§ Lord Archibald Hamilton
, in rising to bring forward his motion on the subject of the Royal Burghs of Scotland, said, that after the number of petitions which had been 179 presented to the House praying for a reform in the constitution and government of the royal burghs of Scotland, he trusted he need not offer any apology to the House for occupying their attention for a short time on a motion which was intended as a remedy to the oppressive grievances complained of. He fully concurred with the petitioners on this subject; and he hoped he should lay such a case before the House as would induce them to grant a committee for the consideration of the prayer of the petitioners. When he brought this question, or at least one intimately connected with it, the abuses of the burgh of Aberdeen, before the House last month,* he stated as distinctly as he could, in order to guard against misrepresentation, both what his motion was, and what it was not. Even with that precaution, he had not escaped from the unfair and unfounded insinuations of the gentlemen opposite. They charged him with using the subject merely as a cloak for parliamentary reform; a charge totally without ground or even plausible pretext; his object merely being a reform in the internal management of the affairs of the burghs, radical and. comprehensive indeed, but not more than commensurate with the occasion. He now again denied having any such intention as that which had been ascribed to him. He denied it, both on his own part and on that of the petitioners and if any hon. member remained still doubtful, a perusal of the petitions on the table must remove all suspicions from his mind. The grievances complained of were not new; neither were they partial or transient. Twenty-five years ago similar complaints had been made by the burgesses of Scotland; and a report had been laid on the table of the House by a committee appointed to inquire into the subject. Indeed he regretted that that report had not been reprinted in time to be put into the hands of members before the present discussion, as it would have shown them what were the opinions entertained not only by the petitioners of that time but also by a committee of this House at the period to which he alluded of the burgh government of Scotland.
But before he entered upon his motion, he wished to state plainly and frankly to the House how far a reform of the Scots burghs was connected, indirectly with parliamentary reform. He said* See vol. 39, p. 1275.180 indirectly, because it had no direct connexion with it whatever. A principal subject of complaint on the part of the burgesses and the ground and foundation of all other complaints, was, that the magistrates were self elected: and that they (the burgesses) had no control, either over the elections, or over the acts of the magistrates. [Here the lord advocate and lord Castlereagh were observed in close conversation on the treasury bench.] He claimed the attention of the noble lord and the learned lord for a few moments, not so much for himself, as in behalf of the petitioners, although he was not so anxious for their attention as for their conversion; but if he could not expect their careful consideration of what he said, he trusted he should experience the common courtesy usually shown to a member of that House on such an occasion, that of not being interrupted. He repeated that the charge against the petitioners and against himself of aiming at a reform in parliament, under the disguise and cloak of a different purpose was unfounded. Between a reform in parliament and the present object there existed no necessary or direct connexion. The remote and indirect connexion was simply this:—at present the magistrates returned the member to parliament without any interference or participation of the burgesses—the burgesses wished to have the same power as to the election of their magistrates, which the magistrates now had in the election of the parliamentary representative. And if this were granted, the magistrates would still retain the same power they now enjoyed—and the only difference would be, that the magistrates, being thus themselves appointed and maintained by public opinion instead of being self-elected and self-maintained in defiance of it, would probably elect such members as were approved by the burgh at large. In that way, and in that way alone, was a reform of the burghs connected with parliamentary reform; and having thus as he trusted disposed of that part of the subject, he would, with the leave of the House, proceed with the question more immediately before them.
