HL Deb 26 September 1831 vol 7 cc583-9
The Marquis of Westminster

said, that he rose to present to their Lordships a Petition from the City of Westminster in favour of the measure of Reform which had been introduced by his Majesty's Ministers, and he hoped that in doing so he should be allowed to make a few observations with a view to direct their Lordships' attention to this very important petition. While he was one of those who thought that their Lordships' doors ought to be thrown wide open to the petitions of the people, he was quite alive to the great inconvenience which arose from discussing general questions on the presentation of petitions. But there were exceptions to that rule, and he thought, that when presenting such an important petition as the one he held in his hand, upon such a great and important subject as that to which it referred, and which was very shortly to come under their Lordships' consideration, he was bound, both in justice to the petitioners and to their Lord- ships, to call their Lordships' particular attention to the prayer of the petition. He did not mean on this occasion to go into a detailed examination of the merits or demerits of the measure of Reform, nor was it his intention to enter upon a discussion of the principle of the Reform Bill which had been sent up to them from the other House. His intention merely was, to introduce this petition to their Lordships' notice with a few prefatory remarks. The petition, as he had already stated, was from the city of Westminster. He understood that it had been agreed to at a most numerous and respectable meeting, and that it was adopted unanimously. This petition, like numerous others that would be presented to their Lordships before the Reform question came on for discussion, had been caused by certain declarations which had been made in that and the other House of Parliament, to the effect that the opinions of the people had changed on the subject of Reform—that though they were very anxious for the measure some time ago, they were not so now—and that, in fact, a considerable reaction had taken place in the public mind. It was to disprove that unfounded assertion that this meeting had been held in the city of Westminster. Meetings for the same purpose were now being held all over the country, and he had no doubt, that before the question came under their Lordships' consideration, similar petitions would be presented to them from all parts of the country. The Livery of London had already met and agreed to a petition on the subject, and a few days ago a most important meeting, which combined within it the wealth, the intelligence, and the commercial respectability of the city of London, was held, at which a petition to their Lordships was adopted, expressive of the unabated anxiety which the petitioners still felt for the success of the Reform Bill. Their Lordships would do well to attend to the sentiments which fell from the highly influential, independent, and wealthy individuals who addressed that meeting. Several of them gave it as their decided opinion, that if by any accident the important Bill now before their Lordships should happen to be rejected by them, the greatest indignation and disappointment would be excited throughout the country—that one of the consequences of its rejection would be, a fatal blow to public credit; and it was further asserted, that the rejection of the Reform Bill by their Lordships might lead to a refusal on the part of the people to pay the taxes. These statements, whether they were well founded or otherwise, were highly important, coming, as they did, from such respectable persons, and they were in every respect well worthy of the serious consideration of their Lordships. Meetings for the same object as that for which the very important meeting to which he had been just alluding had been called, had been already held in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, and other important commercial places throughout the country. He had not heard that meetings of an opposite character had been held in any part of the country. It was whispered, indeed, that a petition to their Lordships against Reform was in progress at the University of Cambridge; but their Lordships would know what degree of importance to attach to such a petition. In the course of the late elections, wherever the public voice had been heard, the people had declared in favour of Reform. Even in Dorsetshire, where the influence of a certain family was thought to be paramount, the people had triumphed. When the late vacancy for that county occurred, it was confidently said that a great reaction had taken place in the minds of the people there, and that an anti-reforming candidate was sure to walk over the course. What, he begged leave to ask, had been the result? The reforming candidate had been received with acclamation in every part of the county, and his anti-reforming opponent was no where to be found. He did not suppose that any great stress would be laid upon the exception which the city of Dublin furnished, as compared with other popular places, with regard to the measure of Reform. The character which the corporation of that city had hitherto maintained would take away from it any importance which it might be attempted to give to their opposition to Reform. The greatest anxiety prevailed in every quarter as to the determination to which their Lordships might come on the question of Reform, and the general question asked by every one out of doors was, "What will the Lords do?" For his part, he would say, that there could be no question at all, in his conception, as to the course which their Lordships would no doubt pursue with regard to this most important question. He was convinced, that if the measure should not be passed by them unanimously, that it would be carried by a very large majority of their Lordships, and his reasons for thinking so were these:—In the first place, he was quite certain that, animated by those patriotic feelings for which their Lordships had been always distinguished, their Lordships, if they should consider the measure as one that would be productive of advantage and benefit to the people of this country, would not allow their private interests to stand in the way of carrying it into a law. But it was a great mistake to suppose, that the private interests of their Lordships would be in any degree injuriously affected by this measure. It did undoubtedly happen, that a certain number of their Lordships possessed property in places that sent Members to the other House of Parliament; but he did not think that the circumstance of those places losing the right to return Members to Parliament would at all injure the property which those noble Peers possessed there. At all events, there were very few noble Lords in that House who held property in such places, and who could on that account feel inimical to the measure of Reform, and he believed that the great majority of their Lordships felt no interest in the continuance of the franchise to those places. He would not call the noble Lords who possessed such property "boroughmongers," as such a term would suppose the existence of a traffic in those boroughs, but he would call them "borough proprietors," and he should not be at all surprised that those borough proprietors should feel opposed to the measure of Reform, and that they should call for compensation for the boroughs which were to be disfranchised. They might perhaps imagine, that compensation should be now awarded in the instances of those boroughs, as had been the case at the period of the Irish Union, when a certain number of boroughs were put an end to in Ireland. He did not suppose, however, that their Lordships generally would be inclined to attach much weight to these matters, and he did not think it at all likely, that any questions relating to private interests of that sort would materially influence their Lordships in the consideration of the great and all-important question of Reform. That was a question, besides, which peculiarly belonged to the other House of Parliament. That House had thought fit to reform themselves. Why, therefore, he would ask, should their Lordships interfere under such circumstances? Why should they interfere with that which most peculiarly belonged to the other House of Parliament? He did not dispute their Lordships' perfect right and power to interfere in such a question. But there was such a thing as discretion, and in a case which so peculiarly belonged to the decision and determination of the other House of Parliament, their Lordships might think it wise and discreet not to interfere, but to allow the Bill which a vast majority of the other House had sent up to them on that subject, to pass without opposition. If their Lordships possessed any interest in, or control over, the proceedings in the other House, it could be only an interest of a most improper and unconstitutional description. Each branch of the Legislature should strictly confine itself to its own peculiar duties and privileges. In proportion as both Houses of Parliament took care not to deviate from the respective orbits in which they revolved, in the same proportion would they be respected and revered. But should their Lordships wander from their own peculiar sphere, and should they reject this Bill, which peculiarly concerned the Commons, and which had been sent up to them from that House, the shock might be such, that each of their respective orbs might fall into fragments, and become a splendid, it might be said, but at the same time a deplorable mass of ruins. He begged as the petition was an important one, that it might be read at length. The petition having been read, the noble Marquis presented a petition to the same effect from the city of Chester. In reference to the latter petition, the noble Marquis stated, that a petition unanimously adopted, and very numerously signed, had been presented last March, from the city of Chester, in favour of Reform, but that there were 400 or 500 more names to this petition, so anxious was the public in that part of the country for the success of the Reform Bill.

