rose to bring forward the Motion of which he had given notice, for the Repeal of the Septennial Act. He considered, that he was now rather resuming an interrupted discussion of last Session than opening a new Debate. The noble Lord, on the former occasion, had moved the previous question, with a view that Members might avoid giving an opinion upon the merits, which it was inconvenient to discuss at that late period of the Session. He had hoped, that in the interval Government might have determined to introduce it as a Cabinet question; and he was quite confident, that several members of the Administration were favourable to shortening the duration of Parliament. He did not at all know what course the noble Lord intended now to pursue; but he regretted that the Repeal of the Septennial Act was not submitted to Parliament at the settlement of the great measure of Reform. Ministers would thus have gained greater credit for the measure, and have added another wreath to the immortal crown of his present Majesty. It would have come with the more grace; recollecting that the Septennial Act was passed to secure more effectually the throne to the House of Brunswick. The people cheerfully surrendered for a time their right of more frequent election of their Representatives for this purpose; and now that there could be no danger as to the succession, the present servants of the Crown might very properly have advised his Majesty to alter the law. Without entering into the matter at length, he would remind the House that, at the Revolution, the period of three years was considered the fit duration of a Parliament.
remarked, that the period of three years was not fixed at the Revolution, but afterwards.
admitted, that the Triennial Act did not pass until 1694, several years after the Revolution; but the Bill of Rights had asserted, in rather equivocal terms, that frequent Parliaments were necessary. It was a vexata questio, whether it was meant by those words to imply, that frequent elections were necessary; but five or six years afterwards, the great men who lived at the time of the Revolution, concocted the Triennial Act, thus clearly explaining the terms of the Bill of Rights. The term of three years was, in fact, a compromise between the holders of two extreme opinions—between those who contended, on the one hand, that the Crown had the right to protract the existence of a Parliament for an indefinite period—it might be for ever—and those who, on the other hand, argued the right of the people to annual Parliaments. From the time of Henry 8th to the period of the Revolution, there were forty-two Parliaments, and, out of this number, there were twenty-six that existed for a less term than a year. From the time of Charles 1st to the Revolution, there were twelve Parliaments, and the average duration of these twelve was three years. Calculating the duration, excluding the Long Parliament, the average term would be found to be not more than nine months. It was surely wrong, then, to suppose that there had been long Parliaments prior to the passing of the Trien- nial Bill. Three years appeared to him to he a reasonable period for the transaction of public business; and he thought he could show, that this time was quite consistent with the general principles of our Constitution. The old practice unquestionably was to assemble Parliament with a view to the despatch of business such as might probably arise. The language of the ancient writs would, he thought, establish this fact. It would appear from them, that Parliament was always summoned with reference to certain matters foreseen, at the period at which Parliament was called together, as likely to require its attention, and it was summoned to dispose of those matters. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Secretary Stanley) smiled, but he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would hear him before he attempted to turn the arguments he might use into ridicule. In proof of the existence of the principle for which he had been contending, he might refer to many speeches from the Throne. The King, in one of those Speeches, used this expression—he said, he summoned his Parliament that he might thereby "have the opportunity of receiving more certain information of the disposition and wishes of the people." It was clear, from language of this description, that the objects of assembling Parliament were to discover the wants of the country, and to legislate as to matters that were, to a considerable extent, foreseen. Some persons entertained an apprehension, that the adoption of Triennial Parliaments might lead to mischievous results; but, in his opinion, in order to dissipate such fears, it was not necessary to do more than refer to what had been the effects of them. Under the Triennial Act, there were nine Parliaments. Now, he would appeal to the whole of the legislation of the whole of that period, and confidently ask, in what respect that afforded the slightest ground of alarm? Be it recollected, too, that this was a time of great difficulty, and one in the course of which Parliament strengthened and confirmed the liberties that had been obtained at the Revolution. The present Bill was similar to that which he had recommended to the House on a former occasion. They were then exceedingly occupied with other business, and it did not appear to him that the measure had obtained the consideration which its importance demanded. He thought it right to give the question fair play. He would not disguise, that if the Bill went into Committee, it was his in- tention to express his own opinion on the subject, by moving, that the term of the future duration of Parliaments should be three years; but as the present Bill left the matter to that extent open, the noble Lord opposite, or any other Gentleman, would be at liberty, at that stage of the Bill, to propose any other term. He believed, that his hon. and gallant friend (Sir E. Codrington), who would second the present Motion, was an advocate for five years' Parliaments. In the Committee, then, they would come to a decision as to whether the term should be three, four, or five years. He believed the people of England would be grateful for any modification of the existing law; but he must say, that if five years were proposed, he should feel it his duty to vote against such a Motion. They might determine in favour of five years, but that would not settle the question ["Hear," from Mr. Secretary Stanley]. He thanked the right hon. Gentleman for that cheer; he perfectly understood its meaning. The right hon. Gentleman might make what use of the declaration he thought proper. He advisedly repeated the words—"That it would not settle the question." He knew it was objected to short Parliaments, that they would diminish the personal responsibility of the Representatives. His object was to fix a time that, in his opinion, would combine efficiency for the public service with responsibility. Some Gentlemen told him, that it was unnecessary to shorten the duration of Parliaments, since the House had been made more popular; the amendment of the representation, they would, perhaps, contend, had rendered the shortening of the duration of Parliament needless. Now, he begged the House to remember, that the leaders of Reform, among whom was Mr. Grey, uniformly said, that these two changes—the amendment of the representation, and the shortening of the duration of Parliaments—ought to be accomplished, to place the liberties of the country on a sure foundation. Mr. Grey, in 1793, on the presentation of the petition of the members of the Society of the Friends of the People, said, he thought that the shortening of the duration of Parliaments ought to be the second question. He said, "With respect to shortening the duration of Parliament, it did not appear to him that it would be advantageous, without a total alteration of the present system." In the year 1797, when moving for a Reform of Parliament, Mr. Grey said, "There was still another topic upon which he had not touched—namely, the duration of Parliament. If the reform of the representation was adopted, but not otherwise, it occurred to him, that the duration of Parliament should be limited to three years." Here was the language used by the Reformers of that time, and were they, when, in 1834, they proposed to shorten the Parliaments, to have this answer, "We think the question of Reform is satisfied, because we have improved the representation of the people?" Such a course involved this inconsistency. Before the Reform Bill was passed, the sense of the people was only partially expressed. Now that the Reform Bill had effected a great improvement in that respect—now that a real representation throughout the country of the sense of the people might be effectually obtained—it was rather extraordinary to contend against the shortening of the duration of Parliaments, on the ground that the means of ascertaining the opinions and feelings of the country existed. There was some difference in the arguments on which the proposal for shorter Parliaments was opposed; one class said, that the alteration would render the Parliament too popular; another class, that it would throw elections too much into the hands of the aristocracy. He hoped to combine the two influences, and he thought it was this tendency that constituted the chief recommendation of his Motion. If Parliaments were shortened, seats would become less the objects of contention by pecuniary means, and would more generally lead to local representation. The consequence would be, a considerable improvement in the social intercourse of the kingdom. Paley said, he thought "nothing tends so much to improve the social union of all classes as the frequency of elections. The changes of men consequent on frequent elections were productive also of great advantage to the councils of the nation." One of the advantages of elections occurring oftener would be, that when, as it sometimes happened, the best man was excluded, an earlier opportunity would be afforded for his return. The noble Lord opposite would not deny, that it occasionally did occur, that by the exclusion of the best man, the country was deprived of the services of an eminently useful individual. During the agitation of the Reform Bill a dissolution occurred, and, at the consequent elections, the only question asked of candidates was, "Will you vote for this Bill, or will you not?" If the candidate would not, that was generally sufficient to ensure his rejection. He admitted the circumstances of that time were very peculiar; but was not that an argument in favour of more frequent Parliaments? The Government of the day generally took care to dissolve the Parliament when some particular measure was before the country, which was converted into a test. There was another point he would press on the consideration of the House. Having improved the principle of representation, and got a Reformed Parliament, they might depend on it that they would experience greater changes at the end of seven years than they ever had before. Under the old nomination system, one-half of the House were almost certain of being again returned; but if the Parliament were suffered to exist for six or seven years, it would be found that there would be such great changes in the composition of the House, that very considerable inconveniences would be the result. If the Parliaments were shorter, the same men would, to a much greater extent, be returned. They would thus secure a majority who would more efficiently discharge the public business than others could do who entered the House for the first time. The hon. Gentleman concluded by submitting his Motion.
rose to second the Motion, not with a view to reduce the time of Parliaments to three years, but to five. He believed, that there were good grounds for the Septennial Bill at the time it was passed, but there was no necessity for continuing it now, any more than there had been for continuing the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, which had been suspended in times of extraordinary difficulty. Feeling, then, that the Septennial Act ought to be got rid of on some terms or other, he came forward to propose the terms that he thought would be most useful. There were a great many who preferred Triennial Parliaments—some were the advocates of Annual Parliaments; but he would propose five years, even were he of opinion that three years would be preferable; because, if they made the period five years in the first instance, they could easily descend; whereas, if they made it three years at once, and subsequently found that time to be too short, they never would be able to increase the period. The hon. and gallant Admiral, in conclusion, seconded the Motion.
