HC Deb 25 May 1820 vol 1 cc536-9
Lord Archibald Hamilton

rose in pursuance of the motion of which he had given notice. As he understood that no opposition was to be made to it, he should content himself with stating the nature of the document for which he intended to move, and the reason which induced him to move for its production. The document which he wished to be laid before the House was a document containing the number of persons entitled to vote for counties in Scotland: it was annually made up, and therefore could be obtained without the slightest difficulty. The object for which he wanted it was to afford assistance to himself and to the House in the discussion of a question which he was inclined, from a sense of duty, to submit without delay to their most serious consideration. He believed that it was not generally known in the House on what the right of voting for county members rested in Scotland; and he therefore wished that those honourable members, who were unacquainted with the qualifications of Scotch voters should receive the best possible information upon the subject. They would then find, that these qualifications did not at all depend upon property, and that it was possible for the whole representation of Scotland to be in the hands of those who did not possess an inch of land in the country, whilst the whole landed property of the country might be in the hands of those who had not a single vote. This was a system which ought never to have been allowed to exist; and which, as it did exist, ought not to be allowed to continue. Such, at least, was his opinion, and he was happy to say that a large portion of the inhabitants of Scotland concurred with him in it. The paper for which he moved was of little use in itself; but of great use as regarded his ulterior object. As he had already alluded to the defects of the Scottish representation, he might be permitted to add, that the courts of law had, in some instances which had come under their notice, acknowledged the existence of them in their decisions. He knew not how any remedy could be applied to them without introducing into the system a fresh principle of representation. He did not intend, when he introduced such principle, to move for the abolition of an}' of the feudal rights at present existing in Scotland; on the contrary, he would now state, that in any proposition which he might hereafter bring forward, it was not his intention to disturb any existing vote. He would continue their votes to those who now had them, but would grant the right of voting to those who now had it not, though possessed of considerable property. He would now move, "That there be laid before the House a copy of the roll of freeholders of every county in Scotland, as last made up, and certified by the sheriff-clerk."

Lord Castlereagh

observed, that as the document now called for was a public one, he had no objection to the production of it. He trusted that no hon. member would at present enter on the subject, as it might lead to a premature discussion, which, on a question like the present, had better be avoided.

Mr. Hume

could not help suggesting to the noble lord, that it might greatly assist his ulterior object, if a distinction were made in the roll, between those superiorities which were mere paper supe- riorities, and those which were connected with the land to which they were attached. He had himself seen a roll in which this distinction had been made. With regard to the Scotch representation, he would merely state that the number of voters for the thirty Scotch counties, twenty years ago, amounted only to 3,000, and he conceived that, with the increase which might have taken place in the interim, they did not now amount to more than 3,600. Another circumstance which might surprise some members was this—that in a county where there were 20 votes, 18 of them belonged to superiorities which were perfectly detached from the land.

Sir G. Clerk

observed, that the scheme which had been suggested by the hon. member who had spoken last, was not practicable, because in the books in which the names of the voters were enrolled, there was nothing from which it could be determined whether the rent was reserved or not. The distinction which the hon. member wished to draw could only be obtained by the examination of every individual voter for a county in Scotland.

Mr. Hume

said, that he had himself seen a roll in which that distinction had been made.

Mr. Abercromby

thought that a question of greater importance to Scotland could hardly be brought before the House. The distinction which his noble friend had made, between lands held beneficially and those held by superiority, was well founded; but he thought the view which his hon. friend behind him had taken of the subject was not so important as he imagined, because his noble friend had no intention of bringing forward any motion for destroying existing rights. The object of his noble friend was, an extension of the elective franchise in Scotland; and, when the House had been informed of the actual number of voters at present, some measure, he trusted, would be proposed to them, founded on the extension of property and the diffusion of wealth. Some gentlemen might be in the habit of thinking that it was dangerous to change any part of the representative system of the country, as they imagined that the representation of England could not be altered for the better; but he would desire those persons, before they made up their minds on this subject, to consider what was the nature and the extent of representation in Scotland. They would find that it was in every respect the reverse of what it was in England. In English counties elections were popular, but in the counties of Scotland they were purely aristocratical. In England, every man possessing a freehold of 40s. in the county had a right to vote; in Scotland, a man might be a landed proprietor worth 10,000l. a-year, and yet not be qualified to vote in the election of a member, nor even to be himself elected. He therefore conjured hon. members not to make up their minds on this subject from what they knew of the English mode of representation; for they might approve of an alteration in the representation of Scotland, and yet, with perfect consistency, maintain the opinion that it would be improper to make any change in England.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that in consequence of what had fallen from the hon. and learned gentleman who had spoken last, he thought it necessary to caution those who were not intimately acquainted with the subject against deciding rashly that the representation of Scotland must necessarily be defective, because it differed from that of England. The two systems might differ materially, and yet each be well adapted to the circumstances of the respective countries.

Sir R. Fergusson

expressed his obligation to his noble friend for bringing forward a subject so disgraceful to Scotland. The caution of his hon. and learned friend not to consider a general reform of the representation of England as necessarily connected with an alteration of the county representation of Scotland, was highly proper; because the two systems were wholly dissimilar in principle and in practice. The other caution of the right hon. the chancellor of the exchequer savored too much of party principle; and he hoped the House would not, in the decision of such a question, be actuated by party views.

The motion was then agreed to.