HL Deb 06 October 1831 vol 8 cc59-66
Lord King

presented Petitions in favour of the Reform Bill, from a parish in Halifax, Yorkshire, signed by 1,100 persons, from the Out-dwellers in the port of Dover, who expressed themselves willing to resign their existing rights, in order to facilitate the passing of this Bill, and from several other places. The petitioners also prayed that the office of Warden of the Cinque Ports might be abolished, as the influence of that officer was opposed to Reform.

The Duke of Wellington

, referring to a passage in the petition from the Dover voters, said, that he did not think that the office of Warden of the Cinque Ports had anything to do with the rights of the freeholders in Dover or elsewhere. An Act of Parliament was in existence which prevented the Warden from having anything to do with the election of a Member of Parliament, and he could not see what the office of Warden had to do with this Bill. The Warden of the Cinque Ports had the command of all the fortresses on that coast, and had important duties, pregnant with advantage to the country, to perform. He did not know whether the abolition of such duties would be one of the necessary changes expected from this Bill, but it was very likely that it might be one of the results of it.

The Earl of Glengall

presented a Petition from Tipperary in favour of the Reform Bill. He wished, in doing so, to take the opportunity to state his reasons for voting against the second reading of the Reform Bill. He was a decided friend to a Reform in the Representation of the people of England, but he conceived that a very wide difference existed between voting against Reform in general, and voting against this Bill. He for one was most desirous to see a moderate measure of Reform introduced, and he was sure that such a measure, if it were brought forward, would meet not only with the general approbation of that House, but with the approval of the great majority of intelligent persons in the three kingdoms.

Lord Belhaven

presented a Petition from the corporation of Haddington, in favour of the Reform Bill. The petitioners were persons who were interested in the present state of things, but they were willing to sacrifice such interests for the public good.

The Earl of Haddington

said, that he had been long aware that there was a desire in Scotland for a Reform of the Representation there, but the Bill now before the House had nothing to do with that part of the United Kingdom. He was anxious to state on this occasion, that which he had intended to state last night, but which he had omitted to mention—namely, to express his conviction of the necessity of Reform in Scotland. He had never had, at any time, a doubt that if the principle of Reform was to be adopted at all, its application to Scotland was essentially necessary. He had on former occasions resisted Reform for Scotland, because he was of opinion that it would be impossible to introduce it without its being followed by a Reform of the Representation in England. If Scotland had remained an independent kingdom, and had flourished as it had done, the present system of Representation would never have continued there. It was now absolutely and essentially necessary that some kind of Parliamentary Reform should be introduced into Scotland, so as to give the counties there a national system of popular Representation, founded, unlike the Representation proposed to be introduced by the Bill now before them, really upon property, and to open the franchise in the close boroughs in Scotland to the inhabitants generally of such places. He was anxious to state his sentiments on this point, that they should not be misunderstood by his countrymen.

The Earl of Camperdown

was glad that the noble Earl had made this concession. It was true that he had before admitted the necessity for some concession; but he had never before made the admission in such distinct, strong, and direct terms. One thing was certain, that the people of Scotland made no distinction between their own Reform and the Bill now before their Lordships. They understood perfectly that the fate of this Bill would decide the question of Reform as to them; and therefore, if this Bill should be rejected, the rejection would be received by them with alarm and dismay; and the noble Earl might be well assured that they would look more to that rejection than to his declarations, and would be filled with alarm and dread that the present system would in substance be continued. When the Bill of Reform for Scotland came to that House—if ever it should come there—he would be ready to meet his noble friend on the subject of its details. The noble Duke (Wellington) opposite had, on a former night, adverted to the state of Scotland, and had truly said that it was in a most flourishing condition; but if the noble Duke meant to say that this was owing to the state of the Representation in Scotland, that position would lead to the extreme point, that the best Government was that where there was no Representation at all. While Scotland remained a separate kingdom, it was well known in what a wretched condition it was under its own system. But when it became united with England, it acquired the benefit of the English Representation, which, with all its faults was far superior to that of Scotland. However unfavourable the terms of the Union might have been to the people of Scotland, they unquestionably gained an immense advantage in the English Representation. Before the Union, Scotland was distracted with religious parties. But after the Revolution, and about the time of the Union, the question of the established form of Church-government had been settled. The clergy had, ever since the Reformation, on the whole, done their duties admirably, and by forming a connecting link between the highest and the humblest classes, they had strengthened all the ties of society. The parish schools had also been most efficient in diffusing the blessings of education. What had been the result of all this? The knowledge diffused among the people made them see clearly the faults of their system, and, therefore, they felt more intensely than the inhabitants of any other part of the empire the necessity for Reform. The old system might have been good for the time; but was totally unsuited to existing circumstances. He thought it his duty to make these few remarks on the observations of the noble Duke with respect to Scotland.

