HC Deb 17 June 1833 vol 18 cc903-9
Mr. Tennyson

presented a Petition from an individual, praying for Vote by Ballot, Triennial Parliaments, and the exclusion of placemen from the House. He (Mr. Tennyson) was astonished that a notice on this subject, which had been given long ago by an hon. Member opposite (Mr. Wilks), had been postponed from time to time for so long a period. It was a most important subject, and became more so at this moment, when a dissolution of Parliament was talked of as extremely probable. He, however, was determined to take the opinion of the House upon it on the 2nd of July, when he intended to move a call of the House, that no Member might afterwards say he had not had an opportunity of giving his vote on the occasion.

Major Beauclerk

said, he came into that House with the greatest hopes on the subject of Triennial Parliaments; he knew that the great body of the people were deeply impressed with its necessity; they had a very strong feeling upon the subject, which he had no doubt had been very much increased by the conduct pursued by that House. The people were most anxious to have the measure; and he begged to return his most sincere thanks to the hon. member for Lambeth for the notice he had given.

Mr. Wilks

said, he did not agree with the hon. member for Surrey, that the public had a right to complain of the conduct of that House. It had paid as much attention to public business, and had gone on with as much expedition with measures of the very utmost importance, as any enlightened constituency could possibly desire. He did not think that the question of Triennial Parliaments was one of such an urgent nature as would have justified him in forcing it on the attention of the House at that late period of the Session. He thought, in pursuing the course he had done, he had best consulted the interests of the public; for the question could not now receive that serious and attentive discussion which it would do at the beginning of the next Session, and which it required from its vast importance. It was under those circumstances that he had deferred the Motion, following the example of many hon. Members; but when the question was brought on by the hon. Member, he should not only have his (Mr. Wilks's) vote, but all the assistance it was in his power to give him.

Major Beauclerk

meant, that the public had expected most rigid measures of economy from that House, and it was in that they were disappointed.

Mr. Cobbett

The hon. member for Boston had brought forward the question of Triennial Parliaments last Session. The hon. Alderman (Wood) had been directed to give notice of a Motion of that nature on the first day of the Session; but he apologised for not doing so because the hon. member for Boston claimed priority, as it had been in his hands before. So that the question was to be kicked about in that way, and never be brought on at all. He (Mr. Cobbett) was very much obliged to the hon member for Lambeth, and he hoped he would persevere in his call of the House, and show who those were that wished to sit there for seven years, and also those who were not afraid to go back to their constituents at the end of three years.

Mr. Finn

said, there was no doubt but that Triennial Parliaments would be most desirable; but he really believed, that it was not of much importance at the present moment, for he believed that that Parliament would not sit two years. The hon. member for East Surrey seemed to forget the atrocious conduct of that House with regard to Ireland. That part of its conduct had not much conciliated the favour of the public; then the flippant manner in which they had voted away twenty millions the other night, adding to the burthens of the already overburthened people, would also be borne in mind. It was really most astonishing to see the manner in which that vote had been supported, when it was remembered the pledges of economy that many of the Members had given on the hustings. He had seen but little to approve of in the conduct of his Majesty's Ministers—their new mode of settling the tithe question in Ireland, by taking the burden from the man who owed it, and placing it on the shoulders of another, might give peace for a time, but nothing would do but laying the axe to the root. The Church in Ireland must be put an end to before any but a temporary peace would be established in that country. Then as to the question of pledges, they had been much repudiated in that House. It was said, that no man who was pledged was an independent man, and that, too, by men who themselves made pledges while on the hustings. He denied such doctrine. Were Members sent to that House to represent their own opinions? He would say no, but to represent those of their constituents. The people had a right to exact pledges from all candidates, and if he had a vote, he would not give it to any one who did not fully state his opinions upon all great questions, and that was pledging.

Colonel Evans

thought, that so far from its being inexpedient to bring on the question of Triennial Parliaments at the present time, it was most necessary that it should be settled, if, as many said, they were on the eve of dissolution. It was most extraordinary to see how many Members had acted on late occasions, considering the manner in which they had pledged themselves on the hustings.

Mr. Fergus O'Connor

said, the only difference seemed to be in what gentlemen denominated the public. The hon. member for Boston seemed to apply that term only to the supporters of Government, and not to the great body of the people out of doors. He was most thankful to the hon. member for Lambeth for forcing on the question. He was glad to see the Attorney General present, as he had for some time wished to ask him some questions respecting the prosecutions of the Press, especially that of The True Sun. He had looked at the file of the Paper, and he found that, when the great question of Reform was under consideration, there were then much move violent articles inserted than the one now under prosecution. He wished to know why the Attorney General had not taken care of the Constitution at that time, or why it was, that he had only now awoke to the necessity of such proceedings? Were would be the security of the Press if the newspapers were to be made afraid of inserting, as original matter, opinions, and not more strong ones than what were expressed in that House?

An Hon. Member

said, he would repeat in the House what he had stated on the hustings—that if pledges were required of him, he would rather a hundred to one not be elected. He was at all times willing to state his opinions to his constituents, but he would never pledge himself. Indeed he did not believe, that it was the general sense of the House that Members had pledged themselves so much as was sometimes said.

