§ Lord John Russell
spoke to the following effect: I rise, not without considerable anxiety to propose to the House the consideration of the Amendments made by the House of Lords to a Bill which passed this House for the regulation of Municipal Corporations in England and Wales. I feel that this question does not come before the House as one comprising only the benefit or the mischief of certain alterations introduced by the other House of Parliament. The many petitions presented to this House, some of which I have had the honour to lay upon the Table, numerously signed, show that a great degree of excitement prevails upon the subject, and that there is a dread, a more than an ordinary dread, lest agreeing or assenting in any manner to the changes made by the House of Lords, we should in any way compromise or forfeit our character as representing the people whose interests we are sent here to support. I must say, that this feeling has grown to a great degree of excitement in many places, and if in some respects it has been carried beyond what I think the exact importance and value of the Amendments we have to consider, I believe it has been caused in a great degree by the manner of proposing, no less than by the matter of these Amendments. I feel persuaded that if the Bill which passed this House, had been at once taken into consideration by the House of Lords, and if they had made simply such alterations in it as appeared to them to be necessary, to correct any defects or to add any improvements to its framework, the temper with which those Amendments would have been received would have been very different from the temper which now exists. I am sorry to say, however, that though the Bill, now returned to us, was not immediately opposed in the House of Lords in principle, there were sent through the country opinions so disparaging to it as had been approved of by this House, so injurious to the people whom it was to enfranchise, that great irritation was felt, and that irritation, I must say, was increased ten-fold when a Gentleman was called to the Bar of the House of Lords and 1133 there permitted to indulge in language, not only such as might be necessary for defending, as he might have had a fair title to defend the rights of any persons affected or injured by the Bill, but language which I think, one House of Parliament ought not to permit to be used in respect to the proceedings of the other, and which, if any one should propose that we should permit counsel at our Bar to use respecting the House of Lords, I should object to, because I would not allow the other branch of the Legislature to be insulted at our Bar. Proceedings of this nature, followed by the calling of a number of persons as witnesses to the Bar of the other House of Parliament—persons who could only have one opinion respecting these Corporations—did, as seems to me, create, and I think justly create, a feeling of irritation among a large portion of the people, begetting an idea instead of merely considering the public injury or benefit of the provisions of the Bill which we had sent up, an opportunity was taken to disparage us, the representatives of the people, in the eyes of the country. It is not my intention to allude further to this subject; I wish to consider in my subsequent observations the various Amendments made by the House of Lords, and whether it may or may not be our duty, consistently with the great principles of the measure which we have approved, to adopt or reject their Amendments; but I thought that, in the position in which I stand, I should have been in some degree betraying what is due to the character and dignity of this House if I had not taken some notice of the proceedings to which I have alluded. With respect to the Amendments themselves, which are embodied in the Bill which we have now before us, there is a great distinction to be taken—and I wish at once to take it—between those parts of the Bill which go to constitute the future governing body for these Corporations, in the place of those bodies which are established by the old charters, and those other facts which necessarily came before us in considering the subject of Municipal Reform. In the latter division I include the provisions respecting the property which has been hitherto enjoyed by freemen in common—the right of voting for Members of Parliament—and some others, subjects to which I shall hereafter allude. The first division—that referring to the governing body—is, in my opinion, the most important for us to attend to; and if we can make up our minds that, by the 1134 introduction of certain alterations, and by the rejection of certain Amendments which have been proposed—the Bill, as sent down to us by the House of Lords, might be moulded into such a shape as to give us a governing body, which should for the future, conduct the administration of these towns in such a way, that they may for ever he and remain well and quietly governed; and if we can convince ourselves that a great reform of present grievances and abuses can be so obtained; and that for the future, this country would have within it Municipal Corporations acting with integrity and vigour, capable at once of securing the interests of those inhabitants over whom they preside, and of preserving the peace within their boundaries to the general benefit of the King's subjects—in that case I should say, that we ought to consider the Bill with the sole view of endeavouring to obtain that great end. I would hold myself entirely unmoved by those irritating passions which have led some to reject provisions because they had been proposed by others; I would throw out of sight and out of mind what might have been the original proposition, and whether that proposition were in the abstract the best which could be adopted or not, and I would say this for the sake of the welfare of this country, and that we may not from year to year have this subject of contention renewed among us—a subject of contention which not only affects the persons and the subjects treated by this Bill, but goes far beyond them, and extends over the whole surface of the country, and goes far beyond those subjects into questions of the power and privileges of the Legislature, and the use and exercise of that power and the privileges by its different component parts—in order, I repeat, to get rid of such a topic of passion and excitement, and with the view of obtaining a good governing body for the future, I am ready to forget and forego every argument that I may have heard in favour of the propositions which were carried from this House. But there are certain Amendments among those made by the House of Lords in this part of the Bill which I think would prevent it from attaining the end which I have declared to be indispensable. I consider as totally incompatible with the object which I have pointed out, the. keeping up in any way, and by any title, under the propositions of this Bill, of those who have hitherto been considered as Aldermen, or parts of the governing body. In the 1135 first instance, as a question of principle, our Bill went on the general proposition of founding the future municipal body on a large popular basis; and if persons are to be so introduced by one of the amended provisions of the Bill, with no other title than that of self-election, on which they have for the most part hitherto held their places in the governing bodies, and if they in the meetings of the Corporation, are, as they necessarily must be, brought into contact with others elected under a popular system, such a mixture, so far from tending to harmony, can tend only to embarrass, disturb, and weaken the action of the municipal body, which we wish to be powerful and which we wish to be popular. A similar observation, I should apply to another amendment introduced by the House of Lords—I mean that relating to Town-clerks. It is provided by one Amendment, "that the persons now holding the office of Town-clerk in the Boroughs mentioned in schedules A and B to this Act appended, shall be continued in and shall hold such office during their respective good behaviour; and that all the charters, deeds, muniments, and records of every Borough, or relating to the property thereof, shall be kept in such place as the Council from time to time shall direct, and the Town-clerk for the time being shall have the charge and custody of, and be responsible for the same." Another provision is "that the Town-clerk shall not be disqualified for acting as clerk to the Justices;" and again, "the Council shall appoint a Clerk of the Peace, if the Town-clerk of such Borough shall decline to act as such Clerk of the Peace." On the subject of registration, it is provided that a registrar shall be appointed—unless the Town-clerk shall act as such. Now, I have no particular enmity to these Town-Clerks, though the other House has looked on them with especial tenderness; but I think that appointing of Town-clerks' irremoveable by the Council would tend to nothing but discord. The circumstance of the Town-clerk having the custody of the charters and muniments, and being enabled by the knowledge which he necessarily possesses to prevent the Council from entering into examinations which might be desirable, would be a cause of perpetual irritation, not only to the Council, but to the Borough generally, and quite contrary to the principles on which we originally brought in the Bill, and which met the approbation of this House. The remark which I have made 1136 in reference to the continuance of Alder, men and Town-clerks, will also apply to the continuance of justices for life who are such in their corporate capacity. With respect, however, to all those persons, while we ought not, in my opinion, to make any legislative provision for their continuance, we should be understood as by no means saying that they are persons who would be disqualified from holding in future the same situation which they have hitherto held. If there be men in the situation of Aldermen who, by their respectability of character and their situation in the town, have obtained the esteem and confidence of their fellow-citizens, no doubt they may become such again; if there be a Town-clerk who has discharged the duties of his office with advantage to the Borough, it may be proper that the Council should appoint him again to exercise its functions; and if there be justices to whom the magisterial powers ought to be continued, it will be in the power of the Crown to continue them in the possession of their office. I have stated thus the alterations which I think are quite inadmissible, because it is impossible, under their operation, to have a new body which shall be free from the influences of the old one, and because they confound the reformed and the unreformed Councils of the Boroughs. For my own part, I can say that I would rather, in respect to this portion of the Bill, wait to reform the whole, and leave the present body unreformed, than take a body partly created by new election, and partly consisting of those elected under the old corporate system. I then come to those alterations by which, setting aside the point relating to existing Aldermen, it is proposed to constitute the new body for the future. It has been proposed by the Amendment of the House of Lords to constitute, by the election of the Council, Aldermen for life. The objection to that proposition is obviously this —that if you appoint them for life they may become negligent of their duties, the performance of which should secure them the attachment and confidence of their fellow-citizens; and, therefore, not being of opinion that such an arrangement would be a good or a wholesome one, I shall propose not the rejection of the proposal, but its Amendment, so that there should be a body of the same number as suggested in the Amendment of the House of Lords —namely, amounting to one-third or one fourth of the whole number of the Council, which body should be chosen by the Council 1137 for a period of six years, one-half of those chosen going out at the end of three years, so as always there should be a re-election of one-half of the number of Aldermen every three years. The object of the arrangement is to secure that there should be some part of the Council not deriving their office immediately from popular reelection and having a rather more permanent character than those who do depend immediately on popular election; and that object will, I think, be gained by the Amendment which I propose, while at the same time the inconvenience, and as I deem it, the misfortune of having persons chosen for life irremovable and irresponsible, will be taken away. Another alteration from which I do not propose to dissent, although I think that it goes much too far, is that respecting wards. It will be recollected, perhaps, that at the suggestion of my noble Friend, the Member for North Lancashire we did much enlarge the number of towns to which the principle of division into wards should be applied, by diminishing the amount of population which should be essential to its application in any particular town; and we sent the Bill to the House of Lords with this proposition, that where there were 12,000 inhabitants, there the borough should be divided. My noble Friend proposed that the number should be 10,000, one not differing much from that which I proposed, and which the House adopted. The proposition made by the House of Lords is, that the number should be 6,000, thus carrying the principle of division into wards further, in my opinion, than is warranted. I shall propose, therefore, that we should take a mean of 9,000, as the number to which the principle of division should be applicable. There is another amendment which has been made in respect to justices being recommended by the Council; it was proposed by the original measure that justices should be recommended by the Council, and that not till they had received a Commission from his Majesty should they be entitled to act in the magisterial capacity. This proposal of ours has been struck out by the House of Lords, and the provision is left thus—that the Crown shall at once nominate the justices of the peace for the boroughs. We are of opinion that it would add much to the satisfaction of these towns if the Council had the power of appointing those persons on whom they thought it right that the functions of justices should be conferred. It has been, 1138 however, represented—and in that speech to which I have alluded as having been made at the Bar of the House of Lords— that the proposition which we made in this respect, involved an infringement of the prerogative of the Crown. The fact is directly the reverse. In most places, those who are justices of the peace, by any corporate rights, derive it from election, made without reference to the Crown, though, it is true, under the royal charter; but in the same manner we might have proposed that the Councils for the boroughs should at once have nominated certain persons from themselves to be justices, without any reference to the Crown. In the latter case the justices would only be deriving from Parliamentary enactments, with the assent of the Crown, while at present they derive from Royal Charters. We proposed to give to the Crown the power of approving or disapproving of the nominations made by the Council, thus recurring to the prerogative what I think to be one of its rights, as well as a wholesome control respecting the persons who are to act as justices in the country,—but, at the same time, we did not deprive the Councils of towns of the power of recommending such persons as they should think fit to be intrusted with the magisterial functions. I confess that I do not see on what ground the amendment had been made by the House of Lords. On full reflection, I see no reason for abandoning the original proposition; therefore, I shall propose that we disagree to this amendment of the Peers. With regard to another alteration, relating to the boundaries of towns, and the manner of their division into wards, I think it to be inconvenient, but nothing more. It was originally provided, that upon a report made by certain Commissioners, the King in Council should have power to settle the boundaries of those Corporations not being Parliamentary boroughs. An amendment was proposed, though not adopted, in this House, that that settlement should be arranged only by Act of Parliament. The House of Lords seem to have adopted the principle of that amendment; and the consequence will be, that in those towns for which the Parliamentary boundaries are not taken, considerable inconvenience will be felt at the first election, and those places and parts of towns which ought to form portions of the municipal borough will be for a time excluded. I think, however, that we ought not to meet this amendment in anything like a captious spirit; and I 1139 shall, therefore, propose that we agree to it. With respect to the division into wards —there was at one period a proposition introduced into the Bill in the House of Lords that the division