The Duke of Wellington

considered it was quite irregular to allude, on the presentation of a petition, to what he said in the course of a debate on a former evening, which was to be resumed this night, and when any noble Lord would have the more regular opportunity of replying to what had fallen from him. However, as the noble Lord had spoken of that part of his observation which applied to Scotland, he would beg leave to inform him, that what he said was, that Scotland was the most prosperous part of his Majesty's dominions; and a country exceedingly well governed. He did not advert at all to the state of its Representation, as it had been under the Government of his Majesty, in common with the other parts of the United Kingdom, and of the King's dominions, and under the protection of the Parliament, the Lords and Commons of Great Britain. No doubt it had advanced in prosperity in a greater degree than almost any part of the United Kingdom, but though he had stated that, he had taken care to avoid giving an opinion about its Representation, or whether there should be a Reform in Scotland or not. He had admitted, that when the subject of Representation was under consideration, that of Scotland must be included as a part of the whole empire, but he made no admissions for Scotland to the exclusion of any other part of Great Britain.

Lord Belhaven

begged to remind their Lordships, that the petitioners did not pray their Lordships to pass the Scotch Reform Bill, as that was not now before them. But as to Representation, Scotland had no Representation at all. It was mere nomination. His noble friend (the Earl of Haddington) had said, that he was anxious to have an elective franchise founded on property, and not such a franchise as it was proposed to establish by this Bill. Well, then, his noble friend ought to vote for the second reading of the Bill, and endeavour to amend it; and then, if his noble friend could prove to him that the system proposed by this Bill was not founded on property, he would not vote for its passing in its present state.

The Earl of Haddington

had spoken of the Scotch Bill, and not of this.

Lord Belhaven

well, then, if his noble friend could prove that the system proposed to be established by the Scotch Bill was not founded on property, he would not vote for it.

The Earl of Rosebery

wished to take that opportunity, as being the earliest which had presented itself, of corroborating the opinion of the noble Lord near him, that any prosperity which had fallen to Scotland might fairly be ascribed to other causes than the state of its Representation. It might be most justly asserted, that it had reached its present pitch of prosperity, not in consequence of its Representative system, but in spite of it. If any proof of that assertion were requisite, it might be selected from the fact, established in the pages of its history, that so long as its inhabitants were living exclusively under the form of Representation which they now joined in condemning, no country in Europe exhibited greater wretchedness or more intolerable misgovernment than Scotland. If it had subsequently increased in knowledge and wealth—if it had of late years greatly accumulated the elements of social happiness—it was only because of the union of its political destinies with England, a land to which nature had been more bountiful, and which had the fortune to be blessed with more liberal institutions.

