The Duke of Buckingham
rose to present a Petition from the inhabitants of Beaconsfield praying that the Bill for Reform which was then on their Lordships' Table waiting for a second reading, might not pass into a law. The noble Duke said, he took that opportunity of giving notice, that should their Lordships, which he hoped, and trusted, and believed they would, negative the Motion for the second reading of the Bill then before them, it was his intention to bring in, immediately after the Easter recess, a Bill, to be called, "A Bill to amend the Representation of England and Wales," the object of that Bill would be to give Representatives to such of the large towns therein-to-be named, as, from their increased popu- 2 lation, wealth, and importance in the country, required to be Represented in Parliament: and also for the purpose of consolidating the Representation of certain boroughs now sending Members to Parliament, so as to make room for the new Representatives without any addition to the present numbers of the House of Commons, and so to extend the franchise as might, without depriving any man of that right he now possessed, prevent the exercise of undue influence in any borough. He now gave this notice, and, to prove the sincerity of his intention, he would conclude by moving that the notice be entered on the journals.
§ Petition laid on the Table.
§ Earl Grey
rose for the purpose of proposing the second reading of a Bill which had been sent up to their Lordships from the other House of Parliament, and which was intended to amend the Representation of the people, in England and Wales. To a Bill, so interesting in its nature—relating to such important objects—brought up from that House which was most affected by the amelioration which it aimed at effecting—passed through that House with a great and decisive majority—supported out of that house by an equally great and decisive majority of the people at large—it was not necessary for him to say that their Lordships were bound to pay the most earnest and serious attention. The subject to which the Bill related was one 3 of paramount importance, for it effected a change in the constitution of Parliament, by altering the mode in which the Representatives of the people were returned to it. The Bill, too, came before their Lordships, as he had already said, supported by a large majority of the House of Commons, and by an equally large and decisive majority of the people at large. He felt that, in proposing to their Lordships the consideration of this measure, he had taken upon himself the discharge of a duty to which he brought powers very inadequate; but he had, on the present occasion, a support and consolation within himself which, he trusted, would enable him to go through that duty, and that was the consciousness that he was promoting the welfare and advancing the real interests of his country. He thought that, in the present condition of public feeling it would not be required of him to prove that this Bill was called for by the voice of the public, because, at all their open meetings, the people had supported it. He thought that it could not be necessary for him to show that the principle of this Bill was a principle which was entitled to the adoption of their Lordships, because, even by those who were the most adverse to the details of the present measure of Reform, the necessity of some Reform was at last admitted. That very night two petitions had been presented to their Lordships, one purporting to be a petition against this measure, and the other thanking their Lordships for having rejected the last Bill, but both stating the opinion of the petitioners to be, that some Reform was necessary; and, in compliance with that opinion, a noble Duke had that evening given notice to their Lordships of his intention to propose a bill to their consideration, which was founded on the three great principles of the present Bill which had been so often stigmatized as the principles, not of Reform, but of revolution—he meant the three great principles of disfranchisement and enfranchisement, and extension of the elective franchise to those who hitherto had not enjoyed it.
The Duke of Buckingham
rose, as he said, to order. To save the time of their Lordships, and the breath of the noble Earl, he would at once inform the noble Earl that he had mistaken the meaning of the very few words which had fallen from him. He had particularly guarded himself against entering upon the question of disfranchisement. His object was to give 4 the elective franchise to those who had it not, and he should not propose to take that franchise away from any one who now possessed it.
§ Earl Grey
said, it would be premature in him to enter into the discussion of a question which was not then before the House, and he would, therefore, abstain from any further observations on that subject. But, after the curious explanation which the noble Duke had given of his embryo Bill, he must say, that he (Earl Grey) did not think that his description of it was at all misapplied. If he recollected rightly the statement of the noble Duke, the noble Duke meant to give the right of returning Members to Parliament to large, and populous, and wealthy towns. That was the principle of enfranchisement. He also understood the noble Duke to say, that, to make room for that addition to the House of Commons, without altering the number of its Members, he intended to consolidate and unite the boroughs which now separately and individually possessed the right of returning Representatives, into electoral districts, returning a less number of Representatives. Now, if the noble Duke took from a number of boroughs, of which each possessed the right of returning two Representatives, any portion of that right, as he would do by consolidating a number of them to return two Representatives only, and those too, by a sort of subscription, that, he would maintain, was acting on the principle of disfranchisement. As to his third principle—the principle of the extension of the franchise—he believed that the noble Duke did not dispute it; for the noble Duke had stated in express terms, that he intended to extend the right of voting. The noble Duke, therefore, meant to present their Lordships with a bill founded—he said it again, and without adverting further to the unsatisfactory explanation which the noble Duke had given of the terms in which he had introduced his notice—on the three great principles of disfranchisement, enfranchisement, and extension of the suffrage—principles which, their Lordships had often been told, were the principles not of Reform but of revolution. From that explanation of the noble Duke's intentions, he felt, he was happy to say, relieved from the necessity of saying anything to recommend to their Lordships the adoption of the leading principles of the present Bill. He had told them what those principles were; and having done so, he might call upon their 5 Lordships to give their sanction to the second reading of a measure founded upon a basis which was acknowledged to be just, even by those who opposed the measure itself, inasmuch as they would have an opportunity in the Committee of proposing such alterations in its details as might appear necessary and expedient. He was relieved, he was happy to say, from the necessity of taking up more of their Lordships' time on this subject by the admissions which had been just made by those who were accounted the most strenuous adversaries of the Bill. Its principles were generally—indeed, he might now say, almost universally—admitted. He did not know whether the noble and gallant Duke was still to be considered an exception to the universality of that admission. He did not know whether the noble and gallant Duke (the Duke of Wellington) had come round to the same points which all other persons admitted. The impression on his mind certainly was, that the noble and gallant Duke had, on the last occasion on which he addressed the House on this subject, avowed that he even was convinced some degree of Reform was necessary. He did not know, he repeated, whether such was or was not the conviction of the noble Duke; but if the noble Duke was inveterately bent on resisting all Reform—if the noble Duke was determined to remain an exception to the prevailing feeling of the day—he was perfectly sure that the noble Duke would find few to support him in his efforts to place a ban and interdict on the wishes of the people of England, who called, with almost unanimous voice for the immediate removal of every obstacle which interfered with the full enjoyment of their political rights. Not merely the necessity, but also the expediency, of Reform was conceded by those, who asserted that the necessity for Reform arose, not only from the acknowledged abuses of the existing system of Representation, but also from the declared sense and expressed energy of the public on the subject; because, if he understood aright the case of those noble Lords, who now, at the eleventh hour, admitted that some Reform was necessary, their opinion was founded on the continuance of public feeling in its favour, though they qualified their opposition to the present Bill by saying, that it was not this plan they required. It was clear, however, that the conversion of these noble Lords was owing to the voice of the people having been so long, so loudly, and so persever- 6 ingly expressed in favour of Reform, as to make them feel that they could no longer with safety withhold the consent of Parliament from this or some other measure of Reform. He was, therefore, relieved from the necessity—even if that necessity had not been in a great degree removed by the repeated discussions which had taken place on this subject, in which every thing had been said which could be said on the general principles of the Bill, and on the views and motives of those who had introduced it—he was relieved, he said, from the necessity of going into further arguments on this part of the subject, which, indeed, had been so fully canvassed, that it was impossible for him to add any thing to what he had already said himself upon it, and to what had been said so much more ably and powerfully by others. He should, therefore, proceed, assuming that the principles of the Bill were in a great degree assented to, and merely referring to what had been previously stated regarding its provisions, and the motives of those who had introduced it, he should proceed to examine, and to state, as briefly as possible, the general features and details of the measure itself. The Bill, then, to the second reading of which he now desired the assent of their Lordships, was a Bill founded on the same principles with the last to which, in its main features and provisions, it was almost similar. ["Hear."] He certainly understood what that exclamation meant. He thought that he should be able to convince their Lordships that there was nothing in the circumstance of this Bill being founded on the same principle with the last, which ought to induce such of them as had voted against the last Bill, and were, nevertheless, prepared to assent at present to the principle of Reform, to withhold their assent from the present Bill. He had heard nothing as yet but a very general description of the Bill of Reform which the noble Duke opposite promised to introduce; but, judging from the expressions of the noble Duke, he should say that it was founded on the same principles with those of the present Bill—that was, on the disfranchisement of decayed and inconsiderable boroughs; on the enfranchisement of large, and populous, and opulent towns, and on the extension of the right of voting to those classes which had not hitherto enjoyed it. These being the principles, not only of the noble Duke's bill, but also of the different bills which had been introduced by his Majesty's Govern- 7 ment, he would now proceed to notice the alterations which the present bill made in the provisions by which those principles were to be carried into effect—alterations which one of their Lordships had described as neither small nor unimportant, and which, he trusted, were of such a character as would recommend it to their approbation and adoption. "But," said the noble and gallant Duke opposite, "this Bill is not Reform, but revolution; its principles are enfranchisement, disfranchisement, and extension of the suffrage; therefore, it is not Reform, but revolution." By what process of reasoning the noble Duke arrived at that conclusion, or what logical distinctions the noble Duke drew between Reform and Revolution, he did not know; but this he did know, that there was nothing in the adoption of the principles which he had just recounted, which could entitle any man to give the bill in which they were incorporated a revolutionary character. A Reform in Parliament supposed a great change in the constitution of Parliament—it supposed a great change in the mode in which the people and their interests were to be represented; but all change was not revolution, and least of all such a change as was proposed in the present Bill. It was to be effected, according to the acknowledged principles of the Constitution, by an act of Parliament, passed by the united will of the Legislature, consisting of the King, Lords, and Commons. It might therefore, be fairly considered as effected after a sufficient and nature deliberation. It proceeded according to the known forms of the law, and was to be carried into execution by the three known authorities of the state—King, Lords, and Commons. It infringed on none of the ordinary authorities of the land—it violated none of the ordinary forms of the Constitution—it invaded none of the privileges of their Lordships—it interfered not with the prerogatives of the Crown: why, then, should it be stigmatized by the term "revolutionary?" Revolution was a word used to indicate a great change in the monarchy or State, carried into execution by a force superior to the law, and employed in keeping down the law? He maintained that neither in terms, nor in character, nor in principle, was this Bill revolutionary—it was truly and substantially a Bill of Reform. He must again ask the noble Duke how he distinguished Reform from Revolution? For his part, he must say, that he knew of no way of effecting a Reform in 8 Parliament—a measure which pre-supposed the existence of some defects in the Constitution of Parliament—except by one of these three modes: either by disfranchising ancient, decayed, and inconsiderable boroughs—which was the ancient practice of the Constitution, and that was disfranchisement; or by giving the right of Representation to large and populous and opulent towns which had risen into importance, and were not represented, and that, too, was the practice of the olden times, and was enfranchisement; or by a great extension of the right of voting, which was also done in the good old times, and which he again said was not revolutionary. In some one of these three ways Reform must be effected; and, therefore, all the plans of Reform hitherto proposed by the great men who had preceded him, and also that plan of Reform which he had too presumptuously proposed to the House of Commons in 1793, had all proceeded upon one or all of these three principles united. He trusted, therefore, that he should stand, on the present occasion, before their Lordships acquitted of the charge of having strayed beyond the ancient limits of the Constitution, and of having proposed to the country a measure revolutionary in its character. He must revert once more to the great and general—he would not say acquiescence, but—affection of the people for this measure. He was not now speaking of the mob, nor of persons uninstructed and uninformed. Let not such noble Lords as were hostile to Reform, suppose that such was a proper description of the supporters of Reform. Reform was supported not merely by the multitude, but also by the great mass of the power, the opulence, the intelligence, the education, and all that was important in the community. Was it necessary, therefore, for him to argue that a measure so supported was not a revolutionary measure? He implored their Lordships to consider again and again who the parties were who most strenuously advocated this measure. Were they not those able, and active, and industrious men, who had acquired large property by their habits of enterprise and assiduity, and who had, therefore, the deepest interest in its security and preservation? Could it be supposed that in the nineteenth century men of such talents and such energy would come to the Bar of their Lordships House, and would entreat them on bended knee to adopt, as a means of salvation for their persons and their property, a measure which in its principles was ruin- 9 ous to both, and which in its effects must be destructive to those institutions which they wished not to pull down, but only to repair? The supposition was too monstrous to be entertained seriously even for a moment. He should, therefore, proceed onward with his task, repeating what he had already said several times to their Lordships, that this Bill, like the last, was founded on the three great principles of disfranchisement, enfranchisement, and extension of the right of suffrage. Having, on a former occasion, twice addressed their Lordships at great length, in explanation of the views which induced him to propose a measure based on those three great principles, he should abstain from entering on the present occasion into any general argument in support of their propriety, as it would fatigue their Lordships without giving them any additional information. He should, therefore, in a great measure, confine himself to a statement of the circumstances in which this Bill, with respect to its details and provisions, differed from the last. And first, with respect to the principle of disfranchisement. It was proposed by the present Bill, as it was by the last, to disfranchise a certain number of ancient boroughs, which had fallen into decay, and which were considered, and, in his opinion, justly, as an abuse in our system of parliamentary Representation, and to enfranchise in their stead, large, populous, and wealthy towns. The number of boroughs which it was proposed to subtract from the present Representation was fifty-six; and the manner in which they had been selected, he would explain. In the last Bill it was proposed that a certain line should be drawn by which all places, the population of which was under 2,000, and in which a sufficient constituency could not be found or created, so as to ensure the independence of the boroughs, were to be disfranchised. The advantage of that plan was, that it drew a line which was limited in its application, and which was still so general as to get rid of all suspicion of partiality. It was imputed, however, as an objection to the Bill, that in this respect it proceeded upon a principle that was not safe—namely, upon the principle of population alone. He had contended on a former occasion—and, if it were necessary, would contend again now—that that objection was not founded in reason; for the population was taken, not as a principle, but as a criterion by which the relative importance of places could be best ascertained. He did not know that 10 any great inconvenience would have arisen from adhering to that criterion; but from an anxious desire on the part of Government to consider calmly, and to examine dispassionately, all objections made to the Bill, and to adopt any improvements upon it which might be suggested not incompatible with its principles—a desire which animated the Government not less now than it did when it was framing this measure—they had resorted to another criterion. They took, as a better criterion than that of population singly, a criterion derived from the number of houses, according to the census of 1831, and from the amount of the assessed taxes in the same year, combining the two together on principles of calculation, the best which could be adopted, as explained and approved by those who were considered the highest authorities in such matters. According to this criterion, a list had been formed in which the smaller boroughs were arranged agreeable to their comparative importance, the least important being those of which the constituency could not be made adequate to the return of a fit Representative to Parliament. Having done this, the Government adhered to the old number of boroughs to be entirely disfranchised. He was well aware, that by taking this mode of calculation, there was not that definite line of demarcation drawn which was drawn in the former plan. He thought, however, that when their Lordships went into Committee and minutely examined the list of boroughs, with their relative importance to each other, they would not, upon any of the principles on which it was attempted to amend the Representation of decayed boroughs, think of limiting the number of boroughs to be totally disfranchised to less, though they might extend it, perhaps, to more, than the number specified in the Bill. Government had not deemed it either necessary or expedient to extend the measure of disfranchisement so far as some persons wished to carry it. He trusted that in stopping where they had done, Ministers would obtain the approbation of their Lordships, and more particularly of such of them as were opposed to them in many of the details of this measure. It was not necessary to say a word more on this part of the subject. He had already called the attention of their Lordships to the admitted fact, that in any measure of Reform, there must be some disfranchisement. The question was, whether the disfranchisement proposed in this Bill was too much or too little. He was of opinion, 11 that it was not too much; but that was a question for the Committee to decide, and, therefore, no doubt as to the mode of its decision ought to prove an obstacle to the success of the present Motion. The next point of difference between the present and former measure was to be found in schedule B. When this subject was last before their Lordships, various objections were urged against this schedule. Ministers had been anxious to reduce the amount of those objections; and in order to accomplish that purpose, had, after taking the same criterion that was employed in the formation of schedule A, determined, instead of taking forty-one boroughs for partial disfranchisement, to select only thirty, and to select those which stood upon the list for disfranchisement immediately above those boroughs whose names were inserted in schedule A. That arrangement took eleven boroughs inserted in the old schedule B out of the new schedule B, and restored to them their original right of returning two Members of Parliament. In this restored list of eleven were some county towns, to the disfranchisement of which great objections had been stated. He knew that he should be told that this arrangement of schedule B left the Bill exposed to the complaint of being full of anomalies. He knew that it might be said, that the lowest borough in schedule B, was not more worthy to return a Representative to Parliament than the highest in schedule A. He knew that it might be said, that of those boroughs which were restored from schedule B to their old station, some were inferior in wealth and importance to many of those towns to which the elective franchise was not at present extended. He admitted the existence of all these anomalies in the Bill; but they were inseparable from the principle on which the Government had acted of retaining as much as possible of what existed at present. The only effectual mode of obviating an objection of this character was by doing more than had hitherto been done. Indeed, the only way in which any measure of Reform could be rendered perfect in theory would be by an entire new distribution of the elective franchise, in which case it would be necessary to divide the country into electoral districts. Ministers never had any such theory as that in view: on the contrary, they wished to avoid any change which went to that extent, and if they had left the Bill subject to this charge of being full of anomalies, it was for the sake of preserving the institutions of 12 the country, as they existed at present; and if its being full