§ A message from the Lords requested a conference with the Commons on the subject of the Amendments made in either House on the Municipal Corporations' Bill; and also informed the House that in consequence of the unavoidable absence of one of their Lordships' usual messengers, the present communication had been made by one of the Masters in Chancery, accompanied by the Clerk-assistant.
§ On the Motion of Lord John Russell the conference was agreed to, and the messengers were called in.
§ The Speaker,
after informing them that the House had agreed to the conference, added that the House having considered the reasons which caused the absence of one of their Lordships' usual messengers, deemed those reasons to be sufficient and satisfactory, but requested that they might not be drawn into a precedent.
Managers of the conference were appointed, and Lord John Russell (on the 1402 return of the messengers) informed the House that the Lords did not insist upon certain Amendments, and did insist upon others, and that they had amended some of the Amendments of the Commons, for which their Lordships' reasons had been delivered to the managers on the part of the Commons.
The reasons of the Lords were read.
§ Lord John Russell
then rose to direct the attention of the House to the amendments of the Lords, and spoke as follows:—I wish I could preface what I am about to move by saying, that with scarcely an exception, the House of Lords has agreed to the amendments proposed by the House; because I think that this House did treat the amendments of the House of Lords in a spirit of conciliation, which I should say justly entitled us to expect that the principal amendments made by the Commons to the amendments of the Lords would have been agreed to. I know at least that there were several points upon which many Members of this House were reluctant to make any concession; and foregoing as they did for the sake of conciliation, and for the sake of terminating this question, some of those principles which it had been thought necessary to introduce into the original Bill, ought to have tended more to produce a good understanding between both Houses. If, instead of agreeing to certain portions of our amendments, and expressing a wish that a good correspondence should be maintained, the Lords had agreed to the whole of our amendments, and accepted at once, as a concession to their independent authority, and to the welfare of the country, the large concessions which it pleased this House to make upon my motion, the object of good correspondence would, I think, have been more effectually attained. At the same time I have to state that the alterations in the Bill to which I declared that I had an insuperable objection, have been abandoned by the House of Lords. I considered it an insuperable objection to the Bill, as altered by the House of Lords, that it made a Corporation a mixed body—one portion of the governing body having rights conferred by the Bill—the large rights of rated householders—and another portion deriving wholly from self-election, and founded upon the ancient constitution of the borough. I stated that I thought it impossible that any raw machinery could work well with such elements of discord connected with it, and the right hon. Member for Tamworth then present added, what 1403 I apprehend was likewise true, that while those members of the old body did not act in harmony with the new, the old would be totally unable to carry their own views into effect, and one part of the Corporation would act as a clog upon the other, and impede the future government. I am happy to say that the Lords have not insisted upon this amendment: they are willing that the future Corporation shall consist altogether of persons either immediately elected by the rate-payers, or by those who, according to the amendment I had the honour to propose, derive immediately from the elective bodies, and hold their offices for double the period originally provided. And let me say here, that, in speaking of that amendment, it should be recollected that when the Bill was first introduced, a noble Friend of mine, the Member for Lancashire, who concurred in all its general principles, maintained that the whole body of the Councillors ought to be elected for six years. Now, by the Bill as it stands, three-fourths of the body will be elected by the rate-payers for three years, and one-fourth will be elected immediately by the Councillors, and for six years. There was another amendment made by the Lords which I looked upon as highly injurious to the Bill: it was, that the present Town-clerks, even those who now hold office only during pleasure, should continue to hold during good behaviour, and retain in their hands all the muniments of the borough. I considered, in conjunction with the fourth of the old aldermen, that this provision as to Town-clerks was intended to give them a power of controlling the masters under whom they served; and, in fact, making them absolutely necessary for the government of the borough. I am glad to inform the House that that Amendment has been abandoned by the House of Lords. Another Amendment was made by them: it was the amendment which provided that Justices for life, according to corporate rights, should continue Justices for life under the new system of these boroughs. I think that for the reasons stated by the Commons at the conference, this alteration would have produced the greatest evil, as there would have been some Justices deriving under a system, which I shall venture to call a bad system, and other Justices deriving under a more improved mode. But it is not I only who say it is a bad system, because in one of the reasons given by the House of Lords they tell us that they have made amendments 1404 with respect to Justices, in order to revert to the principle by which the appointments would avoid the evils that have resulted from a contrary practice. Their Lordships thereby fully allow all that this House has maintained as to the evil of Justices chosen in the manner of the old Corporations. The Lords have likewise given up that invidious distinction, which I believe would have produced the greatest jealousy and discord in boroughs, established by the rolls of persons possessing 1,000l. or 500l. who were to be obliged to come before a barrister to make good their qualification, in order to be placed on the one list or on the other. The Lords have relinquished both parts of their amendment as to the qualification, and have adopted that modified proposition which we inserted as an amendment upon their amendment. But while they have not insisted upon these alterations which must have been injurious to the working of the whole system, their Lordships have disagreed to certain portions of our amendments: two of these I think of great importance, and another, which is not of importance, is a little extraordinary in its form. The first amendment to which they have made an additional amendment, is the clause as to revising barristers. I proposed, and it was generally agreed to by the House, that the decision of the revising barrister should not be good unless it were approved by the Crown; and I was about to add (indeed I had a clause prepared for the purpose), that if the Crown should not approve of such decision, it should be competent to direct an amended report to be made by the revising barrister, and to come to such other determination as his Majesty in Council should deem fit. I thought, however, that this clause was not necessary, that some cavils might be raised that we were not carrying into effect the amendment of the Lords in the way that House proposed: but it has been the cause of the insertion of a proviso by their Lordships to remedy the inconvenience. If it had been necessary to remedy the inconvenience, I think the mode I proposed would have been preferable, viz. that the revising barrister should make his report—that, if not approved, it should be sent back—and that if the report were not satisfactory, that there might be a power in the King in Council (until Parliament should otherwise determine) to make a different arrangement. The Lords have introduced a proviso, which, coming from a House of Parliament particularly jealous for the prero- 1405 gatives of the Crown, seems to me of a very singular nature. They have provided that the revising barrister in the first place shall make his report, that if it be not approved, it shall, nevertheless, stand good for a time, and then their Lordships go on to say that it shall continue to be good, not till his Majesty in Council comes to another determination, but until his Majesty in Council definitively approves the division of such borough into wards in the manner beforementioned. This makes it far worse than the amendment I originally proposed; for according to this proviso the barrister is to make his report to the King in Council; the King in Council is to reject it as insufficient and unwise, and the arrangement is nevertheless to be good until his Majesty shall finally approve of the decision of the barrister. So that the revising barrister may go on making reports which are not approved by the Crown, and yet the Crown is to be subordinate, and the revising barrister superior. I should have thought that a House of Parliament, tender of the prerogatives of the Crown, would have been cautious in proposing an amendment which puts the Crown in this situation—that it may refuse to approve, but that the revising barrister may continue in his own opinion; and it will remain known to the whole country, that the King in council solemnly disapproves of his decision, without the power of altering it. The determination of the King in Council may be of no avail against the notions of a young and inexperienced gentleman. When I say that he is young and inexperienced, I use an expression not of my own merely, but of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth, who agreed with me as to the youth and inexperience of some of those who are to make this final award without the approbation of the King in Council. I do not know that the practical effect will be of much consequence, but certainly I would much rather that the Clause should have remained as it originally stood, than that this proviso should have been inserted, which places the Crown in a situation which I think is not altogether decorous. The next Amendment of importance, and it is no doubt one of very great importance, regards the appointment of justices. We have always contended, and in the last debate upon the subject we decided, by a large majority, that the Town-council should have the power of naming persons fit to receive the commission of the peace from the Crown, although the Crown 1406 might disapprove and reject persons contained in the list furnished by the Town-council. I am still of opinion, that this is a mode in which the Crown might be legitimately and openly informed of fit persons to be appointed as justices of the peace, and who might act in the various boroughs with greater confidence than if the Crown chose them without any open recommendation by a body popularly elected like the Town-council. Upon this question the Lords state, that by a principle of the Constitution, the appointment of justices of the peace ought to be vested in the King, without restraint or control. Whatever may be the fact as to the principle of the Constitution, I think no man can maintain the argument set forth in various quarters, that justices in Corporations are in truth appointed by the Crown. That there were persons named in the Charters of James 1st, who, by their corporate capacity, were justices, cannot be disputed; but since that time, Corporations have named the justices without any reference to the Crown, and it is the utmost extravagance to assume that because the justices originally by the Charters of James 1st, were named by the Crown, that justices can only properly derive from the Crown. If that argument is good for anything, or if a technical argument be good for anything, here would be an Act of Parliament assented to by the King, and passed by the Lords and Commons, by which Town-councils are to exist, and they would have to name the justices, but not definitively, for the Crown would keep up a certain power and