HC Deb 20 June 1843 vol 70 cc157-60
Mr. S. Crawford

rose to move for leave to bring in a bill to repeal the 1st of George 1., stat. 2, cap. 38, for extending the duration of Parliament to seven years. He limited his pro, position to the mere repeal of this act, because he considered that to confine the duration of Parliament even to three years would be a vast improvement on the present system. Looking over the progress of legislation on this subject, it appeared that in the 34th and 36th of Edward 3rd, it was provided that annual Parliaments should be held. In the 16th of Charles 2nd, it was enacted that Parliaments should not be intermitted for a longer period than three years. The 6th of William and Mary, cap. 2, provided that the duration of Parliaments might be for three years. Next came the 1st of George 1st, stat. 2, cap. 38, enacting that Parliament might continue for seven years. In his opinion it was impossible to defend that act, continuing for seven years, as it did, the duration of the then House of Commons. Such an enactment was adverse to the liberty of the people. The effect of repealing it would be to leave the law as it stood under the 6th William and Mary, or to render three years the utmost extent to which a Parliament could continue without a fresh election; and though that was very far short of what he could wish, he was willing to test the feelings of the House on that question. No man, in his opinion, had a right to retain the name of a reformer who was not prepared to agree to this, but in putting forward the proposition he wished to be understood as in no degree abandoning the principle of annual Parliaments. The people called for reform they stated the grievances which they suffered for want of these reforms, and principally for want of being fully represented in the House of Commons. He wished, therefore, to amend the representation of the people so far as the duration of Parliament was concerned. It had been objected that practically the duration of Parliaments was shorter than the legal duration. That might be, but it did not operate to impose responsibility on the representatives of the people; for they were elected on the supposition and in the hope that they might keep their seats for seven years. The truth was, there could not be any due representation or responsibility, except the representative always felt himself subject to the control of his constituents. Being anxious to preserve the constitution of this country, he wished to see the Government and the House adopt his proposition, and accede to the wishes of the people, and he was convinced that in so doing they would render the most effectual support that could be given to the constitution and monarchy of this country. The hon. Member concluded by submitting his motion to the House.

Dr. Bowring

was very happy to second the motion. Any proposition which went to subject the representatives to popular control out of doors should always have his support. He congratulated the hon. mover on the indomitable courage he displayed in bringing on this subject again and again in spite of defeats.

Sir J. Graham

could not agree with the deductions the hon. Gentleman drew from the facts he stated. The proposition in the reign of Edward 3rd, was not whether Parliaments should continue for three years or seven ears, but whether there should be any Parliament at all. The act of William and Mary merely provided that there should be a Parliament once in three years at least. Then, the act which the hon. Gentleman sought to repeal extended the duration of Parliament to seven years. The hon. Gentleman surpriesed him by saying that seven years was a duration inconsistent with public liberty. The hon. Gentleman must have forgotten that the Septennial Act was passed to secure the liberties of the people, and that it was doubtful whether the succession of the present Royal family could have been perpetuated unless the Septennial Act had passed. On the whole he considered it for the public advantage, that a duration of considerable extent should be given to a public assembly. For the first or second year of a new Parliament there would be manifest, among new Members, a want of experience and knowledge of the habits of the House and forms of business, which could only be acquired by time, and without which they could not render their talents fully available for the public service. If Parliaments really lasted for six or seven years, he should think that much too long, but the hon. Gentleman admitted that the duration practically was much short of seven years. He did not think that for the last twenty years the average duration of Parliaments was more than four years each. The hon. Gentleman, how- ever, contended that the more limited period would have the moral effect of in. creasing the responsibility of the representatives to their constituents; but surely the practical reduction to four years during the last twenty ought to be considered stringent enough as respected the representative. It should be remembered that the whole representative system had undergone a material change at the passing of the Reform Bill, when the franchise was greatly extended and rendered more democratic in its principle. It was not at that time proposed to make any alteration with respect to the duration of Parliament, for though the noble Lord who led that House under the administration of Earl Grey stated that he himself would not be indisposed to lessen the duration still, upon the whole, the Government denied that such a proposition would be expedient, seeing the large extension of the suffrage which the measure proposed. It was but a short time since a most important settlement of the representation took place, and with all respect for the hon. Gentleman who brought forward this question, he having reason to think that the proposition did not carry with it the general feelings of the House, at first doubted whether to reply or allow the motion to go at once to a division.

The House divided—Ayes 23; Noes 46: Majority 23.

List of the AYES.
Barnard, E. G. Napier, Sir C.
Bowes, J. Protheroe, E.
Bowring, Dr. Ramsbottom, J.
Brotherton, J. Smith, B.
Cobden, R. Tancred, H. W.
Duncan, G. Turner, E.
Fielden, J. Villiers, hon. C.
Hastie, A. Ward, H. G.
Hawes, B. Wawn, J. T.
Heathcoat, J. Yorke, H. R.
Langston, J. H. TELLERS.
Mitcalfe, H. Aglionby, H. A.
Mitchell, T. A. Crawford, S.
List of theNOES.
Ackers, J. Dungannon, Visct.
Arbuthnot, hon. H. Eliot, Lord
Attwood, M. Escott, B.
Baillie, Col. Flower, Sir J.
Baring, hon. W. B. Forman, T. S.
Beckett, W. Gladstone, rt. hn. W. E
Berkeley, hon. Capt. Gordon, hon. Capt.
Boldero, H. G. Goulburn, rt. hon. H.
Borthwick, P. Graham, rt. hn. Sir J.
Boyd, J. Greene, T.
Chapman, A. Herbert, hon. S.
Corry, rt. hon. H. Hodgson, R.
Darby, G. Hope, hon. C.
Hope, G. W. Smith, rt. hn. T. B. C.
Knatchbull, rt. hn. Sir E Smollett, A.
Lockhart, W. Stanley, Lord
Masterman, J. Stanton, W. H.
Patten, J. W. Trench, Sir F. W.
Peel, rt. hn. Sir R. Vivian, J. E.
Peel, J. Wood, C.
Plumptre, J. P. Worsley, Lord
Pollock, Sir F.
Pringle, A. TELLERS.
Russell, Lord J. Fremantle, Sir T.
Sheppard, T. Baring, H