should be effected by the county justices; that would be, in my opinion, a most unfortunate arrangement—one leading to nothing but confusion, and which the county justices would necessarily be most unwilling to undertake the working of, as it must expose them to great obloquy. It is proposed, however, by the Bill now sent down, that the duty should be performed by the revising barristers. To that proposition I have no objection; but as some of these individuals are young and inexperienced men, I should be unwilling to leave a final decision in their hands, more especially as there is a power conferred on them of altering in a certain measure the number of wards and the number of Councillors to each ward. I should propose, therefore, that the reports should be made to the King in Council, and if confirmed should then have the force of law. I now come to another portion of the alterations, and it is that portion in which I own that I have had more doubts than I have felt respecting any amendments made in the other House of Parliament—I mean that relating to the question of qualifications for Councillors. It will be remembered that that was a question very much debated in this House, and that the right hon. Baronet opposite—the Member for Tamworth— whom I will take this opportunity of saying I am most rejoiced to see present to night—proposed a qualification not differing materially from the average of those qualifications which he found in Local Acts, giving at the same time the alternative, that there should be a certain amount of rating and a certain amount of property in some boroughs, and a superior degree of rating and a higher amount of property in others. I think that his proposition was not liable to more objection than any qualification is liable to. I stated to the House at the time, and my friends around me Stated, the grounds on which we thought it better that no qualification should be required; and the principle for which we then contended, is one which I think must sooner or later be adopted by the Legislature in respect to elections of this kind, and which is so sound in itself that it may be left to work its way. If you leave it to the elector to choose a person of sufficient abilities and character, you leave it to him also to choose a person of sufficient property 1140 when property is required; and in many places abilities and character supply the place of property. But at the same time I am quite aware of the truth of what the right hon. Baronet stated at the time, that qualification has been in a great many Acts of Parliament the rule laid down, and that there are still a great many persons who think that some qualification ought to be taken. Feeling, however, that the principle which I have already spoken of must ultimately be adopted, and yet seeing what has been the course of the Legislature hitherto upon this subject, I certainly have made up my mind not to resist an amendment which shall contain a qualification. The amendments made in the House of Lords have themselves varied considerably on this point. The first alteration provided that no persons should be qualified to act as Councillors, unless they were contained in a list comprising only one-sixth of the rate-payers. This is obviously liable to the objection of its pointing out a certain number of persons, and distinguishing them from the rest of their fellow-citizens—that is, in point of fact, saying to a man, "You must be rated at a certain amount to be eligible"—but "here is an aristocracy, and unless you belong to it, it is impossible for you to hope to be a Councillor." I think that there is something invidious in such a proposition, and coming as it did from an "hereditary tribune" of the poor, it is somewhat extraordinary that such a rule as it establishes should have been adopted. But since the Bill was printed in the form in which it contained this amendment, it went again through a Committee of the House of Lords; and in the form in which it was afterwards printed it contains another provision for the qualification, to which I must fairly say the same objection does not apply. It is this— that to be qualified, the party should possess a certain amount of property, in some boroughs 1000l., and in others 500l. If this qualification were proposed in the same manner as suggested by the right hon. Baronet, being taken as an alternative to the other qualification which he mentioned, it would, in my opinion, be a fair matter for consideration, and I am prepared to say that I should give it every favourable consideration. But in looking into the Bill, and reflecting on this part of it, I find that it was introduced in a particular manner. [Sir Robert Peel: what is the Clause in question?] It is the 15th. If the right hon. Baronet will look at that Clause 1141 he will perceive that this is the manner in which the system of qualification there laid down is to be carried into effect:—that the overseers are to mate out a list of persons qualified for Councillors, comprehending one-sixth of the whole number of ratepayers, those selected being the highest rated in the burgess-lists, and comprehending also all those having a certain amount of property—either 1,000l. or 500l.; that those claiming to be placed on the lists, on the ground of possessing that amount of property, should send in a claim to the overseer to have their names so inserted, and that their claims might be objected to before the revising barrister or the mayor, when the qualification and the right of voting should be examined. We certainly cannot say that the other House of Parliament are enemies to innovation; for this and the other proposition respecting the sixth class of rate-payers are undoubtedly as great innovations as ever were attempted, It is perfectly fair and intelligible to say that a man who possesses a freehold of the annual value of 40s. or who rents a tenement rated at 50l. a-year, shall be eligible; but to say that he must be possessed of a real or personal estate to the amount of 1,000l. or 500l. that he must bring forward his name as one claiming to be enrolled on the ground of possessing that estate, and that his claim so preferred shall be liable to objection and examination before the revising barrister, is, in my opinion, applying a principle totally new, and one which, in its application to persons in trade, in corporate towns of some considerable extent, cannot fail to be productive of an investigation most odious in its character, and most pregnant with evil consequences. I can suppose a case, in which a man coming before the revising barrister to substantiate his claim, might be exposed to an interrogation of the most unpleasant character. "Have you 500l. clear?—Do you not owe 150l. to Mr. Thomas?—Have you not bestowed some portion of your property on such an one?" These and other questions of the like kind would constitute an examination to which many persons might not be disposed to submit. And then, if they did not come forward to prefer their claim—if they said that they would rather abandon their pretensions than undergo such an examination, and if the lists were then put up in the borough purporting to be of all persons worth 500l. what then would be their situation? Men would say to each of them, "Oh Mr. Williams!" or "Mr. 1142 Tomkins!" as it might be—"I find that you are not worth 500l. your name is not in the lists." In short, Sir, it seems to me that the objections are strong in the highest degree to the introduction of this species of qualification—that it is, indeed, a very improper one—and one which in our country would not fail to produce the greatest evils. I do not say that it may not be possible so to amend this proposition as to make it work without producing evil; and I should wish therefore to reserve the consideration of the question involved in this particular amendment till to-morrow. For my own part I am quite ready, whether it may he proper or improper in me to yield on the principle of qualification, to consider and deliberate as to the admission of a property qualification; but I wish now to reserve the question as to the manner in which that principle can be best introduced, I hope, therefore, that those Gentlemen who are not prepared to object to all qualification will seriously consider the point as it now stands, that we may be enabled to offer some amendments to the present provisions in that respect. The other questions relating to the future government of the boroughs are not of so much importance as those which I have noticed, and I pass over to two or three other points on the other branch of the subject. There is an amendment proposed respecting property held by freemen, and there has been, I must say, a most unnecessary assertion introduced into the preamble of the Bill on that subject. Our Bill was sent up to the House of Lords with a general concurrence on the subject of everything relating to the inchoate rights of freemen, a subject which had excited much debate. The right hon. Baronet said on that occasion, "He knew it was difficult to suggest anything of which it might not be possible to show that some part of it was not in strict conformity with a general principle. But it seemed to be agreed by all parties that it was very desirable to make corporate property available for the benefit of the commonalty at large. There might be special cases in which the property had been given to particular individuals; but assuming that, by the original intention of the donors, the property was for the benefit of the inhabitants of the boroughs at large, it was admitted that, by very long prescription, of which they could scarcely trace the origin, this property had been appropriated to certain descriptions of inhabitants only, and that the right to participate in it was now only to be acquired 1143 by birth, servitude, or marriage. It appeared to him that it would be consistent with respect to the original destination of this property, at least it would be as near an approximation to the original destination as it was possible to arrive at, if the House were to establish this principle, namely, that those who were not now married should not hereafter by marriage derive any right to participate in this property; that those who had not yet entered into servitude should not have any such right; but that those who had so entered into servitude should be considered as having an inchoate right; and that with respect to birth, those now actually born should be put upon the same footing as those who had now actually entered into servitude; while those who should hereafter be born should participate in the property only so far as they were members of the commonalty at large."* I believe that that is not an inaccurate account of what was stated by the right hon. Gentleman, and it seemed to me, when I heard it, to be a very fair announcement of a principle on which the House might proceed. It was different from the principle which had been adopted by the Government; but we took the declaration of the right hon. Gentleman, and the rule on which the clause should be framed, and the clause so framed was sent up to the House of Lords, not on the decision simply of a majority of ten, twenty, or even 100 or 150, but as the deliberate opinion of the House of Commons at large. After that decision I do think that there was something most unnecessary in the declaration inserted by the House of Lords into the preamble of the Bill—"that the common lands and public stock of such cities, towns, and boroughs, and the rents and profits thereof, have been held and applied for the particular benefit of the citizens, freemen, and burgesses of the said cities, towns, and boroughs respectively, or of certain of them, and have not been applied to public purposes; and it would be unjust to deprive such persons of their rights of property, and to apply the same to other purposes." Thus to recite in the preamble of the measure that our proposition is altogether unjust, is, I think, one of that class of wanton amendments to which I certainly shall not agree. I shall not make any opposition to that part of the amendment which reserves the common lands to the sons of freemen, although I* Hansard, vol, xxviii. p. 1186.1144 think it an alteration much for the worse. I do so on the principle which I have already laid down, of endeavouring to secure a good municipal government in future. That part of it, however, which applies to exemption from tolls, I think most injurious. To the amendment which continues to freemen the right of voting for Members of Parliament, I shall not propose to disagree. I stated my objection to the proposal when it was made to this House; but it is not a question immediately connected with the government of Corporations. There is one amendment, however, not affecting the future good government of the towns—one incidental to the Bill, and from which great practical harm would not, indeed, result; but which is, at the same time, so repugnant to principle, that I cannot consent to ask the House to agree to it—I mean that by which it is proposed that none of the governing body of Municipal Corporations should present to livings, except such as are members of the Church of England. It will be recollected by many, that when I proposed the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts, a declaration was proposed by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, to be taken by all persons in lieu of the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. I agreed to that proposition, on the ground that it was a declaration to be taken alike by Churchman and Dissenter, and that it would not establish any odious line of separation, by requiting from the Dissenter one declaration, and from the Churchman another—and thus instituting an inquiry into a man's religious opinions. Considering the great principle which was then established, I do think that by departing from it as proposed by the amendment of the Lords, not only would considerable dissatisfaction be created between two bodies of the Council, but that in fact a state of religious dissension would be fomented and kept alive. On this question, therefore, I feel it my duty to oppose the amendment of the Lords. I have now gone through the various amendments of importance which have been made by the Lords, and I have stated to the House the view which I take in connexion with them. I shall propose that we postpone those early amended clauses, and at once proceed to that which continues the present aldermen for life, which, as I have said, in my opinion, is liable to insuperable objections. I have stated other amendments to which objection can also be made, but I trust that by the various concessions which his Ma- 1145 jesty's Government are disposed to make on this subject, I have shown that they are not unwilling to come to a settlement on the subject of this Bill, which shall not prevent the future good government of corporate towns, and which shall not lower the dignity or impair the character of either House of Parliament. But if these concessions shall not be deemed sufficient, and if the House of Lords insist on their amendments, I shall not regret the course I have taken. I have been anxious in describing the course taken by the other House to guard the rights and dignity of this House; but I think that no loss of dignity or character will ensue to us, if we show that we are ready to discuss in a temperate tone, and retreating from some of our own professions, those amendments which have been made in the other House of Parliament, I think that if the present constitution of this country—the constitution of the three estates—is to continue, it is only in this manner that we can hope to see great legislative improvements effected. I have been of opinion that before the Reform Bill, and since the Reform Bill I remain of opinion that great reforms are necessary, and that there are great and notorious abuses which require to be corrected. But, Sir, it is my wish, and I believe it is the wish of the great majority of the Members of this House, and of the people of this country, that these reforms should be carried into effect in a spirit of peace; not disturbing the occupations, and not interfering with the industry of the people on the one hand, and not, on the other, curtailing the constitutional powers bestowed on either branch of the Legislature. I have seen nothing, notwithstanding the angry discussions which have occurred relative to this measure, and with respect to some of the amendments which have been made in it, to induce me to give up the great and consoling hope that reform can be effected in this manner; but if it should not be so effected—if I be disappointed in this hope—it will never be a source of regret to me, as the friend of reform, and the advocate of improvement, that I have not insisted on any extreme right, and that I wished to carry these improvements into effect on terms of conciliation, and in the sincere desire that the constitution of this country may be preserved and perpetuated.