of anomalies was the defect of the Bill, it was a defect which could only be cured by adding still further and greater changes to those proposed by the Bill, which, according to the declarations of the opponents of Government, were already too great and extensive. He had now stated the extent of the alterations in that part of the Bill which carried into effect the principle of disfranchisement. He should proceed to explain next the enfranchising part of the Bill. If there was any part of the Bill against which he thought that no objection could be fairly raised, it was that part of it which declared it to be right and expedient to give the right of suffrage to those great manufacturing and commercial towns which had risen of late years into importance, and which contained a mass of wealth and population equal to that of most of the capitals of Europe. The towns thus brought into the representative system were to be found in schedules C and D; and here again was a considerable alteration introduced into the provisions of the present Bill, as compared to the former Bill. In the former Bill there were in schedule C twelve places which were to return two Members each, and in schedule D twenty-eight towns to return one Member each. The alteration made in the present Bill in those points consisted in their having transferred ten boroughs from schedule D to schedule C, thereby making the number in schedule C twenty-two, and adding two to the eighteen which were left in schedule D. The number of Members, therefore, to be returned by the places as they how stood in those schedules would be forty-four for schedule C, and twenty for schedule B, being a total addition of twelve Members for the towns which stood in those schedules, over the number contained in the former Bill. This had been objected to on the ground that it would increase in a dangerous manner the democratic tendency of the Bill. He could assure the noble Lords opposite, that he was ready to listen to and to discuss there, as he had elsewhere, and as he would on a former occasion have done more fully if they had allowed him the opportunity, all the objections which they might think it necessary to urge against this, or any other provision of the Bill. He was willing both on that occasion, and in the Committee, to give the best answer he was able to all such objections. It had been stated, then, that these schedules were highly objectionable, inasmuch as they 13 would increase the influence of the democracy. Now, admitting—and he would admit it only for the sake of argument, since the fact was not so—all these towns would have an interest separate and distinct from, if not opposed to, the landed and agricultural interests (and that was the fallacy upon which the objection had been raised) he denied that there was any ground for the objection. And here let him observe, that their Lordships too frequently admitted what he must be permitted to call a most unfortunate and a most unfounded distinction between the interests of the trading and commercial, as separate from, if not opposed to the landed and agricultural interests. Convinced as he was of the necessity of the union of the two, by that harmony and good-will which was absolutely essential to the prosperity of both, and from the absence of which both must equally suffer, he could not help calling that distinction to which he had alluded a most unfortunate one. Reverting, however, to the objections which had been made to the schedules, he must observe, in the first place, that the access of influence to these towns was counterbalanced by the alteration which had been made in schedule B; and further, that the more the situation and character of these towns were examined, the more apparent it would be, that so far from their being opposed to the landed and agricultural interests they were, in fact, intimately connected with it. It was absurd for any man who took the trouble of looking at the names of these towns, to entertain the notion that trading and commercial interests were their exclusive interests. That these interests might predominate in some of the towns, he would admit was probable, but at the same time was it not certain that these places were intimately connected with large landed proprietors, who not unfrequently were the chief owners of the property in the towns, and whose influence could not possibly fail to make itself felt in the return of Members to Parliament for such places, although the Members so returned would naturally be looked up to as the guardians of the interests of the electors? Let them look at such towns under the present system. Were not those who were nearest and dearest to their Lordships actually sitting at this moment, as they had formerly sat, for such places as those to which their Lordships objected to extend the elective franchise? and would their Lordships, with this experi- 14 ence of the past and present, now tell him that for the future nothing but democratic influence could possibly prevail in the elections of Members of Parliament for large and populous towns? Was there any reason in these anticipations, or was not all the reason on the side of those who, judging from the experience of the past, and the natural course and consequence of things in time to come, calculated that, while a constituency would of course be made to elect an efficient Representative, yet that the choice of who that efficient Representative should be among a number of competitors, would be decided for the future, as it had been before, by the influence of connexions, which seldom failed, and which when properly exercised, he trusted never would fail. That, however, which had blinded noble Lords to this plain and obvious view of the case was the presumption, the erroneous presumption, that all elections would be like the last, when the people were in a state of great and universal excitement. They were not to judge of what elections would be by what they had been, during the ferment which this question of Reform had produced. Let this question be once satisfactorily set at rest—let the cause of the ferment and excitement be removed—and he was convinced that things would run in their former tracks, that the legitimate influence of rank, and property, and good conduct, would be restored. He said the legitimate influence of rank, property, and good conduct, for without good conduct rank and property never ought, and he hoped never would, have any influence at all, but good conduct combined with rank and property had in all times past and must in all times to come, exercise a degree of influence which was not only perfectly legitimate, but which it would be at once impossible and mischievous to remove. He trusted their Lordships would sec that the number of Members given to places in these schedules was not too great when they considered the growing prosperity of the great interests concerned—of those important interests which he did not, as had been falsely stated, clash with any other interests, but which formed an integral part of those general interests upon which the welfare of the nation depended. He would not detain their Lordships longer upon this point. He thought that he had said sufficient with respect to it to induce their Lordships to go into the consideration of it in Commit- 15 tee, there to discuss it impartially, and ultimately to settle it in such a manner as should best conduce to the general satisfaction of the people, and, therefore, to the promotion of the best interests of the State. He now came to the consideration of the third of those great principles which, in the view of noble Lords opposite, constituted revolution, but which in his mind were essential to an efficient Reform, and had nothing of a revolutionary tendency in them. This principle was the extension of the elective franchise. On this point again he felt himself relieved from entering into any long argument, as well from the full discussion it had already undergone, as from the admissions of its former opponents. A few observations, however, it would be necessary for him to trouble them with. He should in the first place observe, that he had been hitherto confining himself to the alterations which had been made in the Bill, and had not touched upon those parts of the measure which had undergone no change. Thus the county Representation had not been altered. He might presently find it necessary to trouble their Lordships with a few words upon that part of the measure, but, in order to save the time of their Lordships, and to spare himself, he wished to abstain as much as possible from entering into principles which had been before discussed, and into those provisions of the measure which remained unaltered. After this explanation, then, he would pass on to the third principle—the extension of the elective franchise to 10l. householders. A noble Earl (Bathurst) opposite, presented the other night a petition from the University of Oxford, which petition, by the way, admitted, by implication at least, the necessity of Parliamentary Reform—no small proof, if any were needed, of the existence of that necessity, when it was considered from whence that petition proceeded—a noble Earl, he said, had the other night presented a petition from the University of Oxford, and in so doing represented the petitioners as complaining of this measure of Reform on the ground that it was of too sweeping a character—that it conferred the new right of voting at the expense of existing rights—that the new rights so conferred were rights unknown to the Constitution—and that the franchise created by the Bill was objectionable, because it was of general uniformity. Now, that there was any validity in either of these objections, he begged most unequivo- 16 cally to deny. The gravest part of these objections was that which talked of the rights conferred by the Bill being unknown to the Constitution; and yet he was almost ashamed to trouble their Lordships with one word in reply to it, after the masterly and eloquent refutation of it which their Lordships had heard from his noble and learned friend on the Woolsack, during the discussion of the last measure. As, however, the charge had been repeated, it would, perhaps, be expected of him that he should not allow it to appear again unaccompanied by its refutation; and although he should demonstrate, more feebly than his noble and learned friend had, yet it was necessary that he should demonstrate, that, so far from being unknown to the Constitution, the rights conferred by the Bill were in strict accordance with the principles of Parliamentary Representation under that Constitution. Let him, then, remind their Lordships that, on the occasion to which he had alluded, his noble and learned friend had quoted to them a Report of Mr. Serjeant Glanville, in which the principle of Representation was stated to be this, viz.—that, if a new writ were to be issued to any great town or other place, for the return of Members to serve in Parliament, and if there were no definition in the Writ, as to who should or who should not be the electors, the right of voting would be ipso facto in he resident householders. In this Report of a Committee of the House of Commons drawn up by Mr. Serjeant Glanville, it was well known that Selden, Finch, Noy (afterwards Attorney General), and other men eminent for their legal knowledge, who were on that Committee concurred. The words of that Report, which he thought he might as well quote, were these:—'There being no certain custom nor prescription who should be electors, and who not, we must have recourse to common right, which, to this purpose, was held to be, that more than the freeholders only ought to have voices in the election; namely, all men inhabitant householders resident within the borough.' That position his noble and learned friend had challenged any lawyer to contradict, and no lawyer had accepted the challenge. The doctrine was further confirmed by a passage out of Whitelocke's book on Government wherein he said, 'Whenever any question about elections was brought before the House, the inclination of the House of Commons always was, to favour 17 popular elections; observing, that the more free they were, the more they were for the interests of the community. At this day, in many boroughs the election still remains popular, being exercised by all the inhabitants except alms-men and such like.' He contended, then, that the right of voting in inhabitant householders was the ancient right of voting under the Constitution of this country. By the present Bill, this right was only re-established. The Bill conferred the right of voting upon resident householders of the boroughs; but it limited that right to resident householders of 10l. a-year. Thus, then, the Bill, so far from introducing a new right, did in fact merely restore with a limitation, an old acknowledged right. It was, in truth, nothing but the present scot-and-lot right of voting limited to householders of 10l a-year, and with the further limitation of requiring that the rates and taxes of such householders must be paid before they could be qualified to vote. He would now call the attention of their Lordships to the alterations which had been made in this part of the Bill. In the former Bill it was proposed to ascertain the right of parties to the exercise of the elective franchise, conferred by the Bill in four ways: by their being rated to the poor-rate at 10l., by their being assessed to the inhabitant house duty at 10l., by their paying 10l. rent, and by the value of their tenement being 10l. These provisions were altered in the present Bill, and the right to the exercise of the franchise was made to depend on the value of the tenement only, provided that the rates and taxes payable in respect of the tenement had been paid. The reason of this alteration having been adopted was, to simplify the provision, and more effectually to guard against deceitful and fraudulent practices. When they came to discuss this part of the measure in Committee, as he trusted they would, with the view of rendering it as perfect as possible, he thought he should be able to show to their Lordships that there would not be that difficulty which some anticipated, in ascertaining the value of tenements. Indeed, on this point he had a practical ground of confidence that his view of the facility of ascertaining the value was well-grounded. Their Lordships must, of course, be aware, that it was upon the value of property that the present right of voting in counties depended. A county voter was qualified by a 40s. freehold. The value of the 18 property of these freeholders must be ascertained as well as the value of the tenement of a 10l. householder; and as he had never heard that any great difficulty had been experienced in the first case, he could not imagine why any difficulty was to be anticipated in the second. But, as it happened, they had the test of actual experiment by which to try this part of the measure. By a certain local act—an act regulating the election of the guardians of the poor of the city of Norwich—it was provided that the right of voting at the election of guardians of the poor should be in the inhabitant householders of 10l. a-year. Now, it had not been found that the least difficulty had arisen in elections under this local act, and he could not, therefore, see why there should be any difficulty in this provision of the Reform Bill. But, as he had before observed, he should be prepared in Committee to discuss fully this objection to the provision, as well as any other objections which had been or might be brought against it. Among those objections there was but one which he felt it necessary to notice on the present occasion. It had been said that this part of the measure would lead to bribery. Now if there had been one thing more than another which he and his colleagues had been anxious to guard against, it was bribery; and he should be happy to adopt any suggestion which would give additional security against so destructive and disgraceful a practice. But these were matters which it would be much more convenient to discuss in the Committee—where, he repeated, he should be ready to examine any suggestion which noble Lords might offer, and to concur in any alteration of this provision of the Bill which noble Lords might think calculated to improve it, provided only that the changes suggested did not diminish the extent of the qualification. Again, it had been urged, that by this qualification they would create too large a constituency. He was satisfied that this was a mistake. In about six or seven places only, would there be established a constituency liable to objection on this score. The fallacy on which this objection proceeded was this, namely, that all the qualified tenements entered would give voters. This was far from being the case. Considerable reductions must be made for the number of persons absent, the number of tenements occupied by women, and the number of householders who would be disqualified from other causes—these, it was 19 calculated, would reduce the number entered by at least one-fourth. Then again it seemed to be forgotten, that the qualification was not exclusively a 10l. house qualification, but that it included all houses above 10l. A great proportion would be of a much higher description—indeed, of so high a description, that no one of their Lordships would think of excluding the owners of them from the enjoyment of the elective franchise. The houses rented only at 10l. would be much more trifling in number than any of their Lordships who had not carefully examined the returns would suppose. He would, with the permission of their Lordships, read to them the result of a calculation which he had made from the documents before Parliament, with the view of showing what exaggerated notions some persons entertained of the numbers of the constituency which would be created by this provision of the Bill. He had obtained returns, from which it appeared, that there would be 115 boroughs possessing from 300 to 500 voters, sixty-eight boroughs possessing from 500 to 1,000 voters, 20 boroughs possessing from 1,000 to 5,000 voters, and only 12 boroughs possessing from 5,000 voters upwards; so that, from this document which he held in his hand, it would appear, that out of no less than 215 boroughs, there were only thirty which would have a number of voters exceeding 5,000. He, therefore, thought that after this, it could hardly be again contended, with any show of success, that this 10l. clause threatened all that danger and mischief with which it had so much been attempted to alarm the public mind. "And now" continued the noble Earl, let me ask your Lordships who are the persons that will be enfranchised under this clause; they are persons who in my opinion, from the very circumstance of their occupying a 10l. house (the rent and rates, and taxes, of which, be it observed, must, under the provisions of this Bill, be paid) have given a sort of guarantee of their holding a certain station in life—who thereby exhibit an open sign of their possessing some property—who have given a pledge to the community for their good conduct—and who for the most part are married men and the fathers of families. And will any one, after this, venture to say that we cannot intrust such men as these with the constitutional privilege of choosing their own Representative in Parliament? I trust that from what I have already stated, your 20 Lordships will perceive that every care has been taken to guard against those consequences which some persons assert must necessarily follow on this Bill passing into a law. But there is yet one other security which I have not mentioned. It must be remembered, that according to the provisions of this Bill, a considerable time must elapse before any individual can be admitted to a right of voting; for he must have been in occupation of a 10l. house for a-year up to the last day of the July preceding the election; besides which, another three months will elapse between the formation of the list by the Overseers and the ultimate conclusion of the register; so that if the election take place in the interim before the register is finished, a man will not be entitled to vote till he proves that he has occupied a 10l. house up to the last day of July in the year preceding; in which case he will have been a 10l. householder for two years instead of one; while, if the election takes place after the finishing of the register the voter will have been an occupant for at least a-year and a quarter. I know that one objection taken to this part of the Bill will be, that it does not insist on a man having occupied one house only for that length of time, but that a variety of residences will suffice to confer the qualification, so long as he can show that he has for the required time been rated at 10l. I do not, however, believe that any difficulty is to be apprehended from this division of occupancy, more especially as this same thing already exists in a manner in the scot-and-lot boroughs, where the duration of occupancy is only limited to six months. I have gone through the three great principles of the Bill now before your Lordships, and I think I may say, that it is now conceded that those three principles must necessarily be a part of any extensive measure of Reform. It was distinctly stated by a noble friend of mine, who voted against the Reform Bill when it was last before this House, that the extension of the elective franchise must be one of the principles of any measure of Reform, and that any measure which was likely to give general satisfaction must be founded on an extension of the elective franchise. These, then, my Lords, are the circumstances under which I once again venture to propose this Bill to your Lordships for the purpose of asking you to pass it into a law; and I would on this occasion repeat what my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack well remarked, when the former Bill 21 was under the consideration of this House:—in his words I would say, "It is a large measure of Reform that is required;" and for myself, I would add—that, if we wish to tranquillize the country, if we wish to give satisfaction to the people, and if we wish to place this question in such a position as to prevent its being again agitated, we must indeed admit by our acts that it is a large measure of Reform that is required. But the Oxford petition, presented by the noble Earl, also objects to the uniformity in the voting which is to be introduced by this measure: on what ground, however, except that uniformity will produce a representation of the general interests, I am not very well able to understand. In my apprehension this uniformity will be a very great advantage; for, wherever there is uniformity there is great facility for the exercise of the elective franchise. But if by this objection any one means to say, that the effect will be to confine the power to any particular description of interests, I beg leave most decidedly to dissent from that proposition, as it is one put forward without any degree of colour whatever in its support. It is true, that the right of voting is to be uniform; and so far, I say, the arrangement is beneficial. But, though the right of voting will be uniform, the possession will be various; and the habits, the feelings, and the dispositions of the persons possessing the franchise will vary according to the different circumstances in which they are placed. The 10l. voter of Liverpool and Manchester, for instance, will be a very different sort of person from the 10l. voter of Guildford and Dorchester; and your Lordships may rely upon it that the result of this apparent uniform franchise will be, that in one place we shall have a class of voters supporting the commercial interests—in another a class supporting the manufacturing—and in a third a class supporting the agricultural—that in one place we shall have only a wealthy constituency; and that in another, the lowest class of the people will share the franchise. Again, in such places as Chatham and Plymouth, we shall probably have a class of voters willing to give their support to the Government; this latter may be objectionable; but, at all events, it is right to state it, for the purpose of showing