was anxious to consult the feelings of certain parties out of that House, but he feared he must disappoint their expectations, He would give his opposition to the Motion of the hon. Gentleman, because he thought it premature, inexpedient, detrimental to the dispatch of the business of the country, and subversive of the independence of Parliament. He was at a loss to understand why it should have been introduced at this time. Within the last two years, they had effected changes amounting to almost a revolution, and far exceeding the hopes of the most sanguine reformers of the day. When the right hon. member for Lambeth endeavoured to prevail on the House to provide Representatives for the town of Birmingham, he never could have dreamt that the Reform was so near which very shortly afterwards was carried into effect. Having been returned for the first Reformed Parliament, scarcely had they taken their seats before the hon. member for Boston (Mr. Wilks) gave notice of a Motion to the effect of the Motion now before the House, but, in consequence of the pressure of the business he withdrew it. The right hon. member for Lambeth, however, immediately after brought it forward. He (Colonel Davies) considered it unnecessary. This House was now supposed to speak the feelings of the people, and everything that was here said was wafted with the speed of lightning to the remotest corners of the kingdom. The present Parliament was chosen under peculiar circumstances; great excitement pevailed; and if any man who came forward declared himself a supporter of the existing Administration, he was supposed to say everything that was necessary to secure the favour of the electors. Many who were returned to this House had given but one pledge—that of supporting the Government which had effected so much benefit. What was the consequence? Why this—that the present Government had a greater number of personal friends and adherents in Parliament than any Government ever possessed before, or probably ever would again. Notwithstanding all this, that the present Parliament was not easily managed by the Government had been sufficiently proved. There had been occasions on which even three brothers of Members of the Cabinet had voted against the Government. The hon. member for Lambeth had stated that the Triennial Act, so far from having diminished, had extended the time of the dur- ation of Parliaments. What was the fact? In former times there was no limitation of the time of duration, but that which depended on the will of the Crown. Under the Septennial Act, Parliaments had existed for eight, ten, twelve, fifteen, and even seventeen years. The average duration under the Triennial Act he made to be only one year, seven months, and twenty-two days. The error in the statement of the hon. member for Lambeth was traceable to his having included in his calculation several months which from time to time elapsed between the dissolution to the summoning of another Parliament. It appeared to him that, inasmuch as a Parliament could not be said then to exist, the months ought not to come into the calculation at all. Was it not clear, then, that, under a Triennial Act, they would have Parliaments lasting only a year-and-a-half? Such, indeed, must be the result of fixing three years as the maximum of duration, and fixing no minimum. Surely those favourable to the principle of Triennial Parliaments ought to be content, it being indisputable that, to this moment, taking the average, we had had Triennial Parliaments for the last thirty-five years. Omit from this account the time between the dissolution and the meeting of the next Parliament, and they would get an average not exceeding three years and thirty-six days. He wished to increase the control of the constituency over the Member; but could it be supposed that any candidate who offered himself at the last election, calculated that he should retain his seat for seven years? As far as he was concerned, he should have been very glad to compromise for three years. The right hon. Member had alluded to the changes which might take place in the House at the expiration of seven years; but this was, perhaps, the strongest argument that could be used against the proposition of the hon. Member. One great objection to the Triennial Act would be, the delay it would occasion to the business of the House. Hon. Members coming into that House for the first time—for the frequency of election, it was said, would have the effect of sending in new Members in every Parliament—would be unacquainted with the forms of that House. Then there would be the election committees occupying so much time. Last year there were no less than thirty-one committees, occupying a great deal of the time of 403 Members, not including the petitioners. Then there was the loss of time in balloting for these committees. The infusion of new Members, under the repetition of new Parliaments, consequent upon a Triennial Bill, would neither be of credit to themselves, nor benefit to the country at large. He thought that the institution of Triennial Parliaments would go to attack the independence of Parliament; and that was the opinion of Mr. Burke. The right hon. member for Lambeth had maintained that the expenses of elections would be diminished by substituting Triennial for Septennial Parliaments; but Mr. Burke had held the opinion, that the frequency of elections, caused by Triennial Parliaments, would bring persons of moderate fortune too frequently in collision with persons of larger fortune. That eminent man had observed, too, that ambition was not a nice calculator—and was ready to take all the chances against him. But the value of Triennial Parliaments, as put in opposition to those of Septennial Parliaments, was proved not only by Mr. Burke, but by many other authorities, by those of individuals existing at the time—and, indeed, by the authority of Parliament itself. When the Septennial Act was first introduced, very stormy debates ensued upon it, and it was violently opposed. The "downright" Shippen, whose incorruptibility was so unquestionable, was in favour of Septennial Parliaments, and asked whether half the money granted to the King would have been voted, but for the frequent changes consequent upon them. The reasons for repealing the Triennial Act were fully given in the preamble to the Bill brought in for that purpose in the first year of the reign of George 1st. The words were—"And whereas it has been found by experience, that the said (the three-year) clause) hath proved very grievous and burthensome by occasioning much greater and more continued expenses in order to election of Members to serve in Parliament, and more violent and lasting heats and animosities among the subjects of this realm than were ever known before, the said clause was enacted," &c. Such were the evils avowedly consequent on Triennial Parliaments. But this was not the whole of the evil. The consequences to the country, occasioned by the frequency of elections, were even worse than the consequences to the candidates. Not thousands, but millions, were wasted in various modes of expenditure. The country would be kept for weeks and months in a state of feverish excitement, business would be suspended, and men's minds roused to angry and fierce contention. If (as there was every likelihood there would be under a Triennial Act) an election occurred once in every two years, to what a state of distraction and demoralization would not the country be reduced? The positions of society would be totally changed, and the seats now filled in that House by country gentlemen would be occupied by pettifogging attornies. Where were the Petitions which should express the sense of the country upon this measure? Until to-night, though he looked through the Report of the Committee upon public Petitions, he was not aware that there were any. For these reasons, therefore, he would oppose the Motion of the hon. member for Lambeth. If, indeed, the present system were found deficient—if Members should be forgetful of the pledges which they made to their constituents—and that the public, becoming sensible of the evil, called generally for such a measure as that before the House, he, as one of the representatives of the people, and aware of the inutility of opposing a nation's wish, would feel himself bound to accede to it.
was of opinion, that the very passing of the Reform Bill precluded the necessity of the proposed measure, and furnished sufficient reason why it should be negatived by the House. Whence, he should wish to know, had arisen the distrust and suspicion which the proposed measure involved, and upon which only it could be founded? If the Reform Bill failed of producing the effect intended—if the infusion of a more popular principle into the legislative branch of the Constitution failed to give satisfaction, was the remedy to be sought by the introduction of a still greater proportion of that principle? He hoped, in any discussion which might ensue upon the proposition before the House, that hon. Members would not rake up the speeches which his Majesty's present Ministers had uttered within the last twenty years—[An Hon. Member: "let us have no resurrection-men."]—speeches which had been spoken under circumstances quite different from those in which the country was at present placed with regard to this measure by the Reform Bill. The first Triennial Parliament was a consequence of the despotism which had been attempted at that period; and though then, as an instrument used against tyranny, it might have been praiseworthy and valuable, the necessity for it was now done away by the altered circumstances of the times. The country was not now placed in such a position, and why, then, should a measure adapted only to that position be called for? The duties of the House had greatly increased since that period, and required a consequently increased attention. Its business became more complicated, and demanded more experience for its performance than the new persons sent in by more frequent elections could bring to it. The evils of frequent elections were in themselves very great, and the effect they would produce upon the Members of that House would be most injurious. The opinions of those who sat in that House should not be the result of dictation, nor should Members come into a deliberative assembly as mere delegates. Such men were not representatives of their constituents. They stood to them in the relation of the slave to his master, and not in that of the free agent to his employer. The constituency had no right to stand in the attitude of menace towards their representatives, and scare away their conscientious scruples. The duty of the representative did not need that close proximity to his constituents, which was required for it by the proposition of Triennial Parliaments. He felt convinced there was too much honour and integrity in that reformed House of Commons to require such a check upon its conduct. The majority of that House might differ from the people, and differ wisely from them; and the people, when their passions had subsided, would acknowledge the wisdom. On one great occasion, the granting of Catholic Emancipation, this had been the case. The House set itself up against popular prejudice and bigotry in the final adjustment of that important measure. He was surprised to observe that the Irish Members had not joined in that cheer. The House should recollect that there was no short cut by which gentlemen could arrive at the knowledge of a statesman's duties. Did they imagine that the dexterity required by a contested election would fit the successful candidate for office? To practise a mere handicraft trade required an apprenticeship of seven years, and was it to be supposed that a knowledge of state business could be acquired in almost as many hours? If the triennial system were adopted, there would be no end to the changes it would occasion. On every, the slightest ground, or supposed ground of offence, and whilst the minds of the electors were warm upon the subject, their representatives would be dismissed, ere time was permitted for the return of kindlier and more dispassionate feelings. The right hon. Gentleman (the member for Lambeth) who brought forward this proposition, said, that Parliaments had never been so good as when they were triennial. Now, he should like to know what good these Triennial Parliaments had effected? What had they done for the people? Was not their whole time spent in legislating against their own corruption. It had been said, that if the Parliamentary period were abridged, the influence of public opinion would be thereby extended; but hon. Gentlemen should learn to distinguish between public opinion and clamour; the latter was loud and impetuous, the former slow and silent, and the two were in contrast as thoughtful intelligence and loquacious ignorance. The Reformed House of Commons, and the important business it had to perform, were reasons against the measure. Members would come too warm and excited from the vehemence of a contested election, to deliberate as they ought upon such weighty matters as the Poor Laws and the Reform of the Church. Indeed, the final consequence of the measure would be, to ultimately destroy the balance of the Constitution. It would also prevent the development of talent in that House. Before they proceeded with such a measure, would it not be prudent to let the Reform Bill have a fair trial. For himself, he would conclude by protesting against any attempt to make an organic change in the Constitution on mere speculations of probability.
said, that the arguments of the noble Lord went to reject history altogether, or to show that it was nothing better than "an old Almanack." The noble Lord said, "be content with what has been done—let the experiment which had been made work out all the changes." Now, the Reform Act had brought the people and their representatives in close contact with each other, and surely it was necessary that they should be brought together more frequently than once in seven years. That was also the argument of Mr. Pitt in the early part of his reforming career. He (Mr. Ewart) was surprised to hear the hon. and gallant Colonel appeal to the opinions of the incorruptible Shippen, because he might as well have appealed to old Montaigne. At that time the House was under the authority either of the Treasury or of the aristocracy, Mr. Onslow had declared his opinion in favour of shortening Parliaments, and when the great Lord Somers was dying, he had declared that the Triennial Act was a measure of security and freedom to the people. That noble Lord said so, because he knew that the limitation of time gave to the representatives a certain security from the mere nomination, which endangered their independence. He thought that the measure of the right hon. member for Lambeth was one which should be supported by the friends of substantial reform, especially at the present moment—a time when there was no political agitation in the country, and no desire for novelty. He wished to anticipate reform, and, in times of peace, they could not do better than to guard against contingent evils. During the period of Septennial Parliaments, the greatest corruption had prevailed, which should operate to make the House favourable to Triennial Parliaments. He considered it was the duty of the Legislature to return to Triennial Parliaments; and he could not wish better to his country than that this measure should be carried, which would secure to the people the advantages of frequently calling their representatives to account.