control, in order that no unfit persons might be admitted to the Commission. Therefore as a question of the prerogative of the Crown, I apprehend, the power under the Act would at least be as great as under the old charters, and for this reason, as well as on the ground of expediency, I adhere to my original opinion. The next Amendment regards the division of boroughs into wards, and without going back to the old Bill as it stood, the Lords have made this amendment in it—that the division into wards is carried down to 6,000 inhabitants, only the qualification is not carried higher than was proposed by the House of Commons. There is a division at a certain point, and the Lords go at once from 18,000 population, and three wards with a council of twenty-four members, to five wards with a council of forty members. It is not necessary for me to point out the inconvenience of this mode of 1407 dividing, nor to advert to the arguments stated over and over again in opposition to the Amendment now proposed by the Lords. But in considering the manner in which these Amendments should be treated, the first thing we have to attend to is, whether we could possibly amend these Amendments so as to maintain our own opinions, and, at the same time, come to a settlement of the question with the House of Lords. After, therefore, looking at this Bill, as it stands with my colleagues, we are of opinion that we can make no amendment of that kind; that with respect to the clause re-regarding justices, either we must frame it in such a way that the Crown would have the right of naming other justices than those proposed by the Council; or, on the other hand, that the Council would have the whole power of appointing the justices, independent of the Crown. As to the second Amendment, the original decision of the Commons was in favour of a population of 12,000; the decision of the Lords reduced the number to 6,000; we proposed 9,000 as a compromise, and after having done so, I must say, that I am not disposed to higgle with the Lords, in order to obtain any intermediate number. As to the other Amendment, of which I have already spoken, it is merely an act of indecorum towards the Crown; I will not participate in it, but leave it altogether to those who proposed it. I cannot suppose that a great legal party, such as we had the satisfaction of seeing here the other night, would have suggested such an Amendment, which seems to have originated rather in the carelessness and indiscretion of the Deputy Grand Master. We have to consider then, whether, if we consent to these Amendments as they stand, we should be justified in sending the Bill back to the House of Lords, in order that it may be passed into a law of the land. I will first take the immediate question of those Amendments, to which I have already adverted at sufficient length, and consider how and in what respect they could be amended. As to the Clause which gives the appointment of justices absolutely and unconstitutionally to the King, I have no hesitation in saying, that as long as my colleagues and myself continue to be the advisers of the Crown, we shall feel it our duty, as the most natural and satisfactory mode of appointing these justices, to request from the Town-councils that they would send us a list of the names of persons in whom they think confidence ought to be placed. I have no hesitation also in saying, 1408 that I think this would be an exercise of the prerogative of the Crown fully justifiable, and, indeed, rendered almost necessary by the state in which the Bill was originally sent from the House of Lords. It has happened to me, in the course of this very day, to have received a letter from a Lord-lieutenant of a county, recommending a certain person to be placed in the commission of the peace; this Lord-lieutenant is opposed in politics to the party to which I belong; but I have no doubt that he is fully justified in his recommendation, and I shall only do right in earring it into effect. It is impossible that I should know locally the particular qualifications of individuals; but if I should be right in advising the exercise of the prerogative of the Crown in counties, at the instance and under the advice of a Lord-lieutenant; there is no reason why it should be derogatory to the prerogative of the Crown to exercise it in the same way, after asking the opinion of a Town-council. Let it be remembered, that this does not depend upon any declaration of mine, because any abuse of the prerogative of the Crown, of this kind as of other kinds, would come under the cognizance of the House of Commons, and if it found that any Minister had introduced discord into a Corporation by appointing persons suspected or obnoxious, or who were not disposed to administer justice impartially, after the Bill had passed the Commons, giving the power to the Town-council, I think it would hardly be slow in noticing the abuse. With respect to the other Amendment relating to wards, I think we must consider, as to that and many former Amendments to which we have agreed, that there seems to have been something provisional in the contemplation of the Lords. They have, in the first place, recommended that the boundaries of several boroughs should remain the same, although those boundaries, in several instances, are most inconvenient; and they leave it to Parliament on a future occasion to decide what the boundaries shall be. The Lords have given revising barristers the power of judging absolutely for a time as to wards, but it is not intended hereafter that their decree shall be without appeal; therefore I say, that the question of boundaries and wards may, in all probability, come before Parliament when the Boundary Act, which must be introduced, is brought forward. In another part of the Bill, that which refers to the trustees of charities, their Lordships have, confessedly and avowedly. 1409 made a provisional arrangement, viz., that the present trustees shall remain till the month of August, 1836, unless Parliament in the mean time shall otherwise provide. That is a subject on which I did not express a difference before, and I will not express a difference now; but the Lords think that a separate Act of Parliament will contain provisions in this respect. I think there are some other clauses in the Bill which have been left by the Lords in such a manner as to show that they do not suppose that this Bill is to be a definitive settlement of the question respecting Municipal Corporations. Besides leaving, as we originally left, a great many boroughs out of the Bill, they have added other boroughs which we proposed to omit, and with regard to which, a question may probably arise whether they are Municipal Corporations. Therefore, I apprehend, I may say that these are subjects not to be judged of very much at the present moment, but after this Bill shall have come into operation; and I have no difficulty in saying that, considering how much the Bill has been amended by different hands, and how much the original design has been departed from, it seems to me that it will be difficult for Parliament to go on for any considerable time, without taking this subject again into consideration. I come, then, to consider this Bill as a whole, and whether, as a whole, the House of Commons will be justified to the country and to their constituents, in assenting to this measure. I am prepared to say, that I do not think it would be wise for us to attempt to make any fresh amendments, to get a part of what has been removed back again, or to remove a part of what has been substituted. The real question is, and to that question Ministers have sedulously applied themselves, whether, on the whole, they can present this Bill to the country as the foundation of a great improvement to Municipal Corporations. I have no hesitation in saying that I consider it a great improvement. In the first place, all those bodies, for the most part self-elected, with various discordances and various privileges, are altogether put an end to. That system of appointing justices, which the House of Lords declares to be an evil, is entirely abolished, and we have a new edifice, not altogether and in every part of the fairest proportion, but at least with a solid foundation, and resting on a good and wholesome basis. There is, then, the adoption for the future of the principle of a wholesome system of municipal govern- 1410 ment, and which, if it stood almost alone, we might with propriety accept. But besides this, there is the introduction of a good system for the administration of justice in many of the boroughs: there is the appointment of a recorder, who must be a person versed in the law, and well qualified to dispense justice in place of the mode which is now adopted, under which recorders are appointed by personal interest, without being connected with the law or acquainted with the object or due administration of the various Local Statutes and Acts for the regulation of the officers of the towns to which they have been nominated. In another respect I think we have made a great improvement—I allude to the freemen; because, although we admit that they should preserve what have been styled their rights of property, and although we preserve their right of voting for Members of Parliament, yet we do away with them as municipal electors; they form no part of the system of municipal government, or if they enter into it at all, they must, like the rest of the electors, depend for a qualification solely on the uniform right of the payment of rates. With respect to the boundaries of these boroughs, there are ninety-three of them in which the boundaries have been settled by the Commissioners appointed for the purpose, and great improvements have been thereby effected. There are, I think, various other improvements introduced by this measure; and one of the most important of these improvements, as well as one with which no party can find fault, and which must be equally acceptable to both sides of the House, is, that a good police will be established in those towns by means of a watch committee, appointed by this popular Council, to which they can refer in all cases where the quiet and security of the towns are in question. I think, then, that a measure containing such advantages, and containing in itself the germ of many other improvements, enables me safely to say, that this Bill is the foundation of an improved system of government in our municipal towns. Amongst the objects to be effected, and of which the foundations of improvement are laid by this Bill, I must say, that I look as to one of its most beneficial results, the proper and just distribution of charitable funds, under some body so circumstanced and appointed as to render the abuse of these funds to individual purposes impossible, and to secure their distribution according to the genuine intentions of those by whom they have been bequeathed. I say, then, that looking at 1411 this Bill as a whole—although I do not say that I am altogether satisfied with it—although I say that I think pains have been taken, and unfortunately taken, to provide that this shall not be a final measure, and that it would be useless for me to make any declaration to that effect, because those who have framed these amendments seem to have taken special care that it should not be so considered; I repeat, therefore, that viewing the question in this light, I think I am justified in recommending to the House of Commons to put an end to the controversy which is at present carried on between the two Houses of Parliament with respect to these amendments, and to agree, by assenting to these amendments, that this Bill shall become an Act of Parliament. I have no doubt myself that when this new constitution of the boroughs comes into effect, and when those elections appointed by it shall take place, we shall find not only that it will be productive of great improvements, not only that many defects will be remedied, and many abuses corrected by it, but that the working of the Bill itself will point out how the whole system may be perfected with the general assent of the Legislature. Sir, I know that with respect to any great measure of this kind, it is not possible, in a mixed constitution like ours, to carry at once into effect, by