HL Deb 26 March 1832 vol 11 cc858-70
Lord John Russell

, attended by Lord Althorp, and a great many other Members of the House of Commons, brought up the Reform of Parliament (England) Bill, to the Lord Chancellor at the Bar.

Earl Grey moved, that the Bill be read a first time.

Bill read a first time, and ordered to be printed.

Earl Grey

, in rising to propose a day for the second reading of the Bill, said it would not be expected that he should at that time enter into any of the details of the measure, as that had better be reserved for another occasion. It was his desire that every opportunity should be afforded for the fullest consideration of it, both in its principles and details; but, keeping in view the time that had been allowed for consideration and discussion when the subject was before their Lordships last year, he did not think that the motion for the second reading should be postponed to any distant period. It was his intention to have proposed the second reading on Monday next, but, out of deference to some who thought an interval of a few days longer would be desirable, he had no objection to name the Thursday following, and he would therefore propose that the Bill be read a second time on Thursday, the 5th of April.

The Earl of Harrowby

said, he was glad to hear the noble Earl propose Thursday week for the second reading of the Bill, for although a similar bill had certainly been much considered and a good deal discussed when it was before their Lordships in the course of the last year, yet, looking at the vast importance of the measure, it appeared to him that a considerable interval ought to intervene between the time when the Bill was brought into this House and the second reading; and, therefore, he approved of the prolongation of the period between the first and second reading as proposed by the noble Earl. Although noble Lords had deliberated fully and at length upon the last Bill, still he did not conceive that this circumstance would enable them to determine the line of conduct they ought to adopt with respect to the second reading of the present measure. He begged to tell their Lordships that it was not the same Bill which was now laid before them. It bore, undoubtedly, a great resemblance to its predecessor, more than he at one time flattered himself it would bear, and more than he conceived it ought to bear, before he, as an individual, could consent that it should pass. Yet, granting the fact of the resemblance, he was far from denying that there were points in the present measure—points, too, not unimportant either in principle or practice—in which it varied from the Bill brought up to the House last Session. In the first place, in the Bill which was before them in the course of the last Session, the leading principle of disfranchisement was founded on population, or on the depopulation of the places to which the disfranchisement was to attach. In the present Bill, that principle had been abandoned, and a different principle, that of population combined with wealth and taxation, was substituted. He did not by any means admit that this was the best principle that could have been adopted; but still it was an alteration in the principle, and in his opinion an alteration for the better. In the next place, in regard to the enfranchisement of places, the principle now adopted, was not that of population merely, but of population continued with the relative importance of the place. In the third place, there was a very material difference in the manner in which schedules B and C had been constructed. The number of boroughs in schedule B had been reduced, and some of the places which were before contained in that schedule, were to continue to retain two Members. In schedule D also, the number of boroughs had been diminished, and in several more of the places proposed to be enfranchised, than by the last Bill two Members were to be allowed, which it was before intended should only have one. This was an essential difference between the former and the present Bill. In the fourth place, a most important difference between the former and the present Bill, consisted in this—that by the former Bill, the peculiar interests belonging to persons having the freedom of corporations were to be limited to the period of the lives of those in the actual possession of them; whereas, by the present Bill, the privileges of freemen of corporations were not to be limited to the lives of those in possession, but were perpetuated in their successors. This was, unquestionably, a most important difference in practice, and as it appeared to him, an essential distinction in principle. Another very material distinction was, that by the present Bill twenty-one Members were to be allowed to England beyond the proportion allowed by the former Bill, by which means the relative proportion of the representation of the three divisions of the empire were more justly preserved, and placed on a better footing. It was also, in his opinion, a favourable circumstance, in regard to the present Bill, as compared with the former, that it contained an indication of an intended improvement in the construction of the constitution of the large places, to which the elective franchise and the representation were to be extended. He observed that the Mayors of such places were to be the returning-officers, from which he inferred that it was intended to incorporate them, or to make some material alteration to that effect in the actual constitution of such places. These were, in his opinion, very material distinctions between the former and the present Bill, and the alterations were unquestionably worthy of consideration by their Lordships, and had been wisely introduced by those who had the framing and management of the measure. There was also an alteration of some importance as to the manner in which the 10l. qualification was to be applied, as well as in the machinery of the Bill upon which he would then give no opinion. Upon the whole, those of their Lordships who might recollect the sentiments which he had expressed as to the question of Reform, when the measure was under consideration and discussion last year, and heard what he had now stated, would, no doubt, be led to conclude that he