§ Earl Grey rose and spoke as follows.*
In the course of a long political life, which has now extended to near half a century, it has often been my lot to propose in this House, and in the other House of Parliament, many questions of the most vital importance to the political interests of this country and of Europe, as well as to our domestic concerns. If at such times, under such circumstances, and with such interests at stake, I felt that awe and trepidation, which the importance of those occasions must naturally have inspired, and which were no more than became me,
* From the corrected edition, published by Ridgway.
speaking, as I did, conscious of my own inferiority, in the presence of some of the greatest men this country has ever produced, and sensible of the important duty I had then to discharge; if, I say, on such occasions I felt awe, yet still were those feelings as nothing in comparison with those which I now experience, when I am about to propose to the consideration of your Lordships a question involving the dearest interests of the nation—a question, for the bringing forward of which I, more than any other man, am responsible—a question which has been designated as subversive of the Constitution, as revolutionary, as destructive of the existing institutions of the State, and as tending to produce general confusion throughout the empire. The question has been so characterised; but I have felt, solemnly and deliberately felt, that such changes are necessary. I believe the present measure to be a measure of justice, sound policy, peace, and conciliation. I believe, that on its acceptance or rejection depend, on the one hand, peace, tranquility and prosperity; on the other, that state of political dissatisfaction and discontent, the continuance of which threatens all those disastrous consequences, which must arise when ill feeling is engendered in the people towards the Government of the country. I have said, that I more than any other man am responsible for bringing forward this measure, and it is therefore necessary, in the first place, that upon this point I should set myself right with your Lordships.
§ My opinion on this question of Parliamentary Reform is well known to such of your Lordships as have done me the honour of observing the political conduct of so humble an individual as myself. I have uniformly supported the principle of Reform.
§ So far back as the year 1786, soon after my introduction into Parliament, I voted with Mr. Pitt for a motion which was then brought forward, for shortening the duration of Parliaments. I voted for a measure of Reform introduced by Mr. Flood, at the commencement of the French Revolution, before the breaking out of that unhappy war, carried on at such a fearful expenditure of blood and treasure. I myself, on two different occasions, brought forward motions on this subject, believing then, as I believe now, some change in the Representation of the people to be absolutely necessary, in order 930 to give new vigour to the Constitution, and to make the House of Commons, in fact, that which it professes to be in theory—a full, free, and efficient Representation of the people.
§ I stand, therefore, now before your Lordships the advocate of principles from which I have never swerved. But although I have reverted to these facts in my political career, I must also say, that it is not enough for a public man, pretending any claim to the character of a statesman, to show that he is sincere and consistent in his actions; it is not enough for him to show, that what he has proposed is in conformity with opinions long established in his mind; he is bound to entertain the conviction forced upon him through all the chances and changes of a long political career, that, in proposing a measure affecting the mighty interests of the State, the course he takes is called for by justice and necessity.—He has a further duty to perform—he has to prove that he has not forced into notice even right opinions rashly, precipitately, or at a dangerous season; but that he has done so from the sincere conviction, that the measures which he proposes are essential to the well-being of the country, that they could no longer be delayed with safety, and that, when passed into a law, they would bind together and unite in affection to the Government, a loyal and confiding people.
§ To show what my course of conduct has been, a short detail only will be necessary. Your Lordships cannot have forgotten the agitation that prevailed throughout this country in the commencement of last session, the general discontent that pervaded every part of the empire—society almost disorganized—the distress that reigned in the manufacturing districts—the influence of the numerous associations that grew out of that distress—the sufferings of the agricultural population, the nightly alarms, and burnings, and popular disturbances, approaching almost to the gates of the metropolis—the general feeling of doubt and apprehension observable in every countenance. Your Lordships cannot have forgotten the occurrences of that unprecedented period. It was sufficiently exemplified by the conduct of his Majesty's Ministers, who counselled their Sovereign, not to expose himself to the chance of danger—a danger which I most sincerely believe was groundless and unreal, by paying that visit to the Citizens 931 of London which it has been usual for the Monarchs of this country, shortly after their accession, to pay to that great, loyal and opulent body. These things must be fresh in the minds of your Lordships, and your Lordships must also recollect in how great a degree there prevailed at that same period a general and growing desire for the adoption of some measure of Parliamentary Reform, which tended still more to agitate the feelings of the country, and to increase the complaints of the abuses which affected the more popular branch of the Legislature.
§ That desire was only the revival of a question which had at times slumbered, but had never been extinct during a period of more than eighty years. If the anxiety to urge forward the question of Reform had, as some asserted, ever slept, it was only in appearance and partially; it had never slept really or completely. On the arrival of a season of difficulty, the question was stirred anew—a circumstance which of itself demonstrated the expediency of having it speedily settled. That measure then had begun to be felt as so necessary, that when I arrived in town, I found many persons who certainly never dissented from Reform, but who were never its zealous advocates, convinced that the period had at last arrived when the question should be entered into with the sincere desire of bringing it to a final and satisfactory adjustment. This was my conviction also. Your Lordships may remember, that, on the very first day of the last Session, I took an opportunity of discussing the state of the country; and in answer to a noble Earl, whom I do not now see in his place, and who urged the necessity of adopting strong coercive measures to meet the growing danger, I then stated, using the familiar illustration of putting one's house in order to meet the coming storm, that the best security that could be devised, the cheapest defence that could be adopted by Government, the most certain shield, the unyielding armour of proof against any perils, foreign or domestic, was a Reform in the Representation of the Commons House of Parliament, with which the people were no longer satisfied, and without which there could be no reasonable hopes of restoring their confidence in the Government.
§ Whether your Lordships have or have not forgotten the words that fell from me on that occasion, I am sure your Lordships 932 cannot have forgotten the answer which they received, any more than you can have forgotten the consternation produced by that answer, when the noble Duke, then at the head of his Majesty's Government, avowed himself an enemy in principle to all Reform whatever, and professed to consider the present construction of the House of Commons so perfect as to exceed the reach of modern wisdom to rival it—that it deserved to be held as unalterable, and that any change, however slight, must be productive of danger to the constitution. The effect of this declaration must still be fresh in the memories of your Lordships. It has been described by Mr. Drummond, in addressing the electors of Surrey, and Mr. Drummond is not unfriendly to the noble Duke and his colleagues, nor favourable to the plans of his successors; yet he said that it showed great ignorance of public feeling at the time, and that it had driven the people to despair. A noble Baron opposite has expressed himself in similar terms, and has stated that the dissolution of the noble Duke's government was owing to what he has been pleased to call, that imprudent declaration. It is under these circumstances that I stand forward to-night to propose to your Lordships the measure of Reform. Thus far then, my Lords, I must stand acquitted, that in proposing this measure I am doing nothing which is not consistent with the principles that I have always maintained, that I propose it in continuance of the strong conviction, which I expressed at a moment when I could not have had the most remote idea of filling the situation which I now so unworthily hold, that this measure could not be delayed much longer with safety to the country. What has followed is well known to your Lordships. I received the commands of a gracious Sovereign to form an administration. On what principles was I to form it? On that of my predecessors—hoping to carry on the same system, but with greater success? My Lords, I could have no such presumptuous hope or expectation. If that had been possible there would have been no reason or motive for their removal.
§ The question then simply came to this—whether we should attempt to maintain the system of our predecessors, which was the cause of their removal, or follow one more congenial to the general feelings of the community?933
§ Under these circumstances I did certainly state to my Sovereign, as a condition of my accepting office, that I must be allowed to bring forward a measure of Reform as a measure of the Government. That condition was graciously assented to by an indulgent master, not much objected to in this House, sanctioned by the approval of the other House of Parliament, and received with unmixed satisfaction by the great body of the people. I lost no time, therefore, in conjunction with my colleagues, in preparing the Bill, which, in its more mature state, is to form the subject of this night's deliberations.
§ So far, then, I trust your Lordships will think that my conduct stands clear, and that I am not justly chargeable with having brought forward a measure that is at once unnecessary, and introduced at an inconvenient time, but that I had grounds for thinking—and that I have been justified in acting upon those grounds—that it was not only a measure which the public generally required, but that it was, in fact, one which could no longer be delayed with safety. Under these circumstances, therefore, if I have stated them correctly, I hope that it will not with reason be imputed to me as a crime, that I embrace the earliest opportunity of carrying into effect those principles of which I have always been the strenuous though the feeble advocate, and of acquitting myself of that pledge which my colleagues and myself gave upon our accession to office, by introducing a measure of Parliamentary Reform, which, as I have before said, will, I am convinced, if it should receive the sanction of this House, be found to be a measure of peace, of safety, and of conciliation. But then there is this further question, to which I am aware it will be expected I should give an answer. Granted that the public feeling runs strongly in favour of Reform in Parliament—granted that the admission of the principle of Parliamentary Reform was general, so general, indeed, that, with the exception of the noble Duke opposite, there was not one then to be found, even among the noble Duke's colleagues, as I believe to be the fact, who was prepared at the time to deny, that the period was at length arrived at which the long-agitated question of Parliamentary Reform must be looked at with a view to its adjustment—granting all this, still why was it necessary to introduce a measure of this extent, which, in 934 the language of the persons who put this question, is revolutionary in spirit, and subversive of the best principles of the constitution? My Lords, I hope to answer this question, also, satisfactorily, and to prove to your Lordships, that, however easy it be to declaim about dangers and revolutions, there is nothing in this measure which is not founded upon the acknowledged principles of the British constitution—nothing that is not perfectly consistent with the ancient practices of that constitution—and nothing which may not be adopted with perfect safety to the rights and privileges of all orders of the state, and particularly of that order to which your Lordships belong; although it has been asserted, with as much confidence as ignorance, that the rights and privileges of your Lordships are particularly endangered by the enactments of this measure. Admitting, then, that something must be done, the question is, what that something ought to be? For, as I before observed, and as I repeat now, there was, with the exception of the noble Duke, scarcely another individual to be found, from the most diminutive nibbler at a bit-by-bit reform down to the men who advocated the strongest and the most vigorous measures of Reform—who was not forward to admit that some adjustment of the question was absolutely necessary. Under these circumstances, then, the Government had but one question to determine. We had to decide whether, by doing as little as possible, such as bringing in something under the name of Reform, which really meant nothing, we should affect to redeem the pledge we had given, or whether we should adopt—I had almost said the plan of the noble Baron opposite,—I wish I knew what that plan was—whether, then, I say, we should adopt the principle of the noble Baron, of doing something vigorous and effectual. If so, I would observe, that I think we have done so; for our principle is, by doing all that can be justly required, and by honestly redeeming our pledge in the same spirit in which that pledge had been made by us, and understood by the people, to give to the nation contentment, and to all future governments the support of the respectability, the wealth, and the intelligence of the country; which is the surest ground of stability, and nothing short of which can enable a government to make a stand, upon the principles of the constitution, 935 against all wild and unreasonable attempts at innovation. These, then, are the two modes of which we had choice. As to the first mode—as to the introduction of a half measure of Reform, as a step to future improvement at a more distant period—a bit-by-bit amelioration—we might, indeed, by proceeding upon that mode, have kept "the word of promise to the ear, but mocked it to the sense." There was, however, besides the disingenuousness of it, this fundamental objection to such a proceeding, namely, that it would have satisfied no one, and would, therefore, have left the question in as unsettled a condition as before. The opponents of all Reform, finding that the principle of Reform was admitted, that their strong ground of opposing all innovation and all change was taken from under their feet, would have been discontented, whilst the people would have been disappointed in the great object which they had in view, in the earnest hope by which they were actuated of recovering those rights and privileges which I am prepared to contend have been taken away from them by growing usurpations. No measure, therefore, which the ingenuity of a bit-by-bit Reformer could devise, would have been received with satisfaction by the nation; but, on the contrary, would not even have allayed for a moment the just discontent of a vast majority of the people of this country, when they contemplate that incomplete and unfair system of representation, which is all that the encroachments of wealth and power have left to them. Such a mode of proceeding, therefore, was liable to this fundamental objection, that nothing satisfactory would be effected by it, and that the general discontent which now prevailed would be left, after such a measure, as deeply rooted as it was before. I felt, therefore, that the most prudent and the safest measure of Reform would be a bold one, because, when I looked at the condition of the country—when I considered how just the claims of the people were—and when, above all, I reflected upon the absolute necessity of satisfying the respectable and reasonable part of the community, in order that thereby the Government and Legislature might be furnished with a ground on which a firm and safe stand might be made in defence of the principles of the constitution, if ever they should be really assailed—from all these considerations, I say, I 936 was satisfied that nothing but a bold and decisive measure would give such general satisfaction and content as would set the question at rest.
§ This, then, is the course, and such the measure, upon which the Government has determined; and looking at the question in this view, and observing in what manner the discontent of the people has been directed against the present system of returning Members to Parliament, it is impossible for us not to see that those boroughs which are known by the name of nomination boroughs can no longer be suffered to exist.
§ Against them the public dissatisfaction has, and I think with great reason, been principally directed; and I am satisfied, therefore, that any thing which left this grievance unabated, would not only not be satisfactory, but that it would be much better to do nothing at all, than to allow such a flagrant abuse to remain uncorrected. And was it unnatural, I would ask your Lordships, that the people should contemplate this class of boroughs with such feelings? Your Lordships must, I am sure, answer this question in the negative, when you consider that under the form and name, but without anything of the reality, of an election, persons are returned to the House of Commons under the false and insulting title of Representatives of the people, while they are, in fact, the mere nominees of peers, or of wealthy persons, who pretend that they have now converted a public trust into their own private property, and that they have a right to use it for their own individual benefit, and without any reference to the interests of the people. Such is the feeling of the people, and how to get rid of that feeling without removing the cause of it, is a matter which I certainly do not understand. It has, I know, been said, that to remove this evil was not necessary; but how could anything short of this be satisfactory, when the people saw the scenes which disgraced every general election—when they witnessed the most gross and scandalous corruption practised without disguise—when the sale of seats in the House of Commons is a matter of equal notoriety with the open return of nominees of noble and wealthy persons to that House—when the people saw these things passing before their eyes as often as a general election took place—and when, turning from such sights, they recalled 937 the lessons of their youth, and consulted the writings of the expounders of the laws and the Constitution, where they would find such practices stated to be at once illegal and inconsistent with the people's rights, and where they would discover that the privileges which they saw a few individuals converting into the means of personal profit, were privileges which had been conferred only for the benefit of the nation? Well, then, it was with these views that the Government had considered that the boroughs which were called nomination boroughs ought to be abolished. In looking at these boroughs, they had found that some of them were incapable of correction, for it was impossible to extend their constituency. Some of them consisted only of the sites of ancient boroughs; in others, the constituency was insignificantly small, and they were, from their local situation, incapable of receiving any addition to it; these circumstances rendered a correction of their Representation impracticable; so that, upon the whole, it had been considered that this gangrene of our Representative system bade defiance to all remedies but that of excision. It was therefore determined to abolish all those boroughs which stood in schedule A of the Bill; and in selecting these, they had been chosen with reference to the number of their inhabitants, as those numbers stood in the population census of 1821. The Government had adopted this mode, not because they thought there was any particular virtue in the number fixed upon, nor because they considered the mode itself as the best that could by possibility be devised, and as altogether free from objection, but simply because it gave them a ready means of drawing what might be a fair and impartial line, and of discovering in what boroughs it was possible, and in what boroughs it was impossible, to infuse such a constituency as would render the enjoyment of the franchise by them consistent with the real principles of Representation under the Constitution. Those boroughs into which no such constituency could be infused, it was proposed by the Bill to abolish altogether. There was, however, another class of these boroughs, to which, having a higher population, and there being moreover an easy mode of increasing their constituency, it had been thought right to continue the elective franchise. This class 938 of boroughs, being placed by the Bill under certain regulations which would raise their constituency, would be deprived of one Member. The principle, therefore, upon which the Representation of this class of boroughs had been altered, was that of extending the constituency while their Representation was diminished. I know that this arrangement has been objected to as an anomaly, and that it has been said, that we ought in consistency to take away the franchise from those boroughs altogether, as well as from the boroughs in schedule A. Certainly this would be an objection were we forming a new system.
All I think it necessary to say in answer to this objection is, that it has been rather inconsistently urged by those who oppose his measure on the ground that it is too extensive, and that the reason of the anomaly is to be found in an anxiety to conciliate, as far as possible, the feelings of those who deprecate extensive changes. Besides, whatever inconsistencies and anomalies of this nature are to be found in the Bill, I know of no other mode of remedying them than the revision of the whole constituent body of the kingdom, and a division of the country into departments—a mode which is liable to the greatest possible objections, to objections of such a nature that I will not trouble myself or your Lordships by attempting to enumerate them. These, then, are the grounds upon which it has been proposed entirely to deprive of the elective franchise all the boroughs in schedule A, and to limit the exercise of the franchise in schedule B to the return of one Member for each. By this arrangement there will be taken from the number of Representatives, by schedule A, 111 Members, and by schedule B forty-one, which, added to two Members taken from Weymouth and Melcombe Regis, make altogether a diminution of 154 in the present numbers of the House of Commons. This being resolved upon, the next question that arises is, how the places of these Members are to be supplied. It is proposed—and the principle of the proposition has been sanctioned by the House of Commons, and now forms part of the provisions of the Bill on your Lordships' Table—that sixty—five Members shall be added to the Representation of the counties—that twelve large towns shall return two Members each, and that twenty-eight smaller towns
shall return one Member each. This will leave, with the addition of one Member for Wales, a diminution of thirty-six Members for England and Wales. The intention of these arrangements is, to infuse new health and vigour into the Constitution, to lop off decayed branches, and to engraft on the parent stock new am healthful shoots, which shall bring fort good fruits; thus acting upon the principle of the husbandman—
Inutilesque falce ramos amputans,
Such is the object which my colleague and myself have in view; and this is the plan which I hope to show to your Lordships is not only unattended with dangers but is calculated to give new securities and additional strength to our institutions, if your Lordships will agree to a measure which I am sanguine in hoping will receive your Lordships' consent. In the future Representation of the counties, under this Bill, all the present rights of voters are preserved, and freeholders remain in the same situation, with regard to the exercise of their franchise, as under the existing law. Every one who has now a freehold in possession will retain the right of voting. There is, however, a provision in the Bill with regard to future voters; and this provision is, that no one who has the grant of a freehold for life of less value than 10l. a-year shall be allowed to vote at elections for counties. This, it is expected, will, in a great measure, put a stop to that manufacture of votes, of the pernicious consequences of which your Lordships must be sufficiently sensible. The Bill also admits to the enjoyment of the elective franchise in counties all copyholders and customary tenants of estates of the value of 10l. a-year; all leaseholders for terms of sixty years of tenements of the value of 10l. a-year; and for terms of twenty years of tenements of the value of 50l. a-year; and all persons who occupy lands or tenements liable to a clear yearly rent of not less than 50l., provided they have been in possession for twelve months preceding. This last regulation is one which I should certainly not have myself proposed. It has been projected and carried by persons not connected with the Government, and the Government are not answerable for it. I hope that it will be found to act well, but then it is liable to this objection—namely, that if the same influence be exercised over tenants in counties that has been
exercised in other places, which it is not necessary for me now to name, it will be likely to generate a very strong feeling in favour of a regulation to which I am myself opposed, and in favour of which, as I believe, there is not a word in the petitions recently presented to this House, I mean the adoption of the Vote by Ballot. In this manner the Representation of counties has been settled by the Bill; and when we are told that the Bill will lessen the importance and diminish the weight of the landed aristocracy, I beg to ask the persons who hold this language, whether the addition of sixty-five Members to the county Representation, subject to the regulations which I have stated, can by possibility have the effect of diminishing the importance, or lessening the weight, of the landed aristocracy; or whether it may not be said, with much more plausibility, that the regulations with regard to county Representation under the Bill have rather a contrary tendency, and moreover to an objectionable extent in the eyes of many.
§ There are many other regulations, besides those which I have touched upon, with regard to elections in counties; but as these constitute the details of the Bill, and will therefore be much more conveniently considered in Committee, I will not trouble your Lordships with them now. The object of them all, however, is, to shorten the duration, and to diminish the expense of elections, and consequently, to render them more independent and more congenial to that free and full Representation, which, I shall contend to the latest hour of my life, is at once the unquestionable right of the people, and which, so far from being contrary to the principles of he Constitution, forms, in fact, one of the most prominent and most valuable principles of that Constitution. To the division of counties I know that many strong objections exist; but it ought to be recollected low necessary it is to diminish the expense and labour of the canvass of large counties; and also, what increased facilities and encouragement to contest the proposed addition to the county Representation, without this regulation, would give. Neither, I confess, can I see the force of the opposite objections which have been urged against this part of the measure, as I am confident that it will give no more power in particular districts than is at present attained by that combination among numbers of landed proprietors, which is constantly witnessed 941 at every county contest under the present system. At all events, however, if these objections are good, they certainly come with a very bad grace from those who proclaim themselves anxious to uphold the weight and influence of the landed aristocracy. There are other regulations, into the detail of which it is not necessary for me now to go—such as that no occupier of property in a town, which gives him a right of voting in that town, shall have a vote in right of the same properly for a county, and that thus no person shall have two votes for the same property; at the same time, that a freeholder in a town may retain his right of voting for the county in right of such freehold, if he does not himself acquire a right of voting for the town in respect of it. Intermediate tenants will no longer be allowed to vote; and other provisions of the Bill remove, for the future, all those difficulties which arise from the present system of land-tax assessment.