one single enactment, the whole reform which may be considered necessary. As long as I have had a seat in Parliament, and in all the great reforms in which I have had the honour to take an humble part, my maxim has invariably been to admit something which I myself object to, in order to place upon the statute-book some proof to attest the progress of liberality in our institutions. I pursued this course with respect to the Test and Corporation Acts; for objecting, as I did, to the introduction of any acknowledgment of a religious creed, and thinking it wholly unnecessary, I was glad to accept that, whilst I obtained the solemn and positive declaration of Parliament, that the sacramental test was profane and abominable. With respect to the Roman Catholic question, I differed from the policy of those who, after a Committee of this House had sat upon it, then desisted from their advocacy of it, because the privilege of seats in Parliament would not be granted. I may be wrong in the opinion, but I do believe that had a Bill with such restrictions passed at the time to which I allude, the remaining points would have been much sooner granted than when the whole of the disabilities of the Roman Catholics were at 1412 once removed. With regard to a measure of this kind, if we lived under the government of an arbitrary monarchy, or a government totally democratic in its nature, such a government might, I admit, pass such a measure in the state in which it is first framed and produced. The King of Prussia issued an edict several years ago appointing for the towns of his kingdom a new system of municipal government, by which the municipal officers were to he elected by the inhabitants of the towns. He experienced as little difficulty in carrying his project into effect, as a pure and uncontrolled popular government would encounter in carrying the objects contemplated by this measure into effect. But we live under a tempered Government. I can say for myself, that I wish to see all the reforms that are necessary carried into effect consistently with the existence and the maintenance of that tempered form of Government. If, then, we desire to obtain all the advantages to be derived from a tempered form of Government—and there can be no doubt that those advantages are great and numerous—we must rest assured that we cannot procure them without submitting to the obstacles necessarily thrown in the way of the progress of measures which are submitted under such a Constitution. If we duly estimate that tempered form of Government, we must admit that the benefits which flow from it far more than counterbalance the disadvantages arising from the obstacles and delays which are opposed occasionally to the passing of measures of a popular nature. That a perfect legislature, or a perfect body of legislators does not exist, is a truism which requires no proof, and I am, therefore, prepared to agree to these Amendments, and to propose to this House that they should express their concurrence in them, looking forward as I do on this subject, and on various other subjects, to future improvement in subsequent Sessions of Parliament. We have, no doubt, left much undone that we proposed to do with regard to Reforms; and not with reference to this Bill merely, but with respect to a Bill which ought naturally to follow it—I mean a Bill with respect to the Reform in Municipal Corporations in Ireland, which must necessarily be introduced in the course of the ensuing Session of Parliament. There are various other subjects which imperatively call for our attention: such, for instance, as the effectual removal of the grievances of Dissenters, and that Reform 1413 of the English Church which is required by the general admission and consent of all parties;—these, I repeat, are questions which must attract the serious consideration of the Legislature in another Session of Parliament. I shall think it a great advantage, that instead of breaking off from the House of Lords on points which perhaps in six months or a year hence they may not deem of so much importance as they do now, that this subject should have been already considered; and all the main principles on which a Reform in Municipal Government was required having been already discussed, that we should be called on only to direct our attention to the remaining defects of the system with a view to their removal by a full and efficient Reform. I think that we shall thus take the best course for carrying into effect, so far as lies in our power, the pledge which my noble Friend (Lord Spencer) gave at the close of the last Session of Parliament. At that period my noble Friend declared that we should be ready at the commencement of the present Session to introduce many measures of Reform. Before that time arrived a change of Government took place, and at the commencement of the Session we were told by the existing Government "that the Reports of evidence had been laid before us, and that they should receive due consideration;" but at the same time it had been conveyed by sundry hints and rumours, that a high authority had declared that the Commission appointed to inquire into Corporations was altogether illegal. From that period we have made this step—that we have introduced a great Measure, which has met with the general consent of Parliament. That Measure has been much altered; and, maimed as it is in many parts, I think that when it is passed into a law we shall fulfil the wish which was expressed to the Throne on the first day of the Session, namely, that we wished "to see Municipal Corporations subject to vigilant popular control." It only remains for me now to move, that this House doth not insist upon their disagreement to the Amendments insisted upon by the Lords, and doth agree to the Amendments made by the Lords to the Amendments made by the Commons to the Amendments made by the Lords in this Bill."
§ Mr. Hume
could not help expressing his deep regret that the House of Lords had not thought proper to concur with the Amendments made by the House of Commons. That House evinced a desire to 1414 conciliate never equalled, and which was peculiarly striking when the resistance offered by the House of Lords to a Bill which, with the exception of the Lords, was universally desired, was borne in mind. This resistance was the more remarkable when the expressed wishes of their Lordships, with respect to a measure of Corporate Reform was taken into account. It was this. "The Lords participate in the anxiety manifested by the Commons to maintain a good correspondence and understanding between the two Houses, of the paramount importance of which to the public welfare the Lords are deeply sensible." They certainly had selected the strongest mode of carrying this professsed "concurrence" into effect, of almost any that could, be devised. They declared it, too, to be a Measure of "paramount importance," but how it was possible to make the admission that no measure was more essential to the peace and interest of the inhabitants of this country, and yet to treat it in the manner in which it had been treated by the House of Lords was an inconsistency which to him appeared altogether inexplicable. He would call the attention of the House to the Speech from the Throne, at the commencement of the Session, in which his Majesty had stated that "He relied with entire confidence on the willing co-operation of the two Houses of Parliament, which was calculated to remove unjust causes of complaint, and to promote the concord and happiness of the country." Could the conduct of the Lords with respect to other Measures besides that of the Municipal Corporations' Bill—he meant particularly that most important one the Measure for the settlement of the Tithe Question, be for one moment considered as proof of compliance with that recommendation? The manner in which that measure had been disposed of, and the way in which the Municipal Reform Bill had been dealt with, at any rate showed this—that their Lordships took a most extraordinary course in meeting the wishes or acting in accordance with the feelings of the people. Was it not insufferable that that reform which was considered essential, and which that House had admitted to be necessary to the welfare of the people, should, except so far as it was granted by the mangled Bill now before them, be refused by the other House of Parliament? Then came the question—what were they to do? The Members of that House were perfectly helpless: the 1415 people had no power over the other House of Parliament. The only means by which a majority against the people in that House could be diminished, was by an exercise of the prerogative of the Crown, which it did not appear likely would be carried into effect. Whilst he said this, he could not but reflect that this Ministry had had a most arduous task to perform. There could not, perhaps, be a better example of the difficulties which they had had to encounter than that a noble Lord who was at the head of one of the most important branches of the military service of the country—the Horse Guards—withheld all support from that Government under which he acted, and to the members of which the noble Lord communicated, he supposed, all the proceedings connected with his command. It was no wonder that the situation of Ministers should be embarrassing, when those who occupied the highest posts of authority under them, and who were dependent upon them, were foremost in opposition to them. When, therefore, they found the Prelates of the Church and the Peers united in one bond to resist the just demands of the people, it behoved not only the Members of that House, but the people themselves, and the highest individual in the country, to consider well what might be the result of a continued course of such proceedings. It was perfectly true that a majority of an important branch of the Legislature were opposed to conceding to the demands of the people with respect to this measure, but it was true also that an equally important portion of the Legislature—that House—was almost unanimous in the opinion that they should be complied with. If reason and common sense, prudence and discretion, were (as they appeared to be) banished from the Lords, what could the country expect? Of what avail were the proceedings of that House when it was seriously held in the other House of Parliament that a particular measure ought not to be passed because a certain individual Member of that House had voted for it? Was such an avowal, he repeated, consistent with common sense, or prudence, or discretion? Such a course of conduct on the part of another branch of the Legislature rendered it the more imperative on that House cautiously and prudently to consider what steps were to be taken, and how they might overcome the difficulties by which they were surrounded. But it was not for them but for the people themselves to con- 1416 sider what proceedings should take place; and he earnestly hoped that from one end of the country to the other the people would proclaim that there was little use in a Reform in the House of Commons, if there was not also a Reform in the House of Lords. All their labours, and efforts, and sacrifices in the year 1832, and subsequently, were completely thrown away, if the acts of their representatives were to be annulled by a Tory majority in the other House of Parliament. Was it not monstrous that the Members of the House of Commons must labour almost incessantly night and day, with a view of carrying measures on which the peace of the country, the interests of the people, and the stability of the Throne depended, with no other result than to have the Bills which they carefully prepared quashed or rendered comparatively useless by the decision of an irresponsible body of individuals? Whilst, then, he protested against the proceedings of the Lords, not only with respect to this Bill, but with regard to the other Bills which were sent up to them, he felt bound to declare that it became an imperative duty on his Majesty's Ministers to be prepared, on the next assembling of Parliament, for the promulgation of some means by which the two branches of the Legislature might be rendered harmonious. It was impossible to imagine any situation more embarrassing or unpleasant for a Member