The Marquis of Lansdown
, in presenting a Petition from Glasgow, praying for Parliamentary Reform, was understood to state that he was anxious to say a few words to their Lordships. He had been intrusted with several petitions, which he was accidentally prevented from presenting on a former evening, by the speech of the noble and learned Lord then on the Woolsack, respecting the introduction of the Regency Bill; and he trusted that even now, after having been raised to office, he might stand excused in presenting petitions, which expressed an anxiety more or less strong for Parliamentary Reform, if he stated the terms on which he would have previously promoted this measure. There was no noble Lord then present who could be more desirous than he was to preserve our settled institutions; but with respect to these petitions, he was bound to state, that so far he agreed with the sentiments they professed, as to be of opinion that some amendment was necessary in the representation of the people of this country; and he trusted that when they were called to the consideration of this most important and anxious subject, they would take care that no supposed amendment should be made for the sake of change, but that the change made should be, in fact, a substantial improvement. He felt that in stating that some amendment in the representation was necessary, he was borne out by the present condition of the constituency of the country. When he looked to the great interests—commercial and manufacturing, consisting as they did of large bodies of well-informed and enlightened persons, which had been called into existence by the prosperity of the country, by the increased diffusion of wealth, and by the progress of science and discovery—when 605 he recollected that those great and useful bodies were without direct connexion with the Legislature (on which direct connexion, for all classes of the people, he believed the safety—nay, even the existence of the Constitution depended,) he could not bring himself to think Reform unnecessary, and the more especially when he considered that there were parts of the country which had not a share amounting to the shadow of a shade in the representation. He was, therefore, a friend to amendment in the representative system; but, with all his feelings in favour of improvement, he was prepared, for one, to say, that there was no Reform in Parliament which did not leave to the property and knowledge of the country— those two great elements of civilized society—a share, and he would even say, a preponderating share, in the representation; there was no such Reform which, as an honest man, he could recommend or support. But, for the reasons he had stated, the subject would be one of anxious deliberation to Parliament; and perhaps he might be allowed to take that opportunity of declaring, that however flattered and honoured he might have felt himself by the gracious kindness of his Majesty, in raising him to a place in his councils, yet he could not, in justice to himself, have availed himself of his Majesty's confidence and condescension, if he had not had reason to confide both in the inclination and the means of his noble friend now at the head of the Government—if he had not reason to place entire confidence in the assurance that he would turn his powerful mind, not only to the question of Parliamentary Reform, but to many other considerations which now pressed upon the attention of the Administration, at a time of great emergency. Having now stated what his feelings were, and the confidence he had in the intentions of his noble friend, he had only to add, that he would turn his mind to this subject, and endeavour, as far as in him lay, to do justice to the people, and preserve the institutions of the country. The noble Marquis concluded by presenting the petition.
§ Earl Grey
then spoke to the following effect:—My Lords, I have heard, with much satisfaction, what has been just said by my noble friend; and, my Lords, I feel inclined to take the occasion of what has fallen from him, to state very shortly, 606 which I hope will not be unbecoming in me, the principles upon which I, in obedience to his Majesty's commands, have accepted the high office to which, in the most kind and gracious manner, he has been pleased to call me, and in which my best services are due. My Lords, on the very important subject to which the petition refers, it cannot be necessary for me to say much: My opinions on this question have been long made known to your Lordships, and have been explained, both to your Lordships and the country, on more than one occasion. It is not long since I felt called on, indeed, again to explain them at some length to your Lordships in the debate which took place on the first day of this Session. I then stated, and I now repeat my conviction that it is necessary that the Government (by whom alone the question can be satisfactorily taken up and settled) should take into immediate consideration the state of the representation, with a view to the correction of those defects which have been occasioned in it by the operation of time, and with a view to the re-establishment of that confidence upon the part of the people, which I am afraid Parliament does not at present enjoy to the full extent that is essential for the welfare and safety of the country and the preservation of the Government. I said, too, my Lords, at the same time, and I now repeat it, that I will not support any of those fanciful and extensive plans which are supported by persons out of doors, and which would lead, not to reform, but to confusion. I do not support—I never have supported universal suffrage and annual Parliaments, nor any other of those very extensive changes which have been, I regret to say, too much promulgated in this country, and promulgated by gentlemen from whom better things might have been expected. I wish to stand upon the true principles of the Constitution, but some Reform being | necessary—the principle on which I wish | to regulate it, and I am sure your Lord-! ships cannot fail to see, that to fix that principle is a task of no slight difficulty— the principle, my Lords, which I should lay down to regulate Reform, will be to do as much as may be necessary to