HC Deb 21 August 1835 vol 30 cc822-35
The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that the first Order of the Day was the Consolidated Fund Bill, which stood for committal. The hon. Member for Lincoln, (Mr. E. L. Bulwer) had given notice of a motion for this evening, on the first Order of the Day being moved. He rose, however, to postpone the first Order till Friday next, therefore the hon. Gentleman would make his motion on the second Order being moved. His motive, however, for postponing the Order of the Day was, that the Militia Estimates were not voted, and he could not add the appropriation clause.

Mr. Wilks

expressed his satisfaction that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had felt it necessary to postpone moving the appropriation clause. He thought it desirable that the adoption of that clause should be postponed until it should be known what course of proceeding was likely to be followed elsewhere.

Mr. Hume

said, that while the three great and most important questions were pending in another place, he thought it would be highly improper in the House to pass any more money clauses. He did not wish to deny to another place the free exercise of its powers, but some discretion was required on the part of that House. He repeated, that the Members of the House of Commons, acting on behalf of the people of the country, were called on at the present crisis not to agree to any more votes of money, nor for the appropriation of that already granted. They might at last find themselves placed in a situation such as their constituents had scarcely looked for. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would postpone his motion not till Friday next only, but for any further period that might be necessary to enable them, before they came to its consideration, to see how the public business had got on elsewhere.

Mr. O'Connell

said, that undoubtedly the control of the public funds was a constitutional power belonging to the Commons of England. If it was found that the amelioration of the abuses existing in our institutions, and the advancement of the necessary reforms, were to be impeded, the Commons would exercise their constitutional control over the public exchequer, and would place it in the hands of those who had the confidence of the people, so as to render any perseverance in a systematic opposition to the improvements required by the people impossible. The people of England would be slaves if they submitted to such dictation. The Monarch on the throne was irresponsible, because he had his servants, and they were responsible to the people for the acts of the Government. Would it be submitted to, that 200 or 300 individuals, in no way responsible for what they did, should wield the power of obstructing this correction of abuses, and the redress of wrongs? That would be a miserable period for this country; and he only alluded to it for the purpose of expressing his opinion that the people would be successful in this struggle.

Mr. William Ewart Gladstone

did not object to the postponement of the Order of the Day, neither did he question the power of the House to exercise its high privileges for other and ulterior objects than the mere acceleration, or suspension, of a particular part of a Bill. But he rose to say that although the House had the power of carrying into execution the threat of suspending the granting of public money for the general emergencies of the State, yet he felt in honour and conscience bound to state that there could be nothing more indiscreet—nothing more indecent—he would retract the word indecent, and say nothing more indelicate, than for a Minister of the Crown to ground his postponement of a financial Bill on the presumption of the course of conduct that another branch of the Legislature might pursue respecting certain legislative measures that were submitted to their consideration in their independent capacity; and that other branch of the Legislature was as independent as this branch of the Legislature, and as capable of exercising a sound and useful judgment. He deplored the spirit that seemed to guide the Government, and he could not sufficiently reprobate the mind that ruled the actions of these sections of various parties that whirled the Government round wthin the eddies of an all absorbing agitation. It was because the hon. Members opposite threatened to overawe the Monarchy, and the other branch of the Legislature, which was the original barrier between the usurpations of the Crown and the licentiousness of the people—it was because that it was useful, and wise, and just that both branches should harmonize and attune with each other, that he could not before really have imagined that a Minister of the Crown would act on such motives as the speeches of the hon. Member for Middlesex and the hon. Member for Dublin would seem to show influenced the conduct of the right hon. Gentleman.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that he knew not what might be the notions of decency or delicacy which the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down might entertain for his own government, but those which he himself entertained of both the one and the other would command him to do justice to the conduct of a political opponent, and not without good ground bring against him a charge of proceeding upon unconstitutional doctrines. He thought that he had sufficiently guarded himself, except indeed to a mind that would willingly misapprehend, against such interpretation of the course which he proposed as that adopted by the hon. Gentleman. He had stated that the delay which that hon. Gentleman had ventured to characterise as indecent and indelicate, had been produced not at all by his right hon. Friends, or by that House, but, in point of fact, by the delay which had been given to the Militia Bill by the House of Lords itself. If the hon. Gentleman had been a little more conversant with the forms of Parliament, or if he had paid a little attention to the statement made, he could not have resorted to the personal attack which he had ventured to make; he must then have known, that for the Minister of the Crown to propose the appropriation clause without having had the Militia Estimates voted, would be equivalent to leaving the militia unpaid for the next twelve months, and thus to deprive his Majesty of the service of that part of his forces. He did not impute any blame to the House of Lords for the delay to which they had subjected that measure, but still it was obvious that before it was passed into a law it would be impracticable for the Government to take that step—the postponement of which was now characterised as an offence against the constitution. He had been actually obliged to resort to that postponement. The hon. Gentleman might say—why extend it till Friday—why not confine it to Monday? For this reason: the Committee up stairs for the estimate could not be moved till that measure was passed into a law; and then the report of that Committee must be made to the House; the vote of the estimate could not be made until a supply night, and it could only be after the report of the Committee of Supply that the appropriation clause could be proceeded with. Supposing then that the Militia Bill should at once be passed, the earliest day for inserting that clause in the Consolidated Fund Bill would be that which he had named. On what ground could the hon. Gentleman venture to refer to his Majesty's Government as forgetful of their duty to the Crown, or of that respect which he, for one, should always entertain for a co-ordinate branch of the Legislature? Observations might have been made, indeed, tending to connect the delay with other causes; but what had he to do with them? Had he not sufficiently guarded himself, by distinctly declaring the impossibility of proceeding more rapidly, or taking any further step until the Militia Bill should be passed? The hon. Gentleman seemed to proceed upon the supposition of a distinction between the interests of the people and the interests of the Crown; that was the true Tory doctrine, and it might well become the hon. Gentleman to advance it. The hon. Gentleman might consider that such a distinction was to be made; for his part, he could only say, that in his eyes none could exist or be recognized.

