§ Lord Archibald Hamilton
rose and said:—Mr. Speaker; I rise for the purpose of persuading this House, to resolve itself into a committee of the whole House to consider the Reports which have been made to it, by its own orders, on the subject of the Royal Burghs of Scotland. After the length of time, which this subject has been before the House and the public, and the share which I have taken in the investigation of it, I owe it, as a duty to the petitioners, to this House, and to myself, to endeavour at last, to bring it to some specific, some profitable termination. Until my efforts are superseded by some decision of this House, those efforts shall be directed towards the success of the cause, in which I originally embarked, without being aware, I must confess, of the time or the labour it would require, or of the opposition I should encounter—I mean, to the attainment of some reform in the internal constitution and internal management of Scotch Burghs. It is a cause in which some 500,000 of my countrymen are interested, who have no representatives—at least no direct representatives—in this House—in which revenues of more than 100,000l. are still involved, but in which I myself have, personally, no interest whatever, except as far as the interests of Scotland are concerned.
My present object is, to induce the House to examine the three reports upon the subject, which have been made, by its own orders, in the last three sessions, and to adopt such measures as the case, after examination, may appear to require. Before I proceed to urge any reasons for going into such committee, drawn from the reports themselves, I beg to submit a short outline of the circumstances, which have occurred in the origin and progress of this inquiry. During the years 1817 520 and 1818, petitions to this House were presented from almost all the royal Burghs of Scotland, in number 66, and containing a population of several hundred thousand persons, a large proportion of whom are burgesses of the said burghs. In these petitions complaint was general, though the details were various; the ground of this general complaint was, the mismanagement of the affairs of the Burghs, from negligence, ignorance, or corruption, or the united influence of all three: the chief operative cause was stated to be, the principle of self-election, under which the councils, managers of the burghs, are self-appointed, and may be self-continued in perpetuity. The remedy, generally, if not universally, prayed for by the burgesses, was, some change in that principle of self-election. Numerous and extensive instances of misgovernment and corruption were pointed out, in these numerous petitions, and proof offered of their truth. A large proportion of the petitions had been transmitted to my hands, and by me presented to this House.
Under these circumstances it was, that in April 1819, I moved for the appointment of a committee to investigate one of the most prominent examples of mismanagement, in the case of the city of Aberdeen. The self-elected council of that town had declared itself bankrupt, and had delivered its concerns into the hands of trustees, and had voluntarily signed and published a declaration, imputing that bankruptcy, not to casual misfortune—not to failure of their creditors, or to bad debts—not to personal dishonesty or negligence—not to any cause of transient influence, or of rare occurrence, but to the natural, necessary, inherent defect of self-election, as a system of fraud and concealment. In spite of such a case, and such testimony, the House of Commons refused to appoint a Committee. My motion was lost, by a majority of four or five. Upon what ground the House decided, I cannot pretend to say—the decision was not very creditable to that House; but the ground taken by those members who spoke against my motion, was a denial of the nature, and the extent of the abuse, in reference to Aberdeen—denial that the system of self-election was an evil of any magnitude, or in any degree the cause of the misfortune which had occurred; in short, a. denial of my entire case, except the stubborn fact the bankruptcy—and 521 that they plausibly excused. The smallness of the majority which refused my motion, and the magnitude and nature of my case, as I knew it to exist, induced me to make another appeal to the justice of the House; and as petitions had continued to increase in number, expressive of public opinion in Scotland upon this important matter, I resolved to bring the subject again before the House, sooner than I should otherwise have done.
One important, most important accession of strength, had been gradually accumulating to the cause of Burgh reform, from a quarter where it had been least expected, but from whence it was likely to be most effectual. Since the commencement of the petitions to this House by the burgesses and inhabitants of the burghs, against the mode of electing and perpetuating their councils and their magistrates, these very councils and magistrates had themselves met in many of royal burghs, and had expressed and published resolutions in favour of that very reform for which the burgesses were petitioning. In nearly half of the royal burghs in number, and more than half in population, those very self-elected councils, who were complained against, now voluntarily recorded their opinions in favour of the complainers, and against the system of self-election. Without admitting at all the abuses alleged, and without affording any sanction to a total subversion of existing Setts, they declared that some change, some modification of the system of self-election was desirable, for the benefit of the burghs and respectability of themselves. Here then was authority in my favour, and in favour of the petitioners, quite unquestionable, quite decisive. Thus encouraged, on the 7th May, one month after my former motion was lost, I again appealed to the justice of the House, and moved to refer all the petitions from the Scotch burghs to a committee. Again, however, I was opposed, and opposed by the same persons, and the same arguments as before.
The House of Commons was not, however, to be deceived a second time. Neither the efforts of ministers, nor the exertions of those who supported—avowedly supported—the system of self election—were allowed to prevail. Inquiry, at least, if nothing more, was now thought to be due to the petitioners; supported too, as their case now was, by a large portion of the self-elected councils 522 themselves. Upon this occasion the ministers were left in a minority, a committee was appointed, of which I was elected an unworthy chairman—unworthy in all respects, except zeal in the cause, and a steady active attention to the duties of the chair. And here I should notice to the House, that a committee had been appointed on this subject, so long ago as the year 1793, and had made a valuable report upon the abuses and mismanagement in Scotch royal burghs, to the House of Commons of that time. I thought it important and desirable, that we should avail ourselves of this document; accordingly I moved to have this report of 1793 reprinted, and referred to the consideration of the committee which had just been appointed. Upon a perusal of this report, we, the committee, soon found that the same grievances had been complained of by the royal burghs of Scotland in 1793, as we were now called upon, in 1819, to investigate. Not only were the same grievances stated, and imputed to the same cause; but the same remedy, also, was suggested by the petitioners of that day. Well, Sir; we, the committee of 1819, entered upon our labours late in the month of May; but such was the diligence and activity of that committee, that it produced a report, amounting, with evidence and appendix, to 500 pages, at the close of that session; a report which has been canvassed, criticised, and vilified, by the enemies of all reform, but which has maintained its credit to this hour, for accuracy and fairness, and has itself done no inconsiderable service to the cause of burgh Reform, by the mere force of its disclosures.
I will now proceed to detail the appointment, labours, and progress of the succeeding committees on this subject, as the strongest argument I can urge for my motion of this night. In the next session of parliament I moved the reappointment of the committee on burgh reform, which it was not, now, thought prudent by the ministers to oppose. But the committee, which they granted reluctantly, they contrived to fetter and embarrass in its operations, by a change in the members who, composed it. This arrangement was made between the noble lord opposite and myself, without any appeal to the House as to the persons to be named; but made on my part, in the conviction that such appeal would be useless, in opposition to the ministry. Several new members were 523 introduced into the committee, whose views on this subject, as well as on general political matters, were very different to those of the members whom they had succeeded; some of them, too, were in office. The former report had disclosed too much: in other words, the committee had performed their duty too well to this House. The peculiar circumstances of the session, as noticed in their report, prevented this second committee from making as much progress in inquiry as was to be desired, or as had been done by its predecessor. I allude to the trial of her late majesty, the queen; a proceeding as little creditable to the justice and character of this House as it was to the honour and character of the country. This committee produced, however, an important report, after having examined many witnesses, and much documentary evidence, as the appendix to their report will testify: this committee also came to several resolutions, founded upon their investigation, tending to verify and confirm the allegations of the petitioners.
