Finality Speech

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Finality Speech  (1832) 
by John Russell, 1st Earl Russell
The speech by Lord John Russell MP opposing the amendment of the 1832 Reform Act to include a secret ballot, an extension of the ballot and a general election every 3 years. Delivered in the House of Commons, 20 November 1837. This speech is adridged.


The hon. Member (Thomas Wakley) who moved the amendment has brought forward questions which have also been dwelt upon by other Members, and he has asked me whether I will support them. He has mentioned the question of the ballot - he has mentioned the question of the extension of the suffrage, and the question of triennial parliaments. These he has brought forward in three separate amendments, all forming parts of the same measure. He has put his powders into three separate papers, as portions of the same medicine.

I am not going now to enter into the reasons and arguments with which each of these measures may be supported or opposed, - I will not enter into the discussions of the question generally, but I am bound to give some explanation of my views with regard to the Reform Act in relation to my present position.

I cannot conceal the disadvantages and the injuries to which the Reform Act is subject. I admit that at the late elections corruption and intimidation prevailed to a very lamentable extent. I admit that some parts of the Reform Act are the means of making it a source of great vexation to the real and bona fide voter. I admit that with respect to the registration of voters in particular, great amendments may be made. But these are questions upon which I consider Parliament should always feel bound to be alive and attentive to see that the Act suffers no essential injury, and that any errors in the details which might be made in the commencement might be afterwards remedied. But these are questions which are totally different from those now brought forward, such as the question of the ballot, the extension of the suffrage, and triennial parliaments, which are, taken together, nothing else, but a repeal of the Reform Act, and placing the representation on a different footing. Am I then prepared to do this? I say certainly not.

With respect to the question of the registration, I am ready to bring forward some measures to amend it, or rather my hon. and learned Friend, the Attorney General, will bring forward such a measure. The matter has been frequently under discussion in this House. I proposed some amendments myself last year, and if any further facilities can be given by me I shall feel it my duty to afford them, and more particularly upon the subject on which I introduced the Bill of last year, namely, the payment of rates. But I do say that having now only five years ago reformed the representation, having placed it on a new basis, it would be a most unwise and unsound experiment now to begin the process again, to form a new suffrage, to make an alteration in the manner of voting, and to look for other and new securities for the representation of the people.

I say at least for myself, that I can take no share in such an experiment, though I may be, and indeed must be, liable to the somewhat harsh term of the hon. Member for Kilkenny (Joseph Hume). I must explain, however, in what sense I consider myself bound with regard to the Reform Act. When I brought forward that measure it will be recollected that the cry was that it was too large, that it was too extensive; and those who were Radical Reformers were upon the whole much better pleased with it than those who were moderate Reformers. But it was the opinion of Earl Grey, an opinion stated by him in the House of Lords, and an opinion stated repeatedly by Lord Althorp in the House of Commons, that it was safer to make a large and extensive measure of reform, than a small measure of reform, for this reason, that in bringing forward the extensive measure we might be assured that we were bringing forward one which might have a prospect of being a final measure.

Do I then say that the measure is in all respects final? I say no such nonsense. Do I say that the people of England are deprived of the right of re-considering the provisions of that Act? I say no such folly. I maintain that the people of England are fully entitled to do so, if to the people of England it shall so seem fit.

But I am not myself going to do so.

I think that the entering again into this question of the construction of the representation so soon would destroy the stability of our institutions. It is quite impossible for me, having been one who brought forward the measure of reform, who feel bound by the declarations then made, to take any part in these large measures of reconstruction, or to consent to the repeal of the Reform Act, without being guilty of what I think would be a breach of faith towards those with whom I was then acting. If the people of England are not of that mind they may reject me. They can prevent me from taking part either in the Legislature or in the councils of the Sovereign; they can place others there who may have wider and more extended, more enlarged, and enlightened views, but they must not expect me to entertain these views. They may place others in my situation, but they must not call upon me to do that which I do not only consider unwise, but which I should not feel myself justified, without a breach of faith and honour, in proposing.

This work was published before January 1, 1923, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.