Sir, I can venture to promise the House that I shall be very short, and confine myself strictly to the arguments of the case. The question now before the House, resolves itself into two branches, the one—the historical, the other—the practical. It is to the latter, that I shall principally address myself, the former having been already so amply treated by the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Motion. The strongest objections to the practical utility of the measure proposed, have been carefully collected and skilfully put, by the hon. and gallant member for Worcester, (Colonel Davies), but they are not, I think, very difficult to answer. The gallant Officer began, by saying, that the Motion was premature—injudicious—and, if carried into effect, would tend to subvert the independence of Parliament. It is matter of history, that the friends of liberty in England, have been pressing for this measure for the last half century at least; so that it is not new; and it is difficult to understand how, that which was urged with so much force, though with so little effect, fifty years ago, can be considered premature now. It may, in the estimation of some, be injudicious; that is purely matter of opinion. But the assertion, that if carried, it would tend to subvert the independence of Parliament, is certainly one of the most remarkable that has been made in this House for some time past. The independence of Parliament! Independent of what? That the House of Commons should be independent of the Sovereign, is undoubtedly a most constitutional doctrine; that it should be independent of the House of Peers is equally constitutional. But, to say, that it should be independent of the people is a doctrine calculated to subvert our notions of representative government. If the House of Commons were once to render itself independent of the people, there would be no need of fixing any limits whatever to the duration of Parliaments. They might continue till the majority decreed a dissolution, which would never take place, and representatives would then be able to do without constituents at all, as was the case under the old nominee system, which the Reform Bill was introduced to destroy. It is not desirable, therefore, that Parliament should be independent of the people; or, if it be, the sooner that independence is subverted by frequent elections the better. The gallant Member, in enumerating the evils that would spring from too frequent elections, said, he thought three and even five years too short a period; and added, that such elections would introduce into the House a number of new Members, who, for some time, would have their efficiency greatly impaired by not being acquainted with the forms of the House, and by being new to the business of legislation. As to the first, no doubt this would sometimes happen; as had indeed taken place only a few evenings ago, when, on the discussion of the first clause in the Poor-law Amendment Bill, a very small minority, of whom I am not ashamed to remember that I was one, wished to have further time given to the country for considering the nature of the measure, and proposed to divide the House for the purpose of securing an adjournment of the debate, but the exact form in which the Motion should be put, for the Chairman of the Committee (Mr. Bernal), to report progress and sit again, was not known to any of the small group, who were all new Members, nor did the older ones appear at all disposed to assist them. But this is a species of knowledge which might be acquired in a few days, if some hon. Gentleman, learned in precedents, and thoroughly acquainted with the forms of the House, would compile a short manual, containing all the requisite information on those heads, than which no more acceptable service could be rendered to the Members generally. It has been said, indeed, that the additions of new Members to the House had obstructed the progress of public business, from their want of acquaintance with the forms of the House, and the difficulty of managing them by the leader. But, the reproach of obstructing the progress of the public business in the last Session of Parliament, is not so applicable to the new Members as to the old ones; for in an analysis that was made of the number of speeches made by the different Members, and the aggregate number of hours occupied in the delivery, as published in that clever paper, the Spectator, it was shown, that the old Members were the greatest offenders in these particulars throughout the whole Session, while in the early part of it, the unpopular measure of the Irish Coercion Bill, was itself a great cause of much of the difficulty and delay complained of. As to the second objection, that frequent elections would introduce into Parliament men new to the business of legislation, it should be remembered, that gentlemen are not chosen to be placed in the House as at a college, there to study for the first time, the science of politics and government. On the contrary, it is almost invariably the case, that men are chosen, because they have previously given some attention to the study of public affairs, and are able to give a satisfactory account of their principles, and the reasons on which they are grounded, to the constituency whose suffrages place them in Parliament; so that they have not to learn, for the first time, on taking their seats, the facts and arguments bearing on the questions on which they will have to decide; for having investigated them, and expounded their views upon them before they came into the House, they would be equally able to take a part in the discussion afterwards, whenever called upon so to do. The hon. Gentleman, however, asked why sufficient time had not been given to allow the Reform Bill a fair trial, and contended, that thus far, at least, it had worked well; by which, if it means anything, it must mean that the present House of Commons fairly represents the people of England—a position to which I should venture to take exception. I am aware that it would be a much more agreeable task for me to flatter than to reprove. I do not desire to do either, but merely to speak the truth; and thus acting, I must say, if my memory does not wholly deceive me, I think I could call to mind many instances in which the votes of hon. Members, after they had entered the House, did not strictly conform to the pledges which they gave before they were elected. I do not pretend to say, in which case they were right or in which they were wrong; but I must be allowed to doubt, whether they could truly represent their constituents in both cases; since there is pretty strong evidence of the opinion of the people being nearly the same as it was two years ago; though the opinions of many of their representatives, judging at least from their votes, have undergone great and material change. The great expense, the drudgery of frequent canvassing, and the excitement and demoralization of the country by frequent elections, have been also urged by the hon. and gallant Member, as reasons against shortening the duration of Parliament. But it is surely no necessary part of an election that there should be either expense, or drudgery, or demoralization. In this respect, the new constituencies have set an example which may well shame the old ones into imitation. It is not very agreeable to speak of one's-self, but as I am better acquainted with the facts attending my own election than those of any other, I may mention, for the honour of the borough which I have the satisfaction to represent, that though it contains nearly 100,000 inhabitants, I never canvassed a single individual, nor solicited a single person for his vote; nor did the election cost me a single shilling of expense. I publicly avowed, indeed, my disapprobation of the practice of a Member canvassing for votes in his own person. I always held, that he should be solicited by the electors, and chosen for his qualifications and fitness only; and that they should bear the charge; since it was their business, and not his own, that he was called upon to perform. It is true, that owing to the present badly arranged system of elections, much excitement docs prevail during the short period that it lasts; but this is no necessary part of the affair. My conviction is, however, that it is the very unfrequency of their occurrence that chiefly causes the excitement, and that if they were of more common occurrence, they would be less marked and less observed. But it would be perfectly easy so to arrange the mode of conducting an election of a Member of Parliament as to cause it to create no more excitement or confusion than the election of an East- India or Bank Director. For my own part, indeed, I know not why there should be any fixed period whatever for the duration of a Member's services, or for his responsibility to his constituents. When men choose their physician or solicitor, or agent, to whom they intrust their health, their fortunes, and their business, they do not engage them for seven years or five, for three years, or even one, but continue them in office so long as they discharge their duties faithfully; and when they cease to do this, they are justly removed to give place to others. I believe this would be the best footing on which to place a representative. I can see no safe halting-place myself, between complete irresponsibility, by holding the seat as the Peers do, for life, being accountable, therefore, to no one—and perfect responsibility, by being liable, at any hour, to be called upon by those whose votes have placed us in Parliament to resign our trust whenever we fail to perform our duty; I may add, however, that I neither regard a Member to be a mere delegate, having no will of his own, nor a perfectly free agent under no obligation to consult his constituents at all. I feel, that his position should be between these two extremes. He is bound, on all occasions, to state frankly to them his own general views; and if these are satisfactory, he cannot be unfaithful by following them out. If, however, on questions of great import, his views run counter to theirs, they are bound, in justice to themselves, to correct their error by recalling their representative, and sending some one to fill his place more nearly resembling themselves. And besides its being their duty to recall their Member, I think it is his duty not to wait for such a summons, but to make a voluntary surrender of his trust; and, for my own part, I cannot understand how any man of a nice sense of honour would condescend to sit for any place a moment longer than while he felt that he was the true representative of the wishes of its inhabitants, not in name only, but in reality and truth. That, at least, is the footing on which I have the proud satisfaction of feeling that I stand with my own constituents, and it is because of this constant impression of my accountability to them for every vote I give, that I feel no period to be too short, and no meetings of them too frequent; so that, as far as is compatible with a reasonable confidence on the one hand, and a reasonable trial on the other, I should be as willing to vote for an annual as for a triennial Parliament; on the principle that he who faithfully performs his duty need never be ashamed or afraid to meet his constituents and friends. The noble Lord opposite (Lord Dalmeny), had spoken with great eloquence on the subject; but while I bear my willing testimony to the talent displayed in his speech, I am bound to state, that his arguments made but a very slight impression on my mind. The chief argument of the noble Lord against shortening the duration of Parliaments was this, that it would subject the representatives of the people too frequently to the influence of the whim and caprice of the multitude, and make them too often the mere instruments of popular clamour. This argument, however, appears to me much more plausible than just. If the people are really competent to form a judgment on political affairs, I cannot perceive why they may not be as safely trusted to do this frequently as to do it only on rare occasions. The oftener their judgments are exercised, the more they will be likely to be sound. And there seems no reason to suppose that electors would be carried away by clamour because they had to give their votes once in three years, any more than that Members should lose their reason because they are called upon to vote almost every night. But it would be well if hon. Gentlemen, using this danger of popular clamour as an argument, would define clearly what they meant by the phrase. To me it appears, that popular clamour and public opinion are convertible terms; and each is used, not according to any rule for testing the one or the other, but according to the wishes of the party using it. If, for instance, the voice of the multitude is raised strongly in favour of any measure of which the speaker approves, and this voice is expressed with ever so much force or strength, as in the case of the Reform Bill, it is then called "enlightened public opinion," and is triumphantly referred to as proof of the absolute necessity of deferring to that opinion and adopting the measure proposed. If, on the contrary, the voice of the multitude is raised strongly against any measure of which the Speaker approves, such, for instance, as the Poor law Amendment Bill, then, as if by the wand of the magician, this "enlightened public opinion" is instantly transformed into "vulgar and unmeaning clamour," though it is the same public who speaks—the same meetings that assemble—the same judgments that resolve —the same Press that gives publicity, in both cases. When the popular gale blows in favour of the orator's views, it is then Vox populi, vox Dei, and is bowed down to, in a homage both ardent and sincere; but when the gale is adverse, the scene becomes entirely changed, and all the veneration before expressed for public intelligence and public virtue, is turned to hatred, scorn, and contempt. Sir, I would seek for no other explanation of our duties than that which is conveyed in the very term by which we are designated. We are sent here as the Representatives of the people. How can we possibly represent them, without respecting and giving expression to their will? It is not practicable, I admit, for a Member to consult his constituents on every question that is discussed during a single Session; and many cases may arise, in which, during its progress, he may feel justified in acting according to the best of his own judgment, even should he feel that to be in opposition to the views of many who form his constituency; such, for instance, as cases where new evidence as to facts, or new views in argument, have been presented to his mind since they last met, or where his own opinions may have undergone a change through more mature reflection. But such cases will form the exceptions rather than the rule; and it is because a Member is chosen for his well-known sentiments on the great principles of public policy, that he may be safely trusted to act as he thinks proper for a season. But this, of course, must imply some period of accountability, so as to give his constituents an opportunity of correcting their choice if they see fit. And surely it cannot be denied, that to make this accountability of any effect, it ought to be frequent; if so, then seven years must be deemed much too long; five appears to me only somewhat less objectionable; three, I think, would be quite long enough; and, for my own part, I should as readily submit to one as to any longer number; my feelings being this: that if, on any occasion, I may have voted contrary to the generally prevalent opinion of my friends, I must have done so on grounds which justified me to my own mind in dissenting from their views; and that the same arguments which convinced me would he likely to convince them also; or, if not, I should feel far more pleasure in resigning my trust, because the conscientious discharge of my duty led to its forfeiture, than I should consider myself honoured by being continued in my seat from the mere duration of the Parliament, after I had ceased truly to represent the wishes of the majority of those whose votes originally placed me there. I shall, therefore, Sir, with all sincerity, give my most cordial support to the Motion of the right hon. member for Lambeth.
said, that the present discussion, as far as it had yet gone, had convinced him that if, as the noble Lord (Dalmeny) had said, new members were ill suited for the task of legislation, old members were but badly fitted for the task of argument, for he had not heard any reason advanced to justify the apprehension of any danger from the success of the motion of the right hon. Member for Lambeth. But was it true, that new members could not possess a capacity for the business of legislation? Had not, he would ask, measures involving the most important consequences to the country been brought forward, discussed, and passed in the first session of the Reformed Parliament? Was not the Coercion Bill—the Slavery Abolition Bill—passed by members fresh from the contact of their constituents?
here observed, that it was just twelve months, yesterday, since he first moved the resolution on which the Slavery Abolition Bill was founded, and their consideration was postponed until the 30th of May, last year.