The Earl of Eldon

said, that he had listened very attentively to what had fallen from the noble Marquis on this subject. The noble Marquis was pleased to say, that the Peers of Parliament had no interest in this question. [The Marquis of Westminster "No, no."] He (the Earl of Eldon) had listened with that attention which was due to the noble Marquis, and he most assuredly had heard those words fall from his lips. He heard the noble Marquis give advice to the Peers of the realm. He, therefore, would take the liberty to tender them some advice also. He had no doubt that their Lordships would do their duty. He would not presume at present to say what that duty was, but the time would come, when it must be reasoned before the people of England, what that duty was for their sakes. It was not for him at present to declare what the duty of their Lordships would be; but he had had the experience of a long life, and he should not have the least hesitation, when the question came under their consideration, to state his opinion as to the course which it would be the duty of their Lordships to pursue with regard to it. This he would say, that, so far from thinking that the Peers of England had no interest in this question, he was ready to maintain, that this country would have no Constitution left to it if the Peers of England had no interest in such a question as this. Nay, he would go further: bred, as he had been, in loyalty, living under the law, and revering the Constitution of his country, now that he had arrived at the age of four score years, he would solemnly declare, that he would rather die in his place, than not state that the proposition that the Peers of England had no interest in this question, was the most absurd one that had ever been uttered or propounded there or elsewhere. The noble Lord who had put forward that very absurd proposition, might have his own opinions as to the merits or demerits of the question of Reform. Upon that point he would then give no opinion; but he would say, that he hoped and believed, that when that question came to be discussed by their Lordships, they would do their duty fearlessly and manfully, and at the hazard of all the consequences. He reiterated the expression of his firm and confident hope, that when the question was before them, every noble Lord in that assembly would do his duty. He should be ashamed of himself, if it were possible for any noble Lord to suppose, that he should not be prepared to act upon his opinion, and to discharge his duty in reference to this question of Reform. He should be utterly ashamed of himself, if, at his time of life, he should give way to the imputation of being prevented by fear from doing his duty. It was far better for him to discharge that duty manfully, as he was determined to do, let the consequences be what they might. His conduct in reference to this Bill should not be influenced by any selfish considerations—far from it. He would discharge his duty with regard to it, because he believed that in it were involved, not only their Lordships' interests, but the interests of the Throne. If the Bill should pass, (and he would offer no opinion at present on its merits)—if the Bill should pass, and if the consequences should follow that might follow from it, then let those who had done their duty to that House, and to their King upon the Throne, console themselves at least, with the notion that they had done so. The noble Marquis and other noble Lords opposite might differ from him (Lord Eldon) as to this Bill, but as he had said already, he would offer no opinion with regard to its merits at present. It would be premature to do so until it came regularly under their consideration; upon that occasion they would find that he would not belie every act of his former life; upon that occasion it would be seen that he would discharge his duty fearlessly and manfully, and that, let the consequences be what they might, he would endeavour to do the best he could for the interests of the Peerage and of the Throne.

The Marquis of Westminster

said, that the noble and learned Earl had quite mistaken what had fallen from him. He did not say that their Lordships had no interest in this Bill. What he said was, that it was a matter peculiarly relating to the other House of Parliament, and in which that House had a peculiar interest.

Petitions to lie on the Table.

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