HC Deb 25 March 1831 vol 3 cc939-48
Sir William Rae

asked whether the second reading of the Scotch Reform Bill would come on that night, or whether any definite arrangement concerning it had been made?

Lord Althorp

said, that it would be brought on in the course of the evening; but it was impossible to say at what hour.

On the Motion that the Speaker leave the Chair,

Sir R. Peel

took —the liberty of calling the attention of the noble Lord opposite to matters of detail connected with the Reform Bill, which involved considerations of very great importance. For the purpose of his argument m this case he would assume, that the principle was perfectly correct, and he would assume that it was expedient, to disfranchise sixty boroughs, and take away the privilege of returning one Member from forty-seven, that the right might hereafter be transferred to places of greater population. But, supposing that he admitted the principle to be a proper one in itself, he was sure the noble Lord would agree with him that the principle ought to be applied in a manner conformable to justice, and he thought it was of extreme importance, before the House went into a Committee, that they should guard against doing an injustice, which manifestly would be done, if the disfranchisement were made to fall on places of a larger population than others that were not disfranchised. He was sure that the position which he had laid down would be acquiesced in, both by the friends and opponents of the Bill. One of the Returns on the Table contained an account of the population in the different cities and boroughs in England, and, amongst others, of those which it was intended wholly to disfranchise, and of those from which one Member was to be withdrawn. The Return professed to be a Return of the population in each city and borough; but he apprehended that it was not. In some cases it was a Return of the population of the parish in which the borough was situated; and in other cases it was a Return of the population, not in the parish, but in the borough It was quite clear that the House ought either to take the population in the parish or in the borough, and apply the rule indiscriminately to all places. Me need not demonstrate the inconveniences of applying the principle in one case, and not applying it in the other. Take the case of the borough which he represented, with respect to which it was evidently a duty he owed to his constituents, to prevent the application of an unjust principle towards them. The parish in which Tarn worth was situated contained 7,500 inhabitants. That part of the parish within the jurisdiction of the borough did not, in 1821, contain more than 3,500 inhabitants; therefore, according to the schedule of the Bill, Tamworth would be deprived of one of its Representatives.— Take the case of the borough of Bridge-water, or take the case of the borough of Calne. Calne appeared to contain a population of 5,600 inhabitants; and if the limits of the borough were identical with the limits of the parish, Calne ought not to be disfranchised; but if the limits of the borough were smaller than those of the parish and it contained less than 4,000 inhabitants it did not contain more than 3,500—there was no just principle upon which Calne should be protected and Tamworth disfranchised. Without himself moving for any returns, he would suggest to the noble Lord opposite, that the application of the principle should be made consistently with perfect justice, and he would therefore advise the noble Lord immediately to procure returns which would show what the population was in each parish and each borough. It appeared on the face of the return, that the parish of Bridgewater was co-extensive with the borough, but that only one-third part of the parish was entitled to vote for Representatives. Thus, although Bridgewater had 5,000 inhabitants, as far as the parish was concerned, yet, as far as the borough was concerned, he strongly suspected there would not be found 4,000 inhabitants within its limits. If this principle were applied to every borough, it would be found that in many there was no cause for disfranchisement.

Lord Althorp

said, that he had taken the liberty of saying, last night, in answer to the member for Boroughbridge, that it was his intention to abide by the resolution of disfranchising the boroughs coming within the rules; but he at the same time staled, that if any mistake were made in the population returns, certainly it was not his intention to do anything unjust, as the hon. Gentleman had stated, and he had not the least objection to attend to suggestions of that nature. It was impossible, previous to bringing in the Bill, to ask for return's more specific than the population returns.

Mr. F. Lewis

wished to know what rule had been followed in framing the proposition at present before the House. He would suggest the propriety of laying before the House the answers which had been returned to the inquiries respecting the population of each borough, in every case where a detailed answer had been given. He had seen a detailed answer from the borough of Radnor. That information had not been laid before the House. It was however in the power of the Home Office at once to lay it before the House, and it would supply a great mass of information which it would be extremely desirable to have.