that though the franchise is uniform, the possession is various, and, therefore, calculated to admit all the interests of the community to their just preponderance, and to produce that very effect which all ought to 22 wish for who desire to see the country really, and not nominally, represented. I feel that I have trespassed too long on the time of your Lordships in describing those principles which I doubt not were already well known to the House. It is by these great principles, however, (which by some are said to constitute revolution, but which I say embody the true and real doctrine of Representation), that I now call on your Lordships to examine a measure which I most confidently believe is not only calculated to benefit the country, but to afford a safe and easy transition from the difficult situation in which we are now placed to one of happiness and prosperity. There are one or two other alterations in this Bill, to which I must likewise call the attention of your Lordships, in order that you may be fully aware of the difference between the two Bills. The first of these is the addition of a number of Members, so as to leave the whole amount of the House of Commons the same as it is at present, owing to which the proportion of the number of Members for England and Wales is only reduced by the thirteen additional Representatives that are to be divided between Ireland and Scotland. Another alteration is that of continuing the right of voting to the freemen in perpetuity, which by the former Bill was only given to those in actual existence, or who had already inchoate rights. A third alteration is that by which, instead of leaving the boundaries of the boroughs to be defined by Commissioners, those boundaries are to be established, and the limits of every borough defined by a bill, which is now before the House of Commons. This is an alteration which falls in, I believe, with many of your Lordships' views; to it I anticipate no objection whatever. There are a few other subordinate alterations, which it is not now necessary that I should state, as I have no doubt that your Lordships will admit that I have stated sufficient to show what is the general tendency of the principal alterations which have been made. I wish, however, to say a few words as to the question of how far the agricultural interest will be injured by the change that will be produced by this measure. For my own part, I do not believe that that interest will suffer in any degree. How will the case stand? There will be 144 county Members; the old boroughs, including those now in schedule B, will return 264 Members; and the new boroughs will return sixty-four Members; making in all 472 Members; to which we 23 have to add three county Members given to Wales, and one to a Welch borough—making (with the former twenty-four Members for that principality) twenty-nine Representatives for Wales, and altogether 500 Members for England and Wales, a proportion which will be ample I think to secure to this part of the United Empire that preponderance it so well deserves. With respect, then, to the relative proportions of the different parts of the kingdom, I do not believe that England and Wales will lose any of their just influence by giving up thirteen Members to Ireland and Scotland; for surely 500 Members out of 658 are sufficient to maintain them in that station which their importance rightfully claims. But how stands the argument with respect to the agricultural interest? I am prepared to contend that the 144 county Members will belong to that interest, and that out of the 264 old borough Members there will be just as large a proportion as ever in favour of the landed proprietors: there only then remains the sixty-four new Members; and it seems to me, that even should the whole of these fall to the lot of the commercial and manufacturing interests of the country, it will be a share to which those interests are justly entitled, when we take into consideration their present and their increasing importance as well as the extraordinary advances they have made, and are making in wealth, population, and intelligence. I have now, my Lords, concluded all that I have to say with regard to the principles of this measure. In describing those principles I can assure the House that I have felt the vast importance of the task I have to perform, and the difficulties of the position in which I am placed. I have endeavoured, as far as I could (and if I have not executed that intention I regret it most sincerely, and ask pardon of your Lordships for the failure)—but I have endeavoured, as far as I could, to avoid any thing that could revive former unpleasant recollections, or give rise to any acrimonious or party feelings, which, I am sure, ought to have no admission here, or at least ought not to influence your Lordships in deciding one of the most important questions ever submitted to your judgement. It has been my most anxious wish to introduce this measure in such a tone and manner, that in entering upon the discussion of it we might divest our minds of all former prejudices, and of every thing like a feeling of personal animosity, and consider it with that calmness which so great and important a 24 question deserves at our hands, losing all consideration of partial interest in the general desire to agree upon such a measure as the wants and wishes of the country render necessary, and will best redound to the interests of the nation at large. This, my Lords, was the temper—this the mode in which I was desirous of performing my task. I am sensible that I must have done it inefficiently; and, indeed, of this I am the more sensible, when I advert to the extreme importance of the interests involved in this question. There are interests mixed up with it not only affecting the commercial, the manufacturing, and the agricultural classes, but involving our foreign relations, the security of property, and the general prosperity of the country. All these interests, I need not tell your Lordships, have been materially affected by the long and continued suspense, and by the indescribable anxiety which has pervaded the public mind on this absorbing subject. My Lords, I am ready to maintain that his Majesty's Ministers are not to blame for this suspense or this anxiety, or the state of things which has led to the necessity of agitating this great question. I am far, however, from imputing the delay in settling this question as a matter of blame to those who have thought it their duty to oppose the measure now under discussion: it has, perhaps, been the unavoidable result of a conflict of opinion where the subject under consideration has been of the greatest constitutional importance. All that I desire is, that we should now proceed with this discussion in such a manner as may lead to a happy and to a speedy termination—speedy, indeed, I may well say, for happy it cannot be without that other ingredient being added. The opportunity of doing this is now afforded to your Lordships, and and I hope that it will not be lost: I hope it, my Lords, the more as that opportunity once let slip, will not be easily recovered. My Lords, I have been accused of using on a former occasion the language of intimidation. I disclaim the intention of using any such language. Nothing can be further from my wish than to influence your Lordships by any improper or unworthy fears in deciding a question which should rest alone on your most deliberate judgment. But surely it is not the language of intimidation if I wished to address to your Lordships that which any honest counsellor might address to the most despotic sovereign on the face of the earth—my humble advice on the subject; and I am sure that all I ven- 25 tured to state to you was, that no influence, no authority, no power was sufficient safely to set at defiance that unanimous demand which was founded on public opinion. My Lords, I never counselled you to yield to any hasty or temporary outcry. I never advised you to give way to the exorbitant and unruly demands of clamour; but what I did then say, and what I now repeat, is, that the deliberate sentiment of a great and intelligent people, expressed after a long period allowed for reflection, is entitled to your Lordships' attention—and the House will give me leave to say also, to your Lordships' respect. I can assure the House, that I feel the deep and vital consequence of this measure to the country, to your Lordships, and to myself: to your Lordships, because I have no doubt it is your wish, as it must be your interest—and, indeed, I may add, that it is most necessary for the good government of this country, that the people should look up to you with respect and reverence. My Lords, I admit that we have of late heard none of that outcry on the part of the people, which first marked the progress of this Bill. In its place, a fearful silence at present prevails—a silence which may, perhaps, lead some persons foolishly to imagine that the people are no longer looking at this question with the same feelings of interest. But I caution your Lordships to beware how you form that opinion. You may rely upon it, that though the people are silent, they are looking at the deliberations of this night with no less intensenesss of feeling than that which has marked them from the very first day of the agitation of this question. I know that it is pretended by some that the nation has no confidence in this House, because there is an opinion out of doors that the interests of the Aristocracy are separate from those of the people. On the part of this House, however, I disclaim all such separateness of interests; and, therefore, I am willing to believe that the silence of which I have spoken is the fruit of a latent hope still existing in the bosom of the people, that your Lordships will no longer oppose their often and loudly expressed wishes. With respect to myself, I am very sensible that no one ever stood before Parliament with the same personal responsibility as that with which I am invested. I have been made the subject of attack—I have been laid open to what I believe to be great injustice—and I am sure that I have been the subject of much undeserved suspicion. And why? Because 26 I have proposed that which I thought my duty to my Sovereign and to my country required me to propose—a measure, which is now in its principle generally admitted to be necessary, and about which the only difference is as to the extent of some of its details. All that I can say upon this subject is, that I exercised the best of my judgment. I believed (again to use the words of my noble and learned friend) that a large measure of Reform—an efficient measure of Reform—such as should meet the just expectations of the people, was necessary, if we wished to enable this country to resume that peaceful and prosperous situation to which it is impossible for it to return, so long as this agitation and anxiety pervade the public mind. My Lords, I knew well the difficulties that I should have to encounter; but I was led by my sense of duty to disregard them. I hope that I may be allowed to say, that in all the progressive stages of this measure I have never deviated from that steadiness of purpose which I believed would finally lead to success; and that, as on the one hand, I have not been deterred by threatened difficulties from proposing this Bill, so, on the other, I have not suffered myself to be forced by clamour into the prosecution of it by means to which I could not in my better judgment consent. Under these circumstances, and feeling that this may possibly be the last time that I shall have to press this measure on your Lordships' attention, I must confess that I look with something like hope to that which appears to be a sort of approach to a favourable decision on the part of this House. If, however, I should unfortunately sink in the struggle, I shall at least have the consolation of feeling that I did, to the best of my judgment, that which I thought right and fitting, regulating my actions according to the sincere dictates of my conscience, with the one sole object of effecting that which should be best calculated to promote the interests of my country. What I pray for is, that if misfortune is to follow this measure, it may be confined to one, and that I may be the only victim. I pray that the consequences of my failure, may affect neither the security of my Sovereign, nor the prosperity of my country, and, above all, I pray that the union between your Lordships and the people, which is so necessary to the welfare of both, and on which your Lordships' influence, authority, and usefulness, essentially depend, may not be weakened, but strengthened, and confirmed. My 27 Lords, I have now only to move that this Bill be read a second time."
said, he should not do justice to his own feelings, or to the feelings of the House, if, he did not acknowledge the perfect propriety of tone and manner, with which the noble Earl had introduced this important question to the consideration of their Lordships. As far as he was individually concerned, he would follow the good example which the noble Earl had set. He was, however, compelled to dissent from the Motion of the noble Earl for the second reading of this Bill. The noble Earl had told them that he acted under the dictates of his conscience, with a firm conviction of the rectitude and wisdom of his course, and, at the same time, under a responsibility greater than had ever rested upon any other Minister. In giving the fullest credit to the assertions of the noble Earl, he must lay claim for himself, and for those who acted with him, to the belief that they also acted under a sense of deep responsibility and a perfect conviction of the propriety of their opposition. He hoped their Lordships and the country would do the same justice to their motives as they were ready and willing to extend to the noble Earl. He was always disposed to look with respect and favour upon any measure brought to the Bar of the House of Lords by the House of Commons, but more especially when that measure happened to be one which concerned exclusively the interests and privileges of the House of Commons, and the interests and privileges of their constituents, and which was, besides, supported by a large body of that House. He knew also, that there was a considerable body in the country by whom the majority of the other House upon this measure was backed. But, when he recollected how often the House of Commons had changed their minds upon this Bill—not fewer than eleven times upon that most important part of it, the uniformity of the franchise; that they enfranchised and then disfranchised, and then enfranchised again, the same place—that they had made forty-seven changes in one schedule, and thirty-three in another, and that, only fifteen places remained untouched out of the number that had been originally affected by the measure; he must say, with every possible respect for the House of Commons, that they did not seem exactly to know their own minds upon a subject, be it recollected, as important as ever affected the interests of this country, in- 28 volving nothing less than a total change in its Constitution. He must, therefore, take leave to look with some minuteness and distrust into decisions proceeding from minds apparently so little fixed in their intention, and possessing such imperfect knowledge of their own interests. The noble Earl had placed the question, at the outset, upon its true ground, viz., whether this Bill should now be read a second time, or got rid of altogether. On this question, he was ready to join issue with the noble Earl. The noble Earl seemed to think that he was entitled to claim, from the notice given by a noble Duke (the Duke of Buckingham) in the early part of the evening, relative to a bill, in substitution of the present, which the noble Duke stated it was his intention to introduce after Easter, if this should be rejected, the assent of that noble Duke, and those who thought with him to the principle of this Bill. The noble Duke, however, had distinctly told him that he should oppose the second reading of the Bill before the House. Surely the noble Earl, after having heard that notice, and that assertion was not at liberty to anticipate their Lordships' sanction for a Bill in all respects so objectionable as the present. The Bill of the noble Duke had this peculiar advantage, that it would afford their Lordships an opportunity of considering the whole merits of the question. For his own part he did not believe that the measure now introduced to the House by his Majesty's Government, was such a one as could be passed, but, he trusted that, it would be so entertained by their Lordships as to give them an opportunity of considering in what manner a conciliatory adjustment of the question might be effected. Since the first introduction of the measure of Reform, it could not be denied that the position of the question had been materially altered, but he entreated their Lordships to consider, before they determined not to adhere to the opposition with which they met the former Bill six months ago, when it appeared in a somewhat different form, but, certainly, the same then as now in principle, what effect would be produced upon the country by now giving their sanction to the principles which they then rejected. It was said, that the measure now came before their Lordships recommended by the majority of the House of Commons, and by the great body of the people. Before they acted upon such a ground, it was desirable that they should see of what that majority, and the support by which it had been 29 created, was composed. In the first place, it included the whole of the Whig body as it had long existed in the two Houses of Parliament, and all its adherents, either from connexion, interest, or opinion. That body appeared now to be tolerably unanimous, though it was known that, five years ago they were so far from being agreed upon the question of Reform, that, with the exception of the noble Earl now at their head, and a very few of his immediate personal adherents, the whole of that body went over to Mr. Canning, a Minister, who to the last opposed Reform with all his energies. Now, he thought there was one suggestion that must occur to every man's mind upon this point, and it was, that this party having been out of office so long, and without much regret manifested by the people, it might be just possible that they were aiming, through thus administering to the popular passions, to draw the people into a reconciliation, and so obtain power to themselves for many successive years. In addition to these, the next body in importance giving an active support to the measure were the Roman Catholics of Ireland. But he thought it not difficult to understand the motives and the expectations in which that support was given to the measure, in the language used to the Minister of the Crown, when he was told by these Catholics, "It is your time now, ours is to come." This time, as was well understood, meant the dissolution of the Union, which the noble Earl (Grey) had said was the same thing as the separation of the two countries; and so it was. Again the present Bill had received the hearty support of all those persons who had entertained doctrines subversive of the Constitution from 1793, down to the present time. This party had emerged from the obscurity in which, it had been lost for many years, but, was now again active and clamorous for the passing of the Bill. One might imagine, from the very fact of these bodies having concurred in supporting it, that, that would have been sufficient to have made the noble Earl look with suspicion upon his own measure, and to have made him take it back to his most serious reconsideration. There were likewise at first—although there were not now a very large body, for their eyes had been opened to the delusion—there was a considerable portion of the poorest classes who clamoured for the Bill. They were led to believe, for a time, that it would give them cheap bread, and their minds were filled with ex- 30 pectation that it would bring about an entire change in the gradations of society—that their situation would be raised, and that of the rich made lower. They thought, in short, that it was to lead to a revolution in which, they were to find an advantage, and, although the noble Earl told them that there would be no revolution, there could be no doubt that these poor people were deluded into the belief that there would be one, and that that was the source of a great part of the clamour with which they cried out for the measure. Besides these, there was a large body in the country, for whose opinions he entertained the greatest respect, a body independent alike of Whigs and Tories, respectable in their station of life, and still more so in the manner in which they discharged its duties, who were undoubtedly anxious for some change in the form of the Representation. In his mind the opinions of this class of persons were entitled to respect—he had almost said to deference—from any other portion of the community. And he was sure there could be no one in their Lordships' House who would not, on such a subject, desire to meet the objections and wishes of that body, to consult and reason with them, and to do that which should satisfy them, and fix their attachment to all the institutions of the country. But, had there been no change in the opinions of this class since the last general election? ["No."] What! had there been no change in the county of Dorset? Why, had they not now another election in the county of Dorset? Because it had become clear to Mr. Portman, the Member for that county, and his friends, that if another election were now to take place another anti-Reform Member would be sitting for the county of Dorset. If, then, these were the circumstances under which the question now presented itself to their Lordships, what was it that should prevent them from doing as they did in October last, and refuse to pass the Bill? Now those who were then against them had come to be with them, and, strengthened by their support, he confessed he was at a loss to know why they should not give effect to their own wishes, and the wishes of this intelligent and reflecting body of the people. The addresses of the supporters of the measure had been referred to by the noble Earl; but had none but the friends of this measure addressed the throne? Any one who moved at all in society in the country, amongst persons possessing property, must 31 know that a great majority of those persons were against it. They too, had addressed the Crown. Whether his Majesty had been advised by his Ministers to read and consider those addresses or not, he did not know; but, it was certain, that those opposed to the Bill, had in very large numbers, and in vast bodies of wealth and character laid their opinions at the foot of the Throne. It had become common with the supporters of the measure to attribute the agitation and present distresses of the country to the delay in passing it into a law, and to give out that if the question were settled in that manner, such agitation would cease, and prosperity be restored. His opinion was very different. This was a measure settling no question connected with the prosperity of the country, but opening many, and containing as many contradictions and anomalies in itself, as those which it proposed to take away from a great and ancient and complicated system. They were told, that the present measure was an improvement upon the last, that the principle of disfranchisement was changed, and that, instead of being founded simply upon numbers, property would be combined with numbers in the qualification. But, had they made any progress in rendering the Bill just? He contended that they had not, but that, on the contrary, there were points in which the injustice of the last measure had been greatly aggravated in this. In the last Bill, the number of places to be disfranchised was left open to them, to be decided upon according to the result of their deliberations. In this their Lordships were called upon without investigation, to decide at once that fifty-six boroughs should be deprived of all their Members, and thirty others of half their number. Upon what principle