Parliament was called together again, on December 6, 1831. The King opened the session in person, and announced in his Royal Speech that Bills would be introduced for the Reform of the House of Commons, with the added declaration, that the speedy and satisfactory settlement of this question becomes daily of more pressing importance to the security of the State and the contentment and the welfare of the people. It was possibly thought by the leading Ministers, that this emphatic declaration might have the effect of discouraging the leaders of the Opposition, and teaching them that in the opinion of the King himself, the time had gone by for any further resistance to Reform. The words, however, had no such effect. The leaders of the Tory Party were convinced in their hearts that the King was opposed to the Ministerial proposals for Reform, and that he was only waiting for an opportunity to throw cold water upon the whole agitation. On the other hand, the Reformers out of doors still cherished the opinion that the King was in favour of Reform, and that he was prepared to go any constitutional length which the advice of his Ministers could suggest. On the 12th of December, Lord John Russell moved in the House of Commons for leave to bring in his third Reform Bill. The Bill was in all important details, and of course in all its principles, much the same as the first and second Bills. The first reading passed without a division; and when the second reading came on there were three hundred and twenty-four votes for the Bill, and one hundred and sixty-two against it; so that the supporters of the measure were now in a majority of exactly two to one over their opponents. Then Parliament adjourned for the Christmas holidays. Part of the sacred and gladsome season was occupied in the trial of the rioters who had been arrested for creating disturbances throughout the country. Those were stern times, and the unfortunate rioters received in many cases the hardest punishment the law could inflict. There were four executions of rioters at Bristol, and three at Nottingham. Parliament came together again on the 17th of January, 1832; and on January 20th the House of Commons went into Committee on the Reform Bill. Then the work of obstruction came on with fresh vigour. The Bill did not get through Committee until March 14th; and it passed its third reading by a majority of one hundred and sixteen, on the 23rd of the month. It was sent up to the House of Lords at once; and then two popular questions at once arose which have been echoed and re-echoed often since that time.
General Sir Charles James Napier, G.C.B. (1782-1853).
The first question was, What will the House of Lords do with the Bill? and the second, and more ominous question, was, What is to be done with the House of Lords? Now, by this time, there had been formed amongst the Peers a sort of third party, who became popularly known as the "Waverers," just as in former days another political party had been known by the name of the "Trimmers." The Waverers consisted for the most part, if not altogether, of men who were opposed to the Reform Bill, and, indeed, to all comprehensive schemes of Reform; but who, nevertheless, were not prepared to push their Conservatism to dangerous lengths. These men were for staving off reform as long as they could, but they were not willing to run the risk of a social convulsion in their anxiety to defeat or delay the Ministerial measure They saw clearly enough that the crisis was becoming most serious and important; and probably their uttermost hopes at this stage of the proceedings were limited to the possibility of reducing the Reform Bill to what they would have considered a comparatively harmless measure. The student of English history will be interested in observing the fact that every great struggle for political reform in England developes in one or both Houses of Parliament, a third party which contrives to get into its hands for the time the balance of power, and thus become masters of the situation. In most instances the third party is formed by Liberals who fall away from their leaders on some project of reform, and are ready to give their votes and their help to the anti-reform opposition.
In the Reform movement of 1831 the third party was composed of men who, being anti-reformers themselves, were yet willing to use the power they had got on the side of a Reform measure, rather than run the risk of a popular uprising. The fact, however, remains the same; and students who want to get at a thorough understanding of our modern history must take account of it, that every struggle between political progress and political reaction in England calls into existence a third party who contrive for the hour to get into their hands the key of the situation. To the Waverers, therefore, the eyes of most people turned as the possessors of the way out of the deadlock. It was quite certain that if Lord Grey could induce the King to give his consent to the creation of new Peers in sufficient number, the Waverers would never think of putting Sovereign or Government to the trouble of carrying any such measure into effect. The mere announcement that the King had given his consent would be enough for them; and they would at once withdraw from further opposition to the Reform Bill. Of what avail would it be for the Waverers to carry their opposition any farther? If the King chose to create new Peers out of the Liberal ranks in sufficient number to form a majority for the passing of the Bill what could the Waverers get by resistance ? The Bill would be carried in any case; and they would only have the discomfort and the humiliation of seeing their hereditary chamber flooded by a number of Liberals from all parts of the country, who had suddenly, at the King's order, been converted into Peers, and who could go on passing further and further Reforms of all kinds for the remainder of their natural lives. The Waverers, in fact, hoped that by standing out to a certain extent against the Bill they might strengthen the King in his supposed determination not to create new Peers; while the King, for his part, was still, no doubt, under the impression that the Waverers might frighten the Ministry so far as to induce them to leave out of their measure the principles which the King thought harmful, but which the people ardently desired to establish. The King, therefore, delayed and delayed; and Lord Grey could not obtain any promise from him.