The Earl of Winchilsea
said, he suffered a pain of mind greater than he could express in thinking that he had lived to that hour to witness the downfall of his country. That night would close the first act of the fatal and bloody tragedy. It would close the existence of that House as one branch of the Legislature, for its independence, which was its brightest ornament, had fallen, and without that independence it might be considered as having ceased to exist. Those who might live to witness the last act of the tragedy, would have to tell of the downfall of the Monarchy, in which case he trusted that the daring and wicked spirits with whom the revolution commenced might awaken to a sense of the ruin they had wrought. He prayed to the Almighty, whose Providence had so long been extended over this country, that those who had brought down this judgment upon the land might be cast off, and that those who survived might live to see the insulted laws of their country most amply vindicated. This country had arrived at a degree of prosperity above that of all other nations which had ever existed, under that Constitution which was now to be sacrificed at the shrine of ambition. When he considered that the only cause of offence given by the Constitution was, that it had enabled the country to withstand the spirit of revolution and infidelity, which, cherished in France, had spread itself to our shores, and which, though quenched for a time, was never wholly subdued, but now o'er-blackened the land and threatened to sweep away, as it had done in France, every principle of government, in order to make way for a military despotism—when he reflected that this Constitution had enabled our happy isle to stand erect in the storm, and secure, not only its own liberties, but lend its aid also to weaker Powers—when he reflected that this Constitution it was, which enabled 350 an illustrious Duke not then present to plant the proud banners of England on the walls of Paris—and to rescue France from the tyrant grasp which swayed its destinies and the destinies of Europe; when he considered all this, what language could describe his feelings at seeing this Constitution levelled with the earth? When the noble Earl (Grey) took the reins of Government, he (Earl Winchilsea) had offered the noble Earl his support; for he had the utmost confidence in his talents, and in his affection for the institutions of his country. He regretted that he had been deceived. He was one of those who had traced the noble Earl through his career, and had differed from many of his friends in the opinion he had formed of the noble Earl's attachment to the national institutions; and would to God he had followed the advice which those men then offered to him, for it would have saved him from the pangs he felt for having ever supported the measures of the noble Earl. When the noble Earl first took his seat as Minister, he made an expose of the principles of his Government; but how far he had adhered to those principles he would leave the distracted state of the country to bear witness. He had encouraged, indirectly, the spread of seditious and revolutionary doctrines and proceedings, by not taking steps to prosecute or suppress them. There was no period of the history of the country in which, during the same short time, it had experienced such disasters as during the existence of the present Ministry. The principle of non-interference was departed from, although the present sovereign who swayed the sceptre of Portugal had as much right to be chosen to that dignity as the present sovereign of France. Having heard the declarations of the noble Earl, of attachment to the monarchy, and to both branches of the Legislature, and when he perceived now the downfall of the Constitution and of their Lordships, as a branch of the Legislature, he was lost in amazement at the delusion which had so far come over him as to offer his support to the authors of the ruin. In casting his eye over a speech delivered by a statesman now no more—he alluded to Mr. Canning, whose words must be well known to their Lordships, and whose authority had deserved great weight with them—Mr. Canning, in that speech, explained the mystery, for he 351 showed that Reform was but a mask for the purpose of establishing a democracy. He would have voted for a bill to reform the Representation of the other House of Parliament, and he intended to support one with that view; but he never could consent to give his sanction to so revolutionary a measure as that which was now before their Lordships. He feared greatly for the consequences which this Bill would entail upon the country; he was not without a hope, that, ere long, the good sense of the people would be manifested. He had but one motive in his public life, and that was, to endeavour, as far as his humble efforts could effect it, to promote the welfare, prosperity, and happiness of his country, by upholding those institutions which had made England the greatest nation of the known world.
§ The Earl of Harrowby
rose and said, that he remembered, a good many years ago, to have heard a story told of a Member of the Irish Parliament, who, after putting several questions to the members of the Government without obtaining any reply, addressed himself to the Speaker and said (if the record were correct), "Mr. Speaker, are we in the Irish Parliament, or in a Turkish Divan? Are we to be strangled by mutes?" The noble Lords on the other side of the House appeared to wish to show their sense of the degradation to which they had reduced the House, by not deigning to reply to a speech which certainly deserved a reply. He had lately abstained from taking any part in their Lordships' proceedings, from a sense of intense disgust. He could hardly account to himself for having so far surmounted that feeling as to allow himself to appear amongst their Lordships upon the present occasion; but, as he happened to be present at what he considered the first act of the drama which Ministers were engaged in performing, he felt that he should not act consistently with his duty if he allowed the House to separate without addressing a few observations to them, in order to express the sense which he entertained of the situation in which the country was at present placed, the means by which it had been brought into that situation, and the consequences which in his conscience he believed would result from it. His feeling of intense disgust was also accompanied with a feeling of poignant regret. He had frequently stated that he considered the 352 mere introduction of such a Bill as that now upon the Table, under the authority of the Crown and the Government, as a severe blow to the monarchy and, that its subsequent second adoption by the other House of Parliament, and in a great degree, by at least all the clamorous part of the country, rendered the effect of that blow almost irremediable; yet he thought—nay, he entertained a confident hope—that such amendments might be introduced into the measure, as without trenching on any one principle which their Lordships admitted by agreeing to the second reading, would have permitted him conscientiously to have voted for the third reading, as, under such circumstances, he certainly intended to have done. He anticipated that the amendments would have rendered the Bill, not safe, but much more safe than it was in the shape in which it was originally introduced, so as to have allayed the reasonable alarm with which some persons contemplated the measure, and to have satisfied the reasonable expectations of those who were the greatest advocates of an extensive change in the Representation of the country. He had flattered himself, that if that part of the representative system upon which he on a former occasion pronounced what he at the time called a funeral elegy, but which had become odious to the people, were removed, the practical advantages which had resulted from it would be counbalanced, if not outweighed, by the satisfaction of public opinion; and that portion of the scheme he did not intend to have opposed. He thought also that if two Representatives had been given to the boroughs in schedule B, a better chance of obtaining an entrance to Parliament would have been afforded to a large class of persons, who from various circumstances were unable to face the expense and trouble of contested elections amongst large constituencies, but whom all history had proved to be the most efficient and useful Members of the House of Commons. He flattered himself, that by some other alterations—by consolidating the metropolitan districts—by adding two Members to Middlesex and two to Lancashire—they might have avoided the extreme inconvenience, which would be found fatal he believed to the prosperity of some of the towns which were enfranchised by the Bill, having continually election contests in places to which only one Representa- 353 tive was given. He was likewise of opinion, that by abstaining from all attack upon the 10l. qualification, although the noble Earl said, that it was no principle of the Bill, but by surrounding it with cautions—by avoiding the constant agitation and uncertainty which must arise from an annual valuation—by requiring somewhat more of residence, and making the payment of taxes be regulated by the poor-rate—they would have accomplished the object which the noble Earl declared himself to have in view, namely, the securing of the most independent and respectable class of voters amongst those to whom it was proposed to extend the franchise. He likewise believed, that by preventing persons resident in large towns from voting in county elections, the county representation and the agricultural interest would have obtained a compensation, which was now given to them in name, but not