§ I now proceed to the right of voting in towns; but before I do so, I must again express my conviction, that the regulations with regard to county elections tend, one and all, to diminish the expense, and to increase the freedom of election. As to the right of voting in towns, the Bill provides, that the rights of all existing electors shall remain untouched, except only so far as they are interfered with by a provision which makes it necessary, that every elector for a town shall reside within seven miles from the place in which he exercises his franchise. By this provision, I hope it will be found that very beneficial results will be produced. It will obviously get rid of the enormous expense which candidates at present incur in the carriage of what are called out-voters; and then the great benefit of the provision is this—that it will obviate the inconvenience of throwing the election, as frequently happens now, entirely into the hands of the non-resident voters, who certainly ought not to be allowed to impose upon the electors resident in the town a Representative who is not acceptable to them. Thus then, with this exception only, the rights of the present electors in towns are preserved. But the constituency in towns is enlarged by the Bill, which gives the right of voting to all occupiers of houses which are assessed to the house duty, or poor-rates, at 10l., or rented at 10l., or are of the annual value of 10l. a-year. The Bill, however, 942 provides that the owners or tenants of such houses shall have occupied them for twelve calendar months preceding, and that they shall have paid up the rates and taxes which have become due up to a certain period previous to the day of registration fixed by the Bill, in respect of the house, or tenement, for which they claim to vote; while, if a man claim to vote simply in respect of his being liable to a yearly rent of 10l., it is provided, that in such case the payment of the rent due, up to a certain period previous to registration, must be proved, as well as the payment of the rates and taxes. Such, then, are the general outlines of the measure which the Government have proposed for the future regulation of the Representation of the people of England—a measure which, although it has received the sanction of a vast majority of the people, and has been sanctioned by the voices of their Representatives in Parliament, has nevertheless been exposed, on the part of some, to those very serious objections, the nature of which I stated to your Lordships at the commencement of the observations which it has become my duty this evening to offer to the House. It is necessary that I should attempt now to meet these objections. I have contended, and I must still contend, that the right of nomination, if I may miscall that usurpation a right, is not only no part of the Constitution, but is absolutely inconsistent with the most notorious and most universally acknowledged principles of the Constitution. Among the discoveries of modern times, however, the most remarkable undoubtedly is this—namely, that the practice of this flagrant and unconstitutional abuse is the only security on which we can confidently rely for the preservation of all those venerable and excellent institutions under which this country has risen to prosperity and power. It has been contended, with all the vehemence and earnestness of sincerity and truth, that albeit the theory of the Constitution is one way, yet that the practice of the Constitution is another and a different way. The theory of the Constitution is admitted to be a full, a fair, and a free Representation of the people; but then it is argued, that the practice of the Constitution is, that the Representation shall be neither full, nor fair, nor free, and that, by the continuance of this practice, and by the continuance of this practice alone, it is that the country can be securely 943 shielded from dangers of the most appalling character. Yes, men of learning and character have actually been found elsewhere, who have gravely told their auditory, that unless Members of the House of Commons are allowed to be, not the Representatives of the people, but the nominees of Peers, of loan contractors, and of speculating attornies, all security for the happiness, the prosperity, and the liberty we enjoy, will fall from under us.
§ I really should have supposed, that at this hour—in the nineteenth century—when the schoolmaster is abroad, and when the growing intelligence of all classes of the community is daily and hourly receiving new lights—I should have supposed, I say, that, at such a time, it would only have been necessary to have such a proposition mentioned in order to have it met with universal derision and contempt. I will not do the intelligent part of the community of this country the injustice to suppose, that they can seriously entertain such a monstrous proposition for a moment; but then it has been urged, with so much petulance and pertinacity by the persons with whom the discovery of it has originated, that it becomes necessary to examine it more closely, and particularly to see how far this corrupt system is calculated to preserve, as it is said it does preserve, in an eminent degree, this, the aristocratic branch of the Legislature. It is singular, that in all the writers upon our Constitution—that in all the Acts of Parliament, from the earliest time to the present moment—that in all the works of the able and intelligent expounders of, and commentators upon, those acts—that in all the records of Parliaments, as well recent as remote—and, above all, that in the votes and proceedings and resolutions of the House of Commons, there is not to be found the slightest trace of a mention of the beneficial effects of this system of Representation, which is said to be the constant, the ancient, the necessary, and the indisputable practice of the Constitution. But it is still more strange, that all our laws, that all the proceedings of Parliament, and that all the resolutions of the House of Commons have been directed—and most properly directed, in the opinion of every constitutional writer—to guard, by all possible means, against this practice, which, in times past, has been considered as pernicious as it is unquestionably corrupt, but which has now, by a rare and 944 unexpected discovery, been found to be the great bulwark of all those liberties and all those institutions which Englishmen hold most dear. Might we not naturally have expected, that if such men as Mr. Locke and Mr. Justice Blackstone, by some strange perversion of intellect, and by some extraordinary blindness with which they had no where else been visited in the course of their researches into the history of the Constitution of their country, should have failed to perceive and to appreciate the vast advantages of this ancient and laudable practice—is it not, I say, naturally to have been expected, that if Mr. Locke and Mr. Justice Blackstone committed this signal oversight, they would at least have abstained from denominating that practice a flagrant and disgraceful and pernicious abuse of our Constitution? Is it not strange too, that such men as Lord Chatham, Mr. Pitt, Mr. Fox, Mr. Grattan, Mr. Flood, and Sir George Saville, while they were endeavouring, with all their abilities and all their eloquence, to eradicate this practice, as though it had been a festering and destructive gangrene, which endangered the very existence of our Constitution, never discovered that they were directing their best powers to the destruction of all that ought to have been held most sacred, and of all that was most essential to the security of our best institutions, and, above all, to the preservation of that Throne, which it was the duty, as he was convinced it would be the pride, of every good subject to uphold? Have your Lordships forgotten too, that at the commencement of every new Session of Parliament, the House of Commons vote, as one of their Standing Orders, that it is unconstitutional and illegal, and moreover a high breach of the privileges of the Commons House of Parliament, for any Peer to interfere in the election of Members to serve in that House? Will your Lordships, in the face of such a resolution, declare that it is right for Peers to buy and sell seats in the House of Commons—that it is right for Peers not only to interfere in elections, but actually to return, by their own mere nomination, Members to serve in Parliament? and that they should persevere in doing this, notwithstanding that recorded resolution of the other branch of the Legislature? No one again, I apprehend, will be found to dispute this principle of the Constitution—namely, that the people ought not to 945 be called upon to pay any other taxes than such as are imposed by the votes of their own Representatives in the House of Commons; and your Lordships are well aware, that so jealous is the House of Commons in the maintenance of this principle, that they will not suffer your Lordships to interfere with any money-bill—no, not even for the purpose of correcting the most trifling mistake, the most palpable oversight. Are your Lordships then prepared to say, that this principle of the Constitution is not violated when Peers are allowed to nominate and send into the House of Commons persons who, being there, are competent to propose, to amend, and to alter votes of supply, while Peers themselves are not allowed by the theory, and are positively restricted by the practice of the Constitution from meddling in the least degree with such measures?
§ That it was impossible to refute this reasoning so far as the theory of the Constitution was concerned, no one would be bold or senseless enough to deny. But then the opponents of the measure fix upon the practice of the Constitution, and ask, with an air of triumph, where is to be found, in the practice of the Constitution such a principle of Representation, as the supporters of the measure contended to be not only in conformity with the Constitution, but is moreover the only certain means of providing for the general security of the empire. I can only refer these inquirists to the practice of our ancestors, which will be found to be directed against that very system which now prevails, and to be in all respects calculated to guard against and secure us from those abuses which, from the abandonment of that old and wholesome practice, have grown to such a height, that the abatement of them is now so universally demanded, that your Lordships may be assured it cannot longer with safety be denied. In times past, did not the Crown issue summonses to towns, calling upon them to return Members to Parliament; and were not such summonses originally directed to such towns as were competent, by the number of their inhabitants and the extent of their resources, to obey such summonses? Is it not notorious, too, that such writs were withdrawn, as the places to which they had been formerly directed fell into decay, and sometimes upon the reduced inhabitants of such boroughs making application to be released from the burthen—for burthen it 946 then was, of sending Representatives to Parliament? Is it not equally notorious, that the principle of the Constitution and the practice of the Constitution, too, in early times, were to transfer the elective franchise from decayed to flourishing places, and to call upon the latter to return Members to Parliament, when the former had become too insignificant to be intrusted with, or too poor to be able to execute, the duties of electors? I do not mean to say, that this prerogative of the Crown has always been properly exercised, or that it has not been abused and influenced by the preponderance of interests of great men, who contrived to get new writs issued to, and to have old writs retained by, certain boroughs, after they had sunk below the point at which it had, by the acknowledged principles of the Constitution, been deemed right to give them Representatives. Still, however, these facts are clear—namely, that the principle of the institution was, that elections were to be free, and that Representation was originally given to and taken from boroughs by the Crown, as those boroughs flourished or decayed. That Representation was so taken from boroughs, is a fact which is too well known even to require mention, had it not been said that the measure now before your Lordships ought, in consequence of the disfranchising part of it, to be denominated a measure of spoliation and robbery [hear, hear]. I hear some noble Lord assenting to that position, and I trust that the noble Lord will be good enough to favour the House with some reasons in support of it. In the meantime I will, with the permission of your Lordships, waste a few words in demonstrating what no one ought to be called upon to demonstrate, because it is as clear as any truth can possibly be—that there cannot possibly be the slightest foundation for the charge of spoliation and robbery, any more than there can be the least ground to deny that, if to take away Representation from the decayed borough be spoliation and robbery, that spoliation and that robbery is in strict conformity with the ancient practice of the Constitution. In the first place, then, I deny that the power of returning Members to Parliament is to be considered in the nature of property. It is not property, but a trust; and there can be no greater mistake than to confound the obligation of a trust with the rights of property. Property may be 947 enjoyed—may be used—yes, and even abused, if not to the injury of others, without the interference of any one; but to trusts are attached ends to be attained and conditions to be fulfilled; and if those ends are defeated, or if those conditions are violated, the trust may be resumed without the slightest infringement of justice. In all cases of a private nature this is constantly done, and the trust becomes forfeited, and may be removed by process of law. Is it meant to contend, that there can be any difference between trusts like these and a sacred and solemn trust which is held for the benefit of the people at large? I apprehend that no one will be found to contend for such a proposition; and still less can I anticipate that any one will argue, that any prescription, any length of ill-gotten possession, can convert a trust, which has been conferred for the advantage of the people at large, into a property which can be the subject of barter and sale for the personal benefit and private advantage of an individual, whether Peer or Commoner.
§ Now, I should like to hear what answer can be given to this by the noble Peer, whoever he is, who seemed to assent to the assertion which I noticed as having been used by certain individuals, that the sweeping away of these boroughs is an act of robbery and spoliation? But if it be an act of robbery and spoliation, it is one which, we all know, has been committed over and over again—it is one that is consistent with the old practice of the Constitution. I have already shown to your Lordships, that several English Monarchs have refused to issue writs, when towns, which had been represented, had ceased to be populous. There are forty-four boroughs and one city, at the present moment, which formerly enjoyed the right of sending Members to Parliament, but which, in consequence of no Writ being now directed to them, are deprived of that privilege. Here they had a number of boroughs, almost as great as was contained in schedule A, deprived by the ordinary practice of the constitution of the right of sending Members to Parliament. But is there nothing done, in modern times, to show that that which is now called an act of robbery and spoliation, as attempted to be effected by the present Legislature, has been resorted to by precedent Parliaments? What, I ask, was the union with Scotland? The Legislature 948 by that measure reduced the borough Representation of Scotland from sixty—five to fifteen—an act of most extensive and flagitious robbery, if this position be admitted.
§ Again, let them look to the union with Ireland. What was done there? Why, 100 boroughs sending no less than 200 Members to Parliament, were shorn of the right. Was that considered an act of robbery and spoliation? But it will be said, "Oh! there was compensation in that case. There was a remuneration given for the loss of property." I deny, that it was given as compensation in the correct and proper meaning of the word. If I must use plain and direct terms, I will say, that it was gross and scandalous bribery and corruption. It was, in fact, a monstrous bribe, taken from the public purse, to insure the passing of the Union Bill through the Irish House of Commons, and certainly cannot be quoted as proof of any existing property in those boroughs. My noble and learned friend, Lord Plunkett, reminds me, that twenty-eight of these 100 boroughs, which were restricted to one-half off their former number of Members, received no compensation at all. Then, if taking the whole off was a robbery, surely the taking a half off must be robbery also.
§ This fact clearly shows upon what principle the robbery and spoliation, as it is now called, in that case proceeded. But the question is not to be argued in that manner. The object to attain which remuneration was given, is perfectly notorious; and I trust, that your Lordships, considering what has passed, will take care not to fall into disrepute and disrespect with the people, by showing any partiality to a similar course. If the Parliament of Ireland had not fallen into total disrespect with the people of that country, the Union would never have been carried. But for that circumstance, the Act of Union never would have passed. Have I no authority for stating what I have done with respect to the proceedings which occurred when the Union with Ireland took place? Certainly I have, and very powerful authority too. I was present in the House of Commons when the late Mr. Foster, who had been Speaker of the Irish House of Commons, said openly, when taking part in a debate on the subject of the Union, that bribes of money were offered and accepted, and that Peerages 949 were bartered for votes, in order to carry that measure [hear, hear]. I understand that cheer; and I have no hesitation in saying, that when the usual grace of the Crown, at the period of the coronation, was about to be exercised, I, holding a high situation in the Cabinet, would not recommend the honours of the Peerage to be bestowed on those whom I believed to be averse to this all-important measure; but, at the same time, I am perfectly certain, that individuals less likely to be improperly biassed in the expression of their feelings and opinions were never added to the Peerage than those who were called to it on that occasion. I will now return to the point on which I was speaking when this interruption occurred. When Mr. Foster had made the statement, to which I have referred, in the House of Commons, the late Lord Londonderry fired at it, and said, that Mr. Foster ought not to deal in insinuations. What followed? Mr. Foster immediately observed," Mr. Speaker, I make no insinuations. I state, that in carrying of the measure of union with Ireland, corruption was practised, and bribes were received. Money was offered and money was received on that occasion. Is that an insinuation? I state these things thus publicly, and I am ready to prove them." Mr. Foster then sat down, and no answer was given to him. But suppose the proposition for an indemnity to be made—suppose it to be acceded to—what then became of the argument, that the property, as it is called, in these boroughs is essential to the Constitution—that it cannot be touched without the sacrifice and destruction of all that is most dear to us as freemen? What are we to say to a system which would tax, which would squeeze money out of the pockets of the people—to do what? to remunerate individuals for giving up that which they declare to be essential to the welfare of the Constitution, and to the prosperity of the country. I argue that it is not so; but, on the contrary, that the disfranchisement of the boroughs in schedule A is necessary, that, the proceeding is recognized by the practice of the Constitution, as exemplified in the case of the forty-four boroughs and one city, to which I have before alluded, which were deprived of the right of sending Members to Parliament. The principle exercised in the formation of schedule A, is merely that 950 of resuming a trust, and otherwise applying it, which, in these particular cases, cannot be used for the objects for which it was originally granted; and thus depriving those boroughs of the right of returning Members to Parliament, when that right could no longer be used advantageously and beneficially—I say, then, that in accordance with the ancient practice of the Constitution—with what was done at the Irish and Scotch Unions—still more with what was done by the Catholic Relief Bill, when all the 40s. freeholders were by one sweeping clause disfranchised—Parliament has a perfect right to make such alterations in the exercise of a public trust, as may be found necessary for the public welfare.
§ But it is said, "that the system works well, that hitherto it has worked well;" and then it is asked, "Will you, with the evidence you have before you of the high degree of prosperity, and power, and glory, which this country has attained, under what you are pleased to call a vicious system of Representation—will you, under these circumstances, venture to change that mode of Representation, and hazard the destruction of all your power and prosperity?" Now I must say, that this argument of "working well" goes a little too far. It would militate against the efforts of a people, who, without the slightest degree of liberty, endeavoured to attain that which was the dearest blessing in life, if it so happened that they lived under a prince who administered the government in a beneficial manner. It may be alleged with respect to them, that they ought to be contented with a bad form of government, seeing how humanely it was administered. That, however, was not a principle that would be acted on by the British Parliament. Their anxious feeling would be, to retain the blessing of freedom when they had it; and when deprived of it, to make every effort to regain it. One thing, however it may be praised, the present system unquestionably has not done—it has not conciliated the affections and feelings of the people. If it be necessary for every Government to possess the confidence and good opinion of the people, if that confidence and good opinion are necessary to inspire affection and create obedience to authority, then I must say, that so far from the present system working well, no system ever worked more unfortunately. I was not present a few evenings since, 951 but I read in the papers what then occurred in this House, on the presentation of some petitions on the subject of Reform from Scotland. A noble Lord admitted, "that the Representative system in Scotland was too bad—that its doom was sealed—that it was too corrupt to last any longer." I believe that such is the fact, and the statement made by an hon. and learned friend of mine, in another place, proved that the system was absurd, monstrous, and ridiculous. In thirty-three counties of Scotland, the total number of freeholders was 3,255. Of these, not less than 800 had votes for different counties, thus reducing the actual number of voters to about 2,500. But in addition to this, it should be observed, that many of these votes are in the right of mere superiorities, which belonged to persons who have no property whatever in the places for which they voted. Taking these away from the number of voters, the whole constituent body for the counties of Scotland would amount to only 1,250 persons—a number not so large as was possessed by many of the small boroughs of England. This was allowed to be too monstrous; and the facts which I have stated are admitted to afford sufficient reasons for remedying the system. Argyle-shire contained 97,000 inhabitants, and had only 113 voters. Of these, the number who possessed property was only thirty-one. Caithness had forty-eight voters, of whom only eleven possessed real property; Renfrewshire, with 115,000 inhabitants, had, including superiorities, 142 voters, of whom thirty-nine had property; Inverness-shire, which comprised 95,000 inhabitants, had ninety voters, of whom only twenty-eight had any real property in the county; for Bute, there were twenty-one voters, of whom the number of those who held property was exactly one. The boroughs in Scotland are sixty-six in number, in which the electors consist of Magistrates, who annually re-elect each other, without any control by the people; and the whole number of electors in these boroughs is 1,440, or, on an average about twenty in each borough. In Glasgow, the population of which is 200,000, the electors are thirty-three, three-fourths of whom are below the average condition of merchants and traders: and here I may be allowed to observe, that in general, instead of being of a better description, in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and other boroughs in Scotland, the voters are far below the general average, 952 in point of knowledge and intelligence, of those to whom the right of voting should be given. In Edinburgh, the population of which is 150,000, the number of voters is also thirty-three, not one of whom, or not more than one of whom, belongs to the upper class. Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee, Perth, and other great, populous, and wealthy places, have only a fourth or fifth share in a Representative; Paisley, Greenock, Leith, Kilmarnock, and many other great towns, have no Representative at all. But why do I now allude to the state of the Representation in Scotland? I am not now about to introduce the Scotch Reform Bill; and I only refer to the state of the Representation of Scotland to illustrate the argument of the system working well in practice. If we look to its increasing prosperity, its power, and its wealth—if we consider the spirit of successful enterprise with which its people are endued—if we look to their industrious habits and their great intelligence—if those things are the criterion of a country's improvement, there is no country which can produce more witnesses of its improvement and prosperity than Scotland. In what country are the arts of civilization more highly prized and more extensively cultivated than in Scotland, under this very system of Representation which is now admitted to be so anomalous and absurd? But how has the system worked well in Scotland? It is under the English system of Representation. The whole of the present system of society in Scotland has grown up under the British system of Representation. The evils of the system were distributed over the whole; and yet the whole has been accompanied with a high degree of prosperity. From this state of prosperity it is stated—reasoning it cannot be called, but with a hardihood of assertion not often equalled—it is stated that the prosperity of the country is the result of the corrupt system of sending Members to Parliament, and that it would be dangerous to attempt to remove or interfere with this corrupt system. The forty-five Members for Scotland are only a part of the number of Representatives who are not sent by the people to the British House of Parliament; and if the principle of Representation in their case is bad, and offers no security for the rights and liberties of the people, how can I contend that the principle is not equally objectionable by which Members are sent by 953 boroughs in England, in which the right of voting is equally restricted? How can I distinguish the Representatives of the Scotch superiorities, or the system under which they have been chosen, from the Representatives of Gatton or Old Sarum, and the corrupt system under which they also have been chosen? Why are the burgage tenures of England to be considered more valuable, or to be more highly prized, than the superiorities of Scotland? Why are the mounds and walls of Gatton or Old Sarum to be allowed to continue to return Members, when you alter, and no doubt properly alter, that system which reduces the number of voters really possessing property in a considerable county to one. It is difficult to separate the one case from the other; it is impossible, if you admit the necessity of an alteration of the system of Representation in Scotland, not to perceive that a similar alteration is necessary in England. If you admit that the state of the Scotch Representation is strange, anomalous, monstrous, and absurd, how can you avoid the inference—I should say the undeniable inference—that the Representation of England, as far as it is composed of the Members representing the decayed and corrupted boroughs, is equally strange, equally anomalous, equally monstrous, and equally absurd?