intended to vote for the second reading of the present Bill; he must state that he did; not that he expected that his vote was of any particular importance, or that he presumed that it would be considered as of very great weight or consequence either way. But he was desirous to state in a few words the reasons why he thought it his duty to vote for the second reading of the present Bill, notwithstanding he had given his vote against the second reading of the former Bill. Their Lordships might recollect, that it was not till after much hesitation, and the most anxious and doubtful consideration, that he had at last come to the conclusion, that it was then his duty to vote against the second reading of the former Bill. But although he had come to a different resolution with regard to the present Bill, he wished at the same time to state, that he still retained his former sentiments, and did not retract any of his former opinions on the subject. But there were differences in the present Bill, which, all things considered, induced him to think that it was expedient to send the present Bill into a Committee. Their Lordships, therefore, would not be surprised, that, having come to the resolution of voting for the second reading of the present Bill, after having voted against the second reading of the former bill, that he took this very early opportunity of adverting to his former opinions. He would vote for the second reading of the present Bill, in order to see whether such additional alterations might not be made in it in the Committee as would enable him finally to vote for its passing into a law. He would endeavour to propose such amendments, or would support them if proposed by others. But if, after all, he should find it impossible to introduce such amendments as in his opinion would render the Bill one which ought to pass into a law, he should still have an opportunity of opposing it. The delay had been of some advantage even to those who introduced the measure, for by the failure of the former Bill, more ample time and opportunity for consideration had been afforded them, and they had seen the expediency of making some very material alterations, which were great improvements, in the present Bill. There were difficulties in the case with which they had been before compelled to struggle, and there was still great room for amendment. It would be the duty of their Lordships to attempt to get the proper amendments adopted in the Committee. Although they should vote for the second reading, they would not be bound to vote for the passing of the Bill, in case it should still continue to be a bill which ought not to pass. If, after all the amendments had been introduced which could be introduced, any of their Lordships should conscientiously believe that the Bill ought not to pass, they would still have the power to vote for its rejection, and it would be their duty to exert that power, and he for one would not scruple to exercise his right. If anything were proposed by the other branch of the Legislature, which their Lordships thought wrong, it was their duty to oppose it. Reconsideration, and time for investigation, would generally, as in this instance, produce amendment. The alterations which had been made in the principles, and even in the details, were by no means immaterial. By the rejection, therefore, of the Bill of last year, the Parliament had been spared the regret it would have felt, and in which the framers of the measure would have participated, had it committed some acts of injustice. Upon minute investigation of the state and condition of several places, as to population, wealth, and other circumstances, many of the enactments of the former Bill, it turned out, were bad, even on the principles of those who promoted the measure. He had opposed the Bill of last year also, in the hopes that the arguments which had been used against the measure, and the additional time which would be allowed for consideration, would have had the effect of producing a very important change in the general sentiments of the community; but he was compelled to confess that he had been disappointed, and that no such change had taken place. In the public feeling and sentiments generally, whether right or wrong, no material change had manifested itself, as far as he could observe. He thought that the feeling was wrong; but the opinion did certainly appear to him to exist generally in the community that a change in the state of the Representation was called for. Still he did not believe that the general wish for Reform extended beyond the leading principles of the Bill, and, therefore, he still thought that considerable alterations might advantageously be made in the details. At least they had the satisfaction to know that considerable changes had already been made in the measure as now submitted to their consideration. He, and those who concurred with him, objected to the whole Bill; but still they thought it better to make some concession to public opinion, and to the declared sense of a large majority of the other House, than to risk the consequences that might result from a continued and decided opposition to Reform. Many influential persons were of that opinion, and to that degree of compromise at least matters had been brought by the opportunity afforded for reconsideration. He hoped, therefore, that their Lordships, forgetting all that irritation and angry feeling that might have passed here and elsewhere, would apply their minds to the consideration of the essential principles of the Bill, with a view to render it such as ought to satisfy the reasonable wishes of the country, to expunge that which was too democratical, and to prescribe limits to that which might be considered unlimited—to save some essential points from wreck, and, in fine, to form this into a measure which might be passed into a law without a total destruction of the Constitution. He would not at present enter at greater length into the discussion of the subject, his only object being to state in a few words the grounds on which he—although he had voted against the second reading of the Bill of last year—had felt himself compelled to come to the resolution of voting in favour of the second reading of the present Bill.

