HL Deb 29 September 1831 vol 7 cc779-86
The Lord Chancellor

had also to present to their Lordships a petition from the corporation of the city of London, in favour of Parliamentary Reform. He was sure that their Lordships, when they came to consider who the petitioners were in this instance, would give to the prayer of the petition that consideration and that attention to which the weight and importance of the petitioners entitled them. This petition did not emanate from the Common Hall of the city of London, though, if it had, he should have presented it with every possible respect; but it was a petition from the Corporation at large of the city of London—from the Lord Mayor, Aldermen, and Liverymen, publicly assembled in Guildhall for the purpose, and it was signed by the Lord Mayor on behalf of the meeting. The petition, as he had already said, was in favour of the measures of Parliamentary Reform which had been brought forward by his Majesty's Government, and it strongly urged upon their Lordships the propriety of adopting and speedily passing those measures. The Edinburgh petition which he had just presented, he should have stated, was also in favour of Reform generally, and not of Scottish Reform alone. He was glad to find that the noble Lords (Lords Melville and Wharncliffe) were not to be classed amongst thorough-going Anti-reformers, and that they admitted the necessity of some change, at least in Scotland. But it would not do when the Reform Question came on for noble Lords to say—"England is well enough, and we will not touch it; but Scotland is not so, and some alteration must be made there." Let him tell those noble Lords, that such a course as that would not do for England. Neither would such a line of proceeding satisfy the Anti-reformers in Scotland, for they would ask, and justly too, why should Gatton and Old Sarum be retained in England, and the experiment of reformation alone tried upon Scotland? Nothing could be more absurd than to talk of the prosperity which Scotland had enjoyed under the existing system, in spite of which, as a noble Lord had truly said, that country had prospered. The same absurd remark might be applied to England. There was no doubt that this country was flourishing and prosperous, even before we had abolished the African slave-trade; and yet no one would now rank himself with felons, by praising that system which it was a felony to uphold. The country was prosperous before Catholic Emancipation was granted, and yet no one now doubted the propriety and justice of that great alteration in our existing system. In truth, this absurd argument, if it were to have any weight against improvement and change, would put an end to his (the Lord Chancellor's) contemplated law improvements and amendments, for the country was prosperous while the Court of Chancery was flourishing in perennial delay. The petitioners expressed their confident hopes that their Lordships' wisdom, patriotism, and good sense, would induce their Lordships to accede to the prayer of the petition, and to pass the measure of Reform which would be submitted to them. The Reformers of the United Kingdom, in common with the petitioners, relied with confidence on the wisdom of their Lordships. He trusted that the result would show, that they did not flatter their Lordships by placing such a reliance on their decision in this important matter; and, above all things, he fondly hoped that that result would not be the rejection of those measures—a result which would be to all the friends of the tranquillity and prosperity of the empire, a subject of the deepest regret.

Lord wynford

would take that opportunity to deny that he was an Anti-reformer ["hear, hear."] He should not be prevented by that cheer from stating his opinion in distinct terms. In consequence of what had fallen from the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, and of the threats which had, in fact, been thrown out by that noble Lord, he (Lord Wynford) begged to say, that he would rather reject any measure of Reform, than adopt the amendments proposed by this Bill. He would state his objections to it on Monday next, when he hoped to be able to show, that it was not such a Reform as was consistent with the principles of the Constitution, as would give security to the two Houses of Parliament, and would preserve the liberties of the people. He hoped to be able to show that this was a measure calculated to endanger the peace of the country, and, that if it should be passed, it would be inconsistent with, and subversive of, the principles of the Constitution, destructive of the independence of Parliament, and destructive of the liberty of the people of England, who required a liberty that was regulated by law, and supported by the institutions of the country. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack had argued as if there had been a change of opinion with regard to this question, on the part of the noble Baron (Lord Wharncliffe). Had there been no change in the opinions of the noble and learned Lord himself on the subject? If they could see the Reform Bill which that noble Lord had himself drawn up last year, he was sure it would be found to differ greatly from this mea- sure —he was sure that nothing would be found in that Bill destructive of Gatton or Old Sarum, or of any other rotten borough in the country. He was certain that that Bill did not commence with a sweeping disfranchisement of those boroughs. When the noble and learned Lord himself exhibited changes of opinion with respect to Preform, the noble Lord should pause before he charged others with vacillation of sentiment. Notwithstanding the strong-body of authority that had been produced on the opposite side, he felt confident that they should be able to stand satisfactorily before that House; and, what was much more, before the country at large, and demonstrate to the conviction of every thinking man, that the Bill, instead of securing the liberties of the people, would place beyond the pale of those liberties a larger proportion—ay, and a better and more improved proportion—of the community, than would be included in it.