§ When you find that the results are, that places which no longer contain any considerable number of inhabitants return a large proportion of the Members of the Commons, and that those who, according to the spirit and letter of the law and Constitution, ought to take no part, and exercise no influence in the election of Members to serve in Parliament, have the absolute nomination of the Members who represent those inconsiderable places—when you know that this is the system in England, and compare it with the Scotch system of Representation, how can you, I ask, retain the one and abandon the other? The system which prevails in the borough Representation of England is not upheld by any of the writers on our Constitution. On the contrary, it is reprobated by all authority, by all reason, by the statutes, and by the common law of the land. The removal of this vicious and corrupt system, so far from tending to endanger the Constitution, in my opinion, will tend materially to improve and strengthen it. And here, my Lords, this brings me to consider how much the continuance of the system of 954 nomination boroughs contributes to the real weight and influence of this House. In the first place it is to be considered, that the power of nominating Members to sit in Parliament is not enjoyed by this House in general—it is not enjoyed by your Lordships as a body in the State—but it is enjoyed by a few wealthy individuals amongst you, who exercise the power for the improvement of their own separate interests. The power, therefore, is exercised and enjoyed only by a few, whilst the odium falls upon the whole body. The system is odious to the people, and shocks their senses, and on your Lordships, as a body, the odium rests. By getting rid of the system, then, you remove the odium, and the Peerage, as a body, lose nothing. As I said before, only a few of your Lordships exercise this power of nomination; and the power is not exercised exclusively by Peers; other wealthy persons possess it, and share it sometimes with loan contractors or speculating attornies, who make use of this power with no other object but to promote their private advantage. Then the power of nomination is liable to continual transfer and change. It may leave your Lordships' hands altogether, or it may accumulate in the hands of an individual to such an extent, that this power would not only become odious to the country—for that it already is—but it might become inconvenient to the Government of the country, by rendering it, in a great degree, dependent upon the person who possessed this power, A Government so situated, instead of being able to acknowledge real claims and merits, and to reward them with the emolument of office, must necessarily be compelled to admit other claims, and might not be able to refuse the claims of those persons who had great parliamentary influence. I contend, that, by taking away this power, your Lordships will not lose any real advantage, but, on the contrary, that you will be put upon terms of equal advantage with those who now enjoy a monopoly of this unconstitutional power, and will get rid of a considerable degree of odium, a portion of which you are all at present obliged to bear. By agreeing to give up this power, you will be relieved from a weight of odium—you will secure your own independent influence, and that high estimation in the public mind which you ought always to possess. My Lords, I am far from being one of those who 955 maintain that it is useful or advantageous that any branch of the Legislature should stand rigidly upon the exercise of its own rights and privileges. I think that such a strict and rigid assertion of the peculiar and distinct rights of one body in a State might bring it into opposition with the others, and cause collisions which might possibly be productive of the most dangerous consequences to the country, We are now in that fortunate state of society, in which all orders are blended together by a feeling of common interest; and those interests are so closely identified, that, no matter to what class any individual belongs, if he possesses nothing but its legitimate influence, the great probability, and the natural inference is, that such influence will be used for the general advantage. Though I am the last man, then, to propose to retain the influence which enables any Member in this House to interfere in the elections of Members of the House of Commons—an interference that cannot be too strongly condemned,—yet do I propose that your Lordships should be deprived of any part of your legitimate power or influence? God forbid! The respect due to your rank, and the influence which, from property, you necessarily possess, will belong to you after the passing of the Bill, as fully and in as great a degree as they now do. The Peers of this country have not, and I thank God that they have not, any of those exclusive immunities or privileges which belonged to the old nobility of France. The nobility of this country are mixed and blended with the people. They share all their burthens—they partake of all their benefits—they unite in the discharge of all their duties—they are landed proprietors—they live on their estates—they perform their duty as Magistrates—they are known as neighbours; in all these ways, and many others, they acquire esteem and confidence, which are given not so much on account of their rank, as in consideration of their good conduct, and the kind offices they bestow on those around them.
§ The respect which the people of this country are always willing to pay to rank is doubled, as is its value in their sight, when accompanied by good conduct, and the disposition to do good. This is one species of influence which your Lordships possess, and so far from being contracted, it will be extended by the measure which I propose to you. The odious power which 956 is possessed by some of your Lordships does not help to increase that legitimate influence which I have endeavoured to describe; and I verily believe, that if you resolve to maintain the nomination boroughs, the whole voice of the United Kingdom will be raised against you. Then, indeed, will that security, which you now possess for the maintenance of your rights and your property, be shaken. It is not quite so great a sacrifice as some would represent that you are now called upon to make. You are asked only to give up that which is odious, unjust, and unconstitutional, and by retaining which the security of this House may be shaken. This is to be done securely by endeavouring to reform that which, in the present state of light and knowledge, and when its effects are felt by the people, cannot, I am satisfied, be maintained, whatever may be contended to the contrary, for any considerable length of time. You have the power now to reject this Bill; but your rejection does not set the question at rest. The influence which your Lordships possess, in the Representation of sixty-five old boroughs, may be taken from you by this Bill; but the Peers and the landed interest are not thereby deprived of their influence in the Representation; that influence is rather increased by this Bill, and nothing is taken away but the odious power possessed by the few, and from which the Members of this House, as a body, derive no benefit.
§ It is on these principles, undoubtedly, that I endeavour, however feebly, to call on your Lordships to concur in the measure which has received the sanction of the other House, and which has been hailed with a more unanimous expression of satisfaction, throughout the country, than, I believe, any measure of any description has ever before elicited. I have trespassed too long, perhaps, on your Lordships, in endeavouring to press the former part of the subject on your attention; I shall now endeavour to bring before your Lordships convincing proof that this measure has received the almost unanimous approbation of the country. Your Lordships have already had some discussion on this subject in the early part of the evening, and on former occasions similar discussions have taken place on the presentation of petitions. I know that, taking advantage of those desultory discussions, some noble Lords have declared, 957 that the people are acting under a delusion, and that all the excitement which now prevails would soon pass away, like other matters which excite surprise for the moment. Such a feeling, I am aware, prevailed at the close of the last Parliament. So strongly was that idea implanted in the minds of many, that, on the dissolution of the last Parliament, it was asserted (no doubt by very wise persons) that the result of the new elections would be decidedly hostile to the principle of Reform. Your Lordships all know how perfectly fallacious that prediction turned out to be. To show the feelings of the people on this question, I need not recur to the petitions which have been presented to your Lordships—presented to an extent which, I believe, was never equalled on any other occasion—and signed by greater numbers than have ever before approached your Lordships' House. I will not advert to these petitions, because I shall be told, that the Peers, uninfluenced by any extrinsic circumstances, must rigidly and determinedly perform their duty; and, besides, it would be doubted whether these petitions represented accurately the state of the public feeling. But when I see that these petitions are not the result of previous application—when I see that they arise from the spontaneous feeling of the people—when I perceive them moving forward in crowds and eagerly pressing to your Lordships' Bar—when I reflect on the petitions that have already been presented, and consider those that are about to follow, I cannot, for a moment, doubt what the sentiments of the great body of the people are. Then, however, the friends of the Bill were met with another statement—and they were told that this was a system of intimidation, and that the Peers were too spirited, too courageous, too independent a body to concede any thing to intimidation. Now my Lords, I am the last man, or one of the last men in this House, who would counsel your Lordships to yield any thing to menace—I speak not the language of menace, nor of one who would ask your Lordships to submit to menace—I say, resist popular violence, do not give way to popular clamour—but listen to the fair and reasonable, and to the universal wishes of the people. No Government can safely disregard public opinion; and least of all a Government, founded like this, on free principles.958
§ I conjure your Lordships, then, as you value your rights and dignities, and as you wish to transmit them unimpaired to your posterity, to lend a willing ear to the Representations of the people.
§ I entreat your Lordships to pause, and consider well before you come to a decision on this question—a question with reference to which nine-tenths, I believe I am below the mark in stating it at this, but certainly nine-tenths of the people have expressed their opinion—respectfully it is true, but in a tone too loud not to be heard, and too decisive to be misunderstood.
§ If you still doubt the sentiments of the people, if you think their anxiety for Reform will pass away I would conjure you not to lay the flattering unction to your souls! Do not believe that the desire for Reform will abate. Do not believe that if this measure be rejected, a more mitigated and less comprehensive one can be substituted in its place with safety; entertain and cherish no such hope; the time is past when a smaller measure of Reform would satisfy the people; you must either take this Bill, you must, I repeat either adopt this Bill—or you will have instead of it, a call for something infinitely stronger and more extensive!
§ Disregard clamour then, I say again to your Lordships, but consider the importance of public opinion, honestly expressed; and, if it be necessary, yield to it! Am I then urging your Lordships to do anything contradicted by former examples? What was it that induced the Ministry of a former day to grant concession to the Roman Catholics? Did the noble Duke state that his opinions were altered? Did he retract the sentiments he had previously entertained on the subject? Did another leading member of the government, a Member of the other House of Parliament, one who was only second to the noble Duke himself in influence, state that his opinions were changed?—or did he not rather found his introduction of the measure of Catholic Emancipation upon the necessity of the case, and the expediency of yielding to popular opinion, when it could no longer be resisted without endangering the peace of the country?
§ When the noble Duke was attacked, bitterly attacked in this House, on the ground that he had abandoned his principles, 959 and was accused as a traitor to the cause in which he was formerly engaged, I endeavoured to vindicate the noble Duke. I defended the conduct of that noble Duke on this ground—that a statesman was obliged to shape his course with reference to the feelings of the people and to the situation of the country. In bringing forward this measure, I have no such process to go through, I have no explanation to give, I have no apology to make; what I now propose is consistent with the opinion which I have held during the whole course of my political life. But if it were otherwise, following the example of the noble Duke, I would say, "The time is now come; things can no longer remain as they are; we must do something for the removal of a system which has long been odious in the eyes of the country; we must endeavour to restore to its original purity that Constitution which has been the admiration of mankind, and which, for ages, has been the object of imitation in every part of the world where any attempt has been made to establish free institutions; we must labour to render it consistent with its original objects; we must toil to restore it to its original character; and this can only be done by removing the blemishes which have caused those objects to be lost sight of, and by taking away the defects by which that character has been obscured and defiled." Again I call on your Lordships not to yield to intimidation or menance; but in the same voice I entreat you not to refuse that which is just, and reasonable, and proper. With respect to the general feeling of the people, I am fully borne out in my statement by the fact. I wish your Lordships maturely to consider, from the evidence before you, whether I am or am not correct in what I assert. I think that, upon due reflection, you will find that one opinion, and one opinion only, is generally maintained upon this question out of doors. Your Lordships may dispute the authority of petitions; but can you dispute the appeal which was made to the people at the close of the late Parliament? On the occasion to which I have already alluded—that of the Catholic Question—Sir Robert Peel, in opening the debate in the House of Commons, stated the great change which had taken place in the opinion of the public, and the impossibility, under that change of sentiment, of any longer continuing the exclusion 960 of the Roman Catholics from a full participation in the benefits of the British Constitution. I have, in a former debate, quoted the sentiments of the right hon. Baronet; but as they are so much more striking with reference to the present question, I shall again cite them. The right hon. Baronet held, that the great criterion of public opinion—that the most practical and constitutional mode of ascertaining the sense of the people, upon any given question—was to be found by taking a number of the great counties and towns in England, and seeing how their Representatives voted upon the question. In pursuance of this principle, the right hon. Baronet referred to the votes given on a preceding debate on the Catholic claims by the members for seventeen principal counties—those of York, Middlesex, Lancaster, Devon, Kent, Surrey, Somerset, Norfolk, Stafford, Dorset, Essex, Hants, Lincoln, Gloucester, Wilts, Warwick and Suffolk; and what was the result? Why, of these counties, both the members for Middlesex, Norfolk and Stafford voted in favour of those claims; both the members for Somerset voted against them; those for all the remaining counties, including York, were equally divided; the result being that nineteen Members had voted for, and seventeen Members against Catholic Emancipation. And the right hon. Baronet considered that a bare majority of two was sufficient to satisfy him, that the public feeling was greatly altered, and that the system of exclusion could no longer be persevered in. The right hon. Baronet next considered the way in which the Members for twenty-two towns had given their votes on the same occasion. The towns were London, Westminster, Southwark, Liverpool, Bristol, Norwich, Nottingham, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Leicester, Hull, Preston, Exeter, Coventry, Chester, Yarmouth, Derby, Ipswich, Worcester, Aylesbury, Carlisle, and Colchester. Of these towns, both the members for Westminster, Southwark, Nottingham, Newcastle, Preston, Chester, Yarmouth, and Derby, voted in favour of the Catholic claims; both the members for Bristol and Exeter voted against them; both the members for Ipswich were absent; of the members for Worcester, one was absent, and one against; the same of Colchester; and the rest were equally divided: the result being that twenty-six members voted for concession, 961 and sixteen against it. Thus, in the counties selected by Sir Robert Peel, it appeared that nineteen Members were in favour of Emancipation, and seventeen against it—and that in the twenty-two towns which he had selected, there were twenty-six members for, and sixteen against Emancipation; so that a majority of two Members upon the Representation of seventeen counties, and of ten upon that of twenty-two towns, was sufficient to satisfy the right hon. Baronet; and he argued that a great change having been thus practically proved to have taken place in the sentiments of the people on this question, it became necessary to yield to the popular feeling. Now, how stood the question, in the last Parliament, when a division was taken on the Reform question? Taking the same seventeen counties selected by Sir Robert Peel, it would be found, that both the members for Middlesex, Lancaster, Devon, Surrey, Norfolk, Stafford, Wilts, Warwick, and Suffolk, voted for Reform; both the members for Hampshire against it; of the members for Yorkshire, three voted for, and one against it; and the rest were equally divided; the result being, that twenty-seven Members voted for the Bill, and nine against it; leaving a majority of county Members sufficient, I should have thought, to satisfy any man who was before satisfied with a majority of two. How was it with respect to the towns? Of the twenty-two cities and towns, the members for Liverpool, Bristol, Leicester, Chester, and Carlisle, were divided; both the members for Ipswich voted against the Bill; of the members for Colchester, one voted for, and the other was absent; of those for London, three voted for, and one against: all the rest voted for the second reading of the Bill; and the result was, that thirty-seven Members were for, and eight against the measure, there being one absent. This was the majority in the last Parliament in favour of Reform; and this, I should have supposed, might have been considered decisive of the necessity of the measure by any one who took the majority of those who represent large counties and towns as a fair criterion of public opinion. But how stands the case now? Of the seventeen counties and the twenty-two towns, every Member voted for the measure. So that, instead of proportions of twenty-seven to nine, and thirty-seven to eight, here, in 962 those counties and towns which were selected as the cream of England you have not a majority, but an unanimous vote in favour of the Bill. If this were not evidence of the public opinion being in favour of the Bill, I do not know what public opinion is.
§ But perhaps the counties and towns selected by Sir Robert Peel were not fairly selected. Let us see what the general results are, as shown by the division on the second reading in the present Parliament; of eighty-two Representatives of counties in England, seventy-six voted for the Bill, and six against it, being a proportion of about thirteen to one on the county Representation. This session, only six county Members voted against the Reform Bill. In the large towns, not included in either schedule, out of 206 Members, 150 voted for the Bill, forty-six against it, and ten were absent. We come now to the Members representing boroughs in schedules A and B. There we find that the account is very much changed—seventy-six Members for boroughs in schedule A voted against the Bill, and twenty-two in favour of it—of Members representing boroughs in schedule B fifty-six voted against the Bill, and twenty-six for it. The Members for boroughs in schedules A and B therefore formed the largest proportion of those who voted against the second reading. They amounted, including two members for Weymouth, which loses half its Representatives by the Bill, to 134; the whole number of English Members who voted against the Bill was 186, from which deduct 134 sitting for boroughs wholly or partially disfranchised, and who have therefore a direct interest in opposing the Bill, and the number is reduced to fifty-two. But the deduction to be made does not even stop here. There are certain places in which close Corporations have the power of returning Members; the right of voting in these places is limited to a few persons, and the Bill proposes that all those corporations should be opened. All those representing close corporations, therefore, had a direct interest in the voting against this measure; and how would it stand if these were deducted from those who voted against the Bill? Forty-six Members for boroughs not in the schedule, including those for the two Universities, voted against the Bill; twenty-four of whom sit for places in the hands 963 of a small number of voters. After deducting these twenty-four then, the result is, that not more than twenty-eight Members representing counties and populous places, and deserving the name of Representatives of the people, voted against the Bill. Now, I would ask, whether any man who is not blinded by prejudice, can for a moment doubt, that the public opinion has been fully and decisively expressed on this question? I would ask your Lord ships, whether you are prepared to reject a measure which has been agreed to by the Representatives of the Commons of England, with the dissent of only twenty-eight who can be fairly called Representatives of the people. Even this number of twenty-eight might be reduced by a more strict analysis; but I will admit that number, as speaking the voice of a portion, though a small portion of the people.
§ Again I would say to your Lordships, that I ask you not to assent to clamour, but I beg of you to consider whether you can with safety reject a measure sanctioned thus by the united voice of the people of England, as expressed by their Representatives in Parliament; founded so decidedly, not on any new theory, but on the original and undoubted principles of the Constitution.
§ But we are told, if there is danger in resistance, there is danger also in concession. It is said, if you once concede, where will you stop? This is the old doctrine, which has led to so much ruin. But is it true that this ruin has been produced by concession? I think not. Was it concession that lost the kingdom of the Netherlands to Philip 2nd? Was it concession that overturned the government of Charles 1st, and led him to the scaffold? No, my Lords, it was the faithless attempt he made to resume those rights which he had reluctantly granted. Was it concession that created those discontents which disturbed the end of Charles 2nd's reign, and which obliged his successor to abdicate the throne? Was it concession that lost us America? Was it concession that destroyed the old monarchy of France? I know it has been said that it was concession that overturned the monarchy of France; but I derive a different lesson from that event. I am fully persuaded, that if the old nobility of France had done what I counsel your Lordships now to do—not to disappoint, 964 but to meet the wishes of the people—if the French nobility had done this—if they had stood by their monarch, and he had conscientiously adopted those measures which would have satisfied them, I believe that he and his family would now have been on the throne of France, and that most of the evils which have since come upon the world would have been avoided. To come down to the more recent periods. Was it concession which produced the last Revolution in France, or was it not an attempt to wrest from the people those rights and privileges which their monarch had guaranteed to them in the charter? I implore your Lordships to consider all these and many other examples with which history furnishes us, and to concede before it is too late, and while concession may yet be useful—to make concession while it may possess the grace of being voluntarily yielded to the public opinion, and before it shall lose that grace, and be utterly ineffectual. You see, from what has occurred in other times and other countries, how advantageous it is to concede in time. What the people are satisfied with at first, will not satisfy them afterwards. This was the case with America. I know, my Lords, that some persons make a different application of those facts of history, and say, "see what are the effects of concession; when you offered to the Americans all they required, they would not accept it." But their refusal is easily explained. All the people of America desired in the first instance, was the exercise of their just rights and privileges. These were pertinaciously and obstinately refused, and what was the result? These rights you had refused in the insolence of your strength; an ineffectual offer of them was forced from you in the hour of defeat and humiliation. But it was too late, and you were compelled to sign a treaty of separation and independence. You had taught them their own power—they had thrown themselves into the arms of France, and you were forced to consent to a separation, because you refused a timely concession to their reasonable demand. I could adduce other instances of the unfortunate results of the refusal or delay of concession, but what I have mentioned are sufficient, I should hope, if duly considered, to impress on your Lordships the strong conviction which I feel of the dangers which must attend the rejection of a measure supported by the nearly unanimous 965 wish of the nation. One more instance I may mention of the disadvantage of the refusal of concession in time. I lament, as much as any man can, the unsettled state of Ireland. I regret that after the Catholics have obtained those concessions they so long applied for, and to which, as it appeared to me, they were always entitled, both in policy and justice, after those concessions, for which the country is so much indebted to the noble Duke, were made to them, I regret, I say, to see that peace and calmness, and returning prosperity and commerce have not immediately followed the grant of their claims. But what is the inference I draw from this unfortunate result? Not that concession to the Catholics was bad policy, as some, incapable of understanding and of feeling, might suppose, but that it was too long delayed. If, fortunately, the Catholic claims had been conceded twenty or thirty years ago, when all those men most distinguished in the nation for wisdom and talent, but who have since gone to their account, were its advocates, my firm belief is, that as there is no country which possesses greater natural advantages, and more capability of improvement, no part of his Majesty's dominions would have now been in a more prosperous and flourishing condition, and we should have avoided those internal dissensions by which it has been since distracted.
