§ Sir William Rae
thought it would be right in the absence of the learned Lord, (the Lord Advocate) to refrain from discussing the details of the Bill in Committee, and he would make use of 1040 that opportunity to call the attention of the House to the nature and character of the measure now before it. Assuredly, many material improvements had been made in the Bill since it was last under consideration, and, unquestionably, there never was a measure submitted to Parliament which more required amendment; for a more undigested and objectionable bill never was laid upon the Table of the House. In this third edition, however, some of the most obvious objections had been removed, and the Bill before the House was different in many important particulars from the Bill introduced at the commencement of the present Session, and still more different even than this from the Bill originally proposed by the learned Lord in March last. Acknowledging the alterations and improvements, he contended that the hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House were entitled to the credit of having caused them. None of importance had been voluntarily introduced by the Government in either edition of this Bill, but only now, at the last hour, had been adopted, in consequence of the notices in the Order Book, which his friends around him had given. If the question before the House had been a general resolution, touching the propriety of introducing a change into the Representation of Scotland, the learned Lord's speech, on moving the second reading, would have been properly applied, and might be considered as conclusive. But at the second reading of the special measure of Scotch Reform proposed by his Majesty's Ministers, it appeared to him that the learned Lord Advocate, and those who supported that measure, were not entitled to stop short after having merely shewn that the Representation of Scotland was bad—they ought to have gone on to shew that the Bill laid on the Table of the House was the best measure of improvement that could be proposed—the fittest that human ingenuity could invent, to remedy the evils of the existing system. The learned Lord told the House, that that system was so bad that he would not leave a rag of it behind. That being the case, he being unfettered by any thing which had hitherto existed—putting out of the question everything that prescription had sanctioned—he was at full liberty to submit to the House, indeed was bound to submit, as good a system as human ingenuity could invent. Instead, however, of being 1041 the best system that could be imagined, the measure under consideration was liable to obvious objections. He would not enter into the details of the Bill; but offer a few observations upon its leading principles. One most important of these was, the qualification for giving the right of voting. The franchise of the counties was to be placed in the proprietors of heritable property producing 10l. a-year; and that of the boroughs in the occupiers of houses rated at the like value. In any system of Representation, one of the first objects ought to be, to give to every interest in a country its due share of influence in the Legislature. While the landed or county interests were protected on the one hand, the commercial and manufacturing interests must not be neglected on the other. In the English Bill, great attention was paid to this principle; and while the elective franchise was extended to the manufacturing and commercial interests, care was taken to give an equivalent advantage to the landed interest. Although the franchise was conferred on many large and populous towns, the number of English boroughs was, on the whole, much diminished, and the borough Representation of the country curtailed. This circumstance alone would add to the influence of the landed interest: but the English Bill did not stop there. In the first place, it constituted the Isle of Wight, which was a peculiarly agricultural district, a separate county, and gave it the right of returning a Member to Parliament. The English Bill then gave two additional Members to each of the large, and one additional Member to each of the middling counties, leaving the small counties, as at present, with the right of returning two Members to Parliament. In the English Bill, therefore, the utmost care was taken to preserve the interests of the land, by adding to the number of its Representatives, and further by confining its constituency to those who really possessed an interest in the soil. Why should not Scotland be treated in like manner? She was treated, however, very differently. In the first place, her boroughs, instead of being diminished, were to be increased by eight, to be added to those which exist at present. He did not object to an increase of the borough Representation of Scotland; on the contrary, the addition which this Bill made to it was, in his opinion, too small; but he objected to its being 1042 increased disproportionately to the Representation of the land. In a former edition of the Bill, it was even proposed to diminish the number of county Members, but that was so extravagant that the Ministers were ashamed of it, and in the present Bill they proposed that Scotland should continue to return the same number of county Representatives. But when the articles of the Union were to be entirely set aside, was Scotland not to receive one additional county Member? Was she still to adhere to her thirty county Members, when the Representation of the towns was increased; and was the influence of towns even to be allowed to interfere with the franchise in county Representation? The Representation of the counties of Peebles and Selkirk, two of the most important agricultural counties in Scotland, was indeed to be allowed to remain, after many remonstrances. Instead of the franchise being confined to the landholders of those shires, the constituency of the royal burghs of Peebles and Selkirk was to be thrown into them, which would materially encroach upon the agricultural interests. Upon what principle was it that the Scotch counties—many of them having upwards of 100,000, some of them upwards of 300,000, inhabitants, and paying a large amount of taxation—should not be admitted to the right of returning sonic additional Representatives? The amount of taxation contributed by Scotland at the time of the Union was—Customs, 30,000l. a year—Excise 33,300l. a year, a total of 63,000l. That was the whole amount of taxation paid by Scotland at the time of the Union. What was the amount of her contribution to taxation at the present time? By the last return it appeared, that the whole amount of her taxation, including customs, excise, assessed-taxes, stamps, &c., was no less than 5,155,422l. a-year! How was it then that a country so charged was not to be allowed some additional Representation. He would next call the attention of the House to the qualification which, under the Bill, was to give the right of voting in the Scotch counties. If this Bill were passed in its present shape, there would be an end for ever to the influence of the land-owners of Scotland. The franchise was to be vested in persons possessing heritable property of the value of 10l. a-year; including house property as well as land. Now an individual of the lower orders in Scotland, 1043 particularly in the manufacturing districts, always shews a strong desire to be the owner of the house in which he lives. Hence, as soon as he possesses the means of building a house, he proceeds to feu a piece of ground from a neighbouring proprietor, which was a permanent acquisition of land on payment to the superior or owner of an annual sum in the name of feu duty. On this piece of land he builds a substantial stone house of one story, which he personally occupies. Under the proposed Representative system, this individual would assert that his house and bit of land were jointly worth 10l. a-year to him; consequently, every one of these feuars would have a vote for his county, under this Bill. But was the interest of such persons in unison with that of the landed interest? Quite the reverse. Did they attach themselves to the proprietor of the land? On the contrary—they had no kind of respect or regard for him—they rather looked to the manufacturer who gave them work—and all their views and interests were bound up with those of the inhabitants of the towns. What then would be the working of this Bill if these feuars were to be admitted into the county constituency? They would, without doubt, out-number all the proprietors of the land, and thus, in reality, the county Members would be chosen by a town constituency. The admission of leaseholders would form no counterbalance to those feuars. In Scotland the farms were invariably large, consisting of many hundred acres, and generally let for a long course of years. The number of tenants was, therefore, comparatively few; and the proprietor had little command over them. Few landlords would be willing to break down their farms to suit political purposes, and in many cases it was not in their power, much of the land in Scotland being under strict entail, and short leases being almost uniformly prohibited. The admission of leaseholders to vote was, however, a very questionable benefit. At present the most friendly intercourse existed between landlord and tenant, but when this new scheme should be brought into operation, he was confident that politics would become a constant source of bickering. He was sure the tenantry were not anxious for a measure which would be prejudicial to the whole country, being calculated to break up that general good understanding which 1044 now universally subsisted. The provisions of the Bill tended to annihilate the landed interest of Scotland. The right of voting ought to be connected with the possession of land; and provided that the valued rent of land only were included, and not the value of houses, he should not stickle as to the lowness of the amount of qualification; but as the provisions of the Bill took political influence from the land instead of giving to it, he must object to and oppose them. The qualification for the electors of towns was less objectionable than that for the electors of counties; and might, therefore, be considered in the Committee. He would, therefore, not advert to that point. He should wish, however, to hear from some Member opposite, in the event of the Bill becoming the law, what would the Lord Advocate of Scotland do, if he, through some possible want of popularity, lost his seat? He would no longer be able to obtain access to the House by means of an English nomination borough, for they were all to be abolished. On every account, it was more convenient that the Lord Advocate should be Member for an English borough, than for a place in Scotland, for then he escaped from those local attachments which, even without his knowledge, were sometimes liable to influence him. It was quite clear, that circumstances might arise to render the Lord Advocate's election by a popular constituency, a matter of great improbability; indeed, that circumstance might apply to all members of the Government, and he was quite at a loss to imagine how they were to find their way into the House. Looking, generally, to the principle of the measure, he could not consider it a good one; and he was inclined to abide by the present system, under which the country had prospered to an unexampled degree, until a less objectionable plan should be proposed. The question was not whether the present system was the best that could be devised, but whether this measure was the most proper remedy for its evils. Before the introduction of this Bill it was never said that the Representatives of Scottish counties did not represent the property of those counties. Every one acquainted with Scotland knew that the fact was the reverse. It was said, too, that Scotland had no Representatives: he indignantly denied the assertion. If, however, it were meant that there were no popular Representatives—no 1045 Members chosen by several thousands of constituents—he admitted the fact. But would any Member for a Scotch county Consider that he had no constituents, and was not a Representative of the people of Scotland? He admitted that the expense of being elected for a Scotch county was less than that of being elected for an English county; but the duties of the Representatives were as great and the electors as independent. It had been said that the Members for Scotland had not done their duty, and had neglected the interests of their country. He denied the assertion. For the last thirteen years he had marked their conduct in Parliament; and he said without hesitation, that no Members could possibly be more anxious to promote the interests of the country, than those returned for that portion of the empire. He would refer to their opposition to extending the Small-note bill to Scotland. It was the Scotch Members who succeeded in getting that subject referred to a Committee, of which the late Secretary of State was Chairman, and who brought up such evidence as led to a report favourable to the continuance of these notes in circulation in Scotland. There was one of the details which he felt called upon to notice; the important changes proposed in the office of Sheriff in Scotland. In England, the Churchwardens were to make out the lists of the persons entitled to vote, and to conduct everything until a disputed point arose; but, in Scotland, the Judge of an important Court was named to this office. Now, why was not the same course adopted in Scotland as in England? Why not appoint the schoolmaster or session-clerk of every parish to make out the lists, instead of throwing that duty upon the Sheriff? His duty ought to commence at the next stage, and he should decide upon disputed matters, after hearing the statements of contending parties. In England the decisions of Barristers virtually named by the Chancellor, was to be final; but in Scotland the sentence of the King's Judge was not to be conclusive. Other Judges were to be appointed to investigate his proceedings in each county. He always thought that the anxious desire of the House and the Government was, to make the Judges entirely independent of political matters, and to keep them aloof from all party politics. This 1046 Bill, however, would involve every Sheriff in political squabbles. It would be quite impossible for him to make out the lists without being supposed to be partially inclined towards one party or another, and of such suspicion he ought to be entirely relieved. Could it be fitting that the individual who had to try all the civil actions in the county should be thus mixed up with the party politics of the district, and be thereby deprived of the character for impartiality which to a Judge and Magistrate was of such inestimable value? The appeal, too, from the decision of the Sheriff, must be attended with trouble, delay, and expense. If the decision of the English Barrister was to be final, ought not that of the Scotch Judge to be equally so? There was a blank in the Bill to be filled up, it was said, by the insertion of the words "Advocates or Barristers." He trusted that it was not meant to introduce English lawyers into this new Court. But what Scotch Advocates could be found capable of reversing the judgments of the Sheriffs, many of whom were men of great experience and practice at the Scotch Bar? It was difficult to see how this appeal could avail, when no record was to be kept of the first proceeding. The case, on appeal, might be made to rest on different facts and different evidence from what were laid before the Sheriff. But be this as it might, the degrading position in which the Bill would place the Sheriff, by sending political Judges round the counties to overturn his decision and reverse his proceedings, could not be too strongly reprobated. If there must be an appeal, it would be better to make the appeal lie to the Sheriff from the decisions of these temporary functionaries. But why have an appeal at all? If the Legislature would not trust the Sheriff alone, why should be not have a Jury? The value of the property on which a vote was to be given under this Bill was a question more fit for a Jury than a Judge, there being no county or other rates by which that value could be determined. Firmly resolved to resist this absurd provision of the Bill to the very uttermost, he wished to be spared the necessity of doing so, by the Government rejecting it. He hoped the Government would take this matter into its serious consideration, and not, for a trifling saving, break in upon a judicial system, perhaps the most valuable that any country was ever blessed with, 1047 The part of the Lord Advocate's address which he most disapproved of was that where he held out something like a threat of disturbance if the Reform Bill should not pass. He did not believe that there would be any such disturbance, unless the people were encouraged to commit it, as they were at the last elections. The Lord Advocate said, that the disturbances that recently occurred in Scotland were imputable to the great desire of the people for Reform. He doubted the truth of that assertion, for a twelvemonth ago there was no feeling of the sort prevalent, and the country was happy and contented. The expression of sentiments favourable to Reform had been occasioned by the conduct of Government. The learned Lord certainly had had better opportunities of forming a correct judgment on the subject, during the last year, than he had had; but he could speak with perfect confidence of what was the state of the country for the twelve preceding years. He was sure that, if the Government were true to the law, there was no danger to be apprehended. The people were generally well disposed, submissive, and obedient to the law; and it was only the erroneous impression which prevailed—that the King's Ministers desired this manifestation of public feeling—that had induced the people to express themselves strongly in favour of Reform. He was in office in 1820 and 1821, when the excitement, occasioned by distress, was extreme, and when Glasgow was organized for rebellion; but a determination on the part of the Government to maintain the laws, put a stop to all appearance of disturbance, without the shedding of blood or any severe proceeding of any kind. The conduct of Government at the present moment must, however, be decided and firm—it must not call upon the Sheriff to maintain the peace without giving him the means of upholding his authority. It must not, when he has succeeded in this arduous duty, withhold its approbation of his conduct, or take any step from which the disturbers of the public peace can suppose that their behaviour is not entirely discountenanced. He was persuaded that the people supposed that their conduct was in accordance with the wishes of Government. Let but the Government do its duty, let it but enforce the law and discountenance disturbance, and good order would be maintained. If it wished to have riot, 1048 it would not wish in vain, but he trusted that the Ministers would not fail honestly to exercise their power, and relieve themselves of the responsibility of neglecting to provide for the public tranquillity.
