HC Deb 09 May 1832 vol 12 cc770-81
Lord Althorp said

I feel it to be my duty to state to the House that, in consequence of what occurred in another place on Monday last, it appeared to his Majesty's Government that it would be quite impossible to carry the Reform Bill in such a manner as they deemed it their duty to carry it in, or without such alterations as would render it inefficient, and inconsistent with the pledges they had given for carrying it forward. Under these circumstances, there remained for them only this alternative—to tender their resignation to his Majesty, or to advise his Majesty to take such measures as would enable them to carry the Reform Bill efficiently, and, in case that advice should not be taken, then to tender their resignations. The latter course we adopted, and I have now to state to the House that we did tender advice such as I have mentioned, which, not being received, we then tendered our resignations, and that his Majesty was graciously pleased to receive them. At present, therefore, we only hold office until our successors are appointed. It is impossible for me, in making this statement, not to express for myself, and I may confidently speak, also, for my colleagues, our sense of the flattering kindness and condescension with which we have been treated by his Majesty ever since we came into office. For myself, I can only say, that the manner in which I have ever been treated by his Majesty has been such as to ensure my warm gratitude to him so long as I shall live. This is all I feel it necessary to state at present, and, I believe, the best mode in which I can now proceed is, to move that the Order of the Day for the second reading of the Scotch Reform Bill be read, for the purpose of postponing it. The noble Lord sat down amidst long-continued cheering.

Lord Ebrington

then rose and said, that he could not refrain, after the confidence which had been reposed by the House in the noble Lord and his colleagues, from expressing the deep regret he felt at the announcement which had then been made, as well as at the failure of the measure which had been carried through that House by so great a majority. Under the circumstances, he should feel it his duty, though he wished the task had fallen upon one better qualified than himself—to give notice that, to-morrow, he would move an Address to his Majesty on the present state of public affairs. Whatever might be the opinions entertained by hon. Members, he was sure that every one who had a seat in that House would feel it his duty to attend; and, in order to that end, he would follow up his first notice with another, viz. that he would move that, the House be called over.

Mr. Gore Langton

said, that he must express his deep regret at the defeat of the measure of Reform in the manner in which it had been accomplished, for he was sure that nothing short of the measure which had passed that House would satisfy the country. He trusted that the House would stand by the Bill and not support any Government which was not prepared to carry that Measure, or one equally efficient, into full effect.

Mr. Hume

said, that it was impossible he could abstain from expressing his opinion on the event that had occurred, and on the course which had been pursued by his Majesty's Ministers. He felt hound, in justice, to say, that the noble Lord and his colleagues, placed in the position they had been by the other House, had, as men of honour, no other course left to them to pursue, except the one which they had taken; and, he would further say, that they had acted with honour to themselves, not only in the opinion of that House, but he was also sure in that of the nation; and he must also emphatically state, that, to have the expectations of an united people, in which they were led on from day to day, put an end to, and frustrated in the manner they had been by the other House, was a subject of the deepest regret. He, as a sincere Reformer, could not but deeply deplore that the course of a measure by which the popular expectations seemed likely, after long delay and disappointment, to be realized, should have been interrupted and perverted. He did anticipate that the noble Earl who had introduced a measure so consonant to the general wishes and general interest, would have been able, with the support and countenance under which he introduced it, to carry it to a happy and prosperous conclusion. He should await, with anxiety, the result of the Motion of the noble Lord to-morrow. He would again express his approbation of the conduct of Ministers, and his regret at what had occurred; and he hoped and trusted that, every man who had a seat in that House would attend, and be ready to give that opinion firmly and manfully, which the dignity of the House and the peace of the country required.

Lord Althorp

said, that his noble friend (the member for Devon) had given a notice which he would wish a few moments' time to consider. He would submit, that, in the present state of affairs, and in the present crisis, any course which might throw embarrassment in the way of the formation of a new Administration, ought not to be taken; and he would, therefore, wish that his noble friend would for a short time postpone his notice.

