HL Deb 30 September 1831 vol 7 cc849-58
The Earl of Morley

presented a Petition from the Inhabitants of the borough of Plymouth, in favour of the great measure of Reform now depending in their Lordships' House. A petition had before been presented from the same borough, in favour of the Reform Bill in the earlier stages of its progress; and now that the Bill had come into their Lordships' House, the inhabitants of Plymouth had thought it incumbent upon them again most earnestly to petition their Lordships to pass the Bill; and to show that the feeling in favour of the Bill had not abated, but had even grown more intense, he had to state, that the present Petition was signed by three times as many persons as had signed the former petition. The petitioners stated their conviction, that on the passing of this Bill depended in a great measure the peace and prosperity of the country—that the excitement and agitation would never cease until an efficient measure of Reform had passed—and that it was then only that the people of this country would return to their ordinary habits of industry. Even the noble Lords on the other side of the House, with the exception of two or three persons, admitted that some Reform was necessary. But the people would not be satisfied without a real and efficient Reform, and therefore those who approved of Reform ought to vote for the present measure.

The Duke of Sussex

said, he had been intrusted with a petition from the county of Middlesex, in favour of the great measure of Reform now. depending in their Lordships' House, for the purpose of being presented to their Lordships. The petition had been agreed to at a county meeting, where the Sheriff presided, and the petition was signed by the Sheriff on behalf of the freeholders. In point of form he could only present it as the petition of the individual by whom it was signed, and he only presented it as such; but, at the same time, he must state the fact, that the petition expressed the opin- ion of a most numerous and respectable meeting of the county; among them was only one feeling in regard to this great and important measure. The petition was worded in the most moderate and conciliatory terms, praying their Lordships to pass the Bill. He did not mean at this time to enter upon any discussion of the merits of the question, as he did not think it regular or convenient to make the presentation of petitions pegs to hang speeches upon. He would say nothing to irritate the noble Lords on the other side, as his sole object was that the Bill should pass.

Petition laid on the Table.

The Earl of Camperdown

stated, that he had to present to their Lordships several petitions from Scotland in favour of the great measure of Reform. The defects of the system of Representation in Scotland had been so well exposed by his noble and learned friend on the Woolsack, that it was unnecessary for him to say a word on that head, although even his noble and learned friend's exposure did not fully exhibit the exceeding badness of the system. It was with great satisfaction that he had heard from a noble Lord (Lord Wharncliffe), who had considerable property and influence in Scotland, that the Scotch system of Representation required Reform, and that Reform was really called for by the people; but a relation of that noble Lord, who represented the city of Edinburgh, had said in another place, that the people of Scotland did not want Reform. The people of Scotland had, however, shown, in a manner not to be mistaken, that they did want Reform, and were ardently desirous to obtain it. There was one point to which he was particularly anxious to call their Lordships' attention. It had been attempted to make a distinction between Reform in England and Reform in Scotland. But that was not the notion of the people of Scotland, for they knew that unless the Reform measure for England succeeded, there would be no real Reform for them, but only the shadow without the substance—a mere empty sound—a vox et preterea nihil. It had also been asserted that their zeal for Reform had abated. He did not believe that it had abated even in England, but of that he would not presume to speak decisively, when there were so many noble Lords present who could better speak to that point. But he would undertake most assuredly to say, that the zeal of the people of Scotland in favour of Reform had not abated. On the contrary, the feeling had become more intense than ever, and a disappointment now would be more grievously and bitterly felt than it would have been when the measure was at first proposed. Every letter and every petition from Scotland fully confirmed this statement. He had now a petition to present from the town of Dundee, which comprised a population of 45,000 persons, and this petition had, in the course of five days, been signed by 8,000 of the inhabitants; and he requested any of their Lordships who might be acquainted with that place, to look into the petition, and to convince themselves that the signatures included the names of the persons of greatest property and respectability in the town. The people of Scotland had a deep interest in these measures, and their Lordships, also, had a deep interest in them; for if their Lordships rejected them, there would be but one fatal feeling among the great mass of the population of the empire with respect to their Lordships' House; whereas, if they passed them, their privileges would be placed on the firm and sure basis of the nation's gratitude. His Lordship concluded by presenting petitions in favour of the Reform Bill from Dundee, Haddington, Dunbar, Inverkeithing, and another place in Fife; from Musselburgh, from the Guildry of Dundee, and from the incorporated Trades, Cordwainers, Tailors, Hammermen, and Maltmen of Dundee; from a place in Forfarshire, from Arbroath, Montrose, Auchterarder, Strathmiglio, and Lochee.