Mr. Cutlar Fergusson
said, that he was not aware of any thing that could justify the insinuations in which the right hon. Baronet, (Sir William Rae) had indulged, at the conclusion of his speech, in respect to the conduct of his Majesty's Government on the occasion of the riots and disturbances which had occurred at some places, at the last general election, in Scotland; and which were certainly most disgraceful to those who were concerned in them. If he understood rightly the observations that had been made by his right hon. friend, they went to insinuate, at the least, that the King's Ministers had, by their conduct, given countenance and encouragement to those riots and disturbances. Any thing more destitute of foundation—more inconsistent with every rule of common sense, or common reason, by which the actions of men were usually guided, could scarcely be imagined, than that they, whose political existence depended on the preservation of the peace of the country, and on the success of that great measure of Reform, to which nothing but the deepest injury could be inflicted by such outrageous proceedings, should afford to them their countenance and support. He would, however, at once dismiss this topic, as wholly unworthy of consideration, and proceed to offer a few observations on the subject immediately before the House. From certain parts of the speech of his right hon. and learned friend, he was so far from dissenting, that they had his entire and perfect concurrence. He agreed with him, that by the Bill, even as it was now proposed, the counties of Scotland would not be sufficiently represented. He thought, also, that the proportion between the county and the burgh Representation would be too much deranged by the operation of this Bill. The proportion, as settled by the Treaty of Union, and which existed at the present day, was thirty to fifteen in favour of the Representation of the counties. By the Bill, as originally proposed, it was to be fixed for the future at the proportion of twenty-eight to twenty-two; a change so great, and so uncalled for, and, in his opinion, so unwarranted, by any change which had taken place in the relative situation and circumstances of 1049 those two great interests, that he was quite at a loss to conjecture on what ground or reason his Majesty's Ministers had been induced to propose it, or had been prepared to justify it to that House. He felt obliged to the noble Lord, and so would the House, for having spared him the trouble of hearing him on the motion of which he had given notice, that the number of the Representatives of the counties should not be reduced. They were now to remain at the number as settled at the Union—that is, thirty for the counties, whilst the number of the burgh Members was to be increased from fifteen to twenty-three; the proportion being thus thirty to twenty-three, instead of thirty to fifteen. Now, he considered that the number of county Members which Scotland had continued to send to that House, from the period of the Union to the present time, was quite inadequate to the actual wants and just pretensions of the landed interest of Scotland. If the burghs had increased in population and in wealth since that period, which he was willing and happy to admit, the counties had done the same; and probably in as great a degree. If the exact proportion of two to one was not to be kept up, and if a less proportion was to be given than the present to the counties in relation to the burghs, he was satisfied, that if a proportion of three to two, at least, was not given to the counties, there would be nothing like an approach to doing justice to the agricultural interest of Scotland. He begged not to be considered as objecting to the number of Members proposed to be given to the burghs. He did not ask that a smaller number should be given to them than that to which it was proposed to increase it by the present Bill; but what he expected was, that the number of the county Members should also be increased in a just and reasonable proportion to that of the Representatives of the burghs. He should think it, therefore, his duty to support any proposition, tending to that effect, which might be made to the House, in whatever quarter such proposition might originate. In respect to the general Question of Reform, as applied to Scotland, the advocates of that measure had never had the same difficulties to content with as the friends to a Reform in the Representation of England; for it seemed to have been admitted by all parties since the beginning of this discussion, and, indeed, 1050 before, that Reform, and a large measure of Reform, was required in the Representation of Scotland, whatever might be the case with respect to the Representation of England. The system of the burgh Representation of Scotland did not meet with a single defender, either in or out of Parliament. It was given up as wholly defenceless; even they who might be supposed to have been personally interested in he perpetuation of its abuses, were among the first to denounce them, and to petition for Reform. It would be tiresome to the House, and wholly superfluous, to enter into a detail of that monstrous system which passed by the name of burgh Representation in Scotland. It was a system so totally worthless, that the words of the Lord Advocate might, at least, be justly applied to that part of the Representation of Scotland—namely, that it was so incapable of improvement, that it should be utterly rooted out, and not a rag or shred of it be left together. With respect to the county Representation, there were certainly great abuses in it, which required a large and efficient measure of Reform. He could not, however, agree with his learned friend, the Lord Advocate, that that Representation was in the hands of an insignificant oligarchy, not connected with the aristocracy or the property of the country. His (Mr. Fergusson's) objection to the county Representation was, that it was too much in the hands of the aristocracy, and particularly of the high aristocracy of the country. The superiority, or paper votes as they are called, although in some instances they might be matter of corrupt speculation among political adventurers, were generally created by the great proprietors, and distributed among their family, their connections and dependents, for the purpose of promoting their interest in the counties. Every county Member in Scotland must be aware of the injurious and even ruinous effects of that system. It was in vain that a candidate might have for him the majority of the proprietors of a county, possessed both of the property and superiority of their lands. A paper battery was erected against him, which would command his position, unless he chose to erect one of the same material, and of equal or superior force. This was done at an immense and ruinous expense; but it was absolutely necessary to be done, unless the candidate chose to abandon the field to his opponent: out of this system had 1051 grown the most monstrous and crying abuses. The Bill provided for its final but gradual extinction—it saved the life interest of those who were upon the roll of freeholders, or entitled to come upon the roll under the present system. A superiority it was intended also should still confer the right of voting, if there be a substantial interest attached to it, equal to that which would confer the right of voting in respect of property as distinguished from superiority. Here he (Mr. Fergusson) could not, however, help observing, that there might be, and were, substantial and beneficial interests attached to some superiorities, such as untaxed casualties, which could not be reduced to any fixed standard of yearly value, and which ought, perhaps, still to be considered as substantial interests sufficient to confer the right of voting in the counties of Scotland. He saw no provision to that effect in the Bill; and he admitted, that there might be difficulties in framing them, although, if it could be done, he thought it would be desirable. The grievance of the Scotch Representation was not merely, that nominal and illusory rights were represented, but that real and substantial rights were excluded from Representation. A person might have an estate of several thousand pounds a-year, or indeed to any amount, without having a single vote upon it, if he had not also the superiority. And even if he had the superiority as well as the property, the qualification was so high, that the mass of property could not be represented under the present system. The right to vote depended upon having the superiority of what was called a 40s. land of old extent, that is, a valuation made of the lands of Scotland, in the reign of Alexander 3rd, towards the close of the 13th century, which 40s. land might now be of the yearly value of 100l. sterling and upwards; or of lands valued in the time of Charles 2nd at 400l. Scots, which might now be of the yearly value of from 400l. to 800l. sterling. The vast majority of the freeholders of Scotland voted upon the latter qualification; so that it was clear, that by this system, whilst the holders of nominal and illusory interests in land were admitted to the franchise, no proprietor of the substantial and beneficial interest was admitted at all merely in right of his property; and that, even if he should be possessed as well of the superiority as the property of his lands, the qualification was so high, that all the middle classes, and 1052 a very large portion of the gentry of the county, must necessarily be excluded. That this system required reform was admitted on all hands, and even the most strenuous opposers of the present Bill admitted, that the right of voting should no longer be confined to the superiority, but that it should be extended to the beneficial owner of the land. It was less a question of principle than of degree on which the friends and enemies of this Bill differed in opinion. His right hon. and learned friend who had last spoken, seemed to disapprove, however, of extending the franchise to the owners of house property in the counties. He (Mr. Fergusson) would candidly confess, that he himself should have been a little startled by the proposition, if it, had come by itself, and unaccompanied by another most important one for extending the right of voting to the tenantry of Scotland. The latter proposition had met, he believed, with pretty general approbation, and the principle of it had been specifically sanctioned by a resolution of the county which he (Mr. Fergusson) had the honour to represent. He believed that there did not exist in any country a more intelligent or a more deserving class of persons than the tenantry of Scotland; and he was one of the last who would oppose the extension to them of those political rights which were to be conceded to other classes of society. That the admission, however, of the tenantry to the elective franchise, would increase much the influence of the great landed proprietors of Scotland could not be disguised for a moment. He did not object to this influence, but he confessed he was not sorry to see a sort of counterpoise to it, in the admission of another class of the rural population, which he considered to be equally independent, and, if liable to any influence, more liable, as it appeared to him (he could speak for the counties with which he was connected) to the influence of the resident gentry, than of the high, and, generally speaking, non-resident aristocracy of the country—he meant that industrious and respectable class of persons, who were the proprietors of houses and lands in the small towns and villages in Scotland, not included in the burgh Representation. If any thing in the shape of a popular Representation, or even of a Representation of the middle classes, was at length to be given to Scotland, he did not see how it was possible to exclude from 1053 the right of voting, under proper regulations, either of the descriptions of persons to whom he had just referred. If there was any country in the world, in which, from their education and intelligence, their composed and steady and industrious habits, confidence could be placed in that class of the population, it was in Scotland. But it had been said, that the Representation of Scotland, as it stood, had answered all the purposes of a good Representation; and it had been asked by his right hon. and learned friend, what occasion could be pointed out in which the Representatives for Scotland had not done their duty. He (Mr. Fergusson) would admit, that it would be difficult to select, and to return Members to that House, more attentive to local interests, and more zealous and effective in the discharge of those particular duties, which they owed to the places for which they were returned, than the Members for Scotland. This was no small praise, for without such qualifications in a Member of Parliament, all others would be of no avail. He would go further, and say, that he believed that the business before the Committees of that House connected with the local interests of Scotland, was at least as well, if not better, attended to and conducted than the business connected with any other part of the empire. This was a tribute of justice, which was denied by no one to the Members for Scotland. But in answering the question which had been proposed by his right hon. and learned friend, he was forced to put another, and to ask, whether the duties he had enumerated, important as they were, beyond all question, were the sole duties that were required of a Representative of the people in that House, and whether there were not other duties, which the Members for Scotland could not be said to deserve the merit of having so well or so meritoriously discharged? Now he must say, and it was with regret and pain he said it, that, generally speaking, in great questions of public policy, in which the general interests of the empire were involved, and, above all, in questions where measures of necessary reform and amelioration of our institutions were proposed, the majority of the Members for Scotland have almost invariably been found in the lists of those who opposed all such measures of amelioration and reform. The same observation, he feared, must be applied to them in respect to questions of 1054 economy and retrenchment of the public expenditure. A statement had been published of thirty-six important questions of the nature of those he had referred to, in which divisions had taken place in that House in the years 1821 and 1822, and which statement shewed the proportions in which the Members for counties, and for open and close boroughs in England, as well as the Irish and Scotch Members voted, whether for or against the Ministers, on these occasions. The English Members for counties and open cities and boroughs voted against Ministers in a very large, and the Scotch Members for Ministers in a still larger majority, approaching, but not equalling, the votes of the Members for the close English boroughs on the same side. The statement was referred to in the speech of one of the hon. members for Westminster, in the debate on the motion for Parliamentary Reform, of the noble Lord, then member for Tavistock, in April, 1826.* In respect to the Scotch Members, if we turned further back, we should find their names swelling on all occasions the Ministerial majorities, and helping to perpetuate malversation and abuse. He would give a few instances. Mr. Dunning's celebrated motion respecting the influence of the Crown, in 1780, was founded on a consideration of the abuses of the public expenditure during the American war—that wasteful, disastrous, and cruel war, which, long after the public opinion had declared itself decidedly against it, was still persisted in by the Government, and sanctioned by the votes of that House, swayed by the corrupt influence of the Crown. The carrying of the motion "that the influence of the Crown had increased, was increasing, and ought to be diminished," was the first decisive blow that was struck against the Administration of Lord North. It was carried by a majority of eighteen—233 having voted for, and 215 against it. † In this division, thirty-three Members for Scotland voted. The House might be anxious to know how they did vote. He would satisfy that curiosity; twenty-seven voted against the motion, and five for it; making a majority against Mr. Dunning's motion of twenty-two of the twenty-seven Scotch Members who voted—a larger* Hansard's Parl. Debates, New Series, vol. xv, p. 697.† Hansard's Parl. Hist. vol. xxi, p. 347.1055 majority by four against, than the majority of the whole House by which the motion was carried. He would give another instance, a little later, in the year 1782. On the 15th of March of that year, Sir John Rous moved in substance, that in consideration that upwards of 100,000,000l. had been spent, and thirteen ancient colonies had been lost, and that the nation was still involved in war with three powerful nations, without a single ally, the House should declare that "they could have no further confidence in the Ministers who have the direction of public affairs."* No man could doubt that long before this the Ministers had lost the confidence of the people; but upon the division in that House, the numbers were—227 for the Motion, and 236 against it—being a majority of nine against the Motion. How, again, did the Scotch Members vote on that occasion? six for the Motion and twenty-nine against it—being a majority of Scotch Members of twenty-three against the Motion, whereas the majority of the whole House against it, including the Scotch Members, was only nine! The motion was therefore negatived by the majority of the Scotch Members, against the majority of the English Members, and against the universal voice of the nation beyond the walls of Parliament. This motion was made with a view to put an end to the American war, that cruel and unnatural war, which had been so long waged against the liberties of our fellow-subjects in America, and which, with all its wasteful and ruinous expenditure, had it depended on the votes of the Scotch Members, would probably have been continued, against the general opinion and declared voice of the nation, long beyond the period, late and tardy as it was, of its conclusion. During the whole of the American war, the names of very few of the Scotch Members were to be found in the Lists of Minorities—on a motion of Lord John Cavendish respecting the arrears of the Civil List, the minority against Ministers was 114, and in that number one Scotch Member only was to be found—George Dempster was that Member. † This was in 1777. In 1785, however, there was a minority in which the Scotch Members voted in greater numbers. It was on Mr. Pitt's* Hansard's Parl. Hist. vol. xxii. P 1172.† Ibid, vol. xix, p. 139.1056 motion for Parliamentary Reform—which was lost—the majority being 248, and the minority 174; of this minority nineteen were Scotch Members. This was a Ministerial minority, and Mr. Pitt and Mr. Dundas were Ministers.* He (Mr. Fergus-son) was far from finding fault with the conduct of the Scotch Members on that occasion. He had only to regret, that similar instances were not more numerous, whether on the Opposition or the Ministerial side of the question. He was sorry to be obliged to refer to one remarkable occasion, and that was in very modern times, to shew how far the Representation of Scotland answered the ends of a good Representation, even of the interests of Scotland and of Scotchmen, in a question involving the just principles of civil and religious liberty. It was, he owned, with grief and shame that he referred to the votes of the Members for Scotland on the motion for the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts. At that period a law existed in the Statute-book, whereby every person holding office, civil or military, was bound to take the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, according to the usage of the Church of England, under the penalty of being disabled from suing in any Court, being the guardian of any child, or the executor of any person; from ever holding any office, civil or military, and was moreover subject to a pecuniary penalty of 500l. to whomsoever should sue for the same. The members of the Church of Scotland—a Church declared by law to be a national Church as well as the Church of England, and who could not, according to the doctrine and discipline of their Church, comply with the provisions of this law, were involved in the common proscription, from which they were only saved by the degradation of an annual parliamentary pardon—a pardon for what? For the offence of serving the State, and shedding their blood in its defence, without violating their conscience, and acting contrary to the doctrine and discipline of their national Church. Well, how did the Scotch Members divide on that memorable night, when he (Mr. Fergusson) had the glory, as he considered it, to fight under the banners of the noble Lord. The motion was carried by a majority of forty-four—the Scotch Members voting thirteen to five against it! He willingly turned* Hansard's Parl. Hist. vol.xxv, p. 475.1057 away from this subject, on which it was painful to him to dwell. After what he had said, it would be unnecessary for him to declare his opinion, that the system of the Representation of Scotland did not answer all the ends of a good Representation; and that the Members returned under that system did not, upon all occasions, do their duty, as had been contended by his right hon. and learned friend. Notwithstanding what he had stated, and much as he expected from the Reform of the Scotch Representation, he agreed with those who thought, that in general Scotland would continue, after the Reform, as before, to be represented by the same description of persons; but he contended, that the same Representatives would be better Representatives under a better system, and acting under another and a more constitutional responsibility. He should abstain from going into the details of the Bill on the present occasion; but he could not help expressing his concurrence with the right hon. Baronet, in all that he had said respecting the Sheriffs of Scotland, a most respectable, learned and meritorious body of men, to whom he was of opinion, that functions too much of a political character were to be given by this Bill, and to whom a subordinate, and, therefore, an unfit and unseemly part was, in his opinion, allotted for them to discharge. If there was to be an appeal on the subject of Registration, it should be from the Barrister to the Sheriff, not from the Sheriff to the Barrister. He would not longer detain the House from going into a Committee on this Bill, which, after undergoing such modification as might be consistent with its principles, and by which it might in some of its provisions be improved, he earnestly hoped might meet with the sanction of the other House of Parliament, and pass into a law.