of either branch of the Legislature than that in which he was called on to alter, in any respect, the constitution of the country. When, however, the public interest demanded a change they were bound to devise the best means of effecting it. There was one mode by which, he conceived, the constitution of the House of Lords might be reformed, and it had this peculiar advantage, that there was a precedent in its favour. He alluded to the nomination of Peers by the Crown. It was notorious that the Tories had been doubled in that House by Tory Administrations professing and acting on opinions directly opposed to the mass of the people. Would not his Majesty's Government, then, who conducted the affairs of the country on principles approved of by that House, and which were assented to by the great majority of the inhabitants of this kingdom, be justified in countervailing the preponderance of Tory Peers by the infusion into the House of Lords of individuals entertaining opinions in conformity with the great bulk of the people. If the Tories 1417 thrust Tories into the House of Peers, why should not the Whigs do the same, and let there be some principle of fairness or equality established amongst the members of it? This might be said to be interfering with the legislative power of the other House of Parliament; but was it not absolutely necessary to interfere in some degree with that power which had been invariably exerted against the interests of the people, when any great measure for their benefit was brought before them? He might here say he was sorry the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth, was not in his place, that he might have an opportunity of explaining the extraordinary inconsistency which was imputed to him in the report of a speech said to have been delivered by him at Tamworth; for with one breath he admitted the necessity for reforms, and with the other denounced all those who would meddle or interfere with that House, which refused all popular reforms. The Lords, whilst they professed themselves opposed to all innovations, were in fact the greatest innovators, for they had introduced hitherto unknown principles into the municipal government of the towns; they had insisted upon the division of the towns into a large number of wards, and deprived the local authorities of the appointment of the magistrates. He defied any individual who was acquainted with the ancient constitution of the municipal government of towns to deny that they, the House of Commons, were in favour of restoring, and the House of Lords of innovation in the management of these towns. He was willing, however, to accept this measure, on the understanding, that in the very next Session of Parliament, a Bill should be introduced to effect the objects which it was intended by this Bill to accomplish. With a solemn and distinct protest against the Amendments introduced by the Lords, he agreed to the reception of this Bill; and he was the more inclined to take that course, when he reflected that it introduced into the government of corporations the two great principles of annual election and popular control. Thanking the Government for the measure which they had so wisely, and with so just a sense of the true interests of the people originally brought forward, and the principles of which they were bound to see ultimately carried into effect, he did not consider it wise that that House should, when they could not get all they required, abandon a measure containing those most 1418 important principles. When they called to mind, too, the sentiments so lately expressed in the second manifesto at Tamworth, and the hopes which he who issued it built on the divisions of those entertaining liberal opinions, was there a man in that House belonging to that class, from the Ultra-Radical to the moderate Whig, who was not persuaded of the necessity of union in the present crisis? Were they not prepared to show that the expectations of a return to power by that party who have so long misgoverned the people, were founded on the grossest fallacy, if it was supposed that there was any other than the most decided opinion in favour of unity and agreement amongst the friends of the people. He for the last time repeated, that he took this measure as an instalment of that debt which was due to the country. And he, notwithstanding the complaints of some individuals, took the course which was pointed out to him, only from a conscientious conviction that it was now the best to be pursued. In conclusion, the hon. Member recommended unity to the Reformers, and to take the measure as the best which hey could now get, but certain to get a better measure hereafter.
began by saying, that until the measure of Corporate Reform went up to the House of Lords, the Commission appointed to inquire into Corporations had not been impugned as unlawful, or the members of it charged with gross neglect of duty; much less was it urged that they deserved the most condign punishment for what they had done. When, too, it was stated by noble Lords, that the Report was a tissue of fallacies and falsehoods, and drawn up by persons not determined to inquire into the real state of Corporations, but by those who have been sent to supply evidence to those who had determined on their abolition, he thought it became his duty to state how the Commissioners had been appointed, and on what principles they had acted. First, with respect to instruction. The only instructions he ever received were those conveyed by the Commission itself. That Commission was preceded by the Report of a Committee composed of those who occupied the highest rank in that House—of the present Speaker, the Solicitor-General, and the right hon. Member for Tamworth. And what did that Committee report? Precisely that which the Commission directed the members of it to perform, and which they endeavoured to perform. What did the Com- 1419 missioners do? Having met, he gave directions as to the mode in which the inquiry should be conducted. He gave a paper on the subject to every Commissioner. Before the Commissioners entered on the inquiry, a copy of that paper was sent to the Chief-magistrate and the Town-clerk of every borough that was to be included in the investigation. Surely that would have been a very extraordinary step, if the object of the Commission was to destroy the Corporations, and to satisfy the wishes of unprincipled partisans. Every one of the Comsioners took the course prescribed: and, except on one occasion, it was not until within the last two months that he had heard a single complaint against any of them. That one occasion had reference to a Commissioner who was supposed to have been greatly injured, merely because he did not concur in the performance of the general duties of the Commission. And even in that instance the complaint proved futile; for a criminal information having been moved for by the Corporation of Colchester against that Gentleman, the Court of King's Bench refused to grant it. And to whom was the Report of the Commissioners sent? Not to Lord Grey's Government; but to the noble Earl's successors. The Commissioners had been censured for not having given the whole of the evidence on which they formed their opinions. Had that complaint been made in the first instance, the deficiency could easily have been supplied. The fault, if any, was his own. He really thought that five or six large volumes was sufficient; and that to add five or six and twenty volumes of particular evidence was quite unnecessary. But though it had been considered better to give the evidence in the condensed form of the Report, he could safely state that there was not one statement in the Report which was not borne out by the evidence. If the Commission were illegal, how did it happen that, from November until March, when that Government was in office, the legal organ of which declared that it was illegal, and that all the proceedings of the Commissioners were null and void, it was permitted to continue? If it was illegal—if its objects were fraud, falsehood, and the interests of partisans, why was it not stopped during that period? Because the persons by whom that was declared knew full well that such a Commission was not illegal. They knew that such Commissions had been issued in every reign since the revolution. 1420 They knew that the Commission in question was the result of an Address to the Crown from the House of Commons, founded on the Report of a Committee. He would not have taken up so much of the time of the House on this subject, but when he found some of the highest persons in the realm in another place attacking the Commission, he felt it incumbent upon him to stand up in his place in its defence. He had hitherto abstained from doing so, because he did not like to interrupt the regular course of the proceedings of the Bill. Before those proceedings closed, however, he had thought it right to say these few words. With respect to himself, at the time when he received the appointment of Chief Commissioner, he was no willing actor in the scene; but having been asked to take the office he did so, because he thought he might render the public some service in it. If he might be permitted to say anything farther of himself, he would express his hope that during above twenty years of professional life, there was not a learned friend of his on either side of the House who had seen any thing in his conduct to warrant the belief that he was a fit subject to be picked out to carry into effect any base or corrupt object. With respect to his brother Commissioners, greater care, attention, vigilance, and correctness he never witnessed. If the House looked at the evidence taken at the Bar of the House of Lords, they would see that three-fourths of that evidence was in the report of the Commissioners; the rest was made up of general charges against the Commissioners, and of answers to questions put to the various Town-clerks, whether or not they would like to be turned out of office; the whole of which were crowned with this question, put to the Town-clerk of Liverpool, whether he really thought the Corporation of Liverpool would be improved by the operation of the Bill; to which his answer was, "Certainly not." That was a general specimen of the evidence taken at the Bar of the House of Lords on the occasion. In several instances the witnesses were asked of some statement in the Report, "Is not that scandalously false?" In general they avoided giving a distinctly affirmative reply; and were then pressed to do so. He certainly thought he had a right to complain of the conduct of the counsel by whom the examination at the Bar of the House of Lords had been conducted. He always understood that it was a counsel's duty to 1421 do all he could for his client; but that duty was accompanied by another, namely, that he should satisfy his conscience that he was not committing wrong. That became still more necessary when the attacks of counsel were made upon a class of persons, who like themselves, depended upon character and who could never get on if it were supposed possible that they could be guilty of dishonourable conduct. The course which had been pursued on the subject by the right hon. Member for Tamworth, showed that that right hon. Baronet did not think there was any colour for the charges which had been made against the Commissioners. So far from showing that they were partisans, the Report proved that the Commissioners fearlessly and manfully did their duty, whether the consequence was for or against any party whatever. There might be some mistakes in so voluminous a Report; but they were only mistakes. He submitted, therefore, that the charges made against the Commissioners were wholly unfounded. Public meetings had been held in several places, and by them the Commissioners had been wholly acquitted of the imputations cast upon them. In answer to a complaint from the Recorder of Lancaster, of inaccuracy in the Report of the Commissioners respecting his attendance, he had been at Lancaster himself; and it appeared that there had been a resolution of the Corporation, to the effect, that if the Recorder could not attend to the duties of his office, he ought to vacate it; and he also found that the Grand Jury had presented him.