§ You refused to concede, however, and delayed until concession was extorted from you by necessity. You taught the people the consciousness of their power, and, having attained that power, they were unwilling to lay it aside; but, whether unwilling or not, you, by a course of proceeding which I lament—against which I did not venture to vote, although I could not vote for it—you, I say, by pernicious adjuncts, took from the measure that grace and favour which would have recommended it in the sight of those to whom it was applied. I say, therefore, my Lords, concede in time—concede freely, generously, and not reluctantly; not as if what you granted were an extorted capitulation, rather than an act of mercy and benevolence. I say, therefore, concede in time—meet the wishes of the people. Look at the Representation of the people; see whether it is liable to those imperfections and defects which I have stated, and, if it be so, take a bold, decisive and effectual step to remove the complaints of the 966 country, and place the Constitution upon a rock where it shall be unassailable, and safe from all danger. Again, my Lords, I beg to disclaim the use of menace or intimidation; but you have a measure recommended from the Throne, sent to you by an overwhelming majority of all those who can be called the real Representatives of the people in the other House of Parliament—urged by petitions of thousands and tens of thousands of the people, from every part of the country—petitions, too, respectfully worded, and from which have disappeared all those topics that have formerly given offence—all those claims for extravagant changes, to which no man is more opposed than I am. Consider, my Lords, whether, after that recommendation from the Crown—[cries of "order" from the Opposition, and cheers]. I allude to the King's Speech [cheers, and cries of "read it"—have it read]. I cannot imagine that I am not at liberty to refer to it. Every one remembers the Speech from the Throne. We did in that Speech recommend the measure to the consideration of Parliament; and it is absurd to imagine, although his Majesty's Ministers are responsible for the contents of the Speech, that such a recommendation could come into it against the wishes of the Monarch. I consider, therefore, that I am perfectly within the rules of the Constitution and of Parliament in referring to it; but if the topic gives offence I will abandon it. Will your Lordships reject a measure sanctioned by an overwhelming and irresistible majority of the Representatives of the people in the other House—the people themselves, at the same time, roused and agitated from one end of the country to the other, crowding earnestly to the bar of your House, and claiming a restitution of their rights? Will the House of Lords place itself in opposition to the people, and negative, by rejecting the second reading of this Bill, the expectations so ardently entertained, and the wishes so reasonably formed?—
§ If your Lordships could, by possibility, place yourselves in unanimous opposition to the people, and to the wishes expressed by the general voice of the country—although, from what I have stated, I believe it to be almost impossible that such should be the case; but if the measure could possibly be rejected by a decided majority, or with anything like unanimity, I take upon myself to state, that your position, 967 opposed to the general wishes of the people, would be most critical, and far from safe. If the Bill is to be rejected by a narrow majority, I beg of you, my Lords to consider the consequence. Do not flatter yourselves that it will be possible by a less effective measure than this to quiet the storm which will rage, and to govern the agitation which will have been produced. I certainly do, my Lords, as I said before, deprecate popular violence As a citizen of a free State, and feeling that freedom is essentially connected with order, I resist violence: as a member of the Government it is my duty to maintain tranquillity; but, as a citizen, as a member of the Government, and as a Statesman, I am bound to look at the consequences which may flow from rejecting this measure. And although I do not state, as the noble Duke did on another occasion, that the rejection of the measure will lead to a civil war—I trust it will not produce any such effect—but still I cannot conceal from your Lordships my apprehension, that the result of its rejection will be most dangerous to the best interests of the country. Upon your Lordships then, as you value the tranquillity and prosperity of the country, I earnestly call to consider well before you reject the measure.
§ I will now, my Lords, venture for a moment to address myself to one part of your Lordships' House—the right rev. Prelates on the benches near me; and while I assure that most reverend and right reverend body, that no man is more sincerely attached than I am to the maintenance of all the rights and privileges of the Church—no man holds in higher veneration the purity of her doctrines and the soundness of her discipline; though I acknowledge the high estimation in which the Prelates at the head of her establishment are deservedly held by the country, the excellent example which they present in the discharge of their spiritual functions; yet let me at the same time respectfully entreat those right rev. Prelates to consider, that if this Bill should be rejected by a narrow majority of the lay peers, which I have reason to hope will not be the case; but if it should, and that its fate should thus, within a few votes, be decided by the votes of the heads of the Church, what will then be their situation with the country. Those right rev. Prelates have shown that they were riot indifferent or inattentive to the signs of the 968 times. They have introduced, in the way in which I think all such measures ought to be introduced—namely, by the leading members of the Church itself—measures of amelioration. In this they have acted with a prudent forethought. They appear to have felt that the eyes of the country are upon them; that it is necessary for them to set their house in order, and prepare to meet the coming storm. I implore them to follow, on the present occasion, the same prudent course. They must be conscious that there are at present many questions which may take a fatal direction, if, upon a measure on which the nation has fixed its hopes, and which is necessary for its welfare, the decision of this House should, by means of their votes, be in opposition to the feelings and wishes of the people. They are the ministers of peace; earnestly do I hope that the result of their votes will be such as may tend to the tranquillity, to the peace and happiness of the country. I will not press this matter further; but as regards the whole of your Lordships, spiritual and temporal, I trust that the possible consequences of the rejection of the Bill will be most seriously considered by your Lordships before the decision of the present question.
§ As to the effect which the rejection or adoption of the measure by your Lordships may produce to me, or the Administration of which I form a part, it is not necessary for me to say much, for that is perhaps a matter of insignificance. I have declared before, and I now declare again, and I am not a man apt to recede from what I have said, that by this measure I am prepared to stand or fall. If it should be rejected, the question of my continuance in office, even for another hour, must depend upon my seeing any reasonable prospect of being able to effect a measure to which I am pledged, as I think, by every tie of private honour, by every obligation of public duty to my sovereign and to my country. I wish it to be distinctly understood, my Lords, as I have stated, that I certainly do not think that the danger which might be attendant on the rejection of this measure can be obviated by the introduction of one of less efficiency. If any such measure is introduced, it will not be by me. I distinctly stated before, and now repeat, that I never will be a party to holding out any delusive measure of Reform to the people—when I am convinced that they have a right to expect a constitutional 969 Reform to the full extent of what I have now proposed. I am convinced that the people will not cease to urge their rights, and will not rest satisfied till they have obtained them, and that disappointment at present will not have the effect of reducing their demands. If your Lordships shall reject this, you will, it is more than probable, have to consider hereafter, not a less efficient measure of Reform, for I am sure that no such measure will ever succeed, but one in which much greater concessions will be demanded. Once more, before I sit down, I earnestly implore your Lordships to consider what will be the consequences of the rejection of this measure; and whether, if even rejected now, it can be finally put aside. May you therefore, my Lords, be wise in time—may your Lordships profit by the example set before you, and avoid those dangers which will inevitably arise from your rejection of this measure, and secure, by its adoption, peace and conciliation in the country—may you, under the guardianship of that Power who presides over our destinies, pronounce such a decision as shall conduce to the advancement of his glory, the good of his Church, the safety, welfare, and honour of the King and his people.
§ My Lords, I have now done; and, with my humble and sincere tribute for the patience with which you have borne, I fear, too great an intrusion upon your attention. I put the measure into your hands with an anxious hope as to the result——I wish I could say with perfect confidence—but still with a hope that your Lordships will find it such a measure as you may sanction, as being a measure calculated by its acceptance to produce immeasurable good, as its rejection would create incalculable mischief. My Lords, I move that this Bill be now read a second time.
§ Lord Wharncliffe
next addressed the House. Their Lordships, he observed would readily believe, that he felt fully sensible of all the difficulties under which he laboured in rising to address them on this occasion. Those difficulties, which under any circumstances, would be great considering the importance of the subject and the consciousness of his own inability, were increased by the speech which the noble Earl had delivered. The noble Ear had told their Lordships, that his Administration would stand or fall by this measure; and he also broadly intimated, that if they 970 did not pass this they would have to pass something worse; that the demands of the people would not be satisfied even with the concessions which this Bill gave; but in looking at a change in the Constitution of this magnitude, he was bound to consider how far he could consent to it, before he took into his consideration whether or not any other measure might be proposed on its rejection. If the House did not think that it was a measure to which they could consent, they were bound to refuse it. Why, he asked, were they to accept this particular measure and no other, and to declare that acceptance, too, of the whole measure on the second reading? The whole tone and tenor of the noble Earl's speech was—that if their Lordships did not accept this Bill, they would, in the first instance, break up the whole Government; and then, that no other measure would be sufficient to satisfy the people.
§ Lord Wharncliffe
He so understood the noble Earl, but he repeated, that they were bound to consider this without any reference to the nature of any future measure. He would, before he went further, beg to guard himself against any admission, because every admission that he made was turned against him, and he was called upon to make further admissions; he would therefore guard himself, at the present stage, against any admission with respect to the nomination boroughs. Supposing that the Members at his side of the House could be brought to say, that such boroughs ought to be done away with entirely, that the whole of the House of Commons should be popularly elected, and that the noble Earl's Bill should be adopted in all its parts, he said that the present Constitution of King, Lords, and Commons could not go on under such a system, but that we must make up our minds to a republic as well as we can. He had listened with great attention to the noble Earl's speech—to all he had urged on the subject of this Bill—but he owned, with no slight disappointment; for while the noble Earl dwelt at great length on the anomalies and disadvantages of the Constitution as it now stood—or of the old Constitution, as he might call it—he had not said one word of any advantages which they might expect from the new one. In what he was about to say, he was anxious 971 to guard himself against being misunderstood. Supposing that he were ready to admit, that the system of Representation in Scotland required improvement—supposing he was disposed to admit, that no Member should be allowed to sit in the House of Commons who was not a bona fide representative of the people,—supposing that he were willing to accede to the principle of the Bill to this extent—still there would be enough of the Bill left to change the Constitution, as far as affected the relative position of the three estates of the realm with respect to each other, and to make it impossible that the Government consisting of three independent estates of King, Lords, and Commons, could be carried on. There was enough left in the Bill to absorb into the power of the House of Commons the whole power and privileges of that House, and, perhaps, of the Crown itself. The Constitution could not in his opinion, go on with such a system as this Bill would establish, even conceding those parts of it only to which he referred. But the noble Earl had not told them how the measure was likely to work. The noble Earl had only pointed out what he considered the objectionable parts of the present system. Now he must contend, that it was not enough for the noble Earl to tell their Lordships of the defects in the Representation in Scotland or England: he was bound to go further, and show that those defects would be effectually remedied by the plan which he proposed, and that, too, without introducing still greater and more inconvenient anomalies than those which he pointed out. He was not disposed to deny that the system of Representation in Scotland was in a state in which it might be desirable to make some improvement; but he denied that that improvement was required by any corruption in that system. He would admit that it might be desirable to render the Representation in that country more popular in its character; but then the fact that it was not so much so as other parts of the United Kingdom should not be taken as any proof of the corruption of the whole, for the Scotch Representation should be taken as a part of a whole which worked together and worked well. They should look at the effect of the representative system of England, Ireland, and Scotland as one whole. That of Scotland might have its defects, but those were corrected by the whole system of Representation 972 taken together. One of the alleged anomalies which the noble Earl would wish to get rid of was that of nomination boroughs. With respect to the nomination boroughs, he would just say, as he had observed in what he had addressed to their Lordships before, that he did not defend the nomination boroughs because they were nominated by peers or persons of great wealth. He was far from defending them on that ground; but he said, that their use was this—that in the House of Commons they acted as a check upon those Members who were more popularly elected, and diminished popular commotions, from which danger was always to be apprehended. He could not deny that there was in the principle of nomination boroughs something which it was difficult to defend. But the question to be put to the people of England was this: was there not some good in these boroughs, however anomalous or improper they might be in principle? Was there not in the working something which might induce us to admit them into the Constitution? He would not go so far—and here he spoke merely his own judgment—he would not go so far as to say it might not be possible to devise other modes of checking the popular voice in the House of Commons. But, as the boroughs now stood, they were the only check upon popular violence; and as they were going to send up so large a proportion of that species of Representation— as this Bill constituted so large an additional number of popular Members—he said that some check was the more necessary. By the regulations of this Bill, the whole strength of the Legislature would be in the House of Commons. The House of Lords would be nothing, and it would be well if the Crown itself could stand before it. Did he make these statements merely from his own authority? Would the noble Earl and his colleagues use their eyes and ears? Would they see, and hear, and read, what the people who were most clamorous for this measure said? They felt that this Reform, as it applied to their wants and wishes, was nothing; but they knew that, all checks upon popular power being removed in the House of Commons, every thing would be at their mercy, nothing could stop in front of the people. They laughed at those supporters of the Bill who imagined that it was the ultimate object of their desires. The noble Lord who introduced this measure into the other 973 House had applied to the Tories, or Anti-Reformers as they were called, the words of Cromwell at the battle of Dunbar—"The Lord hath delivered them into our hands." But it should be recollected that there was another party besides the Tories. There was, undoubtedly, a party in the country who wished to establish a republican government; and they said of the supporters of this Bill, "The Lord hath delivered you into our hands." If you pass this Bill, you will at once part with all your power, of which we shall immediately avail ourselves." He, for one, could never consent to part with that power with which their Lordships were invested, and which served as a salutary control upon the too violent expression of popular feeling in the other House of Parliament. One objection made to their Lordships on this occasion was, that they were connected with those boroughs which it was proposed to disfranchise, and that, in opposing the Bill, they were swayed by their own interests. For his own part, he would say, that he was connected with one borough, and he denied that his vote on this occasion would be in any degree affected by that connexion. Their Lordships knew him, and he would appeal to the whole of his public life, and ask, whether it was such in any part of it as could induce any man to suppose that he would allow himself to be influenced in this discussion by any feelings of that kind. He was as ready as any man to sacrifice his personal interests for the sake of his country, but it should first be proved to him that the sacrifice he was ready to make would be productive of good; that the Constitution would be safe in the change which was about to be made. He would not follow the noble Earl into the details as to the various anomalies of the present system, but he would beg the indulgence of their Lordships while he pointed out what he believed to be the fact, that this measure was one of the greatest delusions ever practised on the public—a measure more full of anomalies than any that had ever before been introduced into Parliament. The first alteration in the present Constitution of Parliament to which he should allude was, the future mode of voting in boroughs. The Bill, in order to captivate certain classes of persons who constitute the great body of the inhabitants of the large towns, gives the elective franchise to 10l. householders. 974 He thought that this qualification was much too low. It was so low, that in all populous towns, especially where it was made up of rents of 3s. l0d. a-week paid during the year, and not of a rent of 10l. paid at once for the whole year, the step between it and Universal Suffrage would be very small indeed. He was sure that the noble Lords opposite, and the hon. Gentlemen in another place, who had first introduced this plan of Reform, had got frightened at this monster of their own creation. Everybody recollected the manner in which the qualification was changed from a rent of 10l. merely, to a rent of 10l. reserved on leases pay able half-yearly. A powerful Press was looking on every operation connected with this Bill; and as soon as this alteration was perceived by it, a loud demand was raised that it should be withdrawn. The authors of it immediately perceived the dilemma in which they had involved themselves, and became most anxious to be extricated from it. It was, therefore, said, that the alteration was an inadvertence. Was he to be told that a Government which was making the most important changes that were ever proposed in any Constitution, was acting on inadvertencies? He said, that it was the duty of Government to consider minutely, not only every clause, but every word and every letter of every clause in the Bill. When he heard this plea of inadvertence brought forward as a defence of the Government, he felt himself compelled to tell the Government, that they were bound to know what was their own meaning, and also to employ such agents as would put their legislative measures into an intelligible shape. The vacillation which the Administration had displayed upon this point, convinced him that they had become afraid of this very measure of Reform which they had themselves concocted. He had only to look at this Bill as it stood on its introduction before Easter, and as it stood at the present moment, to be convinced that Ministers had become afraid of this creature of their own hands. They had so surrounded it with clauses about registration, and periods of occupation, and so on, that he was convinced that, so far from every householder of 10l. enjoying a franchise under it, not more than one-tenth part of such householders would be enabled by it to give their suffrages at any election. He knew that it would be said, that if there were anything 975 in this argument, it was an argument which he, of all men, ought not to use; for the more guarded and limited the elective franchise was, the more likely would it be to meet his views, and to obtain his approbation. He would, however, never consent to legislate in any manner which, whilst it kept the promise to the ear, broke it to the hopes of the people. If he intended to give them a 10l. franchise, he would give it them fairly, and without equivocation; he would not give it them in such a manner as tied them down with an incapacity to receive it. If he had conceived that a 10l. franchise was a proper franchise, he would have placed the law on such a footing that all persons should have found no difficulty in enjoying the franchise which the law gave them. No man, under the regulations of this Bill, could enjoy the elective franchise who had not been fifteen months in the house which he occupied. That was the very earliest period at which any householder could obtain a right to vote; the general period would be, after an occupation for a period of from eighteen to twenty months; and if, by any accident, the landlord should then give the occupying tenant notice to quit, or if the occupying tenant should quit of his own accord, the occupying tenant would lose his franchise, and might be, for all that number of months, without a vote. What he would have done, had he had to alter the elective franchise on a democratic principle, would have been, to establish it on a scot-and-lot principle. He had now done with the 10l. qualification clause; he should proceed, in the next instance, to object to the number of great towns to which this Bill gave the privilege of Representation. That number showed him—and it was one of his main reasons for voting against the Bill—that the principle of the Bill was not property, but population. Such a principle was a rule-of-three principle, which, when once established, could never stop—which must, of necessity, be variable, and liable to a vast multiplicity of future changes—and which, if it ever did produce the rest of which the noble Earl had spoken, must produce it at a period yet very far distant. He contended, that too large a proportion of the great towns was introduced by this Bill into the Representation. He thought, that it was impossible for any man who saw the great wealth embarked in the manufactures of the 976 country, and the great interest which the manufacturing towns had in the proper expenditure of the State, to deny that those towns were entitled to have some share in the Representation of the State. Admitting, as he did, the justice of that proposition, he still thought that proposition a very different thing from a proposition entitling every town with a population of 15,000 inhabitants, to return Members to Parliament. There was no such right inherent in towns with that population, neither was it expedient that such a right should be conceded to their inhabitants. In the county of Lancaster, and in the West Riding of the county of York—districts, with both of which he was himself personally acquainted—there were certain trades and manufactures confined to certain towns only. Now, he did not conceive it to be necessary that each of those towns should have the privilege of returning Members to Parliament in order to have their respective interests properly represented. For instance, in the West Riding of the county of York, he thought that six Representatives would, along with the Representatives of the county, be quite sufficient to represent its trading interests; and with that number of Representatives, the voice of the county Members would not be exposed to the danger of being overwhelmed by the voice of the Members of those towns, who, from the mode of their election, must, on all occasions flatter the popular feeling. In complaining of the number of places which were thus brought within the constituency, he did not mean to require that there should be an exact balance struck for the landed interest. Admitting, however, that the noble Earl was acting on a fair principle, and that he was bound to give to the landed interest something to balance the pressure of the towns, still he must contend that this Bill was likely to prove a delusion on the landed proprietors, as the provision which affected their interests, was framed in the same spirit as that which he had already described as affecting the 10l. householders. First of all, Ministers commenced by giving two Members to each of the three Ridings of that county with which he was more particularly connected; then they gave two additional Members to certain other portions of counties; and, lastly, they concluded by adding one Member to a certain number of counties. Now, if Ministers had 977 really wished to balance the Representation of towns, they ought not to have sought the means of obtaining that balance in those counties where the manufacturing interest preponderated, but in those counties where the agricultural interest predominated. If they had done that, they might have talked about their desire to find a balance for the agricultural against the manufacturing interest. In going, however, to the counties which Ministers had selected for their operations, they had put up what they called a balance, which was no balance at all. No one could as yet tell what would be the effect of giving additional Members to the different counties. For, in the first instance, the Bill did not give these additional Members to the counties directly. It enacted that the counties were to be divided, and Ministers had sent down Commissioners to divide them. The Commissioners had already begun their labours, although, in point of fact, the Bill which called them into existence, had not yet been read a second time in their Lordships' House. He (Lord Wharncliffe) must know something of the proceedings of these Commissioners before he could pretend to speak decisively of the influence which the new county Representatives would exercise in the other House of Parliament. He must know how the counties were to be divided before he could know anything of the influence which would predominate in the different districts. He would take one county with which he was acquainted, the county of Stafford. If in that county the line were drawn, where it most naturally would be drawn, the four Members for that