HC Deb 09 March 1831 vol 3 cc317-25
Lord J. Russell

then moved for leave to bring in a Bill, to amend the Representation of the people in Scotland.

Sir G. Clerk

protested against such a Motion, at so late an hour of the night. No part of this measure had been explained to the House. The Bill ought not to be brought in without affording the Scotch Members an opportunity of knowing its details, so that they might be able to form some opinion as to its operations.

The Lord Advocate

thought, that the general outline of the Bill had been opened by the noble Lord, in his introductory discourse. At the same time, the House had certainly a right to know the particulars before they went into a Committee. If, however, the House would indulge him, he would in a few minutes supply any of the details that had been omitted by the noble Lord; and he might be the shorter on the subject, because the objections which had been made to the proposed alterations in England, would not apply to Scotland. In England, sixty-two Members were to be cut off; but in Scotland, there was to be an addition of five to the Representation. The objections which had been made to the Bill for England on that account, would not, therefore, apply to Scotland. It had been insinuated, that the Scotch plan differed in principle from the English plan, because in England it was proposed to add to the county Members, and in Scotland to reduce them. Upon looking to the results, however, it would be found, that the plans were coincident, and the principles on which they proceeded identically the same. In England the number of county Members was less than one-fifth of the whole Representation; but in Scotland, at present, the county Members amounted to thirty, while there were only fifteen Members for boroughs; on the same principle, therefore, that it was right to give an increase of county Members to England, it was right to give an increase of borough Members to Scotland. Instead of forty-five, the amount of the present Representation of Scotland, as proposed by this new Bill it would be fifty, and of these, twenty-eight were to be Members for the counties, and twenty-two for the boroughs. The proportion of borough Members to county Members would still be much greater in England than in Scotland, and Scotland would on this point have nothing to complain of. The Representation of the counties of Scotland was settled at the time of the Union, and was very anomalous, particularly of the small counties; and it was therefore now proposed, to conjoin or marry several of the small counties, one to the other, by which the Representation would become more equalised; and, in his opinion, the small counties would be better off, by being thus united. At present, some of these small counties only returned a Member alternately with some other, by which they had Members for unequal times, viz. the duration of Parliament. To some of these a whole Member would be given, others, as he had said, would be united. Kinross and Clackmannan, which returned a Member alternately, were to be united, while Caithness, being a large county, was to have a Member of its own. Bute was to be united with Dumbarton; Ross and Cromarty were to be consolidated with Nairn, and one Member was to be suppressed. Selkirk was to be united with Peebles, which had hitherto sent each a Member, the former containing only, according to the population returns of 1821, 6,800 inhabitants, and the latter 10,200. After being united, therefore, these two counties, containing only 17,000 people, would be smaller in amount of population, than many of the unconsolidated counties. It would be delusion to say, too, that the electors of these counties would be injured, by sharing their right to return a Member with other electors. At least, the franchise would in them not be so much diminished in value as in the more populous counties, where the influx of new votes, by altering the franchise, would be much greater than in these small counties. The qualification being approximated to that of England, all who were duly qualified would have a vote for a Member, and this would be the means of making the system more level and just in every direction. One great wish of the Government had been, to give Members to those districts that more imperiously required it, from their wealth and commerce—the wealth and commerce of Scotland chiefly being in towns that had sprung up since the Union; and he, therefore, thought, that the Government had been well advised, to allocate five additional Members in that way; and there would be, besides, two saved from the old county Representation, to give to those towns. Since the time of the Union, Edinburgh had always returned a Member for itself; and all the then boroughs were cast into fours, fives, or sixes, each of which groupes together returned one Member. With that arrangement the proposed plan would interfere; but he thought that it would appear to the House, that it did so on grounds perfectly defensible. It was proposed to give to Edinburgh two Members; to Glasgow, which might be called the third town in the empire, and the population of which amounted