HC Deb 10 February 1854 vol 130 cc405-12

having moved that the House, at its rising, adjourn to Monday,


said: I have to ask the indulgence of the House while I make one or two observations preparatory to the question which I intend to put to the noble Lord the leader of this House, and of which I have given notice. The noble Lord, on Monday night—I will not say intentionally—appeared to misunderstand the object of the question which I then thought it my duty to submit to him. The question I then put to the noble Lord, and which now stands on the papers, was, whether, in the disturbed state of our foreign relations, it was the intention of the Government to recommend to the House to proceed with the measure proposed to be introduced on Monday next for amending the representation of the people of this country. I put that question to the noble Lord with no discourtesy towards him, and I received from the noble Lord a reply which I will not call discourteous, but which I may call curt. The noble Lord informed me that it was his intention to answer my question on Monday next. But the question which I put to the noble Lord was not whether it was the intention of the Government to introduce a measure on Monday next, but whether it was their intention to proceed bonâ fide with the Bill which they proposed to introduce. I think I had some justification in putting that question to the noble Lord, for, if I look at the incidents connected with the Reform Bill introduced by the noble Lord in 1851, and the treatment which that measure received from the noble Lord; or, if I look to the Education Bill of last year, which met with a similar fate at the hands of its cruel originator—these and other instances which I might mention afford me full justification in putting such a question as this. But my real justification for putting this question is, the present state of our foreign relations; for, though but a humble Member of this House, I agree with others whose opinions are of great weight, and who do not think that this is a moment to consider with great calmness a question of this nature, involving the extension of the franchise in this country, but that it is a moment when a wise Government would rather endeavour to rally around it the sympathy and support of all parties in this House to enable it to carry out with energy and vigour this war, upon which, I fear, we are unfortunately on the point of being involved. These opinions are held by men whose liberal views cannot be doubted, and among others I may allude to one who was once an ornament to this House, and who now sits in another place—I mean the noble Lord the son of the father of the Reform Bill of 1832 (Earl Grey). This, then, is my justification in putting the question to the noble Lord. I would ask the noble Lord whether this is not a moment when we should show to Europe at large that we are united—that the House of Commons is of one feeling and of one mind, and that there should not be thrown down before us a question that will necessarily give rise to differences of opinion—a question which, if we are to place any dependence on rumour, has not been brought this length without difficulties and differences even in the Cabinet. Then, I ask the noble Lord—and I trust the noble Lord will not think I am asking too much, or attempt to put me off with a bad joke—whether it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government bonâ fide to proceed with the measure, of which notice has been given for Monday next?


Sir, The question of the noble Lord is certainly somewhat different from that which I understood him to ask without giving me previous notice a few evenings ago—namely, whether I intended to propose on Monday next to ask leave to bring in a Bill on the subject of Parliamentary Reform. The noble Lord has now put on the paper a question of a different purport—namely, whether we intend to proceed with that Bill? My answer to that question, with- out going into any reasoning on the subject, is that I intend to ask for leave on Monday to bring in a Bill to amend the representation of the people in England and Wales, and, if I should be successful in obtaining leave to bring in that Bill, I propose to proceed on the 13th of March with the second reading, so that there may be no interruption whatever to the question of the Naval and Military Estimates which must come before the House. I certainly do not anticpate that there will be any reason why, when that period comes, we should not proceed with the measure. I need not enter into any discussion on the subject now. I gave some reasons on the first night of the Session, and will be ready, when the time comes, to state my views upon the subject. At present I will only say, that I see no reason why we should not on Monday introduce the Bill, and proceed with it in the manner I have described.


said, he wished to make only one observation. The noble Lord (Viscount Jocelyn) had alluded only to the House of Commons; but the question was, what did the people of this country expect from the Government? The noble Lord spoke as if the House of Commons were the only parties who were entitled to be considered in this matter. He would say that if ever there was a time when the Government should endeavour to rally the people round them by giving a measure of reform, the present was the time. The Ministers ought to bring within the pale of the constitution the greatest possible number, in order to obtain their support. The House of Commons was nothing without the support of the people; and, therefore, if the people were not fully represented in that House, it was an act of policy on the part of the Government to provide that they should be so. The Government could not draw back from the pledges they had given, and he hoped the remarks of the noble Lord would induce the Government to be more determined and to bring in a large and comprehensive measure of reform.