county would be returned by one class of the population alone. Again, in Warwickshire the division might be so made, as to place the Representation entirely in the hands of the manufacturing interest. Their Lordships, therefore, ought to be acquainted with the different divisions of counties, before they proceeded to give their approbation to this new fangled system of Reform. Another point about counties to which he would refer was, the clause which prevented persons having votes in towns, from voting for the same property in counties. On that clause he must remark in the first place, that the intention of the Bill was, that persons who voted in towns, should not, for the same property have the right of voting in counties also That clause appeared as if it withdrew 978 from the freeholders in towns the right of voting for their freeholds in the county. But he apprehended that no such thing would take place under the Bill. When his clause should first come into operation, it might, to a certain degree, diminish the votes for county elections, which depended on freeholds in towns; but he was satisfied that when the provisions of this Bill should be fully known to the public, it would turn out that the number of voters in counties who were inhabitants of towns would be but very little diminished, in consequence of the facility which the qualification would establish for the creation of 10l. voters. The Bill would only exclude those persons from voting in counties who had no other freeholds than the premises from which they derived their right of voting in towns. If they happened to have other freeholds, then, beyond all question, they would retain their right of voting in counties. There were some towns in which nearly all the tenements were held under one person upon long leases. Let their Lordships consider what the natural consequence of such a state of things would be. Let them look, for instance, to the county of York. In the West Riding a canvass had already commenced, in anticipation of the dissolution threatened under this Bill, and all the question of success in that case turned upon the votes of a town in which it was expected that the county constituency would be most materially diminished. Two hon. Gentlemen, who were friends of his, and at that moment members for Yorkshire, had already canvassed that town; and in that town, where it was generally believed that the greatest number of county votes would be destroyed, it turned out that the majority of votes still remaining unimpaired were sufficient to decide the election. He therefore denounced this Bill as a delusion on the landed interest. That interest would gain little from the Bill in agricultural districts, and in the manufacturing districts would be completely overpowered by the opposite interest. Then came the other provisions as to the increase of voters for the Representatives of counties. First the copyholders were taken in; then the leaseholders of twenty years and upwards; and then, last of all, the tenants at will to a defined amount. He was ready to admit, that the increase to the county constituency on this last head did not proceed from his Majesty's 979 Ministers; but that it was imposed upon them by a noble Lord, a friend of his, in another place. In his opinion, the addition to the county constituency from this source was any thing but an improvement. Prima facie, it gave an appearance of weight to the landed proprietary; but the working of this clause would be this—that if any landlord ever exercised the power given to him by it, he would be placed in the same disagreeable and obnoxious situation in which many high-minded individuals who wished to get rid of refractory tenants were placed under the present system. This clause, connected with the 10l. qualification clause, would place a great number of the new-made voters entirely at the mercy of their landlords; but their Lordships would deceive themselves egregiously, if they imagined that the exercise of such a power on the part of the landlords would not lead almost instantly to the Vote by Ballot. If you make every election throughout the country a popular election, the only way in which a quiet man, unused to public speaking and to the crowding and jostling and sarcasm of the hustings, can be protected, will be by means of the ballot; and that mode of election would certainly end in the introduction of the Vote by Ballot. Then came another ground put forth by the Government; he meant that this Bill would be a final settlement of the Reform Question. It was impossible that it should be so. He had already warned their Lordships on this subject. He had warned them that the persons who were now most clamorous for Reform had plainly declared to the country that they would not stop here. All of their Lordships who had read the public journals lately would want no other proof to convince them of the correctness of that assertion. In the other House of Parliament the matter had been clearly given up—for there the noble Lord who had introduced the Bill had fairly admitted that the Bill could not be final. That noble Lord had said that the question now was, "Will the people be satisfied with the Bill?" for, if they were not, Parliament must needs go further. He (Lord Wharncliffe) fully agreed in that opinion. Ministers had already opened a door to the demands of the people—they had told the people that they were entitled to a full, fair, and free Representation in Parliament; and the people would insist on having that Representation 980 in perfect conformity with the ideas which they entertained of a full, fair and free Representation. These were some of his principle objections to the Bill. But, said the noble Earl, "in spite of all these your objections, do not mutilate the Bill." The noble Earl likewise said, "Do not negative this Bill on its second reading." Why not? Had he (Lord Wharncliffe) the slightest chance of obtaining any alteration in it by letting it go to a Committee? His noble friend opposite nodded his head, as if he thought that there was some chance. The country, however, had had sufficient experience upon that point. Many persons had voted for the second reading of the Bill in the House of Commons in hopes of amending it afterwards in Committee; but every person who had the slightest experience in Parliament was well aware, that when a Bill brought in by Government was read a second time, it was a matter of extreme difficulty to make any alterations in it in Committee. He thought that this Bill was dangerous in the extreme, and that, in spite of all the petitions which the people had sent up in favour of it, the people were deluded and not satisfied by it. The noble Earl had told their Lordships to look at the petitions which were now coming up to them every day from the country. He could assure their Lordships that he had looked at them, and that he had looked at them with respect. He had been obliged to the people for their kindness, as had many others of the noble Lords whom he then saw around him. He had been placed by their kindness in a high and proud situation; and his view of their petitions on the present occasion was, that their object was not so much this Bill of Reform, as Reform of some description or other. Their cry was, "We must have Parliament reformed;" but it was not, "We must have Parliament reformed by this Bill." If he had entertained any doubts on this subject before, there were many circumstances connected with these petitions which would have tended to remove them. He would tell the noble Lord who had said that the feelings of the people were not changed with regard to this Bill, that they were changed, and that their meetings no longer retained the same character which they bore originally. There was a certain portion of the Press which still trumpeted forth those meetings as an expression of the feelings of the people; and yet he knew 981 that those who had got up those meetings, were perfectly ashamed of the manner in which they had turned out. Their Lordships knew that of their own knowledge, for they mixed with the people, and were not removed from the people, "Our estimation," said the noble Baron, "depends not on our titles here, but on our characters out of doors. We mix with the people, and it is impossible not to see that this Bill is despised by the people. I ask the noble Earl to walk down St. James's-street, or down Bond-street, and then, if he goes into the shops of those streets, and asks the opinion, not of any person whom he may meet there, but of the shopkeepers themselves, I will undertake to say, that he will find them ashamed of the measure; indeed, so disgusted with it, as to declare that they will have none of it." The noble Baron then proceeded to notice the observation of the noble Earl on the other side of the House, that their Lordships had received petitions signed by great numbers of the people. He was not, as he had said before, inclined to undervalue such petitions; but these petitions, he contended, ought not to be taken as the signs of the sentiments of the people generally—they were rather the signs of the sentiments of that portion of the people which had long been accustomed to follow party views. Take, for instance, the requisition which had been presented to the High Sheriff of the county of York for a public meeting on this very Bill. It was a call upon the High Sheriff, coming from a great number of persons of the first respectability in that county. It was, in short, an exceedingly respectable requisition, and must meet with attention from any High Sheriff. But the individuals whose names were attached to it were the same men with whom he had been fighting in political hostility during all his public life. Sometimes that hostility placed him in situations which were not always agreeable; still that hostility, being solely of a political nature, never disturbed the sentiments of private friendship which he and his opponents mutually felt for each other. The gentlemen who had put their names to this requisition were old Parliamentary Reformers; still they were not in sufficient numbers to convince him that the great body of the freeholders of Yorkshire were in favour of this Bill. Their Lordships must take care that they were not deluded into the notion, that 982 because a vast number of petitions had been placed upon their Tables, those petitions spoke the universal feeling of the country. "But then," said the noble Earl, "if you will not be convinced by the number of these petitions, what do you say to what followed on the dissolution of Parliament?" He was ready to confess, that on the late dissolution of Parliament the Reforming candidates had been successful in a most astonishing degree, and that their opponents, the adversaries of Reform, had, in many instances, not dared to go to the poll. But even in the election which followed the late dissolution, he had not found a fair expression of the popular will. He should not have alluded to the late dissolution, and to the circumstances which arose out of it, but for the observations of the noble Earl opposite. There were, however, circumstances attending that dissolution of Parliament which rendered it very unlikely that that appeal to the people should obtain a declaration of the real feelings of the people of England. Matters were so conducted, the King's name was so used, that he was convinced that the people considered the late elections as a struggle between the King and the borough mongers, one of whom he admitted he was. The best feelings of the people—their loyalty and their attachment to their Sovereign—were naturally roused by such representations, and if the noble Lords opposite wished to gain a triumph by the appeal which they then made to the people, he would admit at once that they had gained it. The Whigs had certainly defeated the Tories by making use of the King's name. He had hitherto endeavoured to show that this Bill was a Bill pregnant with evil; he would now proceed to prove, that if a House of Commons were once elected on the principles of this Bill, it would, in the first place, inevitably cramp the Crown in the exercise of its prerogatives, and in the next create a body in the House of Commons so irresistible as to make the decisions of their Lordships on all public questions on which the two Houses differed null and nugatory. He had said, first of all, that this Bill would cripple the just prerogatives of the Crown. He thought that their Lordships would not deny, that one of the first prerogatives of the Crown was its power of choosing its Ministers. Hitherto, when any man had been chosen by the Sovereign as Minister, he must have 983 been, previous to that choice, a Member of Parliament. Now, if that Minister should happen not to be a rich man, and if, after vacating his seat by his acceptance of office, he should have to stand, in the borough or county which he represented, the expense of a contested election—for let not noble Lords imagine that after this Bill was passed election contests would be carried on without any expenditure in money—if that Minister should be unable to bear the expense of that contest, or if, by some fault or by no fault of his own, he should happen to be unpopular, he would then have no means of getting, as had been the case with all the Ministers of his day, at some time or other into Parliament by means of a nomination borough; and he, therefore, would have some difficulty in finding his way into Parliament at all. As Members of the House of Peers, their Lordships might not feel personally interested in such a matter; for they might think that in that case the Ministers of the Crown must in future be all Peers. He was, however, convinced, from long experience in public affairs, that the business of the country could not be well transacted unless the Ministers had seats in the House of Commons. He would further say, that this House of Commons, entirely depending for its formation on popular election, and affording no possibility for any man to arrive at a seat in it except by the favour of the people, would become too much the image of the people; and, being so, it would be impossible that 300 or 400 titled persons should have the power of arresting its movements. The danger which at this moment surrounded their Lordships proved the accuracy of his position. They had now a popular House of Commons—indeed he might say, a delegate House of Commons. That House of Commons had passed this measure, and their Lordships were now told in every possible manner, by pamphlets, by speeches, by public meetings, and by petitions, that nothing was left for them to do but to record and to register the decree of the House of Commons. This ought to be a warning to their Lordships as to their future fate, and a guide for their present conduct. By the late dissolution of Parliament their Lordships had seen a delegate House of Commons called into existence: close their eyes as they might to that spectacle, they could not avoid seeing that the present House of Commons was, as he 984 had predicted it would be, a mere House of delegates. Such of its Members as had voted for the second reading of the Bill, in the hope that its provisions might be altered in the Committee, had discovered their mistake when it was too late, and had in consequence, been laughed to scorn by their opponents. Such also would be the fate of their Lordships, if with the experience of the past before them, they should be weak enough to pursue a similar course. This, too, ought to be a lesson to their Lordships. A House of Commons elected on the present system had been found almost too powerful for the House of Lords. How, then, would their Lordships be able to resist a House of Commons elected according to the regulations of this Bill? He had nothing further to state upon this part of the measure. He did not object from any personal motives to the Bill, because it got rid of the nomination boroughs. He would give no opinion at present upon those boroughs; but on the rest of the Bill he would frankly avow, that he considered it as the subversion of the monarchy, and as the destruction of the House of Lords. Their Lordships were not in a situation to try the experiment of a new Constitution. They had already a Constitution which had produced them incalculable advantages. There might be anomalies in it—there might be corruption—if there were, let their Reform be directed at once to those points, and do not let them be made the groundwork of a system of Representation, better perhaps in theory, but worse, infinitely worse, in practice. Our Constitution had consisted of King, Lords and Commons; their Lordships should take care that it continued to consist of the same elements, [cheers.] He understood those cheers, and he promised the noble Lords who raised them that they should soon be met with an appropriate answer. Their Lordships had next been told to beware of what they were then doing. They had been told that this Bill must pass, or that something worse must happen. Their Lordships were told every day that their House was sinking in public estimation, and that, if it did not vote in favour of this Bill, it would soon be found that the people could do better without the House of Lords, than the House of Lords could do without the people. If the people thought that they could do without the House of Lords, they probably might be 985 mad enough to attempt it; but he would venture to tell them, that if ever the people took such a step, they would themselves be the first to repent it. If an hereditary Parliament were really of no use to the country, then the sooner it was got rid of the better. It might be an anomaly in the State, but it was an anomaly which, on more occasions than one, had been found of the greatest service. The people owed their liberties to the House of Lords; and on no occasion had the Peers of England ever been found hostile to those liberties. Their Lordships were now accustomed to hear daily the language of Revolution—they were told to be cautious lest they should be cashiered. In a periodical journal, which had been published that day—he meant the "Westminster Review"—there was inserted among the fly-leaves a slip which contained the following words:—"The question of Reform of Revolution is rapidly approaching its solution in Great Britain. The honest part of the Radicals have done their duty in endeavouring to promote the first, and are quite ready to take their parts in the other, whenever it shall please the powers that be, to turn over that leaf in the nation's history. It is loudly affirmed that the Lords intend to reject the Bill; and therefore every man has a week or ten days to consider what he will do next."* Such was the language held out to them by this popular publication; and similar language was addressed to them every morning when the public newspapers were placed on their tables. He begged leave to say, that their Lordships had but one line of conduct to pursue on this occasion. They had to satisfy themselves that the Bill was safe to pass into a law. If they did not satisfy themselves on that point, they would not do their duty to the country. It was said that they would still continue Peers—that they might act as a deliberative assembly, and pass Turnpike Bills and other measures of no consequence, but that, because the House of Commons had passed a Bill for changing the constituency by which they were returned, and which involved an entire and total alteration of the Constitution of the country, they, sitting there as Peers and hereditary Counsellors of the Crown, whose duty it was to act between the Crown and the people, giving weight to* Westminster Review, No. xxx., p. 1.986 the liberties of the latter on the one hand, and power to the prerogatives of the former on the other, were not to reject the measure if they should be of opinion that it was not a safe one. If the people were tired of the House of Lords—if they no longer considered them a necessary part of the Constitution—in God's name let them say so, and they were ready at once to walk out of the House. The country, however, expected the House of Peers to do their duty. Their duty was to consider the Bill which had been proposed, and to vote upon it according to their consciences and to the best of their judgments, and he entertained no fear that the sensible part of the country, when they saw their Lordships perform their duty would be discontented with them for it. The noble Earl had addressed a few words to the right reverend bench. He would follow that example. True they were the ministers of peace. It was their business to preach peace amongst all men. But what did those right reverend persons sit in that House for? Was it for their own sakes merely? No, it was to represent the interests of the Church. The interests of the Church were in their hands. Those reverend Prelates must be aware, that the feeling of the great body of the ministers of the Church was against the Bill, and that it had been manifested conspicuously on more than one occasion, and it was their duty not to flinch from voting against the measure. He had now nearly finished all he had to say. He had, by the favour of his Sovereign, been placed in that House, to give his opinion fairly on any subject which might be brought before him. No man saw more clearly than himself the evil consequences which would result even from the rejection of the measure; but the motives on the other side were so strong as completely to overpower all anxiety on that account. He besought the Peers of England, as they valued their character—as they valued the station which they held, either by the favour of their Sovereign or by inheritance—to show that the Peers of England, when called upon to do their duty, would not be intimidated by menaces, or guided by interest. He placed great reliance on the good sense of the people of England. He had never known them to act unjustly towards those who were influenced by a conscientious sense of duty. He fearlessly left it to the people of England to form an 987 impartial opinion of the conduct which the House of Peers would pursue upon this occasion. The noble Lord concluded with moving as an Amendment, that all the words after the word "that" in the original Motion be omitted, for the purpose of substituting these words, "this Bill be rejected."
§ The Lord Chancellor put the question.
The Earl of Mulgrave
said, that the greater part of the speech of his noble friend who had just addressed their Lordships was directed exclusively to details which could only be properly considered in the Committee; yet he had concluded with a Motion, which, if carried, would preclude the possibility of the Bill ever reaching a Committee. His noble friend began by stating, that the noble Earl at the head of the Government had, by his explanation, very much increased the difficulties in which the House was placed. He agreed that if the House should come to the conclusion which his noble friend wished them, their difficulties would be increased by that speech. Why?—Not because the noble Earl held out any threat, for he had not done so, but because he had, in a philosophical and Statesmanlike manner, stated the reasons why the Bill should be read a second time. One reason why the House should not proceed to reject the Bill was to be found in the large majority by which it had been sent up from the other House of Parliament. It was evident that in spite of the conclusion to which his noble friend had come, he made many admissions in the course of his speech which were not very acceptable to some of those to whom he addressed them. He was rather disposed to think that his noble friend had entered into a compromise with those about him to this effect—namely, that they were to listen to his arguments provided he gave them the benefit of his vote. After his noble friend's admission, that nomination boroughs were an anomaly which ought to be got rid of, he was surprised that he proposed the positive rejection of the Bill. His noble friend had likewise stated, that large towns had a strong claim to have Representatives. These admissions were totally at variance with the positive denials of all Reform 988 which the House had been accustomed to hear from those with whom his noble friend acted on this occasion. The tables were turned upon the opponents of Reform. Formerly it was an accusation against the Reformers that no two of them agreed; but now it was difficult to find any two Anti-reformers agreeing. Many of the details of the Bill, particularly that with respect to the franchise, could only be properly considered in the Committee, and therefore he hoped that his noble friend would withdraw his Amendment, and allow the Bill to go to a Committee. His noble friend had given some extraordinary instances of the change of public opinion with respect to the Bill. His noble friend had walked up Bond-street and heard the shopkeepers declaim against the Bill. No doubt he had a very pleasant walk, but he might have turned his steps to some of the populous towns in his own neighbourhood. He thought that his opinion would have been more deliberately formed and entitled to more weight, if it had been founded upon the state of public opinion in the large manufacturing towns, rather than on the notions of a few shopkeepers in Bond-street. The good sense of his noble friend prevented him from denying the existence of blemishes in the present system, which he called anomalies. He was willing to remove those anomalies, but at the same time he wished all power to remain in the hands which at present possessed it. Upon that point he was at issue with his noble friend. He trusted that the Bill would not be rejected, for it had met with an extraordinary degree of approbation and concurrence in all parts of the country. But whether the Bill should be rejected or not, an efficient Reform must take place—such a Reform as would no longer leave in the hands of Peers the power of nominating Members. That only would satisfy the people. In arguing against the disfranchising part of the Bill, his noble friend had assigned a reason which had often been urged before. He said, that if boroughs should be disfranchised to the extent proposed by the Bill, there would be a difficulty in finding seats in the House of Commons for Ministers. Now nobody would contend, that if the Ministry were popular, there would be any difficulty in finding seats for its Members; but it was said, that if the Ministry should be unpopular, they could only get into the House of Commons 989 through some rotten boroughs. This argument was thought very clever before the dissolution of Parliament took place. When that event occurred, the feeling of the electors in favour of Reform was expressed in the most decided manner. Not a speech was heard from the Anti-reformers, until at length the first attack on the Bill and the Government proceeded from Harwich, a borough which had been used for the purpose of returning Ministers to the House of Commons. Nothing could more clearly show that the thing to which the boroughs clung was not the persons of Ministers or the Government of the country, but corrupt patronage. As long as that system of corrupt patronage continued, the boroughs were of use to return to Parliament Members of the Government, but they were of no use to an honest Government, which determined to discard patronage. There could not be a better proof of the sincerity of Ministers with respect to patronage than the introduction of the Bill. It was said, that the Bill would throw all the power into the hands of the people. What better control could there be over Ministerial patronage, than a House of Commons elected under a Bill which was said to have this effect? His noble friend also objected to the enfranchising part of the Bill, and, amongst other things, complained that there were to be only six Representatives for the West Riding of Yorkshire. That was a point which his noble friend might properly consider in the Committee. He was surprised to hear his noble friend contend, that additional Representatives should be given to the counties which were thinly peopled, rather than to those which were extremely populous.
§ Lord Wharncliffe
, in explanation, stated, his observation was, that, considering the injury which would be done to the agricultural districts by certain provisions of the Bill, it would be better if additional Members were to be given to counties; that the Members should be conferred upon the smaller and agricultural counties than upon the larger and manufacturing counties.