Early in the next session, I applied the House a third time for the appointment of a committee on this same subject of the royal burghs of Scotland. But, now, a still greater change was to be made in the members of this committee; fewer of my friends—more of my opponents, and more placemen. So much indeed was this committee altered, that I must take blame to myself, for having agreed to prosecute the inquiry with a committee so composed. I must also throw some blame upon those members who, after having attended zealously the two former sessions, now absented themselves by degrees, till at length the usual attendants dwindled to four or five placemen, the member for Aberdeen, and myself. It soon became manifest in that committee, that I, as chairman, had no influence whatever: I mean no influence in those matters, which are usually left exclusively to the chairman; namely, the collecting evidence, and summoning witnesses, and arranging the mode and manner of conducting the inquiry. The discoveries we had made, had been all made by parole evidence, in the two former committees. Parole evidence was now refused by a majority of this committee; and the first month of our time was consumed by internal squabbles and altercations. So much, and so strongly was this refusal of evidence felt to be 524 fatal to our progress, by myself and a few others, that two of the most zealous and active members* who had served in the two former committees, and who had been accustomed to agree with me very much, and support my views, now abandoned the inquiry in despair—and asked leave of this House to be excused from any further attendance. Before they took this step, however, they made a final effort to bring the committee to what they conceived to be its fair and impartial duty. That effort failed; and they retired. From that moment I sat in the chair in the execution of a duty; but without much hope of performing any effectual service. In justice, however, to those two retiring members—in justice to myself and to this House, and to the petitioners, I have enabled the House itself to judge between the parties, by moving for the "daily Minutes" of our proceedings to be laid upon the table. Those Minutes will speak for themselves; and enable such members as peruse them, to form their own opinion. Towards the close of the session, I was, unluckily, called to Scotland, to vote at the election of a member of parliament for the county of Stirling. I engaged a friend to sit in the chair for me; and, previous to my departure, I pledged myself to the committee to produce a report of our proceedings, in a week after my return. Dates are important upon such occasions as these. I sat in the chair on the 18th May; and resumed my place there on the 1st of June, on my return from Scotland. The House will judge what was my surprise, on discovering, from the Minutes, that a draft of report had been read to the committee in my absence, in spite of the pledge I had given to produce a report in a week after my return—and read, too, to the numerous audience of six persons, besides the chairman. Be it observed too, that it was manifest, at this time, from the state of business, that the House must sit some time longer—and in fact, it did sit till the middle of July. A report, however, was produced, and was adopted—under what circumstances, the Minutes of our daily proceeding will testify. It does not become me to vilify that report; and, indeed, the fault I find with it is, of omission more than of commission. A committee that would not* Sir Ronald Fergusson, and Mr. J. P. Grant.525 hear evidence, could not make an ample report. It is meagre and imperfect, as was natural. If the object of a report be, to enable the House to judge of the matter examined by the committee, this report must, indeed, be miserably defective. It contains the speculations and opinions of some half dozen members of parliament, one half of them in office, but does not state the grounds on which they are formed, nor supply any evidence, from which the House might be enabled to form some opinion for itself. Whether the opinions there given be sound or not, it is not for me to decide; but this I may venture to say, that they are not founded upon any evidence taken by the committee, or upon any grounds suggested to the House. In much of what is stated I agree—from much I differ—and, upon the whole, must regard the report as superfluous in opinions, but defective in evidence.
One broad feature of the entire case, however, is very remarkable, and is manifest from each and all of the reports, and is very gratifying to myself, and ought to be very beneficial to the cause. I mean the broad, palpable, important fact, that the case of the petitioners is proved—incontestibly proved—even admitted to be proved, by its original opposers. One of the earliest proceedings of the first committee was, to separate and condense into distinct and specific allegations the various matters of grievance detailed in the numerous petitions presented to the House. All these allegations have been affirmed by specific resolutions, or by the general tenor of their report, by all three committees which have sat upon the subject. I will now proceed to read these allegations, eight in number, to the House: In the first Report, at page 35, it is said, "your committee cannot refrain from stating their impression, that the general allegations of the petitioners, as far as the committee have yet examined them, appear to be very much warranted by the evidence." In the second report, page 4, it is said, that "the allegations of fact are very generally and substantially true." And, in the third report, the whole eight allegations are "resolved." (substantially) to be established.
And here, Sir, I beg leave to contrast this result with the language applied to the case, when first introduced the subject—and, again, when I obtained a 526 committee. I was told I had no case—there existed no grievance—the petitioners were turbulent—the petitions were a disguise and cloak for parliamentary reform—and that the great majority of the burgesses were quite satisfied with their civic rulers and civic government—(the late Lord Advocate asserted, that the burgesses of North Britain were satisfied.) What a contrast do we now witness! The very persons who opposed inquiry upon those grounds—of no case, and no grievance—have now unanimously voted the grievances to exist, and the case to be substantially established. They have, indeed, thwarted my endeavours to expose the full case of grievance and mismanagement, and abuse, and corruption, as it exists; but they have been compelled to acknowledge the broad, firm substance of the case to be made out. Their policy seems to have been, to admit a good deal, which they could not disguise, in order to prevent the whole from being disclosed, which they were unwilling should appear. And thus, as a weak case requires but a weak remedy, their policy seems to be well suited to their object. The case has indeed been proved—even in this our third report—though but feebly proved. The magnitude, the extent, and the causes of abuse have not been probed. And those members of the three committees, who originally denied any case, and denied any grievance, and opposed any inquiry, may, indeed, exult that they have succeeded in robbing the case of half its strength—and thereby, perhaps, in robbing it of all its remedy.
Again, however, I call upon the House to contrast the origin and commencement of this case, with its progress and its close. At first, all was denied—at last, all is proved—though not proved, because—(and only because)—not permitted to be proved, in its full extent or its full inveteracy. And all the inference I ask of the House yet to draw is, drat as it now appears that I and my supporters were originally right, and those who opposed me were wrong, that the House will not now take part with those who were wrong, against those who were right, but will judge for itself—will grant my request of going into a committee of the whole House—will then consider the three reports lately made, and also the report of 1793—and then come to such decision upon the whole matter, as these tout documents, and not the mere speculative 527 opinions of the last committee, may seem to require or to recommend.
The last committee have, indeed, suggested a bill, upon their own views, as a remedy to the case made out—a remedy, indeed, quite inadequate to the case disclosed, but ten times more inadequate to the case not disclosed, but existing. I wish the House to consider well the nature and extent of the evil, and then compare it with the probable efficacy of such a bill, as is proposed by the committee to be the entire remedy for entire grievance—the single and sole antidote to all the poison which circulates a corrupt and mismanaged Scotch burgh. But here, sir, I must be permitted to repeat, what I have often, nay, invariably said in this House, that I neither accuse all the Scotch burghs of being corrupt and mismanaged, nor do I accuse the managers, that is, the councils of those burghs which are mismanaged, of being, as individuals, dishonest or dishonourable men; it is the system of which I complain, and not of the persons who conduct it. But, that the existing system of burgh polity is inherently bad—and its natural effects noxious and debasing—noxious to the community, debasing to the individuals, I think no man can doubt who refers to the voluntary declaration of the magistrates of Aberdeen, put voluntarily upon record upon the council books of the burgh. And here I beg the House to recollect that it is against this odious, this noxious, incurably noxious system, described as you have just heard, and against all the various and extensive abuses that flow from it, that the Lord Advocate proposes as an effective and commensurate remedy, to invest the burgesses with the power of a lawsuit, the power of going to law with their magistrate; for strange as it may appear, that power does not exist at present. Magistrates have abused their trust, burgesses have appealed to courts of law: but judges have lamented, and still may lament, that they have no power to afford a remedy. A case of this nature was brought before the committee, regarding the burgh of Inverury, in which it was decided by a court of law, as one of our reports states, that "the complainers were not entitled to maintain any action of this nature against the magistrates, however culpable and negligent their management of the property of the burgh might have been."
528 I am aware, Sir, that I am bound to presume the members of this House to be acquainted with the contents of the three reports, and of the evidence attached to them; I am also bound now to address the House under that presumption, while I cannot dispel from my mind a doubt, whether any of those who hear me, and who will vote upon my motion this night (except the members of the several committees), have read a page of either reports or evidence. In order, therefore, to inform those who have not read them, even at the hazard of wearying those who have, I must trouble the House with a few extracts on the most material points. If the House accede to my motion, the details I am about to give will very much assist its judgment in estimating the evils complained of, and in discovering a remedy; if, on the other hand, the House shall refuse my motion, that refusal will not have been made by them wholly in the dark. In either case, too, I shall have discharged an important duty. I shall, now, therefore, refer to the reports in the order of time in which they were made, and read a few sentences from each.