Earl Grey

said, if any other noble Lords wished to address their Lordships at present on this subject, he was anxious to hear their opinions; and having heard them, he might think it proper to trouble their Lordships with a few words; and he did not think it would be necessary for him to say more than a few words on this occasion.

Lord Wharncliffe

rose to state to their Lordships that he also intended to vote for the second reading of the Bill. He would not at that time enter into a minute statement of the reasons which induced him to adopt that course. This was not the proper time for discussion, but when the proper time came, he would distinctly and candidly mention the grounds on which he acted. In the mean time he thought it sufficient to say that he would not again refuse to give a second reading to a bill which had been sent up by so large a majority of the House of Commons. This he even now distinctly stated, that he might not appear, contrary to his intention, to practise any deception on their Lordships or on the country. His opinion, however, was that the Bill ought not to pass into a law without very considerable amendment: but he would vote for the second reading in the hope that the Bill might be brought into such a shape as to render it fitting to pass it into a law, that the question might at last be settled. But he repeated his opinion, that the Bill as it stood at present, ought not to pass into a law. It ought not to pass without considerable alteration. The principles on which it was proposed to construct this measure of Reform, were stated in the preamble of the Bill, and if the details in anything went beyond the principles stated in the preamble, it would be their Lordships duty to reject these details. He thought it the duty of their Lordships to allow the Bill to go into the Committee, in order to see whether such a compromise might not be made as might render it, under all the circumstances, advisable to pass the Bill. If this should be refused, then their Lordships might reject the Bill. At the same time, he thought it right to state, that he would go into the Committee fairly and candidly; for it would be unfair, and even absurd, to go into the Committee for the purpose of completely mutilating the Bill, and destroying its essential principles. His object would be to go into the Committee candidly and fairly, not for the purpose of mutilation and destruction, but with a sincere desire to have the Bill put in such a state as to render it safe to pass it into a law. He, and those who concurred with him, certainly had serious objections to Reform in the Representation; but he was compelled to admit that in this they were not supported by any considerable party in the country; and, under these circumstances, he thought it his duty to vote for the second reading of this Bill, with a fair and candid disposition to render it such as might be passed with safety.

The Bishop of London

observed, that he, also, was anxious to take this opportunity of saying a few words. He intended to vote in favour of the second reading of the Bill. When the second reading of the former Bill was moved, he had not, from domestic occurrences, been able to attend in his place; but if he had been present at that time, he should, most probably, have voted for the second reading of the Bill. He certainly had felt inclined to do so, not that he entirely approved of the Bill, but that he thought it would be attended with less mischief to read the Bill a second time, than to refuse it. He had certainly strong objections to some parts of that Bill, and his objections were not altogether removed by the alterations in the present Bill. But, at the same time, he was willing to admit that the measure had been relieved from some of the objections which he had felt to the former Bill, although not from all. Having been inclined to vote for the second reading of the former Bill, he was still more disposed to vote for the second reading of the present Bill, and he hoped that it would be so amended in the Committee as to render it safe to pass it into a law. At the same time, he thought it but fair and candid to declare, that he would not support any amendment which would go to alter the Bill so as to mutilate or destroy its essential principles, and by that means bring it into such a state that the other House of Parliament would refuse to agree to it. He stated this much in order to correct certain misrepresentations which had gone abroad in regard to his conduct.

The Earl of Carnarvon

said, he had never objected to Reform altogether, but with regard to this Bill, he saw no probability that it could be made in the Committee such a Bill as it would be proper to pass into a law. If he saw any hopes that the Bill could be made such a one as ought to pass, he should be disposed to vote for the second reading, in deference to the opinion of the House of Commons. But, in his opinion, if their Lordships voted for the second reading of this Bill, they would get themselves involved in a labyrinth from which it would be impossible for them to extricate themselves; and they would be adding their own perplexity to all the perplexities into which those had been plunged who had been concerned in the framing and promoting of this Bill. He objected to the principle of the measure; and notwithstanding what he had heard about differences and alterations, he could see no such alteration as to induce him to support the present Bill. He did not think it worth while to say a word as to the supposed improvements in the present Bill, for there was not one of them that might not have been introduced in a Committee on the former Bill which had come under their Lordships' consideration in the course of the last year. He, therefore, would vote against the second reading of the present Bill, on the same grounds that he had voted against the second reading of the Bill of last year. He considered the principle of both Bills to be the same; and, in his opinion, they ought to meet with the same fate. As their Lordships had refused a second reading to the Bill of last year, they ought, in his opinion, for the same reasons, to vote against the second reading of the present; and as some noble Lords had stated that they thought otherwise, he said this much lest it should be supposed that he had any intention to follow their example. He would pursue a straight-forward course, such as he considered most compatible with the dignity and character of the House.

