HC Deb 02 March 1821 vol 4 cc1068-76

On the motion of lord J. Russell, the House went into a committee to consider farther of the report of this bill.

Mr. Stuart Wortley

objected to the amount of the qualification for voting which was proposed for Leeds, that qualification being for such persons as rented houses at 10l. a year. This qualification he thought too low; for he was ready to avow his opinion, that where the population was very numerous, the right of voting should be comparatively narrowed. He was by no means an advocate for placing Leeds or any other great town, upon the same footing as Westminster, with respect to the right of voting. Upon the best inquiries which he had been able to make, he found that the rate of 20l. would include every person of the rank of a respectable tradesman in the Borough, and give a body of voters to the amount of between 2 and 3,000. He should wish therefore, that instead of 10l. the sum of 20l. be inserted.

Lord Milton

begged leave to express his entire approbation of the mode of reform which had been introduced by his noble friend. It proceeded strictly upon constitutional principles, and for this reason he preferred it, both to the proposition for extending the elective franchise to the West Riding of Yorkshire, and to that for transferring it to the hundreds in the neighbourhood of Grampound. There was one point, however, on which he was inclined to differ, both from his hon. friend, and his noble friend who framed the bill. Instead of making any fanciful experiments, or attempting to set our own wisdom above the wisdom of our ancestors, he thought it would be a much safer course to make the borough of Leeds a mere scot and lot borough, like all others where the inhabitant householders had the right of voting. It must be recollected, that there were other classes in this country who were entitled to protection, as well as those who possessed large property. The lower orders stood just as much in need of protection as persons in more exalted stations. If we examined the state of the country for the last 25 years, no man would deny, that the lower orders of the people had suffered more from the pressure of the times than persons in the higher classes of life. The House was bound, therefore, to consider the interests of that portion of the community; and as this was probably the first of a series of measures, which would be applied to the reform of the representation of the people, they ought not to lay down a principle which might exclude from the elective franchise persons in the humbler walks of life. The corruption which prevailed in the smaller boroughs, was rarely to be found in those where the electors were very numerous. It was perhaps of little importance, whether in the present instance the number of electors should be three or six thousand, with reference to the interests of the particular borough; but it was a point of material importance, when considered with reference to the way in which the inferior classes of the people would receive the boon which the House was now offering to them. As to the distinction of respectable classes, as distinguished from the inferior orders, he protested against the use of the term. One class of society might be poorer or more unfortunate than another, but the poorest man in the realm, if he were honest, sober, and industrious, was just a3 respectable as the most exalted. For these reasons, he thought that, instead of wishing to raise the qualification, the House would do better to abandon all qualification, and in legislating for this particular case, to act upon the ancient and recognised principles of the constitution.

Sir R. Wilson

begged to observe, that the conduct of the electors of Westminster had been distinguished by the greatest purity. Their example, there- fore, so far from being an argument against the exercise of the elective franchise by scot and lot, was directly in its favour. With respect to the borough of Southwark, his first election had not cost above 700l. though he had to contend against great wealth, long possession, and high respectability. The expenses of his last election did not exceed 300l. He entirely agreed with the noble lord, that the House ought to extend the elective franchise as much as possible to the poorer classes of society, for it was an acknowledged principle of the constitution, that representation should be co-extensive with taxation.

Mr. Courlenay

said, that there never was an instance of ascot and lot borough having been created by act of parliament. As to the purity of the electors of Westminster, upon which an hon. member insisted, he could only say, that the inhabitants of the city of Westminster had been grossly calumniated, if a great deal of corruption had not existed in former elections. The kind of corruption to which he alluded was, the paying up of arrears of taxes, in order to enable a man to vote.