The existing burgh system of Scotland was so oppressive to the inhabitants, so abhorrent from every principle of, justice, and so very different from the government of any other part of the united empire, and indeed he might say of any other part of the civilized world, that he, found it 181 difficult to conceive how the House could refuse a committee to enquire into that system and the mischiefs, the actual mischiefs, as well as discontent, which it so universally produced. He would presently read to the House some extracts from the report of the committee appointed on this subject twenty-five years ago; by which it would be seen, that the committee allowed the complaints of the burghers to be well founded; and yet, not a single step towards redress had been taken in consequence of that report.—He must now say a word or two on the observations which had fallen from the learned lord opposite, on the petitions which had been presented to the House on the subject. When petitions were first presented against the burgh system, the learned lord objected that they were not numerous, and therefore could not be considered of any weight; when they poured in from all parts of Scotland, the learned lord was obliged to allow, that they were numerous, that they were general, but then, he contended, that they were not respectably signed. It was true, that on this latter point, the learned lord was obliged to shift his ground; for when taxed with having urged it, he gave a different interpretation to the words which he had used, or at least, a different interpretation to that in which his words had been understood, both in the House, and out of it. The evils complained of had not been denied; the system had not been defended. Several objections to any remedy had been stated by the learned lord; but neither he nor any other hon. member had attempted to defend the existing system. But he lamented to find, that the evil which the learned lord and his colleagues were unable to defend, they were not unwilling to uphold and perpetuate. He appealed to all those who heard him, if, in the cases brought under the notice of the House, particularly in that comprehended in the petition from Aberdeen, a scene of fraud and oppression was not disclosed which called loudly for investigation? What was the existing System? It was self-created power, acting under self-granted, immunity, sanctioned by law. The magistrates first appointed and continued themselves in office, and then had this unbounded control of the funds of the different burghs; they were empowered to contract debts to any amount they pleased, and though the burgesses were not entitled to inquire into 182 heir accounts or to check their expenditure, they were responsible to the full extent for the debts thus contracted. Such at least, was the prevailing opinion. This had been fully shown in the case of Aberdeen. There the burgesses had no means even of detecting the frauds committed by the magistrates; and if they had the means of detection, they were unable by the present practice, fortified by decisions at law, to obtain any redress. When he used the word fraud, he did not mean to apply it in the ordinary sense of peculation, or as generally applicable to the magistrates. He meant (as he had stated distinctly, when he brought the case of Aberdeen under the notice of the House) fraudulent modes of incurring debt by false and fraudulent entries in the records of council. Money had been borrowed under the signature of members of council, who had not been present, nor sanctioned such borrowing. Was not this single case sufficient ground for granting a committee? The case of Aberdeen, had become, indeed, notorious; but the petitioners said the system was the same in the other burghs. If that statement were untrue, a committee of that House could easily detect its falsehood. If it were true, a committee could so report it, and thus give the House the opportunity of applying a proper remedy. In either case, the appointment of a committee would be beneficial. But there exists better authority than his, or the learned lords, both for the extent of the evil, and the absence of all remedy. The authority he alluded to, was the testimony of the magistrates of Aberdeen themselves, who had stated and recorded "their decided opinion, that the present mode of election of the town council and management of the town's affairs, are radically defective."—"of a radical change in our system of burgh government."—"Without this, no man, or set of men, can conduct the affairs of the corporation with credit to themselves, or advantage to the community." Could any thing be more decisive and convincing than such testimony from such a quarter? And this leads to the mention of another important truth, that the petitioners had no other means of redress than by an application to that House. Whatever might be their opinions, whatever might be their conviction of the unjust, iniquitous, and oppressive conduct of the magistrates, still there was no remedy, there was no 183 appeal on the part of the burgesses, to any court of law, so long as the town council remained unanimous. This had been decided over and over again. He should be glad to hear the learned lord prove the contrary; but he would repeat, that it had been so decided over and over again; and that an act of George 2nd supported the decision. In Perth, for instance, one of the counsel had been illegally elected. He was, in fact, not qualifted to hold his office; application was made by the burgesses to council on the subject; they were told the appointment was certainly illegal, but that there was no redress, the council being unanimous in support of the person who had been elected, and no other person but the council being entitled to question it. If the 'earned lord, however, still entertained any doubt on that subject, he had better agree to the appointment of a committee, and the question could be easily ascertained. In a petition, addressed last year to that House, the burgesses of Irvine complained, that they had no more influence in the election of their own magistrates, than in the electing an emperor of Morocco.
He begged to call the attention of the House to another abuse which demanded revision. The acts of parliament in favour of the burgesses were allowed to fall into desuetude; while those which favoured the magistrates were continued in force. There were acts requiring the magistrates to be residents in the burghs, and acts for preventing the sale of seats in the town council. But while these acts, or such parts of them as were thus beneficial to the burgesses, had been held in courts of law to be in desuetude; other parts of them, which supported the unjust and injurious power of the magistrates, were in full force. In one instance, eight out of fourteen magistrates were not residents in the burgh. It was well known, and offered by some of the petitioners to be proved, that seats in council had like some other seats, been bought and sold, and it had been proved, that one individual had received a hundred pounds and Another fifty pounds for such seat. There were also many instances of individuals vacating their seats, binding their successors to a particular line of political conduct, under the penalty of giving up their places when called upon to do so. The magistrates of some of the burghs, after having expended the whole of the funds 184 of the burgh in an improper manner, had been obliged to apply to parliament for a bill to levy new rates, to pave, light, and cleanse the town; thus laying an additional burthen on the burgesses, to supply their own improvident waste. Was a system like that to be tolerated? Was it to be endured, that the magistrates of a burgh, after having expended the funds of the burgh, without accounting for the manner of expenditure, should be permitted thus to make up the deficiency; from the pockets of those whose money they had dissipated? He begged to ask the learned lord, whether he held the very prevalent, and in some degree authorized opinion, that the burgesses were, in law, liable for all the debts contracted by their, magistrates; or whether, in case of bankruptcy, as had happened at Aberdeen, the creditors must all lose their money? Civil or political rights the burgesses of Scotland, certainly had none—and if they had no municipal freedom or protection, what right remained to them, unless, in deed, that of suffering patiently this accumulation of injuries and of grievances?—The noble lord then read a passage from the report of the committee of 1793, in which the various hardships, under which the burgesses laboured, were enumerated. Among other things, an illegal exaction of the cess was mentioned. He read from the report a statement of extra or illegal exaction of cess for ten years, no less a sum than 12,336l., and a fraction.
