HL Deb 21 April 1831 vol 3 cc1742-7
The Earl of Winchilsea

presented Petitions from Sandwich, Great Marlow, and Nairn, in favour of Reform. He observed that the noble Duke (Wellington) had expressed his opposition to the Reform Bill on the ground of probable injury to the Established Church in Ireland. Friendly as he was to the greater part of the Bill as it affected the Representation of England, he agreed with the noble Duke, that its effect, by increasing the political power of Roman Catholics in Ireland, would be to endanger the Established Church in that country. He regretted that the noble Duke did not entertain his present apprehension of Catholic power at an earlier period. In the present state of political agitation in Ireland, which had for its purpose the effecting of the disunion of the empire, and in the present state of organization which exists in that country, carried on under the control of the Catholic priesthood, who were all influenced by the great political agitator, who had not as yet been made amenable to the laws which he had violated, he could not see how any further political power could be extended to Ireland, without endangering the established institutions of the country. He had taken the present occasion of expressing his sentiments, because he was afraid another opportunity would not be attended him. He did sincerely regret that he was compelled to make these observations, and hoped he had done so without hurting the feelings of any noble Lord in that House connected with the Roman Catholic religion, every one of whom he was convinced felt as much veneration and attachment for the Constitution as the humble individual who had the honour to address their Lordships; but he did entreat those noble Lords to lose no time in endeavouring to put down that state of insubordination which existed in Ireland, and to have not the slightest connexion with any of those individuals who were labouring for the total destruction of the Church Establishment in that country, and the total dissolution of the Union.

The Duke of Wellington

had but two words to offer with respect to what had fallen from the noble Lord. He was not willing to enter into the question as to the expediency of having granted the Roman Catholic claims, for he hoped that question was for ever set at rest. The former Government of this country derived some advantage from the settlement of that question, and he believed, that at least this advantage would be admitted to have flown from it, viz. that now there was no question either in that or the other House of Parliament, or among the public, respecting the necessity or expediency of repealing the Union. When he introduced the Catholic Relief Bill he stated, that political power already existed in the hands of the Roman Catholics, and that was a statement generally admitted by noble Lords on both sides of the House. What the Bill effected was, to give the capacity of enjoying political power to the higher classes of the Roman Catholics, and to take it out of the hands of those of the lower classes who did not exercise it themselves for their own purposes, and according to the dictation of their own sentiments, but at the suggestion of a body among the Catholic people, who, it would be admitted by every body, ought not to possess political power—he meant the Roman Catholic priesthood.

Lord Ellenborough

said, the noble Earl having opposed the Catholic Relief Bill, was perfectly consistent in the view he took of that part of the proposed measure of Reform, which related to Ireland. While that noble Earl approved of the rest of the measure as regarded England, it was impossible for him, without changing all the opinions he had ever held and expressed on the subject of the danger to the Protestant interests in Ireland, to abstain from offering his most decided opposition to the part of the Bill which applied to that country. Such was the natural conduct of the noble Earl, for he was one of those who at all times opposed extending to the Catholics equal civil rights. And now he (Lord Ellenborough) hoped to be permitted to state what he felt to be his duty on that subject. From the first moment that he had a seat in Parliament, he had been a zealous advocate of Catholic Emancipation, and he never entertained a doubt of the advantage which would ultimately result to the country from the concession of that measure. He had the honour of being a member of that Government by which the Catholic Relief Bill was introduced. That Bill was not an insulated measure, but was accompanied by two others. One of them was an Act for the suppression of the Catholic Association, and in pressing that measure upon their Lordships for adoption, the noble Duke then at the head of his Majesty's Government pledged himself to the House and to the country to bring forward other and stronger measures for the suppression of that and similar associations, if the bill which was introduced did not prove efficient. The Catholic Relief Bill was accompanied also by another measure —novel in its nature, violent, perhaps, in its provisions—he meant the Bill for the disfranchisement of the 40l. freeholders. That Bill, however, was an essential part of the Catholic Relief Bill—and he could not, without a breach of public faith— without a breach of private confidence— without dishonouring himself for ever as a public man, violate that understood compact which then prevailed with many of those in that and the other House of Parliament, who constituted the majority in favour of the Catholic Relief Bill—he could not, he said, so far dishonour himself by now, at the expiration of only two years, consenting to an alteration in the Representation of Ireland, which would effect an entire change in that state of things on the faith of the duration of which alone the Parliament, the King, and the people of England, consented to remove the Catholic disabilities. These were his opinions from the first introduction of the Reform Bill, and he would not allow himself to consider for an instant whether or not that part of the proposition which applied to Ireland might be advantageous to the public, or form properly any part of a general measure of Reform. For he considered himself bound by that compact to which he was a party, and he would not act with less scrupulous honour to those who supported the Catholic Relief measure, upon the understanding which he had mentioned, than Government exercised towards that party which was then the Opposition. Let him recall to the recollection of noble Lords opposite, that the late Government likewise had an understanding with them, that they would waive that opposition which, tinder other circumstances they would have offered to the Bill for the suppression of the Catholic Association. That understanding was, that the Bill was to form part of a general measure, that on the passing of the Catholic Relief Bill, their opposition would be modified or entirely withdrawn. How, then, did the late Government act? They would not advise his Majesty to give his royal assent for the suppression of the Catholic Association till within fifteen minutes of the time when, with his Majesty's continued sanction, they proposed to Parliament the Catholic Relief measure. He could not, therefore, enter into a consideration of that part of the Reform measure which tended to alter the state of Representation in Ireland, on the faith of the duration of which the Catholics were admitted to an equality of Civil rights.