The report of 1793, after giving a sketch of the ancient constitution of the royal burghs, and the modes of their elections, proceeds to notice setts and self-election. "By the two acts of parliament of 1469, and 1474, a principle of self-election appears to have been introduced. Further, this principle appears to pervade all the present setts, except, perhaps, three." In this same page, in order to show what self-election is, it is called "perpetuating the power of leading-men in council."—p. 13. This report observes, that—"Before the new system of burgh government was introduced by the act of 1469, there is no instance of any complaint that elections had been made by partiality or mastership."—p. 20. Again:—"It does not appear to your committee that any of the setts, except Aberdeen, and perhaps Cupar, and one or two more, are, according to the acts of parliament, mentioned in the papers produced. Neither do they appear to be in conformity with the charters; and it is evident, that neither in the acts of parliament, nor in the charters, is there any foundation or authority for many of the local usages that have been introduced respecting the modes of election in particular burghs."—p. 15. Other irregularities are noticed—and 529 frauds regarding the cess, or land tax, in these words:—"No less a sum of extra exaction in the course of ten years, from twenty-nine of the sixty-six royal burghs, than 12,336l. 16s.1¾d. or near one third of the whole Sam payable to government from those twenty-nine burghs. This extra exaction is not carried to the account of the revenue."—p. 18. The same report proceeds to notice the depredations on the common property of the burghs:—"Your committee have the found it impossible to make any general and accurate state of the transactions the respecting the alienation of the lands."—p. 22. "Two facts appear—that the magistrates and councils possess the power of selling and alienating the common of the burghs, granted to the burgesses by their charters, or purchased with their common monies, property or revenues; and that this power may be exercised in any manner the magistrates and council think proper."—p. 23. "The amount, it is added, of the prices of the lands alienated, in those burghs which have sold lands since the Union, so far as stated in the returns, may amount to about 100,000." Such area few of the facts detailed by the report of the committee of this House, which sat in 1793, and which report was referred to all the three committees, which have sat upon the same subject, during the last three sessions, to aid their investigations.
And, now, upon a review of the whole matter—and of the whole evidence, given, as it was, by some witnesses, with a reluctance and hesitation, and even prevarication, quite convincing—I think I may venture to say, that there is no mode of mismanagement, no form of abuse, no species of neglect, no aspect of delinquency, which may not be found exemplified in practical detail in one of these four reports: there is to be found within them every kind of omission and commission, which the nature of a close-burgh system of self-election can generate, or ever was accused of. Fancy itself may roam at large through their pages, in search of any supposable delinquency, and be gratified; every sort of taste for misrule may there be suited; and every imputation that ever was made or imagined on a rotten burgh, will there find an active, nourished, uncontrollable existence; nay more, not only existence, but a vigorous self-propagation, by means of he self-election principle. This picture, 530 Sir, is not overcharged, but is drawn from life. Nor have the evils and injuries of this system of misrule been confined to the mere concerns of the burgh in which they have any or all of them prevailed; but has extended itself to charitable institutions, to infirmaries, to hospitals, and other receptacles of misery and of want; many of which have been placed under the management of official persons, within each burgh, in perpetuity of succession. It is impossible for any one to read the evidence on this last point, in regard to the burgh of Aberdeen, and not fell the truth of these observations; and equally impossible to deny that his evil, as well as that of internal grievances, proceed mainly from the same fruitful source of mischief—self election. Other examples in other burghs, and also in regard to other matters, may be pointed out, to illustrate this general position, and to justify the universal complaint of all the burghs, and their general concurrence in asking for the same remedy.
I will now proceed to notice a few sentences in the other reports, which justify and confirm the statements I have made: and I will mention the species of abuse or mismanagement, and the pages of the report I refer to, without quoting the entire passages. In the report of 1819, the principle of self-election, acting in perpetuity, is first exhibited;* then follows the imputation of ignorance† in* 1. "It appears from the evidence of Mr. F. Howden, Mr. J. Spittall, and Mr. Alexander Henderson, all of whom have been Members of the town council (of Edinburgh), that, according to the present constitution, those who have once obtained a majority, have the means in their power of securing the re-election of themselves and their friends in perpetuo; and that this has in fact taken place ever since these witnesses have been acquainted with it."—P. 9.† "The mode in which the books of the city have been kept, and their (council) ignorance of the true state of its revenues and expenditure, may serve to account for the present situation of its affairs. No book exhibiting an account of the debts of the city, or of its property, or of its nett revenue, or of the necessary annual charges on the revenue; or of the comparative amount of annual expenditure and revenue, has ever been kept, &c."—P. 19.531 the members of council (of Edinburgh) of the pecuniary affairs of the city. Similar irregularity in the council of Aberdeen.* Profusion † of council of Aberdeen, and a fraudulent‡ attempt to make the community liable for the debts incurred. Bankruptcy§ of Aberdeen council declared, and the concern delivered over to trustees. Next follows improvident alienation"॥ of the town's property, and the melancholy fact of all the charitable institutions of Aberdeen being involved in the town's insoivency.¶ Again, the debt ** of the town was stated annually* "Mr. Hardie, who has acted as chamberlain since 1812, neither received any books of the cash transactions of Aberdeen from his predecessor—nor ever saw any such."—P. 21.† "In 1816, the sum of 59,000l. had been borrowed to pay interest alone on the debts contracted, and the amount of debt for the new streets was then 171,000l.; while the revenue from them to meet the interest on that sum, was only 2,789l., leaving an annual accumulating deficiency of 5,773l. All this expenditure was incurred without informing the burgesses or inhabitants, or ever calling on them to sanction it, although they considered them liable for the debt.‡ "And in 1817, provost Hadden, for the first time, recorded the resolutions of the inhabitants of 1799, as a probative writ in the sheriff's court books; in order, if possible, to establish that liability !!!"—P. 22.§ "In consequence of this (bankruptcy), the treasurer, magistrates, and town council, and new street trustees, made over all the property, feu-duties, and funds under their charge, to trustees, for payment of the treasurer's creditors."—P. 23.॥ "With respect to the property of the burgh, which is denominated common good. The fishings of the Dee and Don, now producing about 10,000l. a-year, have been alienated for an annual feuduty of 27l.. 7s. 8d.; now payable to the trustees for the creditors of the burgh.—P. 23.¶ "Mr. Hardie, the chamberlain, states, that there is not one charitable institution under the management of the town council, whose funds have not been lent to the treasurer, and involved in the town's insolvency."—P. 24.**"It appears, from Mr. Hardie's evi-532 to the burgesses, from 1800 to 1812, at the sum of about 6,000l., when it amounted in fact to 150,000l.; and this, with the connivance of the magistrates; and then follows* illegal and fraudulent assessment by order of the council.
I have already said, Sir, that I impute these instances of flagrant abuse of power rather to the system of self-election, than to the guilt of individuals. And this opinion is confirmed by the testimony of the delinquents themselves, who were pleased, on retiring from office, to compose and record the following declaration:—"In justice to themselves, however, they (the magistrates and council), are desirous to place upon record their sentiments and opinions in reference to some of the various topics arising out of the embarrassments of the city treasury. They here, therefore, reiterate their decided opinion, that the present mode of election of the council, and management of the town's affairs, are radically defective and improvident, tending to give to any individual or party who may be so inclined, an excessive and unnatural preponderance, and to foster and encourage a system of secrecy and concealment, underdente, that these statements (to the burgesses at annual courts at Michaelmas) as long as he can remember, never did exhibit, and never were really intended to exhibit, a statement of the money affairs of the town. In 1810 the debt is stated to amount in whole to 6,874l., when it really was 140,000l., or 150,000l. And in 1813, and following years, till 1817, the debt was excluded from the statement altogether by the chamberlain and magistrates: because, as Mr. Hardie states, he considered there was as much propriety in excluding the debt altogether, as in stating it to amount in whole to 6,800l., when in fact it amounted to 150,000l."—P. 25.*"In that year (1812) the stent masters, appointed by the council, refused to assess more than was authorized by act of parliament; and the town council, after consulting their assessor, who was of opinion the tax was illegal, discontinued it till the present year, when they have again directed nearly 200l. to be levied more than the statute authorises, although the town clerk says, he brought the assessor's opinion before the council at the time such directions were given."—P. 26.533 which the most upright and best intentioned magistrates may not be able to acquire that thorough knowledge of the situation of the burgh, which is requisite for the administration of its affairs. The subscribers are therefore of opinion, that some change ought to be effected in the manner of electing the council, and an effectual control given to the citizens over the expenditure of the town's officebearers."—P. 27. Whether this declaration proceeded from a sense of shame at their own misdeeds, or from a desire to warn their successors, and thus benefit the community over which they had presided so unworthily, I cannot pretend to say; but it exhibits, Sir, a remarkable contrast between their opinions, as men, and their conduct, as magistrates.