Sir, it may be convenient to the House, if I take the opportunity which this conversation allows me, to state the course which the Gentlemen with whom I have the honour to act, on this side of the House, propose to take on Monday next. With regard to a large measure of Parliamentary reform, if that measure be, as I fear from the speeches of the supporters of the Government it will be, a measure the object of which is to reduce the interest which the land already possesses in the representation of this House—an influence which, I think, has been already unjustly and unwisely diminished—I say if the large measure of Parliamentary reform about to be brought forward is of that nature, to that measure we shall offer an uncompromising opposition. We should oppose such a measure, if brought forward, on its merits, and also we should oppose it as brought forward at a season which we think very inopportune for a measure of that description. We think that a moment like the present, when the entire attention of the country should be absorbed and all its energies devoted to the consideration of our external relations, is not one in which a domestic agitation should be encouraged, nor one in which the energies of the country should be diverted from the perilous condition of our external affairs. I cannot help saying that I think the course of the Ministry, which may bring about such a result, is a reckless course, and we will not unnecessarily share in that recklessness; but, because we will not in any way divert the attention and the energies of the country from the consideration of the position of our foreign relations, we do not intend on Monday next to offer any resistance to the Motion of the noble Lord for leave to bring in his Bill. Such an opposition might protract the debate at a moment when the attention of this House ought to be solely devoted to the consideration of the means by which an impending war may be carried on most efficiently and with ultimate honour to the country. But, if on this 13th of March—that is now announced to us as the day on which the second reading of that Bill comes on—if, when that interval has elapsed, the noble Lord has not seen occasion to come forward and confess the error of his ways—if the noble Lord then asks us to consent to the second reading of a Bill for the reform of the House of Commons, of course there can be no further reserve on our part—we must give to such a proposition all the attention which it demands, we must enter into a consideration of the merits of the question; and if the country be agitated, if the attention of the House be diverted from the important subjects that ought to engross their consideration, then on the noble Lord must rest the responsibility of bringing forward a measure of such a description and at such a period.