Mr. William Ewart Gladstone

said, he was misunderstood by the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He did not mean to draw the distinction which he referred to; neither did he now mean to enter into the ample field of disquisition relative to the duties of Ministers to the Crown and to the people on which the right hon. Gentleman dwelt with so much emphasis and so much studied energy. He begged to thank the right hon. Gentleman, however, for the ground on which he put the postponement of the Clause. He was perfectly satisfied with the explanation, and, having his assurance for its truth, he could not doubt it. If he applied unpalatable language to the right hon. Gentleman, supposing that his postponement of the Clause had reference to discussions pending in another place, and which a threatened vote of this House would be supposed to overawe, he begged, after the explanation of the right hon. Gentleman, to say that he was entirely content. It was his pleasure, as well as it was his duty, to retract that language as regarded the right hon. Gentleman. However, he did not retract the language as referring to the sentiments that he heard uttered on the other side of the House, and now he would transfer it from the right hon. Gentleman to the two hon. Members opposite (Mr. Hume and Mr. O'Connell), for they had advanced atrocious and dangerous doctrines, tending to upset all freedom and independence of action in the other branch of the Legislature, which had as sound a constitutional right of judgment as that House.

Mr. O'Connell

accepted the transfer, and returned it with much contempt for the hon. Member's argument. It was a doctrine slavish in the extreme which bad dictated such remarks as those of the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Hume

said, he would not accept the transfer—because the opinions of the hon. Gentleman showed his ignorance. He spoke as if Ministers had only one duty to perform. Well, he thought so. He might think one party only, the Crown, was to be considered. But there was another party, the people, who could not be overlooked, for they would not suffer themselves to be overlooked. The two parties, the King and the people, had each separate privileges, though they had only united interests, and it was the duty of the Government and the House to guard both. Both Houses of Parliament were free to act as they pleased, each in its own sphere; but the people of England would take care that each should act according to the rules of justice and the calls of public interest, and that one should not check the good intentions of the other. The other House must not mar the measures of the Commons, else they might rue it. The measures which he and his right hon. Friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer would advocate, might not be very palateable to the hon. Gentleman and his friends, for they only wanted to get the public money, and a pretty use they made of it when they got it. He was sorry the Parliament was so short, else he would take care to check the abuses of public patronage. If Ministers would take the advice of their friends in Parliament. They would not be in haste to make grants of public money till they saw how the measures on which the people had set their hearts were to be disposed of by the other and irresponsible branch of the Legislature. Were the millions of England to be led by a few individuals? Let the people of England but speak out, and then the other House might take what course they pleased.

Mr. Wilks

would venture to state that the inhabitants of the British Empire would be more satisfied with the conversation of that night than they would have been with a long debate upon any other subject; they would be highly satisfied with the constitutional tone and language of his Majesty's Ministers. If such a course of events were to be brought about as that supposed to be intended on the part of the other House of Parliament, it would be indeed a matter of regret to hon. Members that they had been only occupied in imposing new burdens on the people, and not at all in redressing their grievances.