secure to the people their due influence in the great council in which they are more particularly represented, and by that means to restore satisfaction and confidence in the decision of the Legislature, without, which the 607 Government cannot proceed in comfort and safety. Reform to this extent my Lords,—and if it be not carried to this ex-tent, it will be inefficient—I wish to see effect-ed, but effected with due and fitting regard to the settled institutions of the country. The earnest desire to embark in sudden change, which must inevitably produce disturbance, I do not share—on the contrary, I reject it utterly. My Lords, I do not know that it is necessary for me to say any more on the subject. These observations are undoubtedly of a very general nature, but it is obviously impossible for me now to lay before your Lordships the details of any plan. Suffice it, therefore, for me to say, in general terms, that I acknowledge the necessity of a Reform in the Representation, and that it is my anxious wish to regulate that Reform in such a manner as to restore confidence and satisfaction upon the part of the people without interfering with anything that exists in conformity to the established principles of the Constitution. I am not disposed to meddle with the settled institutions of the country, and I am altogether averse to those fanciful alterations, which, if they could be carried into effect, would produce no result excepting that of occasioning a lamentable collision between the several orders of the State, the firm union and mutual interests of which it will ever be my object to maintain. So much, my Lords, with regard to this subject, on which it will be only necessary for me to add, that before I endeavoured to unite all those, whom I considered most likely to advance the interests of the country, to myself, in his Majesty's Councils, I had his most gracious sanction to be allowed, at a proper period, to submit a measure of this nature and with this object, for the approval of his Majesty, who has authorised me to declare at a proper period, that to the principle of such a measure he is not opposed; but I am sure your Lordships will, at once, understand that notwithstanding the most extensive industry upon our part, the question is one not lightly to be taken up, being, as it is, one requiring much time and consideration. Besides, my Lords, the load of official business to which we shall be subjected, must be such that I cannot be expected, at this moment, to have any specific motion to submit, or to be able to submit a complete plan on so complicated a subject at a few short hours notice. 608 My Lords, there are one or two other subjects on which I conceive it will be becoming in me to say a few words We have succeeded to the administration of affairs in a season of unparalleled difficulty. All I can say is, that to the subject of the motion for Monday next, to which I am first naturally attracted by the observations of the noble Baron, all I can say is, that I look to it with the utmost anxiety, from the reference it bears to the labouring classes, and the whole situation of the country. It is only within the last three hours that my colleagues and I have been installed in our respective offices as Members of his Majesty's Government, and we have yet had no access to official documents, and have received no information respecting the measures which have been pursued by our predecessors. Under these circumstances, I can only promise that the state of the country shall be made the object of our immediate, our diligent and unceasing attention—of our first and most anxious attention; for there is nothing my Lords which so imperatively calls for the most unceasing and diligent attention on the part of the Government as the present state of the labouring classes, in several of the agricultural districts. I have, therefore, my Lords, summoned a council for this evening, to consider what may be done with greatest speed and effect. To relieve the distress which now so unhappily exists in different parts of the country, will be the first and most anxious object of our deliberations; but I here declare for myself (and in doing so, I also speak for my colleagues)—I declare that it is my determined resolution, wherever outrages are perpetrated, or excesses committed, to suppress them with severity and vigour. Severity is, in the first instance, the only remedy which can be applied to such disorders with success; and which can guard against the future recurrence of them. Although we are most anxious to relieve the distress of the people who are suffering, let them, therefore, be well assured they shall find no want of firm resolution upon our part to repress criminal designs, and to punish the guilty. I am desirous, then, my Lords, that the people—though God forbid I should bring so groundless a charge against the people of England, or attribute to them feelings and conduct in which alone a small portion of the people in some of the districts indulge— 609 I am desirous, my Lords, that that portion of the people should be told, that the effect of their proceedings is this—that while they complain of want of employment, they destroy the very means by which they will be benefitted; and I am desirous that they should learn, that the Government, although it commiserates their situation, is firmly resolved not to connive at their excesses. So far, my Lords, respecting our most pressing domestic concerns; but there is another subject closely, I might say intimately, connected with the distress of the people, to which I will advert. My Lords, to reduce all unnecessary expense is the firm resolution of myself and my colleagues, maintaining, however, all that is positively required for the support and service of the Government, while we cut off with an unsparing hand all that is not demanded for the interests, the honour, and the welfare of the country. We have, since our appointment to Office, already resolved to cut off some places about which there has been a discussion elsewhere; but do not suppose, that we take credit to ourselves for effecting so trifling a reduction, or that we limit our views to such insignificant reduction. No, my Lords, every part of the Government is open to