The same report exhibits gross irregularities in the burgh of Dundee, and a "defective state of all the public establishments." But the most remarkable point in evidence regarding this burgh, is, that the magistrates and council, most honourably and creditably to themselves, in 1817, concurred with the burgesses in measures fur the alteration and improvement of the sett.* In the burgh of Dun-* "The magistrates and council, premising that the numbers and high respectability of the gentlemen who had signed petitions for an amelioration of the sett, obviated every doubt as to the unanimity of the town; and that the best interests of the town demanded a much greater change than the petitioners had asked, passed an unanimous resolution to apply in conjunction with the burgesses, for such a sett, or municipal constitution for Dundee, as the king in council had granted to Montrose. Doubts being afterwards raised, whether a change to that extent could be obtained, except by the authority of parliament, the town council, guildry, trades, and burgesses, uniting in their application, obtained from the convention of royal burghs, the partial improvement already mentioned, by which three out of the twenty-one members of council are annually elected by the Guildry, and the trades. Mr. Small, Mr. Jobson, and provost Riddoch agree, that the town requires and would be benefited by a still more extensive change. Provost Riddoch, in particular, closes his evidence by declaring, on mature consideration, and after an experience of forty years, it is his decided opinion, that a legislative534 fermline the system of self-election is stated to be so strong and inveterate, that, "although the whole of the incorporated trades and guildry were united against the present party, they would not be able to make any impression upon their power."—P. 33. It appears, also, that in this burgh the amount of cess levied was greater for many years than was paid to government; and also, "that notwithstanding the heavy amount of cess thus levied on the community, there is, at this moment, no less than nine years of cess due to the Exchequer."—P. 33. In one return to an order of the committee, the magistrates themselves observe, "It is not easy to ascertain with accuracy, the exact periods when, and for what purposes, the debts were incurred."—P. 34. Abuses are next noticed as to leases of the town's property. "This is, indeed, usually let by public roup, or auction; but the lessees being generally members of council, the terms of the original agreement are afterwards so modified in their favour, as to make the transaction wholly different. From this system of favoritism it appears in evidence, that in one extensive farm, let to a member of council, the town, instead of receiving rent, was, at the end of the lease, rather a loser by the transaction."—P. 35.
The Report of 1820 discloses that, in "the burgh of Cupar, in Fife, seats in council had been frequently bought and sold; and, that the system of alternate election and re-election between individuals, by bargain, in continual succession to each other prevailed there among the merchant councillors, was admitted, by the parties to such proceedings."—P. 5. The several distinct resolutions of the committee, detailed at the conclusion of that report (of 1820), affirm the general tenor of the allegations, and establish many of the complaints of the petitioners, among which, not the least mischievous, is, "the secrecy with which all the pecuniary transactions of the councils are generally conducted."—P. 7.
The report of 1821 was not written or produced, as the former ones had been, by myself, as chairman; but was composed and produced during my shortenactment to enable the burgesses of Dundee to choose their own magistrates, would give general satisfaction, and be a very great benefit both to the town and country."—P. 31.535 absence from that committee. It was drawn up and supported by those members, who had not only differed with me invariably in the whole progress of the inquiry, but who, most of them, had also originally opposed any inquiry at all. I cannot, indeed, but regard that report as meagre and defective; it gives rather the speculative opinions of the members of that committee, than executes the orders of the House, by collecting evidence and detailing information. The system, indeed, of voting opinions without evidente—and that, too, after having refused to admit parole evidence, was carried to such an extent by the majority of this committee, that from this and other causes, two of its members, as I have already observed—two of my most zealous supporters—withdrew from the committee in a very early stage of its labours. This report is valuable, however, as affording the testimony of my opponents, that the case I undertook to prove, is fully established; and I complain of it, rather for its omissions, than its commissions. That report states, that previous to the Union "it was necessary that the magistrates and officers should be persons residing within the burgh."—P. 5. I ask here, Sir, does this necessity now exist? And will the intended bill of the lord advocate either enforce such residence, or remedy the want of it? The evils of non-residence are stated most forcibly in this, the report of my opponents. Its words are: "In many instances, in consequence of an usage exceeding a period of forty years, residence has become no longer a requisite in the choice of magistrates, and other officers belonging to Scotch burghs. The consequence of this may easily be imagined. Persons holding offices in burghs, and not residing in the vicinity, can neither be acquainted with the nature of the actual management, nor have it in their power to prevent abuses. This seems fully illustrated by the circumstances in proof, regarding the burgh of Inverury. It is impossible to suppose that the instances of mis-management, which are there established, ever could have taken place, had the chief magistrate been resident in the town, or its immediate neighbourhood."
Arid now, Sir, at the close of the quotations I have made—and if the House will go into a committee, I shall be able to make ten times as many of the same tenor and import—I venture to main- 536 tain, that the four reports are in perfect consistency, however they may differ in force of evidence, or minuteness of detail; that they all four confirm and corroborate each other; and that they fully and firmly establish the truth of the petitions, and the strength of the case. It must be obvious to every one who hears me, that the substance and detail of these four reports can only be properly examined in a committee of the whole House, agreeably to my motion. And if they are not to be so examined, I ask, what is to become of them? Are they to be no more heard of? Will the House act so inconsistent a part, as to appoint three committees in three succeeding sessions, receive three reports, order them all three to be printed, and then never notice them more? The bill of which the lord advocate has given notice, relates to one point only of all the mass of evidence which has been disclosed; at least, the notice he has given, mentions no other object of his intended bill, than regulating the mode of accounting, and preventing undue expenditure in the burghs; and such was the sole object of the bill proposed by his predecessor. I shall, probably, hear this night, in answer, as I have so often heard in the committee, that chartered rights must not be infringed, and the act of Union must not be violated. These two objections have always been urged by my opponents, as an insuperable bar to any interference with self-election. "By the 21st article of this Union it is provided, that the rights and privileges of the royal burghs in Scotland, as they now are, do remain after the Union, and notwithstanding thereof." I deny that the act of Union, or chartered rights, form any valid impediment to the measures I would recommend; avowing as I now do, and always have done, that I can propose or imagine no remedy to the evils of this case, of which some modification of the self-electing system, does not form a part. Some change in that monstrous and noxious principle must form the ground, work of any measure that would satisfy me, or satisfy the burgesses of Scotland.
But in order to demolish these two objections, I have only to refer to another part of this very report, in which they are represented to be so formidable. At the ninth page is this sentence: "They (the committee) beg, at the outset, to declare, that if it appeared to them to be 537 impossible to apply an adequate remedy to admitted grievances, without recommending so fundamental a change in the law and practice of the Scottish burghs; (as any change in the system of self-election) they would have had no hesitation in adopting the proposed plan, or any other, even of a more extensive nature, that might have been demanded by the pressing exigency of the case." By this sentence the rights and privileges of the Scotch burghs, under the Union, are admitted to be not impregnable; and the question is placed on the footing I have always wished to place it, on the "exigency of the case." Again, as a matter of fact, with reference to the inviolability of the Union, I must observe, that the article immediately preceding the one quoted, bears that "All heritable offices, superiorities, heritable jurisdictions, &c. &c., be reserved to the owners thereof, as rights of property, in the same manner as they are now enjoyed by the laws of Scotland, notwithstanding this treaty."—Art. 20. of 5 Ann, c. S. It is almost superfluous to add, that these heritable jurisdictions, so reserved, were wholly abolished by 20th Geo. 2nd, c. 43.
