HC Deb 21 February 1833 vol 15 cc1079-89
Mr. Harvey

said, that it always gave him great satisfaction when it was his lot to bring Motions before the House which so strongly recommended themselves to every man's approbation, by their intrinsic merits and absolute necessity, that he felt it superfluous to speak at any length in their behalf. The notion that the votes which Members gave on any occasion should be concealed, was now so entirely exploded, that he doubted whether any hon. Member could be found who would support such a doctrine. He believed, that every person now acknowledged that responsibility, and not secresy and concealment, was the basis of the trust reposed in the hands of Representatives by their constituents; and that the due discharge of their duties mainly depended upon the fact, that the constituents were informed of what took place in that House, and of the votes which their Representatives gave upon different occasions. He thought it most essential that their votes on important questions ought to be officially disclosed. If any hon. Members thought otherwise, to be consistent, they ought to close the usual channels by which the country was made acquainted with whatever transpired in that House. In a Reformed Parliament he believed, that all hon. Members would be desirous that their constituents should know how they voted, and the part they took upon every occasion; but when the House was composed of Representatives without constituents—when there had been no sympathy whatever between the House and the country—when they had been suspected, or, what was worse, when they had been acting in direct opposition to each other, concealment of votes was essential to Members of Parliament. The system was now different, and he could not conceive how any hon. Members returned to a Reformed Parliament upon reforming principles, and professing the objects of Reform, could raise the shadow of an objection to the principle of a communication between constituents and Representatives, as to the manner they discharged the trust reposed in them. Their proceedings were closely watched by the public, who, till the Reform Bill was passed, were estranged from the Parliament, which had no sympathy with them. Now a sympathy had been restored between them, and the people looked with confidence to their deliberations. It could only be by some strange neglect if the feelings of the public should again be alienated from that House; and a record of their votes, while it made their opinions known, would be the best means of guarding against it. He would not suggest any plan of taking the votes, because he did not wish to divert the attention of the House from the principle, and because he knew, if he suggested any plan. Gentlemen would torture their ingenuity to devise objections to the details, and would lose sight of the main object. He would leave it to the known talents of the Speaker to point out the best mode of accomplishing the object he had in view. If, however, he were to suggest any plan, it would be, perhaps, that there should be a box provided at the Table of the House, and one in the Lobby with "Aye" and "No" painted thereon, into which each Member should drop his card. He knew that he should, by mentioning any plan, excite ridicule of the House, but, nevertheless, he must say, that with these boxes, and the Members' names printed on slips of paper, they might, as the minority went forth, put their names in the box in the Lobby; while the majority, who would stay in the House, might put their names in the box on the Table. But he did not insist upon that scheme, and a Committee, should the principle be conceded, might undoubtedly find means to carry it into execution. He wished to meet one objection, namely, that the Motion was proposed with a view to intimidation. That notion would be clung to by the Conservatives, who might say, that it was making the House of Commons a Political Union. Those Gentlemen would say, that it was unsuitable for the House to act under the terror of their constituency. But he thought that even the Conservatives must like to have their votes recorded, even to show that they had performed their duty in a manner unexceptionable to their party. There was no Gentleman, whatever might be his opinions, who could desire to conceal his votes. He wished to ask the noble Lord the member for Norwich who cheered him, what votes he ever gave which he would like to have concealed? None, he was sure. In fact, the votes were already published, and the only question for the House was, would they not have it done in the best manner? Now it was done in a most unsatisfactory manner, it was done on great occasions only, and then only on one side. On a late occasion, when a list of the minority who voted in favour of the Motion of the hon. member for Middlesex was published, there were 138 names, and about twenty mistakes. The list of the minority was published on that occasion; but of course the majority wished that their patriotism should be proclaimed. They could not desire to hide their merits under a bushel. They must have wished for their own gratification, and the gratification of their constituents, that it should be known in what manner they had discharged their duty. He could fancy the disappointment they must suffer after such a publication in the papers of the following day, when the votes of the virtuous majority could only be picked up by questions of "how did you vote," and "how did you vote?" Then, again, the lists were to be corrected. There came next morning letters from this Conservative Club-house and that Union to the Editors of newspapers, requesting them to insert a correction that Mr. so and so was in the House, and voted in the majority. All these things showed a laudable anxiety in the Members to have their votes known. On these grounds he should propose his Motion, and take the sense of the House upon it. He would not, however, press the latter part of his Motion relative to the Members pairing off to leave their names in the vote office, but on the first part of the Motion he would take the sense of the House. The hon. Member concluded by moving, "That Mr. Speaker be requested to make the necessary arrangement for the taking of the Divisions, and for the insertion of them in the Votes, giving the name of each Member in the Majority and Minority."

