HC Deb 14 May 1851 vol 116 cc938-44

said, that he did not know whether that was the proper time to take notice of the very extraordinary proceeding of the day previous, when no House was formed. Had it been an ordinary occasion, he should not have called the attention of the House to the subject, but considering that there were on the notice paper a Motion by the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume) for extended franchise, shorter Parliaments, the ballot, and what he called a more uniform regulation with regard to electoral districts; and the other an Amendment to be moved by the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. T. Duncombe), pledging the House next Session to take into consideration the state of the representation of the people, with a view to an extension of the franchise; and, considering also that some hon. Members of that House had, in the course of the present Session of Parliament, agitated the question of Parliamentary reform out of doors before large masses of the population—that they had expressed over and over again, their zeal that this Motion should be soon brought under the consideration of the House—and that Her Majesty's Government, on a Motion with regard to the state of the representation of the people, were placed in a minority and forced to resign their offices—he did think that it was rather an extraordinary thing that only twenty-one Members should have been present to form a House, and that out of these there were only six who deserved the name of "radical reformers." He did not know whether the hon. Member for Montrose was enjoying himself with the company who were for the first time taking a ride in Kensington-gardens; but he thought that hon. Member, having a Motion on the notice paper, might have been present to assist in making a House. He believed, too, that there were only two Members of the Government present at four o'clock. The hon. Member for Fins-bury, on a former occasion, quoted an expression of Mr. Canning's, that it was the duty of the subordinate Members of the Ministry to make a House, to keep a House, and to cheer the Minister. Things were, however, materially altered since that time, and he believed that it was now the duty of certain official Gentlemen when it suited the convenience of Government that there should be no House, not to "whip in," but to "whip out;" and considering what had occurred on several occasions lately, be believed that they were not animated by any particular earnestness to form a House yesterday. He had observed that the two hon. Gentlemen (the Secretaries for the Treasury), whose duty it was to make a House, entered the House a minute or two before four o'clock; but although there were in the lobby many Gentlemen who were in the habit of supporting the Government, it so happened that only these two Gentlemen came forward to support the party of the Government on this occasion. He wished the House to estimate the zeal of those Gentlemen who were so anxious for Parliamentary reform. Where were the hon. Members for Manchester (Mr. Gibson and Mr. Bright), and the hon. Member for the West Riding of Yorkshire (Mr. Cobden)? He was not surprised that Gentlemen connected with the Government were not there, for it might have been an awkward thing for them to be again placed in the position in which they were when the hon. Member for West Surrey (Mr. Locke King) brought forward his Motion. But where was the hon. and learned Attorney General? On a late occasion he pledged himself to his constituents to support most extensive, if not extreme measures of Parliamentary reform; and as he would be called upon by the Government to draw their measure for Parliamentary reform, he ought to have been in his place, either to state that the pledges that he was said to have given to his constituents were improperly reported, or to give his views upon this great question. He thought the country should know whether the supporters of Parliamentary reform in that House were sincere or not. Surely, when there were 150 Gentlemen ready to support extensive measures of reform, thirty at least of them might have been present; but what would the country think when they found that only six of them attended at four o'clock to form a House when notice had been given of a Motion on that subject.


