HL Deb 17 August 1835 vol 30 cc569-74
Lord Brougham

presented a Petition in favour of the Municipal Corporations' Bill, from Sutton Coldfield.

Lord Lyndhurst

said, that his noble and learned Friend, in presenting a petition from Sutton Coldfield on a former occasion, had spoken of the small number of Corporators—being only five—who had attended to fix the seal of the Corporation to a petition which had been presented against this Bill. His noble and learned Friend had stated, that at that meeting of five there had been a division on the propriety of sending a petition, and that the petition had been carried by the smallest possible majority—namely, three to two He had that day received a letter stating that there were eight members of the Corporation present when the seal was affixed, and that there was no division at all on the point. The letter also added, that many of the Corporation were in favour of the petition. Mr. Kempson was not a resident in the place, and Mr. Sadler was not connected with the Corporation. He had intended to bring the letter down with him to the House, but he had forgotten it. He trusted that their Lordships would not he led away by the erroneous statements which were contained in some of the petitions presented on the other side of the House.

Lord Brougham

said, that his noble and learned Friend had drawn a very fine moral from the fable or story which he had just told their Lordships. That moral had met with very general assent from their Lordships, who had recently acted on the maxim of hearing one side only. It was a maxim of James 1st,—a very great authority, he believed, with noble Lords on the other side of the House,—that nothing was so inconvenient, or indeed so puzzling, as to hear both sides. "If you hear one side only," said that learned Monarch, "you have no trouble, for all is then clear enough; but if you hear both sides, there is no knowing when you will come to a close." Therefore it was that their Lordships were perfectly right in deciding, as some of them had publicly ere now declared that they would decide, without hearing both sides. To return, however, to this letter. You have on the one side a petition coming from two respectable gentlemen, fairly drawn up, regularly signed, distinctly read, and in due course of proceeding replied to. It was true that this petition was not signed by a number of persons, but by two Gentlemen, Mr. Sadler and Mr. Kempson—one of them a most respectable Magistrate of the county That was the petition which he (Lord Brougham) had presented. He admitted that he was not answerable for the statements of the petition, nor had his noble and learned Friend stated that he was. His noble and learned Friend had since got a private letter addressed to himself as an individual from one or two other individuals [[Lord Ellenborough rose.] Wait, continued Lord Brougham, till you hear my argument. Your's is King James's practice, and perhaps you will not decide so comfortably and so easily when you have heard my statement." The meeting, continued Lord Brougham, to which he had referred, was a different meeting from that to which the letter addressed to his noble and learned Friend referred. The petition which he presented spoke of a meeting of five, at which a petition against the Bill was carried by the smallest majority possible. The letter spoke of a meeting of eight at which there was no division. That letter was not a statement for which, if it were false, the House could punish those who made it by fine and imprisonment; it was a mere private piece of information, for which nobody could be rendered responsible. He did not mean to deny its accuracy. There might be a meeting of eight, as well as a meeting of five; at the one there might be no division, at the other there might be a division. But, be that as it might, it was not much if out of twenty-three Corporators eight only could be mustered to affix the common seal of the Corporation to the petition presented by his noble and learned Friend. He knew the consequences of the statement made by his noble and learned Friend would be, that he should, in the regular course of post, receive a counter statement, with, perhaps, another petition, praying that evidence might be heard at their Lordship' Bar, to s - certain which statement was correct—a petition which he certainly should present, if it were intrusted to him, but to which he should recommend their Lordships not to assent.