to 200,000, two Members; to Paisley, which was almost the rival of Glasgow, and which had a population of 50,000, one Member; to Aberdeen, one Member; and to Dundee, one Member—taking those boroughs out of the districts to which they had hitherto belonged. Leith, the sea-port of Edinburgh, and Greenock, the principal sea-port of the West of Scotland, whence all the shipments nearly were made for America and the West Indies, were also each to have a Member. The other boroughs would remain the same; only that the smaller ones, instead of having an equal vote, would only have one in proportion to the amount of their constituency. As he had before observed, there were fifteen of those burgh districts; thirteen of them were to remain with the alteration he had described, while one— viz. that of Fife, or the Anstruther district of burghs—was to be suppressed altogether, in consideration of its being extremely small, and consisting rather of small villages than of towns. It appeared from the population returns, that the whole number of people in these burghs did not exceed 6,000, while the number of inhabited houses rated at 10l. was not much above 200. He should have more reluctance than he had to deprive these burghs of their share of the Representation, if it were not that Fife enjoyed besides them the privilege of returning a Member for the county, two Members for burghs, and influenced the return of two others. With respect to those places which were, for the first time, to have the privilege of returning a Member on their own account, it was thought advisable to replace them, in some instances, in the burgh districts from which they were removed: therefore, in the place of Glasgow, it was proposed to put Kilmarnock; and in the place of Aberdeen, the thriving port of Peterhead; Falkirk was to be added to the Linlithgow district, by which means the burgh Representation would be signally improved. So far from the present system giving a monopoly of Representation to the great landowners, he thought that, on inquiry, it would be found, that the real landed proprietors were overborne by those who had no property at all. At present, a person without a foot of land might have a vote, while the owner of a large estate had none; the consequence was, that the out-voters frequently outnumbered the residents, and the Members who were said to represent Scotch counties, really represented gentlemen living in Lombard or Leaden hall street. In England it was the greatest pride of a gentleman to be a county Member; and he trusted that, under the proposed alteration, the same result might be produced in Scotland. The right of voting was to be fixed at 10l., the same as in England. It was intended, also, to give the suffrage to those who held leases for nineteen years, at a rent of 50l. per annum. At the same time, those who were possessed of parchment votes were to continue to enjoy their privilege during their life. One means by which the country gentlemen might defend themselves against the smaller proprietors was this. Under the law at present, no specific qualification was necessary to enable a man to represent a Scotch county; it was intended to establish one. The rate of qualification was to be this:—No person who did not possess a landed estate of 500l. in Scotland, should be capable of representing a Scotch county. By this the country gentlemen would be able to defend themselves against their 10l. rivals, who, by this arrangement, would never be able to return any one of themselves; and if the landed gentlemen ever had a Representative they did not like, it would be their own fault. The burgh Representation in Scotland had been hitherto confined to the Town Councils, which elected one delegate, and each delegate gave a vote for the Member. By this plan, the Town Council of Edinburgh, which, perhaps, did not contain one-thousandth, or one eight-hundredth part of the population and property of the town, returned the Member. It was necessary to make a change in the plan, and it was proposed to give the right of voting to the inhabitants of towns at large, and by the same criterion as the right of voting was given in England—that of occupying a house rated at 101. This would afford a moderate constituency for the large towns, but in the small towns rather a stinted constituency. In Edinburgh, he believed, the number of persons inhabiting houses of that description were not above 4,000, and taking minors, &c. into consideration, the average number would not be much above 3,500. In Glasgow, he believed, the number of such houses was about 5,000, and in all the other towns under 1,000. He had to notice also, that by a mechanical plan, the whole voting would be completed in two days, as in England. Persons, he must also state, were not to vote for the counties by reason of the same property which gave them a vote for boroughs. He hoped, that the information which he had been able to give, which was necessarily imperfect, would be sufficient to satisfy the Gentlemen opposite, that the Motion of the noble Lord, for leave to bring in a Bill, to which he gave his cordial assent, ought to be granted.