Sir John Newport

differed from the noble Lord who had just sat down, and earnestly entreated his noble friend, the member for Devonshire, not to withdraw his notice. In times like these it was proper it should be known that what that House had once sanctioned by a majority of votes—what the people believed to be necessary to the well-being of the country—that House was determined to obtain. To the propriety, then, of that part of the noble Lord's notice which related to a motion for an Address to his Majesty, he most heartily assented, but the other part of the noble Lord's notice he thought impracticable; it was impossible that a call of the House could take place at so early a period as to-morrow. Many Members were not within reach of a summons to attend, and, therefore, it would be hard to inflict upon them the penalties which absence would subject them to. He thought, therefore, that the noble Lord should withdraw that part of his notice; but, in the Motion for the Address, he trusted he would persevere. He was sure that every hon. Member within reach would attend freely and honestly to express his opinions upon such an occasion. He knew of no circumstances under which such a step was rendered so imperatively necessary. He thought it was proper that the sense of the House should be known before a new Administration was formed.

Mr. Labouchere

said, that, he felt it his duty to express his ardent desire that the noble member for Devon would persist in his intention. He felt that, if in the present crisis they were not firm—if they were false to their constituents and their own recorded votes—if they did not convey to the Throne the knowledge that they felt the greatest alarm at the formation of any administration which was not based upon the principle of carrying Reform in Parliament, they would expose the country to the risk of the heaviest calamities. He was sure, however, that the House would do its duty, and then he was also sure that the country, though they heard with regret the misfortune that had befallen, would also hear it with calmness. But if the House stood not where it ought tostand—in the front of the battle—then scenes would occur which he shuddered to contemplate. It was idle to suppose that, if the House of Commons did not do their duty—if its Members were such cravens as to allow a Government friendly to the people, and honest in their friendship, to be scattered and put out, in consequence of the proceedings of a majority of the other House of Parliament, they would not be considered, and justly considered, by the nation, as base deserters of their duty. Reform was safe if they did their duty; but if they did not they would be responsible for the scenes which might occur, and which, he was afraid, would be of a nature to appal the stoutest heart.

Mr. O'Connell

would trespass upon the attention of the House but for one moment. Humble individual as he was, he could not abstain from expressing his admiration of the course which Government had pursued. They had acted wisely and well. His hon. friend the member for Middlesex had talked of the expectations of the people of England being frustrated—that he took to be impossible. The people of England had spoken emphatically from one end of the country to the other, and, wherever art opportunity of returning a Reformer occurred, the result proved what were their sentiments on the question of Reform. The only question now was, whether the people would be true to themselves, or whether they would suffer an intriguing faction to usurp their rights—the nominees of Peers to fill the places of their real Representatives—the combination of a party to prevent the restoration of their constitutional rights and privileges? The people of England, if true to themselves, would insist upon Reform—the people of Scotland would manfully insist upon it—and they never yet insisted upon having any thing which they did not obtain. With their good broad swords they asserted, maintained, and made national, the creed and the religious form of worship which they loved; with like success, but without the broad sword, he hoped the people of Scotland would now insist upon this Reform of their Representation. He could safely answer for it that the people of Ireland—the universal people of Ireland—would not shrink from the part which belonged to them is demanding, and persisting it the demand for Reform. He hoped the noble Lord would persevere in the motion of which be had given notice. He hoped, too, that this circumstance would mark the debate of the House upon that Motion to-morrow—that no man who voted for Reform would, now that a new Ministry was to be formed, shrink from expressing his honest and unbiassed opinion of the upright and independent conduct of the present Government. He had too high an opinion of the hon. Gentlemen who had voted for that measure to suppose that a skulker or a recreant would be found among them. Let their opinion, then, firmly, but respectfully, reach the Throne; and, in any Address which they might vote, let them inform his Majesty that his truly loyal subjects—those who placed his illustrious family on the Throne of these islands—were the most determined to see the rights of his people restored.