§ Sir R. Peel
began by observing, that the noble Lord in the speech which he had just delivered was pleased so far to compliment him as to express some satisfaction 1146 at his being present for the purpose of taking a part in their deliberations on that occasion; and if that satisfaction was founded in the belief that he should aid in making; a settlement of this Question (so far as his humble powers might enable him so to do)—that he should aid that settlement, which was perfectly consistent with the honour, the dignity, and the independence of both Houses of Parliament —the noble Lord did him but justice in attributing to him such motives. He did feel it to be his duly to be present at the discussion, because he did entertain a hope that there were elements for a satisfactory arrangement on this subject. He appeared there also for the purpose of resisting, in case it should be made—though he did not expect it would be made, and the tone of the noble Lord's speech almost convinced him that it would not be made, —he appeared there for the purpose, he repeated, of resisting, if it should have been made, any measure or resolution calculated in the slightest degree to interfere with the honour or independent character of the House of Lords as a branch of the Legislature. In the maintenance of that independent action he believed the prosperity of this country and its good legislation to be intimately involved: and he also believed that any attempt to subvert the one would terminate in the speedy ruin of the other. He did not, however, hesitate to pay the House the willing compliment of believing that, notwithstanding the menaces and denunciations of the press, their superior judgment would prevail, and that a vast majority of them would refuse to be a party to any proceeding calculated to destroy, or which at least would afford a precedent for the ultimate destruction of that happily mixed and tempered form of Government under which the empire had so long flourished. Much of the noble Lord's speech, he was bound to say, he had heard with great satisfaction; but he was bound also to say that there were some parts of it which he wished were omitted, because they interrupted what, but for them, would have been perfectly harmonious. There were some parts of the noble Lord's speech, referring to the other House, which he considered hardly justifiable. He repeated, that he thought the language of the noble Lord not justifiable, if it were only that the tone and temper which characterized the part of 1147 the noble Lord's speech in which he alluded to the House of Lords were not in concurrence with the sentiments expressed in the remainder of it, and appeared to be the result of a departure from its general tenour. It was scarcely in his opinion necessary to allude so minutely to the proceedings of the House of Lords, or to throw upon the House of Lords the responsibility of expressions used by Counsel at theirBar.—[Interruption.]—He was stating his opinions, and he trusted not exaggerated opinions, upon the noble Lord's speech, and he would not be deterred from so doing by any interruption with which Gentlemen opposite might choose to meet him. It was his right, as a Member of the House, when he concurred with the noble Lord's sentiments, to express, in such terms as he chose to employ, that concurrence; and it was equally his right, when he differed from the noble Lord, and whenever he thought proper to censure any part of any speech he might make, to claim and use a similar liberty. Freedom of speech was his privilege as a Member of the House, and that privilege, considering it to be the key to freedom of discussion, he was determined to assert whenever he saw it in the most trivial degree assailed. He contended that when the House of Lords once determined to hear Counsel at their Bar—and let him remind the noble Lord that one of the most powerful supporters of this Bill, and one who once occupied the Woolsack, was himself a party to the proceeding by which Counsel were heard at the Bar—he did not stop to consider whether it were a right or wrong course to hear Counsel; but one of the most determined supporters of the Bill was not only a party to the hearing of those Counsel, but the person who selected them,—but he contended that when the House of Lords had determined to hear Counsel at its Bar, it became an exceedingly difficult, if not impossible matter, to place any restrictions on what they might please to express. Nothing could be more dangerous or more unjust than to attempt to limit Counsel in the choice of that course which they might think it right to take, or in the use of those expressions, which they might consider it for the interest of their clients to employ. They might, if they pleased, have refused to hear Counsel at all; but having once permitted them to appear at their Bar, it was indisputable (and in this as- 1148 sertion he would be supported by every member of the profession) that no Counsel would exercise the privilege of pleading if interruptions were permitted, or if it were allowed to the tribunal before whom he was suffered to plead, on accusations affecting judicial rights, to delineate the course which they should be bound to pursue. There had been at former periods, Bills before the House of Lords—Bills, for instance, of Pains and Penalties— upon which Counsel were heard, who indulged in observations distasteful to the majority of the House of Commons, but on those occasions no attempt was made to dictate to Counsel what course they should adopt, or what language they should employ. He was not saying too much in asserting that such an attempt would have met with a signal resistance from some of the very party who now so vehemently exclaimed against the latitude allowed to Counsel in the case of the measure under discussion. In his opinion, it is much better for tribunals on all occasions to protect, that great principle, which after all was the main spring of free discussion, and permit to Counsel charged with the defence of the interests of their clients, the free choice of their topics, and, at the same time, of the language in which those topics should be expressed. But let him entreat the noble Lord, on the present occasion, to recollect, as against the language and course adopted by the Counsel in the House of Lords, the fact—and it was a fact for which he could vouch—that out of deference to the wishes of the House of Commons many of the Peers waved objections they entertained to the Bill, their object in so doing being the preservation of those two great principles upon which the House of Commons set so much value—he meant those of popular control over the proceedings of Councils and of Annual Elections. Let the noble Lord recollect that those were considered by this House the main principles of the Measure, and let the noble Lord, at the same time, bear in mind that, notwithstanding any of the amendments introduced into it by the other House of Parliament, these still continued the most prominent features of the Amended Bill. It was hardly necessary, he conceived, for the noble Lord to have made any apologies for the concessions which he was willing to make, when he bore in mind that these two great principles of popular 1149 control and annual election had be confirmed by the House of Lords. He thought, indeed, that the noble Lord and the House of Commons should feel a stronger inclination to regard in a favourable light those amendments which had been made by the Lords, and from which they (the House of Commons) might, abstractedly speaking, be inclined to dissent, when they reflected that the House of Lords, habituated to take a different view of charters—yes, he repeated, habituated to take a different view of charters and vested rights, had relinquished those motives by which, under ordinary circumstances, they were actuated, from a desire to establish not only a good system of Municipal Government, but a system founded on such principles as they thought the House of Commons would be likely to approve. In estimating the amount of concession, he could never forget that it was an impossibility that both Houses should agree in every particular, and that it was nothing but intolerance and tyranny to deny to either the power of recording a sound and deliberate judgment on the measures which were submitted to its consideration. It was but acting in compliance with the true dictates of wisdom for each House to make such concessions as might be granted without the sacrifice of principle, and for both to join in following that course which might lead to the utmost mitigation of evil, and to the attainment of the greatest amount of good. If they could not effect that object, they must use their greatest possible efforts to accomplish it; but, above all, do not let them act on the presumptuous principle that they must be right and all others wrong, which was the foundation of all intolerance. So much he had said as to the general principle of the amendments which were made by the House of Lords, and he would next pass to the speech of the noble Lord. There was nothing, he was bound to admit, either in the tone or temper of the noble Lord's speech, or in the propositions which he laid down, or in those which he meant afterwards to submit, which should prevent the House of Lords from carefully reconsidering the amendments which they had introduced into this Measure. He meant to assert his own right of private judgment; but, whether he agreed to the amendments of the Lords or not, he should be ready and willing to consider them as the effect of 1150 decisions arrived at by a large majority of the other House of Parliament. He would then proceed to express his opinion as well as he could with respect to the more important proposals which the noble Lord had submitted for their consideration. The first was with reference to the amendment which directed the selection of aldermen for life. He believed he should most effectually (if he could do any thing towards conciliation) promote the possibility of a perfectly honourable arrangement on this subject by expressing clearly and decidedly his own opinions on this Amendment. As he said before he should with equal boldness express his concurrence in, or his objections to, the views which had been taken by the noble Lord. On that principle, then, he did not hesitate to say that he did not consider the introduction of Aldermen for life an improvement to the Bill. He felt bound further to say that if that proposal were made in the House, strong as his objections were to many parts of the Bill he did not think he could have supported such an Amendment. He did believe that the selection of a certain number of existing Aldermen, by the existing Councillors (existing at least in some cases), and constituting them by law a part of the new Council, to the amount of one-fourth, would imply a distrust, without conveying any security; and it appeared to him that it would place those Aldermen so selected for life in a permanent minority, and would countervail those advantages of character and station which would secure their return as Members of the Council, if placed upon a footing with the rest of the community, but which, under the proposed arrangement, would be more than counterbalanced, and even rendered completely nugatory by the fact that these Aldermen were forced into the Corporate Body without the consent of the community whose affairs they were to manage. It seemed to him also, that the placing for life those Aldermen to be selected by the existing Councils amongst the new bodies, was not in conformity with the general provisions of this measure. The noble Lord did not propose to reject altogether the Amendments made by the House of Lords, but that a certain number of the Council should be elected for six years— an alteration which, as it coincided with the principle of the present Amendment and with that of the Bill, would meet his appro- 1151 bation and he thought it was one to which the House of Lords ought to agree. With respect to the Town-Clerks, the Amendment respecting whom the noble Lord seemed to consider of the greatest importance, he felt obliged to express his disagreement from the. opinions expressed by the noble Lord. The noble Lord was obliged so far to admit the vested interest of the Town-Clerks, in their office as to grant them compensation for the loss of it. [Lord John Russell: the Town-Clerks were to receive compensation only in case of removal.] Yes, but was it not infinitely better to retain the individual who was able to perform the duties of the office, and to oblige him to fulfil those duties rather than remove him for the purpose of making-room for another to whom the same amount of salary would in all probability be paid, while the Town-Clerk who was deprived of his situation was granted a considerable sum in the shape of compensation. He might refer to the authority not only of the noble Lord but to the unanimous authority of Parliament, in confirmation of his opinion on this point. So lately as the year, 1832, subsequently to the Reform in Parliament, when a measure of the most extensive Reform in the Corporations of Scotland was introduced, although many of the principles on which that measure was founded were more extensive than those of the present Bill, yet probably from a provident knowledge of the Scotch, and the consequent conviction that they would infinitely prefer paying the existing Clerk for performing the duties of his office, to giving him compensation for his removal from it and putting another in his place, who should be paid the same salary, Parliament paid the just and merited compliment to the people of Scotland of expressly providing that it would be lawful for the Town-Clerk who held office at the time the Bill came into operation, to continue to hold it ad vitam aut culpam. The third point in the noble Lord's speech, related to the nomination of the Justices. He considered the Amendment of the House of Lords in this particular part of the Bill to be one attended with great advantages. As they sent the Bill from the House of Commons these Justices were proposed to be invested by the Crown with certain local jurisdiction, but that the candidates for the office should be selected and nominated by the Town- 1152 Council. It was argued that this practice was in conformity with the ancient and continued practice of Corporations, by which the Justices were always chosen and appointed; but those who took this view of the subject forgot that by the ancient practice the Magistrates were really ex officio, for the charters which constituted the Corporations were granted by the Crown, and under these charters they were enabled to act ex officio, the appointment conferring on them judicial functions. By this Bill, however, as it passed the Commons, the Council was empowered to present a certain number of individuals to the Crown, and to confine the Crown in its selection to the persons whom they had chosen. A most invidious task was thus imposed on the Crown of rejecting a certain number of those submitted for appointment. He thought, therefore, that the unrestricted choice which was now allowed to the Crown was preferable; for where responsibility existed at all, it was infinitely better that it should be undivided than that it should be shared upon two separate parties. He must say, then, that it was a course which was more respectful to the Crown, and more likely to ensure a judicious selection of Magistrates, that the choice should be perfectly free, and not restricted to a limited number nominated by the Town-Council. He considered it quite right that the management of, and control over, local affairs should be intrusted to those chosen by the inhabitants; but it did not necessarily follow that justice would be better administered by those who owed their appointment to the men on whose rights and property they were, called to adjudicate. This power was, in his opinion, properly vested in the Crown, which was constitutionally and justly considered the fountain of all justice. With respect to the division of the towns into wards, he saw no objection to the proposal of the noble Lord on this head, by