HC Deb 06 May 1819 vol 40 cc149-52
Colonel Stewart

presented a petition from the burgh of New Galloway, praying that the House would not adopt the suggestions of those persons who called for an alteration in the constitution of the Scottish burghs, or who demanded a reform in parliament. It appeared to him, that the individuals who called for the burgh reform had some other object in view, or they would have paid more attention to the bill introduced by the lord advocate.

Mr. J. P. Grant

said, that if he understood the hon. and gallant officer correctly, he had stated that the burgesses of Scotland who had petitioned for an adequate reform of the royal burghs had a different object than that which they professed, otherwise they would have directed their attention to the benefits of the bill now pending in that House. Now, from every information that he had received, the burgesses had given that bill the fullest consideration; and the result of that attention was, that the great body of the burgesses were convinced that such a measure, if passed into a law, would tend to make bad worse, by confirming the notorious abuses already in operation.

General Fergusson

said, he held in his band a petition from the burgesses of Dunfermline, signed by 952 persons, praying for redress from those grievances so loudly expressed throughout Scotland, arising from the self-election of magistrates. These petitioners declared, that if the bill introduced by the lord advocate passed into a law, it would aggravate the existing abuses, and leave the parties affected without any remedy. The petitioners alleged that they had seen with astonishment, in a report of a speech said to have been made by the lord advocate, a statement in which the burgesses of Scotland were described not as respectable, but the reverse——

The Speaker

observed, that the petitioners could know nothing of any speech made in that House.

Lord Castlereagh

considered the passage so objectionable as to prevent the petition being received. His learned friend was not in his place, but he was confident he had never said or meant any thing derogatory to the great body of the burgesses of the royal burghs.—The petition was withdrawn.

Mr. J. P. Grant

presented a similar petition from the corporation of tailors at Edinburgh, which he said he should not have offered to the House in the absence of the lord advocate, had he not intimated to the learned lord his intention of doing so. The language of this petition, however, had a marked distinction from that just withdrawn by his gallant friend. It stated that the petitioners "had heard that the respectability of their corporation, as well as of others, had been called in question by a member of the House; but that they did not think it necessary to justify themselves, as they trusted their good conduct and general usefulness were too well known." In another part of the petition, the petitioners said, "they had heard with astonishment and indignation, that they had been charged by a Scotsman, a member of the House, with being radical reformers," &c. They did not state, however, that that charge was made in the House. The House would, however, do what they chose with the petition.

The Speaker

remarked, that the impression on his mind was, that the two parts of the petition quoted by the hon. gentleman, if taken together, involved a complaint of something said in that House.

Lord Castlereagh

was of opinion, that it was inconsistent with the privileges of the House, to receive such a petition.

The Lord Advocate

wished not to be understood to have thrown any slur on any body of individuals. What he had stated was, that burgesses in Scotland, whether in the capital or in the provinces, were neither from their education, their habits of life, or their property, more respectable in the abstract, or entitled to greater consideration, than the other inhabitants of the burghs, who were more enlightened by education, and who had greater property at stake. The petitioners complained of his having called them radical reformers. What he had stated, he would state as often as it became his duty to address the House on the subject, namely, that to adopt the proposed alteration in the Scots burghs, would be to overturn the established constitution of those burghs, and to change it fundamentally from the form in which it was fixed by the union.

Sir J. Mackintosh

observed, that the petition did not convey any complaint of what had actually taken place in the House.

Sir G. Clerk

replied, that the expressions in the petition must be taken as referring to what had occured in that House, and no where else; and that he could see no reason why this petition should not fall under the same rule which had excluded its predecessor.

The petition was withdrawn.

Mr. Hume

said, he held in his hand a petition from the royal burgh of Aberdeen, praying for a reform of the burgh system in Scotland. It complained of the system of self-election practised by the magistrates, and pointed out the necessity of giving the burgesses the power of electing their magistrates. It was signed by 14 burgesses of Aberdeen, whose united property amounted to upwards of half a million sterling: in addition to which, it contained the names of three-fourths of the burgesses of Aberdeen, though it had been kept open for signatures but a few hours.

Lord A. Hamilton

said, he had several petitions of a similar nature to that just laid on the table, to present, and among others, there were two from the burghs represented by the lord advocate, who opposed himself to any alteration in the burgh government of Scotland. The two petitions to which he alluded were from the burghs of Anstruther, complaining of the burgh government, and praying the interference of the Hous—The petitions were read and ordered to be printed.