HL Deb 29 June 1837 vol 38 cc1685-7
The Earl of Mansfield

remarked, that the noble and learned Lord had lost no time in preparing this measure, not being deterred by any false notions of delicacy from reminding the Sovereign of that common failing to which prince and peasant were alike exposed, and at the same time not relying too confidently on those anticipations which, if events turned out consonant to our wishes, in all probability would not occur. In providing, however, for that possible event, a demise of the Crown, and the circumstances in which the nation might be placed by that event, he would suggest to the noble Viscount opposite the propriety of taking into his consideration the policy of continuing that Act by which Parliament was not dissolved by the death of the Sovereign, but must sit, unless previously dissolved or prorogued, for six months only. He would submit to the noble Viscount the propriety of taking into his consideration whether any advantage had been gained through that enactment for the country. He did not propose to alter that law at present by a separate Bill, or to ingraft a provision to that effect on the Bill which the noble and learned Lord meant to propose for a second reading on Monday. He had found, however, in addressing persons on this subject, the inconveniences of the present law generally recognized. The noble Viscount admitted, that when a dissolution was once settled it was impossible to retain Members of Parliament in London, and in this way much public business was interrupted in its progress. Now, whether or not this disadvantage was counterbalanced by other advantages, he should not then inquire. This alteration might now be proposed with perfect propriety. Parliament was about to be dissolved, and it could not be objected to this Parliament that it had prolonged its own existence, which objection was made to the Parliament which passed the Septennial Act. Again, there was, he was happy to say, a prospect of a long reign, and therefore it was a subject which, inviting as it did, and claiming consideration, might yet not lead to a protracted discussion, which he admitted to be inconvenient. It was not his wish to elicit any answer from the noble Viscount at this moment. He felt that the alteration which he had suggested in the law would be beneficial to the country, and therefore he had thrown it out for the noble Viscount's consideration, although he fervently hoped that he should never live to witness its operation.

Viscount Melbourne

said, the noble Earl had stated reasons why the present was the best time for making the alteration the noble Earl proposed, but he could not help thinking that there were reasons on the other side which made him still more doubtful as to the prudence and propriety of making it at all. Whether it were right or wrong, it would be a great constitutional alteration—a great change—an infringement upon popular power and popular rights—a change which would deprive the people of an opportunity of expressing the popular will—and he therefore felt exceedingly doubtful whether it would be prudent to take this occasion of making the alteration suggested. In a Parliament, the expiration of which was settled and doomed, a fitting and proper opportunity could hardly be found for the discussion of so great a change and alteration in the law. It must be recollected that such a proposition would be interfering with the question of the duration of Parliaments, a question on which there existed a strong popular feeling. He would put it, therefore, to the noble Earl, whether there would not be some imprudence in stirring up a question which might lead to so much discussion, and whether there might not be some doubt whether the present was the most prudent or fitting time to make so great an alteration in the law.

Conversation terminated.

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