which the King in Council was empowered to sanction the award of the Revising Barristers. He considered it desirable that in matters of this nature a power to amend or alter decisions made by Revising Barristers, who might be frequently young men of little practical knowledge on such subjects, should be granted to the King in Council. The noble Lord proposed to adhere to the principle of qualification, though by what mode that principle should be carried into operation he intended to 1153 reserve until to-morrow. He apprehended that the qualification of 1,000l. in large places, and 500l. in small places for Members of the Council, would be agreed to. With respect to that qualification which was proposed, by making those only eligible to become Members of the Town-Council who belonged to the one-sixth class of rate-payers, who paid the highest amount of rates, he thought it one to which, if it stood alone, great objection might fairly be taken. If these two qualifications, however, were joined, it might add considerably to the number of those who would be eligible to be elected to the Town-Council. If in addition to this change, a clause were introduced in conformity with the suggestion which he had formerly offered to the House that the candidates for the Council should be required not to undergo an examination into their pecuniary affairs before the revising Barristers (an ordeal which, sooner than submit to, they would, he believed, not wish to become Councillors at all), but to make a solemn affirmation instead of suffering an inquisition into their property—if these changes were made, he repeated, they would, he thought, be likely to answer the views of all parties. With respect to the tolls, the noble Lord complained that a great act of injustice had been done to the House of Commons by the Amendment introduced by the House of Lords. If any one had a right to complain of these alterations it was he, for the noble Lord had read an extract from a speech of his which was very accurate, and which conveyed his opinions in at least as good language as he could express them, and the noble Lord admitted that the principle of the appropriation of tolls was there clearly laid down, and should have been adopted. The House of Lords, however, were not of the same opinion; and he could conscientiously say that the change which they had effected in this part of the measure he did not consider to have cast the slightest reflection upon him. He thought it wholly unnecessary to impute, as the noble Lord had done, injustice to the House of Lords because they had altered the preamble of the Bill for reasons which they stated, and in conformity with their views on the subject. He really did not feel so extremely sensitive as to impute to the House of Lords an act of injustice to that House, and desire for spoliation, because they made alterations in that part of the Bill 1154 which the noble Lord stated to be in perfect keeping with his expressed opinions. "I hope I may be allowed to say," continued the right hon. Baronet, "in perfect good humour, that I cannot help entertaining a slight suspicion that the comments of the noble Lord on this part of the amendments introduced by the House of Lords were made by way of compromise with some of his more ardent supporters, and that he conceived that three or four hard words spoken against Sir Charles Wetherell and the unjust preamble of the House of Lords, would reconcile these Gentlemen to the adoption of the propositions which he laid down when they found the noble Lord so exceedingly vigorous in his denunciation of the other House of Parliament." With respect to the rights of freemen, the House of Lords, he found, took a different view from the majority of that House. He was perfectly willing to admit, as he had already said in the speech quoted by the noble Lord, that in many instances he should not object to the resumption of property by the commonalty, taking especial care that every legal and vested interest should, in the most scrupulous degree, be protected. He quite agreed too with the noble Lord, that after giving compensation to individual interests, or even by buying up the tolls if necessary, every member of a trading community should be placed upon a perfect equality in all commercial concerns. The noble Lord proposed to alter the Clause which confined the power of appointment to benefices tinder the control of the Corporation to Members of the Established Church. There he totally differed from the noble Lord; and while he consented to the adoption of the principle that no distinction in point of religion should be made where any secular office was in question, or where civil rights, or rights of trading, or any thing in the nature of civil employment or emolument were concerned, yet when the qualifications of the Ministers of the Church of England was the matter to be determined, if the right were to continue in Corporations, it was only proper and just to reserve it to the Members of the Church of England who belonged to that body; and he could not see the slightest reflection on the Dissenters in disqualifying them for deciding on the capabilities of a Minister of the Established Church. A cry of want of toleration was raised against this principle; but really 1155 there ought to be toleration towards the Church of England as much as towards the Dissenters. The toleration of the noble Lord was unilateral, and he ventured to say, that if certain chapels belonging to Presbyterians, Unitarians, or Independents, were endowed in this country, and that it was proposed that the choice of their ministers should be vested in him, it would be denounced as a proposition of the grossest intolerance, and it would be most justly and fairly charged against him that he had no right whatever to appoint Ministers of whose qualifications he could not possibly be a competent judge. Such an amendment, when proposed by him in that House, even the hon. and learned Member for Dublin assented to. The noble Lord, too, who he believed took an active part in those discussions respecting the veto, must recollect those passages in Burke, in which he referred to the members of one Church deciding on the qualifications of the ministers of another, and of the control over the Greek bishops existing at Constantinople; and the general principle which he laid down was, that dissentients from that Church could not have the same interest in securing good ministers; that they had not the same means of judging of their requisite qualifications; but above all, that their appointments would never challenge the respect or win the affection of the great mass of the members of the Church over which such a power was exercised. He believed he had now referred to most of the important points in the noble Lord's speech, and he should not have felt justified in taking up the time of the House on matters of detail, particularly when there would be in all probability a separate discussion on each Amendment, if the noble Lord had not taken a collective view of the whole of them; a course which he felt compelled to follow. He could not conclude without expressing an anxious hope that the perfect independence which they claimed for themselves would be willingly extended to others, and that all being at perfect liberty to consider these Amendments, they might arrive at the desired conclusion, that in the present Session of Parliament this question should be finally settled. He believed it to be the prevailing and unanimous wish of the country, wearied by political discussions and dissensions, that this measure should pass into a law. They might depend upon it, that in supporting the 1156 other branch of the Legislature in its independent character, they would best preserve their own dignity. The points on which they were at variance were comparatively immaterial; the great principles of popular control and annual election were approved of by both branches of the Legislature. After the Bill having been sent down by the House of Lords, if this question were not now settled, it must be settled in the course of the next year; and he believed that the measure would prove the more satisfactory to the inhabitants of the whole kingdom if it were completed now, and thus prevent that excitement and those party differences in every town in which it was intended that a new municipal body should be established. There was an additional reason for the settlement of this question. There were clauses in the Bill, which led many of the existing corporate bodies to believe that a serious encroachment on their rights would be attempted; and the consequence was that an opinion prevailed, which he considered to be one of great injustice to these bodies, that they would oppose every improvement as an aggression upon their rights and privileges. This impression, though unfortunate, was an additional reason why this question should be settled. Under these circumstances, his first wish on that occasion was, that they should uphold the perfect independence of the House of Lords with the same zeal as they would defend and protect their own privileges; and, if his second hope, that he might be somewhat instrumental in promoting an amicable settlement of this question, were realized, and if he should effect that object, he should certainly not regret his presence at their deliberations that night.
§ Mr. Hume
complimented the right hon. Baronet on the concessions which he had made in his speech, but said, that there was one principle on which he should join issue with him, and that was with respect to the right of Dissenters to nominate Ministers of the Established Church to the benefices under the control of the Corporations. He could never consent to the Bill while it contained this provision, for it was but renewing the Test and Corporation Acts after they had been long abolished. Was it not monstrous that Dissenters should be excluded from the power of nomination to such benefices, when it was notorious that a Dissenter might purchase an advow- 1157 son and nominate whom he pleased to it. He, for one, was for throwing out the Bill with the Amendments which had been introduced into it, because he considered them to have been made in utter defiance of that House, and from a determination to resist the wishes of the people. The people must eventually have full satisfaction given to them on this subject. If the noble Lord wished to give them satisfaction in the present instance, let him restore the Clause in the Bill which declared that there should be no qualification. It was not; with him (Mr. Hume) a question between one kind of qualification and another. He was convinced that there was no mode of qualification whatever which would not be open to insuperable objections. What did his Majesty say in his speech from the throne? Did he not, addressing both Houses, express his hope that such measures of reform would be adopted as would give satisfaction to the people? Now, did any one suppose that this measure, such as it was proposed to make it, would give satisfaction to the people? He could tell the right hon. Baronet that it would not; and he greatly regretted, therefore, that the noble Lord had gone so far with his concessions. He was especially opposed, however, to the qualification, and he hoped that the original Clause in the Bill would be carried by a large majority. They who were desirous that the Bill should be effective, should not stop until they had rendered it so. Why were a body of irresponsible persons like the House of Peers to oppose the just rights of the people? What qualifications had they? Was it property, or what? If they had no qualifications themselves, why did they throw obstacles in the way of the present measure, by insisting on qualifications in others? The Peers seemed determined to tread on the rights of millions who were anxious to maintain what the right hon. Baronet had called a mixed and balanced Government. For the present was only one of the instances in which they had shown their hostility to the rights and privileges of the people. If every measure of reform were to be treated in this manner, and thrown out by the House of Lords, he begged to ask the right hon. Baronet what opinion the House of Lords could expect the people to entertain towards them? If such a course were persevered in, it would not be long before the people would demand a reform of the other House of Parliament. Were the House of Commons to reform themselves, and was the other House of 1158 Parliament to remain entirely unreformed? He had supported his Majesty's Government as long as he could, consistently with his sense of duty to the people; but if they resisted the rights of the people, if they resisted popular reform, what could they expect from him? To let the Bill pass in its present mutilated and impaired state would be to rake up more dissatisfaction than by adopting any other course with respect to it which it was possible to conceive. He was satisfied that the right hon. Baronet would agree with him, that unless it gave complete satisfaction it would effect no benefit. If it did not do that, it would be received not as a boon, but as an instalment; and the whole question would remain open and undecided. He entreated the noble Lord, at any rate, not to yield to the House of Lords on the question of qualification. As to the Aldermen, he cared not by what name the members of the governing body were to be called. He did not quarrel with that; but he did quarrel with the abandonment of a serious principle. He entreated the noble Lord, therefore, to comply with the prayer of all the petitions from popular places on this point. He entered his solemn protest against concurring in the Amendment proposed by the other House on the subject of qualification. He entered his solemn protest against the course pursued by such a body of persons as the House of Peers; a body not responsible to any one, utterly regardless of the public feeling, and an anomaly in Government. If their powers were great, they ought at least to exercise them justly. He hoped, also, that his Majesty's Government would not re-enact any part of the Test and Corporation Act, Toleration! Toleration was a word that should be excluded from our language. What the country required was just and equal right; not toleration. Now could it be called a state of just and equal rights that a member of a Town-council should be prevented from exercising the privileges which his brethren enjoyed, because he did not happen to be a member of the Church of England? Was that equality? No, it was inequality. It was indispensable that the provision in the Bill as it now stood, and that provision respecting qualification, should be resisted. The Bill would then be a beneficial measure. It would secure popular elections, it would secure frequent elections, it would secure a due control over the accounts of a Corporation, and it would enable the inhabitants of a Corporate Town to determine 1159 who should superintend their affairs. Let the House consider what had been the effect of efficient Corporation Reform in Scotland. All the discontent and excitement which, previously to that Reform, had existed between the governors and the governed, had ceased. There were in England some dozen of Corporations which already possessed the freedom of election to which he had adverted: and in those Corporations no dissatisfaction or discontent would be found to exist. At any rate, let them not agree to anything contrary to the principle of the Bill; for that would be merely to sow the seeds of future contention. It might postpone the matter for a few months, but it could not prevent the people of England from ultimately enjoying an equality of rights, and a just control over their property. It was on the ground of the principles which it comprehended that he had hailed with satisfaction the introduction of this measure into the House by his Majesty's Ministers. He trusted that they would persevere; that they would complete the proposed reform in the spirit in which they had introduced it; and that, having right, justice, and public feeling on their side, they would not surrender the slightest principle of the Bill.
