§ Major Beauclerk
had a Petition to present from Reigate, in favour of Municipal and Church Reform. It was signed by 105 out of the 160 electors who formed the constituency of that town, and by several hundreds of the other inhabitants. The petition expressed the 301 gratitude of the subscribers for the Measure now before Parliament of Municipal Reform, and their hope that it would be suffered to pass unmutilated. The petitioners also intreated that a speedy and searching Reform might be made in the Church of Ireland. Ireland, he must observe, was the only country on the face of the earth which was degraded and insulted by the existence among its people of a Church Establishment, whose tenets were wholly opposed to their own. We had never perpetrated a similar outrage upon any other country; not even upon one of our colonies had we attempted to thrust a religion different from that entertained by the native population. It was true that, in the single case of Canada, such an attempt had been made; but as soon as we found how it would be resisted, the idea was abandoned. No one was more ready than himself to provide for the fitting and respectable support of the Clergy of the Established Church; but he would never consent to the insult and oppression on the Roman Catholic people of Ireland, which was comprehended in compelling them to support an Establishment large enough for the entire population of the country, if it were wholly Protestant. The Irish people would never be satisfied until they were entirely relieved from so odious a burden. It was thus that the proposed Measure of Church Reform would not give satisfaction in Ireland; for nothing would content the Roman Catholic population of that country till they found that their religious feelings were to be no longer insulted by their being compelled to keep up the Protestant Establishment. Harmony and good-will would never be effected among Christians till they were all put upon an equal footing. The sentiments he now expressed pervaded the large portion of the constituency which he had the honour to represent. It was true, indeed, that the petitioners had chosen as their representative, a noble Lord (Eastnor) whose political sentiments wholly differed from those which had just been given utterance to, but they had given that noble Lord the preference, and he (Major Beau-clerk) considered very justly, on account of the excellence of his private character. There was no doubt that the feelings of the people of Surrey were, for the most part, strongly in favour of Reform both in the Church of Ireland and in the Church of England. On a former evening the hon. Member for Penryn (Mr. Freshfield) had thought proper to assert, that if he (Major 302 Beauclerk) persisted in his present line of conduct, he would lose his seat at the next election. Now he (Major Beauclerk) had heard from undoubted authorities, that this declaration had given great pain all over the division of the county which he represented. On the occasion alluded to, he had not taken any notice of the hon. Member's assertion, not looking upon it as a personal attack; but he would now assure the hon. Member that he had the worst possible opinion of his prophetic powers. He had not the least apprehension as to the result of the next election whenever it should take place. As to the petition which the hon. Member had presented in favour of the Irish Church, he would again express his confident belief that its sentiments were not those of the very great majority of the people of Surrey and in corroboration of this belief, he could inform the House that at this moment petitions similar to the one he (Major Beauclerk) had that evening the honour of presenting, were in preparation throughout the country.
§ Lord Eastnor
admitted that his political opinions were not consonant with those of many of his constituents. He was not at all surprised at the sentiments contained in this petition, knowing as he did, the means which had for some time past been in operation to create an excitement on these subjects in the borough whence it emanated. He was convinced, too, that many of the petitioners did not know the exact nature of what they had subscribed. The petition expressed its desire for the passing of the Municipal Reform Bill unaltered. Now although he was favourable to the general principle of the measure, he could not consent to the passing of every portion of it in its present state. In reference to the Reform of the Church too, the petitioners went infinitely too far; nor did he believe that they expressed the feeling of that part of the county on the subject. For himself he would say that, ever since he had had a seat in that House, it had been his anxious desire to promote all such measures as tended to give persons differing from himself in religious sentiments, all the advantages which he considered them fairly and justly entitled to, consistent with the maintenance of the Protestant Establishment in all its efficiency. The Measure, however, which was now before the House, appeared to him to have a direct tendency to impair that efficiency; and the petitioners went still further, for what they contemplated was the utter destruction of the Church. He 303 was ready to admit that in the opinion of many persons some alterations in the discipline of the Church would add to its efficiency, and he should always be ready to sanction such alterations as were fairly called for, and which tended to promote that object. And he could not omit the expression of his regret for the retirement of the late Administration, as, had they been suffered to remain in office, there was no doubt but that before the end of this Session a Church Reform Bill would have received the sanction of the Legislature, satisfactory to all parties. He would express his regret that on any point he should differ from his constituents in their political sentiments, but it should ever be his anxious care to do that which his conscience told him was right.
Mr. Fresh field
had had no intention to hurt the feelings of the hon. and gallant Member for East Surrey, or to misrepresent the political sentiments of his constituents, which he had still the best reason for believing, were for the most part quite adverse to those of the hon. and gallant Member. He still believed that if that hon. Gentleman persevered in his present course, he would at the next election lose that seat which had been mainly secured to him by the Conservatives in preference to the other candidate. The hon. and gallant Member had asserted that the subscribers to the petition which he (Mr. Freshfield) presented the other night, might be respectable, but they were wrong-headed. Now, he (Mr. Freshfield), of his own personal knowledge, could assure the hon. and gallant Member that at any rate the greater part of them were any thing but wrong-headed. So far from he (Mr. Freshfield) having misrepresented the political sentiments of the people of East Surrey, he had received the thanks of several public meetings held there, for having vindicated their political opinions.
said, that he was not present the other evening, or he should have made a few observations on the occasion. On reading the debates, however, in the newspapers of next morning, he had been exceedingly struck by the remarks made by the hon. Member for Penryn; for, having represented Surrey for many years, he was surprised at the sentiments ascribed to the people of the Eastern Division of the county by the hon. Member, which were wholly different from those which in a long experience he had ever found them to be. Under the cir- 304 cumstances he thought it much more likely that the hon. Member was mistaken than either himself or the hon. and gallant Member and he thought this the more probable, since he could not imagine how the hon. Member for Penryn should have ascertained the feelings of the people of that part of the county, living, as he did, in another division of it, and attending none of its public, meetings. With reference to what had been said about the hon. and gallant Member having been returned by the Conservatives of the county, he would only observe, that he had always understood the hon. and gallant Member to have been the representative of the Liberal interest of the county: an interest which was, and ever would be, he trusted, the preponderating one there. As to the result of the next election, he would only wish the hon. Member, on his return to his rotten borough, as cordial a reception as he could guarantee the hon. and gallant Member on the part of the electors of the Eastern Division of Surrey.
§ Major Beauclerk,
though priding himself on having been elected as the representative of the Liberal interest in East Surrey, was happy, though surprised, to hear that his success had not been disagreeable to the Conservatives. That the Liberal interest was the stronger one in that county was evident from the fact, that while himself, as candidate on that interest, though coming late to the contest, was returned without the expenditure of any—but the least possible—amount of money, many thousands of pounds were laid out on the opposite side of the question. No doubt there were many Conservatives in Surrey, but the Liberal interest constituted the vast majority.
§ The Petition laid on the Table.