§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. TENNYSON D'EYKCOURT moved the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
MR. SHAFTO ADAIR
recommended his right hon. Friend not to persevere with this Bill at the present late period of the Session, more especially as it had already been under the consideration of the House in conjunction with other measures, and had been negatived by implication. Subsequently to the passing of the Reform Bill, many measures were brought forward to improve the representation. Those measures were invariably postponed; but, 175 though postponed, their importance had not been forgotten. Last year a measure for extending the franchise was again brought forward by the hon. Member for Montrose; and upon that occasion many Liberal Members, and himself among the number, refused it their support, on the ground that the time for it had not then arrived. He believed now, however, that circumstances had altered, and that it was their duty to press on such a measure upon the consideration of Parliament, more especially since the principle of extending the franchise had been sanctioned by the noble Lord at the head of the Government. The Motion now before the House affected the duration of Parliaments; and here he must observe, that they were attempting no novelty, and that he thought a Bill of that nature might be passed with much advantage. He felt bound to express to the Government the strong dissatisfaction felt by the people at the rejection of every measure calculated to extend the franchise and improve the representation. He trusted that the noble Lord would not persevere in such a course, and that next Session some measures would be adopted to give effect to the very natural, though long-postponed, desires of the people for the extension of their political rights. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Ireland had in the present Session brought in a Bill to extend the franchise in Ireland. That Bill had been silently withdrawn; but he hoped that next Session a measure comprehending both countries would be introduced by the Government, and pass that House.
§ SIR G. GREY
entirely agreed with what had been said by his noble Friend at the head of the Government when the Motion was made for leave to bring in this Bill, that there did not exist in the country any practical discontent or dissatisfaction with regard to the duration of Parliaments. The right hon. Gentleman had been praised for having left a blank in his Bill; but, though such a course might be prudent, he did think that it would be very desirable that they should learn what the term was to be. The reduction to three years, for example, would, he thought, be attended with great practical inconvenience, because the first Session was one in which there were many new and inexperienced Members in Parliament; and the last Session was also one not calculated for the despatch of business, because Members were then naturally looking forward to the 176 circumstances of their re-election. Looking to the great increase of business which had taken place of late, and the necessity of postponing measures from one Parliament to another, it was of great importance that those measures should be considered by the same Members who had them under consideration at their commencement. But now he asked if any practical inconvenience had arisen from the present duration of Parliament? It was notorious that the average duration of Parliaments had not exceeded six years. From 1826 to 1841 there were no less than six Parliaments: the average duration being only two years and a half. He thought it was pretty evident, from the smallness of the numbers on the division when the Bill was brought in, as well as from the present thin attendance, that there was not very much interest on this subject throughout the country, and that public opinion did act wholesomely and benefically upon Members under the present system. Not having heard any answer to the argument of his noble Friend against this Bill, he recommended his right hon. Friend to withdraw it. If he declined to do so, he trusted the House would not sanction the further progress of the Bill; and he would move that the Bill be read a third time that day three months.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
said, the real answer to the noble Lord's speech was the division that followed upon it; because, notwithstanding the arguments which he used, and the appeal made to the House, the House decided that the Bill should be brought in; and he contended that it would not be treating the past proceedings of the House with respect if they were to decline now to discuss this measure calmly and in a manner becoming the importance of the subject. Let him observe, too, that these divisions were not quite accidental. Last Session there was a majority in favour of the ballot—oh, quite an accident! This Session, a majority for shortening the duration of Parliaments—again, it was said, a mere accident. But those majorities occurred in this way: Gentlemen were unwilling to record their votes against the extension of popular rights. Their absence was partly intentional, although he did not mean to say that they would not be pre- 177 sent if urged to it by the leaders of a party; but there was a meaning which should not he lost sight of in those occasional majorities in favour of popular rights. With regard to the question itself, he certainly did think that a shorter period of time for the duration of Parliaments would be a very wholesome check on the proceedings of that House; and he thought that it had become more necessary now than it had ever been. Let them look at the great increase of power possessed by the Executive Government. Look at the taxation of 60,000,000l. which they now levied, the patronage incidental to it, and at the large amount of patronage in Crown lands and Church livings, East Indies and colonies, all of which were means of corrupting and influencing Members of the Legislature, at least of raising their expectations. He said that as the power of influencing increased, the case became stronger and stronger that there should be more frequent appeals to the constituency, and