Mr. James

wished to know from the noble Lord, whether he was then prepared or would be prepared to-morrow to explain the specific grounds, or immediate causes, which led to the resignation of himself and his colleagues?

Lord Althorp

did not feel himself at liberty to state more than he had stated—namely, that Ministers, having proffered their Sovereign an advice which was not adopted, they tendered a resignation of their offices, which was accepted.

Mr. Baring

had intended not to express his sentiments on the present occasion, reserving himself till the noble Lord's Motion of to-morrow, but he felt himself compelled to say a few words in consequence of what had fallen from the hon. Members who had just addressed the House. Those hon. Members told them to beware of the perils and agitation which were likely to arise throughout the country from the announcement of the noble Lord opposite; but he would take leave to suggest the propriety of their not being themselves the creators of the perils and agitation which they would fain deprecate. He would not, he repeated, anticipate the discussion of to-morrow further than to observe, that he hoped and expected that the House would entertain that discussion in a tone harmonious with the feelings of the sound and sensible portion of the community—that is, that, while it asserted its own opinions with due regard to its own dignity, it would not be neglectful of what was due to the opinions of the other branch of the Legislature. If they were warned against proving themselves cravens to the public, he would warn them against proving themselves bullies towards the House of Lords. But of this more to-morrow. He then rose for the purpose of suggesting to the noble Lord, whether he was not bound, by usage, to explain the grounds or nature of the advice the non-reception of which by his Majesty had led to the dissolution of Earl Grey's Administration. It was not enough to state that his having tendered an advice which was not adopted led to his resignation; he was bound to state the character of that advice, and the grounds on which it was offered and rejected. He was old enough to remember, that this was the course pursued by Earl Grey himself in 1807, on his resignation of office. On that occasion that noble Earl entered into a very minute statement of all the proceedings connected with his resignation. With regard to the present resignation, they were all completely in the dark as to its causes, save what reached them in the way of public rumour, which in itself was more than usually vague—indeed amounted to nothing more than that his Majesty's advisers thought it fit to tender an advice to the King, which his Majesty did not think it fitting to adopt, and that as a consequence their resignation was tendered and accepted. It was important that they should clearly understand why it was that Ministers had resigned, the rather, as amid the cheers of one side of the House, there might be discerned something like a censure on his Majesty for having accepted their resignation. ["No, no."] He was sensible of the impropriety of that House discussing questions involving the personal acts of the Sovereign, but he appealed to them, whether the announcement of the fact of resignation was not accompanied by a sort of complaint ["no, no,"]—at least a statement—which, in the absence of information, left them to believe that the King had rejected an advice which his advisers thought he ought to have adopted. Now, what he and those on the Opposition side of the House wanted to learn from the noble Lord was, the specific character of that advice, and of the grounds on which it was proffered and rejected. He took it for granted, when he saw hon. Members opposite so prompt and zealous in their approval of the conduct of the noble Lord and his colleagues, that they at least were possessed of this information—that they were acquainted with the nature of the advice, and as a consequence knew whether it amounted to an imperative demand for the creation of some sixty or seventy Peers, for the purpose of carrying the Reform Bill, or otherwise. It was important, if such was the case, that the House at large should be made acquainted with the particulars—that it should know whether the advice tendered to the King was not what he could not hesitate to call the most outrageous and unconstitutional which it was possible for Ministers to give. If so, he would then only say, that he very much mistook the feelings of the people of England if a very large majority of them would not be imbued with a strong feeling of gratitude towards his Majesty for so promptly accepting the resignation of those who tendered him such an advice. The Motion for to-morrow, however, of the noble member for Devon would afford them a more convenient occasion for discussing the goodness or badness, in a constitutional sense, of the advice which his Majesty had rejected: at present he would merely urge the necessity of the House being made fully acquainted with all the particulars.