§ Mr. Grote
begged to be allowed to say a few words. It gave him great pain to say so, but he could not help declaring, that he thought the noble Lord had conceded more than either the occasion required, or the feeling of the public would justify Nor, he must confess, had the noble Lord, in his opinion, done justice to the subject under the consideration of the House. Whatever he might think of the proceedings of the House of Lords in other respects, he was bound to acknowledge that they had resolutely adhered to their independent character. He thought, therefore, it would not be amiss if the House of Commons were to imitate the House of Lords in that particular, and adhere to their independent character. It would surely ill become the dignity of that House —the assembled representatives of the people of England—to yield important principles merely for the purpose of conciliating the other House of Parliament. In so doing they would not consult either their dignity or their honour. When the people of England were fully and justly represented in that House, there ought to be no other power in the State which should be able to stand against them. He thought also that the noble Lord, in Introducing 1160 the concessions which he proposed to the House to make with reference to the measure, did not sufficiently treat those concessions as made under protest. Nay, one or two of them the noble Lord actually vindicated on their own merits; especially the proposition that a third of the Towncils should be chosen every six years. Now instead of treating this and other of the concessions as bad in themselves, and as made only from motives of expediency, the noble Lord seemed to speak of them as if they were right and good of themselves. Nevertheless, by these concessions some of the most important principles of the Bill were sacrificed. Nor could he give his consent to the concession respecting wards. It might be recollected, that when the proposition on the subject was originally made in that House, he had stated that in his opinion a population of twelve or fifteen thousand persons was too small to be so divided; and of course the evil must be enhanced when the number was reduced to nine thousand. He was very much afraid that if this proposition were agreed to, the Town-council would in many cases be an instrument for corrupt purposes in the hands of a very few individuals. With regard to the question of qualification, he shared the feelings of the hon. Member for Middlesex. In conjunction with the other propositions he was convinced that it would be singularly unpopular over the whole country, and that it would be especially so in the City of London, where that principle had never been acted upon. He differed most materially from the noble Lord in his opinion upon the manner in which the principle of qualification had been embodied in the Clause introduced by the House of Lords, providing that in large places it should be the possession of property of the value of 1,000l. in small places the possession of property of the value of 500l. Why this difference? Why should the possessor of the value of property of 500l. be considered unworthy of an office of trust, if he happened to reside in a large city instead of a small town? At all events, let there be consistency in the affair; let the same sum be a qualification everywhere. In his opinion, however, it was impossible that the Clause could pass that House. He was sorry to oppose his Majesty's Ministers, for he had a great respect for them; but with reference to this point, in conjunction with the other concessions proposed, he could not allow them to pass without recording his opinion of them. He was as anxious as the 1161 noble Lord that the Bill should pass; but he was still more anxious that it should pass in a sound and entire state. Indeed he would much rather wait a certain time in order to get a Bill, of which he should in all respects approve, than barter away the best principles of the measure for the purpose of obtaining the immediate consent of the other House of Parliament. And after all, it was by no means certain that the propositions of the noble Lord would be satisfactory to the other House. If not, and if the Lords should require still more concession, that House would then regret that they had made so useless a sacrifice of the dignity of the people.
§ Mr. Ewart
said, that he considered the question of qualification with reference o its justice or injustice; and that he was so entirely of opinion that it was unjust, that he could not conscientiously vote for it. In his opinion no qualification whatever was necessary. All experience had shown, that qualifications such as that which was now proposed, were not only unjust, but nugatory. If, therefore, he were called upon to vote on the Question, he should certainly vote against qualification. As to the rights and privileges of the people with respect to common lands, the sound Clause on that subject of the right hon. Member for Tam-worth had been omitted in the Bill by the right hon. Baronet's friends in the other House of Parliament. The mode of appointing justices also had been altered, so as to return to that old system under which so much jobbing had taken place. It might be true that this question ought to be decided by conciliatory proceedings; but it was also true that it ought to be decided in such a manner as should render the measure not only a good but a permanent benefit. The House ought to manifest a steady resolution on that point. Although it was certainly desirable that the resistance to the Amendments proposed by the other House of Parliament should be conducted with a due attention to calm and pacific feelings, yet that House ought to evince a steady resolution not to accede to what they considered unjust; and, for his own part, he could not relinquish one atom of his objection to those Amendments. He only wished that the manners and the language of the right hon. Member for Tamworth had been adopted by the Members of the other House of Parliament, who showed, by their conduct, that even in that respect they had much to learn from that House. The duty which he had to dis- 1162 charge was a disagreeable one, but he felt that it was due to the people of England to discharge it. He did hope, however, that the noble Lord would not give up the principle of non-qualification. The Amendment on that point made by the other House, was most absurd and unjust; and he had already said that he put that, and all other questions connected with the measure, on the ground of their justice or injustice; the only real and sound ground on which Legislative proceedings could be founded.
§ Mr. Roebuck
spoke as follows:—Mr. Speaker. To an observer, who looked not beneath the surface of things, the present condition of the people of this country would appear not very flattering to human vanity. He would see a great and an intelligent people, after a long and painful experience, after patient and very careful inquiry, and after mature and anxious consideration, determine, by means of their representatives, to fashion a great measure of Reform for some of their most important internal institutions. He would see the Representatives of this great and intelligent people, in obedience to the commands of their constituents, pass a long and painful Session in deliberation upon this great measure of Reform. He would see them, after having exercised all their care and judgment upon the measure; after having weighed, with intense solicitude, every particular portion of this Reform, and framed the whole so as, in their best judgment, to provide for the well-being of the nation they represented; he would see them, I say, compelled to submit their measure to the consideration of another, and wholly irresponsible, assembly; and he would see this irresponsible body—a body with interests wholly opposed to those of the nation—treat with unmeasured contempt and scorn the wishes of the people, and the measure framed by their responsible Representatives. And he would, lastly, behold this great and this intelligent nation, after being thus checked, thwarted, insulted, trampled on, scorned, and absolutely derided, bear with patience all this ignominy and degradation. To him, Sir, who should look no further than this, the spectacle I have described would appear little grateful to human pride. But if he would carry his observation further, he would see real cause for gratulation,—he would see why the people he was so contemplating were deemed 1163 great and intelligent. He would then see, that although they bore with patience all this insult, all this opposition to their wishes, yet, that apathy was not the cause of their forbearance. He would see them forbearing, because conscious of their own strength, and fully alive to the inestimable advantages of peace and order. He would see them putting faith in the great impulse of improvement; relying on the necessary advance of truth; and determined to essay all peaceful means of obtaining the great object of their wishes. Forbearance, when the result of such feelings, is a proof not only of virtue, but of intelligence. But there is a point when such forbearance must cease; and when a people thus intelligent and honest are once roused to action, they will show themselves as resolute in hostility, as they were patient in peace. This time —the time for giving up all forbearance, is fast approaching. Every day brings us fresh evidence that vital changes in our constitution are required for the peace and the welfare of this nation. The result to which we are now arriving is to me no disappointment. They who form their opinions respecting Government, on an investigation of the principles of human nature, expected and predicted the present state of things. Many of these inquiries into the science of Government long since foretold what would be the inevitable result of carrying into practice the theory of the British Constitution. Experience is but too fatally verifying the accuracy of their statements. The noble Lord below me (Lord John Russell) is, I know, a believer in the theory of the English Constitution. Every day's experience, I should think, ought to lead him to doubt the correctness of this belief. He, however, acting under that belief, did, under the Ministry of Lord Grey, propose to reform this House, and thereby to carry into execution the description so often given of this our mixed Constitution: in other words, the noble Lord determined to create a House of Commons wholly independent of the Lords; to make two separate and independent legislative bodies; and he hoped that these two bodies, thus independent, could and would carry on the business of Government with perfect harmony, and thus work out the happiness of the nation. For myself, I had no such expectation; and I found many, for whose opinions I had great reverence, who had formed conclusions directly opposite to 1164 those of the noble Lord. To us it appeared, that the House of Commons representing the people, and the House of Lords, representing themselves, had hostile and irreconcileable interests: that the interest of the people was one thing, the interest of the Lords another and very different thing; and that we, pursuing the interests of the people, should soon be driven into hostile collision with the House of Lords, who would steadily pursue their own interests. The event has justified this expectation. The Commons and the Lords are now in opposition. We, the Commons, acting in our character of the people's representatives, performing faithfully a sacred and imperative duty, find ourselves violently opposed, insulted, and scoffed at by the irresponsible House of Lords, who represent themselves, and who are steadily pursuing their own private, ay, and pecuniary interest also. From the moment when the first Reformed Parliament met, this strife commenced. For a time, it was shrouded in some mystery, and its true nature was sedulously hidden from the eyes of the multitude. It has become too plain to be misunderstood. All men see that the two branches of the Legislature are in collision, and we all know and feel that the Question we have now to determine is, not simply the passing of the Municipal Reform Bill, but whether the wishes of the people or of the Lords are to govern in this country. It is idle—it is worse than idle—to attempt to hide this from ourselves. The machine of Government has come to a stand-still, The noble Lord was often told before the passing of the Reform Bill, that he was framing a machine for Government that could not work. He clung to his preconceived ideas respecting our Constitution; he passed the Reform Bill, called into operation hostile elements, and now wonders that strife is the result. Whether the Government of this country is hereafter to be an Aristocratic or Democratic one, is now the great point to be determined. There is no middle course. One or other party must succumb; and I, as a friend of Democratic Government, look anxiously to the result, [cheers] That I am a friend of Democratic Government is not wonderful. I am one of the people; I have the same feelings and interests; and while doing my duty as a representative, I pursue my interest as a 1165 citizen. Now comes the question, what is to be done? I answer boldly that the evil must be cured in its cause, and that the existence of the House of Lords in its present shape is incompatible with the welfare of England. If we look at their deeds for the last three years, even if we confine ourselves solely to the consideration of their doings of this year, no disinterested and sane person for one instant will assert that the well-being of the country has been forwarded by their conduct. Look at their conduct on this very Bill of Reform in the Municipal Corporations; has not every act proved that they contemn and hate the people, and that they are determined to show this contempt and hatred, by insulting us, the representatives of the people? What did they in the first instance? They called two hired advocates to their bar, and allowed them to indulge in every possible abuse of us for hours together. "Oh but," says the right hon. Member for