a more wholesome control over Members of Parliament. The means of corrupting Members of Parliament had increased to an enormous extent, and unless they were prepared to consider Members as angels of purity, or exempt from the infirmities of the rest of mankind, their common sense must tell them that the duration of their tenure of seats in that House should be shortened. What might be the inducement now for Members to go into a borough, after previously nursing it and spending large sums of money in it, but that they held their seats for six or seven years—that they knew there was a copious fountain of good things at the Treasury and elsewhere—and that they calculated they had only to "vote right," and to pull away at the Secretary of the Treasury, to make the money they had spent become a good investment. He called upon the House, if they were sincere in their desire to prevent bribery and corruption at elections, not to lose sight of that comparative fixity of tenure by which they held their seats in that House. He believed, moreover, that they would raise the political character of Members by such a measure as was now proposed. It would be no longer necessary to make all those definite pledges which constituencies now called for; because they would know that their Members must return to them in a comparatively short period, and again solicit their votes. But when a Member was returned for six or seven years, it 178 become necessary to look far into the distance, and to obtain pledges from Gentlemen on measures not then, perhaps, before the country. He looked upon the system of pledging as not a very creditable one; and he believed that it would be materially lessened by passing the present measure. If they repealed the Septennial Act, there would be no necessity to pass any now Bill, because the Triennial Act Mould be revived, and was already upon the Statute-book. There would be no delay whatever, if the Septennial Act were once repealed. He did not think, therefore, that the period of the Session was an argument against the measure. One word to hon. Gentlemen opposite. This reform question was a rock ahead for them. He warned them to be more cautious with regard to the Reform Bill, and to make no inconsiderate pledges that they would adhere to the existing constitution and duration of Parliament. They might depend upon it, as sure as he stood where he did, that before long they would have to entertain this question. This question was daily assuming the position and features of the corn-law question. It was fermenting throughout the country, and they might depend upon it that the moment the old Tory party should resume the reins of power, that question was the one which would present it-elf in the most formidable shape for their consideration and solution. He warned them, then, to be prepared to meet that question, and, if they wished to retain power, to be prepared to yield to the just wishes of the great mass of the people. With those views, he should support the second reading of the Bill.
said, that being of that anomalous class to which his right hon. Friend had referred, he should certainly not record his vote on the present occasion. Being still of that hybrid class, he should go out without voting on the Motion then before the House. But having long-known his right hon. Friend both publicly and socially, he might be permitted to tell him in all kindliness that he wondered that a Gentleman of his ability and upright intentions should have taken up such a line of argument as he had that day pursued. How could his right hon. Friend talk of Members of that House having "a pull at the Treasury?" Would his right hon. Friend come forward, and in the face of truth and facts maintain that he had done justice to the Members of that House 179 when he thought proper to speak as he had done about their not being angels of purity? He did not hesitate to tell his right hon. Friend that that mode of dealing with such a subject, was a humbug and a delusion. Considering the experience of the right hon. Gentleman, considering his extensive acquaintance with the Members of that House, he surely ought to have known that they were not accustomed to have "a pull at the Treasury." They were no doubt bored to make applications—many of them useless applications; they were often driven by their constituents to present themselves at the doors of the Treasury, but the right hon. Gentleman must know that that was not a tide which set in for their own personal advantage. As to the doctrine of pledges, he repudiated that as heartily as any man could—he should consider himself disgraced by giving pledges, and so might any Member when he condescended to give pledges. But on such subjects the minds of electors should not be hoodwinked—they should be taught to look at the matter more seriously; they should be made to know and feel that if a Member of that House performed his duties in Parliament purely and efficiently, he was entitled to the respect, the gratitude, and the affection of his constituents; but in repudiating the doctrine of pledges, he also repudiated the practice of speaking in that House to his constituents. Although he should not vote on the present Motion, he saw no reason against the ballot; he had already voted for the ballot, and he was favourable to every measure which he thought calculated to purify that which some Gentlemen had thought proper to call an Augean stable; but he should not confine his measures of purification to the walls of that House. Let those temptations be repressed which candidates offered to constituents, and those which, in return, constituencies presented to Members. It was well known that injudious friends often ruined the prospects of Members of that House. He should not say that if the proposition of his right hon. Friend were accompanied by other measures, he would not support it; but unless measures were introduced tending to cut down corruption amongst electors, he should neither vote for or against such a Motion as the present, but he should always raise his voice against any attempt to delude constituencies, by telling them that the Members of that House sought only their own interests.
