« FöregåendeFortsätt »
duce conviction: the county of Rutland sent as many members to Parliament as the freeholders of Yorkshire ; and Cornwall as many as Rutland, Yorkshire, and Middlesex together; and as many, within one, as the whole kingdom of Scotland. These were facts within the knowledge of the house ; and surely afforded sufficient ground for a parliamentary reform. Here were other grounds arising from bribery, corruption, and expence at elections, which were known to every member who had served on election committees, though they were not known to the house as a body. Sometimes, indeed, reports from committees stated acts of bribery and corruption, as in the cases of Cricklade, and Shoreham, and Stockbridge, whose case was still depending. The most certain and effectual remedy in those cases was to establish a more popular election, which was the most likely method to secure the purity of election, and the independence of members of that house.
Mr. GREY then said, that his intention was to make a motion for referring the petition to a committee; but he had it not in contemplation to propose any particular plan, as there occurred to him many reasons against it. In the case which had just occurred, with respect to commercial credit, the Right Honorable Gentleman [Mr. Pitt) himself had proceeded in that precise way; he had stated the grievance or evil supposed to exist : the house on his motion had referred it to a committee to investigate into the matter, and to report to the house ; and upon the
report of that committee, a bill had been brought in, and had now passed that house, which he wished sincerely might have the effect to remedy the evil. If then it should be said to him, why would you alarm and disturb the minds of the people, when you have no particular plan of redress to propose ? He would oppose to such question,
the Right Honorable Gentleman's own mode of proceeding in the case he had mentioned ; but he would say also, that it was indeed the proper and regular mode of proceeding. He did not approve of the Duke of RichMOND's plan of reform, though he thought it better than the present system: any plan would be better, which would secure such people in the house, as would vote independently, and uninfluenced by corruption : he could certainly mention a plan which appeared to him much better; but he was not bound by the general mode of proceding in that house, to move any specific plan, and he would therefore adopt that mode, which had been usually followed, and which appeared to him the best, viz. after having stated the grievance, to move for a committee to take it into consideration, and report to the house such mode of remedy, as shall appear to them proper. He concluded with moving, that the petition should be referred to a committee.
The debate on this motion was protracted to the unusual length of two days, when the house divided on the question for referring the petition to a committee, 41, against it 282.
Mr. GREY, was not discouraged from bringing forward the subject again at different times, and in various forms, under parliamentary discussion. But he made his grand and ultimate effort on the 26th of May 1797, when he very candidly confessed, that he laid his account from past experience with exposing himself to many uncharitable imputations. If in their resistance to the destructive system of ministers, if in their endeavours to check them in their ruinous career, if in their efforts to control them in their profuse and extravagant waste of public money, he and his friends had incurred imputations of a wish to gratify personal interest and private ambition, and of a wan
ton desire to thwart executive government, they could not in the present instance expect to escape similar or still more odious imputations. It was some consolation, however, that though their exertions were not well received in that house, the public might pass a different decision upon them; and to the public would the eventual decision belong. It might perhaps be called presumption in him to call the attention of the house to the conduct of an individual so insignificant as he was. They would do him the justice, however, to allow, that in his proposition for a reform in Parliament, he had never proceeded on any speculation of natural and imperceptible rights. The measures, which he had the honor to bring forward, were founded, not in speculative, but on practical grounds. Both the speculative and the practical defects of the present system had been so largely discussed, and so often repeated, that his labor on the present occasion was much abated, without injury to the cause. His views, he repeated, had proceeded on practical grounds, and not on grounds of right, because no man could claim any particular form of government upon a ground of right. Here, however, he begged not to be misunderstood, when he stated this proposition : he avowed that there was no man more warmly attached to, or who would more steadily support the natural and imprescriptible rights of mankind; these were liberty and security; and when liberty and security were not properly guaranteed by any particular system of government, either in consequence of original or accidental defects, the people who lived under it, had a right to demand, either that it should be changed, or amended. But on the other hand, the advocates for universal suffrage, before demanding that their plan should be adopted, were bound to shew, that it was for the good of the people, that it should be adopted. It would be
also recollected that he had never grounded his motion for reform upon the inequality of the present representation. Inequality of representation of itself he did not consider as a sufficient ground for reform. For instance, he never had argued, that there should be a reform in the representation of the people, because Cornwall sent as many representatives to Parliament as all the counties of Scotland together; and because there were some boroughs with a few houses and a handful of inhabitants returned as many members to the house of commons as the opulent and extensive county of York. Though this sounded strange in theory, yet if it was not shewn that in practice it was injurious to the rights of Englishmen, their defence was good, who contended that the nation under its present system of government had enjoyed much prosperity and a large portion of happiness, and who argued against the inexpediency of a change for the chance of endangering the existence of the system, and of giving birth to evils of a much more serious nature than those which were experienced under it. Having thus stated his general principles upon the subject, he proceeded to inquire what was the end and the use of the house of commons, and what was the present representation of the people. When he considered what it ought to be, the questions naturally occurred, whether it had acted for the interest of the people? Whether it had watched the conduct of mini. sters ? Whether it had controled the executive government in its operations ? and above all, whether in the exercise of its appropriate duty it had been a faithful guardian to the public purse? When he considered what it was, suggestions of a different nature occurred. Instead of attention, he was afraid there had been negligence ; instead of inquiry, that there had been confidence ; instead of control, there had been obedience; and instead of
économy there had been profusion. But if it had thus failed in its duty, and if misfortunes numerous and dreadful had been the consequence of the failure, whatever dif. ference of opinion there might be, respecting the time and mode of reform, he was convinced there could be little or no objection to the measure considered abstractedly. How then did they stand ? It was now five years since he first made a motion for a reform in Parliament. At that time the country was described as being in a state of great prosperity, and the public were induced fondly to entertain the prospect of a prolongation of the term of peace. When he looked back however for thirty years; when he reflected on the wars in which it had been engaged; and when he reviewed the conduct of the different administrations during these wars. When in particular he considered the conduct of the American war, and the embarassments, into which the country was brought in consequence of the profuse expenditure which marked the administration of that period; when moreover he beheld a new ära arising in France which threatened a great and momentous change in the political system of Europe, from all these considerations he was induced to bring forward a measure, which, in his opinion, would tend to prevent those evils from again recurring which the nation had formerly had occasion to lament, and which might withstand the influence of new opinions. In a short time after we engaged in a war with France, our prosperity was still stated to be undiminished. One campaign was to decide the contest, and the triumphant march to Paris was for ever tɔ check the insolence of the enemy. A noble Lord then argued for the prosperity of the country, from the comparative statement of our exports and imports, and concluded a most eloquent description of our increased resources with saying, " that we had a rise from humili
в в 2