of justice this was done he was utterly at a loss to comprehend. This brought him to the general question of the disfranchisement of the nomination boroughs; and, with the permission of their Lordships, he would say a few words relative to the individuals by whom those boroughs were represented in the House of Commons. It had been very much the fashion to represent the Members who sat for the nomination boroughs as monsters, preying upon the vitals of the country, and the abettors of corruption of every description. Now, he would state to the House the different classes from which the individuals representing these boroughs were taken, and in doing this he would not refer to any boroughs which were not con- 32 tained in the schedules, although if he pursued a different course, it would give additional strength to his argument. Amongst the Representatives of the boroughs contained in schedules A and B, there were forty sons of Peers of whom only fifteen were returned by the influence of their fathers and brothers. He well recollected, that on a former occasion, the eloquent reasoning with which a noble Earl, whom he then had the happiness, which he feared he should not possess now, of following as a leader, enforced his opinion relative to the advantage which resulted from the sons of Peers obtaining an easy access to the House of Commons, where by associating with men of ability and practical experience, they acquired a knowledge of many points of policy, and of the general management of the affairs of the country. By the present Bill, forty persons standing in this situation would be excluded from the House of Commons, and amongst them, Lords Lowther, Mahon, Stormont, and Porchester, and Mr. Stuart Wortley. The last-named individual served some time with him in office, and he knew hardly any disadvantage which could be fall the country greater than that of excluding such a man as he was from a situation in which he might employ his great talents in the public service. No person who knew anything of the materials of which the House of Commons was composed, but must be aware that the distinguished individuals whom he had mentioned were of the number of those who, from their ability, industry, and knowledge, were the most fit to be employed in the public service. Twenty Members sat in the House of Commons for these boroughs, who were connected with the army, and not only possessed the feelings of soldiers, but were perfectly well acquainted with the organization of our military force. Amongst these were many not undistinguished officers, including Sir Edward Kerrison, Sir William Pringle, and Sir Henry Hardinge, who, particularly the last, had greatly distinguished themselves in the civil as well as the military service. If the Bill should pass, all these able persons would be excluded from the House of Commons. Seven Members of the naval profession also sat for the proscribed boroughs, all of whom were men of great reputation, and among them was found that able officer, Sir John Beresford. There were likewise fourteen great merchants similarly situated, including Mr. Attwood, Mr. Sadler, Mr. Irving, and one of the members of the house of Baring, 33 Then there were seventeen Members returned for these boroughs, who belonged to the profession of the law, including the Solicitor General for Ireland, the Solicitor General for England, the late Attorney and Solicitor General for England, Sir Charles Wetherell, Mr. Pemberton, and Mr. Macaulay, and many other persons who were equally distinguished in the profession of the law. In fact, all the most distinguished men in the legal profession were Members for the boroughs which it was proposed to disfranchise. All persons who had considered the question, must be perfectly aware of the inconvenience which would be felt, if there were no individuals in the House connected with the colonies, by whom the interests of those important possessions could be represented in Parliament. At present the East-India interest was represented by eight Gentlemen, amongst whom were Sir George Staunton, Sir John Malcolm, Mr. Loch, Mr. Marjoribanks, the two Mr. Alexanders, and two members of the house of Forbes. These Gentlemen represented the country trade of India; the trade between India and this country; one of them was intimately acquainted with the feelings and interests of the civil and military servants of the Company; another was acquainted with China; two were distinguished members of the Court of Directors; and all these were to be excluded by the new representative system. There were, besides, twenty-seven Gentlemen of large landed property, who, under other circumstances, would possess fair pretensions to represent counties, and whose independence was above all suspicion. In addition to these, there were thirty-nine other Gentlemen who possessed property in the funds, or were in other respects fully qualified to sit in Parliament. Amongst them was the noble Secretary for Foreign Affairs, who, by a curious coincidence, when he was ejected from the University of Cambridge, took refuge in the very same borough which received Sir Robert Peel, when he was ejected from the University of Oxford. Now, he would ask the House, whether it was possible to destroy the system by which such individuals as those whom he had referred to obtained an entrance into Parliament, without altering the practice of the Constitution? Was it possible to substitute for the existing system any other by which the various interests of the empire could be so adequately represented? It was futile to refer back to a distant period of the history of the Constitution, when the country 34 was in a different situation from that in which it at present stood. Undoubtedly, at a time when we had no colonies, no public debt, and very little trade and commerce, a very different state of the Representation from that which now existed, might have suited the wants of the country; but it should be recollected that Parliament had now to frame laws for the government of very distant countries, far exceeding our own in population, and equalling it in wealth. There were, besides, a great variety of commercial and trading interests, which, under no other system of Representation than that now prevailing, could be represented in Parliament. The advantage of the present system was, that it left no class unrepresented; and yet the country was told that all the distresses which it suffered were referable to the corruption of the persons who sat for the boroughs. The very names of the Gentlemen were sufficient to negative such a charge. It was impossible that the persons whom he had mentioned, should not feel as deep an interest in the welfare of the country, as any other individuals. Was it not a fact, that practically the great mass of the business of the House of Commons was executed by these Gentlemen? At the last general election, when the old Representatives were rejected, the people did not select a single individual (he said this without intending offence to any one) who had shown that he was possessed of even ordinary ability. He would ask their Lordships, whether the conduct of Parliament during the last few years afforded any justification of the continued and increasing dislike of the present system? He would bring to the recollection of the House, what had been done by that calumniated Parliament, as it was once called, by the noble Viscount, the Secretary for the Colonial Department. Between 1822 and 1830, which was before the present Ministers entered office, the Parliament repealed 15,500,000l. of taxes, and, by a provident and able management of the Public Debt, the interest upon it was reduced 4,000,000l. The same Parliament also reduced the public expenditure more than 4,500,000l.; it reduced all the salaries of offices connected with patronage, to the extent of 700,000l.; abolished more than 4,000 offices, and, in the last year of the Duke of Wellington's Administration, it repealed a million of taxes. During this period exports increased in official value 12,500,000l., and imports 15,000,000l., and our coasting trade 9,000,000 of tons. This, 35 he was aware, was a money view of the question, and unfortunately that was the only view which was generally taken of it; but Parliament had, at the same time, directed its attention to other important questions connected with the general interests of the empire. The criminal laws were revised and amended, and improvements were made in the mode of conducting civil suits. Alterations were also made in our criminal procedure; Parliament, likewise, came to a decision upon other questions with respect to which there existed a great difference of opinion, but the decisions of Parliament were made in accordance with the general feeling of the most enlightened persons, and certainly in conformity with the opinion of the present Ministers. The currency was established on what appeared to him to be a safe and wise basis. The Corn-laws were fixed upon the best principle which had ever been applied to that question, and they had worked better than any others heretofore adopted. In the course of the same period, the Test Act was repealed, and the Bill for the relief of the Roman Catholics was passed. Everything possible and just was done for the establishment of civil and religious liberty, and for the general welfare of the realm. With these proofs of the activity and wisdom of Parliament, it was not fair to say, that Parliament had been unmindful of its duties. He would go further and assert, that under no system of Representation partaking of a much more popular character than that which at present existed, could such measures as those he had just adverted to have been adopted. The Members elected under the proposed system would be too much under popular influence; and, however right they might be in principle, they would carry their principles too far, and would never adopt the system of compromise which was productive of so much benefit when applied to questions which had long divided public opinion. But was it possible that the Government of the present day could influence the decisions of the House of Commons to any great extent, through the Members who held places in the gift of the Crown? How did the fact stand with respect to this? In the reign of George 1st, there were 276 Members of the House of Commons who held places of that description, and this, he believed, was under a Whig Government. At the commencement of the reign of George 2nd, their number was reduced to 256; at the beginning of the reign of George 3rd, to 36 200; and at the present moment it was not fifty. This, of itself, was an enormous reduction of the influence of Government, and viewed, in connection with the increasing power of public opinion and of the Press, he had a right to say that it was a practical Reform. When the noble Earl proposed to alter the Constitution of Parliament, he ought to state what offence it had committed under its present Constitution. Did he propose to cashier it for what it had done, or for what it had neglected to do? What did the noble Earl propose to effect by a newly-constituted Parliament? Was it the noble Earl's intention to carry the measures to which he had referred, further, or to repeal them? The House ought to hear from the noble Earl what were the measures which he thought to carry in a reformed Parliament, but not in this, in order that they might have an opportunity of examining and sifting them, with the view of ascertaining whether they would be advantageous to the country. It was possible that the noble Earl might suppose that with a reformed Parliament he might be more successful in his attempt to impose a duty on the import of cotton, which would prevent the produce of our possessions in India from finding their way into this country; or that he would then be able to establish a tax on the transfer of stock, in direct violation of an Act of Parliament; or that he could then carry into effect his measures for ruining the wine trade of the Cape, and the timber trade of Canada. If these were the objects which the noble Earl had in view, let him avow them. Under the existing system of Representation, the Members who sat in the House of Commons were persons who knew something of the subjects which came under their consideration, and if they were excluded, as they would be under the new system, the Government might be able to carry its measures into effect. There was one point of the greatest importance, which was well worthy of the consideration of the House in discussing this question. It was this—whether the country was not in such a state that its prosperity or distress arose out of extraneous causes over which the Government and Parliament had no control. When he contemplated the enormous capital and overflowing population of this country, dependent for subsistence on foreign supply and foreign demand, when he beheld the conflicts of capital, occasioning the pulling down of manufactories in one place, and the setting of them up in another—he could not but 37 think that it was on extraneous causes rather than on any measures which might be adopted by Government that the prosperity of the empire depended. He would say, further, though with deep regret, that every day this state of things was becoming worse; but, if this were so, could any thing be more insane than to teach the people that national prosperity depended, not on the measures but on the form of Government? The consequence would be, that Parliament would every day be called upon to reconsider the new Constitution, and to reform it again and again. He would now direct their Lordships' attention to what he conceived to be the most important part of the Bill, namely, the uniformity of the franchise. He did not object to it because it was popular; on the contrary, he was desirous that a more popular franchise should be adopted, but not to be applied every where. As it existed at present, even the poorest persons contributed to send Members to Parliament to express their wishes. It would be idle at the present moment to go into the details of the measure to inquire whether it was possible to establish a rule for fixing the value by which the right to the franchise was to be ascertained; but, he could not avoid observing, that no men were less capable of executing that task satisfactorily than Barristers. He also, objected to the Barristers being appointed by the Judges, and to their sending in their bills to the Treasury. By these means a connexion was maintained by the Government, which might lead to improper conduct on the part of the Barristers, for they had it in their power to enfranchise or disfranchise numbers of voters, contrary to the intention of the Act. The odium arising out of their improper conduct would be thrown, not upon the Government which benefitted by it, but on the Judges. With respect, however, to the 10l. franchise, he was of opinion that it would not give power to the middle classes. It went below them, but not to the poorest classes. He had looked to the practical working of the measure more attentively than the noble Earl appeared to have done, and he found that it disfranchised both the middle and the poorer classes. He found that in all England and Wales, there were only thirty-one places in which the renters of between 10l. and 20l. would not have a decided majority over all the other voters, and the result was, that they would have a majority of fifty on the whole representation of England and Wales. It was evi- 38 dent that the Bill would disfranchise the middle classes. He respected those classes, but he thought some misunderstanding existed as to who they were. He understood the middle classes to be composed of persons who possessed the means of education, but not of idleness. It was the class from which almost all distinguished men were drawn—from which many of their Lordships had sprung. The Bill did not give power to them, but to the class immediately above the poorest—those who were the plaintiffs in courts of conscience. They would have the power of legislating for their poor debtors. What effect would this have on the public prosperity? In the first place the power of legislating for persons who had property would be given to those who had little or none. A noble Lord had stated on a former evening that the Church of England was in a minority compared with Dissenters. He did not believe that such was the case, but he knew that the great body of those who were sincerely attached to the Church, and determined to support it, was to be found in the highest and poorest classes. Dissent predominated in the peculiar class to which a preponderance of power was given by this Bill. Let their Lordships consider what would be the effect of the measure with respect to Scotland and Ireland. A great many of the Members now returned for Scotland were Presbyterians; but they were men of large property, and desirous of maintaining the establishments of the country. But, under the Bill the Members for that country would be Presbyterians of a lower class, among whom was to be found whatever yet remained of bigotry and a persecuting spirit. With respect to Ireland, the immediate effect of the passing of the Bill would be, to render half the Representation of that country Roman Catholic. Under such circumstances, how would it be possible to uphold the Church Establishment in Ireland? The Government and Parliament were bound to protect the property of the Church. He recollected hearing a right reverend Prelate declare, the doctrines of that Church would remain even though its property was taken away; but he confessed he was desirous of preserving its property also, and he was afraid that its property, if not its doctrines, would suffer by this Bill. He would next proceed to consider what would be the effect of popular Representation on the acts of the Government. The only thing which could render office desirable to any man who was 39 worthy of having it was, that it gave him the power to carry into effect measures which would benefit his country. Did the noble Earl entertain any hope that, in a Parliament such as the Bill would give him, he could carry any measure which was opposed to the public feeling of the moment? If they changed the Constitution of the country, it would be necessary to change the persons who were to carry on the Government. All measures to be proposed must in fact be submitted to the consideration of influential individuals out
doors, and framed so as to flatter their opinions; and they would then be brought forward not on the responsibility of the Government, but on the recommendation of Committees. Thus would be removed the great practical advantage which the country now enjoyed of having Ministers selected for their ability, who weighed all measures maturely before they brought them forward, and waited for the most favourable opportunity to propose them. It was necessary to look, not only to the revolution which the new system would occasion in the conduct of men in office, but also to the effect which it would produce upon the opposition. During the last thirty years a body of independent men, not necessarily connected with the great mass of the people, had combined together for the purpose of advocating certain measures, and had exercised a powerful influence on the deliberations of Parliament by these means they acquired an aptitude for public business which enabled them to execute the duties of office, whenever his Majesty's wish or public opinion rendered a change of Ministry necessary. Under the new system, however, there would be no opportunity for forming a regular opposition, because the representative body would be constantly undergoing changes. There would, indeed, be an opposition in the country, backed by mobs, which would dictate to the Government. It was proved by the history not only of this country but of others, that whatever might be the form of the Government—whether the most absurd and monstrous democracy or the most absolute monarchy or despotism—that was practically the best which afforded able men an opportunity of coming forward in the public service. The present Constitution of England did that beyond any which had ever been known. By the present system this admirable end was attained—that while one Government existed, another was always in a course of preparation to qualify 40 itself for the task; and from this it arose that in this country there was no man, however low his condition but that by abilities and conduct he might raise himself to comparative comfort, and thence upwards to the highest offices of the State; and principally the State was enabled to avail itself of the talents of such men through these very boroughs now so much reviled. This, they were told, was indeed no longer an advantage worth considering, for that every tenth man you met was a man of talent. All he could say was, that he was not so fortunate as to meet with them in his walks. But granting that, in the ordinary sense of the words, men of talent were more frequently to be found now than formerly, still not one in a hundred of them would be found available for the public service. If the change proposed in this Bill was agreed to of necessity further alterations must be made whenever it was demanded. There could be no successful resistance to whatever demand was made. Let this Bill be passed, and there would be such a House of Commons as would render it impossible for any Government to be conducted on any regular principle of action. No series of measures could be carried by any Government with such a House of Commons as this Bill must lead to. Changes of policy would continually be forced upon the Ministry. How could a House of Commons elected under this Bill deal with questions of commercial policy? The modified principles of free trade, to which noble Lords who advocated the Bill were attached, had made no converts among the peculiar class which it was now proposed to endow with preponderating power. That class still believed the exclusion of all foreign competition to be the true rule. Go back to that policy; teach foreigners that we had tried the new liberal system, and had failed; teach them to adopt the principles in their intercourse with us which this class thought best, and the consequence would be, ruin to our trade, and famine for the people. The noble Lords opposite were teaching the people a dangerous lesson. They told the people that the form of Government was the great cause of distress. Would the Bill now proposed remedy that distress? It was not even pretended that it would, and if the people had the Bill and still found distress, they would of course, pursuing the instructions they had received, again demand fresh changes, and fresh changes could not be denied them. This Bill was 41 to remove anomalies, and to correct contradictions, but it contained greater contradictions and greater absurdities than were to be found in the system it was to supersede. Their Lordships would excuse him if he mentioned a few of those absurdities. In the first place, every man who rented a house of from 10l. to 50l., unless he resided in a borough was to be excluded altogether from the franchise, notwithstanding, he belonged to a class of persons of the most intelligent and respectable character. No householders of that class, however, were to have a vote for a county, but all such renters were to have a vote for the borough they resided in. Upon what principle, in consonance with the construction of the Bill, was that distinction made? Then there were seven towns left without Representatives which were larger in population and in extent, and were more wealthy than enfranchised Walsall and Whitby. Again there were five boroughs in schedule B which had twice as many voters and twice as large a population, but were only to have half as many Members as five other boroughs which were to be left untouched. But there was something more extraordinary and more monstrous still. There were Newcastle and Gateshead, which latter place had been discovered in a wonderful manner to be a place of importance, for who but the framers of this Bill would have found in it the qualifications which would entitle it under the circumstances, to return Members to Parliament? Newcastle and Gateshead, with their 57,000 inhabitants, were to have three Members, while Liverpool and Toxteth Park, with their 187,000 inhabitants, were by the Bill to have but two Members. Such an arrangement was monstrous. Then, with respect to the counties, Middlesex, with its 1,358,000 inhabitants, was to be confined to two Members; while Northamptonshire, with its 179,000 inhabitants, was to be divided, and was to have four Members. Again each division of Lancashire had a population of 670,000 inhabitants, while each division of Cumberland would have a population of only 84,000 inhabitants. Was it not monstrous to suppose that such absurdities, if passed could be suffered to continue? If such constructions as these were found in any ancient system of government, they could only be endured on account of their antiquity, but their introduction into a system which professed to cure anomalies, was out of all character. But there was another consideration, which 42 made it impossible to suppose time measure, if passed, would be lasting. Could any one imagine that the new constituency, thus suddenly and unexpectedly gifted with the power of electing the House of Commons, would be content to exercise the franchise at so distant a period as once in seven years?