in deed. He would not fatigue the House by entering into any further details of the scheme which he would have supported, and which he once hoped would have been adopted. At all events, he believed that it would have been discussed by an independent House of Lords. On what were his hopes and expectations founded? On the speech of the noble Earl at the head of the Government which induced many noble Lords to vote for the second reading of the Bill. The noble Earl then, in repudiating an accusation brought against him, of attempting to dictate to the House, said that the phrase which he used on a former Session, and was supposed to bear that construction, had been misunderstood—that to any proposition which touched upon the principle of the Bill he would decidedly object, but that the decision was in the hands of their Lordships. The decision was in the hands of their Lordships! Those words bore only one intelligible meaning, but from what had taken place, it appeared that the noble Earl meant that if their Lordships decided in a particular way, there was to be an end of their independence for ever. That was the freedom which the House was to be allowed. Upon another occasion, when the noble Earl was accused of an intention to advise the Crown to make an extraordinary exercise of its prerogative, he stated the case in which he should think it necessary to adopt that line of conduct. The noble Earl 354 admitted, that such an exercise of the prerogative was an evil, and was only to be justified in an extreme case of great necessity. What was the case of necessity stated by the noble Earl? It was an open collision between the two Houses of Parliament, upon a point with respect to which the opinion of the people supported one House against the other. The noble Earl's declaration was to be found in those records of their Lordships' discussions to which it was usual to refer, whatever might be the degree of authenticity which was attached to them. His own individual recollection of the noble Earl's statement, induced him to believe that the noble Earl went further, and stated, that, even under those circumstances, the case would not arise until there had been a fresh appeal to the people—that was to say, until a fresh House of Commons had been elected. It was, however, sufficient for his purpose to take the noble Earl's declaration to have been, that the extraordinary exercise of the prerogative should only be resorted to, in order to prevent an open collision between the two Houses of Parliament. That being the case, it was necessary to consider how it could arise. Could it arise until their Lordships had gone through the whole Bill, and made all the amendments which their wisdom might suggest? It might, perhaps, have been grating and galling to the feelings of the noble Earl, to sit in that House, the phantom of a Minister, and see the Bill mutilated under his eyes; but, if he resolved to take his stand, he ought not in reason to have done so upon a point which never could have produced the consequences which the noble Earl had referred to, as justifying the extraordinary exercise of the prerogative. The noble Earl took his stand upon a point respecting which the House of Commons might never have known any thing; and could, consequently, never have occasioned a collision between them. It could never have appeared before them in a shape of which they could have taken any notice, because the Bill, when returned to them, would have retained its preamble, and schedule A would have stood in its original position. The case which he had supposed the noble Earl to have put, could not possibly have arisen in consequence of the vote which their Lordships came to, relative to the disfranchising clause. There were two or three noble 355 Lords who objected to the disfranchising clause, upon a ground with which he never concurred; namely, that it was an unjustifiable spoliation of property; but every other noble Lord who spoke upon the occasion, expressed his readiness to admit the principle of disfranchisement, and some of their Lordships went so far as to say, that they would extend disfranchisement further than it was carried by schedule A, if it should be rendered necessary by the decision to which they should come respecting enfranchisement. How was it possible for any man to conceive that the mere postponement of the first clause of the Bill would be considered a ground for calling for the exercise of the royal prerogative? The same thing had been proposed elsewhere. The postponement of the schedule was moved in the House of Commons, and, so far from being considered a breach of the principle, or an attack on the vital principle of the Bill, it was treated as a matter of perfect indifference, and the only reason which was urged for not agreeing to the proposition, was, that as schedule A stood first in order in the Bill, it might as well be considered first. He declared, with perfect sincerity, that if, after the case which the noble Earl had stated, any person had, before the event occurred, suggested the possibility of the noble Earl's advising the extraordinary exercise of the prerogative on account of the postponement of the first clause, he should have indignantly vindicated the character of the noble Earl from what would have appeared to him a base calumny. He never could understand that any principle was involved in the order in which the clauses were to be considered. Those who opposed the disfranchising clause as an act of spoliation, might, with some colour of reason, argue that a principle was involved in conceding that that part of the Bill ought to be first considered, and some allowance ought to have been made to the scruples which they entertained on that point. As to what had passed after the vote to which their Lordships came, as to the nature of the advice which the noble Earl tendered to his Majesty, and as to the consequences which had resulted from that proceeding, these were all subjects on which he knew not how to express himself with decency, and in conformity with the orders of the House. He was willing to leave them to the decision 356 even of the present day, when the people should have recovered from the excesses into which they had been driven. The advantage which was taken of the vote of the House was a skilful party manœuvre. It was known what impression the proceedings of the House would make upon the country. It was known that, although the truth might be discovered at last, the first impression out of doors would be, as indeed was stated in almost all the public prints, that schedule A had been rejected, and that thereby the Bill itself had been virtually rejected. The question was treated, not as one of order, but as one of principle, and the noble Earl's application for the exercise of the royal prerogative, in order, as it was alleged, to secure to the country the benefit of the measure, was, he must repeat, a skilful party manœuvre, and it was eminently successful. That success he did not envy. He envied not the triumph which the noble Lords had obtained in such a cause, and by such means. The noble Earl and his colleagues had trampled on the Crown, and on the House of Lords; but, by their conduct they had excited, encouraged, and fostered a power which would trample upon them. The noble Earl and himself, whose age was about alike, could hardly expect, according to the usual course of human nature, to witness the full consequences of the measure, but there were other noble Lords in that I-louse who would. If means were not taken to vindicate the authority of Government—he meant the authority of any Government, for it was not the noble Earl's Government that he particularly alluded to—if means were not taken to check that spirit which had already achieved a great work, it would acquire a power which would enable it to achieve other works of far greater importance, and of danger to the Constitution. The noble Earl had raised a spirit which was incompatible with the peace and quiet of the country, and with his own security. When the noble Earl showed any disposition to darn up the torrent which he had let loose, he would find no workmen to assist him in the task. There was only one feeling of consolation, and it was of a melancholy nature, which arose from the manner in which the Bill had been carried forward and concluded. The whole responsibility of the measure, for good or evil, rested with the Ministers. 357 It was they who had brought the country into its present peril: he prayed to God they might have wisdom to extricate it. On them rested the whole responsibility. That the issue of their labours might be successful, he, as every one must, sincerely hoped, though he did not expect it. He did not, any more than the noble Earl who had last spoken, remain without hope. Our history presented many memorable instances of the astonishingly elastic power of the good sense displayed by the people of England. There were persons who possessed stomachs so strong, that they were able to convert poison into food; but that poison must not be administered in too large doses, day by day, and hour by hour, or the strongest constitution that ever existed would sink under such treatment. Long-continued excitement and agitation would, in the same way, produce the dissolution of society. When the Bill should be passed, the country would possibly be lulled into a state of temporary quiet, and he trusted that Ministers would immediately turn their attention to the means of providing for the continuance of tranquillity. He had hoped to have assisted in bringing the question to a satisfactory conclusion, by cautiously steering between the extremes of both parties; but, as he had stated, he had been grievously disappointed by the conduct of the noble Earl.