It also stated great abuses in the mode and expense of collecting the cess, be sides its illegal imposition. The magistrates claimed and exercised full power over the common lands, against which the burgesses possessed no remedy.
With the body of evidence on the table, in the shape of petitions, borne out as that evidence was by the report of a former committee, the noble lord said, he could not conceive how the House could remain insensible to the situation of the petitioners; or if they were sensible of that situation, how they could refuse to remedy, much less to investigate, the grievances complained of. What he had already stated was grossly oppressive; but it was only an outline of the general abuse which existed, and which was more fully detailed in the numerous petitions on the table; It had been hinted: by the learned lord that any interference on the part of the House would be contrary to the act of union; but that argument, if it proved 185 any thing, proved too much. There existed no foundation for any such argument, either in the letter or in the spirit of the treaty of union; but if that argument were indeed to be held valid and effective, the situation of the burgesses would be not only helpless, but hopeless; the inhabitants of Scotland would be excluded from all redress, however severe and multiplied the grievances under which they laboured now were, or ever might become. Every act of oppression, of fraud, and of iniquity, might be perpetrated and continued with impunity. The people of Scotland must remain under alt the evils of the present burgh system, from which they could at present derive no relief from the law of Scotland as it was now construed; and if the act of union were to be considered as a permanent bar to their claims for justice, then their sufferings, however manifest and severe, nay, even if they were admitted to exist by the learned lord himself, must continue for ever unredressed. But he conceived that the act of union had not—that it never could be intended to have—such a preposterous and injurious an effect.—The great question for the House to consider was, whether the petitioners, from their own statements, supported by the opinion of a former committee of this House, laboured under such grievances as required interference of the legislature, and if so, in what way parliament ought to interfere. He would not presume to point out any specific remedy; nor indeed had he yet had sufficient communication with the parties in whose favour such remedy would apply, or sufficiently considered the multiplied bearings of any remedy commensurate with this mischief, to venture, in this stage of the business, upon the task of deciding upon any specific measure, in this way of redress; all he asked was, for a committee to inquire into the subject. As for the learned lord, the only remedy which it seemed was to be expected from him was, the bill which he had introduced last year—had suddenly and mysteriously withdrawn—had again introduced this year—and which, in fact, involved an aggravation rather than a diminution of the existing evil. But what indeed could be hoped for from the learned lord, if he thought that an act regulating the burgh accounts, was all that was wanted, and that the act of union was an insuperable bar to any more effective interference on the part of this House? He 186 (lord A. Hamilton) would once more put it to the House, whether the act of union could be so interpreted—whether, whatever might be the extent of public of private disgrace and calamity of the present system, the act of union was to be deemed an insurmountable obstacle to its abolition or redress? He waited to hear what the learned lord or his friends could say on the subject, having before them the facts of the case from the petitioners, and the confession of the guilty persons—for such he must consider the magistrates of Aberdeen to be—both concurring that the existing system was "radically defective." If the learned lord objected to the appointment of a committee, he hoped he should hear whether it was the learned lord's wish and intention that this odious and oppressive system should continue until there should not be found any person so lost to common feeling, and so regardless of the esteem of their fellow citizens, as to accept the office of a burgh magistrate? The matter had nearly ripened to this maturity of mischief already. At Aberdeen, last election—not the most pure—only six persons out of nineteen elected would submit to accept office—and unless some change be effected, the time might not be distant, when the whole system would either dissolve in its own rottenness, or be upheld in defiance of public opinion, and in opposition to the public welfare, by the power of government alone—an awful era, which the noble lord said it had been my humble effort to avert. In the full persuasion that the claim which so large a body of his majesty's subjects as the petitioners had on the consideration of the House, supported by such a case, could not be resisted, he would conclude with moving, "That the several Petitions presented to this House from the Royal Burghs of Scotland, during the present session of Parliament, be referred to a Select Committee to examine the matter thereof, and to report their observations and opinion thereon to the House."