—Oh no, they would require an election oftener; and, unless he was very much mistaken, they would have a right to claim—proceeding upon precedent, the vote of the noble Earl (Earl Grey) in favour of Triennial Parliaments. But what if that further concession was refused? Would this new constituency rest content? Assuredly not. If they could not exactly and at once rule the Parliament within doors, they could exact pledges from their delegates, and they would do so, as they had already done; so that the Parliament itself would be controlled by primary meetings of the people, and be no longer entitled to the character of a deliberative assembly. This their Lordships surely never could assent to. It was too monstrous, too wild, too impolitic, too unreasonable to disfranchise for the benefit of one class the rest of the community. But if it were done, how were the claims of the very poorest afterwards to be resisted? A uniform franchise was to be adopted, and if that uniform franchise was to be maintained, and the rights of the poor were to be conceded and respected as they must be, the franchise now proposed must be lowered. Nor was there any resting place to stop at until it reached Universal Suffrage. The uniform franchise proposed must lead, not only to Universal Suffrage, but to a division of the country into particular parcels, measured by extent, and regulated upon theory. Indeed that principle had once been advocated by a noble Baron (Lord Durham) who usually sat on the other side of the House, but had not of late been often present in his place. Such being his opinion of the measure, and he knew not how any reasonable man who examined the question could come to other conclusions; he must adhere to the view he had before taken, and vote against the second reading of the Bill. He did not act thus without having considered the question as thoroughly as he was able. He knew that there might be inconveniences attending the rejection of the Bill, but he did not believe that any consequences would arise which could not readily be overcome if the Government met them with firmness and decision. But even though the inconveniences, the dan- 43 gers arising from the rejection of the Bill, should prove much greater than he apprehended they would, still he felt himself in duty bound to resist it to the utmost of his power, rather than, by giving his assent to it, render himself, in any degree, a party to a measure which must lead to the overthrow of all the ancient institutions of the country, to the misery of those it was professedly intended to benefit, and to general desolation. The present Bill was even more democratic, and more objectionable and unjust, than the last. In the former Bill some security was given, by it being made necessary that the rent should be paid before the franchise could be exercised, but in the present Bill that did not exist. Again in the present Bill a 10l. householder might live in fifty different residences in the course of a year, and still enjoy the exercise of the franchise; in the former Bill that was not the case. But if the enfranchising clause of the present Bill was more objectionable than that of the last, the same might be said of the disfranchising clause. The only principles he could discover in it were those of injustice and unreasonableness. It was arbitrary, and without the show of necessity. The numbers of fifty-six and thirty were taken and declared to be positive and unalterable, without the slightest argument or statement to support the assumption. Their Lordships, in fact, were not to be allowed to investigate the subject. The Minister proposed to cut off, to annihilate, fifty-six boroughs, and to partially disfranchise thirty more; and the concurrence of their Lordships was demanded, not upon inquiry, not upon proof, but simply because the Minister had proposed it. They were not told they might consider the measure, and when they deemed advisable, alter it; they were not told they might exercise deliberation and judgment; but, on the contrary, the noble Lords opposite were unbending; they would permit of no alteration, would allow of no amendment. And if that were the case, what was the good of going into Committee? If their Lordships were determined to resist many of the provisions of the Bill, and the noble Lords the Members of the Government, were determined to allow of no alteration, but were pledged, as they avowed, to do every thing in their power to pass the Bill in its present shape, whatever might be the inconveniences and the dangers of rejecting the measure now, the inconveniences and the dangers of rejecting it in a future stage 44 would be infinitely greater. If danger was to be apprehended from the rejection of the Bill at the present time, now when their Lordships had given it no countenance, no support, what was to be expected if their Lordships, by agreeing to the second reading, should lead the people to believe that the Bill would pass, and should afterwards reject it? If, after their Lordships had associated themselves with the Bill and had signified according to the rule and precedent, their concurrence in its principles, they should ultimately reject it, merely because they could not make it what they wished, would not the evil be tenfold greater than if they were not to mention its principle? There could be no comparison in his opinion, between the probable dangers. The question was, not as put by the noble Earl (Grey). Their Lordships were not called upon, by their vote upon the Motion to decide upon the general question of Reform. They were there as Peers of Parliament, and to act in accordance with the dictates of their consciences. The measure was the measure of the Government, and for it the Government were responsible. To the Bill, therefore, he in the discharge of his duty, should say, "Not content." Whatever might be the consequences, he would say, in the language of the noble Earl (the Earl of Harrowby), whose example six months ago he had followed. "I will not be an accomplice in the crime, although I may be obliged to participate in the results." He moved as an Amendment that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.
§ Viscount Melbourne
said, he felt extreme unwillingness to address their Lordships at that period of the debate, being perfectly aware of his incapacity to offer any new arguments on the question, particularly as the several topics to which the noble Baron who preceded him had chiefly addressed himself had been already discussed so thoroughly in that House when a Bill of the same nature as that now before their Lordships was formerly under consideration. It was the less necessary, indeed, for him to trespass long upon the House after the clear and powerful exposition of the question in all its bearings by his noble friend at the head of his Majesty's Government. The powers of his noble friend had never been more conspicuously displayed than they had been that evening. The noble Baron opposite (Lord Ellenborough) had said, that the question now before the House did not affect the general question of Reform. To 45 that statement he (Lord Melbourne) did not assent. The Motion before their Lordships was, "That this Bill for the Reform of the Representation of the people of England and Wales be read a second time." The question, therefore, to be determined by their votes was, whether or not they would agree to entertain the general subject of Reform in the Representation, or would resolve to set that subject aside altogether. The speech of the noble Baron was directed no less against the principle of Reform altogether, than against the details of the Bill itself. All the facts which the noble Baron had stated respecting the nomination boroughs were, no doubt true; and he himself had been for years in the habit of concurring in statements of the same effect as those now made by the noble Baron; but all the arguments which the noble Lord had endeavoured to raise upon those facts went to show the expediency of preserving the whole of the nomination boroughs. All those arguments were, in fact, directly opposed to the general principle of Reform itself. They who would be prepared to stand up for "things as they are," would do well to rest their opposition to every degree of amelioration upon the arguments of the noble Lord (Lord Ellenborough). But with any man who looked to the signs of the times, and who admitted that changes were necessary in the state of the Representation, those arguments would be of little weight. It was unnecessary to go over those arguments, as they were already completely met by this one unanswerable argument—that it is impossible to maintain the constitution of the House of Commons in its present state. He should not trouble the House with a repetition of the observations which he had made on the subject when the question was before under the consideration of their Lordships. On that occasion he had been found fault with by the noble Lord, the Chief Baron of the Exchequer, for having gone into a discussion of the details of the Bill, when the question before the House related to its general principles; and he thought that he should now subject himself to the same reproof if he followed the noble Baron into the discussion of details which were properly subjects to be considered in the Committee. Although he was anxious for the passing of the Bill, yet he would be far from holding out to the people exaggerated expectations of any advantages which it would confer upon them. Still he thought that the strong feeling which prevailed amongst the 46 people on the subject of Reform ought to have great weight with the House. In the present state of public feeling, and in the present posture of the affairs of the country, it seemed to him to be impossible to carry on the Government without some alteration in the Constitution of the House of Commons—laying the Representation of the people on a broader basis. That there were advantages connected with the present system of Representation he would not deny. But whilst the disadvantages were prominent and obvious—so plain to the eyes of all as to excite the indignation of the people—the advantages, on the contrary, were in their nature such that they could be produced and made evident only by close investigation and by abstract reasoning. He might be told that although the disadvantages were more easily perceived by the people than the advantages, still the latter more than compensated for the former, and that, therefore, in altering the present system of Representation, his Majesty's Ministers were sacrificing to popular clamour advantages which the people did not understand. But he denied that he for one was influenced in the course which he pursued on the present occasion by factious clamour or by democratic intimidation. At the same time, however, he looked upon a reasonable deference to the will of the people distinctly expressed to be one of the conditions of the government of a free people. "Hæc est conditio populorum omnium liberorum." The irresistible influence of the opinion of the people was manifest when the government of the noble Duke opposite fell to the ground, without the pressure of much external opposition. It was perfectly clear to every man on that occasion, when the Administration fell into the hands of his noble friend, that some measure of the kind now proposed must be brought forward; and when his noble friend stated, amongst the principles on which his government was formed, this principle of reform, no noble Lord, except the noble Duke (Wellington), who might be expected to take that course after the strong declaration which he had made on the subject when in office, stood up in his place to avow himself opposed to the noble Earl's administration, on the ground that it was formed on the principles of Reform. But if any noble Lord were wholly opposed to that principle, it would not have been at all an unusual course for him to stand up on that occasion and express his opinion. In another 47 place it had been objected that his noble friend was wrong in having introduced the measure at the time which he had chosen. It had been said, that he ought to have waited until the fever of the public mind should have subsided, and the people should be capable of giving the subject a calm and deliberate consideration. Every man who knew anything of human nature, must know, that if his noble friend had not brought forward the Reform Bill as early as possible after his appointment to office, he would have been suspected of insincerity in his professions, and of an intention to evade the redeeming of his pledges. He thought, therefore, that his Majesty's Ministers had to defend themselves only as to the extent of the measure which they had brought forward, and that neither as respected its general principles, nor the time in which they had introduced it, were they fairly open to reproach from the most determined opponent of the Bill. As to the extent of the Bill, he would say that it was often necessary to resist the wishes of the people, and to withhold what they called for; but when they called for ameliorations, the necessity of which was acknowledged, it was the wisest course to remove to the utmost practicable extent all real subjects of complaint. In framing a measure of Reform, it was impossible to have stopped short of the present Bill. If those who were friendly to what was called moderate Reform, could succeed in carrying a measure framed on their principles, it would not only increase the discontent, but would produce ultimately more danger to the institutions of this country than the Bill which they denounced as being too extensive and sweeping. It was impossible for him to acid anything to the strong appeal which his noble friend had addressed to their Lordships; but he would most anxiously implore them not to suppose that the silence which prevailed at this moment was the silence of content, or that the quiet was attributable to anything but to the most determined spirit. He regretted deeply that the noble Duke who was lately at the head of his Majesty's Government, was so decidedly opposed to this measure. The noble Duke had earned for himself a reputation full of glory and of renown; he stood beyond all question at the head of modern warriors, and had achieved deeds which displayed a master mind; but he would remind the noble Duke that those who in early life were graced by the brightest fortune, were sometimes visited by 48 reverses as signal as had been their successes. Nor was that difficult to account for. The same bold, inflexible spirit which, bending before no difficulties, and appalled by no dangers, had achieved extraordinary acts when suited to the circumstances of the time, failed when applied to a period different in its character. These qualities sometime prevented those who were endowed with them from the full and unprejudiced examination of great questions in the altered positions in which the progress of events might have placed them. The Reform Bill was a great change, undoubtedly; but he would beg leave to tell their Lordships, that if change was effected upon sound principles, its advantages would not be confined to the mere removal of the evils which it was intended to remove, but it would give rise to advantages which were not originally expected from it. In conclusion, he had only to say, that if the Bill went into Committee, and any amendments were proposed founded in wisdom and supported by sound reasoning, he should be willing to give his assent to them.
The Bishop of Durham
said, he would readily forego the privilege of addressing their Lordships if he did not feel that the peculiar situation in which he stood, the nature of the subject, and the respect he owed to the Government, rendered it incumbent upon him to state the grounds upon which he should be compelled to give his vote on that occasion. He approached the subject with great diffidence and with many misgivings not merely from a consciousness of his inability to grapple with it on account of its vast extent and importance, for he well knew the consequences which must arise from a single false step, but from also being aware of the obloquy which would attach to one of his profession for venturing to pursue the course he felt it his duty to adopt. He might say, indeed, that he had had some experience upon the point already, and the obloquy he was likely to incur operated upon his mind as a reason why he should explain his opinion to their Lordships, lest he should be charged with timidity or doing that under any shade of concealment which he would hesitate to do publicly. He did not then intend to enter into any analysis of the measure, or to discuss any of the arguments which had been advanced in its support, he meant simply to state the grounds of his opposition to the present motion. He viewed the measure proposed with respect to the effect it would have on the 49 religious and moral interests of the country, and doing so he could not vote for it. It might be right for him at once to say that he did not consider the rejection of this Bill implied the rejection of Reform in toto. The question had been so much discussed, and such hopes and expectations had been excited, that he believed there must be some measure of Reform. What that measure ought to be he would not pretend to say. It could not however be denied, that the country was divided in its opinion with respect to this Bill; that there were a great number of people who thought it would lead to the worst consequences, and he therefore thought in the first place that some attempt ought to have been made to consult the wishes and judgments of both parties. Nothing of that sort, however, had been done; and indeed he might go further and say, that the Bill, regarded as a final measure, pleased or satisfied no one. One party in the country viewed it with apprehension and alarm, while another regarded it only as a step to further changes. The Bill, therefore, in that respect, was any thing but satisfactory. Another requisite he should expect in any measure of Reform, and which he did not find in this, was, that some great practical grievance should be removed by its operation, or that some great practical benefit should be conferred. In this instance he did not hear it professed that any great practical grievance was to be remedied, and it had certainly not been shown that any great practical good was to be bestowed. Theoretically, undoubtedly much good was spoken of, but practically none. But if in those two respects the Bill failed, at all events their Lordships had a right to expect that the measure proposed would give security for carrying on the Government. It, however, did no such thing. It provided only for further change, and set a dangerous example of destruction and annihilation. It swept away privileges without necessity, without inquiry, without information, and in spite of reason. It made change apparently for the sake of change, and, without any necessity, it proposed a constitution far more democratic than the present. Such an alteration he thought an injury, and an injury of so grave a character that he could not support it. These were among the reasons which had compelled him to come to the determination to vote against the Bill. They had been admonished to watch "the signs of the times." He took the admonition kindly, but to him it was 50 superfluous. He had watched the signs of the times; he had attended to what was called the march of intellect, and he found abroad a restless disposition—a love of innovation—a wish to destroy institutions because they were ancient,—a desire to set the subject over the ruler, and to trample the ruler under the subject. He saw these restless desires, and he saw also that this Bill would increase the circumstances which engendered them. If this measure should pass into a law, the necessary consequence would be the deterioration of the House of Commons. Step by step would that assembly decline till it came to the lowest point of descent. The effect of such a change would be most prejudicial to the moral and religious interests of the people. Atheism and infidelity, dissent and discord, had already effected much mischief, and it would be worse than bad policy to make a palpably mischievous alteration in the constitution, merely because the destruction of that constitution was clamoured for. If the Bill were passed, it would be impossible to maintain tranquillity without further innovation, leading to the complete annihilation of all those institutions on which our forefathers had prided themselves, and which had for ages secured the prosperity of the country. But it was said the condition of society had rendered the measure absolutely necessary. He knew that a considerable change had taken place in society. The so styled march of intellect had done much, but its good remained to be proved. "Knowledge was power" unquestionably; but much of the knowledge now disseminated was superficial and injurious, instead of beneficial, especially when not under the guidance of well-regulated principles. Unfortunately that species of knowledge, when possessed by a person of inferior station, too often gave him an evil influence over his associates, one which under the Bill would be dangerous to the State. By the Bill they might get rid of nomination boroughs and the influence of Peers, but he very much doubted whether it would not give rise to a system of nomination far more baleful and more dangerous. He had thought it his duty to state the grounds upon which he should give his vote; and he was the more desirous to do so because the motives which actuated the members of the church had been grossly misrepresented. It had been said that they thought only of their own interests, and that they cared not for the welfare of the lower classes. Those were gross and unjustifiable aspersions, and 51 he rejected them with indignation. He was most sincerely anxious to benefit the lower classes; indeed so much so, that he solemnly declared, if he believed this Bill would have that effect, he would forego his opposition, and give it his support. They were told to consider well the dangers of rejecting this measure. He had considered them, and he found them temporary; while those which would result from passing it were permanent, and would lead to ruin. If the Government of the country felt it necessary and right to afford protection to those who in the discharge of their duty, felt themselves bound to oppose this measure, he should have no fear as to the consequences of such a step. On the one hand, then, he saw temporary risk, and, on the other, permanent injury. He was, therefore, in duty bound to oppose the Motion for the second reading. He could not resume his seat without expressing his conviction that the noble Earl at the head of the Government contemplated none of those evils from the measure which he (the Bishop of Durham) feared; and also that, if the noble Earl did do so, he would be the last man to persevere in his present course.