was very glad the hon. Member (Mr. Christopher) had brought the subject forward. Reformers who were not engaged in the business of the House, certainly ought to have been in their places. He (Mr. Hume) was attending the Army, Navy, and Ordnance Committee, which had been sitting for three years, and had a most important discussion on Tuesday respecting the recommendations of their Report; the moment the officer announced that the Speaker was at prayers, he (Mr. Hume) said to a colleague, "I must he off to assist in making a House," and they got up immediately and came down "posthaste" to the door, and got there just as the counting was over, and he was informed there was no House. That was the explanation of the cause of his absence. Had the distance been less, they would have been, present to assist in making a House. He must leave others to account for their absence as they could; but the hon. Members for the West Riding of Yorkshire (Mr. Cobden), and for Manchester (Mr. Gibson and Mr. Bright), were also on Committees upstairs. The hon. Member (Mr. Christopher) seemed to think there were men pretending to be Reformers who were hollow, and wished to evade the question; but he (Mr. Hume) was not within that class. He considered the question one of vast importance. He was aware that he proposed probably more than the House would be disposed to vote; but he wished to show to those who were maligning him, and accusing him of wishing to destroy the constitution, that the best course to adopt was a timely reform of abuses, the restoration to the population of the rights they ought to have, and not allowing discontent to spread through the country. Notice had been given that the Government intended next Session to bring something of the kind forward, and he wanted to show what they must do if they would redeem their own pledges and give satisfaction to the country. It was a great disappointment to him that he had not the opportunity of doing this; he had been perfectly ready; and if that were not enough, he was anxious to have a preliminary discussion on the subject of Kensington Gardens. He did expect that some of those who pretended, or said that they desired, to support him on that occasion, would have been present. However, all that could be done was to take care for the future. Let bygones be bygones. His only wish was to show that he had not been lax or unwilling.


said, that the hon. Member for Montrose had satisfactorily accounted for his not having reached the House before four o'clock, the latest hour at which a House could be formed. No one could doubt the sincerity of his desire for Parliamentary reform; and no doubt the reason that only twenty-one Members were present at four o'clock was that, as a distinct notice had been given that the Government intended next Session to bring forward a measure for Parliamentary reform, the House (after being kept up to a late hour on the previous evening by a debate on an important subject) were indisposed to enter into a discussion that could lead to no result during the present Session.


said, that he felt disappointed at the conduct of the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume), and at the poor explanation which he had given of it. Only the day before, however, he boasted, at a meeting at Marylebone, that he had more friends amongst the Conservatives than amongst the Liberals; but he (Mr. J. Williams) could not congratulate the hon. Member on his new alliance.


said, that, if the hon. Member for Macclesfield stated what took place in Marylebone, he should state the truth; or at all events he should state accurately what took place. What he (Mr. Hume) said was, that no man had done more in opposition than he had, but that he had always endeavoured to act so that those whom he opposed should not be his enemies; and that he could look to either side of the House and say that he had as many friends in the House of Commons who were Conservatives as Liberals. He said this in order to counsel parties who were acrimoniously attacking each other, to act as he had endeavoured to do, not in a personal manner, but on principle; and by that means they would abate a good deal of the acrimony which was unpleasant anywhere, but more particularly in so large a parish as that in which his hon. Friend (Mr. Williams) was urging on parties to acrimony and abuse.


said, that he was engaged in the Committee on Church Rates on Tuesday. He did not think the conduct of reformers, in reference to this Motion, and the Motion of the hon. Mem- ber for West Surrey, was at all creditable to them.


would submit to the consideration of the House whether some new regulation ought not to be introduced with reference to forming a House. The Motion of the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume) was one of great importance; and at the time when the House should have met yesterday there were twice as many Members in the lobby and library as would have made a House. There were two persons in the lobby stopping Members who were entering. It was continually said the Government ought to form a House; but they ought not to expect the Government to perform that duty any more than Members themselves. An effective system could be introduced if the House were divided into panels, and attendance required from them in succession. When it was ordered that forty Members should be present to make a House, the House met at 9 o'clock; the business would be exhausted at 4 o'clock; and when forty Members were not present the House adjourned.


said, that so far as related to the Members of that Committee on which the hon. Member for Montrose and he were sitting with some eight others, the cause of their non-attendance was the great distance of the Committee-room from the House; and one of the results of the inconveniences of this vast and overgrown building was, that in such cases as had occurred, it occupied four or five minutes at least to get from the one chamber to the other. He had intended to be present himself to aid in forming a House. It was unnecessary he should corroborate what had been said by the hon. Member for Montrose, whoso word no man could doubt on any occasion; but it might be stated that the Committee were engaged in a very important duty, namely, the consideration of their Report.