The plea, or rather pretext, of chartered rights, is still more weak and flimsy. The rights that were given to each royal burgh by charter, have been so invaded by power—so frittered away by changes—and casualties unexplained—and so demolished by systematic abuse—that scarce a vestige of the rights conveyed by original charter remains now to any of the burghs. But to whom were those rights originally granted? Not to a junto of self-elected magistrates; no—nor to magistrates and council, however unobjectionably elected—but to the burgesses and inhabitants, or to merchants, burgesses, and community; as the report of 1793 has satisfactorily established. Again; what has been the modern treatment of these chartered rights, unassailable as they are represented to be? They have been, frequently, altered and modified by the Crown—altered and modified, more frequently, by the convention of royal burghs—and altered and invaded, and subverted, not frequently, but constantly and systematically, by the magistrates and councils themselves. Instances of these alterations of the setts by the Crown, and by the convention of burghs, are given in the reports—and alteration by abuse is a power always operating, 538 rarely failing, and never controlled. Nay, Sir, the law itself condescends to lend its aid to this power. Abuse of forty years existence is declared by law to be valid, under the name of usage; so that forty years of successful wrong, perpetrated by those who are appointed, or rather, who appoint themselves, to be the guardians and protectors of the privileges and interests of the burghs, is, by law, made to constitute right.
I earnestly beg the attention of the House to this pretext of chartered rights, as it is now practically applied, or misapplied, to this case. It is said "chartered rights are sacred"—yet the Crown may, and does alter them—yet the convention of burghs may, and does alter them—yet usage, that is forty years abuse, may, and does alter them—and is valid against original setts, as first established—against chartered rights, as granted or renewed—and against acts of parliament, however framed—that is, against law itself—And, while this facility of alteration is blazoned to our sight, to effect the stability of abuse, the legislature, the supreme authority of the state, acting by its triple check of three estates, after universal petitioning from the burgesses—after investigation by three committees—it cannot, it is said, attempt any alteration of this self-electing system, "without making a dangerous precedent."* Can such preposterous arguments prevail with this House?
And be it remembered always, that these unalterable chartered rights have been fretted and fritterred away by the alterations of systematic abuse, till scarce a wreck of the original setts is left behind. It reminds me of the school-boy's difficulty, whether a ship which had been damaged and refitted till not a plank of the original vessel remained, could properly be called the same ship or another.
But the injustice and outrage upon the burghs, by this facility of change by abuse—and immunity from change, by the legislature—will appear more manifest and more vexatious, when it is coupled with the melancholy fact, that the laws which have been made for the protection of the burghs have been allowed to fall into abeyance, till the strange doctrine of Desuetude has rendered them, not only inoperative, but incapable of operation. What can be, what must be, the result, if abuse is allowed to be always in vigour*Report of 1821, p. 8.539 and activity, nay, to become valid, though spurious, law—while statute law, the corrective, is doomed, in a few years, to become dormant and obsolete? Yet such is the state of things—the acts of parliament for the benefit of the burghs are in desuetude, while the abuses, for their injury, are in perpetual force.* All these assertions of mine I pledge myself to prove, if the House will go into committee.
But, Sir, strong as the case is from these reports, in favour of some reform, I do not rely upon them exclusively, but venture to appeal also to the common opinion and common language of all persons acquainted with the internal mysteries of a Scottish burgh. Nay, I shall even be glad to hear the opinion of the lord advocate himself, as to their purity and soundness. I am quite sure, that I would willingly submit the decision of this matter, to any twelve gentlemen taken from the opposite side of the House, if that decision were to be given under the usual sanctions of the verdict of a jury; and not, as will be done this night, as the vote of a political party. And this reminds me also of the miserable feuds and debasing struggles, which take place within these theatres of self-election, when political, or other causes, stimulate another party to attempt the subversion of existing power. The means are worthy of the scene of action, and in harmony with its worst defects. Some one individual commences a treacherous sort of canvass among some of his colleagues, against others of his colleagues, professing all the while perfect fidelity to*By the actor 1487, c.108, it was enacted," that the election should be made of the best and worthiest indwellers of the town." By the act of 1503, c. 80—"That all officers, having office of jurisdiction within burghs, should be annually changed, and that none have jurisdiction within burgh, unless they use merchandise within the same." By the act of 1535, c. 26—"That no man, in time coming, be chosen provost, baillie, or alderman into burgh, but that they are honest and substantial burgesses, merchants, and indwellers of said burgh." By act of 1609, c. 3—"That no person, in time coming, shall be capable of provostie, or other magistracy within any burgh, but merchants and traffickers inhabiting within the said burgh allenarly, and no other.540 their common cause and common interests; and having extended his successful treachery through a majority of his colleagues, on the day of annual election, when all seems harmony and confidence, he springs his mine, avows his own baseness, and that of his new converts, who—thus becoming a majority—declare their votes in favour of the new party, which treachery has thus consolidated into a new council; and which new council, after a few years reign by this odious power of self-election, is doomed to be displaced by the same system of fraud, perfidy, and baseness, to which its predecessor has just fallen a victim. Can the lord advocate, or any man present, contradict this representation of the internal struggles of a Scotch burgh? or deny that it is a true and faithful picture of what occurs, on such occasions?
I have already wearied the patience of the House; but I must add a few words—and but a few—upon the subject of a remedy to this complicated mischief. I must, however, in the first place, disclaim any inclination to those wild and extensive changes, which have been so often imputed to me, namely, to annul all the setts—violate all the charters—and wholly annihilate, not only the substance as it now exists, but every vestige of self-clection. I have no such views. Nor do I believe, that any one member of any one of the committees, had any such. My object is, to produce seine community of interest and of feeling—and some harmony and confidence in Scotch burghs—between those who govern, and those who are governed—and, perhaps, even some dependence of the former upon the suffrages of the latter, for their situations of power and of trust. Nothing of all this can be made to subsist under the actual system or self-election. The means by which I would effect this change, must vary in different burghs, owing to their different size and population; that is, of the materials of change. The outline of means would be, as applicable to large and populous burghs—1. To restore the Guildry, and to allow the Guildries to elect the dean of Guild and a proportion of the town council. 2. To throw open the corporations to all persons of property or tenting houses to a certain amount, and allow them to elect their own deacons, without any interference—to allow such deacons to elect a proportion of the council. 3. To admit these two proportions 541 to elect the remainder of the council annually; and the whole council to appoint the magistrates. 4. The magistrates to go out of office every one, or two, or three years, but to be capable of re-election. I purposely avoid going into minute detail, because the only proper time for such detail is, in committee of the whole House; and if that be granted to my motion, I shall then be prepared to state my views more minutely; and the Lord Advocate will also be able to state the objects and provisions of his intended bill; and the House will be able to judge of, and to appreciate, what is proposed, to meet the case detailed in the reports.
Before I sit down, Sir, allow me to observe, that no man in this House can be more sensible than I am myself, of the various defects and the numerous omissions I have been guilty of, in what I have now addressed to you. Much I have forgotten; and much I have omitted, from mere excess of matter contained in four reports. I wish, however, to rest the strength of my motion—the force of my claim to go into committee—not on what I have now said, but on the tenour and substance of the reports themselves—which must be so considered, or not considered at all. The two most material omissions I have made, are regarding poll-warrants, and the late law-suit against the magistrates of Edinburgh, which lasted three years, and was then abandoned in despair. The former is of immense importance in itself, as well as in its consequences on the burgh polity—the latter is an apt and appropriate illustration of the nature and the efficacy of any such remedy to the grievances complained of by the burghs. I am, indeed, more conscious of my omissions this night than any person who hears me, from my being more, perhaps, than any one, conversant with the abuses of the burgh system. Whatever may be the effect of what I have said, I am bound to acknowledge, in justice to the extensive interests for which I am speaking, that I have omitted ten times more than I have stated—and to remind the House, that one of the reasons, why I ask for a committee of the whole House is, to supply those deficiencies, and to obtain, in the only practicable mode, a fair and full investigation of the subject. And I now implore the House, that they will show such respect to three committees appointed by its own orders—and the three reports they have produced—such 542 respect to the number and quality of the petitioners—and to the importance of the subject, as to give to the entire case a fair, a just, and impartial consideration. I move, Sir, "That this House will resolve itself into a Committee of the whole House, upon the Royal Burghs of Scotland."