Mr. Randall Plunkett

said, that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had given his explanation in a tone which he, during the short time he had been in Parliament, had never heard that right hon. Gentleman assume before. That right hon. Gentleman had spoken of the Tory doctrines of Members on his (Mr. Plunkett's) side of the House. Now, it was one of their Tory doctrines that each branch of the Legislature was independent, to judge and decide as it might think proper on every question brought before it, unbiassed by the opinion of other parties; but, at all events, bowing only to the majesty of the people—to the deliberate opinion of the free people of this empire, one of whose chief rights it was to have the opportunity, when accused, of defending themselves. Such was the opinion entertained by Gentlemen on this side of the House, and he felt convinced that none of them, who had lately held office with so much honour, would ever induced to accept office for the mere purpose of holding the public purse, or any of those petty gains which power might enable them to get, but for obtaining which in an improper way they would be punished by the eternal pangs of conscience. There did appear at first something extraordinary in the postponement of the appropriation clause, and because a young Member like himself got up to notice the circumstance, the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not justified in censuring him in the manner he had done. He was ready to admit, however, that the right hon. Gentleman had given satisfactory reasons for the postponement of the appropriation clause.

Mr. Charles Buller

sympathised in the warmth which his right hon. Friend had displayed in defending himself from the imputations which had been cast upon his motives. His right hon. Friend had stated a ground for the delay in question; another ground had been put forward by the hon. Member for Middlesex, and the hon. Gentleman opposite at once proceeded to "transfer"—to use his own expression—the latter ground to the account of his right hon. Friend. As an old Member of Parliament compared to the two young Members who had spoken, he would make one recommendation to the hon. Gentleman, the Member for Newark—namely, before he made a violent attack on a political adversary, he should carefully attend to what that adversary said. As to the transfer of the charge to the hon. Member for Middlesex and others—he himself must come in for a share of it; for he did think that if ever there was an occasion on which the House was called upon to exercise with due deliberation the power which their ancestors had placed in their hands—of deciding whether they would place the public money in the possession of improper persons, and to protect the rights of the people from those by whom they were insolently invaded, it was the present. He repeated that they were called upon to consider well, before they granted money out of the public purse, whether they would place it in the hands of those who would spurn the prayers and wishes of the people. The hon. Gentleman opposite, with that tender Tory conscience of which he seemed to boast, wished to have it thought that he despised the possession of the public purse. The true representatives of the people would not despise it, because they knew it to he the safeguard of the people's liberties; and that House would be the traitors to those liberties if they allowed it unadvisedly to leave their hands.

Mr. Ewart

said, that judging from the petitions presented to the House, the people of England must also come in for a share of the "transfer" spoken of. The House was now called upon to use the means which had been placed at their disposal for the protection of the people; and in exercising it, they would show themselves the real friends and steady advocates of the prerogative of the Crown. It was their first duty to advise the King and the other branch of the Legislature, of what were the real feelings of the people; the moment they ceased to do so, they abandoned their duty to the people and the Crown.

Mr. Tooke

said, that the important conversation which had now taken place, was the most satisfactory answer that could be given to a petition which he had presented in the early part of the evening; it spoke volumes, in a language not to be misunderstood, and showed that that House, in the undoubted exercise of its privileges, would not bestow the public funds, over which it was the guardian, until those objects had been obtained which the interests of the country loudly called for. He, for one, should withhold his assent to the appropriation of the Supplies until the wishes of the people on the subject of Municipal Reform had been satisfied.

Dr. Bowring

, as a Representative of Scotland, wished it to be understood that the people of that country, so far as he was acquainted with their opinions, would not willingly see the money of the people in. trusted to hands in which they had no confidence.

Mr. Thomas Attwood

thought, it most important that the House of Lords should not be deceived as to the opinions and determinations of the people of England, and should fully understand that they could not trample upon that people. He had but recently come from a meeting in the country, which had been attended by 10,000 individuals. He felt sure that it would not be safe for that House to oppose their feelings and opinions. It had even been observed at that meeting, that under the present march of education and diffusion of knowledge, the time would soon approach when the country would need neither House of Lords nor a King, and the shout with which that sentiment had been received by those 10,000 men, had almost brought the roof under which they were assembled, about his ears.