said, that did not alter his opinion, and he was convinced, that no one would deny, that the new Parliament was perfectly ready to discuss the important measures which were last year submitted to their consideration. The hon. and gallant member (Colonel Davies) who had spoken against the adoption of the Motion now under debate, had most satisfactorily confuted, in the latter part of his speech, all the arguments which he used in the beginning; for he said, that the proposition of the right hon. Member for Lambeth was unnecessary, because the average duration of Parliaments did not exceed three years, so that, in point of fact, triennial Parliaments existed already. That was exactly what the right hon. Member for Lambeth desired—the establishment of triennial Parliaments was the only object of his motion; but, said the hon. and gallant officer, if that House passed a bill, limiting the duration of Parliament to three years, biennial Parlia- ments would surely be the result. Who asked for triennial Parliaments? Not the right hon. member who made the motion; his proposition was unrestricted; the right hon. member asked them merely to agree to shorten the duration of Parliaments, and he intended to vote for the motion, though opposed to triennial Parliaments. However new the term might be to the people of this country, he was an advocate of quadrennial Parliaments, and he believed, that, if the period of the existence of each Parliament was limited to four years, the average duration would be found to be what it was at present, three years; and he saw no reason why that which had worked well in practice, should not be recognised in principle. The hon. and gallant member described the people as being apathetic on the subject of triennial Parliaments, and condemned those who were in favour of the proposition before the House, for attempting to excite hopes which it was out of their power to satisfy. Now he (Sir Daniel Sandford), on the contrary, believed that there was no subject more prominent in men's minds, none which interested larger portions of society, or with respect to which the people were more anxious to ascertain the opinions of the individuals who represented them, than this very question of triennial Parliaments. He would now turn, with that pleasure which ingenuity and eloquence never failed to inspire, to the arguments which the noble Lord opposite (Lord Dalmeny) had used in opposition to the present motion. He understood the noble Lord to have said, there might be some excuse for the Parliament passing the Triennial Act in the time of William 3rd, inasmuch as a mighty revolution had just been effected, corruption had been put down, tyranny banished from the country, and a great change made in the relations existing between the aristocracy and the people. Now, was not the country in a situation precisely similar at the present moment? [Lord Dalmeny: No; the country had then escaped from a regal despotism.] It appeared, then, that what the noble Lord had said was, that, at the time of the passing of the Triennial Act, the people had just emerged from a recent despotism. Was not that exactly the situation in which the people stood at present? [Lord Dalmeny: I said regal, not recent, despotism.] He would not quarrel with the noble Lord about a word. What mattered it to him what the nature of the despotism was?—whether it was the despotism of a king, or the despotism of an oligarchy? But he would ask the noble Lord, and those Members who occupied seats on the ministerial side of the House, whether they had not supported the beneficial measure for reform, introduced by the present ministry, because they thought it would have the effect of freeing the country from those trammels by which its energies had been bound down. The country, then, was in precisely the same situation as that in which it stood when the Triennial Bill received the sanction of Parliament; and he saw no reason why that Bill, which followed as a corollary to the emancipation of the people from a monarchical despotism, should not be passed as a corollary to the great measure of Reform; which, to quote the words of the noble Paymaster of the Forces, was in itself a great revolution. The noble Lord had dwelt much on the evils likely to result from Members of Parliament yielding too ready an obedience to the wishes of the people; and, in listening to the noble Lord, one might almost be led to believe, that no expression could convey a more erroneous idea than the common proverb, "Vox populi, vox Dei," and that it ought properly to be changed into "Vox populi, vox diaboli." The noble Lord said, that the people were often mistaken; and, as a proof of the injustice which would result from a compliance with the opinions of the people on all occasions, referred to the state of public feeling with respect to the admirable measure of Catholic emancipation, introduced to Parliament by the late Government. The noble Lord could not have pointed to an instance more unfortunate for his argument. When the right hon. member for Tamworth came forward in the House of Commons, with a heroism and a magnanimity, which could never be sufficiently praised, to propose that great measure, and thereby gratify the wishes of a whole nation, what was his principal argument? If he (Sir Daniel Sandford) recollected aright, the right hon. Gentleman observed, that he could no longer resist the wishes of the people, as spoken by their representatives; and, after going through a list of the votes of the members of Parliament, he said, that he found a majority of the county members, and of those who represented large and commanding constituencies, to be in favour of Catholic emancipation. He therefore thought, that the noble Lord was most unhappy in his reference to the circumstances attending the passing of that measure; for, instead of showing that Members of Parliament were likely to do wrong, if they acted in conformity with the wishes of their constituents, his reference proved directly the reverse. But the noble Lord said, that Members of Parliament ought not to be mere delegates; and he agreed with him in thinking, that a representative should enter that House an independent man—that he should not, before taking his seat, be bound down by pledges to any fixed line of conduct, which he might afterwards think incompatible with the interests of the nation at large. Still he thought, that triennial Parliaments would have the effect of rendering Members more independent. The noble Lord must know what the feelings of the people were with respect to the responsibility of their representatives. He must know, with what scrutinising jealousy they investigated the motives, character, and abilities of every man who came forward as a candidate for their suffrages. Much of that confidence which the people of this country used to repose in the political character of their representatives was gone, he trusted not for ever; and many Members had taken their seats in that House, whose usefulness was entirely annihilated, because they had been returned to Parliament, bound down and shackled by pledges. What means could they adopt better calculated to restore the confidence which ought to exist between the represented and their representatives, than by declaring that, though they possessed the power of prolonging their Parliamentary existence for a long period, they were ready to forego the privilege, and return their trust into the hands of the people. Every gentleman who voted in favour of the present Motion, would go back with the strongest possible argument in his favour to his constituents, who would not again be so ready to suspect him, nor shrink from trusting him with power for the shorter period of three years. No restriction would be placed on his votes or his acts, and he would re-enter the House with that august and independent air, which, as Burke said, should belong to a free representative of the people. For these reasons he supported the proposition of the right hon. member for Lambeth, to the extent to which it went. He supported it, because, recently as he had taken his seat on the benches of that House, he felt deeply for the character of the Legislature of which he was a member, and likewise for the character of the right hon. Gentlemen sitting on the Ministerial bench opposite. It was to them that he owed his seat in that House, not in consequence of the exercise of any Ministerial influence, but because of the passing of the Reform Bill, which they had introduced. The Ministers had effected much good for the country, and owing them a debt of gratitude for benefits present and prospective, he was anxious that their character should stand high with the people. He, therefore, felt bound urgently to advise them not to reject the present Motion; for if they did, he feared they would turn from them the affections of the people, who were, to a certain degree, grateful to them for the measure of Reform.
said, that many hon. Members prefaced long speeches, with a declaration that they were about to make short ones, but when he said, that he would not occupy the attention of the House for more than a few moments, he certainly intended to be as good as his word. He was in favour of shortening the duration of Parliaments. Some hon. Members would have them for five years, others for four, and some for three. He had not heard any one fix upon six years. Now he would prefer six. He would prefer six years to seven, five years to six, four years to five, and three years to four. He would not go so far as to say, he would prefer two years to three, but, though within the numbers he had stated, he would prefer short Parliaments to long, yet he would not adopt any of these modes of shortening Parliaments. He would have—and if the right. hon. member should obtain leave to bring in his Bill, and that it should go into Committee—he gave notice, that, when in Committee, he would move a clause, to the effect, that one-third of the Members of that House should go out annually, the decision as to the one-third who should go out to be by ballot. This would be a most effectual improvement, and would save the trouble and turmoil of triennial elections, and would allow the public business to go on without interruption, and would have many other advantages, which he would not then take up the time of the House in stating.
said, that his noble friend behind him (Lord Dalmeny)had expressed a hope, that hon. Gentlemen would discuss this question without those frequent references to what had passed lately, so much in fashion, which might almost entitle them to the appellation of Parliamentary resurrection men. Now, he did not mean, for one moment, to deny, that he had, at different times, voted for the repeal of the Septennial Act. He did not remember, that he had spoken on the subject; but he had certainly so voted. He had voted thus during the continuance of an unreformed Parliament; and he would state distinctly the grounds on which he did so. He never then entertained the least hope of carrying the great measure of Parliamentary Reform; and knowing that so large a portion of the then Members of that House were sent there on the nomination of individuals, he thought it desirable that the power of the people over those whom they did actually elect, should be increased to the greatest possible extent. He did not agree with the hon. Gentleman who spoke just now, that the effect of this measure, if carried, would be to diminish the dependence of members on their constituents; on the contrary he thought it would greatly increase their dependence. He was not going to argue it was contrary to all the principles he professed, to do so—that Members of Parliament should be independent of their constituents. They ought to be dependent; but, at the same time, he thought they should not be dependent on every sudden and unconsidered mutation of opinion; but on opinions fairly formed after due consideration and deliberation. It appeared to him, that, under the present duration of Parliament, there was no Member in that House who did not, on every occasion that he addressed them, feel that he was responsible to his constituents, and that his vote on every question was materially influenced by their wishes. It appeared to him, that this was a question of degree. He should not argue it as an historical question. He was generally more inclined to argue questions in relation to their practical bearings and utility at the time they were brought forward, than implicitly to follow historical examples. It was not sufficient to prove that at any former period of our history, Triennial Parliaments existed either rightly or wrongly; the question was, would it now be advantageous to resort to them? He was of opinion, on the whole, judging from the feeling and conduct of Parliament, that at the present moment the influence of the constituency in that House was as great as was desirable for carrying on the Government of the country. He knew very well, that Gentlemen who were in the habit of voting in a minority in that House never thought that to be the case. It was a natural inference. Gentlemen who found the decision of the House directly against their opinions, were no doubt apt to think, that the House decided against the opinion of the people at large. It was possible, that, on some individual questions, the House might decide against the opinions of the people; but the question was, whether, taking all the circumstances of those questions into consideration, the decision of the House was not such as should command the favourable opinion of the public, and such as was likely ultimately to obtain it? He was aware, that such a mode of argument might possibly be unpopular: but he did not believe, that the people of England generally wished the Members of that House to act as their delegates; but that they placed considerable reliance on the opinions of those whom they had selected as most worthy of their confidence, and desired them to act honestly on their own judgment. It certainly was the wish of the people of England to select those persons with whose opinions they agreed; but if they coincided with the general principles of the candidate, he believed they were perfectly ready to trust to his discretion in matters of detail. It did not then appear to him, that there was anything peculiar to the present time which made it desirable to discuss this question. The hon. member for Paisley stated, in answer to an observation of his noble friend's (Lord Dalmeny), viz.—"that the Septennial Bill was passed immediately after our Emancipation from Regal Despotism"—that we had now but just been emancipated from Oligarchical Despotism. He certainly might fairly be supposed to estimate the benefits of the Reform Bill as highly as any one, but he would not go so far as to say that we had emerged from a state of Despotism. Though we had emerged from a state of oligarchical influence, greatly mischievous to the country, yet he could not describe it as despotism, nor compare it to what occurred during the times of Charles 2nd, and James 2nd. The hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir D. Sandford) had proposed to come back to what had, by practical experience, been shown to be the actual and usual duration of Parliaments, and to make the legal duration correspond with the actual average. The House must surely be aware of the fallacy of that argument, for if the legal duration of Parliaments were three years, the actual duration must necessarily be much less. [Sir D. Sandford: I proposed that the legal duration should be four years.] Granting that it were made four, it did not by any means follow, because the average duration of Septennial Parliaments was three years, that therefore the average duration of Quadrennial Parliaments would be the same. He would not disguise from the House that the effect of the Septennial Bill had been to increase the influence of the Crown. One reason why the duration of Parliaments had been shorter than the law permitted, had been, that the Governments had taken advantage, as had been truly stated, of the period when it was most convenient to dissolve the House of Commons with the greatest prospect of advantage to themselves. The real question before the House was, whether, in the present state of the country, the popular voice had not sufficient influence in that House, or whether the influence of the Crown there was too great? His opinion, from everything that he had seen, was, that neither of these contingencies was likely to occur. The gallant Colonel stated, in rather exaggerated terms, that the frequency of elections would lead to great interruptions in the business of the House. To a certain extent that would undoubtedly be the case. At the end of the last Session of Parliament, although it had not been denied that there had been great interruption in the proceedings of the House, yet much business had been done; and if in the present Session, the various propositions which had been brought forward should be carried into effect, it would be impossible to complain that little or no business had been accomplished. He allowed, that, in the last Session, there had been a greater interruption of public business than there ought to have been; but it was consonant to his experience that such was generally the case in the first Session of every Parliament. Gentlemen came into the House unacquainted with the forms of Parliament, and, in their haste diligently to perform their new functions, gave notice of a great multitude of motions, which, were, perhaps, not necessary for the public service. There had been less delay from that cause in the present Session of Parliament. His argument was this, that although, when the powers of the Crown were as great as they were before the passing of the Reform Bill, and the people did not, in fact, elect their Representatives, it might be desirable to give additional power to the people; yet, now that the people did elect their Representatives, the power which the people possessed was quite sufficient under the Septennial Bill. Those hon. Members who thought that the opinion of the people on every question considered in that House ought to be immediately resorted to, ought, if they supported any change at all, to support Annual Parliaments; for the question of whether the Parliament, instead of continuing seven years should continue only five, or four, or three years, was merely a question of degree; and, in his opinion, those who thought with him, that the Members of that House ought to act according to their deliberate judgment, and not from any sudden or immediate impulse out of doors, had heard nothing to prove that seven years was too long a period for the duration of Parliament. On these grounds, he should object to the proposition of the hon. member for Lambeth.
said, that the entire argument of the noble Lord, (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) and of the noble Lord (Lord Dalmeny) who sat behind him, depended on the servility and dependence which would be created by a Triennial Bill. But the question was, did they come there to do the business of the people or their own? and if they came there to do the business of the people, they ought to consult the wishes of the people. They talked a good deal of the wisdom of the people, and surely they must be wise who had selected such a set of philosophic representatives; yet, with all this, the opinion of the people was now to be treated with contempt. For what object had they constituents selected, as was said, from the soundest part of the nation, if their wishes were not to be consulted, and if they could not exercise that salutary control over their representatives which the Constitution intended? There was, however, no very great personal advantage in voting in minorities on questions affecting the interests of their constituents, while the advantages of being found in Ministerial majorities showed whose business many hon. Members had come there to attend to. Were there no peerages to be given, no promotions for Admirals and Generals, no Captains to get ships, and Colonels to get regiments, no lawyers to get places, no colonial patronage? They had heard from the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Stanley), that 105 places had been filled up by Englishmen in Canada. Of course, these were all selected by chance; but possibly, if the history of many of those appointments were known, it would be found that some of the parties owed their happy lot to the chance of some of their friends being found in the Government majorities. There was then the patronage of India placed under the direct control of the Government. In short, the present Government had more patronage than had ever fallen to the share of any Government before. Was not this, then, an increase of the influence of the Crown? and should not the people, under these circumstances, have a more direct control over their representatives? The Representatives of the people in that House held their situations as a trust, and the danger was, that if held too long, it might be considered, like other trusts, as their own property. Whoever heard of a man appointing his attorney for seven years without power of revocation? Did hon. Members do this in their private affairs? Did they appoint their stewards or their agents for a limited time, without control over them or power to revoke the appointment? He thought seven years was too long to hold so important a trust. His only objection to Triennial Parliaments was, that they were too long. However, he was disposed to take that term, as there was a precedent for it in good times. Another objection to Septennial Parliaments was, that it excluded young men who were just coming of age at one election, from all share in the representation till the next election. On the principle, that short accounts made long friends, he would support the Motion.