The Lord Advocate
stated his surprise at the conduct pursued by the noble lord. After the three voluminous reports of three different committees which had been laid on the table of the House, he had expected that the noble lord would have followed one of two courses—either that he would have brought forward some specific remedy for the evils of which he complained, in the shape of a legislative measure; or else, that he would have waited till he had seen the bill, of which he (the lord advocate) had given notice, and which the committee had deemed sufficient for the object in view. The nature of that bill he was not bound to state; but he thought that the noble lord, from the recommendation of the committee, might have guessed that it was of a comprehensive nature, and sufficient to effect a remedy for the existing grievances, without injuring any chartered rights, or violating any article of the Union—which the reform proposed by the noble lord was certainly calculated to do. He made no scruple in declaring, that his plan would not alter the constitution of the royal burghs. He thought it right to state it thus explicitly, because he could not view any alteration in the constitution of them in any other light than that of a parliamentary reform of the boroughs of Scotland. Such a reform might, or might not, be right, but, at any rate it ought to be judged by its own merits, and not be determined upon by a side wind. That the noble lord himself considered the question of burgh reform as calculated to produce parliamentary reform, was evident from many of the steps which he had taken, but more especially from this—that though there were both burghs of regality and burghs of barony, whose internal government was replete with the same abuses as the royal burghs, the noble lord had not attempted to obtain any reform in their constitution. And what was the reason for this conduct? He would tell the House in a few words:—The royal burghs (at least those for which the noble lord had interested himself), returned members to parliament; 543 whilst the regality and barony burghs did not enjoy that privilege. Among these, the populous towns of Paisley and Hamilton, near to the residence of the noble lord, were to be found; and he would say, that the latter place in particular called for investigation. Abuses prevailed there, particularly as connected with the gaols; in which the prisoners were exposed to the utmost misery and privation. He was surprised that, in his zeal for improvement, these things had escaped the vigilance of the noble lord; for he was sure they loudly called for inquiry and for amendment. With the exception of Edinburgh, there was no burgh in Scotland which gave its voice directly in the election of members of parliament. Four or five, persons, chosen by the respective councils of the district, met together in a room, and settled who should be the member of parliament; and, talking of self-election, he might here remark, that the hon. member for Aberdeen was chosen in this manner. There were two deputies for him, and two against him; and he, by his own casting vote, determined his own election. An alteration, therefore, in the election of the councils which chose the electors, would be in effect an alteration in the mode of electing the members to that House; which, if it were fit to do at all, should be done openly. As to the mode of proceeding in the committee, they had classified the grievances complained of, and had selected six of the principal towns in Scotland to inquire into their concerns under those heads of grievance. As to the general charge of corruption, he denied it. There had assuredly been much mismanagement; the magistrates had spent more of the public money than perhaps was wise; but yet the expenditure should not be judged of by mere figures, when it was intended to promote the good of the towns. In Aberdeen, for instance, the money had been expended in great and important works which had promoted the prosperity of the place; and though the burgh had been said to be bankrupt, it was going on well. The same magistrates who had been complained of were now acting; and under their management the town was prospering. [Hear, hear! from Mr. Hume.] The hon. gentleman seemed to dissent. He understood this to be the case, but the hon. member for Malmesbury (Mr. C. Forbes) could speak to this better than himself. The same 544 was the case as to Edinburgh. The expenditure might not have been wise, but it had been applied to purposes of which Scotsmen were proud—to improvements so great, that a man who had left Edinburgh for ten years would not know the place again. The magistrates had spent 80 or 100,000l. on half-a-mile of road, one of the entrances to the city of Edinburgh.—The committee had gone through the cases of the six burghs they had selected; and they had put the question on each of the allegations of grievance—was it proved or no? and they had decided in each instance that it was proved; so that the committee thought it would be mere waste of time to inquire into the case of the other burghs; as the full proof of the allegations of the petitioners could only support the conclusion the committee had already come to.—But, in addition to the allegations of grievance, there were others that were matters of inference. The noble lord and his friends attributed the cause of the grievances to the mode of election; the committee attributed it to the want of the old checks on burgh expenditure. The revenues of the burghs of Scotland were grants of the kings of Scotland, and there was anciently a control over the expenditure of them in the court of the chamberlain of Scotland, and afterwards in the old court of exchequer. At the time of the Union, a new court of exchequer was established in Scotland on the model of the English one, and there was a doubt whether this new court possessed the power exercised by the old one, and they decided that they had not. He very much doubted the validity of that judgment; and the more so, because of an elaborate judgment delivered by the lord chief baron in the last session, in which he affirmed, that in addition to the powers similar to those of the English court, the court of exchequer in Scotland inherited the power of the ancient court in that country. It was better, however, to avoid a law suit; and one of the objects of his bill was, to make this clear, and to give the power to the court of Exchequer. This check the committee had thought would be effectual; and they had also thought that the remedy proposed by the noble lord would not be effectual. The House should recollect that there had been an instance of the constitution of a burgh, that of Stirling, to which, whether properly or no, the Crown had granted the right of electing the magistracy. 545 But was that now better than the other burghs. A motion was made in the committee, to report to the House the complaints from Stirling, where there was as much crimination and recrimination as to funds, as in any other burgh. With this fact before their eyes, the House should not adopt a measure which would change the mode of returning members to that House, and thus infringe on one of the articles of Union. Not that he contended, that the articles of Union could not be changed by parliament, but he contended that they should not be touched before all other remedies for the evil had been tried; and especially that remedy which a committee of the House had conceived would be effectual.