Mr. Twiss

had hoped, that after the explanation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the debate would be brought to a close. But when he heard the speeches of the Members opposite, especially the speeches of the Members for Middlesex and Birmingham, he was not sorry that it was protracted, because he was anxious to see to what extent the speculations of the innovators on our settled form of Government—on the institutions of the country— those institutions that had existed for ages and ministered to the renown and happiness of England in peace and war—would be carried in that House. He wished an extension of the debate in order to elicit a development of the scheme—not of Revolution, for that word might call forth a check and a contradiction, and he wished to avoid the jars of controversy—but of the principle of innovation and overthrow that was wafted over the nation on the wings of Ministerial influence. ["Hear, hear."] The speech of the Member for Birmingham was no doubt a fair index—and the echoing cheers of the Ministerial benches showed that it was—of the sort of theories and practice of those who propped up this fragile and limping Administration—those who paraded sinewy power for moral force, and by numbers meant to bear down rank, and talent, and virtue, and loyalty. If Ministers, having listened to the statement of the hon. Member for Birmingham, and to his approval of the facts he mentioned, deigned to uphold themselves in office by instruments and means of such a nature —he would not venture to characterise them—then it was high time the nation should be put upon its guard, and that the loyalty of the people should he summoned to resist principles that were dangerous, and doctrines that were misguiding. ["Oh, oh," from the Ministerial benches.] Did hon. Gentlemen opposite intend to put him down hy faction and clamour? They could not. He stood there backed only by seven, and the opposite side possessed a powerful majority. To show the sort of league the Government entered into with the hon. Member for Birmingham, and the results that would flow from it, he would quote a passage from a speech of his in that House, and in doing this he would judge of the character of the present Government who consorted with him. It was a good old maxim—"I judge of you by your fellows." The hon. Member said, "The Government had better take care how they proceed. They had arrayed against them the aristocracy, the clergy, the gentry, and the great fundholders?—their only support must be in the virtuous people." Now, what virtue could there be in the remainder of the population, after the abstraction of the aristocracy, the gentry, the clergy, and the great fundholders? It had been boasted, that the people required the enactment of this and that measure, and desired to control the functions of one branch of the Legislature. He was the advocate of the people in this case. He was sure there was too right-minded and fine-spirited a sense of nobleness and justice among them to be cajoled by the mischievous and dishonest devices of these volunteer demagogues. He was sure they would awake from the narcotic effects of the draughts of political poison, that selfish speculators, both in a high and low station, administered to them. Dangerous theorists, in propounding every wild innovation, boasted that the people were with them; but the people had stood to the institutions of the country before; and the old loyal British spirit reviving, they would stand to them again.

Lord John Russell

said, it is certainly not my intention to answer the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, because I consider his speech as little else than a second attempt to enter on that debate which the hon. Member near him (Mr. Plunkett) so indiscreetly and unwisely endeavoured to provoke. The simple question, which my right hon. Friend stated in terms as plain and distinct as those in which any proposition could be submitted, was that the House, having only just received the Amendments made by the Lords, in the Bill for the Militia, it was necessary to bring forward the Militia Estimates; and until these Estimates were agreed to, it would be impossible that the appropriation of the Supplies of the year (the Act for voting which was placed on the Notice-book for this evening) could be determined. On that simple statement the hon. Member for Newark thought fit to raise up an accusation against the Ministers of the Crown, and to charge them with conduct which was indecent and indelicate—to charge them with not doing their duty to their Sovereign, and putting off a Bill which ought to be now immediately considered. It is quite true that these expressions of opinions have been withdrawn; but I am not surprised that when accusations of this kind are made, and when they are followed up by what I think was not withdrawn, a dictation to this House with regard to the Question of Supplies—namely, to tell this House, that it was not for them to decide whether they ought to be voted, but that the hon. Gentleman opposite had a right to lay down the certain times and periods at which the Supplies should be made complete—I say, when speeches of this kind are made, comprehending in the first place an accusation which was proved to be totally unfounded against the Ministers of the Crown, and which a single minute's attention would have prevented, and when they contain, in the second place, what was very like a rebuke to the House, by declaring when and how the House of Commons should vote the Supplies—I repeat, when language of such a description is used, I am not astonished that it should excite not a little of angry discussion. For my own part, I can only say, if there is any course which I have advised this House to take, I have recommended them to do so consistently both with our duty to the Crown, and with our duty to the people. We are the servants of the Crown; we are at the same time the Representatives of the people. I think that these interests can be combined, and with that conviction impressed on my mind, I will not listen to the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Twiss) whose sentiments respecting the middle classes may be still in the recollection of some who hear me, when he delivers a lecture on the subject of what the people really are, what are the opinions of the people, and as to who are those who misrepresent the sentiments of the people. I hold no other doctrine than this—that I think we are here to represent the people, and to consult the people's interest. I do not impute it as a fault to the other branch of the Legislature, that when legislative measures come before them, they propose such alterations in those measures as they consider proper and consistent with their duty; but I do say, with respect to these legislative measures, and with respect to the voting the Supplies of money to the Crown, that this House is in full possession of all the powers which any House of Commons ever had. It is not for them (and I should be very sorry to find them doing so) to enter into any debates or discussions in which the independent rights, either of the Crown or the House of Lords should be impugned; but on the other hand I am not ready (and I will not submit to do so from any imputation which may be thrown out on the other side) to give up one single iota of the powers which are considered the undoubted and indefeasible rights of the House of Commons—to provide such laws as they think are necessary for the redress of grievances, and to vote such Supplies as they may think in their consciences are best calculated to maintain the honour of the Crown, and to preserve the great interests of the country. I state my opinions on this subject openly; these opinions are not changed from what they have been. I have been favourable to measures of Reform; I am still favourable to measures of Reform; but I am not responsible undoubtedly for the opinions of those with whom I may be found in a division. In some of those opinions they may differ from me; but I must say, that believing them to be anxious to act in such a way as they think to be their duty to their constituents, I am persuaded that the support which they have given to his Majesty's Ministers is as independent and honest as any that was ever given to any Ministry. I am not disposed, I repeat, to hold myself answerable for every opinion which may be expressed by those hon. Members in this House, or elsewhere; but, on the other hand, I do not hesitate to accept their support as tendered upon honest and conscientious grounds—a support which could not be bought by any corrupt means; and I feel convinced that if they do not withhold that support from us for the future, it will only be because they believe that we are endeavouring to do our best, to serve the interests of the people.