§ MR. HUME
apprehended that the hon. 180 Member for Devonport, the Secretary to the Treasury, might, if he thought fit, tell a very different story from the hon. Member for Rochester as to the nature and extent of Treasury influence upon Members of that House; and if the hon. Member had been present, he (Mr. Hume) should have liked to have asked him a question or two on the subject. His hon. Friend might very well feel himself exempt from the imputation, and the great body of the House might be an exception to the principle; but no one who had sat any length of time in that assembly could be otherwise than aware that resistance to Treasury seductions had been very far from an universal rule there. His hon. Friend had very truly stated that to shorten the duration of Parliaments would not alone suffice, but that much else must be done to reform the representatives within the House, and the constituencies without. The extraordinary thing was, that his hon. Friend, entertaining this opinion, and being favourable to the ballot and to the extension of the suffrage, had not supported him when, some weeks ago, he proposed to the House the adoption of those reforms. It had happened very unfortunately for the progress of reform, that Gentlemen in that House seemed so little disposed to come to an understanding in relation to the various reforms they desired to introduce: one set of men were favourable to the extension of the suffrage, but would not listen to the ballot; others approved of the ballot, but saw no necessity for extending the suffrage; some would not reduce the duration of Parliaments to three years, but were willing to say four years instead of seven, the great object in most of these cases being to avoid coming to the real question. The real question was whether the representation in its present state was in a condition satisfactory to the country. He himself entertained what were called extreme views on this subject, probably because an experience of thirty-five years in that House had shown him that half-measures would not answer; but when a definite measure, like the present, making clear progress in the right direction, was proposed, he most gladly accepted it. This proposition would be a test of the sincerity of the reformers in that House; if they would not, for one reason or another, adopt such a cumulative measure as that he had proposed the other day, lot them at least take this distinct proposition. He would make an earnest appeal to Her Majesty's Ministers; they 181 had over and over again, not only when in opposition, but in office, declared themselves the advocates of progressive reform of Parliament, and more especially so the noble Lord the occasion of whose absence he much regretted; but as to practical measures, they were standing still—neither introducing any such measures themselves, nor accepting the proposals of others. He, for one, must be distinctly understood as declaring that he could not continue to support a Government which thus refused to effect all kinds of reform—a Government which would not advance one step towards those great objects which so main a proportion of their supporters demanded. Any other Government would be preferable to such a set of men, even the most Tory that could be got together—for then there would be a good chance of a large, united opposition, exacting those sound reform measures which the country required—whereas, cut up into all sorts of sections, as the House now was, the friends of reform were actually supporting a no-reform Government. This was the conviction to which facts had forced him, that until the friends of reform had seceded from the present Government, and took up a position of their own, and voted wholly as they thought fit, no distinct movement in the right direction would be made. The noble Lord at the head of the Government had admitted on a recent occasion that it was desirable that the suffrage should be extended to the working classes. If such was the noble Lord's real opinion, why did he not act upon it? There were millions of men in this country upon whom the strength and prosperity of the State depended, but who were contumeliously excluded from any share in the representation, who were practically put beyond the pale of the constitution. This oppression he warned the Government might be acted upon too long. He recollected the day when Mr. Huskisson, on the Motion to give the franchise to Birmingham, stood up in his place, and said, that he had beard in the course of the debate arguments so convincing for the enfranchisement of that town, that he would rather retire from the Cabinet than not support the Motion. The Cabinet was pertinacious in rejecting the Motion; Mr. Huskisson was as firm in his resolution to adopt it; he spoke and voted for it, and the next day he quitted the Cabinet. What followed? Why, that in a very short time reforms took place as a matter of necessity, reforms of the most wholesale nature, re- 182 forms much beyond anything that reformers had previously contemplated. So it was with the corn laws. He was one of the minority who voted for a duty of 10s.; a duty which ought to have satisfied any man; the House was not satisfied with it, and before many years went over, the House was fain to be satisfied with no duty at all. These were examples which the Government and the Gentlemen of that House would do well to hoed. He, for one, so utterly hopeless had he become of reform at the hands of the Government, was ready to quit that portion of the House, and, going to the other side of the gangway, to leave the Government to the tender mercies of the protectionists, or of any other party they might get hold of. It was really impossible for an honest man much longer to go on with a Ministry, which, having while in opposition, been vehement for reform of every kind, seemed now determined not to concede reform of any kind whatever, general or particular. Either the present Government or some other, must go onward in the direction which the general sense of the country indicated; he trusted that in the course of the recess, the pressure of the people would be such as to convince the Government of this necessity, for he would gladly see the men who had effected the great reform of 1833 carry out that measure to its complete fulfilment. Let not England, once the pioneer of freedom, be seen to stand still while all the rest of the world was advancing.