dissented from the view taken of the question by the hon. and learned member for Dublin. If the principle on which that hon. and learned Gentleman was prepared to act were carried out, they ought to have Annual Parliaments. But what would be the effect of such frequent elections—even of triennial elections? They would be, that the majority of seats in that House would fall into the hands of men of great wealth, who did not regard the expenditure of money, and they had seen, even under the Reform Act, that large sums were expended; or they would fall to men of no property, who would become Representatives of the people by pandering to their passions. No doubt, those who wished to act merely as the delegates of the people, would vote for the shortest duration of Parliaments; but he agreed with the noble Lord, that the people, as now represented, had a full and fair share of influence in that House. He could not but express his surprise to hear the hon. and learned member for Dublin, as an Irishman and a Catholic, appealing to times as "good times," which had been disgraced by the enactment of the severest penalties against a large portion of his Majesty's subjects. Feeling that the influence of the people in that House was such as to give them a full control over their Representatives, he would oppose the Motion.
spoke as follows:—As all the speeches on this occasion have been so satisfactorily short, I propose following that commendable example by not extending my remarks beyond a very few observations—Sir, I always considered, that the Reform Act would be incomplete and unproductive of its promised and expected advantages, until or unless conjoined with Vote by Ballot, and the measure now before the House. I am not an advocate for extremes at either side—I deem seven years' duration or possible duration of Parliaments too long, and I equally disapprove of annual Parliaments as too short; but, I think a wise and judicious medium may be adopted, which it is the object of the present Motion to arrive at. If a representative conduct himself honorably and usefully, he can fearlessly present himself again to his constituents; but, if on the other hand, he has acted not to the satisfaction of those who appointed him, but whom he disappointed, I think three years of possessing the wishes and perhaps the interests of those who returned him, of quite sufficient endurance. In every other relation of life we practise and experience the advantage of quick accountability and surely in proportion to the magnitude of the interests involved, such protection becomes the more necessary and indispensable. As regards future candidates, too, I think more frequent renewals of Parliament would tend to diminish a good deal of the existing bitterness of contests, as the disappointed individual would look forward to a speady opportunity of proffering his pretensions again—I also think. Sir, that, as the two other branches of the Legislature are for life and hereditary it becomes the more necessary to place the popular branch under the stern yet reasonable and useful control of the people: with these impressions, Sir, I shall cordially vote for the Motion.
said, that the debate on this question last Session did not occupy more than three hours, and he was not disposed to prolong this discussion by any lengthened remarks. The noble Lord had with his usual candour admitted, that such a Motion as the present would have been necessary but for the change made in the constituency pf that House. Now the question was, had such a change taken place? Had the influence of the people in that House been increased? Had that of the aristocracy been substantially diminished? They were told, that he influence of property would be rather increased than diminished by the Reform Bill, and had it not turned out that the influence of the landed interest had increased? There was only one Perthshire by name in the country, but there were many in principle and feeling. Had the influence of the Crown increased? Look at the Acts which had been passed even in the present Parliament, which spawned placemen. There was the Irish Ecclesiastical Bill—the Poor-laws' Amendment Bill, and a variety of others which abounded in new places. He did not charge the present Ministry with an intention of creating those places for the sake of patronage, or with a disposition to abuse the influence which they conferred; but let a conservative premier direct the Councils of Government, (and that was not an event in the highest degree improbable) and let him take this enormous amount of patronage in the one hand, and a seven years' Parliament in the other, and the Whigs might live to regret their rejection of a motion for the Repeal of that Bill. He would put the question on this ground—Ought the present Parliament to be continued for six years longer? What had they done; They had renewed the Bank Charter; they had passed the India Bill; and there were many other important measures on the anvil. If they progressed in this way, to use an American phrase, what an account would they have to settle with their constituents in 1836 or 1839! How large an account had they to settle with the Dissenters! Many Members in that House owed their seats to the influence of that body. If they now rejected the claims of the Dissenters, ought they not to go back to those who sent them there, and let a new decision be made on their claims to sit as legislators. But if they treated the Dissenters with neglect—for he could not imagine they would be so blinded to common sense as to treat them with contempt—but if they treated such an influential body with neglect, would not men's passions be worked up by repeated disappointments? Those accumulated passions would then burst forth, and, in 1839, consequences more disastrous would be experienced even than those which had occurred in 1836. He would ask those Members who were returned at present by the Dissenting interests, whether they thought that a Parliament acting on the same principles on which the present Parliament had acted, ought to last for so long a period as seven years? The noble Lord on the other side of the House ought to recollect, that his proposition for the Reform of that House had been distinguished by its unprecedented originality. Now, those who supported the present Motion, did not ask for any innovation—they only asked the House to go back to the preamble of the Act which was introduced by the great Lord Somers. For his own part, he was utterly at a loss to account for the change which had recently come over the spirit of the Ministry. On most occasions they were for standing by our ancient landmarks; but now, when they were asked to recur to the ancient principles and the ancient practice of the Constitution, they shrunk from the proposition of his right hon. friend, the member for Lambeth. He could assure the House, he could assure the Ministers, that the people attached a much deeper interest to this question, than they appeared to imagine. He was sorry to observe, that but few members of the Cabinet were present; they appeared to think, that this question might be treated with disregard; but let them not deceive themselves again, as they had deceived themselves for some time past. Did they not know—had not recent events taught them—that they had lost the sympathy along with the approbation of the public? Let them look to Dudley. He was sorry that he was so inarticulate; but he would repeat "Let them look to Dudley—let them look to Perthshire—let them look to the other examples which they had recently had of the loss of public support." In conclusion, he said, that he was willing to let the fate of this Motion rest before any impartial audience upon their answer to this question—"Ought this Parliament to sit for six years longer?"
agreed with the hon. Member who had preceded him, that this question had neither novelty nor variety to recommend it to the notice of the House. The hon. and learned member for Tipperary had told them that upon this subject the public feeling with regard to Ministers had undergone a great and substantial change. In what that change consisted, how that alteration of feeling had manifested itself, he (Mr. Stanley) had yet to learn; for when the right hon. member for Lambeth had brought forward the question last year, he had, brought forward at the same time in its support a number of petitions expressing the wishes of different bodies of the people for the passing of some measure to shorten the duration of Parliaments. But now, when this great change had been wrought in the hearts of the people—now, when this great revulsion of feeling had taken place, which was to manifest to the nation that Ministers no longer possessed the confidence of the public, and that they ought to be called to a serious account for no longer possessing it—what was the manifestation of this altered state of public opinion which had been brought forward by the right hon. member for Lambeth? Was there a general outcry on the part of the people for the Motion? No. Was the Table loaded with petitions in favour of the Motion? No. Was there any one petition for sexennial Parliaments? No. For quinquennial Parliaments? No. For quadrennial Parliaments? No. Was there any one for triennial Parliaments, or the six-months Parliaments, which might, per-adventure, be the favourite duration of the Parliaments of the hon. and learned member for Dublin? No. Scarcely was there one petition for either. But suppose the Government were pressed for short Parliaments—suppose the distrust in them, which was stated to exist, to be the fact—suppose, contrary to all modern experience, that septennial Parliaments were injurious to the people; yet it was the bounden duty of the right hon. Gentleman who introduced this Motion, not only to prove the affirmative of his proposition but also to show, that great and serious practical evils would be remedied by it, before he could expect the sanction of this House to such a proposition—he must prove, that something new and untried was necessary to cure the evils of which he complained—he must prove, that something novel in character and principle should be resorted to before he could induce the House to accede to his Motion. Hon. Gentlemen had talked of returning to the Constitution and to the old practice of the country, and, in pursuance of that argument, had recommended the recurrence to triennial Parliaments. Now, he said, that never was argument so contradicted by history as that which made triennial Parliaments part of the English Constitution. If they were part of it, how long had that Constitution lasted? Was it for twenty-four or for twenty-two years? For there seemed to be some doubt on that point, even in the speech of the right hon. member for Lambeth. [Mr. Tennyson: We had triennial Parliaments for twenty-two years.] Then the duration of the Constitution was to be taken at twenty-two years. But why was the House to consider the Constitution which existed during that time, and only during that time, as the Constitution of the country? Let him not be misunderstood; he was not now contending for the right of the Parliament which existed in 1716, and which had only been elected for three years, to continue its existence for seven. He was not questioning whether that was right or wrong; he was inclined to think that it was justified by a state necessity of the time, and by that only. At the same time he was ready to admit, that whatever it might be as to Parliaments which came after it, that prolongation of its own existence was an infringement of the rights of the people which the Parliament at that time represented. He was not, however, now arguing the question whether future Parliaments should sit for six, five, four, three, or two years. All that he was now considering was, whether triennial Parliaments were demanded by the Constitution, and so far as the Constitution was concerned, he had no hesitation in saying, that triennial Parliaments were no more the Constitution of the country than septennial or quinquennial Parliaments. Hon. Gentlemen, in speaking of the necessity of recurring to triennial Parliaments, had told the House that Parliaments had never been adjourned for more than three years, and had spoken very largely of the necessity of holding frequent Parliaments. They had told the House that some Parliaments had sat for more than three years, others for only two years, and some for only one year; and one hon. Member had entered into large details to show, that the average duration of Parliaments from their commencement had never exceeded three years. Now, ought any conclusion to be drawn from such an average? During all the period to which the hon. Member had referred, what was the opinion of the people as to the constitutional right of meeting in Parliament? Why, they thought that it was a great practical inconvenience that their Representatives should be obliged to leave their homes, and resort to the Parliament chamber at Westminster. Whatever might be said of the average duration of Parliament, it was notorious that in former times it was questionable whether the right of sending Members to Parliament, and, indeed, the very existence of Parliament, was considered to be a benefit or a grievance; and the right hon. member for Lambeth must know well, that, under the old law and Constitution, Parliament might, when once assembled, be kept together for any period not exceeding the life of the reigning Monarch. In the reign of Charles 2nd, there was a Parliament which had sat, he believed, for seventeen years. He would, however, leave the question of the constitutional duration of Parliaments, for it was his firm conviction that with regard to their duration there was no period more than another sanctioned by the Constitution. The real constitutional control which the people had over the Parliaments consisted in their having the power to prevent the trust which they had reposed