Lord Holland

did not understand that his noble friend on the Woolsack had taunted any Peer in that House with a change of opinion. But the noble Peer who had just sat down had taunted his noble friend with a change of opinion, and the reason was, because he thought, that the noble and learned Lord might have supported a Bill on some former occasion, not containing all the clauses contained in the Bill about to be Brought before that House. He did not rise to defend his noble friend—he was quite competent to the task of pleading his own cause; but he must say, that the observations of the noble Lord contained a most pregnant remark for the consideration of that House, if true. If it were true that men, gifted with the powers of his noble friend, thought, on former occasions, that certain Reforms were necessary to the welfare of the country—if these Reforms, aided by the energies of his noble friend, and aided by those persons now so anxious to be considered Anti-reformers—if these partial Reforms were uniformly rejected; and if, not with standing this rejection, the country was now disposed to support a Reform more comprehensive in its character, and greater in its results, it was for that House solemnly to weigh, and deeply to reflect, what would be the consequences if they persevered blindly, stupidly, and dangerously, in rejecting the Bill. That House, he repeated, was called upon to consider what would be the effect on all deliberating minds if they rejected a measure adapted to the character of the times, in harmony with the wishes and interests of the people, and essentially calculated to leave the real Constitution of the empire improved and confirmed. There was one feature in the discussion which had given him great satisfaction, and he referred to it with pleasure. There was no stubborn hostility apparent, but every person was anxious to prove himself a Reformer to a certain degree. Of these concealed Reformers, he must say, that he held it to be a very grievous calamity, that among the multifarious plans of Reform suggested to them, there was none which they could make up their minds to approve. If the Reform proposed by other men filled them with so much horror, they ought before this—for now, indeed, it was too late—the opportunity was lost—to have come forward with some plan of their own. He would beg their Lordships to bear in mind, when the subject came regularly before the House, the admission of one of the ablest opponents of the Bill on two important points. First, that the Representation of Scotland required complete Reform ["No," from Lord Wharncliffe.] Well, at least the noble Lord allowed that the Scottish representative system was defective, and required amendment, and that he was ready to support a reform of it. The second admission was, that when he came to consider Reform, he could not forget that it was under that defective system (which the noble Lord had shown himself so anxious and ready to improve) that Scotland had flourished exceedingly—thus throwing overboard the sophistical doctrine of which they had heard so much, that the system worked well, and therefore any alteration was unnecessary. The noble Lord, be it remembered, had distinctly admitted, that the people had thriven under the old system; yet, nevertheless, he declared that the system was defective, and ought to be improved. He hailed this acknowledgment as an auspicious omen. They were not now to contend against the principles of Anti-reform, but only as to what degree of Reform it was necessary to carry. "And great," said the noble Baron, "great, indeed, must be the difference of degrees, which could induce the House of Lords, whose interests are identified with the welfare of the whole community, to disappoint the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the people of this country, demanding and requesting Reform."

Lord Wharncliffe

said, that the sentiments which his noble friend had adverted to with a slight tendency to exaggeration, were not the result of any new light that had broken in upon him. He was opposed to the measure on its way to that House, and the ground of his opposition was supplied by the measure itself. With that Bill before him, he was prepared to show the country, that the intended Reform was subversive of their liberty, and destructive of every part of the Constitution.