§ Mr. Thomas Duncombe
said, that he had never felt himself in so difficult and embarrassing a situation as at that moment; conscious, as he was, that a heavier responsibility had never attached to the decision of the House than on that occasion. But with the strong feelings, and with the strong opinions which he entertained as to the course he thought the House ought to pursue, he trusted that he might be allowed briefly to state the conclusion to which he had arrived. In the first place, he could not concur in the eulogium which had been bestowed on the Bill, in its present state, by the noble Lord and by the hon. Member for Middlesex; because he considered it, not as the Bill of his Majesty's Ministers, or as the Bill of that House, but as the Bill of the House of Lords. In what light would a measure like the Bill as it at present stood—this mangled document, this apology for Reform—have been viewed by 1422 the House and the public had it been laid on the Table by the noble Lord or the hon. Gentleman? He would venture to say, that it would not only have been scouted out of the House, [No, no]—at all events such was his opinion. If in that opinion he was correct, why not treat the present Bill in the same manner? All that was real, all that was solid, all that was popular in the original measure, was entirely lost, and sacrificed to pride and old prejudices. Would any one read the Bill as it at present stood, and the Petitions which had been presented in such numbers from the people, and say that the former contained the reform which was sought for in the latter? When the people called for Reform, from the King down to the parish beadle, to give them such a Bill as the present was a perfect mockery. The concessions which had originally been made in the House of Commons had been made in a spirit of conciliation, and he had concurred in them. But there was a point beyond which concession ought not to go, and he maintained that the House had arrived at that. Not a single step more, could, in his opinion, be taken without dishonour, and a sacrifice of duty. He knew he did not speak the opinion of that House, but he spoke the opinion of nine-tenths of the people. He could not concur in the eulogium which had been bestowed on the Bill in its present state; because almost every thing had been struck out of the measure of the six heads into which it might be divided, viz. Qualification, Aldermen, Freemen, Town-councils, Wards, and Justices. As to the Aldermen, it was a fallacy to say, that they were to be only for six years. That was virtually a perpetuity. Taking the average lives of Aldermen, six years was a perpetuity. Then there were the wards. Would any one tell him that the Amendment made by the Lords in that part of the Bill was not for the purpose of facilitating corruption and undue influence at the election of Members of Parliament? As to the changes respecting the Magistrates which had been made in the Bill by the Lords, they were most obnoxious. Nothing was felt to be more desirable by the inhabitants of the metropolis and its neighbourhood—he was sure that that was the feeling of the inhabitants of the borough which he had the honour to represent—than to get rid of many of the blundering and partial Magistrates of the County of Middlesex. In his opinion it would have been far better if the Lords had, in the first instance, at once rejected the Bill, instead, 1423 of paring it down, and destroying its value. Nor could he help thinking, that when the Lords made the Amendments, which they had made in the Bill, they were persuaded that if there was a spark of spirit or consistency in the House of Commons, or in his Majesty's Ministers, it was totally impossible that to those Amendments they could assent. The sum and substance of all the Amendments made by the Lords was, to increase the means of corruption. Unless the House of Commons pressed their own view of the subject, they would admit that the House of Lords was to be thenceforth the engine by which legislation in this country was to be regulated. The question was, whether the Reformed House of Commons was then and for ever to truckle to the House of Lords, or to fulfil the just expectations of the people. But the hon. member for Middlesex said, that the House was helpless. Good God! was it come to that! His answer was "Look back at the proceedings on the Reform Bill." There was a precedent for the House and for his Majesty's Ministers. It was impossible to recollect the various perils through which the Reform Bill passed, before its eventual triumph; it was impossible to recollect that it was only at the last hour, when notwithstanding the protests of some noble Lords, and the legal subtleties of others, a well-timed prudence and a kind of passive resistance caused it to be acceded to by the other House without feeling that that formed an excellent precedent for the steps which ought to be pursued on the present occasion. In his opinion, but one course was open to them and to his Majesty's Government. Let them boldly declare that they would uphold the Bill in its integrity; leaving to those who ventured to destroy it to answer to the people for their conduct. Seeing what were the wishes of the majority, he would not take the sense of the House; but he must strongly protest against the noble Lord's motion.
§ Mr. Freshfield
observed, that some of the Amendments which had been made by the Lords in the Amendment of the Commons were great improvements in the Bill. In one Amendment of the Commons it was stated, that if his Majesty were advised by the Privy Council to approve of the division made by the revising barrister of a borough into wards, then, and then only, should the division appear in The London Gazette; and then, and then only, should that division actually take place. This Amendment the Lords agreed to, but stated that they found it necessary to add the 1424 following provision: "Provided always, that if his Majesty, by advice of his Privy Council, shall not approve such determination, such publication as aforesaid shall nevertheless be made, and such division be in force, for the purpose of any election under the provisions of this Act, and until such time as his Majesty shall, by advice of his Privy Council, upon further information and report from such barristers, definitively approve the division of such borough into wards, in manner hereinbefore mentioned." The reasons given by the Lords for adding this proviso were:—"Because, without such proviso, by virtue of the Amendment made by the Commons, if his Majesty should be advised by his Privy Council not to approve the determination of the barrister as to the division of any borough into wards, no publication thereof could take place, and no division into wards could have effect, while nevertheless the election of councillors would be made by the burgesses of the whole borough so remaining undivided—a result contrary to the intention of the two Houses, as expressed in the preamble to the said Clause, where it is declared to be expedient that certain boroughs of large population should be divided into wards before any election of councillors for such borough should take place." Now, it was impossible to deny that this Clause of the Bill had been much amended by their Lordships, whose object evidently was, to carry into effect a part of the measure which might otherwise have been inoperative.
§ Sir Samuel Whalley
thought the hon. Member for Finsbury did the House of Lords too much honour to call the measure the Lords' Bill. Admitting that much which was good had been taken out of the Bill, so much which was good had been left in it, that he had no hesitation in acquiescing in its adoption. It took away the old corporations, and replaced them by new: it secured elections by household suffrages; it provided that the officers of corporations should be duly elected; and in various ways it did much to improve municipal government. He did not look upon the Bill as a compromise, so much as a measure that must inevitably lead to other great measures of reform. Into the field in which those other measures must be discussed, he wished to go with all the arms he could get. It was a consolation for their having done so little during the Session, that it was wound up on almost the last day by the completion of a measure, the ten- 1425 dency of which was to attack corruption in one of its strongest holds.
§ Mr. Sergeant Wilde
fully concurred in the opinions which had been expressed as to the expediency of the House of Commons adopting the Bill in its present state; but at the same time he could not too strongly declare the regret he felt at the alterations which had been made by the Lords. He felt satisfied that the real and sole object of those alterations was, to retain as much as possible of the old system of corruption under the new state of things that would be created by the Bill, and he firmly believed that their Lordships, in making the alterations, never intended or expected that the Bill would be received and passed by the Commons. He was convinced, indeed, that the highest gratification that could be afforded to the Lords would be, for the House of Commons to reject the Bill as it then stood. That however was, in his opinion, the last course that the House ought to pursue, because, although the Bill, in its mutilated state did not give all that could be desired, still it must be remembered that the effect of it, even as it then stood, would be to establish throughout the kingdom legal bodies, through which the public opinion might be made legitimate, to bear directly upon both branches of the Legislature. The hon. and learned Gentleman went into a detail of the circumstances under which the Bill had been introduced into Parliament, and then drew a comparison between the manner in which it had been received, discussed, and considered in the two Houses. Alluding to the speeches of the counsel heard at the Bar of the House of Lords, he observed, that no two speeches that he had ever heard fall from the lips of men had occasioned him so much surprise and astonishment. They exhibited not only a total ignorance, or total forgetfulness of the contents of the voluminous reports which had been printed upon the subject, but they abounded in statements relating to constitutional law so utterly groundless, so completely ill-timed, so grossly at variance with all that was known and understood upon the subject, that he would venture to say, no lawyer's clerk who had been six months in an office, would have disgraced himself by uttering them.