trusted it would be received as some apology for his attempting to engage the time and arrest the attention of their Lordships on this great question, that he had not hitherto had an opportunity of expressing his sentiments. He did not presume to think that he could throw any new light upon this almost exhausted subject; but still, he was anxious to state the grounds in which, the vote he proposed to give in favour of the measure was based. He would begin by saying with Mr. Burke, "that it is the substance of the British Constitution, that the people should be taxed by their own Representatives." If this right of Englishmen was at former times valuable and necessary, how much more so had it now become, when the demands of the tax-gatherer were so frequent and heavy, and the national debt so enormous? When a sum of fifty millions was raised from people during the year, it was essential to their interests, and to the security of their property, that they should not only have full control over the expenditure, but, be satisfied also, that they really had this authority. This was in accordance with the theory of the Constitution from the earliest period of a Representative Government; and the great object of the Bill now before the House was, to restore to the people 52 their full right in this respect. The earliest statutes that were now in existence, were perfectly explicit in declaring, that it was an inherent privilege of Englishmen that no man should be taxed who was not duly represented in Parliament. If such was the principle under which the Parliaments of the Plantagenets were constituted, how much more incumbent was it, that it should be acted upon in the nineteenth century, with our hundred-fold increased resources, and intelligence, and wants, and our present complicated fiscal arrangements? In the times of the Edwards, the taxes fell very lightly upon the lower strata of society, and yet they were duly represented. In our times, with our immense debt, and consequently, immense amount of taxes, the Constitutional principle applied with irresistible force. He had often been told that, it was one of the leading arguments of the late lamented Mr. Canning "that the construction and composition of the Commons House of Parliament was now the same as in the year 1688, when it accomplished such mighty things." He did not dispute that, but it was only because it was then in conformity to public sentiment, and to the knowledge of the age, that it rendered such essential service. But now, that the people had outgrown the basis on which Representation was founded, when everything was changed when trade and commerce and manufactures had passed into new and unrepresented channels, when the diffusion of knowledge had altered the relations of the middle and lower orders; when, from these causes, the artificial relations of the people to the Government and the Legislature had entirely changed; it was surely time that the Government should be adapted by a representation founded on a broader basis to meet such an altered state of things. The characteristic features and beauty of the English Constitution was said to be its adaptability to the changes which time was hourly effecting in every branch of society, and the characteristic principles, as he had stated, of the representative clement of that Constitution was, that no man should be taxed who was not duly represented in the emphatically called House of Commons. These were now household truths to the people of England, who were hourly becoming more and more convinced of the fact, that the rights of property were identified with their liberty, and, consequently, that he who took from them any share of their property, without their own consent, expressed through the Constitutional chan- 53 nel of Representation, so far trenched upon their liberty. In consequence, however, of the changes which had taken place in late years they who contributed most to th taxes, had the least share of the representation. The power to tax the whole nation had thus become lodged in the hands of a few individuals, and small corporations were enabled to affect, more or less, the property of the bulk of the people. It was in this way that the Directors of the Bank of England had been enabled to carry on measures which interfered more with the property, the rights and liberties of the people, than could a thousand Acts of Parliament. They felt this, and, therefore, hailed with joyful acclaim the present Bill, which went to restore to them their constitutional right of being taxed only through their own freely-chosen Representatives. They felt, that, if they had hitherto been duly represented, they should not now be labouring under those heavy burthens which weighed down the industry and resources of the country; they felt, that the thousands of millions which had been squandered upon useless or mischievous objects, by profligate Governments, would have been saved to the country; and because they did feel these important truths, they would not be diverted from the attainment of the benefits to which the present Bill was the essential means, by any artful half measures like that menaced that evening by the noble Duke opposite.
The Marquis of Salisbury
was not desirous, after the very able speech which had been addressed to their Lordships by the noble Baron, in opposition to the measure, to trouble the House with any lengthened address explanatory of the reasons which influenced him in giving his vote in favour of the Amendment, which that noble Baron had concluded by proposing. The noble Lord who had last addressed the House, had gone into the consideration of the theoretic principles of the Constitution of England for many years past, and had attempted to show that the changes which, during those years had occurred through all classes of the community, with regard to their artificial relations to the Government, had rendered a revision of those principles requisite, in order to adapt the institutions of the country to the knowledge and wants of the people. He (Lord Salisbury), however, could not see how the line of argument which that noble Lord had pursued, was in any degree applicable to the consideration of 54 the present question. To him the question which their Lordships had to consider appeared to be, whether, under the proposed plan, the country was likely to continue in that state of prosperity and happiness in which it had for many years flourished. The noble Lord (Stourton) had stated many causes of the discontent which he imagined, how truly was quite another question, had induced the people of England to look for an alteration in the constituent principles of their representation. That would undoubtedly, have been a very good line of argument to adopt, had it been followed up by the Noble Lord's pointing out in what manner the measure of Reform then under consideration would afford a remedy—not a temporary adjustment, but a final and permanent remedy—for those causes of discontent. The noble Lord had, however, contented himself by stating the existence of a want of content in the minds of the people, cautiously abstaining from that part of the question which alone could assist their Lordships in their present discussion, namely, how far tranquillity was likely to be insured by enacting the present measure of Reform. He thought, that that House had also some reason to complain of the unsatisfactory manner in which the noble Earl who introduced the measure to their notice, had conducted his address. It would have been better had that noble Earl, when he proposed a mea sure of such vital importance to the interests and institutions of the country, detailed, or attempted to detail, how that measure, should it be agreed to by their Lordships, would act upon those interests and upon those institutions. Instead of that, he had confined himself to a mere detail of what events and what alterations had occurred in the public mind, and in the state of the country, since the period when the question of Reform was last before the House; and having done so, he proceeded in a measure to throw out threats of consequences likely to result, should their Lordships deem it prudent to reject the measure which for the second time they had submitted to them. On this point, however, he was convinced their Lordships had nothing whatever to apprehend. On the former occasion, that Reform formed the subject of a debate in their Lordships' House, he confessed that a strong excitement did prevail in the country in its favour, but since then, he was of opinion that that excitement had almost subsided. He believed, however, that a very strong feeling did exist for 55 some degree of Reform, and anti-Reformer as be was, and anti-Reformer as he trusted he ever should remain, he confessed that he would be most willing to grant Reform, and thereby meet the wishes of the people, if he thought he could do so consistently with security to the institutions of his country. He had now, he conceived, stated sufficient to explain to their Lordships the nature of the vote which be was about to give; but there was one point, and one only, on which he desired to request some explanation. He wished to know how it was intended by his Majesty's Government to provide for the admission of official men into the other House of Parliament. During the discussion which took place on the first measure of Reform, their Lordships were told by the noble Viscount the Secretary of State (Lord Melbourne), that a clause was intended to be added in Committee, should the Bill be read a second time, to provide for that emergency. He (the Marquis of Salisbury), however, thought that such a provision ought to be in the original Bill, and that their Lordships should not, in fairness be called upon to make up for its deficiency. If, he had had any doubts, as to the necessity of such a clause, they would have been completely removed by an occurrence that had since taken place. From that occurrence, he was fully convinced the difficulty was felt by Government, for an hon. Baronet who had recently accepted office, and had thereby vacated his seat, applied to his electors and begged them to give a practical refutation to the argument, that official men were not likely to obtain seats when nomination boroughs were done with. He was re-elected on this assurance, but from that moment he had subjected the whole of his political conduct to the supervision of his constituency. How, then, could security for any consistent line of policy in the Government be obtained, when in the event of a dissolution of Parliament, each Minister must depend upon the caprice of popular opinion, consequent probably on the excitement of a general election, for his return to Parliament? It was to him quite inexplicable how ingress to the House for Ministers was to be procured. The noble Lord who had last addressed the House had said, that their Lordships were menaced with a half measure of Reform in the event of the rejection of that whole measure—and a whole one it unquestionably was—which they were discussing. It was true that the noble Duke behind him had stated his intention of proposing a 56 Reform Bill, in case the present was rejected; but the consideration of that measure was not intended, and ought not to be considered in the light of a menace. The announcement of such an intention, however, would have one good effect, for it resolved the question for their Lordships' consideration into this, whether should the consistency of his Majesty's Ministers or the consistency of their Lordships' House be preserved? Any noble Lord who was disposed to vote for Reform, but not for the Bill which Ministers had introduced, had now an opportunity of doing so through the announcement which the noble Duke had made. Should those noble Lords who were in favour of moderate Reform suffer the Bill before them to be read a second time, they would place themselves in a position from which, they would find it difficult to withdraw, for they, by such a vote, would be assenting to the principles of Reform as proposed by his Majesty's Ministers, and not to the principles of moderate Reform. For his own part, under no circumstances could he give his support to the principle of a measure, every clause of which, to be rendered palatable, should be altered in Committee. He would not further detain their Lordships, as he knew there were so many individuals around him far more competent to express to the House the objections which those noble Lords who sat on its opposite side entertained to the measure.
§ Earl Bathurst
said, the noble Earl at the head of his Majesty's Government had referred to his remarks on presenting the petition from the University of Oxford, and had argued that the objections urged by the petitioners against the 10l. clause had been completely overturned in former debates, particularly by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. But that noble and learned Lord did not seem himself to place much confidence in that declaration, for he had admitted, that the 10l. franchise might be altered without impairing the main principles of the Bill. A contrary doctrine, however, had since been promulgated by his colleagues elsewhere—he presumed, in deference to the opinions of their supporters out of doors—a doctrine, indeed, not only opposed to the statement of the learned Lord, but to the recorded opinions of the same individuals themselves on former occasions. He particularly referred to the conduct of the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, on the occasion of a motion for Reform—a transfer 57 to Leeds of the franchise of a corrupt borough—during the debate on which, that noble Lord's present colleague (Lord Milton), to express his strong dissent from the proposition to make 10l. the minimum rate of franchise qualification, moved, as an amendment, that the votes be taken by "scot and lot, according to the wise custom of our ancestors." That amendment was seconded by Lord Althorp, who declared, in emphatic terms, that he contemned the proposition of a 10l. qualification. Lord Milton stated at the time, that he was authorised to say that the people of Leeds were decidedly averse to the proposition for admitting every man rated at 10l. to the right of voting, as they conceived that so low a rate would defeat the benefits contemplated by franchising their town. The same opinion was acted upon by Lords Milton and Althorp, with respect to the proposition for transferring the franchise from Penryn to Manchester, in which they were soon after joined by Lord John Russell, the orginator of the proposition. When the question was first mooted in the Commons, Sir George Phillips rose in his place, and said, that, as one particularly well acquainted with the feelings of the people of Manchester, he felt it but his duty to deprecate so low a rate of franchise as 10l. being adopted in that town; that the inhabitants themselves were averse to any rate less than 20l., or 15l. at the very lowest. In the next session, Lord John Russell altered the rate to 20l., in obedience, as he stated, to the wishes and feelings of the people of Manchester and Leeds themselves. And yet, in the teeth of these emphatic declarations, their Lordships were then called upon to pledge themselves to a 10l. qualification, because the political unions had so willed it. These unions, which were now so powerful, had originally been assemblies of the operative classes, combined nominally for the rendering of temporary assistance to their brother tradesmen, but, in reality, for the purpose of from time to time compelling their masters to raise their wages. They took their rise from the unfortunate period of the repeal of the Combination Act, and had gone on from step to step. They were in union and combination with each other, and they never all struck at one time, but encouraged one or two to strike, while the rest remained able to pay them their wages; and when the masters were compelled to succumb in one instance, then the others said, "Why do you not act in the same 58 way by us as by those who struck, or is it only because we have not done like them?" These unions began to take a political turn when that bill was brought in to transfer the franchise of East Retford to Birmingham. All the alteration in the present Bill would, he contended, be but as a bonus to these unions, more especially that which enabled the 10l. householder, though removing from one house to another, to vote on the simple proof of his holding premises to that value. They all had active agents amongst this class of 10l. householders, who would take care, that wherever new Members were given, and more especially in the great manufacturing towns, their friends should have the votes of those householders. It might, no doubt, be said, that every one who voted should prove his tight to do so: but this was futile; for who would take upon himself the invidious task of inquiring whether these men had paid their rates or their rents? In short this clause would practically place all the elections in the hands of these political unions—of those who tyrannized over their masters, and contrived to raise wages at their pleasure. He would not trespass on the House after the able speech of the noble Baron who proposed the Amendment, further than to say, that the first and second clauses of the present Bill were much more grievous, and would make the Bill infinitely more injurious than the former Bill, which had been rejected by their Lordships. In the present Bill the number of boroughs to be disfranchised was fixed in the body of the Bill. They were called upon to vote absolutely that schedule A was to contain fifty-six boroughs, and schedule B thirty. These places were to be wholly or partially disfranchised, not because they were nomination boroughs, for, by extending the boundaries of many of them, there could be found at least as good a constituency as in many of the new boroughs; but the framers of the Bill were determined to get 144 Representatives to divide, at their good pleasure, among counties and manufacturing towns: and therefore they had arbitrarily declared, they would admit no decreased number in the schedules, although they contained more than in their former Bill. On the last occasion Ministers had selected all the great manufacturing towns, and certainly between October and December it was not possible that such a change could have taken place as would entitle a town, in December, to have two Members, 59 which, in October, was only to have one; and besides, the principle of spoliation was sanctioned, not only for the purpose of giving Members to England, but also to give eight to Scotland, and five to Ireland. And, in giving five Members to Ireland, was it possible, that, looking to the population of England and Ireland, five Members were all they would give the latter in addition?—and if, as the noble Viscount said, he hated half measures, they intended to do justice, ought they not to give Ireland at least as many additional Members as Scotland? On the whole, he opposed the Bill, not because it was a measure of Reform, but because, instead of reforming, it destroyed the constituency of the country; and although, in early life, he had given a vote in favour of some change in the Representation, he did so on the principles—first, that the number of Members of the House of Commons should continue unchanged—and secondly, that no borough should be disfranchised without proof of corruption. He believed that the public interest had been more frequently sacrificed from the fear of being reproached for the want of consistency than from a departure from it warranted by circumstances.