The Lord Chancellor

begged to set his noble friend (Lord Wynford) right, as to what he had stated respecting his having taunted noble Lords with a change of opinion. Very far indeed was he from meeting such a happy alteration by a taunt; on the contrary, it filled him with the greatest possible joy and satisfaction. He also begged leave to correct a misconception of his noble friend, in attributing a change of opinion to himself. His noble friend said, he was sure that if he saw the Bill he (Lord Brougham) had drawn, in the beginning of last Session—["hear" from Lord Wynford] it would be better for the noble Lord to listen than cry "hear"—if he saw the Bill drawn up at that time, he would discover no clauses in it for the disfranchisement of Gatton and Old Sarum. He would admit that the noble Lord had made a happy guess—he freely acknowledged that he was correct in his divination—yet he was sorry to be obliged to take him down from the towering pinnacle on which he was enthroned, but take him down he must, for had he seen the bill in question, he would have found no clause in it of any kind. There never was such a bill as his noble and learned friend had alluded to. There was a great deal of discussion as to the outlines of a measure which he (the Lord Chancellor) was about to bring forward, but the bill was never drawn up. The heads of the bill had never, in point of fact, been reduced to writing. He had given notice of a motion for the introduction of a Reform Bill elsewhere, but the Monday before that motion could be brought forward, an event happened which called upon him to consider, in other circumstances, what measure of Reform would be satisfactory to the people. He had no hesitation in avowing, however, that there was a great difference between the measure which he intended to bring forward and that now before the House. His plan embraced the whole of the Scotch Bill, and great part of the English Bill, but he frankly declared that the present Bill went further than he had proposed to go. On the proper occasion he should be prepared to show how and why it went further. It was sufficient for him now to state that, in order to obtain the consent of the greatest number of the Members of the Legislature, he was anxious to go as far as possible without sacrificing the principles which he thought necessary to conciliate, and to render the measure he proposed to bring forward as little objectionable as possible. Acting on these views, he did adopt a measure materially different from, and falling far short of, the present. He was now telling no secret, and making no confession. He had stated at the great meeting at Leeds, and in his place in Parliament, that though he should propose what he considered a great, safe, practical, and effectual Reform, yet it would not be such a Reform as he would propose if he had his will. His noble and learned friend, too, ought to recollect, that it made a great difference when a measure was brought forward which had been too long delayed, and after declarations, unbending and unqualified declarations, had been made from the highest quarters, against all Reform. When his noble friend (Lord Wynford) attained that office of which he was at present the unworthy possessor—an office to which the members of the legal profession naturally aspired as the reward of their toils, and which the "young ambition" of the noble Lord might fairly look to—when his noble friend, as the Chancellor of a future day, brought forward his schemes of Reform, he could assure him, with much sincerity, that he should be delighted at their success. If law reforms came from the Great Seal, like his plan of Parliamentary Reform, he should give them his best support. When the hour arrived, he should be found quite ready to redeem that pledge, and he did not much care how soon he should be called upon for its redemption. He trusted, that throughout these discussions, by the issue of which they hoped to satisfy the country and their consciences, they would view the momentous theme of their deliberations solemnly, dispassionately, and without personality; that, instead of abusing their time by the introduction of argumenta ad hominess, they would keep a single eye to the merits of the case before them—a case, they would give him leave to say, the most important to that House, whether they viewed it in connexion with the dignity of the Monarch, or of the prosperity of the people, or the liberties and property and lineage of the land, or the grandeur of all. As regarded the standing of that House in its own estimation—as regarded the security of their rights and constitutional privileges—never did they stand on the brink of a more deeply important discussion than now that they were on the eve of the debate upon Parliamentary Reform.

Lord Wynford

explained, that in adverting to the bill of the noble and learned Lord—drawn since he came into that House—he stated that it did not embrace any disfranchisement of boroughs.

The Lord Chancellor

said, that the noble Lord had been misinformed. His plan did take away at least one Member from a great number of boroughs.

Petition laid on the Table.

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