§ Lord Sandon
rose to order. He appealed to the House whether it was desirable that what had taken place elsewhere, previous to the consideration of the details of the measure, should now be made a matter of 1426 discussion in the House of Commons. He appealed to the Speaker whether it was not desirable that some limit should be put to a species of discussion which had no reference to the points really under the consideration of the House.
§ Mr. Sergeant Wilde
begged to assure the noble Lord and the House, that it was not his intention in any degree to offer any disrespect to the other House of Parliament. In the observations he was making when the noble Lord interrupted him, he was merely discussing the difference of the mode in which the Bill had been treated in the two Houses. The lowest tribunal in the empire would be degraded by listening one moment to the evidence which had been produced at the Bar of the other House, yet there it was not only received, but cheered to the very echo, and by way of completing the solemn mockery, was gravely declared by their Lordships to be convincing. He had already stated the regret he felt at the alterations which the Lords persisted in making in the Bill—they were important, but they were not fatal; they left in full and unimpaired vigour the great principle upon which the Bill proceeded, and from which, as time and popular intelligence advanced, many benefits and many blessings must necessarily spring. Still he believed that the reason why a stronger and more general expression of feeling had not taken place with respect to the Lords' Amendments was, because that the full effect of them was not yet sufficiently understood. The effect of the rating qualification in the town of Newark would be to exclude every alderman except one—even the mayor would not escape. In conclusion, the hon. and learned Gentleman observed, that the country, looking at the course which had been taken in the two Houses of Parliament, the manner in which the Bill had been considered in that House, the principle upon which it had been introduced, and the manner in which the Lords' Amendments had been received, would have good cause to perceive that the reformed House of Commons was a safe House of Commons, and that if it had not achieved all that could be desired, it was only because the people had not given them a stronger force.
§ Viscount Ebrington
congratulated the House on the disposition which it showed to let the Bill pass, however much they might quarrel with it on certain points. He was also glad that there was to be no divi- 1427 sion on the last Amendments sent up from the Lords, because if a division were to take place, it would only tend to increase the hopes of the Tories, whose expectation of a difference on this Question among Reformers had probably suggested some of those alterations on which they so pertinaciously insisted. When he agreed with the Amendments as they were sent back from this House he considered himself as entering into a sort of compromise, and had they been so accepted, he would have felt very unwilling to see the subject opened again till after the Bill had had the fullest trial, but in taking it as it now stood, though he felt that all compromise was at an end, he did not intend to impugn the right of the other House to exercise its fair and constitutional privilege; and much as he was disappointed that such was the case, still he was not very sorry at the position in which they were placed, because, from the admirable speech made by his noble Friend that night, and from the intelligence and judgment and spirit with which the Bill sent up to the Lords had been framed, and enforced by his reasons, he was confident that it could not be a final, as it was not a satisfactory measure. But with all its defects, it still gave a power to the liberal party which would enable them ere long to carry out to the full this important branch of reform. On these grounds, therefore, he accepted the Bill, in the cordial hope that before the close of another Session of Parliament, they would see it materially amended. His hon. Friend, the Member for Middlesex, and the hon. and learned Member who spoke last had described the position in which the House of Lords stood, and spoke of the necessity of Reform in that House. In alluding to the observations of these hon. Members, he had no wish to speak with vituperation or reproach of the House of Lords. From the beginning of his political life he had ever been of opinion that the three branches of the Legislature should be allowed to employ their distinct and proper functions for the advancement of the public weal and the good government of the country; but he had always been anxious to see a concurrence of feeling and harmony among the three branches, because he was convinced that it was only by the harmony of all the three that any of the branches could be beneficial to the country He, therefore, deeply regretted to see the present discordance 1428 between the two Houses, as it must necessarily tend to lessen the respect and regard which the public were disposed to show towards the Legislature. Though he disapproved of some remarks that had been made both here and elsewhere with regard to the Lords, still he could not shut his ears to the impression that had gone forth among a large portion of persons, not of extreme opinions, but, on the contrary, removed from the turmoil of party politics, and accustomed to judge not from party feelings, but from practical results. He could not shut his ears to the opinions expressed by such persons of the impossibility of the two branches of the Legislature continuing as they were; and anxious as he was that each of the three should enjoy its full integrity and the full exercise of its rights, at the same time he could not but feel deeply impressed by the prevalence of the opinion to which he had alluded. He was persuaded that the veneration which belonged to the House of Lords in the eyes of the people of England would not continue, unless the people found that the principles of the House of Lords worked practically better for good government. In what he had said, he had expressed his sincere and conscientious belief, a belief founded not merely on his own speculations, but on what be had heard from many thinking and intelligent persons who were far from being the advocates of extreme measures. He earnestly hoped that the House of Lords would consider seriously of this in a spirit which the importance of the case demanded, and that in the course of the next Session of Parliament that assembly would exhibit a tone and temper better adapted to the present state of public opinion than it had done in this. He could not sit down without paying his humble tribute of approbation to the hon. and learned Gentleman who was at the head of the Commission of Corporation Inquiry, for his clear and conclusive defence of himself and of those who were associated with him in that inquiry against the aspersions which had been so unjustly cast upon them. Every one who had heard that defence must, he was sure, have felt great satisfaction at the opportunity that had been afforded to that hon. and learned Gentleman to do himself and the other Commissioners justice; and he was also sure, that whatever might have been said, of them in another place, the fullest credit, would be given to all those Commission- 1429 ers by the House and the country, for having conducted their labours with great ability, as well as with the strictest honour, impartiality and justice.