Colonel Davies

agreed with Mr. Baring—with whom, however, he differed as to the merits of the Reform Bill itself—that it was highly expedient that the House should be put in full possession of every information connected with the act which had led to the resignation of Lord Althorp and his colleagues—the more so, as it had always been understood that the King had lent them, in their plan of Reform, a most cordial support. As it was, they were completely in the dark as to this most important fact; and were left to guess, among several rumoured versions of the true facts of the case, that which was most probable. It was said by some that Earl Grey had advised the creation of fifty or seventy Peers, according to others one hundred, but that his Majesty objected to the amount. According to other versions, his Majesty did not object to a definite number, but to entrusting the noble Earl with a carte blanche power of creating as many as circumstances might require, and that the noble Earl being refused this unlimited power, resigned. Now, if this carte blanche power was the advice given by Earl Grey to the King, he would not hesitate to declare that it was an advice, or rather demand, which his Majesty ought not to have complied with, and which he was, therefore, right in peremptorily rejecting. It was highly important, he repeated, that the real facts should be made public, in order that it might be clearly seen where the blame lay.

Sir Robert Peel

did not rise to in any wise anticipate the discussion of to-morrow, but merely to express his concurrence with Mr. Baring and Colonel Davies, that it was not only essential to that discussion, but conformable with the uniform usages of the House, that it should be put in full information of the distinct causes which had led to the resignation of Earl Grey's Government. He would not then press Lord Althorp to state what those causes were—the less so, as he was confident the noble Lord would himself, on reflection, see, that in affording the information, he would only be pursuing the usual course of his predecessors under similar circumstances—but would merely suggest to him the propriety of applying to his Majesty for permission to explain in detail the proceedings and their causes which had led to his resignation. This permission it was necessary he should obtain, as otherwise his explanation would be a violation of what was due to his Sovereign, there being evidently no acts more truly personal with respect to the Sovereign than those of the appointment or acceptance of the resignation of his Ministers. He hoped, therefore, the noble Lord would see the expediency of his explaining to Parliament and the public the real causes of his resignation.

Mr. James

differed from Messrs. Baring and Davies as to the character of the advice to the King to create Peers in order to carry the Reform Bill. He, so far from deeming it unwise and unconstitutional, thought the best advice which the Sovereign could receive from his Ministers would be for an unlimited creation of Peers for so nationally beneficial a purpose.

Mr. Duncombe

trusted that Lord Ebrington would persevere in his Motion for a call of the House to-morrow, as, besides that there were enough of Members in town to answer the call, it was highly expedient that the people should know who were the waverers, and who were their honest and uncompromising Representatives, which would be evident by comparing a list of those who would vote for the noble Lord's Motion, and those who had with so triumph anta majority, recorded their confidence in Ministers on the former defeat of the Bill by the House of Lords. He did not think that Lord Althorp was called upon to explain more fully the procceedings connected with his resignation than he had done. It was enough for the country to know, that in consequence of what had taken place in the other House of Parliament on Monday last, the noble Lord and his colleagues deemed it their duty to resign. ["No, no."] Well, that in consequence of the adverse vote of their Lordships, that Ministers felt it right to give their advice to their Sovereign to take such steps as would secure the national bill against mutilation, and that his Majesty not acting on that advice, they had no alternative between resigning, or being auxiliaries in the work of slaughter. It was enough for the country to know that they had most honourably preferred the former course; and he trusted, in gratitude, and consistency, and justice, the people would not cease from constitutional agitation, till the power to carry the great measure of national purification into effect was restored to the hands of those who had the magnanimity to stand or fall by it, from the grasp of those who had been enabled—he trusted temporarily—to wrest it from them by means of the grossest hypocrisy and treachery.