§ Earl Grey
, in his state of health, (and he was afraid his indisposition would be apparent to their Lordships before he sat down) and at that stage of the Bill, had hoped he should have been spared the pain to himself, and the trouble to their Lordships, of addressing them at all. But, after the speech of the noble Earl, he could not avoid standing up, not so much to vindicate the measure, as his colleagues and himself. Were the attacks personal to himself, he should certainly not have occupied a moment of their Lordships' time in the discussion; but, as they involved the character of the Government, he felt that neither in justice to the Sovereign nor himself could he remain silent. He was willing to meet the noble Earl, and would endeavour to answer his charges to the best, of his ability, trusting that he should be acquitted in the opinion, not only of the present generation, but of that posterity to which the noble Earl had alluded, of having pursued aught but the path of honour 358 and of duty—or of having been led away by any sinister bias of an ill-regulated ambition from discharging the duty which he owed to his country. He did not shrink from the responsibility attached to the present great and important measure. He trusted, that posterity would do justice to his motives, and be convinced that the measure was founded on the ancient principles of the Constitution—was an efficient remedy for the abuses that had grown up in the working of these principles—and, above all, that it was a measure necessary to the preventing the alienation of the people from the representative branch of the Legislature. Yes; the present measure was brought forward with no other view than to repair those abuses in the working of the Constitution which were incompatible with good government, and, he might add, with the prosperity of the country. It was brought forward to meet the exigencies of a necessity which the present Ministers had no hand in creating; and as to the manner in which it had been advanced to its present stage, he would leave it to every candid man that had attended to the proceedings which he should now have to recapitulate, whether it deserved the designation of a "skilful party trick," or political manœuvre, imputed to it by the noble Earl. The commencement of the noble Earl's attack was so extraordinary and contradictory, that he hardly thought it worth a serious refutation. The noble Earl complained that Ministers sat during the several discussions on the present Bill as so many mutes, from whom no information or argument could be elicited. Without meaning any incivility towards the noble Earl, whose fervour with reference to the Bill he believed to be sincere, and whose alienation, after the too short connexion, he regretted, he must say, that he should feel ashamed to trouble the House with a repetition of the several arguments which had been so often produced in favour of the present measure, by way of answer to the noble Earl. He, therefore, would confine himself principally to the personal attack, or charge, that had been made upon his consistency. The noble Earl (the Earl of Winchilsea) reminded him of a declaration which he had on a former occasion made, "to stand or fall by the order" to which he belonged, implying that his recent conduct was contradictory to that declaration, and 359 so far inconsistent with his duty as a member of that House, and as a servant of the Crown. "In answer to the noble Earl," continued Earl Grey, "I can only say, that I may have erred—may have mistaken the wisest course—may have judged ill; but this I declare before your Lordships and the country—and I expect credit with the public for the declaration—that my opinions with respect to the constitutional importance and privileges of the order to which I belong, are the same now that I have ever held, and that I shall endeavour to support and defend with my utmost power, those institutions under which the country has reaped a glory and prosperity to which no other nation on the earth can furnish a parallel. But there are times and seasons when something more is required of every lover of the institutions of his country, than vague, idle, and declamatory expressions of admiration of them; and I have been taught to believe, that it is the business of a Statesman to watch and provide for those times and seasons. The Constitution of this country is admirable; it has stood the test of time. Yes, but it has also proved the humanity of its origin, by yielding to the influence of time—time, the great innovator, as Lord Bacon designated it, with his characteristic force of expression—time, which generates abuses, against which it is the duty of those to whom are intrusted the affairs of State to provide a remedy. Ministers, in bringing forward the present measure, were merely providing against those abuses which the great innovator had introduced into the Constitution, and so far proved themselves its best friends and preservers." It would not do (the noble Earl continued), to declare that the Constitution was beautiful in theory, and worked well in practice, while the people who lived under that Constitution, felt that it was disfigured by abuses; and it would not do to put off the remedy till it might come too late. It was well observed, by an able writer, that the enlightened anticipation of changes and remedies was the highest attribute of a Statesman; and surely he must be blind to all that was passing around him, who would maintain, that Reform could be much longer deferred, with safety to the very existence of the institutions of which, if timely in its application, it would be the only conservative. Such was the state of the country when his Majesty did him 360 the honour to call him to his Councils. Their Lordships might remember, that a very few weeks before that event, and when, indeed, he had not the remotest expectation or wish of office, he had explained to them, as emphatically as he could, his opinions on Reform, and other public questions. They might remember, also, that he then stated, what many of their Lordships indeed knew, that they were the deliberately formed and fixed opinions of his public life—those from which it would be impossible for him to swerve; and, therefore, when he was called upon by his Majesty to assume the functions of the executive, he could not, in the face of his recent declaration, and of his long-cherished and emphatically recorded opinions—for he was one who attached some importance to consistency of conduct in public men—he could not accept of office except upon the condition of acting upon those opinions. He did not shrink from acquainting his Majesty with the precise nature of those opinions, adding, that any Government, of which he was a member, should take them as the basis of their policy. Among those opinions, there was none to which he attached more, or so much importance, as that which he held on the subject of Reform in Parliament (at a proper time he should be prepared to vindicate his conduct with respect to the other questions alluded to by the noble Earl (the Earl of Winchilsea) opposite; and accordingly it was an indispensable condition of his accepting office that he should be allowed officially to bring forward a measure like the present. That condition was graciously acceded to by his Majesty, and the present Administration was formed. He need not then go over the ground on which the present measure was introduced. With one remarkable exception, the necessity of some measure of Reform was admitted by noble Lords on both sides of the House; and even the noble Earl himself had declared, that a conviction of its necessity forced itself upon his mind as a necessary result of the Catholic Relief Bill. But then it was said, that though they all admitted the necessity of Reform, he was to blame for having gone such lengths in its application. This, he would say, was a matter of opinion—of personal judgment. He had endeavoured to exercise his faculties according to the measure of reason with which God had blessed him, and 361 had arrived at the conclusion that it should be the main object of a measure like the present, that it should be of such an extent and character as would, by affording general satisfaction, set the question at rest, and prevent all further agitation. But