Imagens da página
PDF
ePub

not only from their being convinced that his Lordship is the last man in the kingdom whose advice he would chufe to take, or whose example he would wish to follow, but from the still Itronger reason of their being perfectly assured that no confideration under Heaven would induce him to abandon an object which he believes essential to the happiness of his country. The arguments of those who, in the course of the de bate, have endeavoured to combat the propriety of this motion, seem to be reducible to three specific objections: the first is, that the people do not wish for a reform in Parliament. The second is, that whatever may be the wishes of the people, a reform in Parliament would be highly prejudicial to the interests of the public. The last is, that, abstractedly from all other confiderations, this particular mode of effecting a reform

in Parliament is dangerous, and the time highly inexpedient. :: To each of these objections it is easy to reply: my argu'ments will be short and few. ..

In the first place, it is said the people do not wish for a reform. In answer to this assertion, I can appeal with confidence to the language of the most popular candidates in all the popular elections; for if we may judge of the wishes of the people by the arguments which those, who are candidates for their favour, make use of to conciliate their esteem, we must be convinced that a Parliamentary Reform is, of all objects, that which the people have most at heart.

The noble Lord has said, that he believes no House of Commons more popular than the present has ever existed in the kingdom-none, for fo he must mean, that ever enjoyed, in a more ample degree, the good opinion and confidence of the people. I perfectly agree with him in this belief, and therefore I am confident that a reform in Parliament, which was always the public wish, is now, perhaps, for the first time, the public expectation too: for the people are persuaded, that whatever were the sentiments of the late Parliament, you will not blame their endeavours to procure, not that ideal and absurd equality

which the noble Lord ridicules and condemns, but that enlargement of their political freedom which is essential to the security of their civil rights. They wish to place as many guards as possible around those high priyileges, which they alone, of all the principal nations of Europe, continue to enjoy, but which they well know must cease with them also, whenever they shall cease to be the constant objects of their care.

They are confident, therefore, that you will.not blame their zeal, if following the example of their ancestors, they endeavour to preserve their constitution, by arresting the progress of abuse, and by endeavouring to obtain such new regulations as the common sense and the common feelings of mankind res commend. To that common sense and to those feelings they appeal, from the assertions of the noble Lord, when he declarès, that for a reform of Parliament there is no plea, either of neceffity or use; for they ask, “ Is it not unwise to give to an 66 agent such a continuance of power as must render him inde6 pendent of his employers, and encourage him to use, for his 6 own benefit, that authority that was given him for theirs ? « In private life, this would be considered as the excess of 6 folly; in public life, it is impoflible it should be wisdom."

The people, says the noble Lord, have no reason to wish for a reform. They think they have the most forcible of all rea- * fons, a certainty founded on their own experience, that no delegated power will long be faithfully exercised, unless it frequently return to those by whom it was bestowed.

Are they asked for proofs of this assertion, their answer is, " a national debt of 250 millions;" a debt which no credulity çan believe the people themselves would have contracted; which no credulity can believe the representatives of the peo* ple would have contracted, if they had had no interest but that of the people; a debt, of which we know that much has been contracted in a way that profligacy itself will not dare to jufLify; for in one single year, to say nothing of other years; to charge twenty-one millions of money to the national account,

when

when only twelve millions were borrowed, is a transaction which no man living will have the hardihood, in the face of his country, to defend.

The noble Lord talks of a reform in Parliament as of entire ruin to the Constitution. The people will tell him that they have not forgotten, though it seems he has, that within the memory of persons now living the Parliaments of this country were triennial; they will tell him, that to this hour they must have continued triennial, if the first principles of the Constitution had not been abandoned, and its most facred rules groftly and indecently violated; for if there is any one maxim of the Constitution which, inore than another, challenges particular regard; if there is any one to which a peculiar sanctity belongs, it is the maxim that the House of Commons shall be appointed by the people; whereas that House of Commons that repealed the Triennial Act was, as to the last four years of its existence, self-appointed. The people empowered them to make laws, they did not empower them to make legislatorse

To restore to the people a benefit, of which they were so unconstitutionally, so unjustly, so tyrannically deprived, is an object which every friend to the people must have most fincerely at heart.