Mr. Baring

said, that the particular mode of adding two members to that House was not in itself a question of great importance. At the same time, as this was the first instance in which parliament was called upon to apply a general principle of legislation, in that view it was material that the House should weigh maturely what it promulgated upon this subject. In framing a system of representation, experience proved the necessity of looking to property as an essential principle for the permanence of social order. At the same time, it was undoubtedly essential, that the interests of the poorer classes of society should be mixed up with those considerations. It would be unwise to take property as the simple basis of representation, as the French had done. It was true, that the basis of property was sufficient, as a security; but then the consequence would be, as in France, a total indifference on the part of the people as to the election of their representatives, or their conduct after they were elected. The representation in America, on the other hand, furnished an example of the defects of the popular principle, when taken as the principal basis. He thought, therefore, that the plan of representation best adapted to this and every other country would be one graduated a little upon the scale of principle, and regulated by the principle of the Vestry bill that passed some years ago. If, for instance, 10l. were taken as a basis conferring a right of one vote, the scale might be graduated, so as to give to the higher classes of society three or four votes. Such a system as this would, in his opinion, supply the two desiderata of security, both with respect to property and the good will of the people. With respect to what had fallen from his gallant friend, he admitted, that the conduct of the electors of Westminster and Southwark had, in the latter instances, been unexceptionable. But though no great expenditure of money was incurred by the candidates, he must say that there was a most extravagant expenditure of what perhaps was a more serious tax upon the candidates, he meant nonsense [a laugh]. No person stood a chance of success as a popular candidate for those places, unless he condescended to use such language as he would be ashamed to use, in talking upon the same subjects, not only in the society of gentlemen, but among Englishmen possessing common sense.

Sir R. Wilson

rose to order. He apprehended that no member had a right to say that another member had not only talked nonsense, but used such language to his constituents as he would be ashamed to use in another place. If his hon. friend would attend some of the meetings where the members he had alluded to spoke to their electors, he would have ample opportunity to correct his opinion.

Mr. Baring

said, he should be extremely sorry if any thing which had fallen from him should be ascribed to a want of respect for his gallant friend, and to the hon. baronet, who was not now in his place (sir F. Burdett). There was no man for whose talents he had a greater admiration, or whom he should be so sorry to lose, as a member of the House, than that hon. baronet. At the same time he must maintain, that any man who would complain of great public grievances, and enlarge upon the sufferings of the people—any man who would talk the greatest nonsense upon legislation and good government was most likely to succeed at such elections as those for Westminster and Southwark. Under all the circumstances, he felt inclined to support the amendment.

Mr. C. Calvert

bore testimony to the disinterested conduct of the electors of Southwark. No application, during the five contested elections which he had stood for that borough, had ever been made to him for the payment of rates or taxes.

Lord Milton

considered, that it would be better to adhere to the constitutional practice, and say that the borough of Leeds should be a scot and lot borough, than to make any fanciful deviations, under the notion of forming a good representation. The absurdities which even men of the clearest understandings fell into, when they abandoned experience and took up theories, was but too frequent. He was not a little surprised at the argument of the hon. member for Taunton for a graduated scale of votes, rising according to the property of the voter; for his part, he thought it much better that the poor man should go into the county hall to give his vote upon a footing of perfect equality with his richer neighbour. If that principle were entertained, it would lead to discussions similar to those which had agitated France in the first period of her revolution. He trusted that when they were endeavouring to infuse new life into the constitution, the committee would see the necessity of proceeding on some recognised principle, and he therefore should wish to recommend the payment of scot and lot as that principle, and should therefore move that all the words after "the sum of be left out.

Mr. S. Wortley,

in order to take the sense of the committee on his noble friend's amendment, agreed to postpone the consideration of the amendment which he had proposed until that should have been decided.

Lord Althorp

observed, that he was decidedly friendly to that alteration in the representation, which gave the people a greater share in the deliberative proceedings of that House. He should support the amendment of the noble lord.

