The Peel Web

I am happy that you are using this web site and hope that you found it useful. Unfortunately, the cost of making this material freely available is increasing, so if you have found the site useful and would like to contribute towards its continuation, I would greatly appreciate it. Click the button to go to Paypal and make a donation.

The Duke of Wellington and Reform: 17 May 1832

Hansard, xii. 994-9

Taken from Norman Gash, The Age of Peel (London, Edward Arnold, 1973), with the kind permission of Professor Gash. Copyright of this document, of course, remains with him.

The third reform bill passed the Commons in March 1832. When it went up to the Lords it received, with the help of moderate Tories (the Waverers), a small majority of 9 on the second reading. After the Easter recess, however, the opposition carried (7 May) an amendment in committee postponing the disfranchising clauses of the bill. Grey informed the king that the cabinet would resign unless they were empowered to create at least fifty peers to ensure the passage of the bill and the king accepted their resignation on 9 May. By 15 May it was clear that Wellington would be unable to form an administration and that nobody else was prepared to do so. It was not, however, until 18 May (the day after the debate from which the extracts below are taken) that the king ended the crisis by agreeing to make enough peers to guarantee the safety of the bill. The following extracts illustrate the opposed points of view on the constitutional issue. The one additional comment on Grey's statement of what has become the accepted modern view is that whereas the dissolution of the House of Commons by ministers is an appeal to a third party, namely the electorate, the creation of fresh peers is an act of ministers themselves, who are thus both judge and jury in their own cause. As against this, the general election of 1831 had clearly given the cabinet in the modem phrase a 'mandate' to pass a reform bill.

Ministers found, in the course of last Session, that there was a large majority in this House against the principle of the Reform Bill. Now, My Lords, what is the ordinary course for a Minister, under such circumstances, to pursue? My Lords, it is, to alter the measure – to endeavour to make it more palatable to that branch of the Legislature which is opposed to it. But, in this case, the Minister says 'no, I will next Session bring in a Bill as efficient as that which has been just rejected.' And what did the Minister do? My Lords, I have no hesitation in saying that, notwithstanding the opposition of this House, he brought in a measure stronger and worse than any one of the measures before introduced; and this measure he wished to force through the House by a large creation of Peers. How many Peers it is not necessary to state; it is enough to say, a sufficient number to force it through the House. It is only necessary for me to state the proposition. If this be a legal and constitutional course of conduct – if such projects can be carried into execution by a Minister of the Crown with impunity, there is no doubt that the Constitution of this House and of this country is at an end. I ask, my Lords, is there anybody blind enough not to see that if a Minister can, with impunity, advise his Sovereign to such an unconstitutional exercise of his prerogative as to thereby decide all questions in this House, there is absolutely an end put to the power and objects of deliberation in this House – an end to all just and proper means of decision. I say, then, my lords, thinking as I do, it was my duty to counsel his Majesty to resist this advice. And, my Lords, my opinion is, that the threat of carrying this measure of creating Peers into execution, if it should have the effect of inducing noble Lords to absent themselves from the House, or to adopt any particular line of conduct, is just as bad as its execution: for, my Lords, it does by violence force a decision on this House, and on a subject, my Lords, on which this House is not disposed to give such a decision.

Meet the web creator

These materials may be freely used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with applicable statutory allowances and distribution to students.
Re-publication in any form is subject to written permission.

Last modified 4 March, 2016

The Age of George III Home Page

Ministerial Instability 1760-70

Lord North's Ministry 1770-82

American Affairs 1760-83

The period of peace 1783-92

The Age of the French Wars 1792-1815 Irish Affairs 1760-89

Peel Web Home Page

Tory Governments 1812-30

Political Organisations in the Age of Peel

Economic Affairs in the Age of Peel

Popular Movements in the Age of Peel

Irish Affairs
Primary sources index British Political Personalities British Foreign policy 1815-65 European history
index sitemap advanced
search engine by freefind