said, that when an hon. Member opposite told the Ministers that they would certainly themselves if out of office carry another reform in Parliament, he must say that it was hardly a civil speech for him to make to his brother Whigs. Before the Reform Bill became law, he (Mr. Drummond) had been a supporter of triennial Parliaments, but he was now going to take an opposite line. He had voted for triennial Parliaments last year, but he should not do so on the present occasion, seeing the condition to which the House had been brought by the operation of the Reform Act, and he apprehended, in the present state of the representation, if they were to have triennial Parliaments, that the public business could not be transacted at all. He altogether objected to diminishing the duration of Parliaments, and expressed his belief that it would be better to have annual Parliaments at once. He could not help noticing the earnest and emphatic manner in which the 183 Ministers of the Crown were called on to bring forward a Government measure of reform, and were threatened with the loss of support if they did not do so, and in effect told that they ought to resign. It was, further, not a little remarkable that the earnestness with which certain hon. Members sought to drive Ministers from power, was in the inverse ratio to their own capacity to govern. The rarest gift of Heaven was the talent to rule; and he very much questioned if it would be possible to carry on the Government of this country if the change now proposed were brought into actual operation. He should not, however, dwell upon this point any longer, neither should be go into the whole question as to the necessity of enlarging the franchise, but even then he must say to the House respice finem. They bad been told that France presented the beau ideal of representative government, yet he could not help expressing his surprise that all the advocates of the five points of the Charter were those who described the persons who had tried to effect the counterrevolution in France as suffering martyrs, with whom the public ought to avow sympathy. He hoped that the public never would sympathise with those who had laboured to disturb the public peace all over Europe, and who had made no secret of doing so. He would ask, did not the hon. Member see evidence of those statements in the organs of that party? [Mr. HUME: No, no!] he wondered if the hon. Member ever read the Northern Star. If be did read that journal, he would find such sentiments expressed there. He did not believe it would be possible to preserve in this country a House of Lords and an hereditary Sovereign if they gave that which some hon. Members in their secret souls wished to give, namely, the whole power of the Government to that House alone.
said, that the hon. Member stated the other day in his debate ["Order, order!"]—well, the hon. Member on a certain occasion had used this expression, that all the world was in advance of ourselves; that we were formerly in advance of all the nations of Europe in representative institutions, but that now we were on the lowest step of the ladder, while France was on the highest.
§ MR. BRIGHT
said, that the last man to whom the term, "pulling at the Treasury bench," could apply, was the hon. Member for Rochester, who had got into so needless an excitement about the matter. His right hon. Colleague, however, was perfectly justified in the suggestion that the Treasury exercised a very important influence upon the House, in one way or another; not in direct bribery, he would admit, but in the distribution of favours and of honours which answered the purpose. It was not at all likely that the Treasury exercised the patronage of an expenditure of 60 millions per annum besides honorary distinctions, which, in the eyes of some were worth as much more, and of so large an amount of Church benefices of various kinds and degrees, without influencing a body whom it was so useful to a Government to influence as the House of Commons; and as a matter of fact, it was perfectly well known that this influence was exercised. It were equally futile to say that a Parliament of seven years gave no more occasion and opportunity for the exercise of this influence than a Parliament of shorter duration. In the year 1720, Swift, writing to Pope, laid down the principle that Parliament ought to imitate the wisdom of that gothic idea which made Parliaments annual. His right hon. Colleague had alluded to pledges; there could be no doubt that to give what was generally understood by pledges, was not wholly to be approved; but what he himself understood by hustings pledges was simply that the candidate therein expressed his conviction of the justice of particular principles, and his intentions to act up to them. If Parliament sat for seven years, it was additionally necessary for the constituencies to take this sort of inventory of their representatives' principles. But it was desirable and proper that the representatives of the people should not be shackled by what were generally called pledges. One thing was certain, that pledges did not answer the design of those who exacted them; there had been notable examples within the last few years of Members of that House turning round and voting in the very teeth of the principles they had started with. The security against such conduct as this was that Members should have to appear more frequently before their constituents. As it was, the system of influence in operation in that House had rendered it an appanage, a tool, to a large extent, of the influence predominant in the 185 other chamber. He earnestly entreated the House to take steps to remove this crying evil; for he could warn the House that, unless the remedy were speedily applied, the feeling which was growing up in the country against the misgovernment of that House, would, in the excitement of its inevitable triumph, not only destroy the abuses which had created it, but might prove dangerous to the long-existing institutions of the country.