§ Mr. James E. Gordon
admitted, that the Representation of Scotland was not of a popular character, but he indignantly denied that Scotland was not represented at all under the present system. He opposed the Bill. It had been said, that the Members for Scotland who were adverse to the measure were silent during the discussion. He would not hesitate to give his opinion respecting the measure. The original Representation of Scotland had been founded on property—it had been guaranteed by the Union, and could not be altered without a violation of that 1058 solemn compact. He should like to know how they could alter all the proportions of Scotch Members in the proportion of them to English Members, and the proportion of the Representatives of the landed interest, to the Representatives of the commercial and manufacturing interest, without violating the Union. The present Bill, if carried, went to deprive the heritors of their rights, and, he repeated, was a gross violation of the Act of Union. He was also of opinion, that the household voters would overwhelm the landed and superior interest—would infringe upon the vested rights of the most respectable portion of the community, and produce consequences that could not be anticipated without the utmost alarm. He must express the deepest regret that his Majesty's Ministers should have thought it advisable to introduce such a measure, which could not do otherwise than produce endless confusion. Already a feeling of discontent which threatened the most serious consequences, was generally prevalent. He wished that could be allayed, even by the rejection of the Bill, but it was now impossible to restore the former state of peace and obedience. He thought the Bill committed injustice, and made wantonchanges, and he was determined to oppose it to the utmost.
§ Mr. Cumming Bruce
had listened with great satisfaction to that part of the speech of the hon. member for Kirkcudbright in which he expressed an opinion, that more was yet due to the county Representation of Scotland than even in its improved and altered state this Bill proposed to do for it. Knowing the weight which must be attached by the House and by his Majesty's Government to the opinions of that hon. Member, he was induced to hope that his recommendation in this respect would be favourably considered, and, in particular, that the county of Elgin would not be left a solitary instance of injustice and disfranchisement among the arrangements of this Bill. His Majesty's Ministers had agreed to do justice to the counties of Peebles and Selkirk, which it was originally proposed to unite, and to leave them in possession of their separate Members. With what justice could it be pretended that half of its present share in the Representation should be taken from the county of Elgin, containing a population of 34,000 souls, being more than was contained by several counties to which a Member was 1059 granted, and more than double the amount contained in the restored counties of Peebles and Selkirk taken together. His Majesty's Government would feel themselves compelled to withdraw the county of Elgin from the schedule in which it had been placed, and to restore it to that right to which it was fully entitled. He did not agree with the hon. Member when he thought fit to taunt the Members for Scotland with a constant subserviency to the Government of the day. The hon. Member had cited the numbers on several important divisions to prove his assertion. He (Mr. Cumming Bruce) need but refer to one of them for the refutation of that charge; the division on Mr. Dunning's celebrated motion with regard to the power of the Crown. Was there a single person in or out of that House, who was not now fully convinced that the absurd clamour then raised about the danger to be apprehended from the increasing power of the Crown was a mere delusion, just such a one as was now prevalent about the power of the aristocracy, and that the Members for Scotland in voting against that motion, showed that they were actuated by sound and sensible views, and were above the influence of popular clamour. The hon. Member had mistaken for political subserviency the firm and consistent purpose of a great majority of the landholders of Scotland to endeavour to exclude from the exercise of power a small, ambitious, and tyrannical minority; the general line of whose politics they considered detrimental to the best interests of the country; and the time at which the hon. Member had thought fit to make this charge, was rather unhappily chosen, when, in point of fact, notwithstanding the great and universal efforts of the Government to influence the late elections, a majority of the Members for Scotland was found arrayed against it. If the gentry of Scotland were subject to the degrading influence attributed to them by the hon. Member, now was the time to show it; when political tergiversation was actually at a premium in that country, and when even the second-rate supporters of the Government were sure to be consulted, employed, aye and paid too, for their services, on some one roving useless, and unauthorized commission or other. A man had only to declare himself friendly to the measures of the Ministry, to be sure of the gratification of participating in the Government, and by some means or other 1060 of having a finger in the pie. The burghs of Scotland had been literally frightened from their propriety by the arrival in them of certain tall, mysterious and angry looking strangers, prying into the gardens of all the old women, and carefully avoiding the slightest communication with the local Magistrates; who, alter all, might have been supposed to know something of the burghs over which they presided. He had received the other day, a letter from the Provost of one of the burghs, which he had the honour to represent, in which he informed him of the arrival of these important personages in his town. He stated that they held no communication with the magistrates; and concluded by asking three significant questions. "Tell me by whom they are appointed—for what purpose—and, last, not least, who pays the piper?" The answer must be by guess. The mysterious personages were self-appointed, no one could find out for what purpose, but they were paid by the easily-gulled Whig ridden people. Like the person who gave orders for a concert, and desired all the performers to be kept playing, the Whig Government were anxious to keep all these players in action whether they produced harmony or discord, and certainly they had produced an admirable Dutch concert. He would not follow the hon. Member further through his speech, in many of the views of which he entirely agreed, but should proceed to make some observations on what fell from other hon. Members in the course of the previous debate on this subject. He had wished on that occasion to state the reasons which would induce him to oppose the second reading of this Bill, because some of the chief grounds of his objection to it had either not been noticed at all, or were slightly alluded to by those who preceded him in the debate. He had been unable to procure a hearing till the House was evidently wearied with the debate, and hon. Gentlemen opposite who were accustomed to look more to the side of the House on which Gentlemen rose, than to the arguments which indicated the course they were advocating, must have, thought that the opponents, of this Bill had monopolized a very undue share of the time of the House on that occasion. Much of that time was occupied by three of his hon. friends, who, having opposed the English Bill in all its stages, thought it necessary to explain to the House the 1061 reasons which induced them to follow a different course with regard to the Bill for Scotland, and as their arguments were generally opposed to the details of this Bill, while their votes were given in its favour, the impression to which he had alluded, was not altogether unnatural. He would not for one moment question the purity of the motives, or the sincerity of the convictions of his hon. friends. One of them, the right hon. Baronet, the member for Honiton, had expressed his belief, that by the course he was following, he would attract to himself the animadversions of both sides of the House. He should certainly not be the individual to verify those anticipations. As the speeches of his hon. friends were for the most part favourable to his views on this question, he would not detain the House by any observations on the few points on which they differed, but make a very few observations on what fell from hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House. He required the indulgence of the House, when presuming to address it after it had listened to a very eloquent speech of so great a master in the art of making the worse appear the better question, as the learned Lord who opened that debate. The great literary and forensic attainments of the learned Lord were well known, not only to the House, but. to the country at large. No one could render a more willing homage to them than the humble individual then speaking, who deeply felt that a charge of presumption might be made against him, but a sense of duty impelled him to prove, that on a subject of vast importance, involving the question how far it was advisable to alter the constitution of Scotland, how far it was safe to enter the regions of theory in opposition to long tried and successful practice, the learned Lord had made misstatements, though most, ingenious ones, had been fairly caught in the trap of his own ingenuity, and had floated out of his depth on the torrent of his own eloquence. But they had not merely to contend with the literary ability of the learned Lord, but to struggle also against his official importance. The House was aware that the opponents of this Bill had to do with the spirit and essence of the Privy Council of Scotland, and that this dread and mysterious, and some what tyrannical body had, by a species of official concentration, acquired a local habitation in the person of the learned Lord. He had not had 1062 the good fortune to be in the House when the learned Lord commenced his speech. When he had come in, he had found him declaiming with much energy, and vehemence, and passion; and approaching that celebrated revolutionary climax about rags and shreds, on which he was afterwards congratulated by the hon. member for Preston. The mere energy of his declamation, the mere violence of his action, satisfied him that the learned Lord was wrong-; that in a question which, above every other, required to be approached in a spirit of calmness and moderation, the learned Lord thought it necessary to rouse the feelings of the audience, and carry the fortress of reason by a sort of coup de main of the passions. He was not prepared for the full length of the rags and shreds; he did not certainly participate in the satisfaction experienced by the hon. member for Preston at that declaration, but partook of his surprise; and he wondered how the learned Lord should have had the hardihood, sitting, as he was, on the same bench with the right hon. Baronet, the member for Knaresborough, to have given utterance to that bold figure. Had the learned Lord forgotten, or did he imagine the House had forgotten, the beautiful and eloquent description of that right hon. Baronet, when, after declaring that no good or beneficial Constitution was of rapid growth, he compared its progress toward perfection to the growth of animals, or rather of plants, which though constant, was yet gradual and imperceptible? And could the very obvious reason of this have escaped his acuteness of perception? Did he not know, that to be useful, the institutions of a country must follow, rather than lead, the habits and wishes, and feelings of men; and that, where they overslept this rule of prudence and of wisdom, they would either be altogether inoperative, as was the case with the Constitution introduced by the English into Sicily; or they would give birth to a ruinous and fatal activity, as was the case at the beginning of the first Revolution in France. He would rather look for safety and for shelter to the broad shade of our native oak, though centuries might have rolled over the slowness of its gradual and majestic progress, than he would turn to that plant of a warmer clime, to whose rapid and wondrous shoot the learned Lord would direct his attention. This tree was alive in our climate only while the stove-heat of a strong excitement 1063 was applied to it; and, that exciting cause withdrawn, the flower and the foliage would wither, its leading shoot would droop and fade, its beautiful fruits, the glory of its Crown, would perish. Even if previously undecided, the speech of the learned Lord alone would have induced him to oppose this Bill—it went too far for safety. The learned Lord was followed by his right hon. friend, the member for Inverness-shire, the second in that triumvirate of orators of which the other side of the House had just reason to boast on that occasion. Much as he had heard of the eloq ence of his right hon. friend, it never before was his good fortune to listen to him; and, deeply as he regretted the side to which he had lent the aid of his powerful talents, he might be permitted to say, that the eloquence of his right hon. friend, lighted up and glowing as it was with the warmth of a truly Scottish patriotism, exceeded even his high-raised expectations. But, though captivated by the eloquence, he could not go along with the argument. In common with the speeches of his eloquent associates, it left altogether untouched the real question before the House. It spoke of the defects of the present system of our Representation, in which all were agreed, and of the expediency of correcting them, which all would acknowledge; but he had listened in vain, to all those speeches, for the demonstration which it was incumbent on the Ministers to give, that the change proposed by this Bill was either just, or expedient, or practicable. His right hon. friend, in his vituperation of the present system, went a great deal too far—he said it was no Representation at all. Though he admitted that it was not a popular Representation, still he maintained that it was a Representation of property to a very great extent. His right hon. friend was the only county member for Scotland who did not represent fairly, and fully, and freely, the great mass of the property of these counties. He could not quarrel much even with the defects of a system which had been instrumental in returning so distinguished an ornament of this House to represent a county in Scotland. His right hon. friend argued that the system was wholly inoperative for good; because, before the period of the Union, the page of Scottish history was stained with violence and with blood. Did his right hon. friend refuse to see in it the hallowed record of 1064 national independence? Did he refuse to acknowledge that, if individual liberty be dear, the independent existence of a free and unconquered people was alike dear to it? If the annals of Scotland were the annals of violence and of blood, whom had they to thank for it?—that system of institutions under which they were enabled to bear up against the immensely preponderating power of England, or that ambitious, and grasping, and unscrupulous policy which, from the time of the Edwards and before, sought, by a constant aggression, and by keeping alive the seeds of internal discontent, to compass the unhallowed object of a nation's subjugation? He would not join in this sweeping condemnation of a system which had enabled them to treat with England at the Union on the footing of equal to equal. He would not join in the condemnation of that Parliament of the barons and freeholders of Scotland, whose last Act, as an independent Legislature, was the establishment of schools, at the expense of the landowners of Scotland, in every parish of that country; an Act which had been productive of more advantage to his country, than any Act of our united Parliament since the Union. His right hon. friend was followed by the right hon. Baronet, the member for Knaresborough, of whom he, as a Scotchman, was not only disposed, but bound, to speak in terms of unfeigned respect, because Scotland proudly pointed to him as an ornament and a boast. But when he saw the right hon. Baronet in his place, he did reckon confidently on his support. He knew, indeed, that he had been favourable to the English Reform Bill, but he knew also, that in the Bill before the House, he could point to clauses which involved injustice and disregard of the rights of individual property; and he thought that he might with confidence appeal from Philip Drunk to Philip Sober—that he might appeal from the senator to the historian—from the senator, intoxicated by seeing the party to which he had been long consistently and conscientiously attached, in the possession of power, and by the prospect of their being long secured in that possession by the operation of these Bills, to the historian, calmly reviewing the past in his closet, and detailing, with philosophical truth and precision, the testimony of history. Now he had told them, that the observance of justice was more important than the 1065 amelioration of any institution, especially where its practical results could not with much justice be complained of. He had told them, that many regulations might stand instead of one deed of rapine, and that a Legislature appointed to be the guardians of right, should try all means before they set the example of a great wrong. He had told them that Government never could render a greater service to the community than by setting, in times of excitement, the example, not merely of a just, but of an indulgent consideration of the rights of those who were obnoxious to popular indignation, and that, for the sake of such an example, much was to be borne—much even to be hazarded. He would endeavour to prove to the right hon. Baronet that such a case of sweeping injustice towards the proprietors of the superiorities of land in Scotland was involved in this Bill, and look with confidence for his powerful aid in the Committee to remedy that injustice. One word to the hon. member for the Linlithgow burghs. He should have left that hon. Member in the undisturbed enjoyment of the laurels which his eloquent abuses of all past Governments and all existing institutions must have won for him from both sides of the House, if he had not been pleased to make a direct allusion to him in the course of his speech when this subject was last before the House. The hon. Member's charge was, that, by a premature labour, he had given birth to a sort of abortion in the shape of a mistimed debate on this subject on alluding to what fell from him on the second reading of the English Reform Bill, which the hon. Member had characterized somewhat erroneously. His argument then was, that the unanimity said to prevail in favour of this measure had no real existence, and he instanced the class of the farmers in Scotland as opposed to it. This was denied from the opposite side of the House (at least so in the then imperfect state of his initiation he interpreted some of the sounds which proceeded from the opposite benches), and in support of his assertion, he, stated some of the many cases of disapproval which he had heard stated by farmers of every class. The hon. Member now asserted that they were favourable to it. To this unsupported assertion he would not yield his knowledge of facts. He would meet his assertion by counter-assertion; but would 1066 support his assertion by reason and by proof. The hon. Member proved himself a zealous partisan, but it was a zeal without discretion. He disobeyed orders. The learned Lord, with his usual skill, implored the House to avoid touching the details of the measure in this stage of the discussion, and to confine themselves to the general principle. He considered that request unreasonable, because the principle was involved in the details; but the hon. Member zealous and indiscreet not only entered into the details, but proved, by entering into some which were not in the Bill at all, that he had never read it—that he did not even know his text. The hon. Member entered into the question of the self-election of Magistrates and councils in the Scotch burghs, and the consequent alleged and very possible mismanagement of their corporation funds. His hon. friend put his finger on the real sore of the burghers; he