The Marquis of Londonderry rose to lay before their Lordships a petition against the Ministerial measure of Reform, but in favour of some more safe and expedient plan, from certain of the Gentry, Clergy, Merchants, Bankers, and Residents of the town of Belfast and its neighbourhood. The noble Marquis begged to state, that when their Lordships heard the petition and the circumstances connected with it, they would find that there were no grounds for asserting, that there had not been a considerable degree of reaction and difference of opinion in the public mind respecting the Reform Bill since the dissolution of the late Parliament, and even since the opening of the present. The petition he held in his hand had not been agreed to at a meeting assembled for the purpose of voting it, but, on the contrary, it was assembled to vote a petition favourable to the Bill. A noble Marquis, to whom a great part of the town of Belfast belonged (the Marquis of Donegal), and a noble Earl, the predecessor of a noble Duke in the office of Postmaster-General (Earl O'Neill), were the dispensers of wealth and favour in that place. It happened that these noble Lords, up to a late period, always professed the sentiments of Orangeism, and their influence tended to keep down the free, liberal, and independent opinions of the town of Belfast. Changes, however, unfortunately would at times come over the best of characters, and over these noble Lords had passed a very rapid change indeed, for he believed that they ranged on the side of the late Government when Toryism predominated. They had now, he believed, become converts to other doctrines, and ranged on that which was called the liberal side of the question, and, as was natural under such circumstances, they endeavoured, as far as was possible, to collect a numerous meeting, with the view of getting up a petition in favour of the Reform Bill. What, he would ask, had been the result of the meeting summoned by the sovereign of Belfast, a near relation of the noble Marquis, who had also changed his sentiments on the measure? That gentleman came provided with all the power his situation afforded, and the meeting assembled in the great square of the town. Well, what, did the inhabitants of that notorious, Radical and democratical town? What was the result of the requisition, numerously signed, requesting a public meeting to vote a petition in favour of the Reform Bill? He would inform their Lordships of what had occurred, as reported in one of the local journals. The noble Marquis proceeded to read a Belfast newspaper, which stated, that the mass of persons at the meeting had answered the interrogatories of the Chief Magistrate's speech as to the duty of Lords and Commons with respect to the Reform Bill, by clamorously declaring, that the former would throw it out, and, that the latter ought to have done so. Noble Lords, continued the Marquis, would see, from what he had read, that there was a strong feeling of dissent abroad with regard to that description of Reform proposed by Ministers. The petition he had the honour to present prayed for moderate Reform. It further intimated, that there was a strong body of the community in favour of such Reform; but while it stated that, it also advanced the most emphatic reasons of opposition, point by point, to that most Revolutionary Bill. The petition was then read by the clerk, and the noble Marquis observed that, after hearing these sentiments, noble Lords were not to assert, that there had been no reaction with respect to the measure before the House.

The Earl of Gosford

had not been in the House during the speech of the noble Marquis; but he had heard the petition, and felt called upon to express his sentiments on the subject to which it referred. He had the best opportunity of becoming acquainted with the state of public feeling in Belfast; and he knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the wealth and respectability of that town were decidedly and unequivocally in favour of the measure of Reform.

Lord Templemore

begged pardon for intruding on the House, but after the remarks that were made on a near relative of his, who owned the chief part of the property of the town of Belfast, he must say, that it would have been more consistent if the noble Marquis opposite had given some notice of his intention to allude to his noble relative.

The Marquis of Londonderry

said, he had written to him that morning.

Lord Templemore

thought, that the noble Marquis was bound not to make those statements in the absence of the person whom he thought proper to arraign; but he would leave the character of his noble relative in the hands of the House, as he felt that his political conduct needed no defence from him. He could further say, from some knowledge of the town of Belfast, that the sentiments of the majority of its inhabitants were in favour of the Bill, though, at the same time, he begged it to be understood, that he did not throw any imputation on the names that were subscribed to the petition presented by the noble Marquis.

The Marquis of Londonderry

was convinced, that the petition he presented contained the true sentiments of the town of Belfast on the subject of Reform. He admitted that the people were in favour of Reform; but there was a great difference between a Reform and that contained in the present Bill. He did not mean to throw the slightest reflection on the relative of the noble Lord; but he had stated the circumstances he did, to show that, though the noble Lords he alluded to at one time endeavoured to keep down the liberal feeling, they were at present doing all they could to excite it in favour of the Bill. Being on his legs, he begged leave to say, that he had received a letter from Bristol, informing him that the communication he had received from thence, and read to the House when an illustrious Duke presented a petition in favour of Reform, was written under n misrepresentation, and that its assertions were unfounded. He felt it to be his duty at the time to read the communication to the House, but he felt equal readiness now to admit that he was misinformed.

The Duke of Sussex

felt satisfied, that whatever statement the noble Marquis had made was derived from some individual in whose accuracy he had confided.

The Earl of Eldon

begged leave to say a few words before they went into a debate upon the Reform Bill. He must state, that one principal reason he had for not going into the measure was, that they were called upon to decide as to England, without knowing what was to be dune with Ireland and Scotland, for no man could deny, that a change in the Representation of England must have a great effect upon the other portions of the empire, inasmuch as the Peers and Representatives of the three kingdoms were now combined in one united Parliament. On this question, therefore, he wished to observe, they ought not to come to a hasty conclusion with one part, without knowing how it would affect the whole question; he regretted, therefore, that their time should be consulted by arguments relating to the Scotch and Irish Bills, taken separately. They had matter enough regularly before them, and it was not wise for them to enter into arguments upon questions upon which, constitutionally speaking, they were uninformed.

Petition to lie on the Table.