§ Mr. W. Dundas
said, that the noble lord was rather unfortunate in his assertion, that the present motion was not connected with parliamentary reform, when all his observations were directed to prove the propriety of a change in the present system, on which the members from Scotland were returned, to a free and popular election. The object of this motion for inquiry, was nothing less than to strike 187 down the constitution of Scotland as it had existed for 350 years—a system under which it had flourished so fairly, under which of late it had advanced with almost unexampled rapidity in wealth and power. This system had received the sanction of time and the seal of ages. It was at no particular abuse, but at the whole of the chartered rights of Scotland, that the motion was aimed. Some of the petitioners complained, indeed, that they were liable for debts which the magistrates might contract. This was a specific grievance; but to this it was replied, that a bill was in progress to apply a check to the burgh expenditure, by giving the burgesses a power of auditing the accounts. But the petitioners said they would not take this, unless they had more, and showed that the remedy of their financial difficulties was the pretext and not the object. Now as to the proposed change in the constitution of Scotland, had England yet given up her rotten boroughs [Hear, and a laugh]? Had she not always resisted the attempts made to alter her system, confident that if there were anomalies in the case of Old Sarum and other boroughs, the result of the whole was admirable? The petitioners wished to have restored to them the ancient constitution of the burghs, and the golden age before 1469. What the ancient constitution of the burghs was, none of them knew. What the golden age was they all knew. It was a time of anarchy, tumult, confusion and disorder; the nobility and the people at war; the monarch sometimes trampled under foot, sometimes umpire, "but by decision more embroiled the fray." He had no ambition to restore such times, or to give to Edinburgh or Glasgow the benefits of a Westminster election. He felt he was little qualified to bear part in such a scene. Neither were such scenes fitted for the people of Scotland. They were a sedate, religious people, not easily moved, but if once roused, let the House beware of them! The noble lord, when he had raised the storm, would in vain attempt to command it by his voice. When the waves were rolling on the shore, he might in vain draw a line, and say, "thus far shall you come and no farther."
§ Mr. Primrose
said, he was anxious to state why he should support the motion, both because the question affected that peculiar part of the community with which, as a representative, he was most closely connected, and because he wished 188 to guard himself against being pledged to maintain in the committee any compulsory measure affecting all the burghs. As it was said, that the present motion was connected with the great question of parliamentary reform, he felt himself bound to declare, that he was not one of those who were so confident in the superior wisdom which the present age possessed, as to hope to see remodelled the whole system of the constitution. But the more steadfastly he opposed such an attempt, the more earnestly did he feel himself bound to apply himself to the remedy of particular grievances; for it was to the disposition in the authorities of the state, and especially in that House, to remove particular abuses when they were pointed out, while radical or systematical change was avoided, that the constitution had been preserved. As the present motion was resisted, on the ground that it was a step towards parliamentary reform, it was proper to inquire what its effect would be. It would not give the elective franchise to different persons from those who now exercised it; nor would it change the persons from whom the councils would be to be chosen. In this it differed from those proposals for parliamentary reform which had been brought forward in England. The main difference would be the change it would effect in the representation of the burgesses in the councils. At the present time, the persons who were represented in the burgh councils were the inferior classes. In Edinburgh, for instance, which the right hon. gentleman who spoke last represented, the trade burgesses were inferior in rank to the merchant burgesses. Yet the merchant burgesses were not represented at all in the council—the councillors who nominally sat for them being returned on the principle of self-election, while eight councillors were returned at poll elections by the trades. So also at one of the burghs he represented, Dumfirmline, which contained six or seven thousand inhabitants, 10 councillors were annually elected by the trades, while 12 others were self-elected, though they professedly sat for the merchants; and thus the higher orders of the burgh were really shut out from the elections. This was nearly the state of things in all the burghs of Scotland, with the exception of one which he had the honour to represent, Stirling, in which eleven, a majority of the council, were annually elected by a poll of the merchants and trades. This 189 constitution was granted to that burgh in 1780, under the advice of the lord advocate of that day, who was not suspected of hostility to the constitution of Scotland. In that burgh the finances were in a flourishing condition, and the inhabitants, whatever were their speculative opinions as to matters of government, were well satisfied as to the manner in which their own concerns were administered. There was another instance in which the Crown had acted in a similar manner, namely in the case of Montrose, to which a similar constitution (with some exceptions) was granted in 1817. When it was contended that a reform of the constitution of the Scots burghs was precluded by the act of union, must it not be at the time asserted, that the Crown had acted in defiance of that act in the cases of Stirling and Montrose? Now, as to the particular abuses complained of, was it denied in any petition that the funds of many burghs had been squandered away in feasts and foreign purposes? In the burghs which he represented, large landed property had been alienated, and the last twelve acres had been sold three years ago. Was not this a state of things different from that in English boroughs? Could there be found in England corporations who could alienate their lands and make a title for their purchasers? Yet such had been decided to be the state of the law in Scotland [Hear!]. Some check was manifestly required; and what check was so good as to give those for whose benefit the funds were raised, a control over those by whom they were expended? If, in doing this, he gave the burgesses an influence on the conduct of the councillors in the choice of representatives, he should rejoice at it. That influence would be the silent influence of public opinion; and it would be natural that the councillors should endeavour to gain the confidence of their constituents in the election of parliamentary representatives, as well as in other parts of their trust. Yet this influence could not be too powerful or sudden, for the council did not choose, the member, but elected delegates, and the delegates elected the representative. As to the bill of the learned lord, which had been spoken of as the means of checking abuse, it was, in his opinion, nugatory. He concluded by giving his hearty support to the motion.