§ MR. H. WILLYAMS
said, if the Bill was not encumbered with the clause relative to the time of three years, he would support it. He considered that the question of time should be discussed in Committee. He would not then go into the arguments in favour of shortening the duration of Parliaments, which he believed would be advantageous and necessary he did not approve of the Septennial Act, which threw an irresponsible power into the hands of representatives for a long period. He thought, also, that so far from frequent recourse to elections increasing bribery, it would have the effect of putting a check upon it.
MR. H. BERKELEY
was surprised at the silence of hon. Gentlemen opposite on this question. During his Parliamentary experience, which extended over a period of upwards of twelve years, the leaders of the Opposition benches had been in the habit of taking part in the discussion on all important subjects brought under the notice of the House; but they now seemed to avoid this question he regretted that the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, whose opinions, from his great eloquence, and from his position as a great political leader, were entitled to serious attention on this as well as on other subjects, had just quitted his place. The opinion which he (Mr. Berkeley) had formed as to the advantages of triennial Parliaments, had been very much strengthened by some arguments urged by the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire on this question on a former occasion. He was not aware whether the hon. Gentleman was in the habit of eating his words—a vice prevalent in that House—but he trusted the hon. Gentleman had not abandoned his opinion as to "the good old fashion of triennial Parliaments." He had come across an address which the hon. Member had formerly put forth to the electors of Chipping Wycombe, in the course of which he laid the tar brush very unsparingly on Her Majesty's Ministers, as he was in the habit 186 of doing at present—at least so far he was consistent—and he complained that Her Majesty's Government, at the time of the Reform Bill, had cheated the people out of their good old-fashioned triennial Parliaments. This was of much importance, coming from the source which it did. If the hon. Gentleman had changed his opinions on the subject, he should give some good and valid reasons for having done so to the House, to his constituents, and to the country. The hon. Member for Buckinghamshire had stated in the same powerful address that be considered the ballot absolutely necessary to check the unprincipled practices everywhere now resorted to at general elections, and added that he was aware that a system of terrorism existed at Chipping Wycombe. Now he (Mr. Berkeley) would like to know whether the hon. Gentleman's opinions on the ballot had undergone any change? However this might be, if the hon. Member's opinion was changed, he could not change the fact to which he had testified; and, although he might deny the remedy, yet, on a future occasion when he (Mr. Berkeley) should bring forward the question of the ballot, he had a right to quote the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire as a witness of the evils which rendered its adoption necessary. He should vote for the Bill for triennial Parliaments, as a part of a system of Parliamentary reform, which ought to be adopted by that House. Speak who might, he trusted they would have such a division as would show the constituencies of the country that it was regarded by some in that House in the light which its importance demanded.
§ LORD DUDLEY STUART
impugned the conduct of the Government for treating a question of this nature in the contemptuous manner they had done. Some day, however, the people would show their sense of this conduct, and he would tell them it was not safe to persevere in disregarding the wishes of the people. He would be glad to accept any modification of the system now in existence as an ininstalment. He thought that if this measure was carried, it would make them better Members of Parliament. Sooner or later the voice of the people would be heard, and then they would find out the very great mistake they had committed, and that it was not safe long to disregard the loudly-expressed wishes of the people. He knew that occasionally they awoke a 187 little from their apathy, and promised some concessions to the people; hut still all that could be got out of them was a slight glimmer of their future intentions. There must, however, be something more than shadows. The working classes of the country must have the pledge of a measure, and they would never he satisfied until Government came forward with a Bill for improving the representation of the country. The hon. Member for Truro had fallen into a mistake in supposing that this Bill enunciated the principle that the duration of Parliament ought not to exceed three years. It only declared the principle that at present the duration of Parliament was far too long a period; hut, for his part, although he admitted that the reduction of years would be an improvement in the system, he was decidedly in favour of triennial Parliaments; and if the House wished to make the representation of the people full, free, and effective, they must reduce the duration of Parliament to that extent. Of course such a measure ought to be accompanied by other reforms, such as the ballot, and an extension of the suffrage; and, in supporting this Bill, he was quite ready to give the people all the rights which they had so justly demanded of Parliament.
