§ Lord Eastnor rose to present a petition, signed by nearly 400 of the Nobility, Clergy, Gentry, and other inhabitants of Worcestershire, upon the subject of Reform. He thought it fair to presume, looking at the names of the petitioners, that in them was comprised a large portion of the property in that county. The petitioners stated their entire approval of the conscientious rejection of the late Reform Bill by the House of Peers, and they also expressed their regret that such a measure of Reform had not been introduced as would have preserved the institutions of the country, and have prevented that great excitement which prevailed on the subject, which, if not allayed in time by wise and temperate measures, must prove ruinous to the empire generally. The petitioners said, they were not insensible to the altered circumstances of the times, and to the reasonable demands for a temperate Reform, but they thought that under the name of Reform, measures had been introduced which were calculated to destroy a part of the Constitution, by affecting the independence of the two branches of the Legislature. The petitioners concluded by praying, that the Government would maintain the laws with firmness and dignity, that it would execute them with impartiality, and put down all political associations which were incompatible with the safety of the best institutions of the country, for in their opinions, by these means alone could the lives and properties of the King's subjects be efficiently protected. He most fully concurred in the sentiments expressed by the petitioners. It was impossible to read the signatures which were attached to the petition, without being sensible that a large proportion of the county of Worcester was not in favour of the Reform Bill which had lately passed that House, and he feared there were many who entertained similar opinions, but were deterred from expressing them from an apprehension of suffering from a system of intimidation and incendiarism which he regretted to say now prevailed. Many more 324 had been misled by the delusive notions which some advocates for the Bill entertained and propagated with great industry. He therefore for one did hope, that such ameliorations would now be made as would conciliate all classes who were anxious for the welfare of the people, and would give satisfaction to the country at large.
Sir John Sebright
begged to ask the noble Lord if the petition had been agreed to at a public meeting?
Sir John Sebright
had no doubt, that many very respectable persons might be found in Worcestershire to put their names to an Anti-reform petition; but from all the communications he had received from that county (and he was much connected with it), he denied that the petition spoke the opinions of the majority of the inhabitants. He would instance in favour of his assertion the fact that an hon. friend of his, entirely unconnected with the county, was returned at the last election, solely because he was a Reformer. He begged to protest most strongly against the petition being supposed to contain the sentiments of the inhabitants of Worcestershire.
confidently asserted, there was not a better or more peaceably disposed population in England, than that of Worcestershire. As an allusion had been made to the fear of incendiarism being entertained by those who dared to express an opinion unfavourable to Reform, he begged to state, that during last year only one fire took place in Worcestershire, and in that case punishment overtook the offender. He resided in that county, and his noble friend did not, and therefore he was better able to state the opinions of the inhabitants than his noble friend. He had attended the public meeting in Worcestershire, and could state, that the strongest feeling was manifested to have a full and effectual Reform carried. If there was a Tory county in Great Britain, Worcestershire was that county. Many ancient families of large possessions were Anti-reformers, but not one of them ventured to come to the public meeting and avow his opinions. The petition had laid for signature some weeks, and after all about 400 only had signed it, whereas, from what he knew of the county, he should have expected to see at least 1,000. In point of numbers the petition was, certainly, very insignificant, whatever it might be in point of respectability.
§ Mr. Robinson
as Representative for the city of Worcester, could state, that there was a very inconsiderable number of persons either in the city or county opposed to all Reform. At the same time he was ready to admit there were many persons some of whom were men of the highest respectability, who objected to the specific measure which had lately passed that House; but both these classes were a small minority compared with the number of inhabitants who were in favour of it. The principles of Reform were so deeply rooted in that county, that a very amiable and gallant candidate was beaten at the last election by a Reformer, who was a stranger to the county. That fact alone was a complete answer to the charge of there being many Anti-reformers in Worcestershire. As to the statement made by the noble Lord, that persons were afraid to declare their sentiments from a system of terror which shewed itself in the destruction of property—he had no knowledge of the fact, and he doubted its existence. And with regard to the effects likely to be produced by the proposed Bill, he believed that its principles embodied the opinions of by far the greatest portion of the enlightened public. As it was evident some Reform must be conceded, that undoubtedly was the safest which had for its support the majority of the thinking people of the country. In his opinion the minority would do well to come into the views of the majority, and together support a measure which by their combined efforts to uphold it, would effectually check the desire for further innovation, and most materially tend to pacify the country.
