By N. H. Brasher (auth.)
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Extra resources for Arguments in History: Britain in the Nineteenth Century
He was in short a spectator, not a participant, and not of the stuff of which great Prime Ministers are made. Yet this does not indicate that reform would come to a standstill during his ministry. Unable himself to mould circumstances to his will, and for the most part unwilling to do so, he was not totally opposed to reform so long as others with more initiative than he possessed provided the necessary impetus. In 1819, for instance, he had been a supporter of Sir James Mackintosh's motion for an examination and reform of the penal code, at a time when sympathy for that idea was not widespread.
But they did anticipate that the Whig Government, if only to preserve Benthamite political support, would not set its face against proposals for a more scientific approach towards social legislation. In this they were right. The Benthamites believed in detailed investigation of social conditions by commissions of experts as a necessary prelude to legislation; in central control of the agencies of reform, and enforcement of that control by means of inspection. It was difficult, even in nineteenth-century England, to challenge the usefulness of these methods, and they were accepted by the Whig Government; this is clear from the terms of the Factory Act and of the Poor Law Amendment Act.
Like Guizot in France, Grey, in dealing with the middle classes, saw the need for a government' to be attentive to the interests and desires of the class of the population which has come attached to it'. 1 Quite apart from his concern to maintain the advantage of the class to which he belonged, Grey's desire to introduce a Reform Bill was undoubtedly stimulated by the widespread disorders of the time not only in England but in Europe generally. The Bill was a product of fear as well as of political opportunism.
Arguments in History: Britain in the Nineteenth Century by N. H. Brasher (auth.)