Petitions to lie on the Table.

The Earl of Carnarvon

had to present a petition from the inhabitants of New-bury, neither, the noble lord stated, against Reform nor in its favour, but praying that if the Reform Bill, which he looked upon as a measure calculated to produce calamitous effects, should be permitted to be passed, that they might not hereafter be debarred from sending representatives to Parliament. The petitioners stated, that in ancient times Newbury was a borough, and they prayed that their right of returning Members to Parliament might be revived. The population of Newbury, together with the two adjoining hamlets, as stated in the census of 1821, exceeded 7,000 inhabitants. It was now a very flourishing town, and the greatest corn-market in the south of England. He submitted to their Lordships, that in the event of the Reform Bill being agreed to, the prayer of the petitioners was entitled to consideration. If ministers thought that their Reform Bill was one on which they ought to make a stand, they would do well to consider whether, after making such an immense alteration in the Representation of the country, it would be right to stop where they proposed leaving many towns possessed of Representation, which scarcely possessed a constituency, and excluding the great town and ancient borough of Newbury from any portion of Representation whatever. Could, he asked, any measure more deserve the name of a half measure, or rather a quarter measure—could any proposition be more properly called a bit-by-bit Reform, than that Bill which the Ministers had introduced, and which, he contended, was calculated to subvert all the institutions of the country, and overturn the Monarchy? The principle of their Bill—if principle it could be called which principle had none Distinguishable by member, joint, or limb, Which nonsense seemed"— the principle seemed to be this: population was taken as the test which was to determine the continuation of the removal of Representation from boroughs, and a totally different test, that of property, was taken to decide as to what class of persons the elective franchise should be given. And what was the result of this? A large portion of the boroughs which were left untouched had scarcely any constituency, and the Ministers were obliged to find, by means of Privy Councillors, a constituency where there was no borough, while they overlooked large towns, with an ample number of constituents, which existed ready to their hands. For what purpose could the country imagine that such an arrangement had been adopted? The people did suspect, for they could come to no other conclusion, that there was jobbing in the Bill; that that strange and unintelligible line had been drawn, in order to preserve particular boroughs, and to get rid of others. Perhaps Ministers had had no such intention; but if they had not, it baffled all human ingenuity to discover, what their intention was. Why had they not taken a straightforward and intelligible course? Why, if they wished to make so great a change in the Constitution of the country, had they not made this their plan—to disfranchise all boroughs not containing 300 10l. householders, and to transfer the fran- chise to such places, as contained a real constituency? He did not mean to say that he would have advocated so sweeping a measure as that would be, because he did not think that the interests of the country called for it; but such a proposition would at least, have been an intelligible and rational one; and if the Reform Bill proceeded, the Ministers would see the expediency of having adopted a principle of that nature, when the question with respect to the case of Newbury was raised. But how was the strange constituency, which Ministers proposed to create to be made up? Was there no jobbing in the Bill; and would the country believe that there was no political jobbing in it, when, in order to make up the required constituency, an expedient had been hit upon, which no Minister had ever before proposed to Parliament. That constituency, which was wanting, was to be supplied by the arbitrary act of the Privy Council; and thus not less than eighty Representatives would be appointed to different parts of the country, simply by the King's Ministers themselves. Was there no jobbing in that proposition? Had Mr. Pitt once a reformer, come down with such a proposition when the Society of the Friends of the People existed, would not the noble Earl (Grey) have designated it as the most impudent and profligate jobbing ever proposed to Parliament? He wished to advert to the question of a dissolution; but as a motion on the subject stood for to-morrow, he thought it best to reserve what he had to say till that motion came before the House. He hoped, that at least the existence of Parliament would be preserved for twenty-four hours; and he should content himself with presenting the petition. His noble friend (Earl Mansfield) shook his head, dissenting from what he had stated. He could not, however, believe, notwithstanding the alarming rumours to the contrary, that Ministers had determined on advising the King to dissolve Parliament. In the present state of Ireland and of this country, the man who would dare to give such counsel to his Sovereign, must have a fool's head on his shoulders, or a traitor's heart in his bosom. He could not believe that the King's Ministers would so counsel the King; for such advice would be tantamount to advising the King to abdicate the Throne.

Petition to lie on the Table.