Lord John Russell

said, that it was obvious that the rule which applied to England did not apply to Wales, the systems being totally distinct. As to the information given to the Home Office, he had no hesitation in saying, that he was quite ready to lay the whole of that before the House. If the rule which had been laid down was favourable to a borough, it ought to be extended to Tamworth, or any other borough in a similar situation. He would see in what manner the information might best be laid before the House.

Mr. Balfour

observed, that perhaps the noble Lord would say, that the Representation of Scotland should also receive a different rule from that of England. The boroughs of East Fife, the two Anstruthers, Crail, and others, which were to be disfranchised, contained a population of 6,000 inhabitants. These, therefore, taken together, ought not to be disfranchised. In this district the houses were more numerous than the houses in the two boroughs which still returned two Members, and more numerous than in the boroughs where the 8l. houses were still to return one Member.

Lord Encombe

said, that he was anxious, as every individual was, to support the body which he represented, and, therefore, he would observe, with respect to Truro, that it appeared, according to the population returns, that there were 2,712 inhabitants in the parish of St. Mary; but there was also a note to this effect:—"The parishes of St. Clement and St. Mary, extending to the town of Truro, are supposed to have three times the population of the borough." He had received a paper which had not this note appended to it. In the year 1821 Truro actually had about 7,000 inhabitants, and it had now considerably more. He thought that the returns on which the Bill had proceeded were too incomplete to serve as the basis of Legislation, and he hoped the information promised by the noble Lord, would supply means of correcting them.

Mr. Home Drummond

also complained of the inaccuracy of the returns, and expressed his wish to have more precise and certain information. This observation applied particularly to Scotland, for which the returns as to the houses rated at 10l. were very imperfect.

Mr. G. Moore

said, that if every 10l. a year inhabitant within the limits of Dublin was to have a vote, it would actually amount to universal suffrage. There was not a single householder, holding a tenement of his own, who did not pay a rent of 10l. He hoped Government would take some steps to have the necessary information laid before the House as to the rates and cesses on houses in Ireland.

Mr. Stanley

said, that if the hon. Member would suggest any returns which he could move for, which would throw greater light upon this subject as to the 10l. householders, Government would be happy to furnish him with the information. As to Dublin, there was a paper which would supply the hon. Member with what information he required: viz. the Returns of the Commissioners, who, having divided the houses into twenty different classes, had furnished an abstract, giving full information as to the 10l. householders in Dublin. There were 17,000 houses of the value of 10l. and upwards.

Mr. O'Connell

suggested that the limits of the parishes should be taken as the limits of the boroughs.

Mr. Stanley

thought there would be much greater inconvenience in that than leaving a discretionary power as to the limits of the borough.

Sir Charles Forbes

said, with reference to the borough he represented (Malmesbury), that the population of that beautiful and thriving place was upwards of 7,000. Now, with every respect for the noble Lord, he would ask him whether it would not be the best way, at once for him to withdraw this Bill, for really and truly there were so many objections urged against it from all sides of the House, and objections so formidable, that if the noble Lord should succeed so far as to get it into Committee, which, however, he sincerely hoped would not be the case, it would be then plucked to pieces, feather by feather, and ultimately kicked out a mere skeleton.

An Hon. Member

hoped, that as information was to be given with respect to the English boroughs, the same would be afforded with respect to the towns in Scotland.

Sir R. H. Inglis

asked, whether it would not be better to wait for the new population returns, for, from what now appeared, if they were to legislate on the returns of 1821, the measure would be most inconsequent.

Lord John Russell

was sorry to be obliged again to trespass on the House, but, with regard to the suggestion of the hon. member for the University, it would be impossible to comply with that. The new census was beginning at the present moment, but it would not be finished until July or August, and, were he to wait until then, let the House only consider the effect that would probably result as to the new returns. Something had already been said about Malton and its 4,005 inhabitants in 1821, and he wished the House to remember what a temptation it would afford to make false returns, when, by the addition of five persons, a borough might be secured from disfranchisement. With respect to the observations of the hon. member for Malmesbury, he admitted that there were some doubts as to the population of certain boroughs; and Malmesbury was one, Buckingham was another; and there were about six in all. Having admitted that, he could assure the hon. Gentleman, that he had too much respect for the decision of the House of Commons, which had permitted the second reading of the Bill, not to make his stand upon that ground, and endeavour to carry the Bill to a successful and triumphant conclusion.