§ Mr. Hume
rose at that stage of the debate to correct several inaccuracies in the speech of the learned lord. As the learned lord had however observed, that the committee was unanimous, that all the allegations of the petitioners against abuses in the Scots burghs were fully proved, it was well that the House should know what those allegations were. The petitioners alleged, that the magistrates were self-elected and irresponsible; that the public property had been wasted and sold by them, that the funds of public and private charities entrusted to them, ex officio, had been seized and destroyed. All these points the committee unanimously agreed were fully proved: and it also appeared—though on that point there was some difference of opinion—that the burgesses at large were answerable for the debts of the magistrates; who were not however, responsible to them, and who had been in the habit of refusing the burgesses any control or interference. As to the assertion of the learned lord, that there was only misconduct in money matters, and no corrupt misapplication of it, had he forgotten the case of the president chief magistrate of Inverury, who had been prosecuted for selling justice? He (Mr. H.) had no doubt that if they had inquired into all the sixty burghs, instead of six, they would have found abuses in fifty of them. These allegations had been thus admitted to be proved by a committee most hostile to all reform. He was sorry at the time that his noble friend had moved that the petitions of the different burghs should be referred to a committee, because he was sure that no effectual remedy would come from such a quarter. He would beg leave to detail 546 to the House what had been the conduct of the last committee. The committee itself, after sitting, and debating, and trifling its time, decided that it was enough for them to affirm the allegations to be proved, without inquiring into more than the six cases; yet, now having admitted, that the whole of the allegations were proved, and refusing to take evidence, as superfluous, the lord advocate now took advantage of that fact to assert that the case was not proved, that they had a right to take advantage of the extent of the admission, as if it had been proof. He would state an instance of the disposition of the committee, in their conduct to his noble friend, who was the chairman. It was usual in all committees for the chairman to draw up the report. His noble friend had gone to the north to exercise his elective franchise, and the lord advocate and lord Binning had drawn up a report. This was on the 31st of May; and his noble friend had declared, that he should have his report ready by the 5th of June. He (Mr. Hume) proposed, that the decision on the report should be adjourned to the next day of sitting, to allow of the return of his noble friend, but it was objected, that the session was coming to a termination (though it had then six weeks to sit), and the result was 7 to 1 against the postponement. He did not think that any gentleman would say he had acted unreasonably in endeavouring to obtain further delay. Yet this was the committee on whose report the learned lord called the House to place confidence! He did not believe that any other seven members in the House would have acted thus, and the value of their opinion in favour of the lord advocate's plan might be gathered from this fact. He (Mr. Hume) had proposed in the committee a resolution, that as under the present system such abuses had prevailed, it was expedient that the burgesses should have a power of electing a portion of the magistrates, as they were accustomed to have before the year 1469. His noble friend (lord A. Hamilton) had, when he first brought the state of the burghs before the House, stated, that his object was not a change in the mode of returning members to parliament. He (Mr. H.) had admitted from the first that his end was to give the people of the burghs a share in the election of members of the House [Hear, hear!]. Why, if they would not begin in this small way, what 547 would they say to the cry of general reform, that was resounding through England? He would refer the House to the protest of the Scots parliament on religious toleration, which admonished the oppressors not to strain the strings till they broke. He had no desire to blame the men, but the system. Whether it would be in his time or no—whether in his quiet way, or by some sudden emergency—he was sure that reform would be effected. As to a point mentioned by the lord advocate, he should say a few words. On the 27th of September, 1815, the council of Aberdeen, on leaving office, put on their records a declaration, that honest men could not go on under the present burgh system; but though they had thus virtually declared themselves knaves (for they had gone on for years under the same system under which they had declared that honest men could not act), his majesty's ministers reinstated them. It was said by the learned lord, that the town was not now a bankrupt. How did the noble lord bear himself out? The magistrates, on being reinstated, had delivered over the whole property of the town to trustees, for the benefit of the creditors. What was this but a bankruptcy? What did a bankrupt do? He delivered over his property to others to administer it for the benefit of his creditors. The trustees, it was true, had acted very judiciously, and had been able to pay 4 per cent (instead of five) on the debts. The inhabitants would not endure that the magistrates should any longer administer the property which they had so much misapplied. Yet this was the example which the learned lord gave of a magistracy perfectly competent to manage their own affairs. If any of the improvements which the noble lord had talked of were visible, be should pardon the waste of property. But when he was at Aberdeen, he had seen none of the magnificent improvements; nothing but a quay run out into the sea, which every day was in danger of destruction, and which the best-informed persons imagined threatened by being thrown down by some heavy storm, the destruction of the navigation of the harbour. But this was not all, they had got the funds of all the hospitals and other charities into their hands, to the amount of 75,000l. and had squandered them away with the rest. He believed, in truth, that if the whole of the property of the burgh could be 548 old, it might just pay the debts. But, was it nothing that the whole of the property of that richly-endowed burgh, granted by the kings of Scotland for the perpetual use of the burgesses, had been squandered, and that it was handed over o trustees for the benefit of the creditors? If the property had been really expended n improvements it should be recollected that improvements should be proportioned to their means, whether in a corporation or a state. But the magistrates of Aberdeen were like his majesty's ministers, or rather the better of the two; for the property of Aberdeen would perhaps, if brought to the hammer, pay off the debts; but the fee-simple of this country certainly would not equal the capital of the public debt. Birds of a feather flocked together," so that the magistrates of Aberdeen might calculate on the able support of his majesty's ministers, and their re-appointment to the magistracy after such conduct was a proof of the kind protection afforded to them by government. As to Edinburgh, the case was pretty nearly the same:—the property was probably about equal to the payment of the debts. This was the sample of the economy of the burghs which the learned lord had adduced! Now, what remedy had his noble friend asked? Merely to give the burgesses the right which they had enjoyed from time immemorial previously to 1469. It was recognised by five or six subsequent statutes, and they ought to enjoy it in their mode of election, not only for the safeguard and due control of their property, but also to secure a confidence in the due administration of justice. The hon. baronet (sir G. Clerk) might laugh; but if this reform took place, he knew that hon. baronet would not make his second appearance there as the representative from his part of the country. [A laugh, and hear.] It was to be recollected, that in the claim of rights in the reign of William and Mary, the abdicated family, among their other crimes, were charged with having deprived the burgesses of the right of electing magistrates. It was not to be wondered that the people of the burghs were anxious on this point; for, in addition to the administration of all the property, the magistrates administered justice, for the bailies had separate courts. He had no doubt his majesty's ministers would oppose such a change; for if the people had any share 549 in the elections in Scotland, their majorities in that House would not be so large. If the powers of election were given to the burgesses, he (Mr. Hume) was an example what they would do. This was ominous to his majesty's ministers [a laugh]. True it was, that his predecessor sat for 25 years behind the ministers; having been a proctor in the Commons, he had obtained a lucrative office as register in the Admiralty court, and having had all the odds and ends, was their most constant adherent. But no sooner was the power of election given to the burgesses in Montrose (for which he thanked his majesty's ministers), than they put that gentleman out of the saddle and had placed him (Mr. H.) in his place. It was said, that since the first committee had sat, some of the burghs had a little mended their manners; but before that time the people of Edinburgh had never been able to get an account of their expenditure, until after the labours of the committees of 1816 and 1817. They only got it when the information could be no longer withheld, just as the noble marquis opposite relinquished the horse-tax when he could not help it. In Glasgow a public annual account was very properly made out and they deserved credit for what they had done in that way. He trusted that the House would at length see the justice of giving to Scotland something like a fair opportunity of choosing their own magistrates. There would then no longer exist private jobbing in the corporations, in which every man had his turn. They would then hear no more of a member taking a lease of town property for 250l. a year, and then having it reduced 50l or 100l. by the release of the corporation. The only possible way of preventing such occurrences was to accede to the present motion. The hon. member concluded by saying, that what the people of Scotland wanted was just and reasonable, and that without that concession there would neither be harmony, nor peace, nor good management in that country. What the learned gave them was the power of going to law; but who was the burgess that had an individual interest to go to that expensive remedy? He should therefore support the motion of his noble friend.
expressed his satisfaction at hearing the hon. member for Aberdeen avow, that parliamentary reform was the real object of the course which 550 he took upon this occasion, and that that measure should commence in Scotland which it was proposed to extend to this country, and the adoption of which it was apprehended would lead to the subversion of the constitution: for such an avowal must serve to put those gentlemen on their guard who duly considered the tendency and probable effects of that measure. He deprecated the noble lord's proposition for inquiry, because he was satisfied, that if it were entered into, the investigation would be endless; especially with respect to the voluminous books and accounts of the several Scots burghs. But he thought it quite inexpedient to adopt the noble lord's motion for inquiry, until the plan, which the bill mentioned by his learned friend would fully disclose, was before the House; for the provisions of that bill might serve to remove the evils against which the noble mover so strongly protested. According to the statement which the House had heard from his learned friend, it appeared that by the bill of his learned friend all the measures which the noble mover had in view would be carried into effect, with the exception of parliamentary reform, which he trusted would always be steadily resisted by that House. At all events, it would become the House to abstain from deciding in favour of the noble lord's motion, until it was seen how far the bill of his learned friend extended, and whether it would not attain every object or the noble lord that was really desirable. But as to the point of reform, for which the noble lord was so anxious, he trusted that the decision against it that evening would be carried by such a majority as to satisfy the country that that measure would receive no countenance in parliament. The noble lord had adverted to the articles of the Union; but he seemed to Forget that the adoption of his proposition would involve a direct violation of those articles, which were especially framed to defend the Scottish people against the breach of their chartered rights. The hon. member for Aberdeen, (or perhaps he should rather say for Montrose) had stated, that several of the Scots burghs, and particularly those of Aberdeen and Edinburgh, were in a state of bankruptcy, and that they had applied very improvidently, the public money entrusted to their care. But, how could such a charge be applicable, especially to 551 these two burghs, considering the very important improvements made in both by their respective co-operations, which improvements could only have been made from those very public funds which the hon. member for Aberdeen had thought proper to say were most grossly misapplied?