Earl Grey

did not think it necessary, in the present stage of the proceedings on this Bill, to trouble their Lordships with more than a very few words. The speech of the noble Earl who had just sat down had not disappointed him. That noble Earl had said, that he would pursue a straight-forward course, to which he did not object, nor did he suspect that the noble Earl would pursue any other; but he hoped the noble Earl would reconsider the subject, and adopt that line of conduct which was really most calculated to uphold the public interests, and to preserve the character and the dignity of the House in unison with the public sentiments. He did not mean to take up their Lordships' time by irregularly adverting to matters that had passed, nor would he enter upon any exposition of the particulars in which the present Bill was different from the last. But the noble Earl who spoke first had truly stated that, in some particulars, the present Bill was different from the last. Additional time had been allowed for consideration on both sides; and the noble Earl had stated, that although the alterations which had been made were not altogether such as he wished for and expected, yet, that under the present circumstances he would not incur time awful responsibility of refusing to allow the Bill to go into a Committee. He thought that the grounds on which the noble Earl rested that determination were most satisfactory. In the first place, the alterations were neither few nor immaterial; and he was not ashamed to confess, that in the interval of time which had elapsed between the rejection of the former Bill, and the introduction of the present, he, and those who acted with him, had been most anxious to obviate all such objections made to the former Bill, as could be obviated without a sacrifice of the principle and the efficiency of the measure. The noble Earl said, that population formed the foundation of the Representation in the former Bill, and that that principle had been abandoned in the present Bill. He did not wish to refer to former transactions and to former debates, but, at the same time, he felt himself called upon to say, that he had before stated that the best foundation was not merely the amount of population, but the amount of population combined with wealth and relative importance; and such they had endeavoured to make the foundation of the Representation in the former Bill. They had, moreover, availed themselves of the opportunity for re-consideration with a view to obviate all reasonable objections; and he was most happy if they hat succeeded, without injuring the efficiency of the Bill, in making the principles on which it was founded, more satisfactory. The noble Earl had said, that he had other objections to the Bill besides those which he had mentioned, and these it would be fitting to consider when the proper time for discussion came. But he repeated, that the Ministers had been anxious to obviate objections in which there was any force, and which could be obviated without a sacrifice of the principle and the efficiency of the measure; and he was glad that, to a certain extent, at least, they had succeeded. He hailed with unfeigned satisfaction, the approaching symptoms of a more general agreement upon this subject, and he hoped that a measure of Reform would at length be passed, which would at once be efficient fire its purpose, calculated to relieve the public anxiety, and prove satisfactory to the largest and best portion of the community, whose decided opinions in favour of the necessity of Reform, and of the utility of the plan had in no degree changed. He hoped that the proceedings in that House would not be of a character to produce general dissatisfaction and irritation, and to bring the country into greater dangers than any in which it was at present involved, or with which it was threatened. It gave him great satisfaction to hear the declarations of the noble Earl who spoke first, and of the noble Baron who followed him, and more particularly did it give him great satisfaction to hear the declaration of the right rev. Prelate, both as to his determination to vote for the second reading of the Bill, and as to the views with which he would go into the Committee. It was with the greatest and most sincere satisfaction that he heard the right rev. Prelate declare that he would not in the Committee agree to any amendment that would go to mutilate the Bill, or to disturb the general principles on which it was founded. If they went into the Committee in that spirit, he would consider any alterations which their Lordships might propose, with a must sincere and anxious desire to obviate their objections, and to do everything for their satisfaction that could, by possibility, be done consistently with the preservation of the essential principles and efficiency of the Bill. He said the same thing to all the noble Lords who might be disposed to go into the Committee in the same spirit. He was apprehensive that there might, in the Committee, be more difference between them than he would wish to exist. But if their Lordships should decide in favour of a second reading of the measure, it might go far to bring the supporters of the Bill into an agreement as to details: and he trusted that they would not stop short until they had at length effectually settled the question. In the mean time, he had only to repeat that, although he was apprehensive that some alterations might be proposed to which he could not accede, he would most assuredly give all due consideration to every proposition which might be made, in the true spirit of conciliation. In addition, he would only advert to one misrepresentation of what he had said when the former Bill was under discussion. It had been represented in some quarter that he had said that he would acquiesce in no alteration of the Bill. He had said no such thing, nor had he ever any intention to adopt such a course. What he had said was, that he would agree to no alterations that should be destructive of the essential principle and efficiency of the Bill. As to any other alterations, it had always been his intention (and he had always declared it to be his intention) that they should be fairly and candidly considered and discussed, and that the fullest opportunity should be given to every noble Lord to state his objections in the most ample manner. That was what he had said before, and that was what he said on the present occasion. Some alterations might be proposed to which he might find himself compelled to object in the strongest manner; but to every reasonable objection he would give the most favourable attention, and would be most happy to adopt any real improvements that might be suggested. More he need not say at present. He hoped that the measure would be such as would be becoming the character and dignity of this House, and such as would have the most desirable effect of satisfying and pacifying the country. As to what blame might have been incurred, or what praise had been deserved, for the introduction of this measure into Parliament, much had been said, and much had been answered. All he would say was, that having been from the commencement of his political life a friend to Reform, he had only become more and more convinced of the necessity for it; and that the subject had been pressed on him in a manner which he could not resist. It was under that impression that he had brought forward the present arrangement; and these were the reasons and motives by which he had been actuated. He had long been convinced of the necessity for some such measure; and so he still remained, and he would be most happy if this House should at last come to a cool and temperate consideration of the subject, and agree to a measure calculated to give general satisfaction to the community. He hoped their Lordships would at last come to a decision favourable to the measure, and pass a Bill into a law that would give strength and vigour to the Government, and peace and security to the country, both at home and abroad.