Lord Althorp

I wish particularly to say, that, in what I stated to the House at first, I most carefully avoided throwing any blame on any one, and especially blame of the nature insinuated by the right hon. Baronet. I hope I so expressed myself as to guard myself from the possibility of any misconstruction. With respect to what the right hon. Baronet has said with regard to further explanations, I can only observe, that I do not feel myself authorized at present to say more than I have said. I wish it to be understood that I do not pledge myself that I shall make any further statement at any future time, but that at present I have stated all I am at present authorized to state. The hon. member for Thetford has stated the case of 1807 as an example for the present occasion. I was then a Member of this House, and I remember that what he states as then taking place is quite true. The noble Earl did make a statement of considerable length as to the causes of the resignation of himself and his colleagues, but the hon. Member will recollect that there were then circumstances which called for a full explanation, but to which there is nothing analogous in the present case. The reports which were then in existence varied much from each other. There were then imputations on the character and conduct of the Ministers, and it was necessary for them to obtain from his Majesty permission to make the statement. Such circumstances do not at present exist, and there is not in the case now, so much of complexity as on that occasion, and, therefore, I do not think myself called on to make a more detailed statement than I have done.

Mr. Macaulay

I should have said nothing, Sir, upon this subject, but for the remarks which have fallen from the hon. member for Thetford; but, in the first place, I wish to confirm my noble friend in his statement, that, in all the observations he made, there was not one single syllable that, in the slightest degree, could be construed as disrespectful to his Majesty; and, as we are on the eve of a discussion of importance, and which is likely to produce considerable agitation in the country, I protest, in the name of every Member of this House, against that unconstitutional doctrine—that doctrine so subversive of the freedom of debate—that the Members of this House, who speak with approbation of the conduct of the Ministers, or who say that they regret that the advice given by the Ministers was not adopted and acted upon, shall be construed to have spoken inconsistently with that affection which we all feel for the person, the honour, and the office, of our Sovereign. I claim the freedom of speech for myself and for all the Members of this House collectively—that freedom of speech which you, Sir, on the first day of the meeting of this Parliament, claimed for us from the King; and I demand that any remarks we may make on the change of Administration shall not he construed into the expression of any doubt that our Sovereign, in all the conduct he has pursued, has been actuated by any other motive than the most sincere and single desire to promote the good of his people. I shall now, Sir, say no more, than to entreat my noble friend to persevere in the Motion of which he has given notice.

Mr. Baring

did not feel that what had fallen from him at all warranted the comment of Mr. Macaulay.

Lord Milton

felt himself bound to protest against the doctrine of Sir Robert Peel, that the acceptance of a Minister's resignation, being a personal act of the Sovereign, could not be discussed in Parliament without the express permission of the King, except at the hazard of violating the prerogative. If the appointment or the resignation of a Minister were a personal act of this nature, there was an end to everything like the responsibility of Ministers to the Legislature. The Constitutional doctrine was, that the Ministers were responsible for every act of the Crown.

Sir Robert Peel

did not mean to say, that the individual accepting office was not responsible to Parliament for his official conduct; but merely that the original act of either appointing or dismissing a Minister was a personal act of the Sovereign, which could not he discussed in detail without his permission.

Mr. Hunt

was sure that there could be but one opinion as to the necessity of the ex-Ministers explaining fully every transaction connected with their exit from office. If Lord Grey was never promised the power to create Peers to carry the Reform Bill, it followed that he and his colleagues had for the last twelve months been imposing the grossest delusion upon the people. It was right that this important fact should be satisfactorily determined, and whether the King had at any time consented to perform what he had yesterday refused.

Lord Ebrington

felt himself compelled to persevere in his notice. Under ordinary circumstances he should have felt great alacrity in adopting the suggestion of his noble friend, but, under the extraordinary relations in which that House stood with respect to the Reform Bill and the country, he felt he should be abandoning his duty did he delay his Motion a single hour. It was important in such a national crisis, that the people should know who were their honest and consistent Representatives, and who had proved recreants from their duty. For the same reasons he would persevere in his Motion for a call of the House, so as to guard against backsliders and time-watchers.

Order of the Day read, and measure postponed accordingly.

Also ordered, on the Motion of Lord Ebrington, that the House be called over on the next day.

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