in their Representatives from being reposed in them so long as to be capable of abuse. An hon. Gentleman had said, "Would any man be mad enough to give another a power of attorney without reservation?" He admitted, that no man would give such a power; but Members of Parliament did not exercise their rights under power of attorney. They were not yet delegates, they were not yet come to the days when they were to be styled legislatorial attornies. Another hon. Member had asked, "Are we wiser than our constituents?" "Some of us," said Mr. Stanley, "will not, I am afraid, be able to stand that test. But our constituents do not choose us because we are wiser than they are, but because they have a confidence that we shall represent their interests faithfully and honestly—because they know us and trust us—because we are associated with them by ties which they believe that we shall not betray, even for the sake of the popularity which follows from flattering their prejudices and from pandering to their passions. Possessing, as I do, the station which I now hold in this House, from the knowledge which I have of my constituents, and which they have of me—possessing it from their confidence in my character, which I hope is unimpeached, and which I will endeavour to preserve unimpeached, possessing it upon terms, which if not specified in writing, were understood to be to this effect:—"Go to the House of Commons, watch over our welfare, protect our interests, act as our Representative, not as our delegate, go as one of the Representatives of the country, and blend our interests with those of the empire at large,"—possessing my seat, I repeat, upon these conditions, I shall not so much consider whether I am wiser than my constituents, as whether the measures which I support are calculated to promote their interests, and those of the empire at large. The hon. and learned member for Tipperary has said, "If the wishes of the Dissenters are not realized—if they find their wishes treated with contempt, then let those who are returned by the Dissenting interest go to the Dissenters again, and see whether they will again find their way to this House with their support." I will readily accept the challenge which the hon. and learned Gentleman has thrown out. I tell him, that he has singled out an instance which I am ready to take as an exemplification of the difference which exists between the systems which we mutually support. No man can feel a greater respect than I do for the respectable, and intelligent, and powerful body of Dissenters in this kingdom. I have the honour to be supported in the seat which I now occupy, not only by a numerous body of Churchmen, but also by a numerous body of Protestant Dissenters, and of Roman Catholics. But if we come here for any one thing, it is for this—that we may canvass how far the interests of the different classes of the community can be maintained and supported with safety to the general interests of the empire at large. We are bound to consider whether their demands are just, reasonable, and practicable. We are bound to enter into their policy, their justice, and their expediency; and nothing in my mind could be more injurious to the State, than to let Parliament be sent back, in the heat of disappointment, to the disappointed body, not with a view to the general interests of the empire at large, but with a view to one particular question, namely, "Will you fulfil our demands upon it, no matter whether they be reasonable or not?" I have great confidence in the good sense, in the good feeling, and, in the long run, in the sound reason of the country, and I say that if you give time for reflection, the opinion of the public will be seldom in the wrong. I go even further, I say that in the long run it never is wrong. But I will not flatter the people nor any public body. I will not say, that there are not moments of excitement, when their prejudices and their passions run away with their judgment, and make them repudiate their best friends and take up with those who are the loudest pretenders to patriotism and public virtue. A noble Lord who in the course of the debate spoke with great talent and eloquence, has told us, that a great change has been accomplished by the Reform Bill, and that, in consequence of that change, there is no inconsistency in Gentlemen voting against this Motion, who, before the Reform Bill was passed, voted in favour of every proposition for shortening the duration of Parliament. The noble Lord who had spoken with considerable eloquence (Lord Dalmeny) said, "I will not act the part of a resurrectionist—I will not dig up the buried speeches of Lord Althorp and of Mr. Stanley in 1829." Now, I will candidly admit, that if, before the Reform Bill had become law, I had spoken in favour of shortening the duration of Parliaments, I should not be ashamed, at present, at seeing a speech of mine quoted against me differing from the speech which I am now addressing to the House. But, to the best of my knowledge and belief, there is no dead carcass of mine to be dug up by any resurrectionist. No such speech of mine exists; no such speech did I ever make, for I never was a supporter of triennial Parliaments, and therefore now, when we have accomplished a Reform, I feel myself at perfect liberty to oppose any Motion for their restoration. But, says the hon. and learned member for Tipperary, "the Reform Bill makes no difference in the consideration of this question;" and then he asks, "Has it diminished the power of the Crown—has it diminished the power of the aristocracy—has it increased the power of the people? If the hon. and learned Member is prepared to answer these questions in the negative, then I ask, in the name of God and of common sense, why did not the hon. and learned Gentleman oppose the Reform Bill? To say that the Reform Bill had not diminished the power of the Crown and the aristocracy, and that it had not made the just influence of the people more felt in that House, is an assertion so bold and so rash—I say it not offensively—that I hardly expected to have heard it made in the second Session of the first Parliament elected under the Reform Bill." The Septennial Bill, the right hon. Secretary proceeded, as everybody knew, was introduced as a great measure of State, under a pressure of circumstances which threatened the existing dynasty, if not the monarchy itself. It was justified by that pressure, and by that pressure alone. Nothing else could ever form a palliation for its introduction. But whilst he made this admission, that a Parliament elected for three years only had no right to prolong its own existence beyond that term, its proceedings might be justified in prolonging the duration of the Parliaments which were to succeed it. It was in the year 1734—precisely 100 years ago—that Sir William Wyndham, then occupying that place in the ranks of opposition which was now so much better filled by the right hon. member for Lambeth, brought forward his philippic against the Ministers of that day—showed that they had once occupied a high station in public esteem, from which they were daily, if not hourly, sinking—proved that they had had hopes entertained of them, which they had, by their own conduct, entirely blighted—and contended, that corrupt and profligate as the House was, increasing as the influence of the Crown was within it, enormous as was the number of placemen who had seats in it, filled as it was by naval and military men, so much so as to gain for it the sobriquet of the Officer's Parliament; it was absolutely necessary to the restoration of its purity, that the repeal of the Septennial Act should immediately take place. He would now ask, whether the state of the House at that time ought in any respect to be compared with the state of the House at present? Would it be tolerated at present, that any Gentleman should get up in his place, and should argue as Sir William Wyndham argued, that it was right to diminish the duration of Parliament from seven years to three, because if a man could get a seat in Parliament for 1,500l., said Sir William, and could obtain a pension of 500l. a-year for seven years from Ministers, he could pay his expenses, and put 2,000l. in his pocket; whereas, if Parliament only sat three years, he would lose the interest of his money, and gain nothing for the trouble and expense which he had incurred, even supposing him to obtain the same pension. At that time—he was speaking of what took place 100 years ago—it was acknowledged that votes had become the object of barter and sale. The argument then advanced in support of the present proposition was this:—"You must diminish the temptations to bribery and corruption. Make, then, the term of service in Parliament so short, that the price which any Minister may offer for it shall not be equal to the sum necessary for the purchase of the representation of the borough." Sir William Wyndham, in bringing forward the arguments which he had to urge in support of it, said, that if ever there should be; and he did not mean to say, that there was, but such a case, though it had not happened, possibly might happen,—Sir William Wyndham, he repeated, said, that if there ever should be a Minister, having no virtue of his own, and ridiculing the possession of it in others, raised by no talents of his own to the bad eminence which he possessed; and at the same time disgrace, misunderstanding or disregarding the interests, the honour, and credit of the country, as ready to sacrifice its most important concerns as to purchase a corrupt majority of its Representatives, in such a case it would be advisable to have recourse to the system of Triennial Parliaments, in order that the people might have an opportunity of calling upon that Minister to account to the people whose rights he had violated, and whose liberties he had crushed. What was the answer given by Sir Robert Walpole to this invective? He said it was easy—nothing more so—to talk about Ministers being corrupt, and profligate, and domineering; he said, it was no less easy to talk about the increased patronage and influence of the Crown; but he added, that as the hon. Gentleman had made suppositions, meaning some persons, but no person, as they said, now in being, he trusted that he, too, might be allowed to draw a picture in his turn, not meaning of course to give a description of any particular person then in existence. There might be, he said, some Anti-minister in that House, abandoned to all sense of honour and virtue, actuated only by motives of envy and of resentment against those who had disappointed his views, or who had not complied with his desires, thinking himself a person of great and eminent parts, seeking equally with his rival that bad eminence which he was hourly denouncing, and currying and canvassing the favour of all who seemed likely to second his efforts to rise to it; and what would the House think of such a wretch? This was the language used in 1734 by Sir Robert Walpole; the same supposition which had been made in 1734 might be ventured on again in 1834, though of course it could not apply to any particular person. He asked hon. Members whether there was any thing in the present state of the Representation to justify such a charge as this against the House; that its Members were so profligate and corrupt, that Ministers were so base and negligent of their duty, that the power of the Crown was so greatly on the increase, that the number of placemen was so enormous, that the mass of naval and military officers in the House was so overpowering, as to render it incumbent upon Parliament to make the duration of Parliaments so short as to prevent the possibility of jobbing in future? He admitted, that the arguments against the present proposition which were good in 1734, might be unwarranted in 1834, owing to the different circumstances of the times. But supposing the House to leave those arguments out of consideration, and to repeal the Septennial Act, with what period of duration would the advocates of your present constitutional doctrines be satisfied? He was sure, that the right hon. member for Lambeth was too candid to deny, that Quinquennial Parliaments would be a mere delusion, and would do no good. The right hon. Gentleman, he was certain, wished the House to come back to the Triennial Bill, which he was pleased to denominate the ancient and genuine constitution of the country. But no, said the hon. and gallant Admiral near him,—"Triennial Parliaments, in my opinion, will be destructive to the constitution. I will, however, support the Motion for repealing the Septennial Bill, because, when that is repealed, I may introduce my project of a Quinquennial Bill." But what did the right hon. member for Lambeth say to this?—"I will take your support to repeal the Septennial Bill; but if you think to satisfy either me or my constituents by your proposition of a Quinquennial Bill, you labour under a delusion—you might as well give us a Septennial as a Quinquennial Bill." Then came the hon. and learned member for Paisley, and considering how fresh he was from the hustings, he was perhaps justified in saying "there was nothing like the first Session, in which a Member of Parliament took his seat." He (Mr. Stanley) knew that, in the first Session of Parliament, hon. Members came up with all the glow of patriotism full upon them; fresh from the hustings, they fancied themselves the express image of the wants and wishes of the people, and they acted accordingly. "Look," said the hon. and learned member for Paisley, "all that was done in the first Session of Parliament." It was true, that in that Session we carried many great and beneficial measures. It was on the 15th of May last year, that he had introduced the first great measure of the Session, that for the abolition of negro slavery. It was now the 14th of May, and he had—
near Mr Sheil—Your first great and beneficial measure was the Irish Coercion Bill.