exposed their real grievances, but he exposed a grievance for which this Bill provided no remedy; he put his finger on a sore which the doctors of the Constitution did not condescend to medicate. But this was the real grievance, this was a main cause of discontent in the burghs; and no measure would give permanent satisfaction in Scotland which did not remedy this abuse. The learned Lord knew this, and he was half tempted to think that, finding what a useful ally they had in the discontent of the burghs, his Majesty's Ministers had purposely left this as a nest-egg for some future occasion. The omission was one of his reasons for opposing this Bill; but the indiscretion of the hon. Member did not stop here; he called "spirits from the vasty deep," and, at the bidding of so mighty a magician, the spirits came. The hon. Member conjured up ghosts which he imagined had been for ever laid, and who must have been very unwelcome visitors to the learned Lord—the ghosts of the election riots of Scotland. He cited them to prove the intense anxiety of the people for the success of this Bill: of course, any blameable excesses on those occasions were owing to and got up by the Anti-reformers. This charge, if not distinctly made by his hon. friend, was certainly asserted on that side of the House on former occasions; and it reminded him of the defence set up by a celebrated Irish Dean, when arraigned on a charge which even the Reformers of Scotland, headed 1067 though they might be by his hon. friend, would allow to be one involving considerable violence—the crime charged was an attempt at rape. The defence ran thus—If virgins are ravished, it is their own choice;Why are they so wilful to struggle with men?If they would but be quiet, and submit without noise,Nor devil nor dean could ravish them then.In short, give the mob their own way and all would go right—resist them, and they would riot; therefore, you are the cause of the riots. This seemed to be the logic of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and he thought himself lucky in having escaped from Scotland before the learned Lord laid hold of him as a particeps criminis with such ruffians as those who endeavoured to throw the Lord Provost of Edinburgh over the bridge; those very dear and gentle friends of the right hon. the Lord Advocate for Scotland. He perfectly concurred with the hon. Members opposite, that if in any part of the empire the Legislature should deem it expedient to sanction a change in the existing system of the Representation, and, leaving out of view the practical working of the system, should endeavour to remove the defects which floated so glaringly on the surface, no part of it offered them more prominently to the eye of the most superficial observer than Scotland. True it was that no other country had, in the same short space of time, made a progress in improvement so wonderfully rapid—a development so astonishingly great, of all the sources of national wealth. Having broken down every barrier of feudal oppression, she had attained to the most perfect security of persons and of property; to the fullest religious toleration; to the purest and most unsuspected administration of justice. She found herself exempt from the existence of every privileged class, except such as had been by her Legislature maintained or created for the public good; and that the entrance to that class—the path to the highest honours and proudest distinctions of the State, were, in her, open and unimpeded to all industry and all talent. Her establishment for her National Church, her establishment for the national education; her arrangement for her national poor; her provincial Courts for the cheap and speedy administration of justice; her registries of property and deeds, and many 1068 other circumstances in her domestic and social arrangements, which he would not detain the House by enumerating, had not only attracted the praise and admiration of her neighbours, but, what was infinitely more important, had secured the almost universal approval of her own population. All this was true—it was allowed on all sides—but there were defects in the system of her Representation. He was willing to approach them for the purposes of applying a remedy; but he was bound to take care lest, by a rash and ill-considered legislation, he put in jeopardy the solid advantages, the many blessings which they enjoyed. The plan now submitted to the House appeared calculated to endanger the security of them all; and, anxious as he was to remove those defects, approving of so much of the principle of this Bill as went to giving an increased Representation to great towns, he was compelled, as a whole, to oppose it. Before he would agree to the second reading of any Bill, he must be able to find in it some one clause to which he could agree. In this Bill he found none such; and the object of a safe and rational Reform would be more easily attained by bringing in an entirely new measure, than by entering on this labyrinth of error and confusion. When he looked to the circumstances in our social condition to which he had already alluded, and in which real liberty consisted, rather than in the noise and turmoil and corruption of a merely popular election, to which hon. Gentlemen opposite would seem to limit it, he could not but think that an undue importance was attached to the mere machinery by which a Representative body was brought together. He wished to amend the defects—reconcile the theory to the practice; but he turned at the same time in a spirit of deep and humble gratitude to that over-ruling and gracious Providence, which, from causes apparently so inadequate to produce them, had educed results so beneficial in favour of a moral, religious, a Protestant people. He opposed this Bill on account of its extent. The change proposed in England was sufficiently sweeping, but there was a traceable connexion between the old system and the new; the rights previously existing in England had at least prepared the people in some sort for the change. In Scotland it was a real revolution; every practice and every principle had been alike departed from, and it 1069 were vain for them to argue From the known results of the old, to the probable working of the new system. He would limit himself to the system in the counties, and would endeavour shortly to state what that system had been, by which the House would be better able to judge of the extent of the proposed change. It was the duty of every tenant in capite of the Crown to attend in Parliament. By the Declaratory Act of 1425 they were called freeholders of the Crown. By the Act of 1427, the small Barons and free tenants were relieved from personal attendance, provided they sent two or more wise men for each shire, except Clackmannan and Kinross, which were only required to send one each. This Act, which was not much observed, was followed in 1457 by another, which relieved freeholders under a penalty of 20l. of the necessity of coming to Parliament, except Barons, or unless summoned specially by the King's officer. In 1503 all the Barons and freeholders whose estates were below a certain extent, 100 marks, were relieved if they sent procurators; and this enactment, was renewed and confirmed in 1587. When the right of choosing Commissioners was confined to freeholders possessed of a 40s. land resident within the shire, they were to meet yearly and choose their Commissioners, who were to be ready to attend Parliament when assembled; there was a slight change in 1661, which was further and finally altered in 1681, when the right was given to those who stood publicly, i. e. of the King infued in property or superiority, and were in actual possession of a 40s. land of old extent, or of lands liable in public burthens for 400l. of valued rent. Non-residence was no disqualification. In this long deduction, though alterations were occasionally made in the qualifications, they were all for the advantage of the freeholders; for it was reckoned a burthen for these small proprietors either to attend Parliament in person, or even to attend the Head Court to elect; and all the Acts were meant to dispense with this duty, and relieve from the fines for non-attendance, instead of being forfeitures of, or infringements on, the right of the freeholders to elect; and, since the Union, no change had been made in the qualification; and repeated transfers, and its supposed security as a substantive property, had, in fact, given a real and recognized value to that species of property which 1070 carried a right to vote in the counties. The change now proposed was a most thorough one; it not only disfranchised the freeholders by withdrawing from them, under reservation of those now on the roll, the right to elect, but, it ruined counties by communicating it to the proprietors of a house and land valued at 10l., and to tenants, according to the theory that property in land should be represented by county Members, while the commercial and manufacturing interests were represented by the Members for the towns. Besides this, superiorities were valuable estates. Their security as an investment was never questioned, and he would confidently ask the learned Lord, were, he in his place, who had doubtless been consulted in many cases where the transfer or security of such property was concerned, whether, where the transaction was a bonâ fide transaction, he ever insinuated a doubt of the legality of such sales. He at least, had never heard an answer to the objection that it was robbery to deprive the freeholders of a valuable inheritance without full and fair compensation—without compensation—because nothing was more simple and more easy than to fix, in this case, both the manner and amount of the compensation. The right hon. Baronet, the member for Tamworth, observed, and justly, that the question of compensation, where the disfranchised burghs were concerned, was one of extreme difficulty. In that observation he, fully concurred, and it was a consideration which should have induced no small hesitation in touching rights with which it was confessedly difficult fairly to deal. But he would undertake to satisfy the House that no such difficulty stood in the way of giving to the elective franchise in the Scotch counties the fullest extension, if it was to be confined to the real interest and real proprietors of land; and at the same time affording to the holders of superiorities a full and fair compensation for that property which, to effect a national object, it might be thought fit to resume. Slavery abolitionists, who were for emancipation without compensation, pleaded that, slavery was contrary to Christianity, and never could be legalized by any human law. But this could never be said of the advantages which had given a value to freehold qualifications; and he trusted that, in these boasted days of knowledge and regard for the rights of the people, the Legislature 1071 would not despise the example set them by their predecessors, at a time and on an occasion when strict justice was less to be expected than at present. In 1748 it was thought desirable to limit and infringe, for the public good, the powers and privileges of superiors of land, and to abolish that monstrous excrescence on our system of jurisprudence—the heritable jurisdictions; under which the Barons in their own Courts took cognizance of crimes committed on their own lands. But as time had legalized the exacting fees in these Courts, it never was contemplated to do them away without compensating the owners, and accordingly large sums were paid to many of them. It was wished, also, to abolish the tenures of wardholding, and to convert them into a feuholding, abolishing thereby certain species of vassalage, as hunting, casualties of marriage, and others which were held to be dangerous to the public peace. But though the country was still agitated by the recollection of the civil wars, and the Government had scarcely recovered from the alarm of the march to Derby, compensation was here also provided by the vassals to their superiors, not by the Government, but by the person benefitted, to him from whom the benefit was taken, for the abolition of these feudal rights. Why should the much more valuable privilege attached to a superiority be taken away, by its being communicated to others, without compensation? He could not but consider this as one of the most reckless parts of this ill-considered and ill-digested plan, and he was quite sure, that the natural sense of justice of the Reformers in Scotland would induce them even yet to prefer any method by which the property-rights of parties were respected. They knew that nothing was more common than for a man buying an estate there, to save his money, and exclude himself from the right of voting, by refusing to take and pay for the superiority; and they did not wish to see him get, by a side-wind of legislation, what he declined to pay for in the open market. He would mention one or two instances where great injustice would be done. It had happened that, where a purchaser declined to take the superiority, he had acquired the lands for 1,000l. less than was originally demanded, and the former proprietor, going again to the market, had sold the separate superiority for more than 1072 he was willing to take for it when attached to the land. Was the purchaser to be punished because he acted in conformity to the existing law? If the law was wrong, alter it, but in the spirit of justice. Again, it had happened—his right hon. friend opposite was aware of the fact—that, at a contested county election, a voter, finding himself obliged to choose between two friends, of whom one came recommended by supposed official patronage, and the other by the influence of the East-India Direction, and unwilling to offend either—both would have been offended had he voted for neither—had sold the superiority of his patrimonial estate, saved his friends, and put 1,000l. in his pocket. It was proposed to leave it there, and restore the right of voting to this prudent and calculating freeholder. This was less than justice to the more decided purchaser on that occasion. This should not be; and it would be quite easy to devise a method by which all this might be remedied. Let the Sheriff in each county be authorized to fix, by the verdict of a Jury, the average rate at which superiorities had sold, exclusive of feu-duties and fines for renewal, and that, before voting on a landed qualification—in such a case, it was of no consequence how low that qualification was fixed—every holder of the real property of land should be required and allowed to purchase, at the rate so fixed, the superiority of the land on which he claimed to vote. He would not, at present, pursue this subject further; but in the present measure a great injustice was involved, which, by a little consideration, it would be easy to avoid. Before going further, he would state to the House the objects he had in view in pressing this matter of compensation on its attention. In the first place, its recognition was essential to the maintenance of the security of property, the first principles of which, would be fatally shaken should these superiorities be rendered valueless by an act of legislation proceeding on mere expediency; and, in the next place, by adhering to that ancient and tried principle, that none but the vassals of the Crown should elect or be elected in the counties, which principle would be maintained by the system of compensation. He would propose to preserve the landed interest of Scotland from being laid prostrate beneath the favoured interests of the lowest class of the inhabitants. While he thus advocated the principle of compensation, he had, no personal 1073 interest in superiorities, either to protect or to save. The possessor of estates under strict entail, he could only exercise one vote in the counties with which he was connected; and, in one of these counties, the proposed Bill would invest him with rights from which he was at present excluded. He was not, therefore, liable to any charge of selfishness in urging this matter. He wished also to get rid of that mischievous counteraction to the power of the 10l. householder, which the Bill proposed to create, by attaching votes to leases of 50l.; if efficient at all against the 10l. voters, this provision would altogether annihilate the interests of the middling proprietors in favour of the great aristocracy. He did not overstate the fact when he said, that the vast majority of that most respectable and intelligent class, the great farmers of Scotland, were opposed to the boon which it was proposed to confer on them; and this aversion was fully shared by the smaller tenants, who occupied lands of lower value than those to which it was proposed to attach this franchise. He had, on a former occasion, stated to the House the reason of their objections. The larger tenants considered it as subversive of their personal independence, destructive of the good understanding subsisting between them and their landlords, and ruinous to the best interests of agriculture, from its tendency to induce landlords to cut down the larger and more beneficial farms to the required standard. No country in a similar period had ever made the same advances in agricultural improvement as Scotland, and she was mainly indebted for them to the enterprising public spirit of her great farmers, whose capital had enabled them to hazard experiments rarely at first beneficial in a pecuniary point of view to those who ventured on them. He could not, therefore, but view with great alarm the introduction of a system calculated to annihilate them as a class. And let no one tell him that the individual interest of the proprietors would prevent such results. The system of forming these electoral squares had already commenced, and, if the mere scent of the carcass had given rise to such eagerness, what might not be expected from the real taste of the blood? It was also very possible that a proprietor who had once been disappointed in being able to command the votes of his tenants, might decline in future granting leases at all; and thus a very efficient 1074 counteraction for many of the alleged evils of the entail-laws would at once be put to hazard. The smaller farmers, again, were averse to a system which they not unnaturally considered likely to lead to their ejection as principal tenants, and to the introduction of that curse of Ireland, the system of middle-men, holding with a power of sub-let as many of these small farms as might club up to the proposed amount. Every English gentleman who had been attracted by the love of scenery, or the love of sport, to visit the mountainous districts of Scotland, knew that many of the small farms were so separated from each other, that, to be advantageously occupied, they must each be held by a separate family. The independent state of these smaller farms this Bill proposed to annihilate. They must either be degraded into the class of subtenants—and if any Gentleman had looked as closely to the operation of that system as he himself had done, he must know that they were a class subject to great hardship and oppression—or turned adrift to swell the number of labourers on the roads; and the little patches of cultivation from which they would be ejected would be allowed to run into the waste of sheep-walks. The sportsmen of the House would join him in endeavouring to avert this last consummation, when he told them that the grouse covies were always strongest and most numerous in the neighbourhood of what, in the Highlands, was called par excellence, "the land:" and when they considered that the happiness and independence of a numerous class was concerned, whose willing and generous hospitality they must often have experienced. He appealed to them, therefore, as philanthropists desirous of producing and perpetuating the greatest amount of happiness; and he appealed to them as Englishmen, who were not accustomed to prove themselves ungrateful for obligations received from any quarter, however humble; he entreated them to pause before they sanctioned a measure which was to annihilate this class. There was yet another serious evil which would follow this system of attaching votes to leases in Scotland. The practice of stipulating in leases for certain services of men and horses, and certain payments in kind, was yet very usual in that country. To secure the vote of the freeman he was creating, the landlord would stipulate