consideration and revision; and I can assure your Lordships that future reductions shall be made with unflinching severity, and with all the care and diligence which we can apply to the subject. Connected with the question of economy and retrenchment is doubtless that of maintaining the public credit, and on this I will merely observe, that it is at once our interest and our most sacred duty, and it shall be our object, to support public credit by all means in our power. The only other point which it remains for me to touch upon, and on which it may be satisfactory to your Lordships to receive some explanation, is our relations with Foreign Powers, and the line of policy which the present Administration means to pursue. On this, as on the other branches into which I have divided my statement, I must say, that hitherto we have had no means of knowing what has been done upon this subject by any of our predecessors. But, my Lords, I now repeat in office what I before stated as my opinion out of office, that the first object, interest, and duty, of the British Government, ought to be, to 610 maintain peace by all means consistent with the honour of the country. Our true policy is, to maintain universal peace, and therefore non-interference is the princilpe,—the great principle which ought to be and will be heartily adopted by the present administration. I cannot say more, not knowing what has been the course pursued by my predecessors; but in looking to the means by which peace may be preserved, we must also look to the maintenance of our connection with the Powers with whom we are in alliance. It must be the care of the new Government, as I have no doubt it was of the old, to maintain a proper connection with our allies, for the purpose of amicably seeding all questions which may be likely to disturb the repose of Europe. Some solicitude may be felt in consequence of the events lately passed in France, but with that country I trust we shall be able to hold the most friendly relations. Between these two great and powerful nations, standing on the same principles of public liberty, and influenced by the same high and honourable motives, and by the same desire to promote each its own prosperity and happiness, I trust the union, arising from community of sentiment and feeling, will be the closest and the most enduring. Their common interest will, I hope, teach them to seek and to promote each the welfare and the happiness of the other, and cautiously to avoid all views of aggrandizement and ambition, which might endanger the stability of both empires, and disturb the peace of the civilized world. These, my Lords, are the views of his Majesty's Government. To sum up in a few words the principles on which I stand, they will, I trust, be found to be these—Amelioration of Abuses—Promotion of the most rigid Economy—and every endeavour to preserve peace consistently with the honour of the country. Under these principles I have undertaken a task, to which I have not the affectation or presumption to state that I am equal. I am arrived at a time of life, my Lords, when retirement and repose are more to be desired than that active and anxious exertion to which I shall be subjected in the high office to which my gracious Sovereign has been pleased to call me. And I can assure your Lordships that I should not have engaged in this arduous task had I not found, and I may be permitted to say 611 thus much without incurring the charge of vanity or arrogance, as it arises from no merits of my own, but rather to accidental circumstances, had I not found that if I did not submit to the will of the Sovereign such an Administration as I could support, and as I thought necessary to the country in its present circumstances could not be formed. My Lords, I remembered my age and my limited capabilities, but I was aware that if I declined the task which had been allotted to me, there was reason to fear the attempt to form a new Administration might have failed altogether. Urged, therefore, my Lords, by considerations of public duty to attempt that to which I am not equal, the government of the country at this momentous crisis, my only trust is in the support of this House and of the public, and above all, in the gracious kindness and confidence of his Majesty, which alone can safely carry me through the difficulties with which I am surrounded. With this support I am ready to attempt all things for the service of the country—looking always to the principles on which I have demanded this support, and claiming now that indulgence which may be well and justly accorded to an Administration formed under such circumstances, and so recently completed. If hereafter it shall be found that I cannot execute what I have undertaken—if I cannot conduct the public affairs in a manner satisfactory to those from whom I claim support—if it be proved that I am unable to bear the load I have essayed to carry, I shall be willing and ready to resign into his Majesty's hands that power which he has so graciously, so kindly, and so confidingly submitted to me, in a manner which displayed at once his love for his country, his earnest desire to promote its prosperity, and his great condescension towards myself. It is not necessary for me to say more than to express my gratitude at the confidence of his most gracious Majesty, which alone enabled me to form an Administration so rapidly and under such peculiar circumstances; for it is only this day week that I was listening on the other side of the House to the speech of the noble and learned Lord lately on the Woolsack, and little did I then suppose that such an event would come to pass, and it is only by the gracious confidence of the Sovereign that I have been, in this short space of time, enabled to assemble around me, with no view to parliamentary 612 influence, with no other view than that of their competency to fill their situations, the friends with whom I act. My Lords, my present task is done, the Administration stands before you and the public. You know the persons who compose it, you have heard the principles on which it professes to act; and for the maintenance of them we throw ourselves upon the confidence and support of our Sovereign, your Lordships, and the country.