then they were told over and over again, that it was a sweeping and a revolutionary measure—that it would be the downfall of the Constitution—that, to quote the words of the noble Earl (the Earl of Winchilsea), it was the first act of a bloody tragedy; the noble Earl thanking God that as yet no blood had been shed, in a tone that savoured, he thought, more of disappointment than regret. All he would say, by way of reply to this vague declamation was, that he thought it was a little hard, that when all had agreed with him as to the principle of that Bill, he should be so severely censured on a question of degree. When the Bill of last Session was unfortunately rejected by their Lordships, but one of two courses remained open to him. He said unfortunately rejected—he did so advisedly; for he was confident that the question might then have been settled on terms more generally satisfactory than at present, and the country thereby saved from all the inconveniences and embarrassments occasioned by the protracted delay. But that was not the present question. The point to which he was anxious to direct their attention was, the course he was bound to pursue when their Lordships had rejected the Bill. It was plain that, pledged as he was to the principle of the rejected Bill, he could not, consistently with the duty which he owed to himself and his country, retain office unless with a view to carry a measure of equal efficiency. Office had no charm for him, nor, indeed, for any of his colleagues; but they thought it to be a duty which they owed to the public, not to throw up office while there yet remained a strong hope of their being able to accomplish the great object for which they had consented to undertake its duties; and they had such a hope, founded on the conviction, that whenever a strong and universal opinion prevailed throughout the country, on any question of public interest, it could not be long till it was participated in by the Legislature. Accordingly, another Bill, of equal efficiency, was produced this Session, which, as they all knew, passed a second reading by a small majority of their Lordships, and this 362 brought him to the charge of the noble Earl, with respect to the proceedings in the Committee. The noble Earl had arraigned him for having departed from the principle of a former declaration, and for having resigned office upon a point of comparatively little importance. The noble Earl had not correctly stated his (Earl Grey's) opinions with respect to the emergency which might justify the creation of a large number of Peers. He certainly did say, that such a creation was a great evil, which should only be had recourse to to prevent the far greater evil of a collision with the House of Commons; but he never did say, as the noble Earl had asserted, that another dissolution should take place, in order to put beyond doubt the strength of public opinion with reference to the measure which had occasioned the collision. What he said was, that if the House of Commons should, after their Lordships rejecting, for a, second time, a Bill sent up from that House, persist in asserting the opinion expressed by it with reference to that Bill, and that it should appear that in the event of an appeal to the country, it was not probable that another House of Commons would be chosen less zealous for Reform, then, in his mind, the emergency had arrived which would justify that exercise of the prerogative by which only a serious collision between the two Houses could be prevented. He would ask, was there any candid man who could shut his eyes on what was passing around them, and deny that the only result of a dissolution of the present House of Commons would be, the election of one still more pledged and uncompromisingly zealous for Reform? And, such being the fact, he would further ask, bad not the emergency arrived which, according to the best constitutional authorities, not only justified, but imperatively demanded, that exercise of the prerogative to which he had alluded? The noble Earl (whose age, according to himself, was pretty nearly equal to his own) could not have forgotten the debates which took place on the Regency Bill, when the first constitutional authorities in the House of Commons declared that the proposition to restrict the Regent or the Crown in the matter of creating Peers would be to enable the House of Lords to do that, which it was now alleged a contrary course would effect—namely, trample upon the Crown. But this was not new 363 doctrine, and the only question was, had the emergency arisen which called for the application of the prerogative? He would say it had; for he would ask the noble Earl, whether it was prudent or statesmanlike conduct, if he saw that a danger was impending, and saw, as he did, the situation of the country as indicated by public events, and the force of public feeling, to wait till the danger had actually occurred, and that public feeling became, perhaps, uncontrollable? Certainly not. It was plain, then, that after the adverse decision of their Lordships, with respect to the disfranchisement clauses, he had no other course but to tender his Majesty the resignation of his office, unless means were afforded him of preventing a collision between the two Houses of Parliament, which must have led to the most fatal consequences. But, said the noble Earl, why resign on a matter of so little importance as a mere selection of one part of the Bill before another? He denied that it was a matter of little importance, and would maintain that the question at issue was one of great importance to the integrity of the measure itself. Every man who had attended to the debate on the noble and learned Baron's (Lord Lyndhurst's) motion to postpone schedules A and B till the enfranchisement schedules had been disposed of, must admit that the effect of that motion was to take the management of the Bill entirely out of the hands of those who had, on their responsibility, introduced it, and to place it in the hands of those who were its avowed enemies. This it was, that made him take a firm stand against the proposition, and not a morbid sense of mere personal dignity; it was, in fact, from a conviction that, under such a change of management, the Bill would be mutilated and impaired so as to revolt public opinion, not only from the actual mutilators of the measure on which the nation's heart had been so long and eagerly set, but also from himself and his colleagues, who, by sitting as spectators while the process of mutilation was going on (which, for want of means they could not prevent), would become "mute" participators. It was, he said, from a conviction of this fact, that he hastened to tender an advice which only could prevent that dangerous collision between the two Houses to which he had more than once alluded. The proposition which had led to his resignation, he re- 364 peated, was not one of form, but of principle. Public opinion had long pronounced the nomination boroughs to be the most practically pernicious of the abuses of the Representative system; and, as schedules A and B contained the most efficient remedy for those abuses, they were justly regarded by the friends of the Bill as its most important provisions. He was aware of the panegyrics that had been lavished upon the advantages of those close boroughs, as channels through which talent, unattended by rank and wealth, found its way into Parliament. He did not deny that such had been the case in many instances, though it did not follow that those men of talent would not have found their way into Parliament by other and more constitutional means, but he would contend that, as a whole, this nomination system had been productive of much practical mischief to the public interest. Then it had been said, that the House of Commons "worked well." It did not—it could not; and for this simple reason, that no such institution could work well for the public which did not enjoy the public confidence. The House of Commons, as at present constituted, did not enjoy the public confidence, chiefly because the people felt, that a majority of its Members were not their own freely chosen and responsible Representatives, but the nominees of the proprietors of the close boroughs; and, therefore, the disfranchising schedules were regarded