Lord Stormont

said, as the hon. Gentleman had alluded to him, he would take the opportunity of delivering his opinions on the subject. He was returned to Parliament without having given any pledge whatever, and he had no hesitation in saying that he would oppose the Motion. Pledges had been proposed to him, but to the proposition he had given a flat denial. He represented his own opinions in that House, and not the opinions of others. He came there determined always to exercise his own judgment, and act accordingly, and not to be guided by the will of any other individuals whatever. The Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman amounted to this, that there should be published an account of the proceedings of that House in respect to the votes given by the Members, &c.; and this arrangement might be very agreeable to those who took the popular side of the question. Now, he was one of those men who acted upon his own opinions—and he never would be afraid of expressing them. He trusted, however, that his character was so well known that no person would accuse him of doing anything which could be derogatory to the principles which he had always advocated. He well remembered that, in the Parliament before last, there was a certain red list and black published; the red being the names of those who voted for Reform, and the black being the names of those who voted against it; and he remembered, too, that upon one occasion the hon. member for Essex said, that he would sooner have his name appear in that black list in the characters therein displayed, than as one of the signers of Magna Charta. The hon. Gentleman wished to have an authentic account of the votes of all the Members published in the papers. That was, he thought, an infringement on the constitutional privileges of the House, and would only encourage the people to watch their proceedings. A few days ago, as the hon. Member said, there was a list published of what was called the glorious minority of 138, and afterwards a list of the glorious majority, and in that majority he found his name, though he was not present. He regarded that as of no moment, and had not taken any trouble to correct it, as he was not ambitious of writing a letter to The True Sun, or any similar publication. Certainly, if he had been in the House on that occasion, he would have supported his Majesty's Ministers, because he thought that they were upholding the constitutional prerogative of the Crown. The hon. Member said every Member must wish to have it known how he voted; he for one cared nothing about it. He was responsible to himself, and he and all the Members were responsible hereafter to their constituents; but at present he was sent there to do what he thought was right. If they were to assent to the Motion, it would be depreciating the character of the House. On those grounds he should oppose the Motion.

Lord Althorp

could not say that he agreed with the noble Lord, that Members ought not to be responsible to their constituents. Every Member ought, in his opinion, to be responsible to his constituents as well as to himself. At the same time, he did not think Gentlemen were bound to give pledges as to what they should do; but every Member should enter completely free to exercise his own judgment on all affairs that came before him, and to act as he thought best for the public good. His constituents, however, ought to judge if he acted consonant to their views. He, therefore, did not object to the Motion on the ground that the votes of the Members should not be known to their constituents. Nor could he, after consideration, think that the publication was any breach of the privileges of the House. The publication of the debates took place by sufferance, and was a breach of privilege; but the publication of the names of Members was never so considered. It was, therefore, on very different grounds from those assigned by the noble Lord, that he could not accede to the Motion. He could hardly think that the hon. Gentleman was serious in making it. If, when it appeared now to be necessary, it was difficult to get correct lists, he believed that the attempt to make those lists authentic and correct would be impossible. He was surprised to hear that doubt expressed by the hon. member for Middlesex, for no man knew better than that hon. Member the difficulty of making up those lists. In general it was known how most of the Members would vote before the division took place, and the lists were nearly finished before the division was taken. If it was done as a matter of duty, the lists would be either very inaccurate, or to make them accurate would cause great delay. Nothing could be more convincing of the difficulties which belonged to the subject, than the fact that the hon. mover, with all his abilities and ingenuity, could suggest no better plan than his two boxes. How were they to compel Members to put their names into these boxes? And how were they to be sure that no Gentleman ever put the name of another Member in by way of a joke? In fact, too, the House would be thrown into great confusion by the rush of Gentlemen to the Table to put their names in the box. Looking at all these things, he must say, that he could not think the hon. Member meant seriously to press his Motion to a division, particularly as the hon. Member had withdrawn that part of it which related to the pairing off of the Members.

Mr. Warburton

said, if they admitted the principle, a Committee might arrange how the votes should be recorded. The names were now given, and the question was, should they be given correctly or incorrectly? At times great importance was attached to the publication of the names. In Canada, the votes always contained the names of the majorities and minorities. The House of Assembly was not indeed so large and so numerous as the House of Commons, but the principle was the same. If they were to set earnestly about it, the list of the majority and minority might be made in ten minutes on the same plan as was now followed in taking the divisions. He remembered it was once the practice for each Member to write his name on a slip of paper, and hand it in to the clerk. He was aware that there existed no power to make hon. Members do this; but if the House enforced it by a rule to that effect, it would doubtless be obeyed. If the hon. member for Colchester should lose this Motion, he would recommend him, on a future day, to make a Motion to refer it to a Committee of Inquiry to adopt some such plan, even as an experiment.