Sir Wm. Rae

said, he could not suppose that the same advantage of correct information would be denied to Scotland. Information was in its case doubly necessary, because there were now two returns inconsistent with each other.

Sir G. Clerk

wished to know, whether the learned Lord had yet any accurate return of the 10l. householders in Scotland? If the principle of allowing them to vote were carried into effect, the Representation of all the counties in Scotland would, he believed, pass out of the hands of the landed interest, and become vested in the inhabitants of towns.

The Lord Advocate

said, that independent of the reasons given by the noble Lord against delay, there was still less reason to require returns for Scotland, as the Bill for that country proceeded on the same data as that for England. It would be better to legislate on the census of 1821, inasmuch as it was the latest made of an unimpeachable character, and a new one now for this purpose would probably lead to great partiality. Besides, there were now upon the Table returns up to the present year of the inhabited houses rated at a rent of 10l. The apprehensions of the right hon. Baronet, as to the county Representation, were, in his opinion, unfounded.

An Hon. Member complained, that these returns were by no means in the best shape; and he must repeat the statement, that the present plan of Representation would throw the Representation of Scotland into the hands of the inhabitants of the manufacturing towns. There was no question, that when a great number of boroughs were to be disfranchised, many applications would be made to alter the determination taken with respect to them; but if they found such accidents as the passing over Tavistock and Calne, and the disfranchising of Tam-worth, then it became necessary that the House should exercise more than usual vigilance.

The Lord Advocate

said, in consequence of the time which the Reform Bill for England was likely to occupy in Committee, he should be obliged to postpone the second reading of the Reform Bill for Scotland until the 22nd of April.

Sir Alexander Hope

could not allow the question to be disposed of without asking, whether it was the intention of the framers of the Bill, that the Scotch Clergy should remain in the same condition as they had been, or whether it was proposed that they should mingle the poison of politics with the discharge of their sacred duties, and, abandoning that course which had hitherto proved so eminently conducive to the moral health of the community, become again political partisans.

Colonel Lindsay

said, he believed that the people of Scotland generally were averse from the details of the Bill, although some hon. Members had been at such pains to represent them as unanimous on that subject. He objected, however, to the delay which must take place, before the Bill could again come before the House for discussion, and observed, that great anxiety would be felt in Scotland during the intermediate period, from their ignorance of what was to be done.

Mr. Hume

denied, that the people of Scotland were adverse to the Bill. From the one end of that country to the other they had expressed themselves in favour of it; and after the miserable minority— after the miserable minority, he repeated, on the question of Reform, he believed they could feel little anxiety on the subject. There were, to be sure, a few Gentlemen who got returned for Scotch counties, and fancied that they represented the opinions of all Scotland, who might, from feeling that it would affect their interests, oppose the Bill; but the great mass of the people were in its favour, as the petition from Renfrew, signed in a short time by 5,000 persons, sufficiently showed.

Mr. Scott

denied, that the great mass of the respectable portion of the people of Scotland were in favour of this plan of Reform. On the contrary, it was chiefly supported by those who expected to gain from it. A good deal of the agitation about Reform proceeded, indeed, from the exertions of the hon. member for Mid- dlesex, to whom, as he had heard many of the persons who petitioned in favour of Reform applied for instructions. And he was told that the hon. Member, in conveying those instructions, expressly enjoined all applicants to make no objections to the plan of Reform, but to take it as it was, so that there might be no doubt of its success. He had heard, indeed, that the hon. member for Middlesex actually made a tour through the South of Scotland, to forward the cause of Reform, and in order to make his progress the more effective, threw petitions for Reform from the windows of a mail-coach.