§ Mr. W. Douglas
said, he was anxious that the House should go into a commit- 190 tee on many accounts. In the first place much misapprehension prevailed on the subject, which it was most desirable should be cleared up. The petitioners on the subject were numerous, and were entitled to peculiar attention, as coming from Scotland, because its representatives were few, and its laws imperfectly understood by the House at large; and lastly because there was no department of the government particularly responsible for attention to that part of the empire, with the exception perhaps of the lord advocate, who, from his residence in this country and his multifarious avocations, was in some measure disqualified from rendering it. The hon. member then adverted to the case of Montrose, which had held forth hopes to the people of Scotland, and particularly to the address of the sheriff on that occasion, which seemed to warrant an expectation that the government would have proceeded in a manner favourable to popular elections. He observed that in the distress of Scotland in 1816 and 1817—a distress which might recur—the state of the representation had been laid hold of by designingmen, and the public had been deluded into the idea, that to it all the distress was to be attributed. It was, even in anticipation of such times, wise, therefore, to take the ground from under these persons.
§ Mr. Boswell
, as a native of Scotland, could not refrain from expressing a few sentiments on this subject. The reasons which had been urged in favour of a committee were, in his mind, very extraordinary; but none was more strange and impolitic than that advanced by the last speaker, which was, that an inquiry should be instituted for the pupose of putting an end to misrepresentations, although the same hon. member seemed to admit that nothing effectual could be done to satisfy the wishes of the petitioners. He commented upon the operation of the leges burgorum, and the power given by them to the probi homines of the burghs to elect their magistrates and representatives. This word had been translated "honest men;" but he feared that this translation would not be wholly applicable; as an "honest man" was not a term for a man of wisdom. Here there was much noise in the House, which prevented us from hearing distinctly the hon. member's observations. We could collect from him, that the situation of the burghs in Scotland before the year 1469 was very 191 peculiar. No man could be a burgess who did not hold a certain portion of land, and if he resigned or lost this land, he at the same time lost his character of a burgess. The mode of election was by poll, and introduced a scene of annual confusion. He looked upon the question not as confined to the local circumstances of the Scotch burghs, but as one of parliamentary reform, affecting the general interests of the empire. The question deeply interested England as well as Scotland, which since the act of union formed but one country, and by that act the form of electing members for parliament could not be altered without violating the articles of union. He should vote against going into the committee.
§ Mr. J. P. Grant
agreed as to the great importance of the question. In Scotland almost every principal town was a royal burgh, so that the evil of their mal-administration was most extensive in its influence. When grievances were stated to exist in the local administration, and parliament was applied to in consequence of such grievances, to place them on a different footing, they were told it could not be done, because in the attempt they might happen to touch upon some small part of the existing representation. The petitioners were charged with having in view the object of parliamentary reform, though they did not admit it themselves. He was at a loss to account for this line of argument. There was nothing so disgraceful in the name of parliamentary reform that they should be ashamed to avow it; and the usual way of judging the motives of men was from their conduct and language. No importance, however, was attached, by those! who held such an argument, to the declarations of those to whom it referred. He was sure, notwithstanding all that had been said, not only that parliamentary reform was not the object of the petitioners, but that a very small portion of them advocated in their minds the question which generally went by the name of parliamentary reform. For his own part, though he was by no means ashamed of the appellation, he should approach any proposition that contemplated a great change of system with considerable apprehension. But with such matter they had now nothing to do. The simple proposition before them was, to do what they had done in 1793, when they appointed a committee of inquiry. But what, he 192 would ask, was the degree of popular infusion so much dreaded by those who resisted the reform of the burghs? To take Edinburgh as an example, there were only 1,300 burgesses in that place, and those consisting of respectable persons, yet the admission of such a number and such a description of persons to the right of voting for their own magistrates, was described as the introduction of a sort of Westminster election.—The hon. gentleman next proceeded to ridicule the opinion that a reform of the burghs was contrary to the articles of union, observing, that it was scrrcely possible to conceive that two great countries agreeing to-unite, should, in the very act of their union, preclude themselves by mutual engagements from the possibility of improving their condition. The proofs of mal-administration were abundant. The town of Aberdeen was reduced to such a state, as to be under the necessity of making over their property to trustees for the benefit of their creditors, not reserving to themselves even the gaol for their own prisoners. The blame was thrown upon the system, and a change was applied for. He then read the report of the committee of 1793, dwelling principally on the opinion, that the private property of the burgesses was answerable for the debts of the burgh. That principle, he said, was maintained by several of the most eminent lawyers, and was in itself a sufficient reason to account for their application to that House, without attributing to them any speculation upon parliamentary reform. For all these reasons, he thought that a case was made out sufficient to induce the House to appoint a committee.