Tamworth, "it is extremely difficult to draw the line between what is, and what is not, the legitimate defence of a client; if the judge interfere, the danger is, that the just defence may be obstructed." Did that right hon. Gentleman never go into a Court of Justice? If, Sir, he ever has frequented such a place, I ask him, if he believes that any Judge would permit an advocate to indulge in vulgar abuse of any of the constituted authorities of the State? Would the Chief Justice of the King's Bench allow abuse of the Common Pleas? Is it not notorious, Sir, that any attempt at such a breach of decorum would be immediately suppressed and severely reprimanded. But the Lords could not do this; they would not: they were delighted with the vulgar abuse of these hired advocates, and chuckled at abuse they had not themselves the courage to utter. But did any one ever hear of such a proceeding, as to allow persons to claim such a right in the business of Government, as to be permitted to have counsel to defend that right before a legislative body? The truth is, that the interest in this case f was the Lords' interest. Corruption in every shape is dear to them, and they can even go so low as to claim fellowship of feeling with a Town-clerk. In this case, however, there was more than mere sympathy; there was a community of interests. The Lords, by the Reform Bill, were deprived of the power of sending Members to Parliament. They wish to retain any power which now belongs to them, and which may be turned to the corrupt influence of 1166 voters. Corporations afford them the means of exercising such a power, and they therefore fight after this headlong fashion in favour of corrupt Corporations. Every one of their amendments has for its object the maintenance of corruption and irresponsible power. Their object has been, under the guise of fine names, to further their own interests; and those interests are, in this case, of the very lowest and most degrading description. The dirty motive shows through all their acts. The desire of peculating urged them on; they crave to live upon the industry of the people, and fight, with disgusting pertinacity, in order to obtain this disgraceful privilege. If this measure had been the sole one which had been subjected to their tender mercies, and thus mutilated and ruined, we might have borne the destruction of our labours with comparative equanimity. But this is only a part of a system. Every act of any importance passed by us, the representatives of the people, has been altogether rejected or completely ruined. Our chief labours this Session have been directed to the framing a relief for Ireland, in the shape of a Church, and also a relief for England in the shape of the Municipal Corporation, Reform Bill. The fate of this last we are now discussing; but what has become of the Irish Church Bill? It is destroyed. Where is the Constabulary Force Bill? It is also destroyed. Why, Sir, even the Attorney-General, in his attempts to ameliorate the civil law of this land, has been met and thwarted by this body of irresponsible rulers. His Bill respecting Imprisonment for Debt, what has become of that? It affected, or was supposed to affect, the estates of these noble persons, and the Bill is consequently rejected. And thus it has been with many other measures which I will not now stay to enumerate. But look at tins Bill which they have amended. Let any one go over it, who has the slightest idea of what a legislative measure ought to be; and then let him tell us if it is not a disgrace, even from its mere form, to any legislative body composed of reasonable men. It is a hard thing to see our labours thus thrown away year after year. We have attended here for seven long months. In that time we have laboured hard for the people; and at the end of the Session we are condemned to behold, and are implored to behold with patience, everything we have done destroyed. I again ask, Sir, is this system to be continued? Our business is not now merely to attempt to repair the dilapidations made by the Lords in this 1167 Bill; we have a more important duty to perform: we are now to say whether we are content to allow this system to continue. Are we, year after year, at the end of every Session calmly to submit to this thwarting of all our efforts? There is one thing I will predict if we be so content; Ireland will soon relieve us from the labour of governing her. For three successive Sessions we have laboured in order to relieve the miseries of that unhappy country, and, if possible, to heal the wounds inflicted by many centuries of misrule. We have not advanced one single step. Every year sees our labours rendered abortive by the headstrong proceedings of the House of Lords. If we wish peace for Ireland, we must change this faulty system. The commencement of this much-needed reform should be the firm resistance of the Commons to these wretched Amendments. The time for such conduct on our part must come, and there are many powerful reasons why we should pursue it at once. If the House of Lords be permitted to remain in their present condition, there can be no peace for England. We hear great talk of revolution, but few persons seem to understand that it is the House of Lords which alone renders revolution at all probable or necessary. The people of this country are essentially a peaceful people. Their industry requires peace, and the mighty trade of this country is the offspring of quiet and security. This quiet and this security the Lords by their conduct seriously endanger; and I call upon the noble Lord and his Majesty's Ministers, to do their utmost to avert the many evils which the Lords will bring upon us, if allowed unchecked to continue in their dangerous career. There is something ungenerous in the conduct of the Ministry towards us and the people. Here we are daily called upon to keep up the feelings of the people, and to excite them to a sense of their condition. I myself have done my utmost, have done all my humble abilities allowed, to create and maintain this feeling among my countrymen. Yes, I acknowledge that I have done so; I have done so, because I deemed it my duty. I was in hopes that when the people were prepared, the Ministers would not hold back; and as they had done all they could to create in the minds of the people a feeling of indignation at the bad Government under which, we live, I did hope that they, the Ministers, would not now desert and betray the people. It has been said that we cannot go through a revolution every year. This is true; and 1168 for that reason it is, that I call upon this House to reform institutions which render a yearly excitement, almost amounting to revolution, absolutely necessary. We desire a Government that can provide for the necessities of the people without this periodical and extraordinary commotion. In other words, we want a peaceful Government, and that cannot be said to exist while there is an irresponsible body in the State, which, to be restrained from doing evil, needs an annual excitement of the people, bordering on revolution. As a lover of peace, as one that believes that no people can attain happiness during strife and combustion, I call upon this House to begin the reform by rejecting at once the Amendments of the Lords. If we do not adopt this course, in twelve months the same difficulty will again occur. Here in the year 1836, and perhaps in the month of September, we shall be called to our posts in order to check the evil doings of the Lords. We shall again be forced to go through the same piecemeal and humiliating fight that we are now asked to maintain. We shall be called upon to drag reform from the Lords, bec et ongle, tooth and nail, and be content with such shreds and patches of beneficial measures as now disgrace your Table. The mode which true dignity requires, which true policy also demands, is at once to make a stand; to say that the interests of the people would be best provided for by the measure we originally proposed; that from that measure we cannot recede; and that as our sole rule of conduct is the welfare of the people, we are not justified in accepting any measure, no matter who may require it, which does not in our opinion thoroughly provide for the good government of the nation. Believing this, I object to any concession; and if my advice could prevail upon this House, I would entreat them to re-enact every one of our original measures, saying that such was the pleasure of the people—let those who dare resist it.
§ Mr. Robinson
had derived sincere satisfaction from the calm and temperate tone in which the debate had been conducted by all who had taken part in it, with the single exception of the hon. Member who had last spoken. That hon. Member must pardon him for saying that it was he, and such as he, using language such as he used, who threw impediments in the way of wholesome and necessary reforms, greater even than those to whom he was politically opposed. It was not his intention to detain the House by making more than a very 1169 few observations. He agreed entirely with the noble Lord throughout the whole of his observations. He thought the Lords' Amendment with respect to Town-clerks so highly objectionable that the House ought on no account to concede it. As to the question of Dissenters having a voice in the distribution of Church patronage, he agreed with the right hon. Baronet upon the point, that it might be objectionable to allow those dissenting from the Church to have anything to do with the patronage of the Church, generally speaking; but when those persons were Members of corporate bodies, having Church-property in their gift, he thought the right hon. Baronet himself must see that to draw the line between Churchman and Dissenter would, in fact, be to revive those old religious distinctions which of late years all had been so anxious to avoid. He trusted, therefore, that the right hon. Baronet would not press the House upon that point. There was one point upon which he was Sony to say, he was obliged to differ from the noble Lord, and that was the question of qualification. When the Bill was originally in that House he had opposed any qualification whatever, because he really did not believe any qualification to be necessary. He had sufficient confidence in the intelligence and good sense of the elective body to believe, that they would choose for their Town-council those persons who possessed all the requisite qualifications. But to compel them to elect for the Government of their towns persons possessing a certain pecuniary qualification, appeared to him to be not only unnecessary, but, on many accounts, highly objectionable. But though he differed from the noble Lord upon that point, so anxious was he to come to an amicable adjustment of the matter, that if the noble Lord thought it necessary to adopt the qualification, he for one would not oppose it. He trusted, although the Session was now rapidly drawing to a close, that the House, before it separated, would allow this measure to pass into a law. It contained, if not all the details that might be deemed desirable, at least the great and leading principles of Municipal Reform. If the Bill were thrown out altogether, he feared there would be throughout the country, and especially in the larger towns, a spirit of angry debate which would tend to prevent an amicable adjustment of the question in another Session of Parliament. He for one, therefore, should heartily co-operate 1170 with the noble Lord, and he trusted the House would follow the same example.
§ Mr. Warburton
rose to express his decided opposition to the Amendment introduced by the other House, requiring a pecuniary qualification for the Members of the Town-council. Such a qualification would be utterly unjust. There were many boroughs in which large agricultural districts were included within the limits of the borough. In each of these towns, the farmers will be the highest rate-payers, and consequently, though wholly unacquainted with municipal affairs, would become the only persons qualified to act as Town-councillors. He trusted the noble Lord would take this point into his earnest consideration.
§ Sir Samuel Whalley
called on the House not so far to thwart the wishes of the people, as to allow the Bill to pass in its altered state. The Bill had been sent up to the other House by hon. Members in the full possession of their corporeal faculties, and when he recollected the aged persons by whom it had been brought back from the Lords it only reminded him how the Bill had been mutilated. He would rather put off the Bill for another year than consent to its passing in the state proposed by Ministers. When he reflected upon the treatment which the Bill had received in the other House, he thought that the House might inscribe over its doors a notice which was vernacular, and very often to be seen in the streets—the notice of "Mangling done here." He hoped, at least, that the noble Lord would not allow the Bill to pass if the other House did not agree to his propositions. The noble Lord had certainly deprived the Qualification Clause of many of its objectionable points. The Town-clerks had been such participators in all the wrongs that had been inflicted upon the people that their continuance in office would destroy all the utility of the Bill. As it now stood, where any rate-payer was disqualified for one year, three years must elapse before he could be replaced on the borough-roll. He trusted, that Ministers would restore this Clause to its original state. He thought that the House was in a position to make advances towards an adjustment without compromising the good Government of municipal towns, and likewise without compromising the honour, independence, and dignity of the House of Commons.
§ Lord John Russell
said, that as the de- 1171 bate upon the general question had now lasted for some time, he would propose that the House should go at once to the consideration of that part of the Bill which related to the Aldermen, and that when that point was disposed of, the House should proceed seriatim with the other Amendments, postponing only the Clause imposing the qualification for the Town-council.