§ Viscount Sandon
adverted to the observation of the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Blackhurne) respecting the very strong language made use of in the House of Lords against the Commissioners., and perfectly agreed with that hon. and learned Gentleman that it would have been more discreet if their Lordships had refrained from the use of such language; but at the same time the House of Commons was much more reprehensible for allowing some of its Members to use language respecting the House of Lords of a much stronger nature, which, so far from being checked by the House, was cheered even by some of his Majesty's Ministers. [Sir John Hobhouse: By whom?] He had certainly heard a cheer from the Ministerial bench, but, being short-sighted, could not fix it upon any hon. Member. When he complained of the language so used towards the other House, there were cheers from the opposite bench, but they were not cheers of encouragement, to him but of encouragement to those who used that language. Indeeed, it seemed to him that while they were attempting by their measures to avoid a collision between the two Houses of Parliament, they were in their speeches expressing the greatest regret at doing so. The hon. and learned Member for Dublin had said that a collision had already begun. Now it was not in the nature of things that two co-existent bodies, having co-equal powers, could always agree; but still that occasional difference of opinion might very well exist with a perfect harmony in the general proceedings of those two bodies. The conduct of the House of Lords had not been such as to alter this Bill so as to make it impossible for the House of Commons to agree with it. On the contrary, it was the opinion of many in this House, that the Bill was a very great improvement of the Municipal Corporations; and not only so, but that it would be the means, by-and-by, of obtaining other improvements. What right, then, had hon. Members to find fault with the Lords, because, in the first instance, their Lordships had not gone the full length that the House of Commons had gone? He thought that the Bill, as it now stood, was as near an agreement between two bodies of co-equal powers, on such an important measure, as it was possible to obtain. He was perfectly 1430 satisfied with the Bill as it now stood. Indeed he should have been satisfied with it, even without some of the changes which the Lords had made in it. But had he a right to quarrel with the othe House of Parliament because they had made those alterations? What would be the value of the other branch of the Legislature, if they were merely to be allowed to record the edicts of the House of Commons? Besides, what was the amount of the majority even in the House of Commons for the fullest measure of Reform on the subject of Corporations? Let the House consider whether it was not too much to say that a majority of thirty-five should not only govern the House of Commons, but should govern also a co-equal branch of the Legislature? He had not intended to trouble the House with any observations on this occasion, nor did he wish to be considered as making any charge against his Majesty's Ministers. On the contrary he thought the course they had pursued did them the highest credit. He was speaking only of this particular occasion. He thought they did themselves the highest credit in acceding to the Amendments of the Lords in a measure which he hoped would tend to maintain the limited monarchy of this country by mitigating the transition from one state of things to another, and combining in stricter bonds of amity the mixed and balanced constitution of the three component powers of the State.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, the concluding observations of the noble Lord rendered it unnecessary for him to advert to the charge that Ministers had cheered the language that had been used in this House, towards the House of Lords. He agreed with the noble Lord that it was wise and proper not only for this House but for the House of Lords, to uphold a co-equal branch of the Legislature; but while he said this he, as a Member of Parliament, would maintain that when any Amendment came down from the Lords to this House he had a right to analyse it, to discuss it with freedom, to point out where he conceived the Lords to be in error, and to suggest that course which it seemed to him most fitting to take. Although his noble Friend had complained of improper language being used towards the House of Lords, yet he had carefully abstained from noticing the general course of debate on the Lords' original Amendments. Let him bear in mind that that debate was conducted in a spirit which induced them to 1431 hope that they would be spared any further discussion by the acceptance of the Bill in the House of Lords. The whole course of that debate was marked with temper, moderation, and respect for the House of Lords. If the sole object of the House of Commons on that occasion had been to show respect and deference to the most delicate sensibility of the House of Lords, spiritual or temporal, no other course than that which was actually adopted could have been taken. [Viscount Sandon: Strong language was used by the lion, and learned Members for Bath and Dublin.] If that were so, how, let him ask, was that language met by the House? But was not the most mild and most respectful temper shown not merely in the tone and character of the debate, but what was more, in the character of the Amendments made upon the Amendments of the other House? He rejoiced in the spirit manifested in the debate and in those Amendments, because it displayed on the part of the House of Commons a desire to afford to the Lords an opportunity of conciliation. He knew that if the House of Lords had grasped that opportunity of setting themselves right with the country by a frank and cordial expression of an union of opinion with the House of Commons in the Amendments this House then sent up to the Lords, they would have done more to defend the House of Lords against evils than could ten thousand angry speeches made at the Bar of that House, or ten thousand cheers from those who heard those speeches, or ten thousand defences of the Lords on the part of his noble Friend (Lord Sandon). All would have been forgotten except their acquiescence in the Amendments; therefore one of his reasons for regretting that another course was taken was not merely that the Bill had not been improved to the extent that it might have been, but that the House of Lords had missed one of the greatest opportunities for setting themselves right with the country that ever was offered to them. At the same time, neither now nor at any other time had he spoken with the slightest disrespect of the House of Lords. But looking back to the course pursued by the House of Lords for the last fifteen years, he saw that if that course were persevered in, it must impair the usefulness of the Peers, to the public. It was true their Lordships had agreed to many salutary measures. Indeed, he never despaired of their Lordships' acquiescence in any measures of improvement that might be 1432 proposed to them—sooner or later. He did not despair that they would acquiesce sooner or later in the Amendments which they had now rejected. But when he had said, "sooner," they had always said "later." They had acquiesced in a manner which rendered their acquiescence valueless frequently to those upon whom the boon was conferred. Look back to the Catholic Question! Look back to the Question affecting Dissenters! In like manner look back to the Question of Reform! Reform like the other two measures, was at first resisted by the Lords boldly, and apparently upon principle; it was afterwards conceded but in a manner that at least did not increase the value of the concession. This Bill again: why, every Amendment that was made by the Lords had the effect, so admirably stated by a right hon. Gentleman not now in his place, of implying distrust without conferring security. The House of Lords, feeling reluctant to adopt the principle of popular reform, must necessarily feel more reluctance than the Members of a Reformed House of Commons, to such measures as the present. But, surely, the day, would soon come when the two Houses of Parliament, either from conviction or necessity, would place themselves upon a more harmonious principle for combined action. The time was coming—the very admissions in this Bill proved it. Might it come speedily, and avert the dangers that must otherwise threaten the country. He believed this Bill was a great point gained. He differed altogether from the statement of the character given of this Bill by the hon. Member for Finsbury. He said that even with the Amendments of the Lords, it contained more practical good for the promotion of popular feeling in a right direction, than any measure that had been propounded in Parliament since the Reform Bill: for it had a more active operation than the Reform Bill itself; it touched classes of men and topics which the Reform Bill did not touch. It concerned the administration of justice; it regarded the application of public funds; it gave to the people public duties to perform; it opened to them a new career of public usefulness; it intrusted to them the superintendence of their local affairs; so that when this Bill should be in complete operation, it would be found that a new and improved public spirit would be developed. This Bill therefore, was not to be undervalued, as the hon. Member for Finsbury would fain undervalue it. On the contrary, it was 1433 the greatest boon the Legislature could give to a free people. But for all this he regretted that the Bill was rendered less efficient by the introduction of the Lords' Amendments. His noble Friend (Sandon) had spoken of the mitigating power of the Bill. If the mitigation were one from evil to good he did not like a slowness of transition. [Viscount Sandon said, that the Amendments of the Lords were a mitigation of the original provisions of the Bill.] The Bill was an infusion of good into the old system of evil; but the Amendments of the Lords were an infusion of evil into the new system of good. They were such an infusion as took place on the Reform Bill of the ancient freemen (for instance) into the new constituency of householders, in order to mitigate the transition from evil to good. Such a mitigation was like introducing all the mischiefs of a cholera hospital into a town hitherto free from the infection. They knew what the mitigating system had been in the case of Great Yarmouth. He had hoped that this debate would have been saved the House, but, as it was, he did not think the observations that had been made were more than his noble Friend himself would have felt justified in making if he himself had been a sincere friend of the Bill.
Mr. Tennyson D'Eynecourt
rose principally for the purpose of saying that though in conjunction with a great majority, of the Liberal Members of that House he highly approved of the course which Ministers had taken with regard to this Bill, yet, in surrendering his own opinions, and in assenting to the Amendments of the Lords (especially that which respected the appointment of the Magistrates,) he wished to be understood, as making that concession under the strongest protest that a Member of that House could make against being tied down by it, to surrender what his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Newark, (Mr. Sergeant Wilde) had justly called, the "sacred right of the people of England:" viz. the privilege of appointing their own Justices to administer the local affairs of their Municipal Jurisdictions. He, his hon. and learned Friend, had justly stated what the ancient law was upon that subject: and though he agreed with him that that ancient law was not always to be adhered to, still he felt right in saying that the ancient basis of the common law had been originally introduced into these Corporations, and that succeeding charters bail almost always adhered to it. When, there- 1434 fore, he was called upon to assent to an Amendment by which he should purchase what he conceived to be their undoubted right—to reform abuses in the Corporations—he must be permitted to say, that in making that surrender, it was from the confidence, almost unlimited, which he felt in his Majesty's Ministers: with respect to what: had been said by the hon. Member for Finsbury, he must say that the value of the Bill had been greatly underrated by that hon. Member who appeared to have been carried away by his feelings on the occasion. Undoubtedly, the Qualification Clause, the alterations as to Aldermen, and especially as to the Justices, were literally the Lords' portion of the Bill: but there were other parts of the Bill in which they bore no share: except by consent, and which would introduce the greatest improvements into the system; therefore he was willing with the majority of that House to accept the Bill, though under protest against being bound by it in a future Session. He had come to this conclusion, but he had doubted whether, considering the demonstration of public feeling, which would and must take place through the country, on being informed of the Amendments introduced by the Lords, and which might probably induce them to alter their course in the next Session;—whether, looking at the whole course of the proceedings of that House ever since the Reform Bill passed—now three years ago; and especially during the present Session, when Bill after Bill had been thrown out by that Chamber, almost with contempt; when they had sent down this Bill, but in such a state that the House of Commons were debating whether they should accept it or not, and only accepted it under the strongest protest:—he did say, that considering it would be impossible if that course were persevered in by the other House that it could long exist as a co-ordinate branch of the Legislature, he had doubted whether the moment had not come, when having a great public principle on which they could lay their hands (to which he had already adverted) coupled with the proceedings of the other House for the present and two preceding Sessions, he had doubted whether the moment had not arrived contemplated by his hon. Friend, the Member for Middlesex, when some check must be placed on that other House of Parliament. It was impossible that matters could go on as they were, and notwithstanding the laughter of the gallant 1435 Member for Lincoln, Colonel Sibthorp, he would tell that hon. and gallant Gentleman, and the House, that the legislative machine could not proceed, unless the Constitution of either House of Parliament was changed. Either the House of Commons must go back to its former state, in order to accommodate itself to the opinions of the other House, or that other House must undergo some change, to make it accessible to public feeling, and willing to co-operate with this House. That was common sense: that was the feeling of the people of this country: and, he repeated, he had felt his doubts whether they should accept the Bill, or whether the time had not come when they should make a stand, reject the Bill, and pass Resolutions expressive of their opinions on this great subject. He trusted, therefore, that having with a large majority of the Liberal Members agreed to the former alternative, he should not hereafter hear any insinuations as to the character of his Majesty's Ministers, because, differing from them as he did on other subjects, he could not help rising when he saw the walls of the city placarded with "Infamous Treachery!" of the Government, and affirming that in his opinion the House of Commons without compromising their own dignity, had set an example to the other House, which the other House would do well to imitate. He trusted the hon. Member for Finsbury would not divide the House: and by so doing place many of the liberal Members who had opposed the Lords' Amendments in a most invidious situation.