The Marquis of Cleveland

had petitions in favour of the great measure of Reform to be presented to their Lordships, from Sunderland, and some other places in the county of Durham. The petitioners had but a very short time for signing these petitions—only the few days since the Bill had come into this House; but, notwithstanding the shortness of the time, the petitions had been very numerously and respectably signed. The noble Marquis at the Table (the Marquis of Londonderry) had expressed some doubt as to the feeling in favour of the Reform Bill being so general in the county of Durham as it had, by many, been supposed to be. A petition in favour of the Bill had been agreed to at a meeting of the county of Durham on a former occasion, and presented to this House by a noble friend of his, who was now absent from indisposition. He himself was not present at that meeting, but he certainly thought that it had correctly expressed the opinion of the county. But he was now convinced that the opinion of the county of Durham, in favour of the great measure of Reform, was nearly as universal and unanimous as it was possible for the opinion of a considerable county to be on any subject. He had resided for the greater part of his life in the county of Durham, and had for a long time held his Majesty's Commission there as Lord-lieutenant. He had some property in the county, and was very generally acquainted with the most respectable part of the population, and he was convinced that the general feeling was in favour of the great measure of Reform. The first petition from Sunderland was signed by 4,068 persons; the present petition was signed by 6,725 persons—a tolerable proof that the feeling in favour of Reform had not abated at that place, but had, on the contrary, become more intense. The noble Marquis had a large property in that county, and, under these circumstances, it might reasonably be expected that he would vote with him (the Marquis of Cleveland) and the other noble Lords on his side of the House. There was in the county of Durham a great deal of Church property, and he thought it justly due to the body of the Clergy there to say, that they had taken no part in this political question. Some individual clergymen had, indeed, attended meetings, and joined with other gentlemen of the county in promoting petitions for Reform. But the conduct of the Clergy in general had been such as he had stated it to be. The city of Durham had agreed to a petition in favour of Reform, which was to be presented by a noble friend of his. There were certainly some apprehensions entertained out of doors that the Reform Bill would not be favourably received in their Lordships' House; but he hoped that these apprehensions were unfounded. Indeed, it would be better for their Lordships to pass the Bill now, for if they rejected the Bill at present, it would be brought in again, and must be passed, for the matter would certainly not rest there. His Lordship presented petitions in favour of Reform from Sunderland, and Bishop's Wearmouth, from Darlington, Banbury Castle, and Gateshead. The Gateshead petition prayed their Lordships to pass a measure which would restore the Constitution, which was now reduced to a shadow, to ancient and proper vigour and power, and render it the bulwark of the prerogatives of the Throne, of the dignity and the just privileges of the Peers, and the liberties of the People.

The Marquis of Londonderry

wished to say a word or two in answer to the observations which the noble Marquis had directed to him. He knew that the means of information of the noble Marquis were extremely good; but he and the noble Marquis resided in different, parts of the county, and he might be right with regard to the feeling of his part of the county, while the noble Marquis might be right with regard to the feeling of the other part of the county. He must be allowed still to retain the opinion, that the feeling of the county of Durham, in favour of Reform, was not greater than he had formerly admitted it to be. Gateshead and Sunderland, it must be recollected, were to receive the elective franchise under the Bill, and it was no wonder, therefore, that they should be in favour of it. In Darlington the noble Marquis had considerable influence. He thought that the late election for the city of Durham justified him in saying, that the feeling of the county in favour of Reform was not so universal as the noble Marquis supposed it to be. As to the vote he should give on this question, he could assure the noble Marquis, that that vote would not be given without the most anxious consideration, and that he should be directed in it by no other bias than a wish to do his duty.

The Marquis of Cleveland

said, that he knew that a noble friend of his had a petition to present from the city of Durham, in favour of the Bill. There was also that day a county meeting to be held, and he had no doubt that on Monday next he should have to present a petition in favour of the Bill from the county of Durham.

The Petition laid on the Table.

The Duke of Buckingham

wished to call their Lordships' attention to the vast number of petitions which were to be presented to the House on the subject of Parliamentary Reform. He doubted very much whether there would be time for their presentation, consistently with so speedily disposing of the Reform Bill as must be the general wish of noble Lords. Probably, then, it would be thought not inexpedient to sit on Saturday, for the purpose of receiving petitions. He was sure that great and most inconvenient delay must ensue, unless some arrangement were adopted.