said, that the collision between both Houses had commenced. The discussions which had hitherto taken place had partaken of what was called constitutional dissention—the discussion in each House had found a termination in each House; but a rebound had now taken place, and that was what he called collision. It was manifest that something must occur to place the British Legislature in such a situation that instead of going forward, or instead of being met by a series of checks, it should be actually stopped. See what an immense quantity of most useful matter had been stopped in the other House during the present Session. Take England: What had become of the Executors and Administrators' Bill—a Bill of the utmost importance, doing away with some of the grossest absurdities of the law? It was cushioned. What had become of the Execution of Wills Bill? Cushioned. What of the Prisoners' Counsel Bill? Cushioned. What of the Abolition of the Punishment of Death Bill? Cushioned. What of the Imprisonment for Debt Bill? Thrown out. ["No, no!"] Oh, the same thing then—it was cushioned. Turn next to Ireland: What had become of the Irish Church Reform Bill— the first honest experiment to conciliate the people of Ireland by the Government of England? It was treated with indignity, wholesale indignity, twenty-five Clauses annihilated at one breath—not even the common decency of taking Clause by Clause—they were struck out by the gross, and wholesale contumely as well as injustice was cast upon Ireland. What had become of the Irish Marriage Bill? It was thrown out; and what was the result? Why, that in every instance where illegal marriages had been effected, the innocent child alone was left to be punished. By the law as it stood the parents were not only held free from guilt, but were even allowed to indulge in licentiousness—the parson was free from punishment—nobody was punished by the law, but the helpless child. What had become of the Irish Constabulary Bill? Thrown out on the most frivolous reason 1172 ever heard of—a reason so ridiculous as to be unworthy of even the meanest association of legislators. What had become of the Dublin Police Bill? He supposed it was at that moment going through the same process as the others he had mentioned. What had become of the Irish Registry of Voters' Bill? It was not yet destroyed, but he believed he need not boast much of the spirit of prophecy to foretel what would become of that Bill. In short, as regarded England, the other House had evinced a determination to stop everything that was useful; and as to Ireland, they treated everything of conciliation or justice with contumely and contempt. He repeated, the collision had begun. What, then, was their first duty? The only magic in policy was to be right. Men could not always be completely right. The noble Lord did not feel himself completely right in all his concessions. But next to being perfectly right yourself, the other great magic in policy was to make your adversary perfectly wrong. What would take place after the concessions proposed by the noble Lord? If the Lords should hold out after those concessions, was there any one man in the British dominions who would not say, that the Lords were perfectly wrong. If, after all, the Lords should refuse the Bill, then indeed would begin the collision; and the House of Commons ought to begin it by being as right as it could—wrong only when it conceded too much—and making its enemies perfectly, entirely, and excuselessly wrong. Well, would the Lords take the Bill as it was sent back to them? If they threw it out, then they meant a collision, and were determined to try whether, by another fashion, they could not recover all that was taken from them by the Reform Bill. Every body knew, that the Lords were dictatorial until the passing of the Reform Bill—Norwich, Harwich, Ipswich, and many places of the like kind, enabled them to have a majority in the Commons, and the nominees of the Lords really legislated for the country. The Reform Bill had changed that state of things, and had made the House of Commons an independent body. It remained to be seen whether the Lords appreciated the new character of the Commons. This would be proved by the fact of their refusal or acceptance of the Bill when it was brought back to them. Then came the question for the Commons—"Is the Bill worth taking with all these concessions?" 1173 He was decidedly of opinion that it was, and he would explain why. In the first place, it swept away all the old leaven of the old Corporations. He thought somebody had called this the tag-rag and bobtail. The tag-rag and bobtail, it would sweep away. Every self-appointed, self-elected body would be swept away. It would not cure, but it would cleanse the sore, and take out the gangrene for ever. The aldermen for life, the jobbing Town-clerks—these it would abolish. It would make a perfectly clear stage. It would get rid of all the old causes of abuse. He maintained, therefore, that if they should succeed by these concessions, they would be gaining one great and essential advantage. Any step towards popularity was an improvement. The Bill, as it stood, gave them universality of constituency as far as the rate-payers went. It increased the number of those who were called freemen. Nothing was more absurd than what was termed the rights of freemen. Those rights, as contrasted with the rights of those who were not freemen, were an usurpation. They were rights commenced in wrong and continued in wrong. They established a monopoly and placed it in the hands of a particular class, who obtained the name of freemen. If they were freemen, then the rest of the community were slaves. When he was told, however, of the rights of freemen, he would ask what had become of the rights of those upon whom those freemen had encroached? But another advantage which they gained by this Bill was the extension of the basis of representation, by giving every rate-payer a right to vote for the election of the municipal body. That advantage they would have, as well as that of clearing out the Members of the old Corporations. That advantage was a great one to commence with; he said to commence with, because the talking of finality was a mere absurdity. The value of this Corporation Bill, if it should again come down to that House, with the intended Amendments approved of, would be, that it would give them the machinery of purification, and would enable them to get rid of the incumbrances which noble Lords might cast upon it for the purpose of the moment Another advantage to be derived from the Bill was, that all the Town-council would be periodically elected. ["Not the Aldermen."] Yes; because whether elected by one process or by another, they would still be an elective body. There would also be an extension of the suffrage; all dis- 1174 tinction would be done away as to the qualification of the electors, except one, which was preserved for other purposes, and from other motives. That exception was the difference between the inhabitants and the freemen. And why were these freemen kept up? The motive was obvious, and he would tell it at once. They were kept up that they might be corrupted and bought with two sovereigns each, as at York, or with three, as at Yarmouth. They were kept up for the purposes of bribery and corruption by the poor man's friends, by those who were the hereditary tribunes of the poor. Why were these hereditary protectors of the poor so anxious to keep the rights of the freemen? Why? Because their friends and relations might have an opportunity to buy their consciences. Was it for the love of God that they protected the poor? Was it for the working out the salvation of their souls? O, no. The pretence was plausible, but it had failed. The hypocrisy finally betrayed itself; for these hereditary protectors of the poor had introduced a Qualification Clause with respect to Members of the Council, which showed that their only object in keeping up the freemen was, that they might be purchased by men who had the most money. Thus they displayed at once their own hypocrisy. It was said that those whom Providence wished to destroy, it first demented. At the same time that the Lords were so anxious to preserve the rights of freemen, they had introduced a qualification, which disabled those freemen from forming part of the Council. Might not one of these freemen say, "I am a man of integrity and of good character; my neighbours love and respect me, and are quite ready to appoint me one of your Council; why should I not become one?" To this very reasonable interrogatory the hereditary protectors of the poor make answer, "O, no; you are not rich enough. What avails your integrity or your good character, unless you possess sufficient wealth wherewith to purchase the votes and consciences of your fellow-freemen." Who was it that preached these doctrines? The friends, the supporters of the poor. Verily, he was glad that this was the way in which the collision had begun; because it betrayed the most barefaced hypocrisy, the hypocrisy of pretending to be the friends of the poor, when it was the wealthy alone that they regarded. It was a friendship for the extremely rich, who could afford to bribe the poor freemen for their 1175 votes. The House of Commons was therefore engaging in this collision with a great advantage, that of a total want of moral character in the proceedings of those who withheld the rights of the people. It was a great advantage to be over-forbearing. It was the business of the King's Government to fall short of asserting all their rights; let them, therefore, make the proposed concessions, and then let the House of Lords throw out the Bill if they dare. There would no doubt be great excitement throughout the country, even at these concessions being made. Some hard words— perhaps some hard blows, at least of the tongue—would be dealt out in consequence of these concessions; but the indignation of the people would fall doubly on the heads of those who, after these concessions, should refuse to be conciliatory, and to adopt this measure in its altered form. It would then at once be admitted that it was not upon principle the Lords had acted, but upon a determination to stop every measure for the amelioration of our institutions; and thus it would be demonstrated that they possessed a power which they ought never to have had, and of which, so exercising it, they ought most certainly to be deprived. But in the present stage of the business, what the House had to consider was, whether in the concessions proposed to be made, they were not going too far? He approved of all the concessions that had been made. Not that he thought them right in principle; bat because he thought it was right to show that it was not for the sake of an abstract principle, but for practical purposes that resistance was made to the other Amendments of the Lords. The thing that displeased him most was the Qualification Clause. As it now stood, it was the most iniquitous thing that ever was proposed. It was a most outrageous species of inquisitorial power in a commercial country to enter into a man's private circumstances in order to ascertain his fitness for exercising the franchise of a citizen of the State. The hon. Member for Bridport had shown the absurdity of the qualification as to rates; but in other respects there was wickedness mixed with absurdity. Every shopkeeper and mercantile man, being a voter himself, might sign a notice and bring any other person before the public, in order to investigate how much he owed, and to whom he owed anything. Thus a person might be induced to make an objection against a burgess being on the list, in order that he might obtain an admission of a debt of 1176 which he had no legal proof. He might be asked, if this be so iniquitous a scheme, why consent to it? His answer was, simply and singly, that there might be no excuse for the Lords to reject the remainder of the Bill. He would even consent to it for the very reason which he began by stating, namely, that the enemies of this measure for putting down old abuses might have no excuse at all. To the management of this qualification, however, it was necessary they should direct all their attention. What ought there to be required from the party beyond a declaration of his qualification? Let there be a penalty against the man who made a false declaration. Put it upon the party who challenged the qualification to prove the falsity of the declaration in a criminal court. In that way they might qualify their disposition to go as far as they could in the path of concession, and thus put their enemies so much the more in the wrong. He felt a melancholy satisfaction at contrasting the conduct of this with that of the House of Lords towards Ireland. At the commencement of a system of conciliation on the part of the Government towards that country, he saw the other House of Parliament attempting to continue the reign of misrule in Ireland. That was the darling spot for every abuse and every oppression. Good God! was it possible that the people of England could consent any longer to be misled by a miserable faction? Were they not tired of six hundred years of oppression? Over and over again he had challenged them to tell him of any one advantage that Ireland had derived from her connexion with England. Every portion of the page of history had been always stained with the same crimes towards Ireland. At length he had seen an Administration formed upon the basis to extend the benefit of British institutions to that country; an Administration prepared to make the experiment whether Ireland could be as well governed by England as she might be by herself; for Ireland was not a petty country, or a paltry province. She was a nation of eight millions. If you did not give her good government, God forbid she should not seek it for herself; but God forbid she should attempt it, so long as she was likely to get it from you, for her interests were identical with yours; it was therefore necessary that she should be identified with you, not merely in name, but in all your institutions. But was he to be told, now that they had succeeded in having one branch of the Legislature wil- 1177 ling to give good government to Ireland, that all their efforts were to he stopped, and that even personalities undeserving notice in common conversation, should become a reason for refusing justice to Ireland? He did not think that these observations were unconnected with the subject before the House. The Lords ought to pause and meditate before they proceeded in this way. The Member for Worcester had blamed the Member for Bath for using language of an extreme description. If what his hon. Friend the Member for Bath had said was not founded in fact, it was; vain as air; but if it was founded in truth, if it was justified by the conduct of the Lords, if his speech was one of reason and not of declamation, then the Member for Worcester might call it mere declamation if he pleased; but did he think that by his calling it declamation, the words of the hon. Member for Bath would be less appreciated by the people, or that the facts that they unfolded would not give to his words wings of fleetness and power not to be resisted? He put it to the hon. Member, did he doubt the truth of the observations of the hon. Member for Bath? Let the hon. Member look at the proceedings of the Lords—let him look at the paltry ribaldry poured out upon the Commons at the Bar of the other House. He had been told, forsooth, that they were not to restrain counsel in their observations, lest they should impair the freedom of speech. But were not appeals made before the House of Lords every day from the Exchequer Chamber and from the King's Bench, and did ever any counsel or judge in the Lords get up and assail the King's Bench, or impute motives to the judges of that Court? Did they ever hear those judges accused of villainy, of robbery, of peculation, of plunder, of the violation of every corporate right, and of the spoliation of every charter; in short, of crimes so numerously strung together, that he should not have been able to remember them if he had heard them, nor could he by any ingenuity have coined and linked such extraordinary phrases together? But all this had happened before the House of Lords. It never happened but once; and that once was when the House of Commons was assailed for passing this Bill of amelioration, to the principle of which every man of every party in the House had assented. He was therefore right when he affirmed that the collision had at length come; the Commons had only now to manage it properly. "Let us," 1178 said the hon. and learned Member, "take care to put our enemies in the wrong. Let us concede everything that it is possible to concede. Nay, let us even go further than what might be strictly deemed right; but when we have done that—let us appeal to the good sense of theBritishnation—[cheers] —yes, to the good sense of the British nation. And would that be a sensible nation which consented that two hundred individuals, I care not who they may be, should have the absolute power, at their will and pleasure, or for their caprice, or at the suggestion of their good or bad passions, to control a nation of twenty-four millions? Is such a nation to be checked, controlled, and governed by two hundred individuals? I say again, therefore, let us appeal to the good sense of the people of England. They well understand when their representatives deserve their support. Let us likewise, and I trust always, appeal, in all affection and confidence, to the Monarch who reigns over us, to whom, having the great honour of sanctioning the first step of Reform, it will be the pride and glory of his reign to consummate that work in a peaceable, quiet, and constitutional manner, by rendering perfect the arrangements of the Constitution of this country, and giving to the public voice, in all the ramifications of that Constitution, such power as shall prevent the possibility of an unjust and selfish oligarchy having any longer a control over the unanimous feelings and opinions of the people.