The Earl of Radnor
was understood to declare his conviction, that Parliamentary Reform was not merely expedient, but the only measure which could ensure the salvation of the country. He was certain that if the speech which the noble Marquis had just made on that subject, accompanied as it had been by the commentary of the noble Earl, went forth to the country, it would create in every quarter consternation and dismay. The noble Earl had expressed the dismay which he felt at what he called the fanciful and the extreme plans of reform which were abroad. It was not the first time that he had heard such expressions fall from the noble Earl. He did not quarrel with the noble Earl for using them, but he must lament that the noble Earl, occupying so prominent a situation as he now did in his Majesty's councils, should have dealt in such general declarations, and should have publicly asserted, that it was impossible for Government to pledge itself to any specific plan of reform. If he understood the noble Marquis correctly,— and he was not sure that he did,—the noble Marquis's plan of reform was, to grant the elective franchise to some large towns and to preserve the least defensible part of the present system, the small and decayed boroughs. Now, if the noble Earl, in speaking of his intention to adopt no system of reform which should not pay due respect to the settled institutions of the country, meant, like the noble Marquis to preserve the smaller boroughs, he would repeat his former assertion, that the declaration of these two Ministers would spread consternation and dismay from one end of the kingdom to the other. He could tell them that such a system of reform would be rejected as insufficient by the whole country. He hoped that he had misunderstood the noble Earl, and he hoped he had, for it was his firm conviction that nothing but Parliamentary Reform on a wide basis, a basis 613 much wider than that laid down by the noble Earl, would satisfy the people or save the country. Within a few days expectation has been raised to the highest pitch by the appointment of the present Administration, and he again warned the noble Earl that he would spread dismay and confusion through the country should he not be prepared to propose reform on an extensive scale.
§ Earl Grey
I am surprised at the manner in which the noble Earl has received what I said. I stated, that I think the question of reform should be taken into consideration; and that I had the permission of his Majesty to bring before him, at a proper time, a plan for reforming the representation. What I said was, that looking with apprehension to the wild and fanciful theories which I regretted were too much promulgated—but feeling also that the defects which had been occasioned by time in the representation required correction, my object would be to propose—if the happy medium can be found—such a reform as would in this respect satisfy the public expectation, without endangering—here was the limit, and the only limit—by sudden change and violent disturbance, the settled institutions of the country. Does my noble friend mean to say, that a reform which rests on that principle will be at once rejected by the country? If so, I tell him that those who would thus reject it expect revolution and not reform. My great object is, the desire of preventing that which, be it needed as it may, must always be the greatest of all possible political evils. The principle of my reform is, to prevent the necessity for revolution. And I must say, I do not. think it fair of my noble friend to look for a declaration less limited, or to wish for details. I trust the House will be satisfied with the principle and the limit I lay down, which seems to have been so much misunderstood by the noble Earl. When did he find that I limited the reform to giving Representatives to the large towns? The principle on which I mean to act is neither more nor less than that of reforming to preserve, and not to overthrow.