said, the question was, whether they would refer the whole of those petitions to a committee, referring, at the same time, the general inquiry, how far it was desirable that the principle of parliamentary reform should be applied to the Scots burghs? It was true that the petitioners did not avow the principle; but there were reasons why they should not avow it, and he was satisfied that a great number of the persons who were most active in procuring the petitions were advocates for parliamentary reform. He had no doubt but that grievances had occurred under the existing system, but not to the extent alleged. The lord advocate had introduced a bill for the purpose of correcting the evils, and the bill so introduced rendered any other pro- 193 ceeding unnecessary. The constitution of the Scots burghs had existed for 350 years. It might be said, that the antiquity of an objectionable system, could furnish no ground for maintaining it; but he should object to the principle of electing magistrates by poll. His chief motive in opposing the question was, he would admit, because he thought it was connected with parliamentary reform, and he called upon all those who were unfriendly to that measure to vote on the same side.
, adverting to the observation of an hon. member, that an agreement to any change in the burgh system of Scotland would be a violation of the articles of union, strongly argued against the validity of such a proposition. If such changes were violations of the union, a heavy charge could be brought both against this and the last parliament; for it could be proved that they had violated the union in the case of Penryn, in the case of Barnstaple, in the case of Shoreham, and other places, where the elective franchise had been extended to the neighbouring hundred. The support of the union should be reciprocal between the two countries, and it was as much violated by these late changes in England, as it would be by changes in Scotland, unless it was maintained that abuses should be perpetuated in the one country which might be corrected in the other. It was impossible for one parliament to bind its successor; if this could take place, the union would have been the greatest misfortune. The constitution of this country was only a system of progressive reform. As for what was called parliamentary reform, he had always objected to it, because it began by pulling down, without having any thing to substitute, and because parliament had the power to remedy any abuses that could be proved to exist. The great evil complained of was, the misapplication of the revenues of the burghs, and what the burgesses required was a power to check the misapplication, and in many instances gross profusion, that prevailed. He had not heard any contradiction to the statements of the petitions; and he believed he might say with confidence, that at no time had such statements ever been made without securing parliamentary interference. It was equally necessary that inquiry should take place, whether the evils complained of originated in ignorance or fraud.
said, he would have given a silent vote on the present question, were it not that assertions had been advanced with respect to the burgh of Aberdeen which he knew to be unfounded. It had been stated that the debts of the burgh of Aberdeen amounted to 230,000l. and that it was in a state of bankruptcy. Now, he held in his hand a document which would shew the fallacy of such a statement. It was the report of the trustees of that burgh, and stated, that if the property of the burgh were disposed of, at even a moderate rate, it would not only pay all the debts, but a considerable surplus would, be left; nay, that the revenue had considerably increased, and left an annuity of 1,500l. above that payment. Such was the state of the ruined and bankrupt burgh of Aberdeen! It had been asserted, that the magistrates had been guilty of fraud and concealment, and particularly that they had borrowed 10,000l., without authority, for their own purposes. This had been asserted on the alleged authority of a very respectable individual an inhabitant of Aberdeen, but from that individual he had received a letter in which he denied his having ever accused the magistrates of the burgh of embezzling the public money. The hon. gentleman then entered into a review of the valuable improvements constructed in the town by the magistrates of Aberdeen, and which, he contended, ought not to be urged against them as crimes. Those improvements could not be effected without money, and the liberality with which they had conducted themselves with regard to them, afforded no proof of their alleged regard to their exclusive interests. He thought no advantage could be obtained by the appointment of a committee. Hopes would be excited by it, which it would be impossible to realize. He should, therefore, oppose the motion; for if this principle respecting the burghs in Scotland, were enforced, he was at a loss to see how it could be disavowed, if brought to bear upon the boroughs in England.