Colonel Davies

said, that if any practicable means could be pointed out of taking the division accurately, he should acquiesce in the propriety of adopting it; but he thought the Motion of the hon. Member would make the task of drawing up these lists more difficult than it was at present. He would remind the House of what took place a few nights ago, in taking the list of the minority of 138 for the Motion of the hon. member for Middlesex. He was one of about one dozen persons who were running about asking each Gentleman his name, and after all, though the division occupied forty or fifty minutes, he believed that no less than twenty names were inaccurately taken. He should rather endeavour to shorten than lengthen the divisions of the House, as being a great loss of public time. Admitting that the lists could be made out accurately, still he could not acquiesce in the Motion of the hon. Member, for the loss of time would be a serious evil; but if it could be easily and accurately done, then his objections would be removed.

Mr. Hume

said, the simple question was, whether it was desirable that this should be done or not, for if desirable, then it could easily be done. He had had 658 names called over in half an hour by way of experiment, and if the experiment were made, it would be found that every Member could be called and could answer to his name in thirty-five minutes. The division of a full House usually lasted about forty-five minutes; and he would undertake that, in any division two individuals might make out the lists in that time by one calling over the names while the other wrote them down. He would do it himself, and he would rather take the trouble of doing it than have it done inaccurately if his services could prevent errors; for he thought accurate lists of the divisions of the greatest importance. At all events, they might make the trial. He should not, however, advise them to begin with the boxes. He should vote for the question, as recognising the principle of publicity, and he entreated of the noble Lord that he would allow the experiment to be made. He at once admitted that a greater loss of time in the divisions than at present, if such should be the result, would not be advisable.

Sir Robert Peel

could not conceive what object could be gained by the Motion. At present, on every interesting question, the names of the majorities and minorities were always given. On all the great questions that had been discussed in Parliament correct lists had been given—on the Catholic question—on the various parts of the Reform Bill, accurate lists of the votes had been published. He could not suppose that any objection would be made on account of the breach of privilege; for, on all great questions, the names were known. If they were taken by authority, would they be more accurate? He believed not. No man could be compelled to give in his name. The hon. Member's plan would be impracticable; and, if practicable, it would not necessarily ensure accuracy. If the Motion were successful, it would give rise to many petty Motions. Members would often press Motions to a division which they would not otherwise trouble themselves about, and it would lead to a great waste of time. It would be, in fact, a public nuisance. [Mr. Hume: There would be no inconvenience]. What! no inconvenience? Why, suppose a man voted black was, white, would it be no inconvenience that his vote was so recorded without any explanation? Suppose the case of a Russian-Dutch Loan, which an hon. Member thought a case of profligate expenditure, and yet voted for it, would not that Member's vote be erroneously judged of, if the vote only were known without any explanation? The hon. Member might explain that he had voted so to save the Ministers—to protect the Reform Bill—or for some other equally good reason; but those who read only the votes would not know that, and the hon. Member would be condemned. The present mode of managing the votes was better than the one proposed. He must add, that he thought that Members were responsible to their constituents for their votes; but God forbid that any constituency should judge any Member from an individual vote. They must take all his votes, and his whole conduct into consideration. The hon. Gentleman had challenged him to show any inconvenience from this plan, and he had answered the challenge, by showing that a Gentleman who voted black was white was liable to an erroneous construction of his conduct.

Mr. Hume

was not ashamed of his vote on the Russian-Dutch Loan—he would vote so again—and he had published the lists of the majority and minority on that occasion.

Captain Berkeley

opposed the Motion. He had never given any pledge, and he never would give one. If his constituents could not trust him, the sooner the connection between them was cut the better.

Mr. Robert Steurt

said, that he was not in the last Parliament, but he understood from an hon. Member who was, that, on one occasion, thirteen divisions had taken place, when only forty-two Members were present. Now, if those divisions had been recorded, according to the hon. member for Middlesex's calculation, they would have consumed six hours. On the occasion already referred to he had voted in the majority, and he was so little ashamed of what he had done, that before the list of majority was published, he had written to some of his constituents to tell them how he had voted. He must, however, protest against the noble Lord's (Stormont) doctrine, that Members were not responsible to their constituents—that was, perhaps, the doctrine in the old Parliament, but it would not do in a Reformed Parliament.

Mr. Aglionby

would not vote for the plan of the hon. member for Colchester, but would vote for the principle. It was most desirable for the country to know the votes of every Member, and as he understood that the hon. Member's plan was not involved in the Motion, he should certainly vote for it.