§ COLONEL SALWEY
had no hesitation in saying in his place in that House, that the contrast between the professions of the present Government out of office, and its progress in office, was painful in the extreme. In the most open and avowed manner they this year disavowed the principles which they professed the last, and they scrupled not to abandon the political principles upon which they had been placed in power. Much as he disliked toryism, he also detested that spurious kind of whiggery which was open and free when in opposition, hut when in power was careless and wasteful of the expenditure of the country, and took no part in carrying out the wishes of the people. Such was his opinion of the present Government, and he thought no honest Liberal ought to sit on that side of the House. If he was asked why he did not vote for the Motion of the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire a few nights ago, he would answer—that hon. Member had attacked free trade, a measure in which he fully concurred, and to which he bad given his consent. But if the hon. Member had attacked the Government, he would have voted with the hon. Member. With regard to the Septennial 188 Bill, he would observe that he considered it the most daring act of usurpation which had ever taken place; it was at the root of all bribery and corruption, and had been the means of increasing the national debt; and, finally, it gave hon. Members of that House six years for sinning, and only one for repentance. With these views, he would vote in favour of the Motion before the House.
§ MR. KERSHAW
expressed his conviction that the opinions of the people were growing stronger and stronger in favour of the general principles of reform, and that the House could not much longer refuse to accede to their reasonable demands. He represented a constituency consisting, in round numbers, of 60,000 people, of whom only 1,300 were upon the registry; and he wished to know whether an electoral principle, of which that fact was an example, could be called justice and honesty to the people of England at large? Some ten years ago, he believed that the country was disposed to place confidence in those who now formed the Government; but now many of those who had been willing to support them would not cross the floor to serve them, believing that they had deserted their principles, and were one thing at one time and another at another. There had been a period when he thought that the Government had made some sacrifices for the principles they professed, and he was never more surprised than when, upon becoming a Member of that House, he found he could not rely upon them for the honest support of any one principle they had ever professed. He advised the House to assent to the principle of this Bill, and to leave the consideration of details to the Committee.
appealed to the dignity and justice of the House, as an adherent of the noble Lord at the head of the Government, to be permitted, as he best could, to defend him in his absence from the series of violent attacks which, for some time, had been delivered against his character and policy. The hon. and gallant Colonel the Member for Ludlow, the noble Lord the Member for Marylebone, and the Member for Montrose, had shown very little generosity and delicacy in the moment they selected for a declaration of their long accumulated wrath, and slowly ripening hostility. Had the noble Lord been present, he would certainly have hailed the opportunity of meeting these aggressive manifestoes with 189 the chivalry and firmness which on such occasions lie displayed. He was absent from domestic circumstances with which all the House would sympathise; and he (Mr. Campbell) would not shrink from the peril of addressing an impatient House, to defend him, under such circumstances, from reproaches as unfounded as they were ill-timed, presumptuous, and irrelevant. He (Mr. Campbell) denied, in the most uncompromising terms, in answer to the hon. and gallant Colonel, that the noble Lord at the head of the Government had at any time, in office or out of office, intimated any disposition to encourage, or given any promise to espouse, the democratic principles against which, as Prime Minister, he had so powerfully reasoned and so manfully protested. He defied the hon. and gallant Colonel to point to a speech, a letter, or a treatise, in which the noble Lord had led the public to imagine that his return to power would accelerate the repeal of the Septennial Act, or the introduction of the Charter. These, however, were the undisguised objects of the party, who never missed an opportunity, and seldom found one so secure or so convenient as the present, of pouring out their bitterness upon the noble Lord, because he felt some regard for the opinions on the British constitution which all his life he had professed, and for the great edifice of government, which, in accordance with those opinions, in 1832, he had consummated. The Member for Montrose, departing from the subject of debate, had that day endeavoured to fix a charge of weakness, inconsistency, and bad faith upon the noble Lord, because he had conceded as an abstract principle, that civil power was a means of educating the understandings and affections of the lower orders, and because he had not introduced a measure to extend the franchise. What could be clearer to an ordinary comprehension than the position of the noble Lord on this class of topics? Night after night he had expressed to them, in his capacity as Prime Minister, political inquirer, and writer on the British constitution, that universal suffrage was a system to which he was emphatically hostile, inasmuch as it was calculated to ruin any country which adopted it, and more particularly that in which we had the happiness to live. All the propositions for extending the suffrage which had yet been advanced, had a clear and demonstrable, and a very feebly disguised, tendency to a catastrophe in which the noble Lord dis- 190 cerned the death of our liberties, our glory, and our civilisation. It remained to be considered by what delicate arrangements, what ingenious combinations, it was possible to give a working man a participation in elective functions, and at the same time to keep at as great a distance as it was at present, the fatal domination of numbers over mind, and of force over virtue and intelligence. Had the hon. Member for Montrose, whose mind, as he assured them, had now been steadily employed for five-and-thirty years upon organic questions, resolved this problem? Was it reasonable to expect that the noble Lord, who had Irish difficulties to consider, the affairs of Europe to revolve, the state of our finances to investigate, the future of our colonies to settle, who declined no burden, and avoided no path of statesmanship, should withdraw his mind from the hourly calls which passed around him, for the purpose of effecting a refined and complicated system, the very theory of which was, as yet, imperfectly elucidated—a system which would do very little, even if it was effected, to satisfy the moral wants or elevate the physical condition of the working classes. He (Mr. Campbell) adverted to the lucid way in which the right hon. Member for Manchester had demonstrated that if the Septennial Act were repealed, as it was now proposed to repeal it, the system of triennial Parliaments would by law come into immediate operation, and therefore that the question to be decided on to-day was, whether at the end of three years Parliaments should uniformly terminate. On the 23rd of May, the noble Lord, with great ability and clearness, pointed out the inexpediency of such an alteration; and by the arguments the noble Lord delivered, he (Mr. Campbell) was ready to abide, and thought the House of Commons would be satisfied. The hon. Gentleman concluded by an eulogy on the patriotism of the House, and a reflection on the inconsistency and weakness of the democratic party.