Mr. Martin,

of Galway, though he disapproved of every part of the bill, would support the increase proposed in the amount of the qualification. Without inquiring whether the imputations thrown out against the electors of Southwark and Westminster were true or not, he, could not help observing that the opinions of the members for those places, and he might add for Middlesex, were not usually in accordance with those of the generality of the House. He had good authority for saying that one of the banking houses in Leeds contemplated the removal of its establishment, if this bill passed into a law. Under existing circumstances he did not think it safe to name the house; nor would it be safe for the gentry of Leeds to petition against the bill.

Mr. Lockhart

contended, that all boroughs were not originally scot and lot. He was decidedly adverse to the amendment of the noble lord, though he should not object to some moderate composition. In his view, any change in the representation ought to be bottomed on property.

Mr. Hurst

expressed his hope, that when the House was creating a new right, they would not overlook the claims of the poorer classes, who so largely contributed to the burdens of the state, and bore with such patience their unexampled privations. The introduction of any sum as a qualification in a scot and lot borough, was an innovation.

Mr. Peel

admitted, that whether the sum was 10. or 20l., the adoption of the qualification was an arbitrary principle. As they were transferring the right of return to Leeds, he thought they should give the inhabitants a substance, not a shadow. He understood that the payment of the poor's rate on 10l. a year, would give a respectable constituency of nearly three thousand voters. Had the transference been to the East Hiding' of Yorkshire, they would not have been at sea, as they then were, in search of a principle. The scot and Jot right was certainly more congenial with the constitution, but there were circumstances in the locality of Leeds which made it disadvantageous to give an unlimited right of voting. It was a great manufacturing town, and such an abstraction of the people from their habits of industry would work a great disservice. Upon the whole, he was in favour of the qualification being fixed at 20l.

Mr. Abercromby

said, he had formerly been of opinion that the better mode of disposing of the elective franchise of Grampound, would be, to give it to the West Riding of York, but he had altered that opinion, and should support the transfer to the town of Leeds, which he conceived would be adhering strictly to the principle of the constitution.

Mr. Monck

observed, that all were agreed in principle, and differed' only in degree. The object was, to give to the inhabitants of Leeds a popular from of election; and he supported the amendment of the noble lord, because it adhered to long-established usage. The chief and broad ground on which he would vote for the amendment was, that it would give to a large, and particularly the poorer class, an interest in the representation. The great defect in the constitution was, that the poorer classes were not represented. If they had been represented, the taxes would not now be so heavy or so unequal. It was remarkable that, the land-tax, which affected not the poorer class, was the same now as it had been a century back; while the tax on beer, the beverage of the poor, was quadrupled;

Lord Castlereagh

said, that whilst he was a friend to the principle of the bill, he should have preferred founding it upon, the county representation, and giving it to the East Riding of Yorkshire. That he, thought would have been the safer principle; but as the House had decided upon that subject, the question now was, when was the best of the three propositions before the committee. If the noble lord's amendment were adopted, it would be a precedent that when a borough offended, the right should be given to a large and populous town, and vote by scot and lot. Now, if future offences could be contemplated, a great addition would be made to that representation, upon which he looked with the leas favourable eye. He had objected to the selection of Leeds, because it was an arbitrary principle, and one which he apprehended would put the bill in jeopardy; however, the noble lord had decided; but why he had chosen scot and lot in preference to burgage tenure, or calling upon the Crown to grant a charter, did not clearly appear. Granting that the House ought to give a popular representation, they were not bound certainly to go to the extreme of the principle; and between the two rates of voting, he should give the preference to the 20l. on the understanding that that would give a body of between two and three thousand electors.

Mr. Denman

regretted the doubts which the noble lord had expressed as to the fate of the bill; as he feared it was of the nature of those doubts to verify themselves in some other quarter. He thought that those who talked of the danger, should have shewn that it was the popularity which caused it. He believed the reverse to be the fact, as the responsibility imposed on men possessing the elective franchise had a tendency to promote the tranquillity of the place. But there were, he believed, eleven townships in the borough of Leeds, and there might be eleven booths for taking the poll; which would afford great facility. The town of Nottingham, which he had the honour to represent and the midland counties in general, were perfectly tranquil; and he was persuaded that had Manchester, Huddersfield, and Leeds, sent representatives to parliament, the discontents which had burst out so alarmingly, would never have been heard of. For these reasons he should support the amendment of the noble lord.