The Earl of Mulgrave
was sorry that he had misunderstood the noble Lord, and proceeded to say, that with respect to the dissolution, upon which the noble Baron had spoken with such earnestness, there never yet was an occasion upon which the Sovereign was more fully justified in 990 making an appeal to the people. Never was there a period in the history of the country, when a much greater change had taken place in the views, and feelings, and political objects of the Government, and never yet was there a change which in the least approached this in magnitude and importance, which was not followed by a dissolution. It was necessary that a new Parliament should be called to relieve the Ministry from the manifold difficulties under which they laboured, in assuming power after so long an exclusion and, under so many circumstances of exceeding disadvantage. For a time, however, the Government were anxious to avoid a dissolution, but difficulties were industriously multiplied around them, and they were at length forced into a measure which they would have, if possible, declined. And now it was asserted, that an alteration had taken place in the public feeling respecting this Reform Bill: the same assertion had been made immediately after the dissolution; and how was it sustained? Never was there a more decided manifestation of popular feeling than upon that occasion. What was the result of the election? Of the twelve county Members who stood forward as the most violent opponents of the Bill, only one was returned for his own county as a Representative of the present Parliament. Though all had expressed, in the delivery of what proved to be their last dying words, high hope and confidence, only one was successful in the contest. The noble Baron said, that if it pleased the country that the House of Lords should no longer exist, they were ready to walk out; but for himself he declared he had a very different idea of the stability of their station, and it was, that they might without envy or reproach, maintain that station, that he now supported this measure. For one, he conceived it was a slight sacrifice on their part to secure all their just rights and privileges, by simply resigning the unconstitutional power of exercising influence upon the other branch of the Legislature. The noble Baron said, that if this Bill passed, their Lordships would not thenceforth have the power of resisting any measure which was sent up to them from the House of Commons; but this he contested, and he appealed to history in support of his view of the question. The two Houses of Parlament had differed before, and measures sent up by the other House had been successfully 991 resisted by their Lordships. But it might be asked, although their Lordships had resisted successfully before, were they likely to do so hereafter against a reformed House of Commons? He contended they were, and maintained that the change in the Representation could not injuriously affect the relative position of the two Houses. He begged to remind their Lordships, that the House of Commons had once consented to the expediency of a measure for altering and reforming the Criminal Law, contrary to the opinion held by the Administration of that day, and yet their Lordships had rejected it. He regretted that they did. He believed it was an inexpedient step upon their part, and he trusted they would take an opportunity of retracing it hereafter. But here, he contended, was a manifest proof of their Lordships' power and independence. There was, however, one great distinction between the exercise of their Lordships prerogative in this case and in the case of the Reform Bill. In the one it was impossible to accuse them of any sinister motive; was it thus in the other? Considering the influence many of their Lordships were known to possess in the other House, was it possible, should they reject the Bill, to give them credit for entire disinterestedness in their decision? Would not the country know and feel that if all persons interested were excluded from the right of voting, the people would have a majority in their favour? He had a great respect for the House of Lords in its proper position; he considered that it would be always necessary to preserve the balance of the Constitution, and to act as umpire between the Sovereign and the power of the people; but he, at the same time, must observe, that he knew no assembly less calculated to resist the other branches of the State—to overbear the wishes of the King and the Commons. At no period of history did it appear that an aristocracy had been able, at an advanced stage of civilization, to preserve privileges which were generally disputed. At the early stages of society, an aristocracy was all powerful to assume and acquire; but when these acquisitions assumed the shape of usurpations, they could not long maintain them. He was the last man who would question the right of their Lordships to stop the Bill if they thought proper to do so; but he could not help looking to what would be the end of their opposition. 992 The Lords, it was true, might reject the Bill; but what would be the issue? They might reject it; but if they did so, they would be in a minority, and in a minority of two to one—and he again asked what would be the issue? Like all minorities, their Lordships must yield; and they even would be compelled to yield to opinions so sustained and so expressed, and so well founded, as those against which it was contemplated they might array themselves. The fact was, that in the Constitution there were provisions for the obstinate opposition of any one branch of the Legislature to the other two. If the King opposed the views and representations of the Lords and Commons, he was compelled to change his advisers, and create a new Administration; if the House of Commons pertinaciously opposed the Sovereign and the Lords, there was a dissolution, and thus a fresh appeal to the people; and if the Lords, in their turn, opposed the Sovereign and the Commons, and the people, there was also an ultimate resource. There were means of averting this opposition, which might constitutionally, and would probably be resorted to. He denied that the vote of their Lordships on the present occasion could be considered as fairly settling the question of Reform; he denied even it could be so regarded, that, under the existing state of excited feeling, it would be received as a final decision of the question, when their Lordships, as one of the branches of the Legislature, stood in a minority, and opposed, moreover, the views and wishes of an entire people. What end, then, could noble Lords propose by rejecting the Bill? Was it supposed that the people would place confidence in those whom they had driven from power on account of their opposition to Reform? Let no man conceal from himself the fact, that if he voted against the second reading of the Bill, he voted against the principle of Reform. He now clearly saw, that what he stated in the beginning of his speech he suspected, was the fact—there was a division in the enemy's camp. In conclusion, he declared, that from the state of the country, he looked with great anxiety and agitation to the vote of that night. If their Lordships rejected the Bill, he feared it would prove to the noble Lords opposite a melancholy triumph. When such a body as the House of Commons declared that the Bill only conceded the people's just rights, he could 993 not conceive a course more reckless or more hopeless than that of offering opposition to it. The effect of this decision was likely to affect their Lordships' influence in the State, for as long as their Lordships had possessed those titles and privileges and rights, which they derived from their ancestors. He did not apprehend immediate tumult from the rejection of the Bill; but he could not conceive it possible that the House of Lords could embark in a more hopeless contest. The effect of their Lordships' decision on this momentous question would be felt through future ages.
The Earl of Mansfield
spoke to the following effect:*—My Lords—I hardly know what excuse to offer, for obtruding myself upon your Lordships' attention; no particular duty is imposed on me, I have no peculiar interest in this question, so interesting to us all; and the embarrassment which I always feel, in addressing so critical an audience is increased by the importance of the question which we have to discuss, and which agitates me so much as even to drive from my recollection the arguments which I wish to adduce on a subject that has engrossed my thoughts for many months. But whatever my reluctance might have been, an expression of a noble Earl (Earl Mulgrave) has decided me to overcome it. The noble Earl says, "there is dissension in the camp;" he is mistaken—though there be diversity of opinion, we are all united in a determination to do our duty, and oppose this Bill.
My Lords—although my noble friend, the noble Baron and I, take a different view of parts of the subject, I shall heartily support his amendment. In my humble opinion, Parliamentary Reform is not necessary—but if it were, this Bill is one which your Lordships could not approve; and I rejoice to know, that if your Lordships come to this conclusion, whatever may be said by noble Lords in their speeches, your rejection will be pure and simple, unaccompanied by any declaration as to the necessity of Reform, or as to any other plan which you could have been disposed to have adopted; such a declaration (as I think) would cause disappointment, and tend to the continuance of a dangerous delusion.
I readily admit, that it is our duty to* From the corrected copy, published by Roake and Varty.994 take into consideration all plans which may be proposed for the improvement of any of our institutions. I contend, however, that the existence of an evil should be proved, that the remedy should be limited to the object; and even if the evil were proved, and admitted, when the measure is of great importance, we should hesitate to adopt it, unless we had good grounds for believing that the change must be an improvement; and we should take care, that in applying a remedy for one evil, we do not cause a greater. If, for instance, an apparent advantage could not be obtained, but at the expense of justice, by trampling on the sacred rights of property, upon which the lowest and the highest individuals in the land have hitherto rested their security, there would be a repugnance in my mind to accept of even a great advantage on those terms. I do not pretend to say, that there are not anomalies, or theoretical defects in the constitution of the House of Commons, but even at the risk of being assimilated to those lovers, in whose eyes the very deformities of their mistress are beauties,Veluti Balbinum Polypus Agnæ,I must say, that some of these apparent defects are attended with real advantage.
My first inquiry is, What is the evil? Is it that, constituted as the House of Commons is, it has not performed its duty, and has not been in unison with the people? I know it has been said—and to support the assertion, the history of the last forty years has been brought under review; not that it could be said that formerly the conduct of Parliament was blameless, but that, during almost the whole of that time, a course of policy has been taken, which is particularly reprobated by the Reformers. It is said, the House of Commons, of whose Members a great proportion are the nominees of Peers, or great landed proprietors (but just now, it is better to say Peers), for their own advantage, supported the Ministers who plunged the country into an unjust and unnecessary war. British blood was shed, treasure lavished with profusion in ill-concerted expeditions, heavy taxes were imposed, and our Debt considerably increased. At last the war of long continuance was brought to a close, a peace was signed which gave to Britain no useful addition to her territorial possessions—merely the solitary advantage of having imposed upon France a ruler whom she detested, and 995 having become the ally of all the despots in Europe, leagued together for the oppression of their subjects, and the destruction of civil liberty, while her own subjects were oppressed with a debt so onerous, that our commerce, our agriculture, and all our resources were crippled for ever—this could not have taken place with a reformed Parliament.
This, my Lords, is an appalling picture: if I cannot efface it, let me, at least, attempt to soften some of its lineaments, which is the more necessary, because, according to my observation of four or five points to which the majority of the people direct their attention, nothing has struck them more, nothing has deluded them more, than the assertion that, with a reformed Parliament, wars would be less frequent, and consequently, the national Debt would not be increased; and, my Lords, whatever may be said as to Representation, as to restoration of rights, depend upon it the great majority think of nothing but reduction of taxation. That the war was just and inevitable I believe, but of course leave that open to contradiction; that much mismanagement may be imputed to Ministers, in the early part of the war, must be admitted, but, I think, candour would oblige us to confess, that latterly, when zeal and experience had combined, there was a considerable improvement. Heavy taxes were imposed, debt was accumulated, and peace did not give us as great additions to our possessions as some might have expected; but Great Britain obtained the only object she ever had in view—security for herself, the liberation of Europe from the ambition of France (invariable under every change of her Government), and the establishment of peace on solid foundations. It was a satisfaction to reflect, that to the valour of her fleets and armies, the firmness and wisdom of her Ministers, and of her Parliament, the successful termination of the war was mainly to be attributed; and when the Speaker of the House of Commons conferred upon the noble Duke that reward for his unparalleled services which he perhaps appreciates as highly as any he ever received—the thanks of that honourable House; when a less formal, almost involuntary compliment, was paid to a noble Lord, unhappily now no more, who had conducted the negotiations, having peace for their object, how few were there then who would have asserted, that Parliament 996 neglected its duty, or that the sentiments of the people were not expressed in the House of Commons! After a short interval, war ensued; what voice was heard to condemn it? And when the noble Duke closed the list of his splendid victories, by one more brilliant, more important in its consequences, and terminated negotiations, in which he had borne a distinguished part, if there was not unanimity, at least the satisfaction was very general; not only as expressed by the Representatives in Parliament, but also by the great majority of the people, if the opinions of individuals had been collected; they were satisfied with the result, contented with the acquisitions they had gained, the compensations they had received, and, above all, determined to fulfil the obligations which they had contracted.
Now, had the Parliament been purified as theorists recommend, I will not pretend to say what would have been the march of events, but I remember that the contagion of French principles had spread to this country—that a great part of our population (always called by their partisans the whole people) were disposed to cultivate friendship, or fraternity, with France, and to follow her example; and I really believe, that to the firmness of the Minister, and of the Parliament, acting in opposition to what was said to be the wish of the people, we owe our existence as a nation. In a short time, the atrocities of the French Revolution, the encroaching spirit of the French Government, opened the eyes of the people, and dissipated the delusion which had prevailed; but, let me ask, is a popular assembly of delegates, and not Representatives (and if the Reformed House of Commons be not of that description, it will not satisfy those who so loudly clamour for Reform), is a popular assembly, I ask, always pacific? and even if it had been inclined to avert war, by concessions, would they have been successful? Does the experience of Prussia, of some of the States in Germany, and of Spain, teach us this? War, then, was possible, it must have been attended with expense; the valour of our fleets and armies would have been the same; but I know no reason for supposing that our expeditions would have been better conducted. From what we have heard of other popular assemblies, we may believe that the difficulties under which our commanders laboured, would have been much 997 increased; an assembly acting under the immediate impulsion of the people, would have urged our commanders at one time with childish impatience to an imprudent advance, at other times would have recommended, if not an ignominious, an unsafe retreat. I doubt, for instance, whether a reformed House of Commons would have allowed the noble Duke to remain with Fabian policy in his position, behind the lines of Torres Vedras, while popular orators were addressing it, predicting that in a short time, not a British soldier would be left in Portugal, but as a prisoner; when that prediction found an echo in the camp itself, where perhaps there was but one heart that did not quail with apprehension.
But peace, which must have followed, would have given us no adequate compensation for our losses; it never does; happily we have this additional reason for avoiding war; and after a short time, when peace had not been accompanied by those advantages, by that diminution of taxes, which the people expected, would they not have been clamorous for relief, and might not the Members of that House, acting under the immediate influence of the people, have acceded to their wishes? might they not have retained the advantages which the fortune of war had thrown into our hands, and have refused to pay the price at which they were acquired; might they not have cancelled the obligation to the public creditor, and have withdrawn the pensions (scanty as they are) from our soldiers, and our sailors, leaving them to drag about their frames, debilitated by exposure to pestilential climates, or mutilated by their wounds, at once the monument of their services and of national ingratitude?
This is not calumny—such has often been the gratitude of a popular assembly—such is the language of the Reformers! I speak of two considerable burthens, much augmented by the war; they have been selected as the first objects of reduction—though such injustice will be revolting to your Lordships—the proposal has come from those who pretend that they represent the feelings of the people; a portion of that people approves it, but by a Parliament constituted as it is at present, it would be indignantly rejected.
But during this time, was the House of Commons the humble instrument of the Minister of the day, and negligent of its duty? It is true, that in the first years of 998 the war, from the confidence reposed in the Minister—from apprehension of the principles avowed by his opponents, there was a great expenditure; but was the House corrupt. Were the Members intent only on their personal advantage? Was the support given to the holder of office and the dispenser of favours, without regard to character? No!—they showed an independent spirit, that they could make a selection of the Minister in whom they could confide, and the measures they would approve. After the death of Mr. Pitt, when the noble Lord and his friends came into office, did they find the House too servile? And when, after a general election, they were dismissed by George 3rd, the House did not make an attempt to reinstate them. Again, in 1827, and to take one of the most remarkable, and a recent instance, the House withdrew its confidence from the noble Duke, and obliged him to resign his office.
In the investigation of the causes of failure of some expeditions, of the supposed misconduct on the part of public officers, the mismanagement or misapplication of public money, the House was not idle; but I must say, that the manner in which some of these inquiries were conducted, gave me reason to think that the House was quite enough under the influence of the people.
But since the peace, what has been done? Taxes to the amount of twenty-five millions have been taken off; at the head of them the most important, the most supported by Ministers (the property tax); the interest of the Debt has been reduced, while the national faith has been strictly preserved.
Great improvements have been made in our criminal law, for which, although the right hon. Gentleman who introduced them must have the highest honour, Parliament may take the credit of having attended to a subject of such general interest. Economy in the different branches of the public service, the reduction of sinecures, of salaries, of pensions, as far as was consistent with justice, have been carried into effect; and I may remind your Lordships, that when there was a suspicion of partiality in selecting the individuals who were to be affected by reduction, there was, on the part of the House of Commons, a proper jealousy, a prompt and successful interference.
999 Although for all these measures, the Ministers who introduced them are entitled to credit, the House of Commons at least has a right to quote them, as a proof that the Representatives have not neglected their duty to their constituents.
Is the evil—inadequate Representation?
Soon after the peace, a most important measure, affecting all the interests of the country, was, after much discussion, adopted. I mean the resumption of cash payments. Upon this subject there were the most discordant opinions; but I think it could not be said that any interest suffered from want of Representatives, in the measures which followed, for giving freedom to trade in general; and in the exception which was made with regard to corn, each interest was accused by the other of having obtained an undue advantage, and the inference that I at least am inclined to draw is, that they are pretty fairly balanced; but the opinion of the Ministers, sometimes public opinion too strong to be resisted, gives to one of them a momentary preponderance; and it should be remembered, that there is always a great portion of the Members who do not feel themselves bound to support the claims of any particular interest, but to vote for those measures which will conduce to the welfare of all.
One great measure was carried through the House of Commons, with the consent, of course, of a majority of the Representatives, but, as I am convinced, in opposition to the wishes of their constituents—I mean the Catholic Relief Bill. Indignation at this circumstance has made many, who were opposed to that Bill, Reformers: it has not had that effect upon me. I consider the Members of Parliament as Representatives, not as delegates: they were to act in the manner most conducive, in their opinion, to the advantage of the whole country, and at a general election, their conduct would either be censured or approved: let those who, with the notion of improving the Representation, exclude all places which have not a numerous constituency, and who were favourable to the Bill, consider how that measure would have been stopped had there been no boroughs or towns over which Government or individuals had an influence; though I'cannot adopt their opinions on that Bill, nay, am daily confirmed in my melancholy forebodings of the consequences of that measure, I feel that for 1000 constituents to have forced upon the Members a resistance to a measure which they thought would be most advantageous, to the country, would have been a great evil, would have been often repeated, and would have submitted the House arbitrio popularis aurœ.
No, my Lords—resentment for public conduct might make me withdraw my support and confidence from public men; but institutions are not to be lightly changed or abandoned because something has occurred which we disapprove, and which these institutions have not enabled us to avert. But I have admitted that it is our duty to take any plan into consideration; this has always been my opinion, and particularly expressed at the close of last year, at the risk of being considered by some of my political friends as too much of a Reformer. I thought that between a determination not to agree to any change, and the adoption of wild schemes of innovation, there was a middle course. Listen to all the suggestions, consider the subject; though you do not see the necessity of change, or anticipate any improvement; be guided solely by your opinion as to the advantage of the measure proposed. But though I thought the duty of Members of Parliament invariable, I must say, that there never could have been so unfortunate a moment, one in which calm discussion and a prudent decision could be so little expected, as when the events of France and Belgium, combined with the circumstances of a general election, afforded an opportunity to those who wished for change, to seduce a great portion of the assembled population by an extravagant picture of the advantages of Reform; while others, and probably those who possessed most property, were persuaded that Reform alone could save us from Revolution. The opposite declarations of the noble Duke, and of the noble Earl at the head of the present Administration, brought matters to a crisis. Ministers pledged themselves to Reform, and soon after redeemed that pledge, by bringing in Bills similar to that which is now before us; which, be it good or bad, the public was not prepared to expect from the declarations of the noble Earl (as they were understood), from the declared opinions of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, and from the rumours of their intentions which had been circulated, and particularly as to Scotland.
1001 Of a Bill thus introduced, we have now, for the first time, had the benefit of receiving an explanation from the noble Lord from whom it emanated, given with his usual eloquence and ability; but as I have not the facility of adverting to what has been said by others in debate, and as the statement given elsewhere, which I have studied with attention, does not materially differ, it is to that that my remarks will be directed. The statement was, that the object of Ministers was, to place themselves between two hostile parties, upon sure and stedfast ground—between the abuses they wished to amend, and the convulsions they hoped to avert; that no one of common sense could say that the House of Commons represented the people and commonalty of England; that there was a time in which the right of being represented was recognized. If it were a question of right, therefore, right was in favour of Reform; and that we may not be lost in the labyrinths of early history, or referred to statutes on which there is any doubt, or to times too remote from our own, the Reformers go at once to Edward 1st, with a charity which reminds me of the lady in Prior's "Alma:"Then that I might not be wearied, madam,To cut things short, came down to Adam.But hither, I fear, we must follow them; the Statutes of the 25th and 34th of that King, and particularly the Statute "De Tallagio concedendo," and perhaps the words of the Writ, "Quod omnes tangit ab omnibus approbrtur," having been cited to prove that no tax could be imposed without the consent of the whole community, one might have expected a proposal to restore the franchise to all, even to repeal the Act of Henry 6th, which limits the qualification to the possessors of 40s. in land, and that in freehold, and not to limit it to particular classes and districts, or the occupiers of houses rated at 10l.
It is further stated, that nomination in close boroughs and close corporations are not the settled institutions of the country. It was admitted, that the Representation consisted of knights for counties, citizens and burgesses: could it be denied that at all times Members were returned by the influence of the Crown, of individuals, or by close corporations?