said, the right hon. Gentlemen assumed that the country was at war. [Laughter.] Gentlemen might make light of that, and think that some party success might come out of it; but he could not congratulate them on such a frame of mind. They had had no intimation from the Government that such a calamity had actually occurred, and it was quite notorious to the House that there were men as well informed as any in this country could be of what was passing who had not yet given up hope that such an evil might be avoided. At any rate, even if the occurrence of war could be a justification for the Government withdrawing from their repeated pledges upon this question, still until war had taken place, or was absolutely and clearly inevitable, he thought it would be as wise not to make that an argument against a course which must otherwise be pursued. The right hon. Gentleman had spoken of a reckless Administration. This was a term he had heard frequently used across the table; and a year ago, or rather more, Gentlemen sitting on his side had used these words, or others very like them, in speaking of the Government of the right hon. Gentleman. He believed that if the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends were now in office, they would be doing, as he believed the present Government to be doing, all they could for the purpose of preserving the country from the calamities of war. In the course which the Government were taking with regard to the reform question, he had no doubt that in proposing to redeem their oft-repeated pledges, they were acting in accordance with the opinions of a great majority of the people of that House. The right hon. Gentleman, who now protested against agitating the country, upon a question of internal policy, had himself been the great disturber of the country in agitating for a policy now admitted by himself to be mistaken. During the last seven years, and for some months previous to the meeting of Parliament, until a certain great delusion was exploded, it used to be the habit of Gentlemen opposite to agitate and disturb the country on a question a thousand times more dangerous than any which could come out of this reform measure. He considered it would be a grand spectacle to the world if we could show that whilst the country was in circumstances, if not of difficulty, yet of a state verging to war, its insitutions were so solid that it was possible for the Government to pro- pose, and for Parliament to consider, a measure which was not to restrict the rights of the people, or to increase military force in order to keep them down, but to extend the freedom and franchise of the community. He could scarcely conceive, amid such calamities as those of war, a more noble spectacle offered to the nations of the world. Gentlemen opposite were not the best advisers of Government on this question. He did not know that the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn (Viscount Jocelyn) was particularly known as a reformer. He did not know what the particular opinion of the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn might be upon this subject, for the noble Lord's opinions were generally of a floating and unsettled character on most subjects; but of this he was quite certain, that if a Reform Bill to the same effect as that about to be introduced by the noble Lord the Member for London was left to the tender mercies of the majority of Gentlemen opposite, it would be several Sessions, and several Parliaments, before they would give the country the benefit of any such measure. Let the Bill to be introduced by the noble Lord the Member for London be just and impartial, and let it fearlessly strike at the root of the evil which at present prevailed, and, although it might not go quite so far as many Members of that House might wish, yet, as far as it did go, he felt assured that the noble Lord would receive ample support, both in that House and from the country, to enable him to prosecute his efforts with success.


said, he was satisfied that a very little reflection would show the hon. Member who had just sat down, that the party with which he (Lord J. Manners) had the honour to act were influenced in the course which they were about to take by no such motives as had been ascribed to them. If they were anxious to seize upon an occasion for party purposes, he believed that no occasion could offer itself more favourable than the present. He was not surprised that the hon. Gentleman should, on this occasion, have stood forward as the apologist and approver of the course which Her Majesty's Government intended to take with reference to the Reform Bill—whether his marked approbation would conciliate support to their policy throughout the country remained to be seen; but he was not in the least surprised that the hon. Gentleman should come forward to stamp with his approbation any course that would divide the councils of the State, or that would prevent the Government and the people devoting their energies uninterruptedly to the prosecution of the great struggle which no one could now doubt was imminent. The hon. Gentleman and his Friends, no doubt, desired to see the people intent on internal divisions and strife rather than on a vigorous external policy, which would throw their strength into the conduct of the operations which would be required for that war in which it was but too probable that this country would soon be involved. That was the question in which the English people now felt the deepest interest; while if he were to judge from the number of petitions which had been presented in connexion with the new Reform Bill, no considerable degree of anxiety was manifested in its regard. In fact, it was remarkable that not a single petition had been presented in favour of this Reform Bill; and the hon. Member for Manchester could tell them, that, so far from the public voice being with him on this question, the hon. Member and his friends were no longer able to meet in vast pavilions or crowded halls, but were obliged to restrict their demonstrations to tea parties and to seek the shelter of a tavern parlour to pour their sorrows into the ears of the faithful few, to the exclusion of the once deluded but now undeceived many. His noble Friend (Viscount Jocelyn), who asked the question, had justly remarked that there were antecedents in the course of the noble Lord which might well make them doubt whether it was the intention of Government to persevere with this measure. The noble Lord only three years ago proposed a Reform Bill, which, at least, enabled him to make a great speech; that measure fell, not by a hostile division, but by the ladies of its framer. So also with his measure on education. He trusted that the noble Lord would yet be persuaded to reconsider his decision, which could only be regarded as a delusive bait to a section of the people with which the noble Lord and his Friends wished to curry favour. At all events, the party with which he (Lord J. Manners) was connected would have the satisfaction of knowing that they were not responsible for the course which the noble Lord seemed resolved to pursue, and that they had protested against it as calculated to prove injurious to the best interests of the country.

Motion agreed to; House at its rising to adjourn till Monday next.