§ Sir William Molesworth
felt greatly grieved at the course which the House appeared about to take. He considered they had gone too far in the path of compromise and concession: and in their efforts to conciliate the foolish antipathies of that Assembly, which by its late conduct had shown itself to be utterly unacquainted with the wishes of the nation, after having so long assented, and assented in vain, to meet their wishes, they found themselves again called upon to compromise and recede still farther, and he for one must protest against it, as a course in which he took no share whatever. Of what use was the House of Lords? He rejoiced that their conduct afforded the nation an easy and simple reply to that question: that their conduct was politically evil. He felt gratified that such a consideration would be almost universally diffused, for how plainly soever it was proved that it was impossible that two 1436 independent bodies could long co-exist in the nation without bringing the political machinery to a stop: how clearly soever it might be proved that the interests of an aristocracy—an exclusive set—were opposed to the real interests of the community, and that the power given to them would be abused: yet ten thousand times ten thousands treatises would not produce one tithe of the commotion in the minds of the people which the conduct of the peers for the last two or three Sessions would create. A few years back, such opinions as he was then expressing would have been received with astonishment; but now a mighty change had taken place in the minds of men, and every second person with whom he conversed held opinions not very dissimilar from his own. How had that change been introduced? By that conduct to which his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, had just so admirably alluded—on the Reform Bill—the Repeal of the Test and Corporation Act—the Irish Church Bill—the Irish Registration Bill—and the Municipal Reform Bill, for England and Wales—above all, the manner in which they had shown themselves to be utterly indifferent to the grievances of the people of England, and to the crying wrongs and sufferings of Ireland. Let them pursue their course a little further: let them reject two other Bills equally beneficial to the people of this country, because opposed to their silly prejudices—and the period would quickly arrive (which he for one would be glad to see) when an end would be put to the privileges of an hereditary aristocracy—of that body which, in his solemn belief, could never be reformed, save by being dissolved!
§ Mr. Lennard
said, it was with regret that he allowed the Amendments of the Lords to pass without opposition—especially that Amendment which deprived the Town-councils of the nomination of the Justices. He considered that provision to be one of the most valuable parts of the Bill which had been sent from the House of Commons. It was valuable, as tending to secure proper Magistrates for the boroughs, and still more valuable as recognizing the right of the people to choose their own Magistrates; a right which, as had been stated by the Member for Newark, was in former times recognized to belong to the people. The prerogative of the Crown in this respect, of which so much had been said, was an encroachment on the rights of the people, and an encroachment which, from what he 1437 had observed, he thought had often worked very ill. It was with great regret that he found it necessary to allow the Amendments of the Lords in this respect to be passed without opposition; but it was a satisfaction to him to have heard a distinct declaration from his Majesty's Government, that the present measure was not in any way to be looked upon as a final one. For his own part he protested against being in any way bound by what was now done; and he said this in order that next Session, if a proposal should he made for giving the people that election of their Magistrates which had been refused to them by the Lords, it should not be objected that the question had been settled by Act of Parliament. With reference to the House of Lords, he believed, from all he had seen, that the conduct which had been long pursued by that House, had impressed the people with a very strong feeling, and one which was exceedingly difficult to be restrained; and he could not help expressing his opinion, that the time was come when it was absolutely necessary for that House to put itself in harmony with the people.
§ Mr. Hughes Hughes
said, that it was admitted upon all hands, that this Bill was one of the greatest boons given to the country since the passing of the Reform Bill, and he for one felt much indebted to the other House of Parliament for the improvements which they had made in the Bill sent up to them from this House, and especially for their preservation of the rights of the freemen.
§ Colonel Sibthorp
could not avoid that opportunity of tendering to the House of Lords his most grateful thanks for the manly part they had acted in respect to this Bill. He thanked God that there was a branch of the Legislature which was ready to act a bold, manly, straightforward, and fearless part.
expressed his delight at the course which this night had been taken with respect to this Bill. The Bill was now safe in the custody of this House, and could not be further impaired. He tendered his thanks to the Committee which had recommended a Commission—to the Commissioners who had so ably performed the labours of the inquiry, and to his Majesty's Government for having so wisely and promptly acted upon the Report of those Commissioners.
§ Sir Edward Codrington
protested against the mutilations which had been made by the House of Lords in the original measure, 1438 but accepted the Bill in its present state, as an instalment of the Reforms which he should not rest contented until he saw fully carried into effect.
§ Major Beauclerk
said, that the mutilations of this Bill, as well as the rejection by the House of Lords of other measures which had been passed by this House as necessary for the public benefit and welfare, were evident proofs of the necessity of some remedy for the evils of an irresponsible body such as the other House. He thought the House of Commons had upon the present occasion acted a most puerile part. This House had attacked the House of Lords in all manners and shapes during the discussions on this measure, and though he believed that House had in the adoption of these Amendments acted as conscientiously as this House had done in carrying the original measure, yet it should not be forgotten the Lords had entertained and carried out notions and opinions contrary to the views and wishes of the great body of the people of this country. Formerly this House was clearly under the command of the other House of Parliament, but now things were changed, and sooner or later the Question as to the powers of the other House must be settled. With these observations he should content himself with protesting against the Lords' Amendments, especially as related to the qualification and the division into wards, and at the same time expressing a sincere hope, that the Bill in its present shape would effect all the good which its supporters now anticipated from it.
§ Mr. Ward
did not think that this House had lowered itself in the estimation of the people by the manner in which it had, dealt with this Bill. Considering the small amount of concession, it would have been the height of absurdity if the House had rejected so much of good which undoubtedly this Bill still contained, and which he hoped in twenty-four hours to see the law of the land. He believed it would not only be found a good working Bill, but would afford the means of those other Reforms to which all now looked with feelings of the most intense interest. He hoped, next Session, that this House would firmly assert its rights, and show to the other House, that the whole work of legislation was not to be paralyzed by the Upper House, and that the Resolution adopted by this House, by which one Ministry was broken up, should not be treated by the other House as so much waste paper.
§ Mr. Philip Howard
condemned the course which had been pursued by the other House with respect to this Bill, though he could not concur in the language which had by some hon. Members been applied to the House of Peers. He put his trust in the support of the people—in the consistency of the Commons' House of Parliament, and in the energy of the small, but tried minority, of the House of Peers; and he entertained a fervent hope, that through these means they should be able to arrive at those rational Reforms which were essential for the well-being of the country, without those violent changes in the Constitution that had been openly invoked. He agreed with his hon. Friend, the Member for Maldon, that by the rejection of the Clause which gave to Town-councils the right of nominating Justices of the Peace, the country, and the towns Corporate had experienced a severe loss. He did not concur with many hon. Gentlemen in saying, that the Bill had been brought forward by his Majesty's Government for party purposes; on the contrary, it had been brought forward with a view to open to every man civil honours and civil rights. Those honours would no longer be exclusive; and he hoped ere long to see that hitherto unknown personage in a city—a Whig Mayor. He must also remark, that he could not concur in much that had, in the course of the debates, been thrown out against the freemen. If they were unworthy to retain their rights now, they were equally so on the passing of the Reform Act. If that body had not then been held to deserve to retain their alleged monopoly of power, they would not then sit there, a Reformed House of Commons. The freemen of the city he had the honour to represent, had ever manifested a readiness to place their rights upon the altar of their country. This proved, and was a pledge, that there were amongst the freemen of England honest men who were not dead to the voice of patriotism. He was rejoiced at the heroic course which his Majesty's Government had taken on the present occasion—a course which entitled, and would secure to them the lasting gratitude of their fellow-countrymen.
§ The Resolution was proposed by Lord John Russell, and carried.