for an excess of those services 1075 and train pageants, and the tenant would be given to understand that, as long as all went right at the elections, they would be only partially exacted. But then came the moment of excitement; a demagogue schoolmaster, or a son settled as a Writer at the nearest market-town, told them what a glorious thing it would be to shew themselves men—that a patriotic Sovereign and a united Ministry were determined to carry a great measure which would banish the exciseman, and all but put an extinguisher on rents; and that the laird, forsooth, pretended to think for himself, and oppose the Minister. The vote was given against him; the services were exacted; the Writer appealed to to find, according to promise, a flaw in the missive, failed to satisfy the Sheriff that a mutual contract was binding only on one of the parties, and for the remainder of the nineteen years, seeds of discord and distrust were sown, springing up into acts of oppression and resistance, and ripening into the bitter fruits of future discontent, and the demand for further innovation. And this state of things they would substitute for that general feeling of mutual kindliness and goodwill, which, without fear of contradiction, he would aver to be almost universal between the landlords and tenants of Scotland. And why was this mischievous enactment to be pressed on them? Who called for it? What solitary petition from what solitary tenant had been laid on the Table of that House, to claim for the signer the preeminence in folly of assenting to the proposals of his Majesty's Government in this respect? The tenants were to a man opposed to it; but had the landlords called for it? The petitions presented to the House from an overwhelming majority of them sufficiently answered in the negative; they thought not of it with tolerance till this tinkering legislation threatened to overpower them with the votes of the 10l. householder—a class who had scarcely one single secondary and surface interest in common with the landlord and the farmer; secondary, because their real interests were and must be essentially the same; but the reason of the unity lay deeper than in seasons of excitement they either would or could stop to examine. Therefore this Bill would introduce a bad and vicious county qualification in the first instance, and then Ministers were obliged to counteract this evil of their own 1076 creation by another almost as objectionable. This was what he called a tinkering Legislature. He could have sworn it was the fancy of a lawyer, because it cut out intermediate work for them; but it must have been the invention of a Writer, and not of an advocate, for advocates were too nearly connected with the land, and too high-minded and too intelligent to have originated any such mischievous absurdity. It was the saying of a distinguished man, that he had seen various systems of government—monarchies, aristocracies, democracies, mixed forms—but that Scotland was the only instance of a writerocracy he had ever met with. He implored the House to save them from the strengthened and extended influence which by this Bill would be given to a class of persons already too powerful. The theory, as well as the practice of the Constitution, required that the county Members should represent the landed interest, while the commercial and manufacturing interests should find their Representatives in the burgh Members. If, then, it was thought right to invest every inhabitant of a 10l. house in the numerous villages with the elective franchise, the theory and practice of the Constitution required that they should have voted with the towns. The House should know that the occupiers of these houses were in no respect, as in England, under the influence of the proprietors of the soil; because the houses were not, as here, built on leases terminable at short periods, but either on perpetual feus, or for a very long term, say ninety-nine years; and could this ex post facto injustice have been foreseen, the great majority of these feus never would have been granted, because proprietors rarely would have consented to raising up a power against themselves, without retaining some means of influencing its action, or specifying some period at which they might reasonably hope to resume their rights. Withdrawn as they thus were, by the use and practice of Scotland, from any influence of their landlords, they should, if included among the voters at all, have been included among those of the towns. Bat he denied that it was necessary or expedient that they should share in the direct Representation at all, because they did, in fact, consist of the same class of persons as the lower rate of voters in the burghs; and it was neither necessary for the protection of their interests, or the elevation of their characters, or the securing 1077 of their rights, or the efficient formation of this House, that all of any class should be called to contribute directly to its formation. That a greater number of them should be called to contribute to it than were at present called, he readily admitted. There were several important and thriving towns, such as Falkirk, and Alloa, and Peterhead, which he desired to see included in the districts of the burghs, to replace those larger cities which he should gladly see invested with the right of a direct and separate Representation; and there were many whose claims, to say the least of them, were preferable to those of Gateshead. Perth had been already considered; but there were other important towns well entitled to consideration,—of these he would mention Inverness, the capital of the Highlands, the only town in the largest county, save one, in Britain, the centre of a great district, rising into increasing importance as the great port of the Caledonian canal, and containing a population of from 12,000 to 14,000 souls; and the House should bear in mind, that this amount of population had a much greater relative value in an extensive and thinly-peopled district, than in the more densely-peopled manufacturing counties of England. He should wish to see a greater number of Scottish towns included in the districts, and a larger proportion of the lower classes of residents in towns admitted to the enjoyments of the elective franchise. Had he been called on to create a new system of Representation for Scotland, he should have included a much larger number of her thriving, though not very populous towns, in the districts of burghs, and he should have adopted that variety in the elective franchise which had worked with such advantage in England. Instead of that uniform 10l. qualification, he would have given to some of the new burghs an almost universal suffrage; he would have made them, in short, potwallopers. The 10l. qualification was a sort of two-edged sword; it presented all the disadvantages of universal suffrage against property, and all the injustice of a mere property qualification against the mass of the population below it. It proceeded on this great fallacy in the first instance—that legislation was conversant with the interests of property alone. Was it not conversant with other and as important interests? Were there not life, and liberty, and the interests of religion common to all, and 1078 dearer to the Christian than life itself? When at the poll, one vote was as good as another; and as the mass of votes called to protect the three last-named interests would, on a principle of universal suffrage, overpower the votes of those interested to preserve also the additional interests of property, so he would only admit such a just proportion of the first as might furnish a just protection to the rights of life, and liberty, and religion. The 10l. qualification excluded them, at least in theory, altogether. By the admission of a much greater number of the less considerable towns to the districts of burghs, and on a variety of elective franchise, they might have tried a great experiment on a safe scale. But what he contended was, that by spreading that elective franchise over every village and hamlet of the country, they would merely spread a spirit of electioneering. They would substitute for the useful and advantageous pursuits of steady industry, the useless fascinations of political importance; and, for the quiet sentiments of a contented patriotism, the heart-burning and the irritation of the spirit of party. He would not trespass on the Committee by entering, at present, on the consideration of the Scottish burgh Representation. The present system was radically bad, and utterly indefensible; and it was the more easily ameliorated, because they had but to revert to their original constitution, and because no question of compensation for any abstracted or assumed rights had there to be considered. The change proposed, however, in the Bill before the House, while it did away with that must objectionable system of the self-election of the magistrates and council, involved the virtual disfranchisement of all the smaller burghs; and that he should certainly, as instructed by his constituents, oppose. But a more fitting time would offer itself for his doing so when the Bill went to a Committee. Neither would he detain the House by entering into the consideration of the proposed union of counties; it might be sufficient to state that, in every instance, they were themselves opposed to it. And again, he must, in particular, call the attention of the Government to the case of crying injustice, still, as it would seem, reserved for the county of Elgin. Whether his Majesty's Government might consider any of the suggestions he had taken the liberty of making as deserving of their 1079 consideration—whether they might not think it desirable to make some concessions to the almost universal declaration of the landed proprietors of Scotland against this Bill, he knew not; but an adherence to the Bill as it stood, in opposition to such declaration, would be poorly justified by telling the House that the urgent demands of the people for Reform left neither the time nor the power necessary for considering what that Reform should be; and the people of Scotland would not consider this a sufficient justification for their having consigned the Treaty of Union, both in its letter and its spirit, to that receptacle of old almanacs in Downing-street, to which, before introducing these Bills for Reform, they appeared to have, for a time, consigned all the lessons of experience and all the instructions of history. One, and only one, more reason he would state, which operated strongly in determining him to oppose this Bill. He could not but consider it as part and parcel of that greater measure, which, having received the sanction of a majority of that House, had been sent up to the other House with such loud and triumphant acclamation. He opposed that measure in every one of its stages. He would not call it revolutionary, but he would say that it erected a platform on which might be placed that engine which might batter to the ground the venerable fabric of the Constitution. He had heard that fabric compared to a stately and well-proportioned column, which, founded on the rock, resisted alike the force of tempest and of time; the rock on which it was founded being the affections of the people; its base, the people themselves; its well-proportioned shaft, a high-minded, an upright, and independent aristocracy; its capital, a kingly Crown. He feared lest, by the operation of this Bill, they might render the pillar of the desert a more meet comparison—its base, the unproductive and ever-moving sand; its shaft, the same worthless material raised into undue elevation; its capital, if indeed, it had one, that same barren sand, borne up by the struggle of contending atoms to a still more unnatural height, till, dissipated and scattered through the dark fields of the loaded air, it was again precipitated and cast down to all the lowness of its original insignificance. These Bills would never pass; with something of that second-sight which still lingered among his native 1080 hills, he predicted that it would never become a law. The Peers of England would do their duty. To their more impartial and less-excited tribunal he committed it; and, confident of the result, he would exclaim, "May God prosper the right."
§ Sir Michael Shaw Stewart
said, although he very much dissented from the conclusion to which the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had come, with respect to the operation of this Bill, still he should not presume to occupy the time of the House on this occasion, by attempting to follow the hon. Gentleman through his observations, which, by the way, almost entirely related to the details of the measure, because he trusted that the House would rest its opinion upon the great leading principle of this Bill, upon the observations of the learned Lord Advocate, and upon his own deliberate conclusion; and the inferior arguments which had been advanced, either by his hon. friend, or by other hon. Gentlemen, had been set at rest by his noble friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the noble Lord, the Paymaster of his Majesty's Forces. A further opportunity, the House would recollect, would be afforded for the consideration of the details of this measure. He would say a very few words in reference to the great importance of this measure, not only as to that part of the kingdom of which he had the honour to be a Representative, but to the country at large. He should give his support to this measure, reserving to himself the full privilege of making any observations, or of supporting any amendments in its details in the course of its progress through the Committee, which might seem to him to be beneficial; and he supported this measure, not only in conformity with the almost unanimous feeling in its favour which existed throughout that part of Scotland with which he was most conversant, but also from feeling as he did that the present system of popular Representation in Scotland was utterly inadequate. He could not but feel, whatever the probable effects of this Bill might be in the eyes of his hon. friend, that it would be but an act of common justice to Scotland. It was almost ridiculous to compare the Scotland of 1706, to the Scotland of 1831, on account of the immense increase which had taken place in its population, and in its national prosperity: the population of Scotland at the time of the Union did not exceed 1081 1,200,000; it was now upwards of 2,000,000; her annual rent, which was then somewhat less than 60,000l., was now 250,000l.; and yet, with a population exceeding 2,000,000, and with a great variety of wealthy and important interests to be represented, the number of qualified electors did not exceed 145. It was needless to make one single remark on this state of things; these were defects in the Representation of Scotland which must at once strike any one who was acquainted with the facts. It was now quite obvious, whatever might be the opinion of hon. Members, that the system which existed in Scotland was one of great injustice, and that it was one which could be no longer upheld. He would state, whatever unpopularity the assertion might bring upon himself, that he supported this measure, not as a step to any ulterior proceedings, but as a final measure—final for the present day and generation. There were some who had given this measure a sort of sullen support, because they thought it opened the way to ulterior changes. If such were their intention, he should hereafter resist any such attempt, in the same manner as he would now support this important change. This measure he hoped his Majesty's Ministers would make a final one. Attempts might hereafter be made to urge them forward; but he trusted that here they would take their constitutional stand. They had adopted a just and liberal measure, and one which would be conducive to the interests of the country; and, having done so, they ought not to be induced to proceed further. He would simply add, that he should go into Committee on this Bill with a most sincere desire to do that which, under the peculiar circumstances of the case, he considered essential for the happiness, peace, and welfare of the country.
§ Mr. Hunt
said, as reference had been made to some observations of his the other night, relative to the Lord Advocate's speech, and as great misrepresentation had gone forth to the public, he was desirous of saying one word in explanation. On that occasion he congratulated the learned Lord Advocate on his becoming so sincere a Radical. He perfectly concurred in all that the noble Lord said or that occasion: the only thing he complained of was, that he had not dealt quite fairly with those advocates of his, during the election in Scotland. Now, how was this stated to the public by that oracle of 1082 the Whig Administration—The Times newspaper? Why it told one of the most naked—one of the most barefaced and premeditated falsehoods that ever even that false paper gave utterance to—"Mr. Hunt found fault with the Lord Advocate's speech as being too Radical." This was a most barefaced falsehood.
§ Mr. Walter Campbell
said, he was most sorry to hear the hon. Gentleman who spoke last but two make an attack upon the learned Lord Advocate of Scotland in his absence; and as that learned Lord was not in his place, he should take the liberty, in the first place, of answering an observation of the hon. Gentleman's, with respect to the number of Members which were given to Scotland at the time of the Union. The circumstances of that country had undergone as complete a change since that period as could well be conceived. Scotland was then in a state of the greatest poverty: so much so, indeed, that her own Representatives did not pay their own expenses, but they were actually paid by those who sent them to the House. In those days an hon. Gentleman could not throw himself into a coach, and in eight and forty hours be in that House, or in Scotland, as the case might be. Gentlemen in those days either rode on horseback, or, if they used a coach at all, they thrust themselves into a huge, clumsy, leathern conveyance, which reached London in about six weeks. No wonder, then, that the boroughs or towns were not very anxious to sustain the expense of sending Members to Parliament: this, no doubt, was one of the reasons why the numbers were so small. They had now obtained for their large towns that which they desired; and so far from the increase being too great, it was too small when compared with the circumstances of the country. An observation fell from the hon. Member relative to the abolition of Scotch jurisdiction, which was a point of very great importance. If the hon. Member had recollected the enormous benefit which the country derived from putting down those jurisdictions, and the various circumstances attending that proceeding, he would not have considered the course which was now about to be pursued so very unjust. It would not be supposed that he would speak with disrespect of any individuals, but every authority on the subject to which he had referred coincided in his opinion of the necessity of abolishing those jurisdictions. It had been already observed, 1083 that no country had increased in prosperity with such amazing rapidity as Scotland; and if at the time of the Union the Government of that day had had the same inducement for increasing the Representation of Scotland as that which now presented itself, instead of Scotland treading fast on the heels of this country, she would have far surpassed it. This was not an exaggerated caricature, but a true picture. The hon. Member had talked about compensation. On the occasion to which he had adverted, many individuals did not receive any. In one instance, in particular, in which an individual in a very high station, a Judge, never would receive any compensation. He trusted that at this period no person, however humble, would consent to receive any. Having made these few remarks, in answer to the hon. Gentleman, he would only say, as far as his support went, this measure should receive it.
§ Mr. Cumming Bruce
hoped, that what had fallen from the hon. member for Ayrshire—whose paternal ancestor, by the bye, received 40,000l. for the loss of his jurisdiction—would not be taken up in such a shape as to induce that highly-respectable and talented individual, the Lord Advocate, to suppose that he made any observations in the slightest degree disrespectful to him, in his absence.