as the most important features of the Bill. And here he could not but remark upon the strange and inconsistent objections of noble Lords opposite to these schedules. One noble Lord told them, amid the cheers of his party, that to disfranchise a single borough set down in schedule A was an act of spoliation, that tended to subvert the security of all existing institutions; and yet, in the same breath, the noble Lord pointed out several boroughs in schedule B which he declared ought to have been placed in schedule A—that is, to be disfranchised altogether. Other noble Lords objected to schedule B, and that, too, while they held that each borough in schedule A should continue to return two Members. Let noble Lords propose any borough they pleased for total disfranchisement, and he would be prepared to entertain the proposition, but let them not condemn as revolutionary a partial disfran- 365 chisement, while they themselves advocated entire disfranchisement. But to return to the learned Baron's motion. He might appeal, he believed, to the noble Earl himself—certainly to many noble Lords near him—whether, till that learned Lord had announced his proposition, he (Earl Grey) had any knowledge of its character, or had had any intimation till he came down to the House that evening that such a motion was in preparation. So far was he from receiving it as a matter of little and unexpected importance, that he had stated, when the possibility of such a proposition was thrown out in conversation, that it was one that could not for a moment be entertained by Ministers. He would not impute motives to any person, but he would appeal to the candour of every honest man, whether the manner in which that motion was introduced, and still more the manner in which it was supported by those who had avowed themselves to be the uncompromising foes to every species of Reform, or the conduct which he felt it his duty to pursue in consequence of their Lordships having outvoted him on that motion, which was the more obnoxious to the imputation of being a manœuvre or a party trick. He would leave it to an enlightened public to answer the question, and would merely observe, that he felt that he should abandon his duty if he intrusted the Bill thus into the hands of its enemies. No choice, therefore, was left him as an honest Minister; and knowing, as he did, the danger, under the strong excitement in which the public mind had been kept, by the delay in the progress of the great measure to which the nation looked as the essential condition of good government, of a breach with the other branch of the Legislature, there was no alternative but for him to obtain the means of carrying that measure through that House in all its efficiency, or to resign his office. "We followed the only honest course, and the consequence was, our resignation. And for doing this," continued the noble Earl, "I have been charged with having trampled upon the Crown and this House—I—I trample on the Crown—I, holding opinions, perhaps prejudices, as dear to me as my heart's blood to my life—I trample on this House—I, who have ever held, and shall ever hold, that the independence and privileges of your Lordships are essential to the permanence of the institutions of my country—I to be told these things, 366 when following a course of duty which in my conscience I believe was the only means of averting immediate danger, and I should fear destruction, to both the Crown and this House—it is indeed too bad!" If those who had declared themselves adverse to every measure of Reform (the noble Earl continued) were willing to return to office on the terms of carrying, a particular plan, how much more was he bound to avail himself of every constitutional means of carrying that great measure which he and his colleagues had introduced on their responsibility! If he had reason to believe that those persons would come back to power—if public opinion would enable them to "rescue his Majesty from the emergency in which he was left all alone" by his cruel Ministers, why should he shrink from doing that which it was plain those benevolent and disinterestedly consistent persons would have done if they could? He and his colleagues, therefore, returned to office with a well-founded hope, which he trusted a very few hours would realize, of bringing this great and important question to a successful issue—an issue on which, he repeated once and for all, he conscientiously believed that the security of the Throne, the independence of Parliament, and the peace of the country, essentially depended. He was free to confess that when going into Committee he was disposed to yield to any suggestion from the opposite side of the House which was compatible with the general efficiency of the Bill, even though it was of a character which he might not individually approve of, in order to avoid opposition as much as possible. The Bill had passed through the Committee without alteration, but not, as the noble Earl had stated, without full explanation of its provisions on the part of Ministers. When the noble Earl was taunting Ministers with being silent as mates, he should not have forgotten, that the statement made in defence of the most important provisions of the Bill had been admitted by opponents to be convincing; and particularly the statement of his noble relative, in defence of the metropolitan districts, had produced a strong effect on even the most doubting. The 10l. rate, which on a former occasion was condemned by two noble Lords (Wharncliffe and Carnarvon) to be a perfect Universal Suffrage democracy, was now admitted to be unexceptionable, and all that was wanting, 367 it was stated, was, to guard against its being abused. Any other explanation Ministers were ready to furnish. He trusted, that the Bill would receive their Lordships' sanction that evening. What its results might be no man could take it upon him to predict positively. His own expectations were sanguine. He was sure of this one thing—that Reform could not be longer withheld—that, to quote the words of an eminent Statesman of the last century, "if Parliament did not reform itself in time from within, it would he reformed with a vengeance from without." And let their Lordships consider the state of public feeling with respect to this great measure; let them consider how long the public mind had been eagerly fixed on its settlement; let any man, considering these things, and who had observed the excitement of the public mind during the few days that intervened between the resignation and resuming of office by the present Ministers, put his hand upon his heart and say, that great danger would not be the inevitable result of an unsatisfactory or protracted issue to this great question. He had said, and the declaration had given rise to something like a taunting cheer on the other side of the House, that it was not for short-sighted humanity to predict the future consequences of this Bill. It was not; but there was every reason to hope, that while the abuses and excrescences which impeded the free working of the Constitution would be removed by the Bill, the interests and intelligence of the people would be faithfully represented, and all the great manufacturing, agricultural, and trading interests of the country would be protected, while the Aristocracy and other privileged orders of the State would be invested with a due weight, and all classes and branches of the community would have but one common object—the promotion of general and individual interests. He trusted, that when the agitation consequent upon the delay in the progress of the Bill should have passed away, and when the angry passions on both sides should have abated, and all things should have re-assumed a temperate and uniform course, the national energies would develope themselves in new and increasing elements of national prosperity. He trusted that the noble Earl (the Earl of Winchilsea) would ere long be happily disappointed in his ominous forebodings. He could assure that noble Earl, that 368 no man would more zealously lend his aid to putting an end to those irregular proceedings which the noble Earl justly condemned as prejudicial to the public good. He did not hesitate to declare, that the systematic establishment of Political Unions could not co-exist with