Sir William Rae

was of opinion, that the explanation given by his learned friend was very unsatisfactory, and would be regarded as very unsatisfactory by the people of Scotland. A great alteration was proposed, of which no sufficient explanation had been given. Why, he wished to ask, when the number of Representatives had been so much increased for English counties, was not the same rule followed as to Scotch counties, which had advanced in an equal degree to those of England? There were six counties in Scotland, each of which contained from 120,000 to 240,000 inhabitants, and no addition had been made to their Members. Why was that? Thus was one left quite in the dark. On the contrary, instead of an increase, two county Members were taken away from other counties, and given to the burghs, the Representatives of which were increased. That, his learned friend might be assured, would not give satisfaction to the landed gentlemen of Scotland. Looking to the rapid advance of the counties of Scotland in wealth and population, he was decidedly of opinion, that the number of their Representatives ought to have been increased. There were six counties which now had to return Members alternately, and be objected to the arrangement by which it was proposed to combine them. Small counties were swallowed up in the large counties, and large counties had new electors brought into them, which would be considered as a great grievance, and had not been satisfactorily explained. Then again the mode by which this had been done was not good. If such an arrangement were made, Kinross, which was certainly the smallest county of Scotland, and had been formerly united to Fife, ought to have again been united to it. Clackmannan, too, which had formerly had the same Sheriff as Stirling, ought to have been united to that county. The proposed plan might be susceptible of satisfactory explanation, though he had not heard such an explanation, unless it were what he had heard out of doors, which he was constrained to disbelieve, that it was to serve an electioneering purpose. He did not think the arrangement as to Bute and Dumbarton, one of the most flourishing counties in Scotland, satisfactory. Caithness, too, instead of having a separate Member, ought to be united to Sutherland, which, up to 1806, had one Sheriff in common. The principle of the Bill was, to put down the nomination of Peers; and in Sutherland the election was entirely in the hands of one noble family, to which almost the whole of the territory of that county belonged. If they wished to get rid of that, they ought to have united Caithness to Sutherland. He did not object to the influence of that noble family in Sutherland, any more than he objected to the influence of another noble family in Bute, for he believed both those families had rendered most essential service to these counties; but those who brought in the Bill did object to that influence, and it would have been consistent with their principle to have weakened it, by uniting Caithness to Sutherland. He would not insinuate under what influence these arrangements had been made; he would only say, that they would not be satisfactory to Scotland. He objected also to the union of Peebles and Selkirk, which was, he thought, uncalled for. He objected wholly to the Bill, because it introduced a great and uncalled for change in the whole elective franchise of Scotland, without any adequate cause—at least none had been assigned. He knew much had been said against the paper votes, but he defended them on account of the beneficial result; which practically was, that in the great majority of cases, the largest landed proprietor in the county became its Representative in Parliament. They formed admirable defenders of the landed interest; but now, by the introduction of the mere occupiers of houses [The Lord Advocate said, owners]—well, owners; there were few occupiers of such houses in Scotland, who were not the owners; and, by giving votes to them, the landowners would by no means be satisfied. There were more owners of such small houses in Scotland than English gentlemen would be inclined to believe, and this alteration would take the right of electing Members for the counties out of the hands of the landowners, and give it into the hands of large bodies of men whom the landowner would be unable to influence. At present the candidates were at no other expense than the pleasure of entertaining the electors; but after this change, the expense of an election would be great, and no gentleman would be able to contest a county without suffering considerably in his purse. No explanation had been given of the necessity of making so great a change, and disfranchising in this manner the landed proprietors. He objected also to the disfranchisement of the boroughs on the eastern part of Fife, which deprived 6,000 persons of their franchise, without any reason whatever. The plan of granting an additional member to Edinburgh, Glasgow, and other places, he approved of; but as Leith Was part of Edinburgh, he did not approve of giving it a Member, and omitting to give one to Inverness, Which was the chief town of a large district, and had at least 20,000 inhabitants. In reference to the number of voters, he believed that the learned Lord had underrated them. Supposing Edinburgh to include the suburbs, he believed that the number of houses rated at 10l. would be 12,900. It Would not benefit the middling classes to have the franchise shared amongst so many, nor could he understand of what Value it would be to them when it was so much divided. He regretted the extension of the franchise, because it was well known that Scotchmen seldom came together in a multitude without causing bloodshed or at least riot. He besought hon. Members to look at the Scotch character, and they would find that what he said was true. He would not detain the House further, but say, that no sufficient explanation had been given of the Bill which was to be brought in.

Lord Althorp

said, that as both parties had made their statement, which would enable the county to discuss the merits of the Bill, and which would also be facilitated by its being printed, he hoped that the Bill might then be allowed to be brought in.

Sir Charles Forbes

thought it was reasonable, when seven days had been taken up in debating the Bill for England, that somewhat more than one hour should be allowed to Scotland. Was that in proportion to the population of the two countries? He thought the learned Lord's statement, very unsatisfactory, and that it would do him no honour in Scotland; and that the statement of the learned Gentleman would do him great honour. He should wish that the Debate should be adjourned. There were many Scotch Gentlemen who were naturally anxious to deliver their sentiments, and who were ready to stand up and do justice to Scotland. He was sure that they would not allow Scotland to be injured. He hoped that the Motion would not be acceded to without further discussion.

Mr. Kennedy

knew that his hon. friend greatly desired the welfare of Scotland, and he could confer no greater benefit on that country than by allowing; it to receive this measure as soon as possible. The printed Bill would be the most accurate information Of what was intended, and he hoped his hon. friend would not persist iii his wish for an adjournment.

Mr. Cutlar Ferguson

thought it not unreasonable that an adjournment should take place, but he Would not move it: if his hon. friend, or any other member, moved it, he should think it his duty to support the Motion.

Lord J. Russell

expressed a hope that the hon. Member (Sir C. Forbes) would allow the Bill to be brought in, and the discussion could take place on the second reading, which he was willing to fix for Monday or Tuesday.

Sir G. Clerk

recommended his hon. friend to concur in this suggestion.

Sir G. Warrender

recommended that the Bill should be printed before they came to a discussion on the second reading, as the Members for Scotland were not acquainted with its details.

Leave given to bring in the Bill for amending the Representation of the people of Scotland. Bill ordered to be brought in by the same parties, as the Bill for England, substituting the Lord Advocate for the Attorney and Solicitor General.