expressed himself to be very unwilling to prolong a discussion of which the House seemed to be already weary, but as only one hon. member connected with the representation of England had delivered his sentiments on the subject, he thought it would not be respectful to the Scottish nation if the question were dispatched without a reply having been made to that hon. member by 195 another, who was also unconnected with Scotland; and he was therefore urged to assign his reasons for voting against the motion of the noble lord. His hon. friend had maintained, that the articles of the Union did not preclude parliament from interfering with the Scots Burghs; and that it was as competent to legislate for the alteration of any arrangement in those burghs, as it was in the case of Penryn, or any other English borough. He denied the correctness of this extraordinary exposition of the act of union. The articles of that union were in his opinion, so clear and distinct, that it was impossible to misunderstand them. They said, with reference to the Scots burghs, "that their rights and privileges should remain entire after the Union and notwithstanding the Union." But where was the corresponding stipulation that those of England should not be altered? The weaker party in the union stipulated for safety; but the stronger did not. There was a similar condition on the part of Ireland in the act of Union with that country respecting the rights and privileges of certain boroughs. Hence he conceived that parliament was not entitled to take the same course with respect to the royal burghs of Scotland, or to certain boroughs in Ireland, as it had recently pursued in the case of Penryn. At the same time he did not mean to say that it was not open to parliament to deal with any borough in the United Kingdom as it was proceeding to do towards Penryn, if a case of similarly gross abuse were regularly brought under its cognizance. If the fancy should seize the House—which God forbid!—to. establish any general principle of reform in the representation, he was not prepared to maintain that its power was so limited that it could not act towards Scotland, and Ireland, as it might resolve to act with respect to England. It did not however follow, that the long established rights and privileges of the burghs under consideration should be interfered with merely because those burghs did not happen to send such representatives to that House as were exactly agreeable to the taste of particular persons. Such a conclusion was not to be admitted, unless indeed the House determined to enter into a consideration of the whole system of our representation. He admitted that where a case of malversation ad hoc was made out, the House might deal with a Scots burgh as with an English borough. If in the 196 present case a malversation ad hoc were proved; two remedies having been proposed, the one operating on the pecuniary affairs, the other both on the pecuniary affairs end on the representation, it seemed to him to be the duty of parliament to adopt that proposition which would cure the pecuniary evil, without touching the principle of election. For the amendment of the pecuniary malversation the lord advocate of Scotland had given notice of a bill. He did not mean to argue by anticipation what might be the provisions of that bill. Their fitness would be a proper subject for consideration when the bill should come regularly before the House. But he could on no account accede to the noble lord's motion; because he was adverse to any attempt to meddle with the Scots system of representation; entertaining as he did the utmost apprehension of the consequences of any measure tending to what was denominated parliamentary reform. To that reform indeed he should always be a decided opponent, whatever disguise it assumed, or in whatever form it was presented; whether it exhibited itself in the coarse, broad, gross, disgusting, tyrannical, and insulting shape in which of late it had appeared in other places, or in the more plausible and less offensive, but not less dangerous character in which it was occasionally laid before that House. To the establishment of that reform, the motion before the House had, in his view of it, a direct tendency, and therefore he was irresistibly impelled to oppose its adoption. When touched by the spear of truth, it started up in all its native hideousness. It was for the House therefore to say whether it would tolerate this kind of proceeding, and suffer the question of parliamentary reform to be covertly insinuated on their attention. On that ground he had no hesitation in saying, that the House could just with as much right touch a single borough in England as a single burgh in Scotland. The motion was not one for enquiring into any particular malversation which might have arisen in the economy of the burgh expenditure; it was, on the contrary, one of those sweeping measures of reform which if adopted in one instance must be followed up in others. There were two modes of cure for the imputed evil; one a regulation by bill, such as that of which notice had been given, the other by a measure of this kind, which embraced a 197 parliamentary reform indefinable in its nature. To suppose that that would alarm those who looked to parliamentary reform with desire would be absurd, but he trusted the predominating feeling of the House would incline to the milder and more certain remedy, leaving the other among the rash speculators with whom it originated. While the wisdom and firmness of parliament withstood the attempts to establish reform in England, he warned the House not to make an experiment in Scotland, that he was convinced, in honesty and faith, would lead to the most dangerous consequences by risking the representation of the whole empire.
§ Lord A. Hamilton
, in reply, animadverted upon the attempt of the last speaker to misinterpret the language of the petitioners, and to ascribe to them an object which they distinctly disavowed; for those petitioners did not. seek parliamentary reform, as the right hon. gentleman assumed, but merely solicited the establishment of some security: against the prodigal expenditure of their funds.