regretted very much the absence of the Lord Advocate and the indisposition which was the cause of that absence; but, in taking part in this discussion, he should not be precluded from following the example of his hon. friend, in noticing the arguments of the learned Lord; and the more especially as his speech was calculated to make an impression upon the House—and, on that account, ought not to be passed by. In listening to that speech with the pleasure generally derived from his eloquence, he had heard, with considerable uneasiness, the description of the present state of the county constituency of Scotland, knowing that the picture which the learned Lord drew, was calculated to convey to those who heard it—an impression very dissimilar from the real state of that constituency. On a former evening, the right hon. member for Tamworth quoted the Trial by Jury, to illustrate the discrepancy often found in our institutions, betwixt theory and practice; and he asked, if a foreigner coming into this country, unacquainted with our 1084 customs and business, would not, on hearing a Jury trial described, conclude that it was a very absurd institution; and yet, the right hon. Gentleman proved that the foreigner would form a false and inadequate conception of the practical working of a valuable institution. So it was with the system of the elective franchise in Scotland: it might have its defects, and be liable to objections; but, in practice, it worked in a very different manner from that described by the Lord Advocate. The learned Lord represented to the House, that the constituency of Scotland was not connected with the landed property, and possessed the power of returning Members to Parliament, to the utter exclusion of the influence of landed property. Any one acquainted with the constituency of Scotland, must be aware that it does not consist, as the learned Lord stated, of persons unconnected with the landed property of the country. They might not, in all cases, represent the local interests of the place where they vote, but, as a body, they must be regarded as representing the interests of the country generally. In almost every county, the voters, if not actually possessed of estates, were generally the near connexions of proprietors. Nothing, therefore, could be more exaggerated than the case supposed by the learned Lord, of a body of strangers acquiring a majority of superiority votes in a county, and electing the Member to the exclusion of the real owners of the land. The fact was, that unless the holder of a mere vote, without any more substantial interest, be either resident in the county, or peculiarly interested in it, he never cares long to retain a property which is so unproductive, so troublesome, and so expensive; and the case figured by the learned Lord, not only never had occurred, but nothing at all approaching to it was ever likely to occur. In a few counties, from particular circumstances, the alienation of a portion of the constituency from the land was greater than in others, but that was not a general case. In the county which he represented there was not a single freeholder, on a roll of at least fifty, who was not either the proprietor of a considerable estate in the county, or the son or brother of a proprietor. But, in Scotland, the complaint against the votes on bare superiorities had never been, that they were the means of bringing in a set of strangers on the county, to the exclusion 1085 of the real landholders; but, on the contrary, that they were calculated to extend inordinately, the power of a few great proprietors. But this complaint, though well founded to a certain extent, was not entitled to so much weight as would, at first sight, appear. The evil had its limits; for these votes were all localized on certain properties, at a high qualification, and they were made at great expense and sacrifice. Besides, the system had an adjusting principle, which frequently corrected its deficiencies. Of this fact, several examples might be mentioned, and, particularly, some of the cases specially referred to by the learned Lord. He had brought forward, most prominently, the counties of Argyle and Lanark as examples of an unusual number of mere superiority voters, but had he stated the circumstances which had occasioned so great an increase of such votes in these counties as had recently taken place in them, he would have afforded a very material explanation to the House. The case of Lanarkshire was one of peculiar importance, as illustrative of the working of this system. In that county, owing to various causes, violent contests had frequently taken place. The principal cause, however, was this—a nobleman of great wealth, possessing extensive estates in that county, was ambitious of holding the chief influence in returning the Member to Parliament; but bringing forward a candidate who was not popular with the electors, he found it necessary, in order to carry his point, to create a vast number of these superiority voters. This, however, had the effect of rousing the independent spirit of the resident country gentlemen; and these, in order to resist what they considered an unconstitutional interference on the part of a Peer with their rights and privileges, combined to split the votes on their estates, and thus succeeded in returning his hon. friend, who now represented the county; and who, coming forward on the independent interest, was opposed to that of the noble Duke he had alluded to. But his election was brought about, not by the mere power of superiority votes, for he had among his supporters a majority of the real proprietors of the land. This, then, was the reason why the proportion of such votes was so unusually great in Lanarkshire. But, even in this instance, where the system complained of prevailed to the greatest extent, it was obvious that the influence of the principal landholders 1086 was not excluded. Quite the contrary: the effect of it really was, to give, in a limited degree, a greater influence to the larger proprietors than was possessed by the smaller—which influence, without it, they could not have. He had to complain of the unfair representations of the learned Lord, when he brought forward an election in the county of Bute, and gave it as an illustration of the county elections of Scotland. He had selected a remote county, the smallest in the kingdom, belonging, almost entirely, in property, to a single nobleman; and he had taken the occasion of an uncontested election. He might just as well have quoted an election at Gatton as a specimen of an election at Sonthwark or Guildford, or any other borough in the county of Surrey. Some of the observations made by the learned Lord on the national character of the Scottish people were certainly not very complimentary, and not altogether just or fair. Perhaps they might not be very close to the present argument, and it might appear to be digressing from it, were he to follow him through them. But if he ventured to do so, he hoped to meet with the indulgence of the House; for, as a Scotchman, he could not allow the national character of his countrymen to be unfairly dealt with, and not attempt to say something in reply. The learned Lord represented the general character of the Scotch as that of a people who were indifferent to civil rights, and, as a proof of his proposition, he adduced the fact, that England had achieved the establishment of many of her free institutions long before the union of the two kingdoms, prior to which period Scotland had none. When he stated this, he should have accompanied it with a qualification. He should have stated the circumstances of Scotland at the time; and when he asserted that its inhabitants were indifferent to civil rights, compared with the people of England, he should have assigned the reasons for the fact, he should have pointed out this—that the history of Scotland was not so far advanced. In every nation, there was, first, a struggle for independence; next, for the establishment of a strong and lasting form of government. It was not till these were obtained that any thing in the shape of civil rights could be settled. Till the time of the Union of the Crowns, Scotland was more or less engaged in a struggle to establish her independence; and the frequent 1087 minorities of her Sovereigns prevented her from ever enjoying a strong Government. After that Union, when she had no longer to struggle for national independence, she manifested no indifference towards civil rights, nor was she backward in maintaining them. It was well known, that, from the Union of the Crowns to the Union of the Kingdoms, Scotland was engaged in a fierce and sanguinary struggle; "but then," said the learned Lord, "that was not a struggle for civil liberty: it was of quite a different character—it was for religion; and he would admit, that for their religion, the Scottish people struggled to the death." When the learned Lord admitted this, he had admitted everything. He would ask, what was the great and primary object that stimulated resistance in England, and kept alive the spirit of it there? Was it not religious zeal. They did not hunt an abstract but unreal phantom of civil liberty, such as caused the spirit of disturbance in France, which had now lasted for forty years, and where, as yet, the object was unattained, and perhaps ever would be. It was religious zeal that gave life and energy to the struggles in England; it was this that inspired the English people with fortitude to meet danger in the field, and death upon the scaffold. Their zeal might frequently be blind and misdirected; their religion might be clouded by error and deformed by fanaticism; but yet, defective and fanatical as it was, it was still the main-spring of all their actions; and in this lay the prominent distinction betwixt the character of the struggles in England and those in France. The same spirit might be traced through every stage of the civil wars, but it shone forth with peculiar lustre at the Revolution. Had James 2nd endeavoured merely to subvert the free institutions of his country, he might possibly have succeeded; and, indeed, there were many of them dormant during the reign of his predecessor. But it was his zeal for the Roman Catholic religion which cost him his Crown. This was the weight that pulled him down. Had he not laboured to establish Popery within these realms, he might have sat upon the Throne of England to his dying day. Every one who was intimately acquainted with the real character of our national struggles, must be aware of this fact—that the chief and primary objects aimed at, was, first, the establishment of liberty of conscience, and 1088 then the predominance of the true Protestant religion. Civil rights were sought for, merely as the means of attaining and securing these; and it pleased God, when he blessed the efforts of the nation for the attainment of the one, to add to it the other also. In Scotland, then, the character of the national struggles was in every respect similar. During the dark and dismal period which there preceded the Revolution, the national energies did seem quite absorbed in the cause of religion. But when the nation attained their favourite object, did they make no advance in maturing their civil rights? Did the Convention of Estates, when they stipulated for the establishment of Presbytery, secure for their country nothing else? It was a libel upon them to suppose that they were negligent of these. To say nothing of other improvements, he might remind the House of the step gained by the Scottish Parliament in the removal of the institution of the Lords of the Articles—that incubus upon all their deliberations, which utterly precluded and shut them out from the privilege of discussion. The right hon. member for Knaresborough had stated, that immediately previous to the union of the kingdoms, the Parliament of Scotland was constituted very nearly as it was at present. He was surprised that this material difference should have escaped that right hon. Gentleman's accurate historical knowledge—that in the Scotch Parliament the Peers and Commons sat in the same Chamber. While that was the case, how was it possible for the people to maintain their rights, or for the deliberations of their Representatives to be free? If Scotland, therefore, in spite of her struggles for freedom, did not make the same progress that England did, it was not owing to any defect in the natural character of her inhabitants, or to their want of zeal for liberty, and still less to her Representatives in Parliament, who were scarcely distinguished, then, as a separate body. And again, from the time of the Union, down to 1745, the nation might still be said to have been engaged in a struggle for the succession to the Crown. The country was divided betwixt the adherents of the House of Hanover and those of the House of Stuart. Scotland was looked upon as the stronghold of Jacobitism; and as such the two first Monarchs of the Brunswick race treated it with neglect, if not with oppression. He 1089 was somewhat surprised to hear the hon. member for Argyle allude to some of the Courts of that period, in which persons of his name bore rather a conspicuous part; for he thought that the remembrance of these had better have been buried in oblivion. To such oppressions the Scottish nation did not submit with patience. But their resistance was exhibited in the manner which was, perhaps, the most natural, a series of attempts to bring back the exiled family, from whom they expected more grace and favour. The hopes of the Stuarts were extinguished in 1745, after which Scotland was tranquil, and her patriots were more free to use their exertions in behalf of their country. From that time the Scotch Members had done their duty in that House. Vague complaints in respect to their assiduity and effectiveness were common enough amongst those who knew little of the toil they underwent, and the sacrifices they frequently made. But they who knew best the extent of their exertions were ever ready to do them justice. The hon. member for Kirkcudbright admitted their assiduity, and their fitness for business, but quarrelled with their lack of independence. "I should like," he said, "to see them more independent:"—independent of whom?—of the King's Government? His hon. friend, the member for Inverness, had given the best answer to this complaint. "Look," he said, "to the present roll of Scotch Members, and you will find the full half of them habitually opposed to the present Ministry." Did this argue any deficiency of independence? So had it been, at all times, more or less. In fact, they followed the feelings of the mass of men of property in Scotland. If, during the late war, a majority of them supported the Administration of Mr. Pitt and his successors, they did nothing more than act in unison with the well-known sentiments of, at least, the landholders of Scotland. In England there was a corresponding feeling, and they would find, that the divisions amongst the English county Members were in pretty nearly the same proportion as in Scotland. The hon. member for Kirkcudbright, repeating the same complaint, had run over a number of divisions of that House, from a tolerably remote period, by which it appeared that the Scotch Members, with a few exceptions, supported the Minister of the day. But the cases he had quoted were all nearly of the same character. 1090 They were not the usual divisions betwixt the court and country parties, but questions in which the principles of government were more or less involved; and the Scotch Members were found strongest on the conservative side. This was just as might have been expected, without questioning their independence. They represented, as had always been admitted, property, rather than numbers; and therefore they were not readily induced to countenance speculation or change. The complaint, then, of their not being sufficiently independent of the Government of the day was not well founded. But there was another independence—independence of their constituents—which surely the honorable Member could not mean. But this reminded him of an observation of the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, upon what fell from his right hon. friend, the member for Perthshire. When that, right hon. Gentleman talked of his being an independent Member, the noble Lord said, "Yes, he may be an independent Member, but I should like to see him more dependent; I should like to see him have constituents to depend upon." He would not suppose that the noble Lord could intend to misrepresent the meaning of his right hon. friend, but he seemed greatly to have misapprehended it. The right hon. Gentleman never could have used the term in the sense taken up by the noble Lord, seeing that he represented the largest and most important county of Scotland, with the largest roll of freeholders, and was, therefore, sent to that House by an independent, wealthy, a superior, and a formidable body of constituents. What he understood him to mean was this: that the freeholders of Perthshire, approving of his political opinions, but placing full confidence, as they well might, in his experience as a Statesman, and his wisdom in deliberation, had left him free and independent in his particular votes; and in this, their constitutional conduct, they presented an edifying contrast to the conduct of some more numerous constituencies, which ought never to be placed on a par with them in point of wisdom and intelligence. Almost all the Gentlemen on the opposite side seemed to have assumed, that popular elections were a positive blessing to those places by which they were already possessed, and one which should be urgently demanded by those which had them not. By popular elections, he meant elections 1091 among a numerous constituency, in great towns and populous places, consisting chiefly of the lower orders, or such classes as were to be introduced by the clause in this Bill conferring the franchise on the 10l. householders. To doubt such a proposition in the present times might, perhaps, appear bold and unfashionable. None was more ready to admit than himself the advantage of a considerable infusion of popularity into the representative body. It was this which conferred on the British Parliament its varied character, and enabled it to act in unison and harmony with the various feelings of all classes of the people; but this might be the case, and yet the peace and prosperity of the places where such elections were carried on might not be promoted by such elections. Had the learned Lord ever paused to consider what would be the effect of this popular mode of election in a moral point of view? All the uproar, riot, dissipation, corruption, and confusion—perhaps, in some instances, the bloodshed—which might result from it, would not, in his opinion, be attended with any advantage equal to compensate for the mischiefs to which it would give rise. In Edinburgh or Glasgow, for example, where such scenes were as yet happily unknown, there was now to be a constituency of about 12,000 voters, most of whom belonged to a low grade of society; and that man undertook a very fearful responsibility in a moral and Christian point of view, who introduced a measure conferring political power on such a body, and introducing among them, for the first time, such scenes as he had alluded to. Very opprobrious epithets had been applied, both in the House and elsewhere, and by persons who ought to have been more guarded and circumspect in their language, to the constituency of Scotland and its representative body. In the slang of the day, and in not very good taste, its boroughs had been denominated "the rotten boroughs," and its counties "the still more rotten counties of Scotland." These were indefinite terms, and might amount to very effective declamation; but they were nothing more than mere general assertions and could only be met by general assertions. He asserted that they were neither rotten boroughs nor rotten counties, in the offensive sense in which the term "rotten" was used. When the right hon. member for Knaresborough, and the noble Lord the Chancellor of the 1092 Exchequer, told them that Scotland was not, nor ever had been, represented, that assertion was mere declamation. There were but three counties in Scotland, or four at most, where the property of individuals was so predominant as to render them nomination counties. One of these, the county of Nairne, was represented for a considerable time by the right hon. member for Knaresborough himself. If he, therefore, deduced his inference, regarding the character of the Scottish constituency from his personal experience, he might be excused from making the observation. But what could be said for another right hon. Gentleman, whom he heard repeat the obnoxious assertion, in terms still stronger—and that, too, in a speech in which he was recommending moderation in debate? When he heard the right hon. President of the Board of Control join in this kind of declamation, he felt that rising within him, which almost tempted him to exclaim "Et tu, Brute!" When he reflected how long he (the right hon. President of the Board of Control) had been returned to that House by the independent freeholders of the large county of Inverness—when he thought of the many votes which, as their Member, he had given in support of that conservative cause to which he was now opposed—when he remembered his intimate political connection with those Statesmen who taught them to value and appreciate as they deserved their national institutions as they were now constituted, he was astonished, and could hardly believe that he had heard him correctly. In directing their attention to the existing Representation of Scotland, they must distinguish betwixt the boroughs and the counties. The present system of royal boroughs he had never admired. The want of popular election was not its prominent defect, for in many of the boroughs the annual election of a portion of the Town Council rendered them no strangers to popular elections, and to all the riot and confusion attendant upon them. But, though perfectly alive to the defects of the system, he had always found it very difficult to devise a remedy. No plan of improvement that had ever yet been seriously proposed had altogether met with his approval; and he was not at all prepared to admit, that the provisions of this Bill afforded an adequate remedy. It retained many of the ancient evils of the system, and introduced some new ones peculiar to 1093 itself. But he would reserve his observations upon these details for another opportunity, if such should ever be afforded to them. As the Representation of the counties had been chiefly spoken of, it was to that he would now advert; and he must begin by remarking, that the present system was essentially a Representation of the landed interests of Scotland. The number of the voters might not be numerous, but they were in all cases highly respectable and intelligent. Indeed, there was not, in the whole British empire, a more independent and incorruptible body of electors than the county freeholders of Scotland. That the present system might be greatly extended; that its basis might be widened; that it might be brought down to include a less opulent, but still an independent class of proprietors; and that it might be made to embrace all the landed property in the kingdom, by whatever tenure it might be held; he was prepared to admit. The practical advantages of such an extension might be problematical, and had often been exaggerated; but he would not be the person to resist it. He agreed with the hon. and learned member for Kirkcudbright, that, so long as landed property was the basis, nearly the same Members would be returned as at present, at least, the result ought to be nearly the same; in any county in Scotland the Representative was rarely any other than the gentleman who, from rank, fortune, or character, ought to be the Member. There it would scarcely be possible for a stranger—unconnected with the landed property—to be brought in, as they had lately seen in some large English counties. The elections would be undoubtedly more expensive, and that would be an injury, seeing that, at present, they cost comparatively little; but, as the result would be nearly the same, he would not quarrel with the new scheme on that account. But his chief objection to the Bill was the same as had been so ably urged by hon. Members who had preceded him on that side—its effect on the influence of the country gentlemen of Scotland. To that influence it would prove ruinous, and it seemed as if it were prepared for the very express purpose of overwhelming them. At present, the returns of most counties were essentially in the hand of the country gentlemen—the resident proprietors of moderate fortune—the very men in whom the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in arguing some 1094 parts of the English Bill, declared he wished to see it invested. Hon. Members not intimately acquainted with the state of property in Scotland, and the distribution of capital throughout that country, could not easily estimate the operation of the Bill in this respect. It might seem paradoxical to say that the Bill was both aristrocratical and democratical in its operation in the Scotch counties, and the right hon. the President of the Board of Control had ridiculed this idea; yet every one well acquainted with the state of property in Scotland saw at once that this must be the case. It was occasioned