HC Deb 16 April 1834 vol 22 cc863-7
Colonel Evans

, in rising to present a petition respectably signed by the Mayor, and others of Hastings, stated, that he should avail himself of this opportunity to put a question to the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Warre), whom he had apprised of his intention to do so. The question was in itself of importance, but infinitely more so, as connected with other matters, to which he should allude. The cause of his taking this matter up, was, that he had been politically, and he might say closely, connected with that part of the county of Sussex, had the pleasure of being acquainted with many of the most respectable and influential of the electors of Hastings, and could not therefore decline to comply with their wishes, in which great numbers concurred, to make this inquiry of the hon. Member for that borough. The question was certainly rather a peculiar one, that of asking a Gentleman if he meant to resign his seat; but then, as he should show, the grounds on which he should do so were even yet more unprecedented, and perfectly justi- fied this step. It was in their recollection the first practical evidence of the loss of the confidence of the public by Government was on the occasion of the Admiralty Board. An hon. Member of the House was appointed a Lord of the Admiralty, who accordingly accepted the Chiltern Hundreds, in the full expectation, no doubt, of being re-elected by his constituents. But the important town of Gloucester did not fulfil those expectations. On the contrary, though his family were powerful and esteemed in the neighbourhood, and possessed indeed the most commanding influence in the county, and though he had previously triumphed as an avowed supporter of Ministers, so altered was the opinion of the electors regarding the Ministry, that they now refused to ratify the appointment conferred on him by those Ministers, and supplanted him, by his previously unsuccessful opponent. Accordingly, that office at the Admiralty had remained to this time without a seat in Parliament. Need he mention Westminster and Marylebone, as confirmatory of the displeasure of the public, with the half-and-half unsatisfactory policy pursued by those in power. Again the highly important office of Attorney General became vacant. A similar result was the consequence. In one respect this was satisfactory. It was a further and a very powerful proof of the state of the public mind, and of what Ministers must expect, unless they adhered more faithfully to their former pledges. So far as the Attorney-General individually, however, as a Member of that House, and a useful Law Reformer, was concerned, he much regretted the exclusion of the learned Gentleman; and he would take the opportunity, on that point, of asking a question of the noble Lord opposite, (whose presence at this time as a Cabinet Minister was quite novel and refreshing,) as to whether the Bills of Reform in certain branches of the law, commenced by the Attorney General while he had a seat in the House, were to be abandoned or carried forward by the Government. Much solicitude was entertained out of doors on this point. He should now come more directly to the case referred to. Several months since, a vacancy had occurred in one of the Lordships of the Treasury. Warned by the difficulties alluded to, the Administration, appeared all this time to have failed in obtaining the acceptance of this honourable and lucrative office, by any Member of the House. At length the hon. Gentleman opposite appeared to have been prevailed on to entertain the question of accepting this office; but with a condition certainly unusual. The office was previously filled by a Member from the northern division of the empire. It had been contended by the friends of Government, that such a selection was essential for the interests of Scotland. The selection, therefore, of' the hon. Gentleman, was a departure from that rule, as the hon. Member (Mr. Warre) represented, it might be said, the extreme South. But, here, in candour, he was bound to exonerate the Government from all blame—for the hon. Gentleman had proved most satisfactorily, by the condition which he annexed to his acceptance of the office, that he was by no means devoid of that prudence, caution, and wariness which characterised the natives of Scotland. Therefore, next to a Scotchman, the Government acted judiciously in selecting him to look after the fiscal interests of Scotland. He mentioned this with every feeling of high respect for the hon. Gentleman, who very prudently declined the office, when he found, upon inquiry at Hastings, that it was more than likely he should be ousted from his seat. No Government was ever before so situated as the present. It was clear, by these several instances, that they were not proceeding in unison with the sentiments of the constituencies by which they had been previously returned to this House. Both by the theory and practice of the Constitution, the Commons should represent the sentiments, at least of the electors, if not of the people generally. As Ministers could not go on without a majority of the Commons in their favour,—so, consequently, they should, in political conduct, assimilate with the House, and through the House, with the electors. This obviously now was not the case. Finally, the hon. Gentleman having, by a proceeding totally novel, ascertained that those who sent him to the House no longer approved of his public conduct, he denied, that the former supporters of the hon. Gentleman had now a just claim, in order to be more consistently represented, to invite the hon. Gentleman to give way to a candidate who would represent the opinions of the majority of the electors of Hastings.

Mr. Warre

said, it was perfectly true, that an offer had been made him of a seat at the Treasury Board; and, upon that being done, he had acted as he thought it was right to do—communicated it to his friends and supporters, thinking that they had a perfect right to see the position in which he stood; and he was sure, that the gallant Colonel was too well aware of what the place which was offered him was, to suppose that he was actuated in what he had done by any improper considerations. He did not consider it necessary to give any other answer to the observations of the gallant Colonel; what he had done was perfectly well known; he did not repent of it; and by the course he had adopted, he was ready to abide. With respect to the statement of the gallant Colonel, that he had lost his supporters, all he had to say was, that it was as easy to make assertions of that description on the one side as on the other. The town had been placarded, as was usual on all elections; and if the gallant Colonel could draw any inference from that, he was most welcome to do so. He would again repeat, that what he had done he should not repent of, and intended to abide by.

Lord John Russell

did not mean to enter into all the topics that the gallant Colonel had adverted to; but there were one or two points which he felt bound to notice. First, with respect to the course Government intended to pursue with respect to certain bills for the reform of the law; the two principal measures were those which the Attorney-General, when he was a Member of the House, had been pledged to—namely, the Local Courts Bill and the Imprisonment for Debt Bill. With regard to those two measures, it was the fixed intention of his Majesty's Government to carry them through in the present Session. The gallant Colonel had also entered into a discussion with respect to elections, and had taken an opportunity of saying, that in almost every instance of Members of that House taking place under the present Government they lost their seats. That, he was ready to admit, to a certain extent was true; but still the cause of that was very soon explained. The members of former Cabinets had a ready course to regain entrance to the House through a constituency of but few individuals. That, however, was not the case since the passing of the Reform Bill; and the present Ministers, almost to a man, represented large constituencies. What had, therefore, taken place was not to be wondered at. At the time of the discussion of the Reform Bill, he foresaw that such might be the case, even though the Government enjoyed the full share of the confidence of the people which it ought to have, and in that he was not mistaken. With respect to the two instances in which they had failed at elections, those of Gloucester and Dudley, he thought that the fair inference to be drawn from the result of those elections was, that Government had been going too rapidly on in the way of innovation, and the people, in order to put a stop to such things, had sent Conservatives into Parliament.

Colonel Evans

could not but give great credit to the noble Lord for the very ingenious manner in which he had accounted for the several failures gentlemen taking office under Government had experienced in endeavouring to obtain a seat in that House.

Petition laid on the Table.