.—That was undoubtedly a great and important measure; at any rate, he knew that it took up a considerable portion of their time. To return, however, to the hon. and learned member for Paisley. The hon. Member said, that he would not have Annual Parliaments, for he thought it only right, that we should let the gloss get off the newly-elected Representative. But the hon. and learned Member went further, he was as much opposed to Biennial and Triennial Parliaments, as he was to Annual Parliaments, and he would have Quadrennial Parliaments. This was what the hon. and learned Member had called his "ultroneous proposition." What the hon. and learned Member meant by this phraseology, he (Mr. Stanley) was at a loss to understand, for he must candidly confess, that he never heard it before. Let the House consider the contradictory propositions which had already been advanced upon this very point. The right hon. member for Lambeth said, that the duration of Parliament for seven years was too long. "Oh!" says another hon. Member, "I fully concur with you. I will consent to shorten the duration of Parliament to five years." "No," says another, "you do nothing unless you shorten it to three." "Three years," says the hon. and learned member for Paisley, "is too short a period—the gloss is not worn off us—give us four years, and then you will hit the proper medium." Then comes a fourth Gentleman, and he tells us that Triennial Parliaments are too long. "Let us therefore have Biennial Parliaments. In the first year, we shall have a lively recollec- tion of what passed at the hustings, and in the latter a lively anticipation of what will soon take place there," [Loud cries of "Hear."] What! did hon. Gentlemen by their cheering mean to intimate that that was a recommendation of Biennial Parliaments? He thought, that it was quite the reverse. On that point he went along with the hon. member for Carlisle. He liked seven years better than six, six years better than five, five years better than four, four years better than three, three years better than two—no, he did not know that he liked three years better than two, or even than one; for if you once came to a state of things, in which you were looking all the time of your sitting in Parliament to the hustings, and to the hustings alone, he said, that it would be impossible for any Member of Parliament to discharge his duty, he would not merely say conscientiously to himself, but even usefully to his constituents and to his country. Your Triennial Parliament would be a two years' Parliament. It would never be allowed to go on to the last moment, because its first Session would be taken up in examining the Returns of the last election, and its second in anticipating those which might take place at the next election. Could such a system be either useful or beneficial to the country? On the grounds on which the right hon. Gentleman recommended it to approbation—for let them not flinch from his principles—every vote should be given under the influence of this consideration—"What will my constituents think of it? Shall I by this vote get a majority of ten where, before I only got a majority of five—shall I get over the great influence, which, at the last election voted against me?" With such consequences before him, he would rather adopt the project laid down by the hon. member for Carlisle on the one hand, and the hon. and learned member for Dublin on the other, than adopt the present Motion. He would say with the one, "Let us be annual delegates;" and with the other, "let us be legislatorial attornies; let us abandon our existence as a legislative body; let us adopt the plans of those who have sent us here; let us give up our independence at once, for anything is better than our assumption of an independence we do not possess." He did not ask whether men of rank, and character, and independent fortune, would submit to the degradation of being thus subservient in that House, [Cheers from Mr. Tenny- son and his friends.] "The right hon. Gentleman (said Mr. Stanley) cheers me—every man is the best judge of his own feelings; and I know for myself, that I would not submit to such degradation. I say, that if I were to act under compulsion as to every vote—the right hon. Gentleman waves his hand impatiently, and says, "Oh, Oh!" but I repeat, that, if with regard to every question that came before the House, I was to be subjected to the examination and cross-examination of my constituents, and to have no free will upon any, I would not submit to it. Such a system would not be tolerable, or if it were tolerable, it would destroy the authority of this House altogether; or by making it the organ of the popular will, and not of the popular judgment and reason, would render it impossible for any Minister to conduct the affairs of the empire—would bring it into collision with the other branches of the Legislature, and would end by bringing itself into contempt, and the monarchy into ruin. For these reasons I deprecate this Motion. Is there any useful result to be obtained by it? It is an abstract proposition, founded on what the right hon. Gentleman calls the best practice of the Constitution—namely, that the present duration of Parliament is not short enough for a due control of the Representatives of the people." But, was the present state of affairs, the right hon. Secretary proceeded, anything like that state which justified the original passing of the Triennial Bill? He asserted that it was not. If there was any similarity, let the right hon. Gentleman tell the House at once to what time he would limit the duration of Parliament. After giving us his abstract proposition, was he going to throw it into the House loosely among Gentlemen who all entertained different opinions as to its propriety, for the purpose of exciting alarm as to the durability of our institutions? On these grounds he hoped, that the House would not consent to the introduction of a Bill which was brought forward on no sound theory or constitutional practice; and which professed to lead to no fixed or certain result; but which, notwithstanding, admitted of the application of principles, that if carried into effect, would in all probability lead to the destruction of the Constitution of the country, and endanger the existence of the monarchy itself. If there were any great or practical grievance to complain of, apply an adequate remedy—take a large and liberal Reform to the full extent of the evil; but till the existence of positive evils and grievances was proved, he held all change in relation to a question so important as the duration of Parliaments to be in itself a great and serious evil; and if, in the present state of things no practical danger existed, he called upon the House, to abide and hold fast by what they possessed, as they valued the safety of the country.
observed, that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Stanley) had said no motive should induce him to surrender his opinion to that of his constituents, unless he could be convinced that they were right and he was wrong in the view taken of any question. Surely the right hon. Gentleman would not refuse to give other Members of that House credit for similar independence of opinion and action under the same circumstances; and if he did, what became of the right hon. gentleman's argument against shortening the duration of Parliaments, so far as his reasoning was founded on the assumed slavery of representatives and their inability to resist the prejudices of their constituents in the event of more frequent elections? The Members of every Septennial Parliament were in the same situation as that which the right hon. Gentleman so much deprecated, after having sat three years. Was it meant to insult Gentlemen by saying, that if the present question, for instance, were brought on at a more advanced period of this Parliament, they would shrink from expressing their actual opinions, and pander to the feelings or prejudices of their constituents, on account of the approaching election? He did not know that any grounds existed for such a supposition; but if there were any such Members in the House, the sooner they were sent back to their constituents the better. But he felt no apprehension of such misconduct; corrupt as mankind were, they did not like to depart openly from their duty and vote against their consciences. The supposition on the other side of the House was, that Gentlemen who voted for the true interests but against the prejudices of their constituents might suffer for their conduct, and that they would be afraid to go back to the hustings. How could this occur? Were they so weak, so destitute of reason and argument, as to be unable to show their constituents in what instances they had supported their real interests, though it might have been at the expense of offending pre- judices? In former Parliaments Gentlemen had not unfrequently differed from their constituents on important questions, yet, upon going again to the hustings, they had succeeded in proving the rectitude and propriety of their conduct, and their constituents gave them credit for it. Was a different result to be expected in a Reformed Parliament and from a reformed constituency? He thought that the triennial system would have the effect of keeping the feelings of representatives and constituents nearer together, and in greater harmony, than if the period of election was less frequent. A certain correspondence ought to exist between the opinions of Members and their constituents. A man could not be a real representative of any body of electors if he differed materially from them on important points; in such an event he ought to withdraw, and find another constituency. It had been said, that but few petitions had been presented in favour of shortening the duration of Parliament, and that therefore the first measure ought not to have been introduced, seeing that it was uncalled for; but it was not for the honour or dignity of Parliament, nor conducive to the tranquillity and comfort of constituencies, to assume that measures should not be adopted till they were pressed on the attention of the Legislature by a multitude of petitions. Grant a measure of justice before it was clamorously demanded, and the people would receive it with thankfulness; whereas, if you delayed your concessions till a later period, much ampler and more extensive measures would be accepted with a contrary feeling.
professed himself unable to find in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, witty and ironical as it undoubtedly was, a single convincing argument against the Motion. Who could have supposed that an argument against the Bill should have been urged on the ground of the disadvantage of dissolving Parliaments in times of popular excitement? who could ever suppose that such an argument would proceed from one of his Majesty's present Ministers who did dissolve Parliament at a period of great excitement without discovering those inconveniences which the right hon. Gentleman now apprehended? Nay more, one of those Ministers had that night professed the opinion, that the Government did generally dissolve Parliament when an excitement existed favourable to its own views. He therefore would support the Motion.
would not enter into the argument upon the abstract merits of the question as to the superiority of Septennial or Triennial Parliaments, but was anxious to state the grounds upon which he should give his individual vote on the present occasion. He was one of those who at a former period, and in other places (not in that House), had expressed an opinion in favour of the shortening of Parliaments. He did so when there existed little or no prospect of effecting any extensive or general measure of Parliamentary Reform; but when, in the course of the discussions on the Reform Bill, its supporters were taunted with its being only a stepping-stone to further demands and reforms, he ventured to state, that although he had entertained an opinion favourable to a larger reform, yet if he could see the Bill then before the House carried in its existing shape, he would be satisfied to give up all ulterior measures, and take that as a final and conclusive reform. Subsequently he told his constituents that he should oppose ulterior measures, and, notwithstanding, that he had the satisfaction to be re-elected by them, and to receive their approbation of his principles and opinions. From his experience of what had been done by the Reformed Parliament, and looking to the advantages which he expected to result to the people from their hopes on the subject of representation being fully realized, he felt bound to abide by the opinion he had then expressed, and should therefore vote against the right hon. Gentleman's Motion, although individually he had no great objection to five years being substituted for seven as the period of the duration of Parliament.
supported the Motion, and observed that he saw no good reason why five or even three years should not be fixed as the maximum of the duration of Parliaments.
wished to obtain if possible a clear idea of the precise proposition on which the House was about to come to a vote. The right hon. Gentleman had raised a question as to the duration of Parliaments, without any attempt to settle the exact period of their future existence. The whole question was one of duration, and the point to be decided was whether Parliament should continue for six, five, four, three, or one year; yet the right hon. Gentleman, though he proposed to shorten the duration of Parliaments, did not distinctly state what period he intend- ed to recommend on the repeal of the Septennial Act. Was the proposition to be, that Parliaments should continue to sit for five years? The right hon. Gentleman had told the House that a Quinquennial Bill, so far from settling, would, in point of fact, unsettle the whole question, and that if such a measure were adopted in the first instance, we should be obliged ere long to have recourse to further legislation. Therefore it was to be presumed the right hon. Gentleman would not propose to pass a Quinquennial Bill. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would state clearly in his reply what he had not explained in his opening speech—whether he was decidedly favourable to a period of three years for the duration of Parliaments? If that were the right hon. Gentleman's proposition, did he think it advisable that the present Parliament, which had sat for two years, and completed many important acts of legislation, which had now under consideration many more, and which day by day was learning better to perform the business of legislation—did he think it advisable that this Parliament should be dissolved after the present Session? If there were Triennial Parliaments, it would necessarily be the practice to dissolve them before the limited period of their duration had expired, as was now done under the septennial system. Such a practice must prove equally inconvenient and disadvantageous—it could only lead to hasty and imperfect legislation. However, if the right hon. Gentleman's proposition was made with a view to Triennial Parliaments, let him frankly state his opinion, that after the end of the present Session, it was right that the existence of this Parliament should cease and determine, and that its longer continuance was inconsistent with the rights and interests of the people.
said, that considering the noble Lord's knowledge of the practice of Parliament and the constitution of the country, he felt surprised, that the noble Lord should appear to think Members were bound to vote, not in reference to the Motion which appeared on the papers of the House, so much as upon the opinion expressed by the right hon. Gentleman who brought the subject forward. It was evident, however, that the noble Lord pressed this point for want of some better and more conclusive argument, and with a view to compromise the right hon. Member, and divide the support which he might receive if the question of time were left open. For himself, he intended to vote, not in reference to any opinions expressed or entertained by the right hon. Gentleman, nor upon the question of six or three years' duration of Parliaments, but simply on the Motion before the House, that the duration of Parliaments ought to be shortened. With respect to the conduct of this Reformed Parliament, he denied, that it had so eminently and usefully distinguished itself during its two Sessions as the noble Lord seemed to suppose. If gentlemen were to go back to their Constituents and tell them that in those two Sessions they voted for the Irish Coercion Bill in the first instance; and secondly, granted a compensation of 20,000,000l. to the West-India proprietors of slaves; and lastly, were engaged in this extraordinary measure relative to the Poor-laws, which put an end to the local management and distribution of the rates, and vested in three Commissioners the control of 7,000,000l. of revenue,—he should like to know whether hon. Members would expect to be returned again to that House?
stated, in reply, that his Motion was simply for shortening the duration of Parliaments; and, as the noble Lord perfectly well knew, it was precisely the same, in form and substance, as former Motions which had been frequently submitted to Parliament on the same subject. He apprehended, that the reason those Motions had been so shaped was, because, being thus framed, they left gentlemen unpledged and at liberty on the subject of the exact duration of Parliaments, till they should have had opportunities of discussing, in Committee, the particular term that could be most advantageously adopted, while they at once decided that seven years was too long a period for the continuance of Parliament. However, this latter opinion, as to the propriety of shortening the present duration of Parliaments, was the only opinion required from gentlemen who should vote for the proposed Bill. Those who voted against it would offer a conclusive opinion, that seven years was the fit term for the continuance of Parliaments. The noble Lord was an old practitioner, and had put the question proposed to him for the purpose of placing him in a strait. However, he would answer the noble Lord candidly, and admit that he intended (as he had stated) to propose "three years" in Committee, as the period for the duration of Parliaments; but he suggested, that particular term without offering a decided opinion on the subject, and for the pur- pose of raising a question which it would be for the Committee (should the Bill reach that stage) to decide. The period referred to, had the advantage of constitutional sanction, and he would not undertake, on his own authority, to change it; but other Gentlemen might propose different terms which his Bill would admit. The right hon. Gentleman was mistaken, in thinking that he had argued for Triennial Parliaments, on the supposition that the term was specially constitutional—the practice having lasted twenty-two or twenty-four years. He did not intend to argue the question thus, but on the ground of public advantage and expediency. On the subject of the length of past Parliaments, he might observe, that, of twenty-two septennial Parliaments, the average duration was five years; fifteen had extended over a period of ninety-one years, averaging six years each; the remaining seven were determined by the demise of the Crown, or other circumstances, which left the Government no option as to their dissolution. He admitted, that but few petitions had been presented on the subject, and he thought it a great misfortune that there should be such a degree of apathy in the public mind upon the point. [Cheers]. Let Gentlemen give him time to complete what he intended to say, and then cheer if they thought proper. He said it was a bad sign of the times when there existed apathy in the public mind in relation to the business of the country—it showed distrust of their representatives, or despair of redress. However, the next time Gentlemen appeared on the hustings, they would probably find, that there was a feeling of the imperative necessity of shortening Parliaments; and he was much mistaken if that would not be made a test, and if pledges would not be demanded on the subject.
stated, that his reason for rising was, because some Gentlemen, who seemed to express their approbation of the proposition for shortening Parliaments, had complained that the period of their intended duration was not specified. In order to give Members who objected that they did not clearly know what they were voting for, an opportunity of supporting the measure on distinct and specific grounds, he should move, by way of Amendment, that the Bill be one to shorten the duration of Parliament to five years. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving his Amendment.