regular government, and, therefore, it was the duty of the Government to remove those causes which imparted to these Unions an active but temporary existence. But it should be remembered at the same time, that Political Unions were not of modern growth—that they existed long before the present excitement. The noble Earl might remember the celebrated General Association, which existed at the end of the American war. Neither the noble Earl nor himself was then in Parliament, but both were old enough to recollect the formidable character of that Association, with its delegates permanently sitting in London, and its corresponding associates all over the country—supported, too, by Mr. Pitt, then in all the enthusiasm of his first love for Reform. That Association passed speedily away, because the grievance which had given it birth had been remedied. And such he sincerely believed would be the case with the Political Unions, which the abuses and corruption in the representative branch of the Legislature had called into existence. He repeated, that he was convinced, that when the Reform Bill had begun to produce its beneficial results, they would hear no more of the Political Unions. He confessed he was not inclined to effect their suppression by any new and severe laws, and he was the less encouraged to make the attempt, by the experience of the last thirty years, which shewed that it was not easy to put down the expression of opinion by severe measures. The remedy he proposed was of a very different character. He trusted in the good sense of the people of England—he trusted in their attachment to the Constitution—he relied on the firmness of Parliament for the vigorous enforcement of such laws as might be necessary to place the Government in that position of strength and security in which it was the interest of every man, from the highest Peer to the lowest mechanic, equally to see it placed; for every subject, be his rank or calling what it would, possessed an equal interest in good order as the essential condition of good government. He trusted that those who augured un- 369 favourably of the Bill would live to see all their ominous forebodings falsified, and that, after the angry feelings of the day had passed away, the measure would be found to be, in the best sense of the word, conservative of the Constitution. [The noble Earl terminated his speech abruptly, in consequence of the indisposition of which he had complained at its beginning.]
§ Lord Wharncliffe
was willing to give the noble Earl full credit for the motives with which he had brought forward the present Bill, but still held him responsible for having voluntarily, and he would say wantonly, placed the country in its present dangerous state, in order that he might carry a favourite measure, in spite of the well-founded objections of a large majority of their Lordships. He had ever admitted that the cry and demand for Reform were so general, that the peace of the country could not be preserved without a satisfactory yielding to that demand, but he would maintain, that the noble Earl, had in the present Bill, far exceeded the necessity of that demand. There were other interests to be consulted besides those of the party who made a stalking-horse of Reform for their own purposes, and it was the duty of the noble Earl to have particularly ascertained whether it was practicable to carry such a measure through the House of Lords before he mocked its deliberative independence by the course which he had pursued within the last few weeks. He admitted that no Administration could have come in without adopting a measure of Reform of Parliament; but this measure went beyond what was required, and the result would be, that there would be a great difficulty in getting back to a state of tranquillity. Parts of the Bill would sow seeds of constant discontent; parts of it were unjust. At the same time he did the noble Earl the justice to say, that there was no need of his disclaimer, for he did not believe that the object of the noble Earl was to attack the institutions of the country. The measure had been now brought to a point, that the Bill must pass into a law; but was not the vote of this House upon it overborne by the people and by the other House? Could their Lordships deny, that force had been put upon them? And if that was not, what was a revolution? Their Lordships had a right to give their votes independently, and according to the best of their judgment; but they were deprived of this, and 370 by what By violence and by nothing less. Let not their Lordships deceive themselves; let it not be supposed, because their persons and their property were safe, that when they were deprived of the means of judging of this measure, the House had not been forcibly obliged to vote for it. Not only had this House been forced, but a great proportion of the property of the country had been forced into a consent to this Bill; for, though they might wish for a Reform, a great proportion of the persons of property in the country were against this Bill, and the extent to which it was carried. It was not a question of Reform, but it was a question as to the extent of it; and nothing but absolute force could make this Bill pass. The noble Earl, in answer to his noble friend below him, who had referred to the noble Earl's declaration respecting the contingency of a creation of Peers, in consequence of an actual collision between the two Houses, now talked of a probable collision; but that word "probable" made a considerable difference. No such word was used by the noble Earl on the former occasion. The noble Lord then read an extract from a speech of Earl Grey, in which the noble Earl, after saying that a case might arise in which such a measure as a creation of Peers might be advisable, continued—'He would suppose a case in which there was a collision between the two Houses of Parliament, and in which public opinion supported one branch of the Legislature against the other. Now, in a case where there was a hope-less variance in opinion between the Houses of Lords and Commons on any important question, he must ask, how could this be set at rest but by the exercise of the prerogative—and by an increase being made to this branch of the Legislature? The exercise of the prerogative in such a case had been supported by all the great constitutional writers, and there was no doubt that the power was vested in the Crown for the purpose of preventing the danger which might arise from a collision between the two branches of the Legislature. More than this he did not think it necessary to say.'* He (Lord Wharncliffe) agreed, that when an actual collision had taken place between the two Houses, and there was no other course, such a measure*Hansard (third series) vol. xii. p, 452–3,371 might be expedient; but that case had not arrived, and it was not sufficient to talk of probability. How did the noble Earl know it would arrive? He (Lord Wharncliffe) firmly believed that no collision would have taken place. At all events, if there would have been a collision, it must have been known long before the Bill arrived at the House of Commons, and then there would have been a plausible reason for the measure. The only question then was, whether, when their amendments had been carried, if the other House refused them, there would have been a collision. The noble Earl had said, that the vote in the Committee respecting the priority of the schedules was a vote on the principle of the Bill. How could this be? They (the Opposition) proposed to postpone the disfranchisement till the enfranchisement was considered, in order to know the extent to which the disfranchisement need be carried. The whole principle of disfranchisement was in schedule A; there was no principle of disfranchisement in schedule B. Most of the noble Lords who spoke on that occasion, and who voted in the majority, said that to the principle of disfranchisement they were not enemies. As to the protest, of which his noble friend (Lord Durham) reminded him, if all the seventy Peers who had signed it had voted against schedule A, the principle of disfranchisement would still have been safe. Nothing had led him (Lord Wharncliffe) to believe that the postponing of the disfranchising clause was such a vital point as to have rendered it necessary