The Crown, by its power of creating boroughs, exercised an influence on the House of Commons, of which 1002 it probably became more sensible, after the precedent given by Edward 4th, who gave an express right to Wenlock to send Members by charter, as a reward for the services of the proprietor. Now I do not see that this influence was questioned, even when articles of accusation were brought against Richard 2nd, as an excuse for deposing him. I see it laid to his charge, that he interfered with the Sheriffs to return Knights who would vote for excessive subsidies, and particularly for a tax upon wool, which was to continue during the King's life; but not a word of the influence of returning citizens and burgesses. For many years the House of Commons, though containing the elements of liberty in its constitution, was subservient to the Crown; but submissive as it had shown itself to Queen Elizabeth, in the apology (as it was called) which it presented to King James, while it admitted that deference had been shown to the Queen, on account of her sex and her extraordinary qualities, denied that this was to be interpreted as an abandonment of rights and liberties, which, on the contrary, the House asserted, in the name of the whole Commons, as their just inheritance; and enumerating the things of which those rights and liberties consist, they claimed that the shires, cities, and boroughs of England, by Representation to be present here, have free choice of such persons as are to represent them: they do not complain of the influence of the Crown in the Duchy of Cornwall, in which no less than twenty-six Members had been added in the three last reigns; or of individuals in boroughs; and one has no reason to suppose, that the return of Lady Packington to the Writ of Aylesbury, 14th Queen Elizabeth, that she had chosen and approved two burgesses, was a solitary instance.
It has been observed by a noble Lord, in his work upon the Constitution, that these unhealthy excrescences did not prevent the Petition of Right, or guard the Throne from the Roundheads: but, my Lords, the dreadful tragedy which then took place, was, I must say, in opposition to what fell from a noble Earl, (Earl Grey) imputable to concessions, to unwise, imprudent concessions—and to the design of the House of Commons to engross the whole administration of the State; and historians have remarked, that the Monarchy and the Peerage did not 1003 fall, till the liberties of Parliament had been destroyed by that army, which it had made the instrument of aggression.
The attempt of Cromwell to form a Parliament, of which he had different schemes, cannot be considered as connected with our Constitution: the agreement, the scheme of the officers who supplanted Richard Cromwell, by which the electors were to vote according; to the payment of taxes, and vote by ballot, were theories which were not carried into practice, though perhaps they have afforded some hints to the framers of the present Bill. The sending Writs to the old boroughs by Richard Cromwell was a popular measure, though it had not the effect of establishing his government; and this leads me to remark, that the Long Parliament, which I think must be admitted to have had the spirit of Reform, did not imagine that boroughs in which the population was reduced, and which had not received a Writ for centuries, ought therefore to lose their rights, for when petitions had been presented, it sent Writs to seven boroughs, some of them certainly not populous—four of them are in schedule B, and three in schedule A: * amongst others, Milborne Port, which still has a right, and, as some conceive, should have a preferable right, to return Members. The attempts of Charles 2nd to resume the charters, and remodel them for his purposes, have been severely and justly reprobated, and King William, in his declaration made before his landing, promised that all the rights of boroughs should be maintained. To a Parliament so constituted we owe the Revolution, upon the advantages of which we are unanimous, whatever difference of opinion there may be as to some of the circumstances attending it—to a Parliament so constituted we owe the succession of the House of Hanover. If, to use the words of a celebrated orator, the Constitution is to be arraigned at this tribunal, if I cannot save it from condemnation, at least let these merits go in mitigation of its punishment.
If, shortly after the Revolution, direct bribery was carried to a shameful degree, and afterwards indirect influence was exercised by the creation of useless offices* The boroughs are,
1004 and granting pensions, still the prosperity of the country gradually advanced, though occasionally its progress was retarded; but even in these times, I do not see that it ever occurred to the Representatives, or to the people, that their condition was to be improved by an alteration in the constitution of Parliament, and now, when direct bribery cannot be suspected, when there are fewer placemen in the House, including officers in the army and navy, than there were in George 2nd's time, when the patronage of Ministers is so much reduced, such an alteration appears to me to be still less necessary, and especially because the Reformers cannot refer us to any time in our history, in which their plan was in operation, attended by those advantages which, as they say, must always attend it. And here again I must refer to a noble Lord (Lord John Russell) for whom I have a great respect; he has written and spoken with great ability on (his subject, and I do not quote him for the purpose of imputing to him any inconsistency, but without offence I may mention those observations which have made the greatest impression on my mind. In his book on the Constitution he says, "If a man were to object to change, and to say government is a matter of experience, not of speculation, we will therefore rest contented with things as they are, his objections would be sound."
A Seaford, Malton, and Allerton. B Ashburton. B Honiton. A Weobly. B Cockermouth. B Okehampton. A Milborne Port.
Since, then, the plan now proposed is not a return to that which was once established, it is an innovation and an attempt to reconstitute the State. I do not on that account refuse to consider it, though, if the innovation had been from the first avowed, I believe it would have had fewer partisans; and though I may have the prejudice that those who rock the cradle of an infant constitution, may probably accompany it to its grave. But fortunately I come at once to an insuperable objection. The Bill consists of two parts, one the disfranchisement of boroughs complete or partial, the other the creation of a new constituency, and a new arrangement of boroughs and counties. I do not entertain the least doubt of the power of Parliament to disfranchise boroughs: there are no national limits to that power but possibility. Parliament, however, may impose fetters upon itself by which it will be ever restrained. I would have it our pride to say, Parliament cannot do what is unjust 1005 —I conceive this disfranchisement to be unjust and impolitic: unjust, because, whether the rights of boroughs be real property, or held in trust, as the noble Earl has contended, if it be a trust, unless misconduct has been proved, the trustees cannot be divested—(that any boroughs should be heard by counsel is what the wildest Reformer in this House would never oppose)—if it be an absolute property, it can with as little justice be taken from the owners. And even if we were proceeding on the admission, that the measure was absolutely necessary for the good of the country, taking the analogy of the heritable jurisdictions in Scotland, or of lands which have been taken for the erection of barracks or fortifications when the country was threatened with invasion, Parliament provided that the proprietors should receive compensation for a seizure, which nothing but necessity could have justified—impolitic, because it is unwise to show that charters from the Crown give no security. Are these the only charters which may be questioned, on the ground of speculative advantage to the public? Will the grants of land be more secure? The doctrine that all the property of the Church is, and always was, the property of the State; that Henry 8th, when on the suppression of monasteries he parcelled out the Church lands amongst his favourites, exceeded his powers; and that these grants should be resumed, is very unpalatable to individuals, and would not now be tolerated by your Lordships; but in a Reformed House of Commons it would be favourably received, and, what is worse, would rest its justification upon that measure which you had sanctioned.
Against this disfranchisement, then, I protest; and as most of the provisions depend upon the settlement of this point, it would be unnecessary for me to enter into an examination of the details, even if my noble friend (Lord Wharncliffe) had not so ably exposed their defects: a few words, however, may be permitted to me upon some of the most glaring inconsistencies.
Adopting the principle of population, and being obliged to draw the line somewhere, it is proposed (that all boroughs which have not 2,000 inhabitants, shall be disfranchised; those which have between 2,000 and 4,000, shall return one Member; above 4,000, two Members. Waving for a moment the objection to the principle, should we not have expected, 1006 that the returns of the actual population, and not the census of 1821, which is notoriously incorrect, would have been taken as a base? (Although it is possible that some false returns would have been made at the census of 1831, for the purpose of giving advantages to particular towns)—but this is very unfair, for it is well known, that there are towns which had not 2,000 inhabitants in 1821, but whose population is greatly increased; and as this is a final arrangement, they are for ever excluded: and this is a remedy for a system, of which one of the evils is stated to be, that towns, much as they increase in population, will not acquire the right of sending Members to Parliament. But even if the census of 1831 were taken, should we not be preparing ourselves for the adoption of what has been called the rule-of-three system? that if 2,000 return one, then 4,000 two, and 6,000 three Members, and so on—a system which, as I understand, is as much disapproved of by the supporters as by the opposers of this Bill; and yet, though this may not be the immediate, I think it must be the ultimate consequence.
It was for the purpose of neutralizing the principle of population, I presume, that the standard of properly was also taken, and applied indifferently; but it is often difficult to know by what test the arrangement is to be tried, and sometimes it is irreconcilable with either or with both: for instance, of two towns which are placed in similar circumstances, one is disfranchised, and the other returns two Members.
The great object was, to introduce a new constituency upon a qualification assumed to be uniform; and so it is in amount, but not in its effect. In some large towns, it will extend the franchise to nine-tenths of the householders, while in others the number of electors will be very small; it is, to be sure, a matter of opinion, but I own, that in making a new arrangement, it would not have occurred to me to give increased influence to this particular class.
The framers of the Bill propose to give additional Members to counties, and thus establish an aristocracy of land, to balance the aristocracy of towns; and yet in some counties the 10l. householders of towns will have great influence—in some, I have reason to believe, that they would obtain a preponderance.
1007 Having taken population as a principle, and the payment of taxes applied to counties, they give to those which have a smaller population, and who pay a smaller amount of taxes, a greater number of Representatives.
In conformity to the orders of your Lordships' House, and consistently with the tone which has been taken hitherto, and which I hope will be observed in this debate, I would not impute to the authors of this Bill motives of partiality and injustice; but, deprived of this resource, if I may so call it, I cannot understand it. I will not say that it is inexplicable, but it does appear to me, that neither in the debates elsewhere, nor in this House, has this arrangement been satisfactorily explained.
Avowing the intention of taking the franchise from the lowest class, because it is subject to bribery, they confer the right of voting upon those who must be most under the influence of landlords, depriving freemen of their natural rights, when it can be done with safety, but conceding to the potwallopers, who would be too clamorous, the exercise of that right which it is said they never ought to have possessed. Professing to destroy influence, they make a division of counties which shall place them under the influence of Peers and great proprietors, such as were called, in a petition from Durham, presented by a noble Marquis (Cleveland) an overbearing oligarchy—thus substituting nominees of departments for nominees of boroughs—objecting to out-voters, and bringing them sixteen or seventeen miles to add to the constituency of some towns; in others, confining the votes to residents, but allowing them to non-residents in counties and in universities—and all this to cure anomalies!
And whereas the possession of property is desirable in an elector, the possessor of half a town is not to have a vote, unless he be resident; while his tenant for the shortest term, the most dependent, possessing the smallest interest in the property, shall vote not only in towns, but in counties, if he hold land of the yearly value of 50l. This last provision was introduced for a reason easily understood—to correct the democratical parts of the Bill. Attempts were made in discussion to veil this from the eyes of the public, which is easily deceived. But others, more clear-sighted, were reconciled to the Bill by this aristocratical 1008 alteration. Now it is always said, that this will be a final settlement of the Representation. I must be allowed to doubt it.
As long as there is any individual, not a minor, not fatuous, who has not a vote, so long will there be some one who will assert, and many who will believe, that the people are deprived of their just and natural rights.
As long as towns increasing in population do not return an increased number of Members, so long will they consider that they are not adequately represented.
The influence of money will always exist, and bribery will always be suspected, unless the electors be so wealthy that money could not tempt them; the only security would be a high qualification, quite incompatible with an extended suffrage.
The conduct of Members of Parliament who support the Government, will always be imputed to interested motives, as long as there is a single place, honour, or distinction, at the disposal of the Minister; and yet we are told, this must be satisfactory to the people, because it secures adequate Representation, purity of election, and integrity of conduct in the Representatives. I should say, that it were better to abide by the old Constitution, which, if defective, has advantages in practice, than to adopt a theoretical system, to which the same objections may be made.
Thus then, my Lords, I am compelled to oppose this Bill upon its principle, and no alterations of the details could affect my objections. I rejoice that, as a Member of this House, it is no part of my duty to propose a substitute. That improvements in the regulation of elections, so as to diminish the expense and inconvenience, may be suggested, is possible; that bribery may be more effectually restrained; that a plan might be proposed for repairing what appears to me to have been an omission in 1800: and giving to the Crown the power of issuing writs to new boroughs, which it had lost by the Union with Scotland and Ireland, is also possible; upon these points I offer no opinion, but must express my belief, that the populous towns have never proved that they had actually suffered any real injury from not having had the right to send Representatives to Parliament. Some proposition, may also be made with respect to the Representation of Scotland, to which, notwithstanding 1009 the interest I must take in that country, I have not adverted, as it is not at present under discussion. Upon this point also I offer no opinion; but whether that state of Representation be good or bad, it is a consolation to me to know, that the injury arising from it must be of recent date, for it was only lately, that the Reformers complained of the apathy of the people, and particularly of the people of Scotland, on the subject of Reform.
Objecting to the Bill, then, I should naturally vote against it, but this I am told I must not do; and for these reasons: because the interference of the House of Lords with a Bill of this description, if it be legal, is objectionable, and that the people must and will have Reform. Now with respect to the first objection, that is very unfortunate, for in 1728, when the Commons sent up a Bill to prevent bribery at elections, the Lords made two amendments; the first raised the penalty from 50l. to 500l. to which the Commons, notwithstanding their objections to money clauses, agreed. The second was as important; it declared that such votes shall be deemed to be legal which have been so declared by the last determination of the House of Commons; this also was accepted, and a popular orator, Mr. Pulteney, in praising the patriotism of the Lords, went so far as to say, that the Lords as well as the Commons, are the guardians of the freedom of elections.
But the people will have Reform. Now, my Lords, I do not mean to deny that a very great proportion of the people are for Reform, not that they are unanimous; and to use an expression of Mr. Burke, we must not always judge of the generality of the opinion by the noise of the acclamation; and though I would admit a numerical superiority, yet I believe that if a scale of numbers and property were taken, the majority of property would be against the Bill. But for the sake of argument, I will admit that the people are unanimous; I must answer, that we are not here to obey the dictates of the people, or to register the edicts of the House of Commons. If we have a right to examine a bill, to modify, and alter its provisions, we must have a right to judge of its principle, and of the necessity for legislating on the subject. It is our duty to examine with patience all that is suggested for the 1010 benefit of the people, and thus to impress upon their minds that truth which is not at once apparent to them, probably from the distance at which we are placed, that our interests are inseparable, that it is not only the duty, but the interest of the Peers, that the people should have the full enjoyment of all their just rights and liberties, upon which individual and national happiness so much depend; that it is impossible that the prosperity of the people can be increased, and that it should not be reflected upon us; or that the people should suffer calamity, or a deprivation of their rights and liberties, without involving the Peers; who in themselves, it is true, have a part in legislation which is not given to all, but in their property, and in their families, are incorporated in the mass of the people. Attributing to us, therefore, very uncharitably, selfish motives, I say from those motives, from motives of self-interest, we could not resist any measure which we really thought would conduce to the advantage of the people; and it was well observed by my noble friend (the Earl of Mulgrave) as well as by a noble Earl on presenting a petition, that it was wrong to say that the Peers had no interest in this Bill, but one ought to say, that they had no separate interest. Let this truth, coming from the lips of the noble Earl, have the effect which it could not have had if it had merely come from mine.
If you approve of the Bill, give it your support. But if not—would you upon any other occasion have at once admitted that you were in the wrong? Would you not have put your own opinion, and that of the minority of the House of Commons in contrast with the opinions of the people? Why should you not do so now? For fear of the consequences? We have been told, in no measured language, by the Press, that our own persons or our property may be attacked, and I must say, that nothing can be so well calculated to produce the effect as these threats so circulated. I think it very probable that there will be disturbances; I have full confidence in the firmness of the Government, and that they will be put down. I shall be sorry, however, that such events should take place, as individuals perhaps more deluded than guilty will be the victims. I do not disregard consequences, but from what are they to proceed?—from disappointment? Now what is it that the people expect from 1011 the Bill? Looking to the great number of petitions which explain their expectations, but not one half of their delusions; such as, that those who have any thing to sell must always obtain a great price, and those who have to purchase, find every thing cheap. The prayers of the petition are for a reduction of taxes, quite incompatible with the payment of the debt, and which would recoil upon themselves; the abolition of tithes, the appropriation of Church property to the uses of the State, &c. Now the supporters of the Bill say, that there will be no such consequences, that it is absurd to believe it; but if the expectations of the people be not realized, will they not be dissatisfied? Will they not be equally clamorous in expressing their disappointment, and might not the same argument be urged to persuade you to consent to more dangerous but inevitable concessions?
In conclusion—I must say, fain would I see this effervescence subside. If I were to frame a wish and devise the means for restoring calm to the public mind, confidence to all who are engaged in commerce, trade, or agriculture, and to the possessors of property, it would be, that, we should renew the charter of our Constitution for two years, with all its defects, all its anomalies, exposing ourselves to the risk of suffering those calamities which may attend so defective a state of Representation. At the end of that time, you would come to the discussion in a calmer state of mind, with better hope of temperate discussion and of prudent decision. But this would not suit his Majesty's Ministers; they wish that the agitation may continue; it is like the fever which gives the patient artificial strength, though it will finally cause his destruction.
May the arguments against this Bill which have been so ably advanced by others, and the intreaties which community of interest, allows me to address to you, have some effect. Do not, in the hope of improvement, rashly endanger our venerable Constitution, which has been the admiration and the envy of the world; in which various interests are balanced, opposite elements brought together, not in conflict, but in beautiful harmony; which not the wisdom of man, assisted by experience; not time, or fortuitous circumstances, could ever have effected without the aid of that all-gracious Power, which I trust has not yet withdrawn its protection 1012 from this favoured land. Do not let us return to that chaos in which these elements would still exist, but not in union; do not adopt the theories of those innovators, whose motto seems to be, Nulli sua forma manebit.
For, my Lords, the evil will not rest here; the wish for change extends to all your institutions—the abolition of a Church in union with the State—the division of property amongst all the children, as in France—the consequent destruction of au hereditary Peerage, and an interference with the succession of the Crown, are theories which it is admitted cannot be realized till this Bill shall have laid the foundation. These are not the opinions, as they formerly were, of men of some talent, but of little influence; they proceed from, and are vindicated, to my knowledge, by men of talent, of education, and of family; and such as would present themselves as candidates, with a certainty of being chosen by that constituency which this Bill creates.
My Lords, you have this night, not only to decide upon the fate of Britain, the fate of Europe is involved in your decision; if England be convulsed, if she should suffer even bloodless revolution, the only barrier would be removed which opposes that spirit which attacks all ancient institutions, all established governments. War, which (whatever may be said) is equally deprecated by us all, will probably ensue; and its attendant calamities will not be lessened, if, under the guidance of the present Ministers, and adopting an inverted policy, we should find ourselves arrayed by the side of our former enemies, and opposed to our most ancient and faithful allies. This course of policy was never followed but in the last years of Queen Anne; a period which has of late been forcibly brought to my recollection, and of which an assertion of the noble Earl (Earl Grey) has again reminded me, that he would never abandon the Bill, while he retained any reasonable hope of success. Now there were two ways of carrying the Bill; the one was, by obtaining the majority of the existing Members of this House; and the other, by recommending to the Crown an undue exercise of its undoubted prerogative, the creation of Peers; and as in the times to which I have alluded, a whimsical question was put to the twelve new Peers, Whether they voted, like a Petty Jury, by their Foreman, we should have to 1013 ask, Whether these Peers would vote by their Centurion? So great would be the number required to overpower the strong feeling in this House, of want of confidence in Ministers, and of objection to this Bill.