The Amendment was negatived, and the House divided on the original Motion:—Ayes 185; Noes 235: Majority 50.
List of the AYES.
|Abercromby, Hon. J.||Guest, J. J.|
|Adam, Admiral||Gully, J.|
|Adams, E. H.||Hall, B.|
|Aglionby, H. A.||Handley, B.|
|Attwood, T.||Handley, H.|
|Baillie, J. E.||Hawes, B.|
|Baines, E.||Hawkins, J. H.|
|Baldwin, Dr.||Harvey, D. W.|
|Bannerman, A.||Hay, Colonel|
|Barnard, E. G.||Hill, M. D.|
|Barnett, C. J.||Hodgson, J.|
|Barron, G.||Hodges, T. L.|
|Barron, H.||Hornby, E. G.|
|Barry, G.||Hughes, H.|
|Beauclerk, Major||Humphrey, J.|
|Bellew, R. M.||Hurst, R. H.|
|Bewes, T.||Hutt, W.|
|Bish, T.||Ingham, R.|
|Blackburne, J.||Ingilby, Sir W.|
|Blake, T.||James, W.|
|Blunt, Sir C.||Jervis, J.|
|Bouverie, Hon. D.||Kennedy, J.|
|Bowes, J.||King, E. B.|
|Briggs, R.||Lalor, P.|
|Briscoe, J. I.||Lambert, H.|
|Brocklehurst, J.||Lambton, H.|
|Brotherton, J.||Leech, J.|
|Browne, D.||Lefevre, S.|
|Buckingham, J. S.||Lister, E. C.|
|Bulwer, E. L.||Lloyd, J. H.|
|Butler, Colonel||Locke, W.|
|Cayley, Sir G.||Lushington, Dr.|
|Chaytor, Sir W.||Madocks, J.|
|Clay, W.||Marjoribanks, S.|
|Collier, C.||Marshall, J.|
|Dashwood, G. M.||Marsland, T.|
|Denison, W. J.||Maxwell, J.|
|Divett, E.||Methuen, P.|
|Dobbin, L.||Molesworth, Sir W.|
|Dundas, Capt.||Morrison, J.|
|Dunlop, Capt.||Mullins, F. W.|
|Dykes, F. L. B.||Nagle, Sir R.|
|Ellis, W.||O'Brien, C.|
|Etwall, R.||O'Connell, Daniel|
|Evans, Colonel||O'Connell, C.|
|Evans, George||O'Connell, Maurice|
|Ewart, W.||O'Connell, Morgan|
|Ewing, J.||O'Connor, Don|
|Faithfull, G.||Oliphant, L.|
|Fellowes, H. A. W.||Oswald, I.|
|Fenton, J.||Oswald, R. A.|
|Ferguson, Sir R.||Palmer, C. F.|
|Fergusson, R. C.||Palmer, General|
|Fielden, J.||Parker, J.|
|Finn, W. F.||Parker, Sir H.|
|Fitzsimon, N.||Parnell, Sir H.|
|Fleetwood, H.||Parrott, J.|
|Fryer, R.||Pendarves, E. W.|
|Gaskell, D.||Penleaze, J. S.|
|Gillon, W. D.||Philips, M.|
|Grote, G.||Plumptre, J. P.|
|Potter, R.||Talbot, J. H.|
|Pryme, G.||Tancred, H. W.|
|Pryse, P.||Thicknesse, R.|
|Richards, J.||Todd, R.|
|Rider, T.||Tooke, W.|
|Rippon, C.||Torrens, Colonel|
|Robinson, G. R.||Trelawney, Sir W.|
|Roche, D.||Turner, W.|
|Roche, W.||Tynte, C. J. K.|
|Roebuck, J. A.||Vernon, Hon. G.|
|Romilly, E.||Vigors, N. A.|
|Romilly, J.||Vincent, Sir F.|
|Ross, H.||Walker, C. A.|
|Rotch, B.||Wallace, R.|
|Russell, Lord||Walter, J.|
|Russell, Lord C.||Warburton, H.|
|Ruthven, E.||Ward, H. G.|
|Ruthven, E. S.||Wason, R.|
|Sandford, Sir D. K.||Whalley, Sir S.|
|Sanford, F. A.||Wigney, J. N.|
|Scholefield, J.||Wilbraham, G.|
|Scrope, P.||Wilks, J.|
|Seale, Colonel||Wood, Alderman|
|Shawe, R. N.||Codrington, Sir E.|
|Sheil, R. L.||Tennyson, Rt. Hon. C.|
|Simeon, Sir R.||PAIRED OFF.|
|Sinclair, G.||Bainbridge, E. T.|
|Stanley, H. T.||Beaumont, T. W.|
|Stanley, E. J.||Chapman, M.|
|Staunton, Sir G.||Dawson, E.|
|Staveley, T. K.||O'Dwyer, A.|
|Stewart, Lord J.||Fort, J.|
|Stewart, Sir M.||O'Ferrall, M.|
|Strickland, Sir G.||Poulter, J.|
|Strutt, E.||Walker, R.|
|Sullivan, R.||Williams, Colonel|
List of the NOES.
|Acheson, Viscount||Carew, R. S.|
|Agnew, Sir A.||Carter, J. B.|
|Althorp, Viscount||Castlereagh, Viscount|
|Anson, Colonel||Cayley, E. S.|
|Ashley, Lord||Chaplin, T.|
|Astley, Sir J.||Chetwynd, Captain|
|Attwood, M.||Christmas, W.|
|Baring, F.||Clements, Viscount|
|Baring, H.||Clive, E. B.|
|Baring, A.||Cockerell, Sir. C.|
|Bateson, Sir R.||Cole, Viscount|
|Bell, M.||Cole, Hon. A.|
|Benett, J.||Cooper, Hon. A. H.|
|Bentinck, Lord G.||Colborne, R.|
|Bolling, W.||Compton, S.|
|Browne, J.||Conolly, E. M.|
|Bruce, Lord E.||Corry, Hon. H. T.|
|Bruce, C.||Crawley, S.|
|Brudenell, Lord||Crawford, W.|
|Buller, E.||Cripps, J.|
|Bulteel, J. C.||Curteis, Captain|
|Burrell, Sir C.||Curteis, H. B.|
|Byng, Sir J.||Dalmeny, Lord|
|Byng, G.||Daly, J.|
|Calcraft, J. H.||Darlington, Lord|
|Callander, J. H.||Davies, Col.|
|Campbell, Sir H. P.||Denison, E.|
|Dick, Q.||Labouchere, H.|
|Dillwyn, L. W.||Lefroy, T.|
|Donkin, Sir R.||Lefroy, A.|
|Duncombe, Hon. W.||Lennox, Lord|
|Duffield, T.||Lewis, Right Hon. F.|
|Dundas, J. D.||Lincoln, Lord|
|Eastnor, Viscount||Littleton, Rt. Hon. E. J.|
|Ebrington, Viscount||Loch, J.|
|Egerton, W. T.||Lopes, Sir R.|
|Ellice, Right Hon. E.||Lyall, G.|
|Elliot, Captain||Lynch, A. H.|
|Estcourt, T.||Maberly, Col.|
|Evans,||Mackenzie, J. A. S.|
|Ferguson, Capt.||Mangles, J.|
|Feilden, W.||Marryatt, J.|
|Finch, G.||Martin, J.|
|Fleming, Admiral||Martin, T. B.|
|Foley, E.||Mills, J.|
|Forster, C. S.||Miles, W.|
|Forester, Hon. C. W.||Milton, Lord|
|Fox, Col.||Moreton, Hon. A.|
|French, F.||Morpeth, Lord|
|Galway, J. M.||Mosley, Sir O.|
|Gaskell, J. M.||Nicholl, J.|
|Gladstone, W. E.||Norreys, Lord|
|Gladstone, T.||Ossulston, Lord|
|Goring, H. D.||Oxmantown, Lord|
|Goulburn, H.||Palmer, R.|
|Graham, Sir J.||Palmerston, Lord|
|Grant, Right Hon. R.||Pechell, Sir S. B.|
|Grey, Sir G.||Peel, Sir Rt.|
|Grey, Colonel||Pelham, Hon. C. A.|
|Grimston, Viscount||Pepys, C. C.|
|Grosvenor, Lord R.||Petre, E.|
|Halcomb, J.||Percival, Col.|
|Halford, H.||Phillips, Sir G.|
|Hanmer, Col.||Pigott, R.|
|Hanmer, Sir J.||Pinney, W.|
|Hardinge, Sir H.||Pollock, F.|
|Harland, C. W.||Rae, Sir W.|
|Hayes, Sir E.||Ramsden, J. C.|
|Heathcote, Sir G.||Ramsbottom, J.|
|Heathcote, G. J.||Reid, Sir J. R.|
|Herbert, Hon. S.||Rice, Hon. T. S.|
|Herries, Right Hon. C.||Rickford, W.|
|Heron, Sir R.||Ridley, Sir M. W.|
|Hill, Lord M.||Rolfe, R. M.|
|Hill, Sir R.||Ross, C.|
|Hope, H. T.||Rumbold, C. E.|
|Horne, Sir W.||Russell, Lord J.|
|Hoskins, K.||Ryle, J.|
|Howard, Hon. E.||Sandon, Lord|
|Howard, P. H.||Scott, Sir E. D.|
|Howick, Lord||Sebright, Sir J.|
|Hyett, W. H.||Sheppard, T.|
|Jermyn, Earl||Spankie, R.|
|Johnstone, J. H.||Somerset, Lord G.|
|Johnstone, Sir J. V.||Stanley, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Johnstone, Sir F.||Stanley, E.|
|Johnston, A.||Talbot, J.|
|Jolliffe, Col.||Talbot, W. H. F.|
|Jones, Captain||Tayleure, W.|
|Irton, S.||Taylor, Rt. Hon. M. A.|
|Keppel, Major G.||Tennent, J. E.|
|Kerry, Earl of||Thompson, Ald.|
|Kerrison, Sir E.||Thompson, P. B.|
|Knatchbull, Sir E.||Tower, C. T.|
|Townley, G. R.||Whitbread, W.|
|Tracy, C. H.||Whitmore, W. W.|
|Trevor, R.||Wilmot, Sir E.|
|Troubridge, Sir E. T.||Willoughby, Sir H.|
|Tynte, Col.||Windham, W. H.|
|Tyrell, Sir J.||Wood, C.|
|Tyrell, Col.||Wood, G. W.|
|Vaughan, Sir R.||Wood, Col.|
|Verney, Sir H.||Wynn, Rt. Hon. C.|
|Vernon, Col.||Yorke, Captain|
|Vernon, C. H.||Young, J.|
|Villiers, Lord||PAIRED OFF.|
|Vivian, Sir R. H.||Cripps, J.|
|Wall, C. B.||Feilden, W.|
|Walsh, Sir J. B.||North, F.|
|Warre, J. A.||Pease, J.|
|Watson, Hon. R.||Rice, Hon. T. S.|
|Wedgwood, J.||Shaw, F.|
|Wemyss, Captain||Sanderson, R.|