for the noble Earl to have recourse to such a measure of extreme necessity. He had reason to think, that there was a disposition to give such a consideration to the Bill, that no amendments would be proposed that were not in unison with the principle of it. They (the Opposition) were all desirous to try to make the Bill safer than it was, and so safe that a considerable number of those who disliked it would have voted for it. It had been said, however, that this was a party trick, and those who supported the postponement had been represented to the country as if they had done something that struck at the root of the Bill. It was no such thing. After the step taken by the Government, in throwing up the Bill, the House of Lords, he might say, became a farce. He (Lord Wharncliffe) had thought it his duty to attend the 372 Cmmittee, and having voted for the second reading, on the understanding, that amendments might be made in the Bill, he had attended in order to suggest some amendments—their Lordships all knew with what effect. The noble Lords opposite had shown a determination not to give up points they might have given up. The noble Earl had talked of the fair discussion the Bill had in the Committee. So far as they (the Opposition) had been permitted to talk and to propose amendments, the Bill might be said to be discussed. But he denied that there had been anything like fair discussion. They all the while knew that they had been reduced to that state, that the independence of the House had been totally and entirely destroyed. All that he would now say was, that he hoped the noble Lords opposite, when the Bill had passed, would turn their attention to the state of the country, and to its state of agitation. The noble Earl had said, that he regretted the existence of the Political Unions, but that the settlement of this question would put an end to them. He (Lord Wharncliffe), however, very much doubted whether the settlement of this question would be the settlement of the Political Unions. When the Catholic Bill passed, the same hope was held out. Associations had existed in Ireland, and they were told, that if the food and pabulum of those Associations ceased, they would cease likewise. Experience, however, had proved that this was not the case; for, since Catholic Emancipation had taken place, Ireland had been kept in continual excitement, in the same spirit and with the same views as before. The Political Unions had acquired too great power to part with it; they had learnt their own force, and the noble Earl would find it difficult to put them down. Although some of them might declare themselves dissolved, the whole machinery would still exist, whereby their action might be kept up for carrying any other point they might aim at. He looked to the future state of the country with fear; with a Reformed House of Commons, continually excited by a Press possessed of enormous and excessive power, he could contemplate only a state of things in which the House of Lords would amount to nothing; and all power would be in the hands of the Commons. He had been long aware that nothing could stop the march of this question, and that it must be settled in a satisfactory manner; 373 and if his Majesty's Government had not had recourse to this violent measure, the question would have been brought to a shape which would have been satisfactory even to many of those who had opposed the Bill throughout. Now, however, that the Bill must pass, all he hoped was, that the predictions of the noble Lords opposite might be fulfilled. Looking to experience, however, he feared a different result, for he had never seen a case in which
|List of the NOT-CONTENTS.|
|MANSFIELD||BEXLEY||WILLOUGHBY DE BROKE.|
§ Some verbal Amendments were agreed to, and the question "that the Bill do pass," was put and carried.
§ [A great number of Peers immediately crowded round Earl Grey, apparently to congratulate his Lordship upon the final success of the Bill.]
§ The following Protests were entered against the Bill.
§ The Earl of Mansfield's Protest.
§ "1. Because, though in the preamble to the Bill it is declared, that it is expedient to take effectual measures for correcting divers abuses which have long prevailed in the choice of Members to serve in the Commons House of Parliament, no abuses are described nor is any correction applied.
§ "2. Because though it is declared to be expedient to deprive inconsiderable places of the right of returning Members, the expediency is merely asserted but has not been proved, nor could this House be governed by considerations of expediency inconsistent with justice—we protest against the doctrine that any individual, or corporate body, can be justly deprived of any rights which have been legally enjoyed; whether the right be of the nature374
§ so great a power had been lodged in the democratical part of the Government, and the balance of the other parts had been preserved. If those noble Lords should prove to be right, they would deserve credit for their prognostications, but they incurred a heavy responsibility.
§ Their Lordships divided on the Motion. Contents 106; Not Contents 22—Majority 84.
§ of an absolute property, or of a trust connected with property, consistently with the principles of justice which under all circumstances must be immutable, either delinquency must have been proved, or compensation must have been given before the sacrifice was exacted. Upon this principle Parliament proceeded in approving the purchase of the heritable jurisdictions in Scotland; and in a more recent and analogous instance, compensation was given by the Irish Parliament to individuals and to corporate bodies in Ireland, for the deprivation of their right of returning Members.
§ "3. Because, though it is stated in the preamble, that it is expedient to deprive inconsiderable places of the right of returning Members, and to grant such privilege to large and populous towns, no positive rule has been observed in defining them. If a preference had been invariably given to those towns which contained the greatest number of inhabitants, and which had paid the greatest amount of assessed taxes, some places which are now assumed to be most populous and wealthy, would have been excluded, and others would have been inserted in the list of those which are entitled to this privilege; and again, if a uniform rule had been observed in adding to the old boroughs such an extension of 375 territory as would have given them a reasonable number of electors, some places now excluded as inconsiderable would have retained a portion of their rights.
§ "4. Because this House has been disturbed in the free exercise of its judgment upon these and many other objectionable parts of the Bill. For a noble Lord who had opposed the second reading declared in his place, that though he still objected to the Bill, he would withhold all future opposition to its progress, the House having been given to understand, that his Majesty's Ministers had resumed the offices which they had lately resigned, upon the condition that his Majesty would adopt their advice to create such a number of Peers as would secure the passing of this Bill, unaltered in its most important provisions; and further that noble Lord declared, that he adopted that line of proceeding by compulsion, preferring the passing of this Bill to the creation of Peers, which was considered to be a greater calamity, and there is reason to believe that other noble Lords were influenced by the same consideration. To the statement of the advice tendered to his Majesty, and of the consent obtained, his Majesty's Ministers gave no contradiction. It appears to us, therefore, to be our duty to protest against the passing of this Bill; the parliamentary forms have been observed, but the independent action of the House has been constrained by the apprehension of the danger to which it was exposed, and though the Bill, if it should receive the Royal assent, will pass into a law, yet as the validity of any Act which should have passed with the consent of only two branches of the Legislature would be justly questioned, so, according to the general principles of law, the free consent of the House of Lords cannot be assumed, and every deed or instrument executed under compulsion or threat would be illegal and void.