I know I shall be told, that if triennial Parliaments should be restored, the expence, by being doubly frequent, would become an intolerable evil. My answer is, that if the evil should be intolerable, it must be of short continuance; its magnitude will enforce correction; and indeed there is much reason to believe, that till the frequency of elections shall have made the expence intolerable, no effectual law for restraining that expence ever will be passed.

The noble Lord has described the defects in our present Conftitution as blemishes of no account, as spots which the sharpest eye finds it difficult to trace, On behalf of the people, permit mę to tell his Lordship what they think of these shadowy. defects, these blemishes of difficult discernment. Is it not, they

faya fay, contrary to all reason, that less than seven thousand electors should return a majority of the representatives of seven millions of people? Is it not unjust in the highest degree, that twelve electors should return twelve members of Parliament, when the whole city of London returns but four? Is it not the excess of folly that places without inhabitants, and without houses, should have representatives in Parliainent, when Manchester, and Leeds, and Birmingham, have none? Sir, the people know not in what sense of the word the late House of Commons could be called their representatives, 66 when their language (say they) was contrary to our sentiments, and their conduct abhorrent to our wishes."

The noble Lord tells us, that the late House of Commons was not charged with being too much subjected to the influence of the Crown; they were not, he says, dissolved for this. crime. Sir, the late House of Commons were accused of not speaking the sense of their constituents; this was the offence for which they were diffolved. From the dangerous designs of that House of Commons, the interference of the Crown has fortunately saved us; but let us not therefore think that the Conftitution is secure: for what if the Crown, at some future period, should join the House of Commons against the People-Wliat if the illegal decrees of the House of Commons should be supported by the army; those peace officers, as they have been called, with bayonets in their hands-Where then will be found the boasted security of the British Constitution? Where then will be the difference between the freedom of England and the slavery of France?

The noble Lord seems to be impressed with melancholy apprehensions of the dangers that may follow the appointment of such a Committee as the inotion before you describes. For my own part, I cannot think so irreverently of the House as to believe that the number it contains of wise and moderate men is fo small, as not to furnish the very few that are requifite to compose a Select Committee. I am confident that a

large

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

large proportion of the House consists of men whose zeal is tempered with prudence, whose ardour is guided by know. ledge, and who think, that were they named to such a Committee, their business would be not to invent systems of ideal, unattainable good, but to point out to the House the defects in the present state of the representation of the people, and to suggest such remedies to those defects as are best suited to the laws, and most consonant to the genius of the Constitution.

Some of those gentlemen who preceded the noble Lord in the debate have objected to the motion, from an idea that the present is not the season for deciding on business of such infinite importance.

Sir, I am convinced, and I speak it with much concern, that a reform in Parliament is a matter of immediate neceffity; for when the executive power of our East-India dominions shall be placed in the Crown, and no where else can it be conftitu'tionally placed, who does not foresee that, without a reform in Parliament, an overwhelming influence will bear down the strongest barriers of the Constitution? The noble Lord will advise us to vest the government of our India poffeffions in Commissioners appointed by Parliament, and to give executive power to the delegates of the people. But God forbid that his advice should be followed, for that would be to destroy the very foundations of our Government, and to break up the very ground on which the Constitution stands ! On the other hand, it equally concerns us to beware of increasing the power of the Crown, without strengthening at the same time the fences of the people's freedom.

To avoid the evils of this unhappy dilemma, that of an immediate surrender of our Conftitution on the one hand, or on the other that of destroying the balance of its powers, which must ultimately terminate in its ruin, no other way presents itself to our choice, but that of shortening the duration of Parliaments, and guarding against an increase in the influ

ence

« AnteriorContinuar »