§ Mr. John T. Hope
said, he rejoiced to hear, that the advocates for the late measure had at length discovered that there were many respectable persons opposed to their plan. He would assert, that the results of the last election were not a fair proof of the present feelings of the inhabitants of Worcester, or any other county, on the Reform question, as, subsequent to the last general election, a great change had taken place in the minds of many persons.
§ Lord Eastnor
begged leave to say, as from several remarks made by hon. Members, he feared that he had not made himself understood, that he had never asserted that the petition expressed the sentiments of the majority of the people of Worcestershire. What he had said was, that although it was signed by but 400 persons, yet it nevertheless represented the opinions of a considerable proportion of the property of 326 that county, and that it proved what was the prevailing opinion among a certain class of persons. He had avoided alluding to the proposed measure except by the general observation that many persons were not favourable to the main principles of that Bill. The hon. member for the city of Worcester had thought proper to taunt him and his friends with not venturing to shew their faces at public meetings convened for the consideration of the subject of Reform. In reply to this he would simply say, that several persons had agreed to assemble at Worcester, for the purpose of expressing their approbation of the conduct of Colonel Lygon, the late Member, but previous to the intended meeting they were informed, that the public peace might be endangered by the excitement which such a meeting would create, and the consequence was, that the intention was abandoned. Some other parties had then called a Reform meeting, which those who had endeavoured to get up the former feared in return would be infinitely more dangerous to the public peace, and their anticipations were correct, for nothing but the excellent arrangements of the Magistrates, and the timely arrival of the military, prevented the same tragedy at Worcester, which was subsequently acted at Bristol. The hon. Member vaunted of the peaceable inhabitants of Worcester, he did not deny, that they generally deserved that character, but he affirmed, the serious disturbances which afterwards prevailed grew out of the county meeting. He had made these remarks to justify his own conduct and that of the petitioners, and he hoped his object was obtained.
must deny, that the disturbances of the 5th of November at Worcester grew out of the county meeting. He believed they took their rise from a fire which broke out in the night between that day and the following. With respect to another of the noble Lord's observations, he must still declare, that the petition did not even represent the opinions of the majority of the property of the county.
§ Petition to be printed.
presented a petition from a body of persons calling themselves members of the National Political Union in Council assembled against any clause of the Reform Bill which should require the payment of rent or taxes as qualifications to vote for Members to serve in Parliament. He had always declined to become a member of these Unions, because he found attending his duties in that House quite sufficient, 327 therefore he could say no more of the parties who had signed this petition, than that, as members of such a Union, he believed they had conducted themselves with propriety. The petitioners stated, that from their own knowledge, being most of them electors for Westminster, the making of the payment of rates a criterion for voting had, from their own experience, and upon general principles, led to bribery and corruption. They inferred this from what had taken place in Westminster in the case of certain candidates whom they were prepared to name. There was the famous case that was argued before the King's Bench, in which it was proved that the rate collector, at the expense of about 5l. 5s. a day had attended on the hustings, on the part of one of the candidates, an undertaking having been given, that the rates due by those who voted for him should be paid. The candidate went first, and the rate collector followed to threaten the poor electors with distraint if they did not vote for that candidate. He entirely concurred in the prayer of the petition, and he implored the noble Lord opposite to take the reasoning of this petition into his consideration. The petitioners did not object to property, or the occupancy of a house of 10l. being made the criterion for a vote, but only to the payment of rates and taxes, as leading to bribery and corruption.
§ Mr. John Wood
cordially supported the prayer of the petition. It was his opinion, that if the suggestion of the petitioners was adopted it would very much improve the Bill. As far as the right of voting went, it ought to be of no consequence whatever, whether the elector had paid his rates or not. As to the rent, that was an obligation existing between landlord and tenant. Rates were also a contract between the Government and the voters, and neither of these obligations had, strictly speaking, any connexion with the right of voting.
said, he did not understand how the prayer of the petition could be supported, without upsetting the whole intent of the Bill.
said, the occupancy of a house was a sufficient guarantee for the competency of the voters. He certainly agreed with the petitioners in thinking that if electors were required to pay up their rates and rent, it would open the door to many abuses.
