HL Deb 03 February 1831 vol 2 cc117-21
Earl Grey

rose to present petitions in favour of Par- liamentary Reform, from Northumberland, from Carrickfergus, from Bishop's Auckland, from Dumbarton, from Dingwall, from Inverary, and from several other places. The noble Karl observed, that in presenting those petitions, it could not be necessary for him to stale, that though his opinions did not go the length of acceding to every proposition contained in them, yet that, in the propriety of the general measure the petitioners prayed for— namely, Parliamentary Reform—he entirely concurred. He had stated in the present session of Parliament, that he was convinced, at a very early period of his life, and he was now, after giving the subject much consideration, of the same opinion, that very salutary effects would ensue if a constitutional reform were carried into effect. He had looked to this important question with a view to the adoption of some effectual and efficient measure: and he was happy to say, that although it had for a long period been a work of considerable difficulty, Ministers had at last succeeded in framing a measure which perfectly corresponded with the prayer of one of those petitions — a measure which would be effective, without exceeding the bounds of a just and well-advised moderation. It had received the unanimous consent of the whole Government, and would, at as early a period as possible, be submitted to the other House of Parliament, where it was proper that it should be first considered. He made the present statement at this early period of the Session, in order that their Lordships might be apprised of the intentions of Government; and having said this, he recommended those petitions to the attention and consideration of the House.—Laid on the Table.

The Earl of Darnley

said, it was his duty to present a petition of the same nature from that district of Kent with which he was more immediately connected; and he took that opportunity of congratulating their Lordships on the circumstance of this important question having been taken up by Government. He trusted, seeing it in such hands, that the just expectations of the country would not be deceived. No man amongst their Lordships more earnestly deprecated that wild reform, denominated Radical Reform, which had universal suffrage for its basis, and which, in his opinion, would lead to anarchy and revolution, than he did; but he was perfectly convinced, that the period had now arrived, when the general, he might say the unanimous, feeling of the country—the feeling of those who were enemies to disorder, he meant the middle classes, amongst whom education was extensively diffused—was in favour of a measure which should embrace all the essentials of reform. Another point which earnestly demanded the attention of their Lordships was, the present situation of Ireland, and he must express a hope, that the agitation which unfortunately prevailed there would be removed by the introduction of measures for the amelioration of the state of that country. He earnestly hoped that Ministers were turning their serious attention to that subject. He deeply regretted that the healing measure which had been carried by the noble Duke opposite had not yet produced all the good which was expected from it and which, in the end, it was, he thought, calculated to effect. He hoped, too, that their Lordships would not go on, as they had done in former Sessions, talking about the state of Ireland, but doing nothing to improve it. Above all things, there ought, in his opinion, to be some permanent provision made for the poor of Ireland. Such a measure must come at last: he was quite convinced that it was necessary, and well persuaded that it was just and proper.

Viscount Melbourne

said, that with respect to the question of Reform, the statement made by his noble friend was a sufficient answer to what had fallen from the noble Earl who presented this petition; and he trusted would also fulfil the just expectations of the people. But as the noble Earl had mentioned a subject which was immediately connected with his (Lord Melbourne's) department—he meant the state of Ireland—and recommended that measures should be adopted for the amelioration of that country, it would, he hoped, be a satisfaction to the noble Earl, and to the House in general, to be informed, that, notwithstanding the difficulties which Ministers had had to contend with since their accession to Office, every attention had been given to the formation of those remedial measures which they felt to be necessary for the safety and welfare of the sister island. The noble Earl said, he trusted that Parliament would not act in this Session as it had done in preceding Sessions—that their Lordships would not consume time in talking merely, but that something would be done. He, however, must take leave to observe, that all these preliminary discussions which the noble Earl seemed inclined to disparage, were of great use in enlightening the public mind with respect to Ireland. Some time ago a report was laid before the House of Commons on the state of that country, and subsequently laid before their Lordships on the motion of a noble Lord;—and to all the matters contained in that report his Majesty's Government had paid particular attention. He doubted not, that by adopting certain suggestions contained in it, much good would be effected in Ireland. To that great abuse, the Grand Jury Assessment Taxation, Ministers had given their utmost attention, and, to correct the evils of the system, they had a measure in view, which must, however, originate in the other House of Parliament. As the system had been long acted upon in Ireland, it was a matter of very great difficulty to devise means by which it could be amended; but he trusted, that the measure to which he had alluded would be found to afford a sufficient remedy. A great deal of excitement existed in that country, with respect to two other measures, which had been passed seven or eight years ago—he meant the Vestry Act and the Subletting Act. With respect to the Vestry Act, it was intended to repeal the former bill, and to frame other provisions. As to the Subletting Act, a bill was prepared, retaining the principle of that Act, but embracing provisions of a sounder and better description, and divested of every thing of an objectionable character. With respect to tolls levied by Corporations, which was a burthen said to press heavily on the people of Ireland, Government did not propose to introduce any legislative measure; but the Government of Ireland intended to try at law the right which was claimed to levy many of these tolls, and relief might be thus expected. As to making a permanent provision for the poor of Ireland, it was a subject on which he was not competent to deliver an opinion; but, with respect to affording temporary employment to them, giving them relief, and removing that heavy and severe distress which pressed on the country, Ministers had a measure in contemplation which would, in a short time, be submitted to Parliament. He was anxious, for the sake of expediting the public business, that some of those measures should originate in that House; but. they were, with the exception of the Subletting Act, of such a nature as precluded him from taking that course. The new Subletting bill he would submit to their Lordships.

The Earl of Wicklow

said, when he heard, that extensive and numerous measures relative to Ireland were about to be brought forward by the Ministers of the Crown, he could not help fearing, considering the shortness of time during which they were in power, and the important business, foreign and domestic, to which their attention had been called, that in their great zeal they were hurrying; into plans of a crude and undigested nature, which would be fraught with serious evil to that country. The noble Lord had mentioned several measures of great importance, which, he said, the Government had already digested and prepared. The only hope he had was, that they had taken up some measures which had been entertained by their predecessors, because he was sure that there was not time for them properly to consider and concoct such measures themselves.