The Duke of Cleveland

presented a petition, numerously and respectably signed, from householders of Darlington, in favour of the Municipal Reform Bill. He regretted exceedingly that this petition had been placed in his hands at so late a period, for though the prayer of it was short, he was afraid that it could not now be complied with. The first part of its prayer was, that their Lordships would be pleased to pass the Bill without delay. It was his humble opinion that most improperly, and without any reason, much time had been already lost in the consideration of a measure which had not come up to them till a late period of the session. The other part of the prayer was, that their Lordships would pass it unimpaired in any of its essential features. He was apt to think, that as they had now only got to the 8th clause [A Noble Lord, to the 24th clause,]—well, then, he was apt to think, that as they had now got to the 24th clause, or about through one fifth of the Bill in the two days during which they had been in Committee, and had made such important alterations in it, the Bill would meet with some further alterations still more essential and still more detrimental in their consequences, before it had got through the Committee. It was his misfortune to have had a seat in that House longer than any Peer whom he had then the honour of seeing within its walls, and he must say that in all his experience he had never seen greater indecorum, greater impropriety, and more irregularity, than he had seen in that House during the last fifteen days. It might be irregular in him to refer to what occurred in that place on this day fortnight, yet he must be permitted to say that what then occurred must in its consequences be most detrimental to their Lordships. Their Lordships had taken ex parte evidence after a fashion which would not have been allowed in any other assembly in the kingdom, and had permitted the character of hon. and learned men, acting in the discharge of important public duties, to be attacked in their absence in a manner that was perfectly unjustifiable. He only knew one of those hon. and learned individuals, but of that individual he would say that a more honourable and virtuous man did not exist, be the other who he might. Whether the Commissioners were Whigs or Tories, or far more dreaded name—Radical, was quite indifferent to him in the observations which he was addressing to their Lordships. He had heard with surprise and indignation what had fallen from a noble Duke on the other side of the House. He had heard that that noble Duke had threatened to impeach the first Minister of the Crown. He had also heard that the noble Duke had given intimation of his intention to divide the House against going into Committee on this Bill, and that the noble Duke had relinquished his intention on the latter, as he had shrunk from his threat on the first point. He had also heard that the same noble Duke had made, with some exultation, a declaration that he had voted against the Test and Corporation Act, against the Catholic Emancipation Act, and against the Bill for the Reform of the Commons' House of Parliament. He had heard of all these things, and he must say that they had perfectly astounded him. The last of these declarations, it was true, had not astounded him as much as the other. He could suppose that the noble Duke felt some degree of sorrow, in the recollection of a common loss which they had both experienced; he alluded to the manner in which they had both been relieved from the task of nominating members for seven or eight boroughs, of which they had formerly enjoyed the command. For his own part, he did not repine at that loss, because he considered it to be for the general benefit of the country, and for the promotion of the rights of the people. The assertions to which he had just alluded really had astounded him, and he should not have mentioned them had they not formed a striking feature in the very extraordinary series of improprieties and irregularities which had taken place among their Lordships during the last fifteen days. He knew that on most occasions what he said was unworthy the notice and attention of their Lordships; he knew that he was incapable of expressing himself as he could wish upon public occasions; it was rarely, except on presenting a petition, that he presumed to offer any remarks for their Lordships' consideration, and now that he had been heard by them in so very favourable a manner, he should only add a few words more, in which he would hope and trust, and in which he would beseech and implore his noble Friend near him, as an independent man, as an independent noble, and as an independent Minister, to persevere in carrying through Parliament the measure which he (Lord Melbourne) had brought in, and which he was happy to eulogize as most likely to prove useful and beneficial to the country. He was sorry to find that many Members of that House persevered in opposing it, and he should be still more sorry if, by their perseverance in opposition to it, they should lead to a collision with the other House of Parliament.

The Duke of Newcastle

said, that as the observations which had fallen from the noble Duke had reference to what had occurred in a past debate, he should not think it worth his while to give them any answer. The noble Duke had thought fit to advert to what he supposed were the reasons of his opposition to the Reform Bill. Now, upon that point he would merely say that he had been relieved by the Reform Bill from very great care with regard to the boroughs in question. It was on public principle, and not from any feelings of private interest, that he had opposed the Reform Bill. He could only say that he had never profited by his boroughs. His dukedom, at least, had not been gained by his boroughs, and with that remark he should close the conversation.

The Duke of Cleveland

said, that in answer to the insinuation of the noble Duke—[Cries of "Spoke, spoke."] He appealed to the justice of their Lordships, whether they ought not to hear him after what had just fallen from the noble Duke. The noble Duke had replied to him; and he might be, perhaps, permitted to say, in consequence of that reply, that he had not intended in what he uttered to say any thing personal to the noble Duke. Neither had he meant to take any credit personally to himself. He had no doubt that the noble Duke had acted as purely and as conscientiously as he had himself done. "But," continued the Duke of Cleveland, "when the noble Duke asserted that I got my dukedom by my boroughs," [The Duke Newcastle—I said no such thing.] The noble Duke made such an insinuation, however, and therefore I here protest before the House, and I also protest before God and my country, that I derived no advantage in honours, or in any other way, from sacrificing my boroughs to the public good. I never asked for anything—I never applied for anything, directly or indirectly, for what I did on that subject. The honours which I have received were the free gift of my most gracious Sovereign, and were not conferred on me for any compromise, which would have robbed them of all their worth both to the giver and to the receiver.

Petition laid on the table.