§ Mr. Hunt
said, he understood the payment of rent was not a necessary qualification, 328 and so far the hon. member for Louth was at fault: but with regard to the payment of King's taxes, Westminster was not the only place where this qualification had been made the means of bribery and corruption. This provision of the Bill he very much objected to on that account.
§ The question being put, that the petition be brought up,
Sir Robert Peel
said, that before the petition was brought up, he must beg leave to call the attention of the House more particularly to it. The petition professed to be the petition of the members of the Council of a Society called the National Political Union, in Council assembled, and it appeared to him impossible for the House to recognise such a body. He therefore felt it his duty, as many other petitions of the same nature might be presented, to call the attention of the House to the point, which appeared to him to be of considerable importance, particularly when he referred to his Majesty's proclamation, for although he was not prepared to say whether or not this particular body came within the scope of that proclamation, yet, as such a proclamation had been issued from the highest authority in the State, mentioning that Societies under the denomination of Political Unions had been found contrary to the letter and the spirit of the law, he thought the House ought to be careful how it contravened that law by recognising the acts of any such Societies. He was of opinion that the House could not receive a petition from those parties, except as the petition of the individuals. When they addressed the House as members of the Council of a Political Union, in Council assembled, the House ought to be cautious how it gave a sanction to the petition of persons assuming such a title.
said, that although on many occasions petitions were presented, from persons claiming to sign them as members of certain Societies, the House had never objected to receive them on that account. It was as the petition of the individuals that he presented the present petition. He was not aware that any illegal act had been committed by the members of the Union; on the contrary, he believed that they had not infringed on any Act of Parliament.
Sir Robert Peel
said, he had disclaimed saying that they had been guilty of any illegal act; but the petition expressly set forth that it was the petition of members of the Council of a Political Union, in 329 Council assembled. His Majesty's proclamation which he had sent for immediately on seeing the title of the petition, described the illegal Unions as consisting of members subject to the control and direction of a superior Committee or Council. He therefore thought that the House ought to be cautious not to give a body which might fall under that designation the power of approaching it.
§ Lord Althorp
said, he entirely concurred with the right hon. Baronet, that the House ought to be very cautious, not to do any thing, in receiving petitions, which might encourage or recognise the existence of any of the Societies to which his Majesty's proclamation referred. The proclamation referred to societies composed of regular gradations, and different classes of members, under the supreme guidance of a Council. He was not aware exactly what the constitution of this society was, but he did not believe that it was one of those societies which contravened the proclamation. The present was not the time at which it would be convenient to discuss the question whether such societies were advantageous or not. The question before the House was, whether there was any thing in the form of this petition which would make it necessary for the House to reject it; and he did not think that it would be expedient to adopt that course unless they were imperatively called upon by the forms of the House to do so. The petition stated, that it was the petition of the undersigned members of the Council of the Political Union, in Council assembled. Now it did not profess to be the petition of the Council itself; and if it were not the petition of a body which the House ought not to recognise, he thought it would not be expedient to reject it. He admitted, that the case was one which was liable to some degree of doubt; but he was not disposed at any time to be captious as to petitions presented to the House, and he thought that the present might be received as the petition of the individuals.
§ Mr. James E. Gordon
said, that the distinction which the noble Lord had attempted to draw between the members of a Political Council and the Council itself was a mere evasion, and an insult to common sense and to the House.
Sir Robert Inglis
said, according to the dictum of the noble Lord, if a petition were presented from the Mayor, Aldermen, and Common Council of any city, in Common Council assembled, such a petition would 330 not be that of the Corporation. He trusted the House would not tolerate such evasions, and he regretted that the noble Lord had endeavoured to make them.
would, with the leave of the House, withdraw the petition for the present, but not with the intention of withdrawing it wholly, for he would present it on a future day.
Sir Robert Peel
would meet the proposition of the hon. Gentleman in the spirit in which he made it, and would not oppose the withdrawing the Motion, although he might do so.
§ Petition withdrawn.