The Earl of Haddington
said, that having been all his life opposed to Parliamentary Reform, and having given effect to that feeling and to that opinion when the late Bill was under the consideration of their Lordships' House, he felt, what he thought their Lordships must feel, not an unnatural anxiety to vindicate his own consistency, by shortly stating the reasons which induced him on the present occasion not to oppose the second reading of the Bill then under their consideration. Their Lordships might rest assured that his statement would be short, for having for some time been labouring under severe indisposition, he was physically incapable, even if he had the disposition to address them at any length. Many of those with whom he was in communication upon the second reading of the last Bill, could bear witness that until within a very few days of the discussion in that House he was in his own mind very much disposed to think that the Bill should then be read a second time—not because the principles contained in that Bill coincided with the views and principles for which he had ever contended, but because he thought that Reform upon principle and expediency had become, great ever great and tremendous an evil, absolutely necessary and irresistible. Under that impression, he thought that the sooner 60 the question was settled by a calm and deliberate discussion of its details, and the sooner that the obnoxious parts of the measure were removed, the better it would be for the country. Those were his opinions at the time that the last Bill was brought forward for the second reading; and if he abandoned them, and gave effect to the sentiments of his own mind, which had ever been opposed to Reform, it was because he was in communication with others, who, seeing the spirit which then prevailed in the country, in the other House of Parliament, and on both sides of their Lordships' House, felt perfectly satisfied that anything like an amendment of the Bill would be impossible. There were other considerations which also contributed to bring his mind to vote against the second reading of the last Bill. He felt, in common, he believed, with every well-thinking man, the greatest possible indignation at the manner in which the Members of their Lordships' House were treated by the public Press, at public meetings of every sort and every description. He was indignant at the personal intimidation which was held out against them, and he was satisfied that the respectable classes of the community were indignant also. He did not mean to say, that his feelings upon that insult had strength enough alone to influence his vote; but he certainly did think that the tone of the Press at that time ought not to be disregarded. The example of the noble Duke behind him (the Duke of Wellington) was held up to them as that which they should follow. They were told, that had that noble Duke listened to such arguments as influenced them upon this question of Reform, the great measure which was deemed necessary for the peace and tranquillity of Ireland would never have been carried. But, when that great measure was under discussion, no such intimidation as that which had been used since the question of Reform had been in agitation was held out against the noble Duke. He was told, it was true, that if he did not concede the measure of Catholic Emancipation, Ireland would continue in an unsettled and distracted state, and that ultimately he would be compelled to hold that country by the sword, or to consent to a separation of the Union. But that was not the sort of argument that had been advanced against such of their Lordships as were opposed to the measure for Parliamentary Reform. The argument used against them was of a far more personal character. Every claim to honesty 61 or integrity was denied to them. Their opposition to Reform was founded upon the most selfish motives; the pride of their order—the love of property—in short, all the common and vulgar motives that could be supposed to influence men were attributed to them, as the ground of the conduct which they pursued. Then followed a series of intimidations to fright them from the performance of what they believed to be their duty. Of late he had neither seen nor heard of anything of that kind. It had been found out, he presumed, that arguments of that sort were not likely to have the weight desired with those to whom they were addressed; and, therefore, they had been disused. It also appeared to him, when the second reading of the last Bill was proposed, that their Lordships were called upon, in the exercise of the conservative duty which they owed to the country, not at a moment—the first moment—of agitation of an unparalleled excitement to yield, and by their vote to sanction, without, as he thought, any hope of amendment—at all events, with very slender hopes of amendment—the principles of a Bill involving such tremendous consequences. It occurred to him that it would become their Lordships to stay for awhile the flood that had set in, or, at all events, to appeal from the warm and passionate opinions of the Ministry to the deliberate judgment of the country. Their Lordships did make that appeal, and what had been the result? They had heard of re-action—re-action had over and over again been promised to them. Would to God that they had seen it! He believed, indeed, that the excitement had greatly subsided, but that there had been any re-action, could not be reasonably affirmed. He was one of those who had never believed the statements that had been made of the unanimity of the country upon this question. He was always quite certain that the country was divided upon it—he was always certain that a great portion of the better classes of society were opposed to it. He believed that the rejection of the Bill on the last occasion had given courage to those persons to speak their minds upon the subject, and they had done so numerously and most respectfully. But he could not help thinking, that, if their addresses were to be examined, however much the principles of this particular Bill might be deplored by the petitioners, still he could not help thinking if the addresses which had been laid upon their Lordships' Table were to be looked into, they would not be 62 found—at least the greater number would not be found—to contain anything so hostile to the principle of Reform as would, in his mind, form the only safe and reasonable ground upon which their Lordships could be warranted in a second time refusing to go into Committee upon this Bill. His firm belief and persuasion was, that the reasonable and respectable part of the community were heartily tired of the business. He believed that they earnestly desired a settlement of the question. He believed that they wished their Lordships to amend the Bill; but he did not believe that they wished them to reject it without examination. He thought that if their Lordships rejected the Bill without examining its details, they would not have the support of those respectable parts of the community, to whose opinions they were bound at all times, and had been at all times, disposed to yield. It would, undoubtedly, have been much more agreeable to himself—to his long-cherished opinions, and old prejudices, and connexions, to have come down to that House, and have taken the same course that the noble Baron (Lord Ellenborongh) had taken, and to have opposed, on reasonings similar to those which the noble Baron had urged, the further progress of this, he must say, most unhappy measure. But, in order to have done so, and in order to have acted with any consistency upon the same view of the case that had been taken by the noble Baron, he must necessarily be of opinion that it was possible to resist the cry of Reform. Would to God that it were so! If the noble Baron, the noble Duke, or any noble Lord upon that side of the House, would convince him that it could be done, he would pledge his vote even against the second reading of the Bill. But the noble Baron, he thought, would adroit that the whole of his argument went in defence of the representative system as it then stood, and against any change whatever. The noble Baron had entered into a defence of the nomination boroughs; but did the noble Baron think—he did not say that he thought so—did he think that at this time of day it was possible that the nomination boroughs could be retained? The noble Baron could not promise—with the speech which he had made, and the sentiments which he had delivered—support to the noble Duke (the Duke of Buckingham) behind hint, if that noble Duke should have an opportunity of submitting to their Lordships' consideration the plan of Reform 63 which he had in contemplation. The noble Duke, he believed, proposed to consolidate the representative system, and to destroy everything like an overwhelming influence; therefore he proposed to destroy nomination boroughs—he openly declared it to be his object to destroy nomination boroughs. But the speech of the noble Baron went directly in defence of nomination boroughs, and against this Bill, because it tended to do away with the check which boroughs of that description had hitherto afforded to the immediate voice of the people. The objections of the noble Baron, then, would hold as good against the measure of the noble Duke (the Duke of Buckingham) as against that now under their consideration. The noble Baron, and the noble Earl who spoke last, had both of them, he thought, treated this Bill as if the 10l. clause were its vital principle. Now, he (Lord Haddington) objected to the 10l. clause as much as either of those noble Lords could do, though not, indeed, as regarded the small boroughs, with respect to which he thought the noble Baron behind him had not drawn the distinction that in justice he ought to have done. To that clause of the Bill, however, he would not pledge himself, although he thought that in small boroughs the 10l. qualification would produce a very respectable class of voters. But if the great mass of democracy, which by the Bill, as it then stood, would be thrown into the constituency of the kingdom, was to be brought into full and fatal activity; if, to use the denomination which had been applied to them elsewhere, these ten-pounders were to be admitted to the right of voting, not only in all the new boroughs created in schedules C and D, but also in all the old boroughs of the kingdom; if that were to be the case, then he did think that the description which the noble Baron had given of its effects was quite unanswerable. But the 10l. qualification did not stand in the principle of the Bill. The noble Marquis who spoke before the noble Earl, said that those who voted for the second reading of the Bill, would be bound to support all the principles of Ministers. He (Lord Haddington) begged leave utterly to deny that: or if the noble Marquis would make his proposition clear to him, he would not vote for the second reading of the Bill. Unless he thought that he had a chance—a fair prospect—of modifying the views of Ministers, he would not support them in this stage. The preamble of the Bill stated no more than what he contended must be the 64 principle of any measure for Parliamentary Reform. In order to amend the Representation of the people, it stated that it was necessary to disfranchise, to enfranchise, and to extend the franchise. He (Lord Haddington) felt that they had now arrived at a time at which they could not refuse to enfranchise—at which they could not refuse to disfranchise—and at which they could not refuse to extend the right of voting. In supporting the second reading of the Bill, every man had a right to be judged by his own declaration. He (Lord Haddington) pledged himself to nothing more than what the words in the preamble necessarily conveyed. He reserved to himself the right of taking in Committee whatever course to him should seem good—and to support whatever amendment should seem to him calculated to improve the Bill, and to diminish the many dangers with which, in its present shape, he deemed it pregnant. In taking the course which he had pointed out, to which he had brought his mind most unwillingly, he felt himself obliged to consider what were the dangers before him in any part that he might be called upon to pursue. They were living at a moment, and were legislating upon a subject, on which it unluckily happened that the choice was not, and he feared could not, be between good and evil—it was a balance of practical evils. He could not conceal from himself the evil of allowing the Bill to be read a second time; but it was upon the most anxious consideration of the balance of practical evil on this side, and on the other, that he had been induced to think that it would become their Lordships—aye, even as the conservative branch of the Legislature—to go into Committee, and to examine the details of this Bill. He had no sanguine views upon the subject. He did not feel that it would be possible for their Lordships to replace the much-decayed rotten boroughs, which it was one of the objects of the Bill to destroy, and to restore that balance which was by them created in the House of Commons, as against the pure exercise of the popular principle. But he did not see the impossibility of at least giving such a weight to property as would, in a great measure, maintain the balance as it had hitherto existed, and, as was well expressed by a noble friend of his, who said a few words on the first reading, "at least so many planks of the vessel may be saved as to enable us to float on in tranquillity and peace." But did not noble Lords sec what must be the issue 65 of rejecting the Bill? The ultimate end of a rejection of the measure would only operate as a means to rivet the whole Bill, or even a worse one, upon them—one at least as strong, and carried by a revolutionary spirit throughout the country. In what condition would their Lordships and the Monarchy be then? He saw no possibility of escape from this dilemma, save by an attempt to alter and amend the Bill in Committee. If they could do this, they would deserve the gratitude of the country; and if not, and still made the attempt, they could, if obliged, throw it out with a better grace on the third reading, and go with a better case for themselves before the country. The country would then see that the charge was false, that they did not sympathize with the country; that they were ready to concede much, but not so much as would be injurious to the Monarchy. The country had now been for a long period in a state of agitation and excitement—the people had been filled with exaggerated and delusive hopes—the commerce of the country was stagnant—her trade was stationary—every sort of enterprise was checked—and that good humour and that cheerful disposition for which the people of England had been hitherto distinguished, had received a deep, he hoped not a deadly, wound. In mentioning these circumstances—circumstances which they must all deplore—he did not refer to them by any means as reasons for the passing of such a Bill as that now before their Lordships; but he would say, that they furnished strong arguments to show that it was the duty of their Lordships to endeavour to throw oil on the troubled waves, to endeavour to calm that agitation which at present prevailed, and to endeavour, by going into Committee, by there considering the details of this measure, and by affording in that manner an earnest of their anxiety to give to the people that kind of Reform which would appear to them safe and practicable, to allay the excitement, and satisfy the wishes of the people of this country. To him it appeared that this great question must be settled by a compromise. Now, he thought that the people of this country were at this present moment in a temper of mind to render a compromise of that description practicable. Looking, too, at what had taken place in that House that evening, he was happy to say, that he thought that that House was at present in such a temper of mind; he thought that Parliament was in such a temper; and, for his part, he could 66 see no reason why any man—why any one of their Lordships (except, indeed, those, if any such there should be amongst them, who took their stand upon the existing system)—he saw no reason why any one of their Lordships who admitted that they now must have a Reform embracing enfranchisement, disfranchisement, and an extension of the right of voting, could hesitate to come to a compromise of that kind. He did not know how the most important and influential opponent of the present Bill—he meant the noble Duke behind him (the Duke of Wellington)—felt on this subject. If, however, he understood the noble Duke rightly, he understood him on a former evening to say, that seeing that the King's name had been used in putting forward such a measure as this—seeing that the Government of the country had pledged itself to such a measure—and seeing that the public mind had been greatly excited with regard to it—he was ready to admit that there must be some Reform. He thought he had heard the noble Duke make that admission, and, if the noble Duke had done so, he saw no reason on earth why the noble Duke, taking into account the difficulties under which the country laboured, should be indisposed to entertain a proposition of that description. He was equally unable to discover any reason why the noble Earl at the head of his Majesty's Government should not be in the same disposition, and be ready to meet the noble Duke on similar terms. The name and authority of the Crown surely could not be used against such a compromise, or against any limitation of the extent of this Bill, which their Lordships, upon due consideration of the details of the measure, might deem it fit to make in it. What the noble Earl owed to his Sovereign surely would not be looked upon by him as any bar against his giving a due and respectful attention to what might be suggested to him by the Members of that House. As little could it be contended that the rights of the people presented any bar against the introduction of such amendments as their Lordships might deem it wise to make in this Bill. Amongst the arguments urged by many of those who advocated this Bill, he would say that nothing could be more mischievous than the doctrines which they promulgated on the subject of the rights of the people. He would, on that point, adhere to what had been stated in the month of October, 1830, by the noble Earl now at the head of his Majesty's Go- 67 vernment. On the day that the Session was then opened, that noble Earl, after stating that he was friendly to a temperate Reform, and after stating his reasons for being so, proceeded to discuss the questions whether every man who paid taxes, and every man who was of full age, had a right to participate in the choice of Members of the Legislature; and in reference to such doctrines, the noble Earl said, 'These are principles which I deny, and claims which I must oppose. The right of the people is to good Government, and that is, in my judgment, inconsistent with Universal Suffrage under our present institutions. If Suffrage be the right of all who pay a certain tax, then I say, that it is in limit, and not in the extension of that privilege, that such right consists.'* Such were the sentiments then expressed by the Earl, and he was, therefore, certain that the noble Earl would agree with him in denying and deprecating those monstrous doctrines to which he had alluded, and which had been so much dwelt upon of late, with respect to the pretended abstract rights of the people. He thought, that after the expression of such sentiments, the noble Earl would agree with him in the opinion, that the people had no more a right to any specific measure of Reform, or to any specific right of voting, than that every man who was of full age, or who paid taxes, had a right to participate in the choice of Members of the Legislature. The people, it was true, had a right to good Government; and, if Reform was necessary for good Government, they had, so far as it was for that purpose necessary, a right to Reform. He would just read to their Lordships an extract in point on this subject of abstract rights, from the posthumous publication of a very eminent foreigner, recently deceased. He alluded to M. Dumont, who, in the first French Revolution, was a witness of the scenes then going on in Paris, and who was a member of the celebrated National Convention. He was present when the famous declaration of rights was drawn up in that assembly; he saw the folly, the absurdity, and the falsehood, of it, and, speaking of it in this recent publication, his words were—'I felt the inconsistency and ridicule of a work which was only a puerile fiction. A declaration of rights could be made only after the framing of the Constitution, and as one of its consequences; for rights* Hansard's Debates, 3rd Series, vol. 1 p. 38.68 exist in virtue of laws, and, therefore, do not precede them. The maxims sanctioned by this declaration i. c., the principles intended to be established by it—are dangerous is themselves; for legislators should not be tied down to general propositions which they are afterwards obliged to alter or modify; above all, they must not be cramped by false maxims. Men are born free and equal—that is not true.' He (the Earl of Haddington) would apply the maxim which that extract contained to this Bill; and the same doctrine which M. Dumont applied to a declaration about non-existing and impracticable right, he would apply to this or to any other specific measure of Reform. He would maintain that the people had not any right to any specific details of a measure of Reform. If Reform should lead to good Government, the public had a right to it, but their right to the particular kind of Reform which should be selected for that purpose would only commence after such Reform should be passed. He was certain that the noble Earl opposite would not, upon any such grounds, resist a compromise. He was satisfied, also, that if they would go into Committee, and, if they would there yield mutually on both sides, and endeavour to make the Bill as good as they could, that, under the existing circumstances of the country, they might be likely to agree upon a measure which would answer the reasonable expectations of all, and that the result would be, that they would receive from the people a tribute of gratitude such as no Parliament ever received before. He was anxious thus early in this discussion to state to their Lordships the grounds on which, with much reluctance, he had brought his mind to vote for the second reading of this Bill. As to the question of the noble Baron, who asked, where was the use of those who wished to alter the present Bill so much before it passed in voting for its going into Committee, he would answer that interrogatory by another question. and it was this—looking at the state of the country, and the necessity which they all felt, and which no man would deny, that Parliament must, to a certain extent, be Reformed, where was the use, on the part of their Lordships, of a second time resisting the second reading of the Reform Bill?