thought there was one fact worth being known by the public with respect to this case, namely, that all the Reformers of England were in one Committee; which appeared to him as strange a circumstance as that the hon. Member for Montrose should have taken possession of the Protectionist benches. These were two extraordinary features of the case in regard to that party. His object in rising, was not to mix himself up with this quarrel, which was a very tolerable quarrel as it stood, and the least pos- sible explanation would spoil it. But he could not help expressing his astonishment when he thought of the small number of Reformers present yesterday, and of the great spring tide of Reformers that would flow in when the great principles of religious liberty were to be violated. They would be there to-morrow, when the noble Lord at the head of the Government moved another stage of the "Aggression" Bill; and when the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Lacy) brought in a Bill to insult the religious ladies of his (Mr. Reynolds') creed, there would be no danger that there would not be plenty of Reformers then to make a House. He was there yesterday, though he had nothing to do with the question, except that he was bound to the principle of extending the Parliamentary franchise; and he saw many Reformers now present taking shelter in holes and corners in the lobby. He saw them like drowned political rats there and in all the corridors, apparently to avoid being called on to aid the Nestor of Reform in forming a House. In the remarks he had made, he meant no personal offence; but, wishing hon. Members joy of their quarrel, he hoped the people of England would interrogate them on the subject at the hustings at the first convenient opportunity.


said, it was impossible for any man to doubt the sincerity of the hon. Member for Montrose, yet there were circumstances which could not fail to attract attention. One was, that the hon. Member for Montrose proposed to bring forward another Motion in precedence to that on Parliamentary reform. It was singular that the idea of such a course of proceeding should have been entertained by the hon. Member, for the question of extending the Parliamentary suffrage was too important to be put aside for a moment by the other. He (Mr. Crawford) was also surprised at the notice of Motion given by the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. T. Duncombe), and that hon. Member was not present yesterday. If the body of Reformers returned to that House pledged to advance liberal principles were earnest in the cause, they would take care to have a sufficient number of Members present to make a House when the occasion required it; and he did not impute blame to the Government as if it had been their duty to make a House. That was not the duty of the Government in particular, but the duty of those who were sent to that House to advocate the rights of the people.


regretted that his hon. Friend who had just sat down should have gone out of his way to attack the hon. Member for Finsbury, who was absent. He (Mr. Bernal) had himself had occasion, on coming to the House, to entreat the hon. Member for Finsbury not to expose himself to the very inclement atmosphere that prevailed; and, although he could not at that moment state that the hon. Member had been prevented from attending by sickness, he would remind his hon. Friend that such an atmosphere was not at all genial for one in the state of the hon. Member for Finsbury, who was the last to shrink from his duty; and he hoped the hon. Member for Rochdale would come to the conclusion, that it would be quite as well to wait till the hon. Member for Finsbury was in his place.


said, there were many difficulties which might prevent hon. Members from arriving at the House at the exact moment when a House had to be made. Many sincere Reformers might, from mere accident not be able to attend; and unless a summons were given, or the bell heard, Members of the Committees sitting daily, could not be expected, as a matter of course, to come down stairs to the minute. No man had done more for reform than the hon. Member for Montrose. The hon. Member was there within a minute after the House adjourned. He (Mr. Aglionby) met the hon. Member at the door. He was present himself, but it was a mere accident, because he got in before the clock pointed at four, and had he been half a minute later he would have been too late. Although he had come to make a House, and on a division would have supported the hon. Member for Montrose, he hoped the hon. Member would pardon him if he expressed a doubt of the discretion with which notice had been given of the Motion. He also doubted the expediency of the hon. Member for Finsbury's Amendment. Hon. Members would be put in a false position on either, and, though he had misgivings as to whether the Government measure promised for next Session would go so far as he desired, he, for one, was content to bide his time.


would put it to the House, whether it was advisable to incur a still further waste of time by a discussion with respect to the loss of an evening?

Subject dropped.

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