The Lord Chancellor

fully agreed with the noble Duke, that much inconvenience must be the consequence of their not coming to some understanding respecting petitions. At the same time, it would be impossible for them to sit on Saturday, as that day would be absolutely necessary for the purpose of completing the ventilation of the House. He had himself many petitions to present, and, so far as the number of signatures and the respectability of the parties signing them gave value to a petition, those with which he had the honour to be intrusted must be considered as possessing the very highest value; but, nevertheless, in opening them to the House, he was resolved to do so very shortly, and, so far as his humble example could go, to promote the saving of time upon so urgent and important an occasion. The fact was, that as the petitions intrusted to him came from persons of landed property—from persons possessed of corporate rights, and also from persons of great wealth and intelligence, he should in ordinary times make it his business to address the House at some length upon each individual petition; but were he to attempt to do so in the present instance, his strength would, he was sure, prove utterly inadequate to the undertaking; neither would the time of their Lordships suffice, even if they sat till twelve o'clock at night. He should therefore proceed at once to lay before the House some of the petitions which had been forwarded to him. The first was from the great town of Leeds. The former petition from that, town, on the same subject, received in seven days the prodigious number of 17,000 signatures; but the present petition, in two days, was signed by no less than 21,400. The next was from Kingston-upon-Hull, signed by 6,277. The noble Lord then proceeded with petitions from St. Saviour's (Southwark), Whitchurch (Salop), Biddeford, Dumfries (signed by 1,000), Kinghorn, Cockermouth, East Wemyss (though a village, the petition was signed by 347 persons), Falmouth, Keswick, Kettle, Irving, Totness, Kidderminster (signed by 1,572), Scarborough (900 signatures), Richmond (Yorkshire), a place, he observed, which, though not extensive or populous, was wealthy and respectable—it had 800 signatures; Dalkeith, with 1,755 signatures; Balfour, Andover, Lonsdale, Hythe (Kent), Taunton, St. Mary Newington, the parish of Paddington (900 names), Portsmouth (with 3,400), the parish of Lambeth, with 2,600, and several other places. The noble Lord then proceeded to state, that he had a different class of petitions to present—petitions by no means so bulky, nor bearing so many signatures—they proceeded from corporate bodies having charters; and the petitions bearing the seal of the Corporation were to be received as the petition of the Corporation. The first of these was from the Corporation of Goldsmiths of Edinburgh; from the Chamber of Commerce, Edinburgh—a body long distinguished for loyalty. Then followed petitions from the Corporations of Perth, Cupar, Dumfermline; the Corporation of St. Mary, Edinburgh; the Ciceronian Society of Liverpool. He observed that some noble Lords smiled at the mention of that name, but he could assure them, from his local knowledge, that societies of that nature had in Liverpool been productive of much advantage—had diffused knowledge, and cultivated a taste for literature and science, and, what was more, had produced much improvement in the art of public speaking. Liverpool could not only number amongst its inhabitants men of considerable literary eminence, but several who had very successfully cultivated the art of public speaking. The noble Lord then proceeded with petitions from the nine incorporated trades of Leith, and from the parish of St. James, Clerkenwell. This petition was certainly signed but by the Churchwarden; it nevertheless proceeded from a very respectable meeting, and he regretted that it could only be received as the petition of the individual by whom it was signed. He had now laid before their Lordships eighty petitions, and he need scarcely say, that if he had opened them at length, the operation would have taken up too much time. He trusted that their Lordships would not allow any thing to delay their proceeding with the Bill itself; at the same time he could not but feel it was of the very highest importance that the petitions of the people should be received with due attention; therefore he should suggest the expediency of meeting on Monday at an earlier hour than usual. It might, perhaps, be found convenient to apply themselves solely to that part of the business during the earlier part of the day.

The Petitions to lie on the Table.