The Duke of Wellington

thought himself, after what had passed, called upon to say a few words, although this was not the best stage for the discussion of the question, and was, indeed, a stage in which it would be best to avoid discussion. But one noble friend of his had thought proper, in this stage of the Bill, to state the grounds on which he would support the second reading, and he had been followed in that course by another noble friend of his; and under these circumstances, he hoped their Lordships would permit him to make a few observations, with a view of stating why he could not follow the example of his noble friends, and in order to set himself and his own opinions right with the House. The noble Earl (the Earl of Harrowby) had stated the reasons which induced him to depart from the course which he had adopted with respect to the former Bill, and had adverted to various differences which existed between that Bill and the present. But then the noble Earl at the head of his Majesty's Government, insisted that although some alterations had been made and changes introduced, yet the Bill was really and truly, and in principle, exactly the same measure as that which had been brought up to this House last year, and to which their Lordships had refused to give a second reading. That was really the point in the case, and it was the point which their Lordships had now to consider. The question was not whether some minor alterations had been introduced into the present Bill, or whether it differed in some minor points from the former Bill. The question was, whether the Bill, in its present state, was such as could afford any reasonable prospect that, after having passed the second reading and the other stages, it would be a measure compatible with the existence of a practicable scheme of Government for this or any other country? The question was, whether the measure was compatible with the conducting the Government in any way; and whether, if it was compatible with any regular Government at all, it would not render the conduct and course of the Government necessarily most pernicious? The principle of this Bill was not Reform; it was disfranchisement, enfranchisement, the placing the right of voting on a different footing, changing the foundation of the Representation, and, when accompanied, as it would be, with other Bills, producing a complete revolution. The Bill for Scotland proceeded upon a total and complete revolution of the state of the Representation in that country; and the Bill for Ireland proceeded upon a complete alteration of the principles which Parliament had sanctioned three years ago. This was what their Lordships had now to consider. His own opinions in regard to Reform were precisely what they had been before, but the question now stood on a different footing, and their Lordships were placed in a somewhat different position. Whatever might be his notions of what could be conceded in favour of Reform, he saw no hope at all that the present Bill could be made such a measure as could be to any good purpose adopted. As for himself, he was actuated by no party motives. He had no party purposes to serve, and there could be no one who had less occasion for party support, or parliamentary interest. He had the same interest in the subject at present under consideration as others had; and that was an interest that a wise, good, and practicable system of Government should exist in the country. The noble Earl who spoke first, and the noble Baron who followed him, had fairly explained the course which they proposed to adopt. He differed from them. What his opinion was in regard to this Bill would be made manifest when they came to the proper stage for discussion, which was on the motion for the second reading. If, however, their Lordships should decide to go into Committee on the Bill, they ought always to look to the introduction of such improvements as should place the state of the Representation on a proper footing, as it was upon the state of the Representation that all good government must ultimately depend.

Bill to be printed, and the second reading fixed for Thursday, the 5th of April.

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