by letting in as voters, on the one hand, the 10l. house proprietors; and the tenantry on the other. Wherever the towns and villages prevailed, the elections would be highly democratic; and where there were few of these, and the estates of a single nobleman were extensive—as was usually the case in such situations—the direct power would be transferred to that nobleman. In all cases it would be a struggle betwixt the few great proprietors and the feuars of the towns; and these two classes would divide all the power, to the exclusion of the country gentlemen of moderate fortune. As the law stood at present, the undue influence of either of these was guarded against with extreme jealousy. The noblemen who had large estates, had hitherto been generally prevented by their entails from creating superiority votes; and even when they had the power to do so, that power was of limited extent. Besides this, the eldest sons of Peers were excluded from sitting in Parliament among the Scotch Representatives; so that the influence of Peers was the most legitimate of all influence—that of extensive property, in an indirect shape, among men of moderate but independent fortunes. Indeed, it was impossible to conceive a system where the power was more completely invested in the independent body of country gentlemen. Now it was to be transferred by this Bill, in some few cases, to a few affluent noblemen; but in by far the greatest number of cases, to the inhabitants of the country towns. But to what class of all her inhabitants was Scotland so deeply indebted as to her country gentlemen? Travel where you would through the length or breadth of the kingdom; survey on either side the fair face of the country, and every where the eye would be met with the evidences of the public spirit, the patriotism, 1095 and the liberality of the country gentlemen. These would be seen in the public works, the roads and bridges, the new churches, and other public buildings; in the advancing state of agriculture, the handsome and extensive farm-steadings, the inclosures, and the cultivated lands reclaimed from the waste; in the embellishments of the scenery, and the young woods rising around; in the comfortable and independent condition of the peasantry, where every able-bodied man could maintain and educate his family, scorning to depend upon public relief. In short, if Scotland had advanced in affluence and prosperity, it had been in a great measure owing to the exertions and spirit of her country gentlemen; and if the present measure was calculated to diminish the importance and crush the influence of that important class, he could hardly conceive a greater calamity to the nation. But was the existing system in Scotland so utterly defective, and so unsound in principle, that it could not be improved or amended? This was the course which a wise and prudent Statesman would adopt, if he possibly could. In retaining the foundation of ancient institutions, it might be possible, more or less clearly to calculate the effect of proposed alterations, and perhaps to provide against the risk of failure. But the learned Lord—and after him the noble Lord opposite—had utterly condemned the present system. "I will utterly subvert it," said the learned Lord, "will not a shred, not a rag of it I leave remaining." He had never heard a more reckless or revolutionary sentiment fall from the lips of a legislator. Had he (the learned Lord) ever paused to consider with how much violence this must be brought about—with what inroads upon private rights—with what a shock to credit and to all existing institutions? The various civil institutions of a country were all, more or less, dependent on each other. They grew up together, and became gradually fitted and adapted to each other, as the parts of one compact and united whole. If, therefore, one part were entirely subverted, the whole received a concussion which might dislocate all its parts. This was particularly the case with the election rights of Scotland, which were intimately connected with the whole system of its rights of real property; and he had never conversed with a well-informed person in that country, Reformer or Anti-reformer, who did not deprecate so entire a 1096 hange. In Scotland people were warmly attached to their national institutions. They might not always find favour in the eyes of Englishmen; but because they frequently differed from those of England it did not follow that they were defective. They might have been adapted to the peculiar circumstances of the country—to the climate—the national character prejudices, or tastes—to the accidental distribution of property—or to the character of its other institutions. Under them the country had prospered, and they were linked with the earliest associations of the people. To condemn them was to touch the national prejudices in a tender point; and jealousy was easily roused by any attempt to change or subvert them. More than once had such an attempt roused the ire of the Scottish nation. But this was the boldest attempt of the kind that had ever yet been made, and in it he foresaw only a commencement of many more such desperate innovations. But there was many a breast in Scotland that would respond to the sentiment of their poet Burns, when he left the thistle unweeded in his garden because it was the emblem of his native land:—The rough bur-thistle spreading wideAmang the bearded bear,—I turned the weeder-clips aside,And spared the symbol dear.Let not, then, their English fellow-countrymen, when they cultivated their roses in a richer soil, and under a more genial sun, or their countrymen of Ireland, when they boasted of the verdure of their shamrocks—despise the hardy plant of more northern regions. It was not destitute of beauty; with them it was no sickly exotic, but bloomed as luxuriantly on the mountain side as in the sheltered valley—a fit emblem of their nation—hardy and formidable. So was it with some of their national institutions. To an English eye they might appear barbarous or grotesque, but the people were attached to them for many reasons, and chiefly because they were their own. There they stood, testifying to all the world, that the Union of Scotland with the wealthier and more powerful realm of England, was brought about—not by the sword of conquest, but by the compact of a solemn treaty betwixt two independent nations. They preserved the national distinction, and why should not this be kept up? It had been the parent of many virtues, and the stimulus of much 1097 enterprise among Scotchmen. Betwixt the sister nations it excited only a generous rivalry, and in this respect it had not been without advantage to England. He hoped he had avoided the fault attributed to most of those who had preceded him on that side, he had abstained from touching the details of the Bill. His observations on these he would reserve for other opportunities. He had also carefully avoided the question, how far any modification of the present system, or any change at all, was likely to prove beneficial to Scotland; for all that he had to do with, was the Bill now before them, and, comparing that with their present system, he could never approve of it. The Gentlemen on the opposite side had endeavoured to evade a powerful argument, which they could not answer—that Scotland had thriven under the present system; but still this must be utterly changed, because, forsooth, it was not suited to the theories and altered tastes of the present day. They could not deny that Scotland had been tranquil and happy, and prosperous and contented; but all this was in no respect the fruits of the present system, but had been so in spite of it. Was this assertion to be received from them as a self-evident truth? Was it possible that, if so vital a part of the Constitution were so utterly vicious and defective, that "not a shred, not a rag of it," ought to be any longer endured, the country, oppressed and burthened with such a government, could have been the most prosperous and tranquil portion of the empire? This proposition, if it did not set forth its own absurdity, ought to be examined and probed to the bottom—but there was no time for that at present. They might inquire how a different system had operated elsewhere; they might look to other parts of the empire—to Ireland, for example, which had long enjoyed a system in most respects similar to that which it was now proposed to introduce into Scotland. Was the prospect of the proposed change, when viewed in that aspect, so inviting? He would not fatigue the House with a picture of the condition of Ireland, for that they had every night from Irish Members, who vied with each other, Reformer with Anti-reformer, in drawing that picture with the deepest shades. It was enough to remark, what was so universally admitted, that though a richer and more fertile country, 1098 the condition of Ireland was a complete contrast to that of Scotland. They might be told, that that condition, too, had no connexion with the constitution of her Representation, but was brought about in spite of it. He could not so readily admit this. Was there, of all the evils which afflicted Ireland, any one more prominent—so prominent, indeed, that, like Aaron's rod, it seemed to swallow up all the others,—than the state of perpetual political agitation with which that country was afflicted? From such a scourge Scotland lad been hitherto exempt, and long might she continue so. As he had never before intruded upon the House in the course of the debates upon the Reform Bills—though he had been present at every one of them, since they were first commenced on the 1st day of March—he would take this occasion to declare, that, after having carefully considered those Bills in all their character and bearings, he could not in conscience support them. When he looked back upon the past prosperity and happiness of his country—and forward into the vast vista of innovation which opened before them, he felt the most anxious forebodings for the future prospects of Great Britain. He was not blind to the anomalies and defects of our ancient system, but seeing how it had worked for the freedom and peace of the nation, and now seeing such vast changes about to be introduced, his fears preponderated over his hopes—his fears of ruin over his hopes of improvement. With such feelings and anxious forebodings, he could not, as an honest man, give his support to any of the measures of Reform that had been brought forward by his Majesty's Government.
§ Mr. Patrick M. Stewart
said, that being one of those whom an hon. and gallant Member opposite designated as Scotchmen billeted on England, he hoped the House would indulge him for a short time. He would not attempt to follow the hon. members for Selkirk and Nairn through their vast and varied speeches. The crow's flight through such time-absorbing orations would imply a heavier tax on the patience of the House than he could venture to impose, or to attempt; besides, their length, their breadth, and their thickness, rendered that hopeless. But he must enter his protest against two assertions of his hon. friend, the member for Nairn; the first, that the tenantry of Scotland were 1099 adverse to their own enfranchisement; the other, that the people of Scotland were indifferent to the fate of this great measure. These assertions he most positively denied; and the hon. Member must have voluntarily closed all the ordinary avenue of conviction, if he left Scotland under any such impression on his mind. It was important that such opinions as those expressed by his hon. friend should no pass unnoticed and uncontradicted, especially at this momentous crisis. Notwithstanding the ardour with which the hon. Member had spoken against this measure, there was one cheering inference to be made from this debate, which was, that they were all, at last, Reformers; and whatever might be the fate of the letter of the Bill, its spirit—the spirit of actual and ample Reform in the Representation of the people and property of the country—might be declared as secure beyond al hazard. In confirmation of this, he would remind the House of the division on this Bill on Friday se'nnight, when the largest proportional majority that had yet supported it occurred; and when, moreover, this majority was strengthened by the accession of some hon. Members who, hitherto, had been active and strenuous opponents of the measure throughout. He alluded to the hon. member for Bossiney; his hon. friend, the member for Dumfries; and last, not least, to his hon. friend, the member for Honiton (Sir George Warrender), who, like another Georgium Sidus, had lately been discovered as belonging to their system—not a fixed star, but a planet—whose distance and eccentric movements had hitherto baffled calculation, but who now shed a direct influence upon the prosperity of their cause. He had hoped to have made other such flattering discoveries at this stage of the progress, for he considered the Representation of Scotland so flagrantly bad, that all who were interested in her welfare, and anxious for her enjoyment of the common rights of citizenship, would have united in approving of the principle of a Bill, which was destined to remedy defects that were too notorious to be denied. This Bill, differing from its companions, contained no clause of absolute disfranchisement, but went at once to extend Representation, and to establish the elective franchise in Scotland, for it scarcely now existed there. He understood 1100 elective franchise to mean—the privilege of exerting a free choice; and if he was correct in this definition, he was also correct in asserting, that it was of rare existence in Scotland. The consequence was, that they had not a single hon. Member in that House, from that country, who could be styled the Representative of any considerable portion of the people; nor could it be otherwise, if they considered for an instant the constituency by which they were returned to that House. It was clearly shewn by the learned Lord Advocate, in a speech equally distinguished by the power and closeness of its reasoning, as by the classic polish of its eloquence, that the constituency of Scotland was a mere mockery. The learned Lord overstated it when he said it exceeded 4,000, for the county voters, after deducting those who were enrolled in more than one place, did not exceed 2,500; for a population of nearly 2,000,000; whilst the borough voters amounted to about 1300, for a population of nearly 500,000—making up a constituency of something under 4,000 for the whole kingdom of Scotland. To prove that hon. Members could not consider themselves in the light of Representatives of the people or property of Scotland, he would take the cases of any contested places on the last occasion. His hon. friend, the member for Ayrshire, was returned by the votes of seventy individuals, but the county contained 128,000 people, and its valued rent (which was considerably below its actual rental) was 192,000l. His hon. friend, the member for Lanarkshire, in the same way, was sent to that House by the voices of ninety-four individuals, from a county containing 300,000 people, and valued, in the Doomsday-book (which, of course, was infinitely below the real value) at 162,000l.; and the hon. member for Edinburgh was returned by the support of seventeen individuals, who, by the mockery of the present system, stood invested with the power of choosing for a population of 140,000, living under an estimated rental of 500,000l. How could the name of popular, or any word approaching to it, be applied to a system affording such illustrations as he had now given of it? The borough which he had the honour to represent, possessed constituency equal to that of Scotland, although the population of Lancaster was 1101 under 12,000; while the notorious Cornwall returned forty-two Members from a population of 257,000. These were the extreme anomalies with which the present system of Representation abounded, and they could no longer be defended. To say they had hitherto worked well (which some of them might be so bold as to deny), was no argument as regarded the present and the future. They had at last been hit, and, like blots, must be expunged. The counties of Scotland were, in fact, carried by out-voters, and its boroughs by self-elected Magistrates, and this was the monstrous consequence, as was forcibly said by the right hon. and learned member for Knaresborough, that its counties might be represented by those who had no interest whatever in the land; and its boroughs by those who had no connexion whatever with the people. The same sentiment was expressed by one whose memory must for ever be held in respect by all constitutional Reformers—the late Lord Archibald Hamilton—in one of the last efforts he made in that House, in this, then hopeless, cause. Had he lived till now he would have reaped a rich and well-merited reward for his unwearied exertions in behalf of the rights and liberties of his fellow-subjects, by the approaching triumph of the cause he so strenuously advocated; and the Scotch Reformer could not look upon his place, now to know him no more, without feeling the magnitude of the loss the cause had sustained. However near they might be to the end of this arduous voyage in which he once took the helm, their lamentation must be—"Jacturam gravissimam feci, si jactura dicenda est tanti viri amissio." Although, as the learned Lord said, there was no schedule A to this Bill, there was a clause—the ninth, which had much of schedule A's virtue in correcting the palpable rottenness of the Scottish boroughs, by destroying the political power of the Town Councils, and distributing it among the intelligent and industrious citizens. He had great respect for many members of the Town Councils, and believed them to be vastly respectable within the sphere of their own natural usefulness; but it roused feelings of strong indignation to contemplate the power with which they had stood invested with respect to sending up Representatives to that House. Self-elected, self-governed, self-applauded, how, in the nature of man, could they be 1102 judges of fit and proper characters to represent the people, and to fill a seat in his popular Assembly? Decent, respectable landmarks, receding, as it were, from the progress made, or which ought to be made, in all political affairs, it was requiring too much of them to exercise such a trust. If his hon. friend, the member for Nairn, saw them in the light he did—he would, with his passion for pillars, describe these Town Councils as composed of men who, in passing through his wilderness of life, were guided by day, by the pillar of their prejudices, whilst their guiding pillar by night, was Matty and her lanthern, and whose motto of immovability, amidst the ceaseless change around them, was—"As my father the Deacon did before me." He had hoped, that the whole body of Scotch Members would have united in denouncing and destroying so humbling a system as this was—that the hollow mockery of the system might have been the means of proving the sound sincerity of their professions as Reformers. But the Bill, like Ithuriel's spear, tested as it touched, and separated at once the pretending from the real Reformer. It had been plausibly argued by hon. Members opposite, that one effect of the present measure of Reform would be, to prevent altogether, or render it difficult, for Scotchmen to find seats in England, and thus virtually to deprive Scotland of several Representatives. Dr. Johnson said, that the happiest sight a Scotchman could behold was the high road leading to England, a sentiment, however, which came from the Doctor's stomach, rather than from his head, and which, besides, was uttered at a time when Scotland was in a very different state from what she now was; or, in the worthy Doctor's own words, when "his walking-stick was in danger of being stolen as a piece of valuable timber." Although he was far from agreeing with the Doctor in his opinion, he should be very sorry to think, that the effect of this measure was likely to prove as predicted by its opponents. In his own case, for instance, he did not know why he should despair of finding the same kind and generous welcome from the 1,000 constituents of which Lancaster would hereafter consist, as he had hitherto found from 4,000; and when he looked at the equally proud situation of his hon. friends, the members for Nottingham, Norwich, and Stafford, he could not imagine 1103 that they were all to be placed in jeopardy, by so just and constitutional an abridgment of their constituents as this measure might possibly effect. The same argument was used as regarded the colonies—but he could not at all enter into it; for, without asking how our colonial interests might hitherto have been represented in that House, they were not likely to suffer by the increased admission of property, and of gentlemen connected with the commercial communities of the country, which undoubtedly would be the effect of this great measure. Those who argued against it on account of the change which it would bring about, and who were imbued with a reverential feeling of respect for the ancient and immutable rights of boroughs, and grants coeval with the existence of Parliament, must forget that the History of Parliament was one of continued change, from its beginning until now. No less than 190 Members were added to that House from the time of Henry 8th to that of James 1st—a period of 115 years; and in the short reign of Edward 6th, who ascended the Throne at nine years of age, and, unfortunately for our nature as well as our nation, descended to the grave at fifteen, no fewer than seven or nine boroughs were called into existence in Cornwall. And, in Scotland, how incessant had been the changes—from the original Colloquium to their Parliament as it existed at the Union, with 226 Members, and, since then, with only sixty-one Peers and Commoners. In this respect, therefore, the fear of change need not perplex them. If it be a maxim in government, that some proportion ought to be observed between the share in the Legislature and the extent of the burthen borne, then considering the enormous amount of their taxation, it was full time that the people so taxed should be admitted to a more immediate control over those with whom rested the power of taxing them; and the extension of the franchise would effect this desirable and most constitutional end. He was not one of those who joined in heaping blame and complaints upon those who had manfully and conscientiously opposed this measure. It was one of vast importance, and fraught either with "choicest good or heaviest ill" to their country; and those who dreaded the ill, did well in opposing it both in principle and practice. But having none of these misgivings, nor compunctious visitings—but, on the contrary, 1104 being sincerely convinced of the great good it was calculated to effect, he would give it his humble but most strenuous support. It was, however, of less importance now to encumber it with help here, than to follow it with ardent wishes for success elsewhere; and this he did most earnestly. He hoped it would be remembered, that "a kingdom divided against itself must come to desolation"—and by a reverend and most important body, it ought to be also remembered, that many distinguished supporters of the Church had proved themselves to be the strenuous advocates of the rights and liberties of the people; and that the great Charter itself, and afterwards the Petition of Rights, were mainly secured by the enlightened zeal and ardent assistance of Archbishops Langton and Abbot. The Petition of Rights, when threatened to be abridged by the House of Lords, was retained in its original form by the agency of Bishop Abbot. It had been said in the course of these debates, and by an authority for which he felt unfeigned respect, that one effect of this measure, as brought forward by his Majesty's Ministers, was, to identify loyalty to the King with hostility to the Constitution. This was a startling declaration, especially when coming from so high a quarter; but there were no grounds whatever for it. For any one at all conscious of the inestimable value of our Constitution, it would be to be loyal at too dear a price; nor would our patriot King receive the tribute on such terms as these. He was aware of the envied and enviable character of that Constitution. From the British Massillon be had learnt that "I am a citizen of a country which has accomplished beyond what the annals of man have hitherto exhibited in the union of public power and private liberty; which has blended the might of political combination with the energy of individual exertion, and which has awakened all the powers that contribute to national prosperity, by the freedom which it gives to their exercise." But he had likewise been instructed respecting this Constitution, that it was founded upon the rights of the subject; that it had described with a firm hand the boundaries of legitimate power, and of just allegiance; and that, above all other qualities which it possessed, was that principle of amelioration by which it could accommodate itself to the widest exigencies 1105 of national progress. Fearlessly then, and fervently, he supported this Bill, and the great measure of which it formed a part, believing as he did, that it was calculated to effect much lasting good, by restoring, as it would do, the franchise to its best basis—which was property, and that House to its only true constituency—the people.