The Marquis of Lansdown
also defended himself from having limited the proposed Reform to giving Representatives to the large towns. He was convinced that he consulted the public interests by abstaining altogether from entering into 614 a detailed statement on the subject of reform till the intended measure of his Majesty's Ministers was ripened and sufficiently matured to be submitted as a perfect whole to the consideration of Parliament. At the proper period, he said, he should be prepared to show, that the great object he and his colleagues had in view was, to preserve, while they improved, the Representation of the people in Parliament.
The Earl of Radnor
would not have uttered one word of detail on the subject of reform, had not the noble Earl and the noble Marquis who had just spoken, themselves led the way, by a statement of their views on that most important subject. The noble Marquis, for example, had intimated the intention of Ministers to propose a plan for enfranchising the large towns ["No, no."]. With their leave, he might not have used these exact words, but the import was to that effect. If the noble Lords had themselves preserved the discreet silence which they recommended to him, he would not have then taken it upon him to utter a word on the subject.
§ Lord Wharncliffe
had listened to the statement of the noble Earl at the head of his Majesty's Ministers with his best attention, and, he was happy to say, with satisfaction. The question of Reform of Parliament had now made such progress, that the door could not be any longer shut against it, and the question was, what were they to do, what plan of reform was it most expedient to adopt? The answer of the noble Earl, that he should take care, in effecting a reform of the representation of the people, to inviolably preserve the monarchy, and the established institutions of the country, was one which he could not but approve of, and which, therefore, would make him willing to give the noble Earl his support when his measure was before their Lordships. He also, and so he was sure did every noble Lord who had heard him, approved of the views of the noble Earl respecting the foreign relations of the country—that every effort, compatible with the honour and character of the country, would be made to preserve peace; for he could assure him, that there was no one point on which the honest and sound portion of the community was more earnest than that we should, as much as possible, consistently with the permanent interests of the country, avoid unnecessary warlike interference with foreign States. 615 He also was disposed to support the noble Earl's plan for retrenchment, so far as was compatible with the integrity of existing establishments. The noble Earl would, he hoped, excuse him if he took advantage of that first occasion of suggesting to him the policy and true wisdom of avoiding the error into which the party of which the noble Earl had been usually considered the head, had of late years too often exhibited a tendency to fall,—he meant that of being led too much by mere popular applause. He had the highest opinion of the noble Earl's firmness and consistency, but still he could not avoid assuring him, that if in his measures he permitted himself to be led astray by any ignis fatuus of popularity, he would most certainly be deceived, for the light would only lead him and his party to destruction. The people were now persuaded that the most extravagant benefits would result from reform; but if it were granted to-morrow in the largest sense it would not relieve their distress. He hoped, therefore, that the new Administration would not foster these unfounded expectations. He trusted, indeed, that he should be enabled to give the noble Earl his best and cordial support for the general tendency of his measures; and that, in watching those measures with becoming vigilance, he should never be provoked into unnecessary opposition.
The Earl of Carnarvon
could not but regret that Ministers had given notice of a most important measure, on a subject in which the public felt a deep interest, without being at the same time prepared to enter into a detailed statement of the scope and object of their plan, as great inconvenience, and, he feared, great misconception would be the consequence. The whole of the intentions of the noble Earl on this important subject could be gathered only by vague surmise, and he feared that each heated imagination would put its own interpretation on his words. He was as disconnected with the new as with the late Administration, and should be determined in his votes by the character and tendency of the measures proposed, apart from other considerations. Their Lordships could not now delay or postpone taking the question of reform into consideration, and a tremendous question it was, without apprehending the most fearful consequences. He thought, and he always had thought some measure of reform necessary, and that the recent declaration of a noble Duke 616 against all reform was the cause of much of the present discontent of the public mind. But while he was prepared to support such a measure as would improve and remedy the present system of representation of Members of the other House of Parliament, without endangering the established institutions of the country, he felt himself bound to declare, that those who considered that withholding that reform was the cause of—or granting it the remedy for—the distress under which the labouring classes in many districts then laboured, not only were deceiving themselves, but would, by deceiving and disappointing the country, add greatly to the distress and discontent of the public. He was willing to urge this point, the rather, as he feared the reaction, which the impression he was endeavouring