- BROOKE AND WARWICK.
- WINCHILSEA & NOTTINGHAM, for the 4th reason.
- WILLOUGHBY DE BROKE.
- COLVILLE OF CULROSS.
- BUCKINGHAM AND CHANDOS.
- GRANTHAM, for the 4th reason.
- CARBERY, for the 4th reason.
- NORTHUMBERLAND, for the 4th reason."
§ First Protest of Lord Melros.
- "1. Because the principles of this Bill are carried to an extent that will give an undue preponderance to the popular branch of the Legislature, and by thereby endangering the privileges of this House and the legitimate power and prerogatives of the Crown, may in the end destroy that balance, on the maintenance of which depends the existence of the Constitution, and of the settled institutions of the country.
- "2. Because, by reason of the great, long-continued, and alarming excitement of the public mind, a serious impediment has been interposed to a calm and deliberate consideration of the principles and details of the measure, whereas, without such consideration, extensive and fundamental changes in the laws and government of a country cannot be rendered safe and permanent.
- "3. Because, by reason of the intemperate and unconstitutional advice offered to his Majesty by his Ministers (on occasion of the postponement of the consideration of the first clause of the Bill while in the Committee), accompanied by the tender of the resignation of their offices, and by reason of the embarrassments and difficulties in which the Crown has been thereby involved, so many Peers withdrew themselves from attendance on the service of this House during the further progress of the Bill, in conviction that the House was virtually precluded from the independent exercise of its functions, that the Bill has thus been carried almost unaltered, and under circumstances alike injurious to the
377 public interest and to the honour, dignity, and independence, of this House.
- WINCHILSEA & NOTTINGHAM.
- BUCKINGHAM AND CHANDOS.
§ Second Protest of Lord Melros.
§ "Because important amendments have been rejected by the influence of Government, which amendments did not in the slightest degree militate against any one of the three great principles on which the supporters of the Bill contend that it was founded. By one of these amendments it was proposed to enact, that no property within boroughs should confer on its possessors a right to vote for the county, while a compensation was to be given to such possessors, by conferring on them the right of voting for the place in which their property and their interest actually lay. This amendment was right and expedient, because it tended really to give to landed property no more than that just influence in county elections to which, by the spirit of the representative system, it is fairly entitled. It was the professed intention of the framers of the Bill to protect that interest by the increased Representation of the counties; whereas the Bill, as it now stands (this proposal having been negatived), bestows an undue preponderance, even in county elections, on the manufacturing and commercial classes of the community, and that in addition to the increased influence given to those classes by the enfranchisement of the towns and places enumerated in schedules C and D, and by the altered constituency of many of the remaining boroughs. The reasonable expectations of the agricultural interest, thus encouraged, have been disappointed in a manner as inconsistent with that sound policy which dictates that a just balance should be maintained between the several 378 important interests in the country, as it is with that perfect fair dealing which should ever characterise all the proceedings of the Legislature and of the Government. The Bill amended, as proposed, would still have given much more to the manufacturing and commercial classes than the clause itself would have taken from them, and the influence secured by that clause to the landed property, though considerable, would not have proved equivalent to that of which it would still have been deprived by the Bill.
§ Protest of Lord Wynford.
- "1. Because, although desirous of extending the elective franchise as speedily, and as far as it can be extended with safety to the rights of property, and to the Constitution of the country, the great and sudden alteration which this Bill makes in the Representation of the people, is an experiment dangerous to the prerogatives of the Crown, the independence of both Houses of Parliament, and the rights and liberties of the people. Every advance made in the formation of a plan of Representation would have given security for its accomplishment, whilst the consequences of hasty proceedings can never be retrieved.
- "2. Because the elective franchise is, by this Bill, unequal and unjustly distributed; for whilst it gives to many of the inhabitants of represented towns double, and in some instances treble votes, it gives no votes to the householders of other towns and villages of equal, and many of them of higher, classes, although these unrepresented householders amount to half the householders of England and Wales, and are men of equal wealth, respectability, and intelligence, with the householders of the represented towns; thus the favoured towns will return an overwhelming majority of the Members for England and Wales, and the interests of the whole kingdom will be entirely in the power of the inhabitants of these towns.
- "3. Because by this Bill the influence of the landed interest is destroyed, by its
379 giving a majority of the Members taken from those boroughs, which usually supported that interest, to the great towns, and by its depriving it of the county Representation, by allowing the inhabitants of represented towns to vote for Knights of the Shire for estates within such towns: because no pretence is stated in the Bill for disfranchising the towns contained in schedule B, many of which towns have more voters now, and will have more voters under this Bill, than some towns that are to retain both their Members; and because there are many towns which will retain their Members, although it is notorious the electors of these towns are as completely under the control of Peers and other wealthy individuals as the electors in any of the towns in schedule A, and must return the Members nominated by such Peers or other individuals.
- "4. Because, although the preamble of the Bill states that one of its objects is to prevent abuses at elections, no provision is made for the prevention of any one abuse.
- "5. Because the Bill is so imperfect that it cannot be carried into execution without the aid of some other law, thereby giving a pretence for keeping up a discussion upon the question of Parliamentary Reform, and continuing the excitement that now unfortunately prevails. This Bill has created boroughs without determining their extent or the population which they are to contain; divided counties without settling the line of division; created Courts without appointing any officers to them; given those Courts the power of examining witnesses without enabling them to compel the attendance of witnesses, or providing for the payment of their expenses; imposed unnecessary burthens on all Churchwardens and Overseers, and a very heavy and unnecessary expense on small parishes.
- "6. Because this Bill, instead of settling the question of Parliamentary Reform, will excite discontent, and, instead of concluding the question, will be only one of a series of measures which will end in the destruction of the Constitution.
- KENYON, for all the reasons except the Second."