Mr. Twiss

said, that he had not interrupted the noble Lord, though he should have been justified in doing so on the ground of misrepresentation. The mistake into which the noble Lord had now fallen was the same as that which was committed by Lord Althorp during the discussion on the Reform Bill. The opinions which he expressed upon that occasion with respect to the middle classes, were misconceived by the noble Lord (Lord Althorp), as he (Mr. Twiss) had proved. He was surprised therefore to hear this misrepresentation repeated.

Lord John Russell

was extremely sorry to have misrepresented the hon. Gentleman; but his impression of what had occurred on the occasion alluded to was such as he had stated.

Sir Edward Codrington

begged to return his Majesty's Ministers thanks for the expression of constitutional doctrines which they had that night given. It was because he was an ardent admirer of our present form of Government, that he was desirous that the just expectations of the people should be granted, and he was quite sure that if they were not, serious consequences would result to that Constitution.

Dr. Baldwin

took that opportunity of saying, that a petition, agreed to at a most numerous and respectable meeting in the city of Cork, had been presented to the House of Lords, praying that they would pass the Municipal Reform Bill as it was sent up from the Commons, without any alteration in its main principles. It was well known that Cork was the second city in point of wealth and independence in Ireland, and he had mentioned the fact of such a petition having been agreed to in that city, to show that the strongest interest was felt in the fate of this measure amongst the people of Ireland as well as those of England. He conceived that the sentiments of the hon. Member for Birmingham had been grossly misrepresented on the other side, for he understood his argument to be, that the people were not inclined to sweep away any branch of the Legislature until they found that its preservation was wholly incompatible with the maintenance of their rights and liberties. He, for one, had no hesitation in declaring, that he would not consent to the Appropriation Act being passed, or the Supplies being voted to his Majesty's Ministers, until he saw strong grounds for believing that the grievances of the people would be effectually redressed. What was the state of things now before him? A Government was in power in whom the people had confidence—a Ministry which had established a further claim to the gratitude of the country by the constitutional doctrines which they had that night propounded. They were opposed by a faction by whom they might, as they were heretoiore, be defeated; but whilst he would not then say, where the manifestation of the opinions of that faction were most clearly exhibited, or where their strong-hold existed, he could not help expressing his unwillingness to vote those Supplies which might be diverted from their legitimate objects, and turned to the advantage of that band by whom the people had been plundered and oppressed. It was his fixed resolution to remain there to contend for the liberty of the people; and whilst that was in danger, he should never consent to vote the Supplies.

Order of the Day for a Committee on the Consolidated Fund.

Bill postponed.