to counteract would create among those now labouring under distress, would only tend to work up the discontented into a climax of dissatisfaction with the measures of the Government, for which it might not be easy to devise an efficient remedy. He was far from wishing the noble Earl to delay his plan of reform; he would urge him, indeed, if he had any regard to his own safety, and to the safety of the country, to bring it forward as soon as possible; but, at the same time, he would warn him, that if he thought by any measure of reform to still the popular clamour, and diminish the public distress, he would but aggravate the evils. The distress, the difficulties of the industrious classes, must be got rid off before quiet could be restored. The distress, therefore, for which reform will afford no remedy, must be first taken into consideration, and he trusted that the question of inquiry into the causes of the distress which prevailed unhappily in so many districts of the country would not be left to any individual Member of either House, but would be taken up by the Government in its aggregate and responsible character. These causes were too deep-seated to be properly sifted and remedied by any plan or measure not emanating from Ministers, and therefore should at once occupy their most serious attention. He would not then endeavour to explain his own views of the origin of that distress, particularly as it applied to the agricultural districts, further than to observe, that it lay chiefly in the altered relations between the farmer and his labourer, which had been in progress for 617 the last fourteen or fifteen years, under which the agricultural labourer no longer possessed that occupancy or tenure in the land which would afford him a sufficient sustenance without being compelled to have recourse to the poor-rates for a portion of his wages—a system which, by depriving him of all stake or interest in the land he would have occupied under a better state of things, made him a ready prey to discontent, and a ready listener to violent means of amending his condition,—a system which, in fact, by making the agricultural labourer dependent for the payment of his hardly-earned wages on poor-rates, miserably and churlishly doled out, had rendered the condition of the poor of the country more abject than that of the poor of any other nation, and, as a consequence, had made them more dissatisfied with existing institutions. Within his own recollection the payment of the wages of labour out of the poor-rates was a thing hardly known, and every agricultural labourer had his own cottage and a small portion of soil to cultivate for the use of his family. Now the system prevailed in whole counties, and it was not unusual to see four or five wretched labourers huddled together in one miserable hut. For their misery some remedy must be found. Within the last few years the capital of the farmers had been almost annihilated and they were no longer able to feed and employ their labourers. Some remedy must be found for this growing evil, or assuredly such calamities would intervene as the country had seldom seen. The whole system required amendment, and he trusted would not be neglected by Ministers, as it was much more intimately connected with the distress of the country, than, as might readily be supposed, the more splendid question of reform. He trusted that the whole subject of the distressed condition of the working classes would be taken up by the new Government, and not be left to any individual not in Office; the rather, as a measure for amending the poor-rates must emanate from the other House, as coming under the head of a money-bill; and as holding out an expectation of relief to that distress by means of a reform of the representation would only be followed by mischievous disappointment to all parties. Earl Grey thought that the advocates of the most extensive and extravagant measure of reform would have paid the new Government the civility of waiting till their 618 measures were submitted to their Lordships' consideration, before they called for a detailed statement of the provisions of those measures, or pronounced that their effect upon the country would be neither more nor less than consternation and dismay. Without then entering into a detail—which he was sure would be best brought forward on a future occasion—of his plan of reform, he would observe, that the noble Earl's remarks were, he must say, unnecessary, and, it should seem, founded on a misconception. He had not in any part of his speech connected the necessity of a reform with the distress under which the working classes in certain districts then laboured. He did not propose as the remedy for that distress a reform of the representation; still less was it to be inferred from what he had said, that the people of England did not labour under other grievances which called for redress. On the contrary, he stated, in the most explicit terms he could make use of, that the very first subject to which the King's new Government would have to bestow their most serious attention was, above all others, the distressed condition of the working classes. He repeated, to that condition would be devoted their most serious deliberations from that very night, on which, as he had already stated, a Council was to be held, with a view to consider the subject and remedy; and that that inquiry having been instituted, and some measures adopted, Ministers would next apply themselves to the important subject of Reform in Parliament.
The Earl of Carnarvon
begged the noble Earl to understand, that his remarks wore not meant to apply to his speech, but to what had fallen on the subject of distress and reform from a noble Earl (Radnor) near him.
§ The Petition laid on the Table.