Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

Parliament, the counties, and counties of cities, and towns, together with the University, return 84 members, and that the remaining 216 are returned by boroughs and manors.

Resolved, "That the state of the representation of the people in Parliament requires amendment.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer opposed the resolutions, on the ground that they tended to lower the character of the House of Commons; the Parliament had corrected certain abuses, the octennial bill, and the mode of determining contested elections, had effected a useful reformation. Under the present system, the prosperity of the country had increased; and the measures adopted in 1782, showed that the Parliament were disposed to favour the rights of the people. He accordingly moved, by way of amendment, the following resolutions :-

". That if any plan shall be proposed which shall promise additional benefits, without bazarding the advantages that we at present enjoy, it shall be considered to be entitled to the most serious attention of the committee."

“ That, under the present order of representation, the privileges of the people have been extended; and that the agriculture, the trade, and the commerce of the nation have been promoted.”

The amendment was supported by Mr. Hobart, Mr. Barrington, Mr. Denis Brown, Sir John Blaquiere, and Mr. Bushe. Mr. Robert Stewart (afterwards Lord Castlereagh) recommended the adoption of Mr. Grattan's motion : he said reform was necessary in both kingdoms, but more particularly in Ireland. "It occurred to him, that it would be a good plan of reform to give the electors of counties a power of returning all the members now chosen within the county for boroughs, allowing, however, to each elector a voice only for one member: he was against an internal reform, without an external one ;'it was founded in reason and justice, and would ultimately establish itself. The provost (Mr. Hutchinson, secretary of state) maintained the necessity of reform; the independence of Parliament had been subverted by the house of Stuart; King James made forty boroughs at one stroke, most of them on the eve of a new Parliament, and some after the writs of summons had issued, and the measure was so doubtful in its character, that Parliament conceived these boroughs had no power to return members to sit in the House; he supported Mr. Grattan's motion, and recommended the House to proceed in the business with caution. Mr. Duquery, Mr. Ponsonby, Mr. Forbes, and Mr. Curran, also supported Mr. Grattan's motion; they maintained the urgent necessity of yielding to the request of the people. Government had augmented the army 3000 men, then 5000 men; they introduced a bill for regulating the carriage and keeping of arms and ammunition: these were strong measures; and if the circumstances of the country required them, they should be tempered by Jenient and popular measures likewise.

Mr. GRATTAN, in reply, said : The right honourable gentleman has called the submitted resolution a libel on

Parliament, hoping, no doubt, that I should have introduced some strong and indecorous resolutions, which would have given them an opportunity of opposing the principle of the reform in Parliament, under the colour of maintaining its reputation; but I have so framed the resolutions that none of them directly go to degrade this House, at the same time that they do most certainly arraign the practices and defects which attend the representation. The first resolution strikes directly at the sale of boroughs; it does indeed strike at the expenses of elections, but it does also and directly strike at the sale of boroughs; and for so much corrects one great vice in your representation, without correcting which, it is in vain to think of correcting the others. Gentlemen have said, this motion is the subject of an election bill; an election bill that compassed this part of the subject would be, for so much, a reform bill. I confess, I think the motion is but little understood; it is not conceived to reach the sale of boroughs. The words, “payments for returns to serve in Parliament,” mean more than expenses at elections; and for that reason they are inserted : they go directly to the root of the sale of boroughs; and the reason why I began with this part of the subject is, because you have as strong evidence as you can have, or would receive, touching the sale of boroughs; you would not receive public proof, and you have already internal conviction of that abuse; therefore you cannot say against this resolution what you will be too willing to say against the others, that you have no proof.

This resolution then puts the question directly to your breast, are you or are you not an enemy to the reform of Parliament? If you resist this motion, it is not because you want evidence, for you have all the evidence this part of the subject admits of; it is not because you exact respect for the existing constitution, for this measure is drawn up in terms of unquestionable decorum, so it is because you are not yet sincere on the subject.

The other two resolutions go to the inadequacy of the representation; the first states, proportions of which you have had proof these many years, and the third, from that resolution infers, that the state of your representation requires amendment; here I am under difficulties; if on the one hand to arraign, or on the other hand to leave unquestioned the present state of your House of Commons. I have taken what I think a decorous part. I have questioned its defects respectfully, without disappointing those who only wish a reform, or gratifying those who wish the degradation of Parliament. If you pass these resolutions, you must re

form the representation ; but I see from the opposition to the first, the propriety of keeping back the last; for if the committee will not go so far as to say that sale of boroughs are an abuse, it will not say the representation is defective; the truth is, the committee will say nothing on the subject; but it is in vain to parry it; you must reform Parliament, and you must do it this session; you have gone too far to go back. I look upon the reform of Parliament as a measure of absolute necessity, and if you resist us in one shape, we will return in twenty, until at last this great point is achieved for the country. The amendment

The amendment of the right honourable member proposes, that if a

that if a plan, such as the amendment describes, is submitted, the committee will consider it. The right honourable gentlemen forgets that the committee is appointed to inquire into the state of the representation only. The amending that state by a specific plan, is the business most honourably and disinterestedly occupied by another right honourable member*, whom I wish on this subject not to come across, but follow and assist; were I to come with a specific plan to this committee, I should be guilty of attempting to do by the instrument of the committee, what he will do by the bill

, propound a plan of reform; it is my object, therefore, in this committee to pledge you to the business, and to speed it so as that it may be completed this session of Parliament. Those gentlemen who are most impatient for a specific plan, are impatient for it in order to attack the principle, under pretence of cavilling with the plan; no, Sir; but when gentlemen are sufficiently embarked in the principle, then will be the proper time for producing a plan.