But, my Lords, I have done; and return you many thanks for your indulgence, which has enabled me to prove (or attempt to prove) that my opinions are not the result of prejudice, but of long, I may say, painful, meditation.
said, that a great deal of matter had been touched upon which had no reference whatever to the subject immediately before their Lordships. Amongst others was that which might be designated the rump of the Holy Alliance. All he could say was, that he must be little less than a fool who would deny that advantages were not likely to arise to the country from the passing of the Reform Bill. He could not venture to place before his eyes the picture of what the state of the country would be when it was known that a proposal had been made to their Lordships to give a positive rejection to the Bill—a Bill sent up to their Lordships by a great majority of the House of Commons, might be, indeed, rejected by that House, but it would be for the House to consider of the prudence of rejecting it. That it had opponents he knew; theIræ leonum vincula recusantium.He trusted, however, that although these lions might indulge their resentment, they would be at least chained and rendered harmless. He trusted that they would not long be allowed to exercise their undue power to the prejudice of the interests of their country. The noble Earl (the Earl of Mansfield) said, in the course of his speech, that he would advise the Government to leave the measure alone for two years. The noble Lord said, he wished he could suggest some method of pacifying the country, and of stopping the progress of the present excitement. And how did the noble Lord, who was so anxious to put an end to the excitement, propose to accomplish his object? Why, he would pacify the country by rejecting the Bill, and leaving the people to indulge in all those feelings of exasperation which the disappointment of their hopes must excite. The noble Lord and his friends had met the question with a pure and simple rejection. The Bill was, in their opinion, too dangerous even to be entertained. They would not even allow it to go to a Committee 1014 [no, no]. Why, if they met the question with a decided negative, how were they to go to a Committee? No, their Lordships would not even consider the merits of the measure sent to them by the House of Commons; and they rejected it in such a manner as to say, that the country was not to hope from them that any measure of Reform would be entertained. That was the gist of the Motion, and of all the speeches he had heard. If it was not, he knew not what they meant. He now came to another question. What were the evils the country complained of?—war, taxes, and debt. He did not deny that the people were too fond of war; but he contended, that the people changed their opinion of its necessity much sooner than the Parliament. Would the first war with America have continued so many years under the authority of a Reformed House of Commons? But that was not the only evil—the proprietors of Parliament were now also the proprietors of the taxes. He called them proprietors of Parliament, in the language of Grattan, because he did not wish to use the offensive phrase of boroughmongers. He would tell the noble Lord how this proprietorship worked. From a list of places and pensions above 1,000l. a-year, laid before the House of Commons, and printed by its order, it appeared that the members of their Lordships' House received above 300,000l. a-year out of the taxes and otherwise, under the name of pensions, places, and salaries. This was the result of the proprietorship system, and the nomination of Members of Parliament. The noble Lord and his friends laid great stress on the worst part of the system, and seemed to think the worst possessed the greatest merit. He (Lord King) remembered the time when no one would dare to mention such things, and when the Speaker of the other House would have called any man to order who ventured to talk of nomination boroughs. Now, however, the system was recognized and acknowledged, and Members seemed to glory in what Burke called the shameful parts of the Constitution. Corruption and all its attendant abuses were stripped naked to the view. There was no longer any disposition to conceal it. They were told that the Bill proposed a new Constitution. Whose fault was it that such a Bill was now before them? And he would say more, that if they did not now concede 1015 this timely Reform, they would, perhaps, be compelled to grant another Reform, which they would consider still more untimely than even a very moderate Reform was thought to be some years ago. He would not say what might be the consequence. They were implored to grant this Reform to preserve the peace of the country, and they should take heed lest they forced the people to that general understanding respecting the non-payment of the taxes, which they had threatened. The people, it was well known, had for sometime thought that the taxes voted by a condemned House of Commons might, under certain contingencies, be refused. He would not trouble their Lordships further than to implore them to consider well the consequences of what they were about to do. The noble Lord concluded by stating, that he never voted more heartily for any measure, than he should vote for the second reading of this Bill.
The Marquis of Bute
said, before he attempted to address himself to the general question, he should say a few words in reply to the noble Lord who had just sat down. That noble Lord had addressed himself, not to the question of Reform, but had indulged in a criticism upon the motion of his noble friend (Lord Wharncliffe). He complained that the motion was that of simply rejecting the Bill, but the fact was, that his noble friend had sat down without making any motion at all. Being then called upon to move, he said, certainly, that his motion was to reject the Bill—but he (the Marquis of Bute) understood him to mean no more by that, than if he had moved that it should be read a second time that day six months. He had not understood from the noble Earl near him (the Earl of Mansfield) that he objected to Reform altogether, but only that he objected to this Bill; and he perfectly well knew that his noble relative (Lord Wharncliffe) did not object to Reform altogether. On the contrary, he always understood him to say, that he was prepared not only to make concessions, but concessions to a very considerable degree. He had understood him to say this on more occasions than one; and he had even heard him point out what the concessions were which he was ready to grant to the people in the way of Reform. No man had ever asserted that everything connected with the present system of Representation was perfectly correct. It never had been asserted; but what 1016 noble Lords objected to in reality was, the Bill on the Table of the House; and they contended, that if we must have Reform, it ought, at least, to be a Reform strictly in conformity with the existing Constitution of the country, and with those principles upon which all history told us that that Constitution was founded. He freely admitted that he was himself one of those who were of opinion that no great benefit could accrue to the people from any scheme of Reform which he had ever seen broached. This was his honest opinion; but still he was prepared on this, as on all other great questions, to bow to the sense of those whom he considered from their talent, their education, their rank and property, to be well qualified to form a judgment upon such matters. He begged to assure the noble Earl opposite (Earl Grey) that if he had any hesitation in opposing this Bill, that hesitation, if it did not altogether arise from, was, at all events, greatly increased, by the respect which he entertained for him. What he conceived to be the principle upon which the authors of this Bill proceeded was, that of endeavouring to get rid of those evils in the Representation of the country which were most complained of—namely, nomination boroughs. Now, he was prepared to contend, that this Bill established the principle of nomination to an extent fully as objectionable as could be met with in the history of any of those boroughs which were thus to be disfranchised. It was said that the liberties of the subject were injured by these nomination boroughs, but how he could not tell. It was a matter of surprise to him how such an opinion could be entertained. He denied the proposition in toto. However popular this topic might be, and he admitted that it would do at the hustings, or at a tavern dinner, he would ask, if any noble Lord in that House, or if any man who thought that his opinion would be listened to, would assert that the liberties of the country, that the liberty of individuals, or that the security of property, was less now than it was in those times which had been referred to as the most glorious epochs of the country? The greater part of those nomination boroughs had been created in the times of the Tudors, and they were selected, not for their riches, or the number of their population, but because the Crown wished to make use of them to promote its own arbitrary views. And 1017 what was the result? He was rather inclined to think, that so far from this being injurious to liberty, in a few years after they were formed, the Members for those boroughs were the most violent opposers of the Crown in the reign of Charles 1st. It was not till the reign of Anne, and the first Princes of the House of Brunswick, that boroughs became the property of individuals, and that, as a consequence, they became the subject of sale and nomination. Then began that contest between the aristocracy and the Crown with respect to borough influence, the result of which was, that the influence of either was much less now than it was when the House of Hanover came to the Throne—the period so often triumphantly referred to as the most glorious of the Constitution. But how did the noble Lord propose to get rid of the nomination boroughs? Why, by sweeping away a great part of these boroughs, by destroying the Corporations, and substituting for them a uniform system of three-and-sixpenny voters. In the first place, it put an end altogether to the nomination boroughs in schedule A, and in their stead it would establish one uniform system of constituency—a constituency essentially democratic, and which, being composed chiefly of 10l. householders, would be productive of ten times more bribery and corruption than prevailed at present. Every one knew the influence exercised in country towns by attornies, and a certain class of monied men, and the consequence would be, to place all the constituency under the dictation of one or two individuals. The new constituency would aggravate the evils of nomination tenfold, for the real voter would be the secret owner of the 10l. tenement—the speculating builder—who would count the votes as so much interest in his outlay. At present the nomination boroughs were useful as channels through which the colonial interests obtained the means of Representation, and as a means of preserving the just influence of the Peers in the decisions of the Legislature; but the new nomination system would be, from its democratic character, fatal to both, particularly to that hereditary influence which it was the special care of their ancestors to preserve. The noble Lords wished, he had no doubt, to promote the liberty, and happiness, and morality, of the people; but this Bill was not calculated to promote their views. Nothing 1018 was more carefully attended to by our ancestors than to preserve the hereditary principle of our Constitution in all its parts. That principle was the soul of the monarchy. But by destroying the Corporations—by taking away those privileges which the present race of freemen enjoyed, and which they expected to transmit to their children, this Bill destroyed that, and, by destroying that, would injure the hereditary principle, and would certainly injure the monarchy. He was not a friend to abuses, and if such as existed could be corrected, he should not object; but he could not consent to the great changes proposed by this Bill. It would not get rid of nomination and corruption, and for these reasons he meant to vote against the Bill; though he repeated, that he should not object to any measure which would get rid of abuse. The Bill, however, went so far—the changes it introduced were so numerous and so violent—the principle was so new, that he could not by any possibility go the length of the Bill. He knew that many noble Lords who went further than he did, would not consent to this Bill. With reference to that country with which he was connected, he would offer one observation. He admitted that the system of Representation there established was incorrect in principle; but he denied that it had been injurious in practice. He wished to say for himself distinctly, and with respect to the county which bore his name, that what had appeared in the papers was not correct. He admitted that there was an influence exercised there; but it was nothing but the influence of property fairly exercised. As far as he was concerned, that property would not be injured, nor the influence lessened by the Bill. Individually he was satisfied that his interest would be the same as before. While thus pointing out the monstrous defects of the Bill, he begged it to be understood, that he was by no means averse to any moderate plan of removing the abuses and corruptions of the present system, but only to such a violent and sweeping remedy as that proposed by Ministers [cries of "Adjourn"].
§ Lord Wharncliffe
wished, before their Lordships adjourned for that evening, to set himself right with respect to the form of his Amendment. He had just been informed, that, as it then stood, it might be interpreted in the light of an affront to the House of Commons. Now nothing could 1019 be further from his intentions and wishes, and he therefore begged leave to withdraw it, and propose in its stead that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.
very willingly gave the noble Lord full credit for his declaration, that in moving that the Bill be forthwith, and without further preface, rejected, that he had no intention to thereby offer a direct affront to the House of Commons; but still felt it would be improper for their Lordships to assent to his proposition to withdraw it. When it was recollected, that in the course of the debate which had been held that evening on the noble Lord's Amendment, those who expressed their determination to support it did so on the explicit ground that "by its form it shut out all hope of Reform whatever," he was convinced that it was due to their own consistency to persist in an Amendment so supported. He, for one, therefore, would resist the withdrawal of the noble Lord's Motion.
§ Lord Wharncliffe
I know not what are the motives which may have influenced other noble Lords to support my Amendment, but for myself, I must repeat, that so far from wishing or intending to thereby offer an affront to, or mark of reprobation on, the House of Commons, that I will not divide the House upon it. Let other noble Lords act as they will, I will not press it, and therefore in courtesy I hope I shall be permitted to withdraw it in its present form.
repeated, that after the turn which the debate had taken on the noble Lord's Amendment, it was but right that the House should express its opinion formally on its merits. The Motion, besides, was not now in the hands of the noble Baron, but of the Lord Chancellor, as the Speaker of the House, into whose hands it had been put, so that it would be contrary to their own established rules if they consented to its being then withdrawn.
agreed with his noble friend. He was confident that the noble Baron had no intention to offer the Commons an affront by a Motion which was tantamount to a rejection of the Bill which they had sent up for their concurrence, but still felt that after the declaration of the noble Earl (Mansfield) who had just addressed them with so much zeal and ability, that he would support the Amendment, "because it put an end to every hope of Reform in any shape whatever for the present." 1020 It would be unfair to the supporters of the Amendment to consent to its withdrawal. The noble Baron, by withdrawing an Amendment supported on such grounds, must count on losing his present supporters.
The Earl of Mansfield
begged leave to explain his own meaning. Whatever form the noble Lord might have put his Motion in, his arguments would have been the same. He considered that he was supporting the rejection of the Bill; he wished it to be rejected, and he should have used the same language had the Motion been to read the Bill that day six months.
The Lord Chancellor
wished to direct their Lordships' attention to the particular situation in which he was placed with respect to the noble Lord's Amendment. A Motion was originally submitted to their notice, that the Bill be then read a second time, to which the noble Baron moved as an Amendment, that the Bill be forthwith rejected. That Amendment was put in his hands, and, in point of fact, was the Motion they were then discussing. Now there could be no doubt that the noble Lord had the right to ask for leave to withdraw his Motion, but there could be as little doubt that the House should be unanimous in their assenting to its being so withdrawn before he, as Speaker, could pronounce that it could be so withdrawn consistently with the rules of the House. If any single noble Lord objected to its being withdrawn, he (the Lord Chancellor) was bound to put it formally from the Woolsack, so that the noble Lord's declaration, that he would not divide the House on it, was practically nugatory, and would be so till every other noble Lord had waived his objection to its being withdrawn.
The Earl of Shaftesbury
thought that all difficulties would be got over by the noble and learned Lord's putting the question in the usual form of Amendment, namely, that "the words proposed to be left out stand part of the question."
§ Earl Grey
differed from the noble Earl, and agreed in the view taken by his noble friends of the true character of the Amendment. After the declaration of the noble supporters of that Amendment, that their approval of it was founded on the fact that it "went to put an end to the Reform altogether, and thus save the public from all delusion on the subject," it was right that it should be recorded on their Journals, that a Bill sent up by the House of Commons 1021 had been met by the most unusual and harsh, and most extraordinary motion of an unqualified rejection. It was the more incumbent upon them to thus enable the country to view the Motion in its true colours, because the noble Mover was bound to justify it by exposing the defectiveness of the principle of the Bill against which it was directed. Instead of doing this, however, the noble Lord's objections were directed wholly against the details (which more properly would come under discussion at a future stage), while the principle was left totally untouched. The noble Earl then expressed a hope that the discussion would terminate there for that evening, their Lordships consenting to an adjournment of the debate till to-morrow.
The Earl of Carnarvon
said, that the simple facts of the case were these—that his noble friend having sat down without moving his Amendment, he then got up and inadvertently made the Motion in its present shape. He was surprised that, under such circumstances, his Majesty's Ministers should offer any obstacle to his noble friend's withdrawing his Motion, for the purpose of putting it into the usual and regular shape. His noble friend had appealed to the general feeling of the House, and, for his part, he (the Earl of Carnarvon) did not envy his Majesty's Ministers the dignified position which had been assumed by them on this occasion, even supposing that they were right in their view as to the line of order. He believed, however, that they were wrong, and he believed so for this reason, that the only motion which the noble Lord on the Woolsack would have to put would be, that "the words to be left out stand part of the question." Now his noble friend merely wished to substitute for the words which he had originally moved, the usual form of words employed in moving the rejection of a Bill; and he did not think that the House, if they had the right of preventing him from doing so, would exercise such a right, at least he (the Earl of Carnarvon) never remembered an instance of its exercise. He was quite certain that no noble Lord would be brought over to the side of the noble Lord opposite by so shallow, and indeed, were it not for the respect which he entertained for the noble Lord who had urged the objection, he would say so paltry an artifice as this. No matter what might be the form of words employed, it was well understood by 1022 all that the Motion meant the throwing out of the Bill, and nothing more or less. The fair course of proceeding would be, to allow his noble friend to withdraw his Amendment, for the purpose of rectifying it, and putting it in the usual and ordinary shape.
§ Lord Wharncliffe
could assure the noble Lords opposite, that his great object was, to have this Bill rejected, and as the usual mode of doing so in the case of a bill was, to move that it be read a second time that day six months, he did imagine that there would have been no objection to his altering his Motion to that form. It was quite absurd to try to puzzle people out of doors by proceeding in the kind of way that the noble Lords opposite insisted upon. Every one would know that the Motion "that this Bill be read a second time this day six months," in point of fact, was as complete a rejection of the Bill as if the Motion stood "that this Bill be rejected." Why, therefore, object to the altering his Motion? Was it an attempt to fix upon him (Lord Wharncliffe) an intention to give offence to the House of Commons and the people, by the use of the terms in which the Amendment, as it stood, was couched? Was that the object which the noble Lord had in view? If it was not, why not allow him to alter the Amendment, especially as he had disclaimed any intention of disrespect towards the House of Commons in moving the Amendment in its present shape?
§ The Lord Chancellor rose to order. There was, in fact, no regular question before the House at present. He was sorry to be obliged to interrupt the noble Lord, but in order to give him and other noble Lords an opportunity of addressing the House on some question, he would move that the further consideration of this question be adjourned till to-morrow.
§ Lord Wharncliffe
would avail himself of the opportunity to speak on that question. Again he would appeal to the noble Lords opposite, and he would ask them, whether they meant to impute to him the intention, in using the words of the present Amendment, to put an affront on the House of Commons? Did they mean to impute that to him which he had not intended, and which he had disavowed? If that was the object which the noble Lords had in objecting 1023 to the alteration of his Amendment, he would give them joy of their triumph. It was at best but a paltry endeavour to cast an imputation upon him which he did not deserve, and to attach a meaning to words which they were never intended to convey. Again, he would wish them joy of a triumph under such circumstances.
said, the noble Lord had inquired whether, in objecting to the withdrawal of his Amendment, he meant to impute to him any intention, in proposing that Amendment in its present shape, to put an affront on the House of Commons? He did not impute any such intention to the noble Lord, as the noble Lord had himself disavowed it. But then the noble Lord rejoined, "Why object to the withdrawing of my Amendment?" Why, in the first place, he (Lord Holland) had a right as an individual Peer, once that the Motion was made, to object to its being withdrawn, without at all meaning to cast any imputation on the noble Lord who moved it; and in the second place his reason, for doing so in this instance was, that he believed that the form in which the noble Lord had put his Motion was highly advantageous to the present Bill.
The Earl of Mulgrave
remarked, that it was rather odd that the excuse made for the noble Baron for having put his Amendment in its present shape was, that he had done so "inadvertently." seeing that the whole of the noble Baron's speech in moving that Amendment was an attack upon his Majesty's Ministers for "inadvertencies" which he attributed to them in the framing of the details of the Bill. After dwelling so much upon what he termed "inadvertencies," the noble Lord himself, it would appear, had "inadvertently" moved an Amendment with regard to a Bill which had been six months before the public, and which had been sent up to that House by a large majority of the House of Commons.
§ Earl Grey
observed, that the noble Lord (Wharncliffe) had assumed a tone which little became him on this occasion. He spoke of a triumph on that (the Ministerial) side of the House, and he wished them joy of it, and he hoped that the country would understand it. Now, there was nothing in what had occurred that at all justified such observations on the part of the noble Lord. What was the fact? Why, that the noble Lord came down to the House, and, after making a long speech 1024 against the Bill, he ended with the unusual motion "that this Bill be rejected." The noble Lord had said, that he put his motion in that shape inadvertently, but who could have supposed that it was an "inadvertent" motion. It had all the appearance of having been well considered and maturely weighed. Indeed, the motion, when made, seemed as if it had been concocted by a number of the noble Lords opposite, in order to put a complete extinguisher on the question, and the noble Earl opposite (Mansfield) distinctly stated, that he cordially supported the Motion in the shape in which it was put, with a view to show the people of this country, that that House altogether "rejected" this question. Considering all the circumstances of the case, seeing that the noble Lord was put forward in the front of the battle—that he made a Motion which was supported in the way that it had been supported—that the motion itself was an unusual one, and taking into account the pains which the noble Earl (Mansfield) had taken to let the country know that this Motion meant a pure and complete rejection of the Reform Bill; calling all those circumstances to mind, he certainly did suppose that the motion which had been made by the noble Lord, was a deliberate and well-considered act. It was for these reasons, and not for the purpose of giving any triumph, not for the purpose of doing anything beyond retaining an advantage that arose in the course of debate, that, notwithstanding the acrimony which had been displayed by the noble Earl (Carnarvon) on this occasion, he (Earl Grey,) would say, that he thought that the objection which had been raised by his noble friend behind him, had been perfectly justified by the circumstances of the case. It was on these principles that he supported the objection urged by his noble friend, and in order that their proceedings might appear consistently upon their Lordships Journals.
§ The Duke of Wellington
said, that he was surprised that his Majesty's Ministers should object to the withdrawing of this Motion for the purpose of having it altered, if they at all conceived that the effect of it would be to give offence to the House of Commons. For his part, he could not understand what objection there could be to his noble friend's being allowed to withdraw his Amendment, for the purpose of putting it in less objectionable terms. He 1025 did hope that the noble Lords opposite would yield that point before they adjourned this night, as it was most desirable that, if the Bill was to be rejected, it should be rejected in a manner the most palatable to the House of Commons.
§ The Duke of Richmond
The only palatable thing for the House of Commons, my Lords, will be, to read this Bill a second time.
said, that the intention of his noble friend had been, to move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, for which he had inadvertently substituted the present Motion.
The Earl of Radnor
wished to know whether the noble Lord had, in using the present words, intended to convey by them a greater degree of bitterness or hostility against the Bill, in rejecting it, than if he had moved, in the usual terms, that it be read a second time that day six months.
§ Lord Wharncliffe
Certainly not. I intended to convey nothing more than if I had moved that the Bill be read a second time this day six months, namely, a complete rejection of the Bill on the part of this House.
The Earl of Radnor
said, that under such circumstances, though he could not blame his noble friend (Lord Holland) for retaining any advantage which might arise in the course of the debate, still he thought that he ought not to persevere in his objection.
The Duke of Buckingham
said, that stating the objection should be persevered in, he would move, as it was competent for any noble Lord to do, as an amendment upon the amendment proposed by his noble friend, "that this Bill be read a second time this day six months."
The Earl of Haddington
said, that he must do his noble friend (Lord Wharncliffe) the justice to declare, that he had some personal communication with him, after he had made the Motion, because he understood that to reject a Bill would be interpreted as treating it with peculiar disrespect. But his noble friend had not seen it in that light, until the practice of the House of Commons was brought under his view, when he at once declared he could have no intention to treat the House of Commons with disrespect, and was therefore anxious to withdraw his Motion.
said, that after the assurance which they had received from the noble Lord, that in proposing this amendment 1026 he meant nothing more than if he had proposed the usual amendment, that he Bill be read a second time that day six months, he was most willing to waive his objection against the noble Lord's withdrawing his amendment.
§ The motion for allowing Lord Wharncliffe to withdraw his Amendment put and agreed to.
§ The debate was then adjourned.