said, that if the motion were not agreed to, the people of Scotland would have reason to complain of the conduct of that House, and of the principles upon which they acted. One set of gentlemen had objected to this motion, on the ground that it insidiously went to introduce the principle of parliamentary reform into Scotland. But upon this ground, any proposition of amendment might be resisted, as every such proposition must lead to reform. For himself, however, be was ready to say, that he should not think any proposition of amendment in Scotland worthy of support, that did not tend to the establishment of reform in that country, where the system of popular representation was so egregiously unequal, that Edinburgh, for instance, containing a population of no less than 120,000 souls, was represented in that House by a member who had only nineteen votes; for that was the number who voted for the return of the right hon. gentleman opposite (Mr. W. Dundas). But if the House would go into the proposed inquiry, the gross injustice of the general system of representation for Scotland would be fully exposed. The hon. member defended himself and others with whom he acted, upon the subject of their secession from the committee appointed in a former session to investigate the corrupt condition of the Scots burghs, alleging that they were influenced on this occasion by a fact which was quite palpable, namely, that several gentlemen came into that committee with pre-conceived opinions or impressions, not at ail likely to yield to any evidence that might be adduced. Against such prepossessions he and his friends thought it vain to contend; and therefore they seceded from the committee, notwithstanding their conviction of the means which they possessed to establish all the allegations of the various petitioners. With regard to the articles of the Union, to which the noble member for Rochester had alluded, he was prepared to maintain, that those articles offered no obstacle whatever to the adoption of any measure for ameliorating 552 the condition of Scotland, whether it respected its representation in parliament, or any other public object. The Crown had notoriously interfered with respect to the representation of Stirling. Upon what ground, then, could it be contended that the people should be precluded from any such interference, upon any subject favourable to the popular cause? The hon. member ridiculed the idea of postponing the adoption of his noble friend's motion until the promised bill of the lord advocate should be laid before the House. If such bill should be found to answer the ends in view, the adoption of his noble friend's motion could in no degree operate to impede its progress.
§ Mr. C. Forbes
said, that the embarrassments of the burgh of Aberdeen had been very much exaggerated. The magistrates had effected very large reductions in the debt, which debt he doubted not they would soon be able to pay off, with 5 per cent interest. He must beg to contradict one part of the statement of an hon. member, who had said, that if all the revenues of the burgh of Aberdeen were mortgaged, they would be insufficient to defray its debts. The House would not fail to observe with pleasure, by the speech which they had just heard delivered by a noble lord, that arrangements had been adopted by the magistrates which reflected upon them the highest credit. Indeed, the improvements which had been effected in Aberdeen within the last twenty or thirty years were truly surprising; and such as no person, at that distance of time, would have ventured to predict. The manufacturers were active, and trade was in a most flourishing condition. He then adverted to the conduct of the burgh magistrates, and vindicated them from a charge which had been most unfairly thrown out against them, of having applied the public money in a very improvident manner. He had lately received a letter from one of those respectable individuals, informing him that the hon. member for Montrose had himself declared to them, that he never meant to insinuate any thing against their honour. After such a declaration, it was somewhat singular that the hon. gentleman should hazard aspersions, reflecting upon those magistrates. In allusion to one part of the hon. gentleman's speech, about the number of independent votes, he would be glad to know what chance the hon. gentleman conceived he had of beings re- 553 turned, if one vote, in the borough of Brechin for instance, were doubtful for the space of 24 hours only. He believed the hon. gentleman would conceive his election to be very much a matter of question.
§ Mr. Hume
denied that he had charged the magistrates of Aberdeen with corruption, or attempted to cast the slightest imputation upon their character. All he had said with respect to these gentlemen was founded upon a letter written by one of them to his noble friend, in which letter the writer went the length of stating, that under the present corrupt administration of the burgh alluded to, it was impossible for any man concerned in that administration to act any other than a knavish part.
Sir R. Fergusson
conceived, that the hon. gentleman (Mr. Forbes) had unjustly characterized the speech of his hon. friend who had never said that the burgh of Aberdeen was bankrupt, but had contended, that it was so far bankrupt as to have given up its property to trustees. The noble lord (Binning) had said, in answer to the speech of the noble mover, "Wait, gentlemen, for God's sake, for the bill of the Lord Advocate; see what that will do." Now, he, for one, could not wait, and he would tell the House why. That learned lord seemed to propose to take no notice of the greatest evil complained of; namely, self-election. Unless they did away with that, the House would do nothing. The noble lord was so horrified at the mere sound of "reform," that he exclaimed, "Good God! how can people talk of reform in these days, and thereby endanger the constitution?—Two noble lords opposite had lately expressed their great admiration of old parchments and charters; if they were so fond of these documents, he wished they would look a little to the old declarations made by former members of parliament, who had protested that they felt it to be their bounden duty to listen to the complaints of the people. If, instead of searching into old parchments and charters, those noble lords would attentively examine the Journals of the House, he thought they would employ their time much better.
conceived that a fair statement had not been made to the House of the affairs of the burgh of Aberdeen. He had reason to know that the burgh was once nearly approaching a state of bankruptcy; but by good ma- 554 nagement its affairs had been re-established. He certainly considered that, of the burgesses of the Scotch burghs, ninety-nine out of every hundred were in favour of reform.
§ Lord A. Hamilton,
in reply, contended, that by receiving the report the House had, in effect admitted the allegations of the petitioners to be true; and he was naturally induced to suppose they would either devise some remedy for the alleged evils, or grant a committee to inquire into the best means to be adopted for their removal: but they had done neither the one thing nor the other. What he now asked was, not that they should pledge themselves to, any specific measure of relief; but that, having admitted the truth of the facts stated by the petitioners, they would grant them a committee for the purpose of considering their case. The opponents of the motion had mixed up with it the general question of parliamentary reform, with which it had no connexion. This was in itself a proof of the weakness of their cause. The learned lord opposite was pleased to say, that there were other burghs in which similar abuses were stated to exist. If the learned lord could show one half the grievances in those burghs which he had shown to prevail in the royal burghs, he would agree with him in any measure which might be productive of their correction. The learned lord had also stated, that the gaols of the burgh of Hamilton were in a most inefficient state. He believed it was so, as well as most of the gaols in Scotland; and having sat on the committee which inquired into those matters, he could state that it was found to be owing to the scandalous misuse of the funds. The learned lord had said there was no corruption in those burghs. Now, he had made no charge of peculation; but he would say, that the magistrates of Aberdeen had sanctioned the representation of their debt at 6000l. although it was proved to be 130,000l. Was that, or was it not corruption? The noble lord then entered into a defence of his conduct in the committee and concluded by appealing to the sense of the House, whether, after the lapse of three sessions, they could adopt the recommendation of the reports of three several committees, or content themselves with adopting the bill of the learned lord, which merely gave the burgesses of those royal burghs the power of entailing on 555 themselves a law suit with their magistrates?
§ The House divided Ayes 46. Noes 81.
|List of the Minority.|
|Abercromby, hon. J.||Langston, J. H.|
|Barrett, S. B. M.||Lockhart, W. E.|
|Bury, lord||Maberly, J.|
|Brougham, Henry||Maberly, jun.|
|Chaloner, R.||Maxwell, J.|
|Chamberlayne, W.||Monck, J. B.|
|Claughton, T.||Newman, R. W.|
|Crespigny, sir W.||Normanby, lord|
|Creevey, Thos.||O'Callaghan, col.|
|Davies, colonel||Price, Robert|
|Denison, W. J.||Rice, S.|
|Denman, T.||Robarts, Geo.|
|Dundas, T. H.||Robinson, sir G.|
|Ellice, Ed.||Scarlett, J.|
|Ebrington, visc.||Smith, W.|
|Fergusson, sir R.||Webb, colonel|
|Fitzgerald, lord W.||Williams, W.|
|Guise, sir W.||Wilson, sir Robert|
|Heathcote, J. G.||Wood, alderman|
|Heron, sir Robt.||Wyvill, M.|
|Honywood, W. P.|
|Hutchinson, hon. H.||TELLERS.|
|James, W.||Hamilton, lord A.|
|Johnson, col.||Kennedy, T. F.|
|Lambton, J. G.|