Mr. Milnes Gaskell
said, that he was at a total loss to reconcile the whole tenour of the speeches which had just been made with the slightest regard for the Constitution of this country in King, Lords, and Commons, which as yet had not been abrogated. But he was glad upon many accounts that these speeches had been made: he was glad, because it made the tactics of the Gentlemen opposite no longer doubtful; and because, in the emphatic language of Mr. Canning, such speeches as these were worth a thousand professions of qualified neutrality. If the debate, however, were to remain confined to those who entertained the opinions which had been expressed by the Members for Dublin and for Bath, he was convinced, that not only would a most unfair index be furnished of the general sense of the House, but what was of much greater importance, that one still more unfair would be furnished of the general sense of the people of this country. The Members for Dublin, and Marylebone, and Bath, 1179 had said a great deal about the people, and asked whether it was to be borne, that the opinions of three or of four hundred persons should be suffered to countervail the unanimous opinions of the people; and, undoubtedly, if that were the fact, there might be something in their argument. But he (Mr. Mimes Gaskell) would take leave to ask whether it was to be borne, that the people of England—who had sent a majority of their Representatives to uphold opinions which were directly the reverse of those entertained by the Members for Dublin and for Bath, —that the people of the United Kingdom, who had sent three hundred gentlemen to that House to resist and to oppose them— should be maligned and slandered by these declarations? It was in vain to tell them that this was a Reforming Government, and that that constituted a claim to public favour which no Reformed Parliament could disallow. The people of this country knew better. They had learnt a lesson during the last few months, which they would not fail to recollect at the next general election. They knew that those who had been the loudest in their protestations of zeal to serve them, had done just nothing since their accession to power; that they had thrown overboard every measure of real, substantial, practical Reform, which by this time would have been the law of the land, if the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth, had remained in office; and had originated no one single Bill which they had the slightest expectation of being able to carry. And was it seriously meant that there was to be no check upon conduct like this? that the hands of the other House of Parliament were to be tied up upon questions of high national concernment? Was it meant that that House was, or only that it ought to be constituted, the sole depository of political power? If the former, since when, he would ask, had so atrocious and monstrous a doctrine been openly revived? if the latter, he only wished that Gentlemen opposite would tell them so at once. Let them tilt their lances at the existence of the House of Lords— let them prove that the tide had not regularly and invariably set in of late years against the influence of the Aristocracy. Let them discuss that question upon plain and intelligible grounds, and he (Mr. Milnes Gaskell) feared not the result. He knew that that House possessed the power to take what was called a bold and resolute line upon this question. He only hoped that it would take a constitutional and a 1180 safe one. It was easy to enlarge its democratic functions beyond their just and natural boundaries; but if they did, they would rue their acquiescence in the principles on which their measures had been founded; and the people of England would rue it with a bitter and unavailing regret, when they found that they had transferred the powers which had hitherto been inherent in the three co-ordinate branches of the Legislature, into the hands of agitators and demagogues in this country and in Ireland.
Mr. Charles Butter
did not wonder that his hon. Friend should be quite shocked at any intemperate language that might be used; it was, however, fortunate that there existed some temperate and sage men in the House. But he could not understand the extraordinary scruples about one House of Parliament speaking of the other. Three or four years ago, the House of Lords spoke of the House of Commons in no measured terms. But God forbid that any one should think of upsetting the House of Lords. All that he wished to do, was to call the attention of the House to a subject which had already engaged the attention of the people—he meant the necessity of a Reform of the House of Lords. It was well to consider whether it were possible that an unreformed House of Lords could go on with a reformed House of Commons; whether it were possible, after having done away with the irresponsibility of this House, they could go on with an irresponsible House of Lords, tempered as it was with very little respect for the House of Commons. A collision had taken place. It was not a collision of a moment; it was a perpetual collision between two irreconcileable branches of the Government; and it became wise and constitutional men to set themselves about devising a wise, moderate, and constitutional remedy of a permanent nature, for an otherwise permanent evil. With regard to the Amendments, it was said that they had left the principle of the Bill intact. They had done so in words, but they had violated the principle in fact. The whole of the Amendments were hostile to the principle of the Bill. The various alterations made in the Bill by the Lords, were all detrimental to the measure as passed by the Commons. The House, therefore, could not doubt the animus with which the Amendments were made; nor would the House be taken in by the paltry and odious pretext—that they were made from a feeling of sympathy 1181 towards the poor—a pretext which he never heard but he was sure the man who used it, did so for the purpose of making these poor the degraded instruments of the corrupt designs of the rich. Though he was perfectly convinced of the utter impossibility of working with the House of Lords, still he agreed with the hon. and learned Member for Dublin, that it was their duty, considering the important interests confided to them, to proceed as peaceably and temperately as possible; and never put themselves in the wrong, but put their opponents in the wrong in the eyes of the country. He would therefore abandon his own, and adopt the concessions of the noble Lord; but he did so from a paramount motive, and not because he did not entertain very strong objections to many of those concessions.
thought the House should proceed to consider the Lords' Amendments, without any further general discussion.
§ Mr. Thomas Attwood
entered his protest against what he considered a compromise with the Lords. If his Majesty's Government and this House made themselves the ramparts between the House of Lords and the public feeling, the consequence would be, that both the Government and the House would be contaminated with the odium that now attached to the House of Lords. If the Government proceeded in this course, it was his conviction that their doom was fixed. This Bill was the second edition of the Irish Coercion Bill, which, with other aristocratic measures, had produced the ruin of Earl Grey's Government. Their present course would again break up the Administration; and how was another Administration on the same principles to be formed? He believed that the House of Lords would reject their partial concessions. They would then throw out the Government, and next they would send the Members of that House before their constituents. This he did not fear but he believed that many would then rue the course they were now pursuing. His Majesty's Government knew nothing of the feelings of the people. They saw, during the late elections, that the people were equally divided; and they therefore thought that the people were apathetic in the cause of British liberty. But they were not apathetic; they were only indifferent to the Whigs. He was quite sure that if Ministers would yet pull up, and insist upon the Bill as it was sent up to the other House, they would get the 1182 support of the people, and be the most powerful Ministry that ever existed. He therefore urged upon the noble Lord to send the Bill back to the House of Lords, in the same state in which it was a month ago; and he entreated him not to consent to one of the hundred and fifty abominable Amendments made upon it. If the noble Lord would consent to do that, he (Mr. Attwood) would feel very much obliged to him; but if not, he felt bound to give the Bill, as it now stood, his very decided, although humble, and, he was afraid, inefficient opposition.
§ The House proceeded to consider the Amendments seriatim.
§ Lord John Russell
referred to Clause E, page 18 of the Bill, which enacts, "That the Mayor, Aldermen, and Councillors to be chosen in each borough, together shall constitute the Council of the borough," and moved that the words "which Aldermen shall hold their offices for life," be struck out. The principle involved in this Amendment was, whether Aldermen should continue for life or for a limited period, and as no hon. Member on either side of the House had said one single word in favour of the continuance of Alderman for life, he expected that he should meet with a general concurrence in the course which he proposed.
§ Mr. Scarlett
said, that this Amendment would have the effect of abolishing dignities and offices which had been secured by the Charters of the boroughs. This he did not consider proper. He thought that Aldermen ought to be for life. He thought also that the House of Lords had not gone so far as they ought to have gone. The Bill was founded upon improper principles from the beginning, and his opinion was, that the House of Lords would have been justified in rejecting it altogether.
§ Mr. Law
could not disguise from himself the utter hopelessness of any further struggle upon this subject, after the declaration of the right hon. Baronet. He thought that the abolition of the privileges and dignities now existing in certain individuals, was the greatest injustice to those individuals. It was not to be supposed that those privileges were worthless, for he could assert that they were great and valuable. He only wished to record his opposition to this amendment, and to state that the grossest misrepresentation had been raised as to the conduct of the persons who at present held offices under the corporations.
§ Sir Robert Peel
said, that the proposition 1183 objected to by his two hon. Friends who spoke last, was not that to which he had objected, nor would he have been prepared to support such a proposition as they had advocated.
§ Mr. Charlton
said, that if the principle of popular election were once agreed to, there was no saying where they would stop. The principle of that Amendment might next be extended to the army and navy, and for ought he knew, it might then be proposed that the election of the King himself should be submitted to the same ordeal.
The Amendment proposed by Lord John Russell on the Lords' Amendment was agreed to.
Lord John Russell moved the insertion of words to the effect, that one-half of the aldermen should go out by rotation every three years.
§ Dr. Baldwin
considered that this amendment was, in fact, giving in to the principle of self-election, and he therefore protested against it.
§ Mr. Phillip Howard
trusted they would be able to arrive at rational reform without any radical changes in the Constitution. He regretted the Lords did not concur in the clause relative to the appointment of magistrates, as it would place justice on its best basis—that of public opinion. The dividing into wards, as proposed by ministers, was much preferable to the amendment of the Lords, because it would contribute a great deal to repress the spirit of jobbing. He was satisfied that the course which the Government had taken was one that, under all the circumstances, would entitle them to the lasting gratitude of the country.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Lord John Russell
then said that the next Clause (Clause H) enacted "that the mayor and aldermen should, during their respective offices, continue to be members of the council of the borough, notwithstanding anything hereinafter contained as to councillors going out of office at the end of three years." He disagreed with this clause altogether, and he therefore moved that it should be struck out.
§ Mr. Scarlett
thought it important that they should retain some of those who knew the manner of transacting the business of 1184 the borough. He was not one of those who thought that the present councillors had mismanaged the corporate affairs; for, on the contrary, he thought they had conducted them well. If reform of corporations had been necessary, it might have been done as effectually, and with greater justice, by the Court of King's Bench. He contended that with this measure revolution had commenced.
§ Clause struck out.
§ Lord John Russell
proposed the restoration of that part of Clause 35, relating to justices of the peace, to the state in which it was before the amendment of the House of Lords.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Lord John Russell
proposed an alteration in the Clause which gave power to the revising barrister to decide upon the division of corporate towns into wards. He proposed that as these gentlemen might be in some cases inexperienced, that the decision should be sent up for the approval of the King in Council, and if his Majesty did not approve, that then the matter should be sent back for revision.
§ Mr. C. Buller
objected to any proposition tending to throw additional labour upon the revising barristers, who already had their hands full. He was convinced that those gentlemen who had been appointed for the present year would not be able to get through their duties within the six weeks, to which they were limited. Let hon. Members only imagine what, for instance, would be the work of revision for the county of Middlesex, and then judge whether revising barristers could possibly, in addition, undertake the labour now proposed to be cast upon them? For his part, he would rather throw the duty upon the bishop of the diocese or the excise officer.
§ Mr. Hume
considered the clause as it originally stood far preferable to the Clause as now amended. He would ask even the Right hon. Baronet opposite whether he did not prefer the adjudication being left to the Commissioners, to the new arrangement of referring it to the revising barristers and the Privy Council, and he was willing to be bound by the right hon. Gentleman's decision.
§ Sir Robert Peel
believed this was the first time the hon. Member had ever honoured him by placing so much dependence on his judgment, and he was sorry that he could not encourage him by concurring with his views. Under all the circumstances he thought it better to accept the Amendment 1185 of the House of Lords with the addition suggested by the Noble Lord.
§ Major Beauclerk
was certain that the division into wards would make the boroughs close corporations. He considered the amendment so objectionable that he felt it his duty to take the sense of the House on this question. He should move that Clause "I" be omitted, his object being to substitute the original clause for it.
§ Motion negatived without a division.
§ Mr. Warburton
said this clause was founded on the principle adopted by the Kings of Rome in dividing the city of Rome into wards. "Ne quisquam in civitate privatus suffragio esse videretur—sed ut apud primores potestas remaneret" The barristers were to be governed, not by the number of the population, but by the population and their wealth jointly. This he considered opposed to the principle of popular election. He should, therefore, propose to leave out the words, "And in assigning the number of councillors to each ward, the said barrister or barristers shall, as far as in his or their judgment he or they may deem it to be practicable, have regard as well to the number of persons rated to the relief of the poor in such ward as to the aggregate amount of the sums at which all the said persons shall be so rated."