HC Deb 20 March 1828 vol 18 cc1230-3
Mr. Sykes

rose pursuant to notice, to move for leave to bring in a bill "to declare the Rights of Freeholders in separate districts or counties, to vote at the election of Knights of the Shire of the counties from which they shall have been separated." The hon. gentleman, after adverting to the conduct of some hon. gentlemen, who, on a former occasion, had, after professing themselves friendly to the principle of the measure he proposed, deserted him, upon a plea of not concurring in the mode in which he had brought the question forward, proceeded to declare, that to him it was perfectly indifferent what course he pursued, provided he could persuade the House to acquiesce in the object which he was desirous of obtaining. It would probably be convenient to the House, that he should discard all the learned lumber with which he had been obliged, on a former evening, to preface his notice on the subject. The hon. gentleman then went into a brief history of the origin of counties corporate, which had, in times past, been separated from their parent counties in virtue of various specific charters. Whatever alterations in the other rights and privileges of the districts so detached such charters might have effected, it was manifest that they could not legally interfere with the exercise of any existing elective franchise, formerly by such districts enjoyed. That was the position upon which he meant to contend for the principle of this bill. He should submit, that this being clearly the law of the case, although the usage, in respect of these counties corporate, had not been in conformity to the law, it was high time that parliament should declare what that law, or rather what that usage, ought to be. There were eighteen of these districts or counties corporate. There were three of them in which the freeholders had votes for the election of members for counties, Poole, Southampton, and Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Six others, for some causes which at that distance of time were not very easy to be ascertained, had acquired a right to vote for the election of burgesses or knights of the shire, to serve in parliament for the town or county from which they were so detached. With this right it was not his intention in any manner to interfere; but he did not think it fair, that the other counties corporate should not be participators in the same right in their own cases. Besides the three he had already mentioned, there were these six:—Bristol, Haverfordwest, Litchfield, Norwich, Nottingham, and Exeter; in all nine, which had the privileges he had spoken of. And these were without it:—York, Lincoln, Newark, Coventry, Kingston-upon-Hull, Canterbury, Chester, Caernarvon, and Worcester. Now, the mode in which he proposed to deal with all these counties corporate was, to give them the right of voting at elections for knights of the shires within which they were severally situated. He came to parliament to ask for this right, because parliament alone could bestow it. To acts of parliament more than one of the counties in this kingdom owed the possession of a similar privilege; and those of Chester and Durham were striking instances of that fact. The hon. gentleman then spoke of the little reliance which could be placed, in matters of this kind, upon the reports of committees upstairs, appointed to inquire into them; and cited two counter-decisions in the years 1739 and 1747 to account for his not now moving for such a committee in preference to a bill. Two objections had been heretofore taken to his proposition; the first, that it was an innovation; the second, that it was a branch of the system of reform. Now it was no such innovation; for in some of the cases it would but restore a right formerly enjoyed by the county corporate; in others, it would confer it where it ought to be possessed. As for reform, he was not ashamed to avow himself friendly to a general reform of the present constitution of parliament, as a measure which would be attended with great good to the country; yet, on the present occasion, he waived all argument upon that point, and should be contented to see the right for which he contended given to the districts he had indicated.

Colonel Sibthorp

said:—I rise to second the motion. From the most mature investigation of this question, involving the rights and privileges of so many, and feeling as I do for them, as affecting all, I may perhaps be more particular in my application to those whom I have the honour to represent—comprising the populous city of Lincoln, of upwards of ten thousand inhabitants, and the villages annexed thereto, of full twenty miles in circumference, and containing in the total near four hundred and sixty freeholds. These individuals ask and seek no new privileges, no novel rights, but the restoration of those rights which they once exercised in common with others, and of which heavy impositions and exactions of former times have deprived them. The learned Attorney-general said, on a former night, that the freeholders of the city and borough alluded to had made a bargain with the government; that they had purchased exemption from county rates, &c, and, therefore, that the depriving them of those privileges was no severity. I confess I do not consider that a bargain, which is forced, from which they could not free themselves, and to which if they did submit tacitly it was because they were compelled to do so. A right hon. gentleman (Mr. Wynn) had said, that our whole constitutional system was a collection of anomalies, arising from various causes. These were got rid of by act of parliament, declaring the last final and decisive. I have heard constantly of an act to amend an act; and if there are grievances in any act, why not do in that case what the hon. member for Hull states was done in similar cases? As for the privilege of voting for counties, according to what is now required; remove these grievances by another act of parliament, and confirm by restoration the enjoyment before exercised. I hold authorities in my hand to prove, that in all the acts of those reigns that had so separated the city from the county, as far as realises it a county within itself, the former rights and privileges are expressly stated as reserved and unmolested; and I do think, in the ancient and loyal city of Lincoln, the right of a freeholder being vested in the soil, and not by grant or charter, there is every right for the possessors of soil therein to have a voice. I do hope parliament will give the subject that consideration to which such an important measure has every claim. I repeat, it is no novel right, no new privilege, but a restoration of former rights, that is sought for.

The Attorney-general

said, that he still held the sentiments which he had so lately expressed to the House on this subject; but he would not now repeat them, but reserve himself for a future stage of the bill.

Leave was given to bring in the bill.