Mr. Hume

said, the hon. Member charged him with being the agitator of Scotland. He denied that he had done or said anything to induce any part of the people of Scotland to petition in favour of Reform, until he received letters, begging him to point out the course which was fittest to be pursued. He believed that the opponents of Reform were mortified at the extent of agreement which prevailed among all parties on the subject of the Bill. They were pained to find the member for Waterford, the member for Preston, the members for Westminster, and men of all parties and degrees, uniting in favour of the Bill; and that seemed to him to be their greatest grievance. He supported the Bill because it was good for the present—yes, for the present—and if he found it did not produce all the good he expected, he certainly was not precluded from coming again to ask for more.

Mr. Cutlar Ferguson

bore testimony to the popularity of the Reform Question in Scotland; but he thought that the details of the Bill, with respect to the increased power given to the manufacturing class, and the inhabitants of towns, in stifling and overcoming the votes of the agricultural portion of the community in the counties, required very serious consideration.

Sir G. Murray, without denying that a great portion of the people of Scotland were in favour of Reform, said, that he believed the county he had the honour to represent felt very little interest in the question. He agreed in the statements made by the hon. member for Kircud-bright (Mr. C. Ferguson) as to the defects in the details of the Bill, but he wished to repeat the question of the hon. member for Linlithgowshire (Sir A. Hope) with respect to the Scotch clergy. If they were to be mingled up with politics, it would be most injurious. The Scotch clergy were enabled to preserve morality the more effectually for not interfering in politics, and were a connecting link between the great proprietors and the humbler classes of the community. He must contend, too, that the result of the change in Scotland would be, to compel the landlords to divide their land into small farms, that they might continue to exercise an influence over the elections. This, to be sure, the member for Middlesex would say called for the Ballot— and the Ballot he was ready to apply to it. —bat he apprehended that the promoters of the Bill were not disposed to go so far, and that they would consider well before they produced that state of circumstances which would place the people of Scotland in such a situation.

The Lord Advocate,

in reply to the questions of the hon. Members, said, it was the intention of the framers of the Bill to leave the Scotch clergy in the same condition as they found them. At the present moment a Clergyman, if he possessed the necessary qualification, could vote for a Member for a county, like any other person, and under the Bill he would retain the same power if he had the qualification prescribed by the Bill. The framers of it were not, however, wedded to this part of its provisions, and it was in the power of any Member in the Committee to exclude Clergymen from voting, if they thought fit. He had no wish to elude discussion on the Bill, but the details of the English Reform Bill would probably occupy so much of the time of the House, as to preclude him from bringing this measure on at an earlier day than the one he had already announced.

Captain Wemyss

said, as he did not trouble the House often, he hoped to be indulged with a short hearing on this question. With regard to the English Bill, he concurred in the propriety of disfranchising the out-voters, and cutting off a certain number of boroughs. He also thought that the Representation in Scotland was not fit for the growing population, but he cautioned Ministers against going the length they proposed to go. He thought that every person possessing real property ought to have a vote. He was afraid, however, that the plan of Ministers would place the agricultural and manufacturing classes in opposition, and thereby cause a political warfare. He objected also to the franchise being given to the tenantry, be-cause, if that were the case, the vote, in fact, would be given to the landlord, and the tenant would, in the long run, become his vassal. He approved of the principle on the whole as to the boroughs, though he could not see the propriety of disfranchising the district of burghs in Fife. If that was to be done because they were corrupt or rotten, he believed the remedy, in order to be effectual, ought to be more general. The hon. member for Middlesex had said, that all Scotland was alive to the measure, and he would not deny that there was a silent feeling on the subject, but at the same time he must say, that many had petitioned for the measure whom it could not affect. He knew one manufacturer on his own estate, who called his people together, and made them sign the petition, though none of them would have a vote. He had received a petition to present oh the subject from the burgh of Auchter-muchty, and found that some time after, a duplicate of the petition had been presented by another Member, with only the addition of a few words in praise of Ministers. As far as the Fife tenantry were concerned, he knew they were alarmed on the subject.

An Hon. Member for Scotland bore testimony to the strong feeling in favour of the measure in that country, and was glad to see that the opposition petitions got up in the two capitals, London and Edinburgh, had turned out such failures.