The Earl of Radnor
presented a Petition from the Chairman and Members on behalf of the Renfrewshire Political Union, in favour of Reform.
said, that the petition could only be received as the petition of the 1365 individuals whose names were signed to it, and not as expressing the sentiments of any other persons.
said, that the petition was certainly that of two individuals, but it expressed the opinions of very large bodies of persons in the country, and was therefore, in his opinion, entitled to the serious attention of their Lordships. He need not inform that House that very great anxiety prevailed generally, throughout all classes of persons, for the success of the measure to which the petition referred. The country was at present in a state of repose; but the House would be in great error if it thought that the quiescence of the people emanated from any indifference to the question of Reform. That quiet, he felt convinced, was only transitory, and might be endangered by a successful opposition to the wishes and hopes of the people. They were determined that the measure should pass; and if it did not, such an event might excite feelings which it would not be agreeable to anticipate. The people would then begin to consider the situation the House would be placed in by such an event, and might question its utility, and find a pretext in its conduct to ask why it should not be got rid of.
§ Lord Wynford
rose to call the noble Lord to order. The line of observation which the noble Baron had adopted in commenting on the petition before their Lordships, was most irregular, It implied a threat, was contrary to the Standing Orders, and could not be tolerated.
thought, he was not out of order, and he must say that in his opinion their Lordships would do well to consider the situation in which they stood, and what the feelings of the people would be towards the House, if they rejected a Bill to which the country so anxiously looked. It was well to reflect before it was too late; and it was also well to recollect, that the House had no great character to lose.
rose to order. The noble Lord had given a character to the House, for which their Lordships had little reason to be indebted. The noble Lord should have weighed his words, and not have stated that the House had no character to lose. He hoped that their Lordships would not allow such an observation to pass without reprehension.
§ The Marquis of Londonderry moved that the words which the noble Lord had used should be taken down.1366
The Earl of Radnor
spoke to the question of order. He apprehended the words which any noble Lord had used could not be taken down, unless strangers were first ordered to withdraw.
The Lord Chancellor
said, there was no doubt whatever that any noble Lord had an unquestionable right to have words taken down which were used by any other noble Lord, which he considered disrespectful to the House. As, however, he was sure his noble friend meant nothing disrespectful to the House in the expressions which he had addressed to their Lordships, he hoped the noble Marquis would withdraw his motion.
The Marquis of Londonderry
considered the words which had been used highly unbecoming; and that it was the duty of every noble Lord, who was anxious to preserve the dignity of the House, to interfere upon such an occasion. As, however, he was disposed to believe that no disrespect was intended, he would, with the permisssion of the House, withdraw his motion.
said, that in using the expressions which appeared to give offence, he did not mean to offer any disrespect to the House. The observations which he had addressed to their Lordships, far from being intended to give offence, were uttered with a view to give them advice, and when he said that the House had no great character to lose—
The Marquis of Salisbury
interrupted the noble Lord to order, and moved that the noble Baron's words should be taken down
The Lord Chancellor
said, that the object of the noble Lord, in repeating the expressions which he had before used, was for the purpose of explanation; to this the noble Marquis took exception, and moved that those words should be taken down, as if a disrespect was intended to the House, when they had been repeated for the purpose of explaining their tendency, and mitigating their effect. If he thought that any offence had been intended, or that the noble Lord had meant to show any disrespect to the House, he would be the last man to defend such conduct, nor would there be any one more ready to express his disapprobation in such a case. If the noble Lord had said that the House was in bad repute, and, moreover, that it was deserving of that bad reputation by its acts, no doubt such language would be clearly out of order, and offensive to their Lordships; but the noble Lord had not 1367 made any such statement. He said that there were persons in the country who did not think highly of that House, and who would take advantage of the rejection of the Bill to injure it in the opinions of the people at large, and to extend the impression which they themselves entertained, that it had no great character to lose. That was very different from saying, as in the case of a private individual, that here was a man without character or reputation. The argument stopping where it was, had no sense in it; the argument he repeated, had no sense; and if the noble Lord had not been interrupted, it was clear that what he was making out was, that if their Lordships rejected the Bill they would not satisfy the people, and that they would give grounds to those who hated them to vilify and calumniate them further. The noble Lord, when he was checked, was merely saying the House in that respect did not stand so high as it otherwise should, and it was evident that he had no idea of making an attack himself on the character of the House. The noble Baron did not defend those who entertained those opinions of their Lordships, nor did he in any way take part with them, but represented the estimation in which the House might be under particular circumstances.
The Marquis of Salisbury
said, that he had been anxious to have the noble Lord's words taken down, for he recollected an instance in which the noble Lord on the Woolsack was said to have used objectionable expressions, which were not taken down at the time, and which could not afterwards be correctly ascertained, though they were the subject of debate, in consequence of that omission. It was to prevent a similar inconvenience, that in this instance he was desirous of having the noble Lord's words taken down should it be thought advisable to take any further notice of them hereafter. Words were often used in the heat of debate to which a colour might be given. By having them taken down, the House could be satisfied whether or not they had been satisfactorily explained. At a time when the most atrocious attempts were made to inflame the populace against their Lordships, he felt that he should have deserted his duty if he did not stand up in his place to protest against the words used by the noble Lord, and move that they should be taken down; and he was convinced that the notice which had been so 1368 promptly taken of these expressions would convince the public that the House, while was alive to the common good, was not insensible to the preservation of its own dignity. He was, however, prepared to hear the noble Lord's explanation, and to interpret it in the way in which the noble Lord might be pleased to give it to the House.
said, that the motion to have his words taken down had come too late. Other matter having intervened, this could not, in point of form, be taken down. He wished to explain to the House the meaning which he attached to the expressions which he had used, but when he attempted to give that explanation he was interrupted, and but for that, he should have been able to convince their Lordships that no disrespect had been intended to them. He meant merely to express an opinion, that there were large bodies of men in the country who entertained unfavourable opinions of that House; his object was, to put their Lordships on their guard, and, if possible, to prevent their Lordships from giving those persons any further handle to impugn their motives, or to condemn their conduct. There were many questions in which the people felt deeply interested, and entertained doubts whether their Lordships would act in accordance with their wishes, and for their interest. There was, for instance, the Game Bill, and another question of still greater importance, and one to which the people looked with great anxiety—the question of Reform. He might also mention the Corn-laws. All these were matters worthy their attention, and to be decided on after mature consideration. He was going to say, that they should look closely to the votes they would give on these subjects, if they meant to avoid the precipice before them. He hoped they would take a wise and prudent course, which would conciliate the affections of the people, and conduce to the general good.
§ Lord Wharncliffe
said, he hoped it was not the intention of the noble Lord to set the people and the House at daggers drawn. He had read the petition with great care. He did not believe the House was on the verge of a precipice. In this case charges were brought forward against the House, and certain things were taken for granted, and it was insinuated that the House would adopt certain measures. It was not for him to say what resolutions the 1369 House would come to on any of those questions which had been referred to; but supposing that the Reform Bill should not pass through that House, he was quite sure that it would be rejected, not because the Peers should retain the power of nominating Members for certain boroughs, but because they saw that, by conceding that measure, they would endanger the Constitution, and because they were not prepared to give way to clamour, or inflict an injury on the country.
The Marquis of Salisbury
said, that as the noble Lord had declared that he had no wish to give offence to the House, he would, with their Lordships' permission, withdraw his motion.
§ Motion withdrawn.
§ The petition read. It stated, that the petitioners had no wish to encroach on the proper privileges of their Lordships, they only wished to maintain the proper rights of the people.
§ Petition laid on the Table.