Mr. O'Connell

said, the affair of pledges lay within a very narrow compass. The question really was, whether the representatives were the servants or masters of their constituents. A Member merely pledged himself to his own opinions, which he was at liberty to change when he pleased; but when he did do so he should do so manfully, and give his constituents an opportunity of approving or disapproving of them.

Sir Edward Codrington

expressed his perfect readiness to pledge himself to certain principles, but he had never given a pledge to any specific measure. He would have no objection to bind himself to certain principles, but not to the extent to which he might find it necessary to carry them.

Mr. Baldwin

said, he was one of those Members who gave pledges to their constituents at the hustings. He should, therefore, trespass for a few moments on the indulgence of the House in vindication of his conduct. He was not disposed to regret that conduct—nay, he was proud of it, because he had religiously adhered to those pledges, and was resolved they should never be violated. The hon. and gallant Admiral had said, that he had pledged himself to principles, but not to measures or to men; and he had laid down his own conduct as a rule for the direction of other candidates. The hon. and gallant Admiral conceived he had discovered the precise limits to which pledges should be confined, and the utmost latitude to which they should be extended. A slight tincture of the schools adhered still to his mind, and he conceived that generalities too often served to envelope and conceal error. The gallant Admiral, under cover of his pledges as to principles, might vote for the worst measures and the worst Ministers, and against the best measures and the best Ministers. He might, for instance, pledge himself to vote for short Parliaments and freedom of election, and afterwards say, that he considered Septennial Parliaments short enough—perhaps too short—and elections most free when electors were at liberty to dispose of their votes according to their interests or their inclinations, however influenced, however warped. The Bill against bribery at elections might appear not only superfluous, but quite unconstitutional, and tyrannical, under that aspect of the question. In truth, he would not more completely betray bad logic by drawing general conclusions from particular premises, than he betrayed fallacious political doctrines by leaving himself free scope and latitude as to particular questions, and men, under the shield of his pledges, as to general constitutional principles. The hon. and gallant Admiral would, he trusted, do him (Mr. Baldwin) the justice to believe he did not suppose him capable of intending to make any such use of his theory on this subject. He was convinced his high-minded and candid spirit would, as his whole public conduct and character had proved, spurn anything evasive, or disingenuous, or ignoble; but the doctrine which he advocated would lead to such consequences, and serve to shelter men whose dispositions were entirely different. He should now advert to the sound and philosophical view of the subject. Burke had said, it would be ridiculous that one body of men should hear all the arguments on a question, and that other men who had not heard them should determine how they ought to vote after the discussion. He did not deny there was much force in that, as in all the other positions of that great orator; but Burke was as great a master of sophistry as of eloquence. The splendour of his imagery was not more calculated to dazzle than his ingenuity was to mislead. The truth was, that on all those great subjects on which the public mind had been long engaged, those subjects which had been discussed, and sifted, and balanced in the scales of reason by a thousand investigations of truth—subjects on which all the information was accessible to all ardent inquirers, and on which the Press—the popular orators, and the studious and retired, the dispassionate and deliberate philosopher,—had poured forth their opinions; the people at large were likely to form more correct, more unprejudiced judgments than the members of that House—judgments much less subject to sinister influence, or sudden impulse. On these subjects, therefore, a candidate at the hustings might, if his opinions coincided with those of the elector's, honestly pledge himself to comply with their instructions. But on other subjects—on questions which might be affected by unforeseen events, or on which the information necessary to an accurate judgment was not open to the great body of the people—the candidate ought to reserve his right of deciding independently, unrestricted by previous promises, as uninfluenced by private, or personal considerations. On those latter questions—such, for instance, as the question of peace or war—he had reserved his right of free unshackled judgment, and should exercise that right; but on the former questions he gave pledges which he should honestly redeem. The argument, which rested upon the point of whether the Representative be the servant or the master of his constituents, appeared to him not conclusive on either side. The Member was the servant of his constituents when he was honestly doing their business. He was in some degree their master when he made the laws by which they were to be governed, and to which they must submit; but he was then only a genuine Representative and virtuous legislator, when he sedulously studied the national interests, and spoke and voted solely with a view of promoting those interests in the most effectual manner. The question of Triennial Parliaments, which gave rise to that discussion, was one of those questions on which he gave a pledge. He did, without hesitation, pledge himself to vote for Triennial Parliaments. He concurred with his constituents in thinking that the Parliament, in the reign of George 1st, which, having been elected by the people for three years, elected itself for seven, was guilty of a most unconstitutional and unwarrantable act—and that, if it passed the Septennial Bill, under the conception of some temporary expediency, it ought to have taken the earliest opportunity of repealing that Bill. While it remained the law of the land, he did not conceive the electors could have a proper control over their representatives; and the Acts of the present Parliament—particularly that Act, which obliterated every vestige of civil or political liberty in Ireland—was a demonstrative, incontrovertible proof of the correctness of his opinion. He, therefore, should vole most cheerfully with the hon. Member on that question.

Mr. Shaw

did not believe the House was reduced to the dilemma assumed by the hon. and learned Gentleman, the member for Dublin, as being either the masters or servants of the people. They were bound to state their opinions, and to act according to their own judgment; they were bound to state their opinions to their constituents, and leave their election in their hands, but he would not for a hundred constituencies vote against his opinion.

Mr. Hawes

stated, that with regard to the Repeal of the Septennial Act, when the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Tennyson) brought it forward, he would give it his support.

Petition to lie on the Table.

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