Mr. Courtenay

thought that by adopting the proposition for limiting the right of voting, they would come nearest to the principles on which the scot and lot right was originally granted. He should wish Leeds to have a large constitutional body; but when he voted for that course, which would secure it a body of from 2,500 to 3,000 voters, he thought he voted for that proposition which would be found most beneficial to the town itself, and most conformable to the constitution.

Mr. Scarlett

objected to the proposed limitation, as calculated to throw too much power into the hands of the overseers of parishes, and as being likely to cause much litigation with respect to the varying value of houses. He wished it to be thrown open to scot and lot voters.

Lord John Russell

said, he was desirous of adhering to the ancient principles of the constitution, but thought it better to endeavour to catch their spirit, than to suffer themselves to be bound down by the mere forms and terms of their practice. The privilege given to scot and lot voters was evidently intended to be given to those who paid the taxes; and therefore when he took a person holding a house worth 10l. per annum, he thought he acted on the same principle that was formerly acted upon in giving a vote to those who paid scot and lot; as he who did this in former times, was a person whose means were probably greater than those of the holder of a house of 10l. or 20l. per annum at the present day. The course he had taken in this respect was perfectly analogous to that acted upon by our ancestors, and conformable to the constitution. With respect to the pro- position for raising the qualification to 20l. a-year, that he considered objectionable, as limiting the right of voting to too small a body of electors. The proposition of the hon. gentleman went to limit the right of voting to somewhat more than 2,000 persons, a considerable number of whom had votes already as freeholders. Under his proposition for admitting those to exercise the rights of electors who rented houses valued at 10l., he calculated that there would be a body of from 6,000 to 7,000 voters, and could not consent to reduce their number to 2,000.

The Committee divided:

For lord Milton's Amendment 66
Against it 182
Majority 116

List of the Minority.
Abercromby, hon. J. Lushington, Dr.
Althorp, lord Macdonald, Jas.
Anson, sir G. Martin, J.
Barrett, S. B. M. Monck, J. B.
Benett, J. Moore, Peter
Bennet, hon. H. G. Newport, sir J.
Benyon, Benj. Noel, sir G.
Bright, H. Orde, Wm.
Calcraft, J. Pares, Thos.
Calvert, C. Parnell, sir H.
Crompton, S. Palmer, C. F.
Crespigny, sir W. De Power, R.
Denman, Thomas Price, R.
Dundas, Charles Ramsbottom, J.
Ellice, E. Rice, S. R.
Farquharson, A. Ridley, sir M. W.
Folkestone, lord Robarts, A.
Fitzgibbon, hon. R. Robarts, col.
Fitzgerald, lord W. Robinson, sir G.
Fitzgerald, sir M. Scarlett, Jas.
Gordon, R. Sefton, earl of
Grant, J. P. Smith, W.
Grattan, James Stanley, lord
Griffiths, J. W. Stuart, lord J.
Harbord, hon. E. Sykes, D.
Honey wood, W. P. Tennyson, Charles
Hornby, Ed. Tierney, rt. hon. G.
Hill, lord A. Wharton, J.
Hume, J. Whitbread, S.
Hurst, R. White, Luke
Hutchinson, hon. C. Wilson, sir R.
Johnstone, W. A. Wyvill, M.
Lennard, T. TELLER.
Lloyd, J. M. Milton, lord.

The Committee next divided on Mr. Stuart Wortley's motion, for inserting 20l. instead of 10l. Ayes 148. Noes 94. Majority 54. The several clauses of the bill were then gone through and the House resumed.