The Earl of Wicklow
said, that, having twen one of those who, in a previous Session had voted against the second reading of a Bill similar to this one, if he had since come 69 to the determination to vote for this present Bill going into Committee, he certainly should, after the speech which had been just delivered by the noble Earl, satisfy himself by giving a silent vote on the subject. Knowing as he did the talents and powers of the noble Earl, he was convinced that, if it were possible by any arguments to reconcile his mind to such an extraordinary change, that noble Lord would have adduced them. He would appeal to any noble Lord on either side of the House, whether they were not perfectly satisfied as to the result of the arguments adduced by his noble friend, and whether they did not agree with him (the Earl of Wicklow) that, after the speech which his noble friend had made, he was at perfect liberty to vote in any manner that he pleased with regard to the Bill. If any arguments were wanted to induce those on that side of the House to continue that opposition which they had hitherto given to this measure they were to be found in what had fallen from the noble Earl at the head of his Majesty's Government. That noble Earl had acknowledged that this Bill was a considerable improvement on the Bill of last Session. Now, those who, by their vote on that occasion, produced such good effects by the rejection of the Reform Bill then, were called upon, by the prospect of effecting still greater good, and still further improvement, to vote for the rejection of the present measure. He (the Earl of Wicklow) voted against the second reading of the Reform Bill last Session, because he abhorred the principle of it; and, on the same grounds, he was determined to vote against the second reading of this Bill now before their Lordships. If, indeed, he were driven to the alternative of selecting one of those two measures, he was ready to acknowledge, that, for his part be would prefer the Bill of last Session. They had not heard a single argument to show that this measure would work well or that it possessed any decided advantages over the system which they at present enjoyed. No proof was adduced from the history of that or of any other country to show that a system founded on such principles was conducive to the public weal. The main and principle argument which the advocates of this measure brought forward in support of it, related to the evils which they prognosticated from its rejection. They threatened them, as the result of such an event, with civil war, with general confusion, and with a confiscation of all property. If such were the dangers to 70 which they were exposed, he would say for one, that it was, therefore, the more incumbent on them to adhere more strictly to that course which their conviction and their conscience had in the first instance determined them to adopt. But they were told that the people would have the Bill. His Majesty's Ministers told them so, because they were told so by their masters at the public Press. But if it was the determination of those persons that such a measure as this should be carried, it was the duty of their Lordships on the other hand, to stem the popular torrent, and to calm the popular heat. His great objection to this measure arose from the manner in which it was likely to affect that part of the United Kingdom with with which he was immediately connected. He had not met with a single individual who, whatever might be his opinion with regard to Reform, could view the subject without apprehension as far as it regarded Ireland. To see what this measure would effect in Ireland, it was necessary to cast back a retrospective view on the system of Government which had been carried on in Ireland from the period of the Reformation to the present day. He could assure their Lordships that he meant to go into no detail on that point. All he meant to do was, to call their Lordships' attention to the course of policy which had been pursued towards Ireland during that time. The whole course of that policy had been the maintenance of the Protestant interest in that country. There were two occasions when that course was departed from. The first was during the agitation which preceded the civil war in the reign of Charles 1st. On that occasion the Protestants of Ireland applied to England for support. Kind words were then, as now, lavished upon them; ample promises were then, as now, given them of support; but on that occasion, as on the present, the attention of those who possessed the powers of the Government here was solely devoted to the carrying of a system of their own. Ireland was neglected, and the result was a civil war, universal desolation, and the rebellion of 1641; and peace was only finally restored in that country by the blood-stained march of Cromwell throughout its provinces. The second occasion occurred in the time of James 2nd. Similar applications from the Protestant interest in Ireland met with similar disregard here, and the consequence was, that peace was never restored until the resettlement and reconquest 71 of that country by William 3rd. Again at the period of the Union, the arguments adduced to persuade the Parliament in both countries to agree to it was, that it was the only measure to preserve the Protestant interest in Ireland, by the preservation of the Protestant corporations and boroughs as a counteraction to the growing weight and influence of the Catholic interest there, the measure now before the House by throwing open those Protestant rough boroughs, removed the support which they had hitherto given to the Protestant interest in Ireland. He did not wish to prolong religious or party feelings in Ireland, and he believed that, abstractedly, a Roman Catholic could be as good a subject as any other; but party feelings did exist there; it was impossible, indeed, that they could all at once subside, and he believed that party excitement was never greater there than it was at this moment. Now the consequence of the passing of this measure would be, that there would be no resisting those demagogues who were at the head of a party, the object of which was, to obtain a repeal of the Union. When the Protestant boroughs were thrown open, those demagogues would obtain such power and such force that they would soon achieve a repeal of the Legislative Union. To those who would purchase Reform even at that price, he would say that with a Repeal of the Union, a complete separation of the two countries must inevitably soon follow. A Whig Government in 1782 granted to Ireland a legislative independence, and the history of Ireland from that period to the time of the Union, showed that, with separate Legislatures it would be impossible to maintain the connexion of the two countries for any length of time. He would refer their Lordships to the words which recently fell from a very eloquent Member of the other House of Parliament, and, which, though they might be dressed in the tinsel of eloquence, conveyed a salutary warning to his Majesty's Government. Here the noble Earl read the following passage from the speech of Mr. Sheil in the House of Commons, on the Irish tithes:—"Infatuated men! what are you doing? Look before you, you are walking blindfold upon the brink of a gulf. You will exasperate Ireland—you will array the nation against you; then will come a general election in November; Reform will have thrown the close boroughs open; the democracy will have become gigantic—then will the people have their 72 revenge. The poisoned chalice will, in just retribution, return to your own lips. It is your turn this Session, but it will be ours the next. What are you doing? Succouring a clergy from which you expect nothing—affronting and irritating a nation from which you look for much—opening the boiling fountain of popular indignation, leaguing a nation against you by your threats of coercion. We have served and supported you, and stood by you in many an emergency, and have received your praise for our zeal, our vigilance, our devotion to your interest—but alas, what can we do for you in the hurricane of popular passion, which you are about to raise? Our voices in your behalf will be like the whispers in a tempest, our arms are not strong enough to swim against the tide that knows no returning ebb, and if we attempt it we shall be swept before it. Reform! an election in November, and Ireland exasperated for the sake of certain persons of the establishment! Awake! you are on a precipice, and you must be rudely shaken, to rouse you from your perilous slumbers."* These were the words of a gentleman, than whom there was no one better acquainted with the feelings and the opinions of that party in Ireland with whom he was connected. He knew not whether those words had been uttered inadvertently, or whether they were intended to prevent the Government from plunging into that gulf into which it seemed to be hastening; but at all events he trusted that the warning which they contained would not be lost on their Lordships. Though this measure would introduce, if passed, a great change into this country, yet so much good sense, and so much good feeling existed amongst the people here, that the evil effects of it would soon subside, and they might eventually look forward to peace and tranquillity; but the case was different as regarded Ireland. If this measure should be passed, the separation of Ireland from the British connexions would be the consequence, and it required no prophetic spirit to foretel, under such circumstances, the fall of this country. Impressed as he was with these sentiments he would conclude by declaring his determination to vote again, as he had done before—against the second reading of the Bill.
could not but confess that circumstances were so changed with* See Hansard's Parl. Debates, vol. x. pp. 1345–673 respect to the Bill now before their Lordships, and that which was before the House in October last, that they were placed in a situation of more than ordinary difficulty, and probably it would be most prudent to pursue the line of conduct recommended by the noble Earl at the head of his Majesty's Government, and agree to allow the Bill to be read a second time. He had no doubt that that which was safe before was not so now, neither would it be prudent. In October last their Lordships had proved they had the power to stop the progress further of the Reform Bill. He confessed he thought they possessed that power no longer, and if they were to continue to oppose the Bill their resistance would have the fatal effect of precipitating its adoption by the Legislature, whilst they would lose the power they still, he thought, possessed of improving the provisions of the Bill in the Committee. That House, he firmly believed would, were it alone concerned, not hesitate to do what it had done before, and offer a stern opposition to the Bill but the state of society required at their hands a deviation from the strict line of consistency, so that they might be able to avail themselves of the only chance which might be afforded of pruning the measure of some of its more objectionable enactments, or improving it by adding to it suitable amendments at a future stage. Whilst their post was tenable their Lordships could not have ever consented to abandon it. He must repeat that they in order to arrive at the period when that improvement might be attempted with any hope of success, must assent now to the progress of the Bill through the present stage, or else they would lose that chance which he feared would not present itself were they to display a resolute opposition to the Bill; and the Bill would be forced, as it were upon the adoption of the Legislature, without any chance of improvement, owing to the temper of the times. That chance they would do well not to neglect, for if they did so, they, he feared, would not fail to become the dupes of their attempt to maintain a character for consistency. He should, therefore, recommend even those who formerly had opposed the measure of last year, to permit the Bill to go through a second reading, and take the chance of rendering it less objectionable in the future stages by prudent amendments and curtailment. If, however, they were disappointed in that attempt, they would even then 74 have the consolation of reflecting that in this instance they had made some sacrifice of character, respected their consistency, in the hope of conferring a benefit on society, by modifying a measure so loudly called for by certain classes in society; and had done their utmost though in vain, to accommodate it to the real interests of the public.
The Marquis of Londonderry
assured their Lordships it was not his intention long to trespass on their time in repeating arguments which had been urged with so much eloquence by the noble Lord who had addressed them on the same side of the question winch he found himself compelled to advocate. He had not addressed them at an earlier hour because he was desirous of hearing what were the arguments on which the noble Earl, who spoke the last but two, intended to defend his change of opinion on this vital question. The noble Earl at the head of his Majesty's Government proposed a Bill last year, which was lost in that House, and it would be recollected the noble Earl subsequently pledged himself not to depart in the new Bill he should propose from the principle of the last, and in substance declared it was his intention to stand or fall by that principle of Reform; so that the measure of 1832 should be in all respects as full, as ample, and as effectual, as that of 1831, upon each of the great leading features of Reform—namely, enfranchisement, disfranchisement, and qualification of voters. On all these points, then, the noble Earl had announced that it was not his intention to give way. If so, then their Lordships, he would contend, were bound, if they wished to maintain their consistency, either as individuals or as a part of the Legislature, to vote against the measure, for the very reason that the noble Earl supported it—namely, that it was as full, ample, and effectual a measure of Reform as that which they had formerly negatived. He confessed that he was, for these precise reasons, the more surprised to find the noble Earl who spoke last but two avow to-night that he was most reluctantly obliged to go against the opinion he had formerly given. He was but little disposed to give any weight to the reasoning of that noble Earl who could accompany such an avowal of his compulsory change of sentiment with the statement that he wished to God he could have seen a reaction. Now that which the noble Earl wished to see, but professed he could not, was, he thought, perfectly and distinctly visible to any man who looked 75 even carelessly and superficially at the result of the late elections, since that question had been agitated out of doors with so much intense interest. In the returns made of Members to Parliament, he believed he could make out his assertion
|GENERAL ELECTION.||LAST ELECTION.|
|Cambridgeshire||Lord F. Osborne, Reformer||Mr. Townley, Reformer|
|Carmarthen||No return||Mr. Jones, Tory|
|Dorsetsetshire||Mr. Calcraft, Reformer||Lord Ashley, Tory|
|Grimsby||Capt. Harris,||Tories||Capt. Fitzroy,||Tories|
|Leominster||Mr. Bryan, Reformer||Lord Hotham, Tory|
|Pembrokeshire||Sir J. Owen, Tory||Sir J. Owen, Tory|
|Poole||Mr. Ponsonby, Reformer||Sir J. Byng, Reformer|
|Liverpool||Mr. Denison, Reformer||Lord Sandon, Tory|
|Wallingford||Colonel Hughes, Reformer||Mr. Leigh, Reformer|
|Weymouth||Major Weyland, Reformer||Mr. B. Wall, Tory|
|Forfarshire||Mr. Maule, Reformer||Col. Ogilvie, Tory|
|Dublin||Mr. Harty,||Reformers||Mr. Shaw,||Tories|
|Mr. Perrin,||Lord Ingestrie,|
|Meath||Sir M. Somerville, Reformer||Mr. H. Grattan, Reformers|
§ Thus it would be seen that at these places the people had returned four Reformers and eleven anti-Reformers, a pretty strong proof, in his opinion, of a change in the public sentiment. He would not, on this occasion, urge his own opinions against the Bill, he would look up to higher authority, and shape his course by the advice of the eminent persons who had opposed the former measure with such eloquence and effect; deeply was he distressed at seeing those noble Lords now departing from those manly and honourable opinions, which they themselves had urged with so much force and truth, and by whose opinions, so many of their Lordships had been influenced. The speech of a noble Earl in particular, (the Earl of Harrowby) which was afterwards published, was so uncontrovertible in argument, and so eloquent in expression, that he was wholly at a loss to conceive how that noble Earl could reconcile it to himself to vote for the second reading of a Bill (as he understood it was that noble Earl's intention to do, from the few remarks he had addressed to their Lordships on the first reading of the present Bill) very nearly similar in its character to that which he had been mainly instrumental in inducing their Lordships to reject on a former occasion. He could not resist the temptation to quote the noble Earl's sentiments, he had said. "I do not wish to follow the noble Earl into the details of this Bill; but I think, if it were a Bill fit to go into Committee, that some of the objectionable parts of its details (if we can talk of anything in this Bill as a detail) are capable of correction, But shall I, on 76 that a very strong demonstration had been made of a reaction or change in public opinion.
§ Since the last Bill the following changes had taken place in the Representation:—
that ground, consent to its going into a Committee? I think not, if I am satisfied that the principle of the measure is bad. I believe the principle on which the whole of this Bill is founded to be such, that no amendments made in the Committee can so remove the objections to it as to make it our duty to pass it into a law."* This embraced the opinions which he (Lord Londonderry) entertained in reference to this Bill. No amendment could be made in it which could induce him to adopt the principle which it involved. In the same speech he found the noble Earl asking, "Are your Lordships prepared to make an entire change in the whole Representative system, simply upon the conjectures of the noble Earl? No; this is my objection—I oppose any measure which proposes to alter everything. Amend it as you may, leave uninjured all the ancient rights, which are so wantonly to be destroyed, simply directing your disfranchisement against those boroughs which are incontestably nomination boroughs. Ought we to be satisfied? Would Ministers stand blameless? No: the injury is irremediable—I do not speak of passing, but of proposing a plan of universal demolition and universal re-construction."† This description of the Bill appeared to him (the Marquis of Londonderry) equally applicable now, but, perhaps, the following paragraph of that speech, might, with propriety, be addressed to the noble Lord himself, and other noble Lords, who proposed to follow his example
* See Hansard, Third Series, vol. vii. p. 1157.
and vote for the second edition of that Bill which they had formerly rejected. "If the patience of your Lordships could endure, I could make the longest and the best speech that was ever made in or out of Parliament against the second reading of this Bill, without spoiling it by the admixture of a single thought or word of my own, merely by repeating the speeches and writings of those who are its proposers or supporters."* For himself he had several grounds of objection to the measure:—first, it failed to procure to each class a distinct and adequate Representation; next, it did not bestow Representation on the worthier and better classes in society; and, thirdly, it appeared to be framed so as to insure benefit more especially to an objectionable class of voters. In fine it would not, however specious it appeared, improve the Representation of the people. In what situation, he would ask, was the empire at present placed? They had a falling revenue—a discontented people—the inhabitants of Ireland were distracted—our West-India colonies were in open insurrection—our foreign relations were distracted—and all these unhappy consequences had arisen since the period when the noble Earl had taken upon himself the conduct of the Government of this country; and, he considered, that the passing of this measure would form the climax of all evils. He had upon a former occasion stated his reasons which then induced him to vote against the second reading of the Reform measure; and he must declare that these reasons still existed in the present case. His opinion was backed too by an authority which noble Lords on the other side would not dispute; and though he had already read various extracts, he could not refrain from adding this, as it was most apt on the occasion. He would quote the passage, to show that the individual from whom the observations had emanated was a judge of what the rights of the people consisted. The noble Marquis then read an extract from a speech of Mr. Fox as follows. "We are bound to support the true interests of the people in preference to the desires of their hearts; and the Constitution makes us the sole arbiters of those interests, notwithstanding the imaginary infallibility of the people. Shall we sacrifice our reason, our honour, and our conscience, for fear of incurring the popular resentment, and while we are appointed to watch the Hesperian
* See Hansard, Third Series, vol. vii. p. 1149.
fruit of liberty with a dragon's eye, be ourselves the only slaves of the whole community? Perhaps I may be told that nothing but the 'soul of absurdity' could suspect the people of a design against their own happiness. I do not suspect the people of any such design, but I suspect their capacity to judge of their true happiness. I know they are generally credulous and generally uninformed, captivated by appearances, while they neglect the most important essentials, and always ridiculously ready to believe that those men who have the greatest reason, from their extensive property, to be anxious for the public safety, are always concerting measures for the oppression of their own posterity. I stand up for the Constitution, not for the people. If the people attempt to invade the Constitution, they are enemies to the nation. Being convinced, therefore, that we are to do justice, whether it is agreeable or disagreeable, I am for maintaining the independence of Parliament, and will not be a rebel to the King, to my country, or my own heart, for the loudest huzza of an inconsiderate multitude." Such were the sentiments of Mr. Fox, as appeared from the Parliamentary Journal.
The Marquis of Londonderry
believed it was. The speech, however, had made such an impression on his mind, that he could not avoid quoting it. A noble Baron (Wharncliffe) had said, in the last Session, that the day when he moved the rejection of the Reform Bill, he looked upon as the proudest day of his life. He hoped that the noble Baron would not depart from his consistency, and that he would give the same opposition to the present Bill, which he had offered to the former. A report had gone abroad, that the noble Earl opposite had declared that he held in his hands a power which would enable him to carry the Bill through that House. He could not conceive anything more unconstitutional than such a statement. This statement was put forth with the flimsy hope that it would deter some of their Lordships from doing their duty—and flimsy were all the arguments which had been adduced in support of the measure that had been hinted at. If there had been a negotiation on the subject of this Bill, let their Lordships know what that negotiation was, with whom it was carried on, and the points which it embraced. If the minds of noble Lords had been altered in 79 private, let it be publicly made known on what grounds that alteration had been effected. For himself, he was not debarred nor deterred from stating every thing he heard, by delicacy, or any other feeling. Every Peer of the realm had a right and ought to speak out on this occasion; for the present was one of the greatest and most important questions that was ever brought before Parliament. It involved nothing less than a change in the whole Constitution. He had heard it stated that the noble Earl had made use of the influence of the King's name to bias the opinions of noble Lords. If such were the case, he would say, that the noble Earl's conduct was sufficient to induce an impeachment against him. No Minister ever had done, or ever could do, anything more unconstitutional than that. Talk of using the King's name in elections,—talk of exerting influence out of doors—what was that compared with this secret and private influence? If the Minister had exerted this influence privately, in his closet, as was rumoured out of doors, he was deeply responsible for his conduct. Such were the sentiments which he felt that he had a right to give vent to; and, feeling thus, he should offer his decided and most uncompromising opposition to this unhappy measure in every stage.
§ Debate adjourned.