§ The House divided: Ayes, 149. Noes, 144. Majority for the motion 5. The result of the division was received with loud cheers by the opposition. A committee was accordingly appointed, to consist of the following members; viz. Lord Archibald Hamilton, sir James Mackintosh, the lord advocate of Scotland, Mr. James Abercromby, sir James Montgomerie, Mr. J. P. Grant, Mr. Mackenzie, Mr. Kennedy, Mr. J. H. Blair, sir R. Fergusson, Mr. Sinclair, Mr. James Macdonald, Mr. Finlay, Mr. Maxwell, Mr. Hume, Mr. William Douglas, Mr. Macleod, Mr. Robert Grant, Mr. Frederick Douglas, Mr. Wilberforce, and Mr. Frankland Lewis.
|List of the Majority|
|Althorp, vis.||Carter, John|
|Anson, sir George||Cavendish, lord G.|
|Anson, hon. G.||Chamberlayne, W.|
|Barham, Jos. F.||Clifford, Aug.|
|Bernard, vis.||Clifton, vis.|
|Barnett, James||Colborne, N. R.|
|Bernal, Ralph||Colclough, C.|
|Bennet, hon. H. G.||Coke, T. W. jun.|
|Benyon, B.||Concannon, Lucius|
|Birch, J.||Crompton, Samuel|
|Brand, hon. T.||Crespigny, sir W. De|
|Byng, G.||Calthorpe, hon. F.|
|Calvert, N.||Douglas, Wm.|
|Calvert, C.||Douglas, hon. F. S.|
|Campbell, hon. J.||Davis, T. H.|
|Carew, R. S.||Denman, Thos.|
|Duncannon, vis.||Nugent, lord|
|Dundas, L.||Onslow, Arthur|
|Dundas, G.||Ord, Wm.|
|Dundas, T.||Osborne, lord F.|
|Ebrington, vis.||Phillimore, Jos.|
|Ellice, Ed.||Primrose, hon. F.|
|Euston, earl of||Palmer, C.|
|Finlay, Kirkman||Prittie, hon. F. A.|
|Fremantle, W.||Pares, Thomas|
|Fazakerly, Nic.||Parnell, sir. H|
|Fergusson, sir R. C.||Parnell, Wm.|
|Fitzgerald, lord W.||Pelham, hon. C. A.|
|Fitzroy, lord C.||Pelham, hon. G. A.|
|Fleming, John||Philips, George|
|Foley, Thomas||Philips, Geo. jun.|
|Folkestone, vis.||Phillipps, C. M.|
|Gaskell, Benj.||Plunkett, rt. hon. W.|
|Gordon, Robt.||Ponsonby, hon. F. C.|
|Graham, R. G.||Power, Rd.|
|Grenfell, Pascoe||Powlett, hon. W.|
|Guise, sir Wm.||Ricardo, David|
|Gurney, R. H.||Ramsden, J. C.|
|Harvey, D. W.||Ridley, sir M. W.|
|Hill, lord A.||Robarts, W. T.|
|Honywood, W.||Robarts, A.|
|Hornby, Ed.||Rowley, sir Wm.|
|Howard, lord H.||Russell, lord. G. W.|
|Howard, hon. W.||Russell, lord John|
|Hume, Jos.||Russell, R. G.|
|Hurst, R.||Rumbold, C.|
|Hutchinson, C. H.||Shelley, sir John|
|Howorth H.||Sebright, sir John|
|Kennedy, T. F.||Sinclair, G.|
|Lawson, M.||Scarlett, James|
|Lamb, hon. G.||Sefton, earl of|
|Lambton, J. G.||Smith, J.|
|Lloyd, sir J.||Smith, Wm.|
|Lloyd, J. M.||Smith, hon. R.|
|Maberly, W. L.||Spencer, lord R.|
|Maberly, John||Stuart, lord J.|
|Mackenzie, Thos.||Stewart, Wm.|
|Morland, sir S. B.||Stanley, lord|
|Maule, hon. W.||Symonds, T. P.|
|Macleod, Rod.||Talbot, R. W.|
|Macdonald, J.||Thorp, alderman|
|Mackintosh, sir J.||Tierney, rt. hon. G.|
|Madocks, W. A.||Walpole, hon. G.|
|Milton, vis.||Waithman, Robt.|
|Martin, Rd.||Webbe, Ed.|
|Methuen, Paul||Western, C.|
|Maxwell, John||Whitbread, W.|
|Merest, J. D.||Wilkins, Walter|
|Mills, George||Williams, Wm.|
|Mildmay, P. St. John||Wilson, sir Robt.|
|Monck, sir C.||Wood, Matthew,|
|Moore, Peter||Webster, sir G.|
|Morpeth, vis.||Wynn, C. W.|
|Newman, R. W.||TELLERS.|
|Neviile, hon. Rd.||Hamilton, lord A.|
|Newport, rt. hon. sir J.||Grant, J. P.|