Lord Holland,

in rising to present several petitions to the same effect, said, that he should follow the example set him by his noble and learned friend, and occupy as little as possible of their Lordships' time in laying before them the petitions with which he had been intrusted. In looking at these petitions, he confessed it did give him great satisfaction to see such a feeling as that which had been manifested by the people of England; but he thought their Lordships would best respond to that sentiment by proceeding, with as little delay as possible, in the great duty which they had to perform. There was another circumstance which, he confessed, he looked upon with great satisfaction, namely, that whereas on the former occasions many of the petitions demanded Vote by Ballot and Annual Parliaments, there was now not one of them which went beyond the Bill which stood for a second reading on Monday next. Again, it was to be observed, that formerly, though many of the petitions were most numerously signed in a short space of time, yet now the case was still stronger, for there were many petitions signed in a much shorter space of time, and by a much greater number of persons. The first petition which he should have to present was from a corporate body, and one with which he had the honour to be connected—it was from the Corporation of Nottingham, a body whose attachment to the House of Brunswick, and the Constitution of 1688, had been frequently proved. Not only had he petitions in favour of the Bill from that, but from other Corporations—petitions in favour of a Bill which went to circumscribe their own privileges. It would thus be seen how far the Corporations themselves looked upon that as Corporation robbery which had been falsely so designated. The town whence the present petition proceeded contained a population distinguished for industry and intelligence. The petition was signed by 13,000 persons in the short space of three days. It had been said that it was easy to obtain petitions numerously signed from populous districts, where the people expected they would derive advantage from the proposed change; but that was an objection to which the petition from Nottingham was not open, for the people of that place were already represented in Parliament, and the Bill would diminish the privileges of many of those by whom the petition was signed; they considered that the most wholesome practice would be, to have the Commons House of Parliament elected by the Commons of England, even though they themselves might be sufferers by the result. Thus the House would see that there was not the slightest abatement of the zeal and anxiety felt on the subject of Parliamentary Reform. The noble Lord, in addition to the petition from Nottingham, presented others from the inhabitants of Darlington, Ludlow, Great Torrington, Ward of Vintry (city of London), Boston, Pelton, Sunderland, Bishop and Monk Wearmouth, and Melton Mowbray.

The Duke of Buckingham

said, that what had fallen from the noble Lord only proved the necessity which there was for their coming to some arrangement on the subject of presenting petitions. It was really impossible for noble Lords to present petitions without stating whence they came, the numbers by whom they were signed, the respectability of the petitioners, the circumstances attending their adoption, and those under which they might have been placed in the hands of the Peer presenting them. He need not say that that must lead to a protracting of the debates on the Reform Bill, to a degree scarcely consistent with the dignity of the Parliament, or the peace of the country. He thought it would be very convenient if the House would agree to meet at four, and take petitions from four o'clock till six, and determine that after six they would not receive any petitions. It was evident that, unless they adopted some arrangement, they could riot get on.

The Lord Chancellor

agreed with the noble Duke, that they must fall on some expedient to advance the Bill, and he thought the suggestion just made was very judicious. It had been proposed that they should meet as early as two o'clock, or three; but he feared that at that hour they could not reckon upon a sufficiently full attendance of Peers, at least, such an attendance as would or ought to satisfy the petitioners. They might, following the example of the other House of Parliament, set apart particular days for receiving petitions: but he always doubted the expediency of that proceeding; perhaps the other House might make more free with its constituents than that House could with the people, having no constituents. In this matter he certainly thought the example of the other House was rather to be avoided than followed. For the present, he thought the best arrangement would be, to meet on Monday, at four o'clock, and agree to stop taking the petitions at six. He hoped that in presenting petitions, their Lordships would feel there was no absolute necessity for explaining each individual petition at much length.

Lord Holland

had no objection to the proposed arrangement; but there was no day of its sitting when the walls of Parliament ought to be closed against the petitions of the people.

The Duke of Hamilton

presented petitions in favour of the Reform Bill, from Linlithgow, Dumbarton, Lanark, and New Lanark, and from other places in Scotland. The noble Duke said, that he had also another petition to present, to the same effect, from Lancaster, upon which he must trouble their Lordships with a few observations. The petitioners were of opinion that this measure would not only secure to them personal and particular advantages, but that it would be found generally beneficial to the interests of England. That he united in opinion with the petitioners, he stated without hesitation; but he would not now enter into any arguments on the question; the present was not the time. But he could not conclude without expressing a hope, that a measure of such importance, which embraced subjects of very deep interest, might be considered in the most calm and dispassionate manner. Their Lordships, he was sure, would not be intimidated with respect to any proceeding they might think proper to adopt. He had no doubt that they would do what they conceived to be their duty, and exercise their powers with due caution and discretion. Anxious to maintain and support the honour and dignity which had ever been established in that House, their Lordships, he trusted, would sustain that character, by agreeing with the public at large in the adoption of a measure which was nearest and dearest to their hearts.

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