MR. TENNYSON D'EYNCOCRT
, in reply, said, that the question now before the House was not as the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Campbell) supposed, whether the duration of Parliaments should be three years, but whether it should or should not be less than seven years. The simple repeal of the Septennial Act would restore triennial Parliaments; but the form of the Bill before the House would leave the specific term of duration open 191 for future decision in Committee. He concurred in much that had been alleged regarding the extreme disappointment which prevailed in the country, caused by the course taken by Her Majesty's Government. He had hoped better things of them. When it was remembered that the Reform Bill passed seventeen or eighteen years ago; that his noble Friend the First Lord of the Treasury had more than once stated his conviction that the suffrage ought to be extended more largely among the working classes of the country—that the same noble Lord, on a former occasion, in 1837, and recently, on the introduction of this Bill, had expressed the opinion that five years would be a proper period of duration for Parliaments—it was astonishing to see him and his Government sitting with their arms folded, and saying that they had no measure of reform, or any notion of the necessity of any such measure. The argument of his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, as to the duration of Parliament having been practically short, inasmuch as there had been six Parliaments which had determined at periods of two or three years in each case, had no weight in favour of the system of septennial Parliaments, but, on the contrary, told against it. The charge against septennial Parliaments was, that Members entered that House with a long term of impunity before them: that they were soon seduced from a sense of responsibility by the blandishments of a Government, or the temptation of advantage for themselves or their families; and that it was only towards the close of a Parliament that they manifested independence and diligence; so that by any unexpected termination of the septennial period, all the evils were incurred, while the country lost the compensation, such as it was, which the full term might have brought with it. He thought that when moderate propositions of this kind were made—propositions sanctioned by the usages of Parliament, and not alien to the constitution of the country—the Government should, at least, abstain from treating them in the flippant manner which had been displayed by his right hon. Friend; for such a discouragement of fair and practical measures tended to lead the minds of the people astray after strange and wild fancies.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 57; Noes 132: Majority 75.