The right honourable gentlemen in his amendment, invites you indeed to produce a plan, but, at the same time, tells you it is unnecessary; for the House of Commons, in the present state of representation, has done every thing which your trade and your constitution require; and under pretence of defending the character of Parliament, he suggests the practical excellence of your present representation ; his amendment, therefore, goes against the reform of Parliament; but, fearing such an amendment is too strong, he softens it afterwards, and says, it is true if you can find what he thinks you cannot; such a plan of reform as shall secure you all your advantages, and give you more than indeed he will. What! adopt it! - No; consider it. Who will consider? not the House, but a committee appointed to another purpose -- for the purpose of enquiring into the state of the representation, not framing a bill for the reform of Parliament; so that his amendment is objectionable for its informality as well as its contents. He cannot propose it in the committee, and he ought not to propose it in the House; and proposed in either, it injures the great question to which we are all attentive, and most of us pledged - the reform of Parliament.

* Mr. W. B. Ponsonby.

Mr. Marcus Beresford moved the question of adjournment, on which the House divided : Ayes 153, Noes 71 ; Majority 82. Tellers for the Ayes, Mr. M. Beresford; for the Noes, Mr. Robert Stewart (afterwards Lord Castlereagh).

PARLIAMENTARY REFORM.

MR. FORBES'S MOTION REGARDING THE STATE OF THE

REPRESENTATION.

February 19. 1793.

ON this day Mr. Forbes brought forward his motion on the

subject of parliamentary reform: he urged its necessity in the strongest manner; his opinion was not single, that the peace and tranquillity of the country required it. Parliament did not fairly represent the public sentiment; the people were well aware of this; and, for the purpose of showing the necessity of the measure, he would move for evidence; and proposed this resolution :-“That the returning-officers, town-clerks, or the persons to whom are entrusted the custody of the books of the corporations in the boroughs of this kingdom, do either return to this House a list of the number of the electors in their respective boroughs, and of the qualifications entitling persons to exercise the elective franchise in such boroughs respectively, or do attend this House on this day fortnight, and bring with them such books or papers as may enable them to inform this House respecting the aforesaid particulars."

The motion was opposed by Sir Hercules Langrishe, Mr. Bushe, the Attorney-general (Mr. Wolfe), Mr. Barrington, Mr. Stanley, and Mr. Beresford; it was supported by Mr. Connolly, Mr. Du. query, Mr. Burton Conyngham, and Mr. F. Hutchinson: they maintained, that not merely the tranquillity, but the prosperity of the country required a reform in Parliament; if the books were on the table of the House, they would have evidence for the committee to establish notorious facts relative to the defects in the representation. Mr. Stewart (afterwards Lord Castlereagh) censured the administration for having first granted a committee, and then refusing to enquire; the vices of the system pursued by the government had driven the public mind into a state of agitation; and if the people were suffered to pore over those vices, it would be impossible, in times like these, to foresee what follies they might not adopt.

as

Mr. GRATTAN said : Sir, Gentlemen object to the motion on three grounds, first, that it is an attack on corporate rights; secondly, that it is an attack on the character of Parliament; and, thirdly, that reform of Parliament at this time is dangerous. As to the first, they have forgotten that the calling for the books of the corporations, is a power which the court of King's Bench daily exercise: may not the grand inquest of the nation do the same? It is exercised when the right of any corporation is questioned, and the meaning of entrics in corporation-books is that the proceedings of corporations may be examined; you institute a committee to enquire into the state of your representation; and you tell that committee, that it is not to enquire into the state of the boroughs; and the reason you give is, that the corporationbooks, although open to the courts of justice, are to the grand inquest shut. You tell us that we may discover in such a search, not only that the electors are few, but that some of the integral parts of the corporation are destroyed; and, therefore, you say we should not enquire, so that you advance

an argument against proceeding to question decayed boroughs, their possible legal dissolution, as well as their inadequate and defective population. You say, do not enquire as you intended; for if you do, you may find that those boroughs, which return the majority of this House, are actually in law dissolved; and this is your argument to stop, not to quicken the proceedings of this House to reform the representation.

Gentlemen object to this resolution on a second ground; they say it is an attack on the existing constitution of the House of Commons, and they oppose it by. assuring you, that the existing constitution is too defective to be discussed, lest, on an examination, you should find the majority of those boroughs who send the majority of this house to Parliament, not only decayed but dissolved; and they add, that an enquiry is unnecessary, because the facts are notorious; and lest you should not know the facts, the gentlemen themselves proclaimed them. They have said that it is notorious that these boroughs do contain very few voters indeed: that the inadequacy of your representation must be acknowledged; and then they desire you not to stir any resolution which questions the excellence of your present existing constitution ; so that, according to this reasoning, you are not to enquire into the state of your representation, because its dignity is too sacred, and its defects are too notorious; and this language is accompanied by an exhortation from these gentlemen to impress the

people with a respect for the present House of Commons. They have on two different days combated resolutions tending to reform the House of Commons; they

« ForrigeFortsett »