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Earl Grey and parliamentary reform: 17 May 1832

Hansard, xii, 1004-6

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. 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 that the king ended the crisis by agreeing to make enough peers to guarantee the safety of the bill. The speech in this document follows one by Wellington.

It is not necessary to go into this long-disputed question of Reform. The Bill, when it was brought forward, received the general approbation of the country, such as no former measure had ever yet commanded.… it passed the House of Commons, after an appeal to the country, by a triumphant majority. Most unfortunately it was rejected by this House. Another Bill, as efficient as this, the noble Duke says, was brought in; but that it is more dangerous I dispute and deny: it had the good fortune to receive the sanction to its principles of a majority of your Lordships on the second reading. I now come to the point which conduced to the present state of affairs. I had hoped that it would pass the Committee without such a change as would render it impossible for me to consent to its being sent down to the other House; but, on the very first clause, a motion was made, the result of which was described as trifling and unimportant; but, in my opinion, it proved such a disposition in this House, and was essentially of such injury to the Bill, that I felt I should not be justified in going further.… It was then for me to consider which of two courses I would pursue whether I would abandon the Bill altogether, or whether I would recommend that measure to his Majesty which could alone enable the Government to go on with the Bill. We adopted the latter alternative, and did propose to His Majesty that advice which the noble Duke has arraigned so severely.… We had either to recommend this measure, with all the risk of consequences, or suffer this House to come into collision with public opinion and the other House of Parliament – a collision to which, if this House were unwise enough to commit itself, it is not easy to suppose that it can be victorious.… Now I say that, under these circumstances, the advice to create new Peers was required. The noble and learned Lord says, that it was not constitutional; but I say that it was constitutional, and I can refer him to books of authority on that subject, in which it is distinctly asserted, that one of the uses of vesting the prerogative of creating new Peers in the Crown is, to prevent the possibility of the recurrence of those evils which must otherwise result from a permanent collision between the two Houses of Parliament; and this danger was rendered imminent by the opposition made to the Reform Bill by the noble Lords on the other side of the House. And, I ask, what would be the consequences if we were to suppose that such a prerogative did not exist, or could not be constitutionally exercised? The Commons have a control over the power of the Crown by the privilege, in extreme cases, of refusing the Supplies; and the Crown has, by means of its power to dissolve the House of Commons, a control upon any violent and rash proceedings on the part of the Commons; but if a majority of this House is to have the power, whenever they please, of opposing the declared and decided wishes both of the Crown and the people, without any means of modifying that power, then this country is placed entirely under the influence of an uncontrollable oligarchy.

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