|List of the AYES.|
|Adair, R. A. S.||King, hon. P. J. L.|
|Alcock, T.||Locke, J.|
|Armstrong, R. B.||Lushington, C.|
|Berkeley, hon. H. F.||Meagher, T.|
|Berkeley, C. L. G.||Morris, D.|
|Bright, J.||Mowatt, F.|
|Brotherton, J.||Nugent, Lord|
|Clifford, H. M.||O'Connell, J.|
|Colebrooke, Sir T. E.||O'Connell, M. J.|
|Davie, Sir H. R. F.||Pechell, Capt.|
|Duke, Sir J.||Ricardo, O.|
|Duncan, Visct.||Roebuck, J. A.|
|Duncan, G.||Salwey, Col.|
|Evans, J.||Scholefield, W.|
|Ewart, W.||Scully, F.|
|Fordyce, A. D.||Smith, J. B.|
|Fox, W. J.||Strickland, Sir G.|
|Gibson, rt. hon. T. M.||Stuart, Lord J.|
|Greene, J.||Thicknesse, R. A.|
|Grenfell, C. P.||Thompson, Col.|
|Grenfell, C. W.||Thompson, G.|
|Harris, R.||Thornely, T.|
|Hastie, A.||Villiers, hon. C.|
|Henry, A.||Walmsley, Sir J.|
|Heywood, J.||Wawn, J. T.|
|Heyworth, L.||Williams, J.|
|Hobhouse, T. B.||Willyams, H.|
|Hodges, T. L.||TELLERS.|
|Hume, J.||D'Eyncourt, C. T.|
|Kershaw, J.||Stuart, Lord D.|
|List of the NOES.|
|Acland, Sir T. D.||Ferguson, Sir R. A.|
|Arbuthnott, hon. H.||Floyer, J.|
|Arkwright, G.||Foley, J. H. H.|
|Ashley, Lord||Forbes, W.|
|Baldock, E. H.||Fortescue, hon. J. W.|
|Bankes, G.||Freestun, Col.|
|Baring, rt. hon. Sir F. T.||Fuller, A. E.|
|Bellew, R. M.||Gaskell, J. M.|
|Bentinck, Lord H.||Goddard, A. L.|
|Beresford, W.||Gooch, E. S.|
|Berkeley, hon. Capt.||Gordon, Adm.|
|Bowles, Adm.||Goulburn, rt. hon. H.|
|Bremridge, R.||Greene, T.|
|Bromley, R.||Grey, rt. hon. Sir G.|
|Burke, Sir T. J.||Guernsey, Lord|
|Burrell, Sir C. M.||Haggitt, F. R.|
|Campbell, hon. W. F.||Harris, hon. Capt.|
|Cavendish, W. G.||Hawes, B.|
|Chaplin, W. J.||Hay, Lord J.|
|Chichester, Lord J. L.||Hayter, rt. hon. W. G.|
|Christopher, R. A.||Heathcote, G. J.|
|Christy, S.||Heneage, G. H. W.|
|Clerk, rt. hon. Sir G.||Henley, J. W.|
|Clive, hon. R. H.||Hervey, Lord A.|
|Coke, hon. E. K.||Hildyard, R. C.|
|Coles, H. B.||Hill, Lord E.|
|Colvile, C. R.||Hobhouse, rt. hon. Sir J.|
|Compton, H. C.||Hood, Sir A.|
|Copeland, Ald.||Hornby, J.|
|Cowper, hon. W. F.||Hotham, Lord|
|Cubitt, W.||Howard, Lord E.|
|Dundas, Adm.||Howard, hon. C. W. G.|
|Dundas, rt. hon. Sir D.||Jervis, Sir J.|
|East, Sir J. B.||Johnstone, Sir J.|
|Ebrington, Visct.||Jones, Capt.|
|Egerton, W. T.||Knox, Col.|
|Elliott, hon. J. E.||Labouchere, rt. hon. H.|
|Emlyn, Visct.||Lacy, H. C.|
|Fellowes, E.||Lascelles, hon. W. S.|
|Lemon, Sir C.||Rich, H.|
|Lewis, G. C.||Romilly, Sir J.|
|Lewisham, Visct.||Russell, hon. E. S.|
|Littleton, hon. E. R.||Russell, F. C. H.|
|Lygon, hon. Gen.||Sandars, J.|
|Mackinnon, W. A.||Seymer, H. K.|
|Manners, Lord C. S.||Shafto, R. D.|
|Martin, C. W.||Sheil, rt. hon. R. L.|
|Masterman, J.||Simeon, J.|
|Maule, rt. hon. F.||Somerville rt. hon. Sir W.|
|Miles, W.||Spooner, R.|
|Mostyn, hon. E. M. L.||Stafford, A.|
|Mullings, J. R.||Thornhill, G.|
|Mundy, W.||Tollemache, hon. F. J.|
|Naas, Lord||Vane, Lord H.|
|Nicholl, rt. hon. J.||Villiers, Visct,|
|Noel, hon. G. J.||Vivian, J. E.|
|O'Brien, Sir L.||Watkins, Col, L.|
|Ogle, S. C. H.||Welby, G. E.|
|Paget, Lord C.||Willoughby, Sir H.|
|Pakington, Sir J.||Wilson, J.|
|Palmer, R.||Wodehouse, E.|
|Patten, J. W.||Wood, rt. hon. Sir C.|
|Peel, rt. hon. Sir R.||Wynn, rt. hon. C. W. W.|
|Peel, F.||Wyvill, M.|
|Plumptre, J. P.|
|Powlett, Lord W.||TELLERS.|
|Prime, R.||Tufnell, H.|
|Rawdon, Col.||Hill, Lord M.|
§ Words added: Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Bill put off for throe months.