters before they would be called on to exercise the privilege now conferred on them.
§ The Amendments agreed to.