An Hon. Member

observed, that he could not concur with the proposition of the hon. member for Colchester, but he was willing to concur in any measure for giving an accurate report of the divisions in the House which might be practicable.

Mr. Harvey

was glad that the noble Lord (Stormont) had at length been brought to speak with some deference of a popular constituency, and he hoped that he would soon be induced to designate the people of England by some more respectful term than that of a mere mob. He yielded to the noble Lord in whatever distinction he might derive from his acquirements, or the accident of rank; but he begged to inform the noble Lord, that he was not one of those Members, who in one Session represent one borough, in the next run to another, and in the third again change their seats. He had represented Colchester in six successive Parliaments. With respect to his Motion, it had been met exactly in the manner he had anticipated; and he must confess that he was a bad tactician to give his opponents the handle they had laid hold of. Hon. Members had, for the most part, evaded the principle which the Motion comprised, and had attacked the suggestion as to carrying it into effect, which was no part of the Motion. Much stronger objections than had been urged might probably be found against that suggestion; but he proposed it as a bare expression of opinion. The decision of what was to be done upon the principle he wished to have recognised—he left to the highest authority and greatest experience in the House. All that he wanted was, the recognition of the principle of publicity being the chief element of popular institutions, and that, therefore, the constituency of the United Kingdom have a right to know what the Representatives to whom they confide the defence of their honour and interests do on their behalf. It was no answer to say that the plan he had suggested was impracticable, for he had not the slightest doubt, that on a few Gentlemen meeting together, and turning their attention to the subject, a practicable plan would soon suggest itself. But even if it should fail, the experiment could do no harm. An hon. Gentleman seemed to think that he meant to convey a censure upon the Members of the majority in the division to which allusion had been so often made; but he considered every Gentleman, who voted in that majority, voted with the same independence as himself; and that independence he could assure the noble Lord, was as great as his own; for he had never, on being elected, given any pledge whatever. He had never acted under any feelings of subserviency to his constituency; for in the case of the Catholic question, he had voted in a way which he knew to be contrary to the opinions of the majority of them; and he should do so again if a case should occur which should render it necessary for him to do so, even if he should feel convinced that his vote would render it impossible for him ever to enter that House again. The object of his Motion was, the affirmation of a principle, namely—that it was desirable that the proceedings in that House should be known to the public.

The House divided on the Resolution: Ayes 94; Noes 142:—Majority 48.

Lord Althorp

proposed an alteration in the rule of the House, relative to divisions—namely, that those who dissented from the Speaker's decision should go forth.

Motion agreed to.

List of the AYES.
ENGLAND. Philips, M.
Adams, E. H. Phillips, C. M.
Aglionby, H. Pryme, G.
Attwood, T. Ricardo, D.
Beauclerk, Maj. A. W. Richards, J.
Bewes, T. Roebuck, J. A.
Bish, T. Romilly, E.
Blackstone, W. S. Romilly, J.
Brocklehurst, J. Shawe, R. N.
Brotherton, J. Strutt, E.
Buckingham, J. S. Talbot, W. H. F.
Buller, C. Tennyson, rt. hon. C.
Bulwer, H. L. Tooke, W.
Collier, J. Turner, W.
Dawson, E. Tynte, C. J. K.
Dick, Q. Vincent, Sir F.
Dilwyn, L. W. Vivian, J. H.
Divett, E. Walter, J.
Ellis, W. Warburton, H.
Evans, W. Wason, R.
Ewart, W. Williams, G.
Fancourt, C. Yelverton, hon. W. H.
Fenton, J. Young, G. F.
Fielden, J. IRELAND.
Gaskell, D. Baldwin, H.
Gisborne, T. Barry, S.
Grote, G. Bernard, W. J.
Guest, J. J. Dant, W. O.
Gully, J. Finn, W. F.
Hall, B. Fitzgerald, T.
Handley, B. Lalor, P.
Hardy, J. Lynch, A.
Hawes, B. M'Laughlin, L.
Hyett, W. H. O'Connor, F.
Jervis, J. Roche, D.
Langdale, hon. C. Roe, J.
Lister, E. C. Ruthven, E.
Lloyd, J. H. Ruthven, E. S.
Marshall, J. Sullivan, R.
Marsland, T. Verner, W.
Molesworth, Sir W. Vigors, N.
Parker, J. Callander, J. H.
Parrott, Jasper Dunlop, J.
Pease, J. Gillon, W. D.
Haliburton, hon. D. G. Sinclair, G.
Maxwell, Sir J. Wallace, R.
Maxwell, J. TELLERS.
Oliphant, L. Harvey, D. W.
Ormelie, Earl of Hume, J.