said, this debate had been characterized by a practice which was not a very usual one in that House, but which had, of late, increased considerably; he meant the practice of referring to past discussions; and he could not but think, that the pursuing this course towards the learned Lord Advocate for Scotland, arose from a feeling that the arguments he adduced in the course of that admirable speech were not capable of being answered. On the second reading of this Bill he had been anxious to address the House, not from any feeling that he could add any new information to that already afforded to the House by those who had preceded him, but because this was one of the most important subjects that ever was brought forward with reference to the country to which he belonged. If, however, he had thought it unnecessary to trouble the House at any great length on former occasions, still less could it be required of him now to do so—after the triumphant majority which had expressed its opinion upon this subject. The case of Scotland, from all that had been said to-night, had been abandoned, and abandoned by those whom he should have least expected to find adopting such a course. He could not forget the occasion upon which his right honorable friend, then the member for Calne, (Mr. Abercrombie) had, at various times, submitted several petitions to the House on the subject of Scotch Representation. What was the motion, too, of his right hon. friend upon that occasion? It was, that that House would, early in the next Session, take into consideration the state of the Representation of the Scotch counties. That motion was scouted by a large majority. What was the different position in which they now found themselves placed? Although that motion was scouted by a majority of twenty-four, they, now stood on the second reading of this Bill, with a majority of 115 in their favour. There really was no moderation in the inconsistency of the hon. Gentlemen 1106 opposite. A Bill was now introduced on a general principle which would satisfy the people of Scotland, and such was the feeling on the subject, that it could not with safety be delayed. Under the strong feeling that such was the case before, he presumed, when the late Government declared their hostility to all Reform, to give notice of a motion on this subject that excited the high displeasure of the right hon. Gentleman, who said, that there was no feeling in Scotland in favour of this measure. He would beg to observe, that as that right hon. Gentleman did not represent a large portion of the people of Scotland, it was not at all improbable that he might know very little of their wants and wishes upon this subject; and they who made a similar declaration, clearly shewed that they did not participate in the feelings of the people of that country. It undoubtedly was not his intention to go at any length even into the general principles of this measure, but he was desirous of making a few very short observations, in the course of which he would confine himself within proper limits. A great deal had been said about the agricultural interests, and the commercial interests, and the manufacturing interests, and of the relative proportion of Members which each of these should have, but it was not consistent to talk in this way, when the Representation of the people was in question. It was the people of the country that should be represented, without reference to their occupations. By this, however, he did not mean the mere mass of the population, but the wealth and intelligence of every class of the community. In what did the constituency of Scotland consist at present? Many of the large landowners possessed the franchise, but the great majority of the owners of the superiorities had no direct connexion with the counties for which they were entitled to vote. He was acquainted with several of the most extensive landowners in Scotland, who had no share whatever in the election of the Members, in consequence of their not being proprietors of these parchment votes. He might be told that, under the present system, the property of the country was represented, and that the elections were attended with little expense; but he denied that this was the case. He would appeal to any gentleman who had stood a contest for a Scotch county, as to the 1107 correctness of this assertion. Was it not notorious, that in many cases he had to purchase a number of superiority votes to secure his return? He did not mean to say anything disrespectful of the hon. and learned member for Kirkcudbright, but he contended that a Scotch gentleman had very little chance of representing a Scotch county, if he were not a supporter of the Government of the day. His hon. and learned friend was returned, when in opposition to the Government, it was true; but an uncommon combination of circumstances led to that event. Most of the Scotch Members, however, had to procure promotions in the army or navy for—or send to India—the younger sons of the owners of the superiorities. If a gentleman was not able to procure a tolerable share of patronage from the Minister of the day, he had very little chance of being returned for a Scotch county. It was said, that the landed interest of Scotland was now well and adequately represented. Instead of that, it was completely overwhelmed by the influence of the class of persons he had described, who had in their possession superiority votes. It was now proposed that no one should have a vote who had not a beneficial interest in the county, of the annual value of 10l.; and this arrangement would give a much greater influence to the landowners. If hon. Gentlemen were desirous of trying the proposed constituency by the test of wealth and property, and also the present votes by the same mode, the new constituency would be found to possess ten times, or even fifty times the wealth possessed by the old. The extending the franchise to the 10l. householder was one of the most beneficial parts of this measure. All classes were desirous of bettering their condition; and no human being, who knew anything of the subject, would assert that this desire would not be a powerful inducement, with every person of common education, to try to obtain the franchise. It would be an increased stimulus to exertion, and would be found to be a most beneficial feeling. Most of the people in Scotland were extremely desirous to exercise the franchise. When the observation was made, that the franchise was given to the 10l. householder, it was to be observed that that class included all who occupied houses of a higher rental. The new system would comprehend the whole wealth of the country; 1108 and would give a greater degree of influence to property, combined with intelligence, than any hitherto devised. It was directly contrary to the feelings and interests of the people, that the system of superiority voting should continue; and he trusted that his Majesty's Ministers would not consent to any motion of the sort. He wished to see all systems of this sort removed, and only the public benefit regarded. There was not a nation on the face of the earth who were better adapted for the proper exercise of such an elective franchise. He could not conceive that it was possible to form a more enlightened constituency than that which would have the franchise conferred upon them under this Bill. A Reform such as had been proposed, would tend to strengthen the whole empire, and to promote the well-being of all classes:—it would lead to confidence in the Government, and give a fresh stimulus to the industry of the country. An inference directly contrary to that drawn by several hon. Members, should be deduced from the circumstance, that the country had increased in wealth and intelligence under the present system. If the country had gone on in spite of all these impediments, the probability was, that the advance would be most rapid under an improved system of Representation, in which the people would have a direct influence in the choice of their Representatives. It was the duty of the Legislature to satisfy the demands of the people on this subject; for the whole country desired that the measure now proposed should pass into a law: and he trusted that this would take place without any delay.
§ Mr. Robert A. Dundas
would make a few observations on the subject, in answer to some observations that fell from an hon. Member opposite in the previous part of the debate. The hon. Gentleman had referred to some remarks which were made by a right hon. friend of his in a former Session, on a motion that was brought forward relative to the Representation of the city of Edinburgh. The occasion was that on which Mr. Abercrom by submitted a motion to the House, with a view to increase the constituency of the city of Edinburgh, but which was negatived by a majority of between twenty and thirty. It was objected to that proposition that there was no great desire on the part of the people of Scotland for a 1109 change in the system of Representation in that country. This occurred in 1826; soon afterwards, a dissolution of Parliament took place, and in the ensuing election the people of Scotland did not, by their conduct, exhibit any symptoms of disapproving of the view taken of the matter by the majority of their then Representatives in this House. The people, doubtless, were aware that anomalies did exist, but no great desire for a change was exhibited until very recently, and until the last returns, all the elections had been quietly carried on. When, however, his Majesty's Ministers brought in a Bill for a complete change in the system of Representation, and when the name of the King was used—if not unconstitutionally, at least most improperly—in support of it, a degree of excitement certainly prevailed which had not been previously experienced for a considerable time. The people thought that they were called upon to support the Sovereign on this occasion; and it was rather this notion, than the question of Reform, that led to the great manifestation of popular feeling that took place. At no previous period had the name of the Monarch been made use of, as it was at the last election. He had referred to the general election of 1826, at which period the late Lord Liverpool was at the head of the Administration, and when the question of Catholic Emancipation had occupied a large share of the public attention; yet, at that election, the name of the King was not used with a view to influence the return of Members who took the same view of the subject as the noble Lord then at the head of affairs. He himself had always been favourable to Catholic Emancipation, but if an outcry nad been raised at that time, as had recently been done, it would have had a material effect upon the elections. He never could sanction this improper use of the name of the Sovereign; for, in point of fact, it was sacrificing the peace of the country to the promotion of certain political objects. The hon. member for Lanark had referred to the state of Scotland at the time of the Union, and the number of Members that were then to be returned. He, however, forgot that it was not without considerable opposition that the Scotch Parliament consented to such a small proportion of Members for that portion of the empire, and that on no account would that Parliament consent to a change in the 1110 constituency of the country. With respect to the present Bill, there were changes to be proposed, and systems to be adopted, different from anything which had ever hitherto existed in Scotland, and different also from anything that was to be carried into operation in England. He would not repeat what he had formerly urged; but the system that was now proposed should have, as it had already had, his uncompromising opposition. He should not be justified in assenting to the adoption of a system of Representation for Scotland, of which he had hitherto had no experience, and which was not adapted to the habits and feelings of the nation. No one would say, that he was opposed to all species of Reform; but he would oppose most strenuously a change, which would tend to subvert all existing institutions in that country. He knew that men of the greatest experience and wisdom had failed repeatedly in tracing the results of changes much less extensive than the present. It was, therefore, most dangerous to adopt a measure, the consequences of which it was imposible to foretell with any degree of certainty, and to which, when once adopted, it would, in case of failure, be found impossible to retrace their steps. He could give his support to that part of the Bill only which proposed to extend to the large towns of Scotland a share in the Representation; this had long been desirable, and had his cordial approbation. To the very extensive constituency which was proposed to be formed he had a great objection. He should oppose the other clauses of the Bill, being satisfied that they were not adapted to ensure a proper Representation of the wealth and respectability of the country.
§ Sir George Murray
, having given notice of a motion on a subject which had not been touched upon by previous speakers, would make a few remarks. The separation of parts of counties and annexing them to others for the purposes of elections was most objectionable on many grounds. It was a most safe principle in legislation, and which they ought never to lose sight of, to depart as little as possible from existing arrangements. This principle was professed by the advocates of the Reform Bill for England; and, although it had not been so strictly attended to as could be wished, yet it had not been lost sight of. Unless strong grounds could be pointed out for a 1111 departure from this rule, there could be no justification for such departure. No strong arguments could be urged to justify the dismemberment of some of the Scotch counties; at any rate, none had been brought forward to satisfy his mind on the subject. It was true that some of the English counties had been divided for the purposes of election; but that case was essentially different from the case of the Scotch counties. For instance, the county of York was to be divided, and each of the ancient Ridings was to return two Members. This arrangement was not objectionable, as the separate Ridings might almost be regarded as distinct counties; and this arrangement would tend to preserve the independence of the whole county. It had repeatedly been found to be the case, that the freeholders of the other Ridings were completely swallowed up by the great number who resided in the West Riding; so that this division would secure the independence of each separate Riding. The counties that had received four Members had also been divided, for the purpose of facilitating the elections; and this was not very objectionable. Thus the counties of Durham and Northumberland were to be divided—which would be rather advantageous than otherwise; and the same might be said of the county of Lancaster; but no one had proposed to take a portion of one county and add it to another, for the purpose either of making up a sufficient constituency, or of facilitating the elections, as had been proposed with regard to some of the Scotch counties. Such an arrangement was most objectionable, and the feelings of the people would be decidedly against being detached from the counties to which they belonged and added to others. The noble Lord would agree with him, that it was extremely injudicious to set aside the feelings of the persons interested in a question of this nature. He did not belong to that sect of philosophers who asserted that individual feelings might be set aside when legislating for a nation. If the course now pursued were persisted in, it would excite ill feelings, as the people of Scotland entertained in a peculiar degree those local attachments which formerly were regarded as laudable. The arrangement, also, would interfere in a peculiar degree with the local institutions of the country, and would lead to the greatest inconvenience. When a sufficient Constituency could not be formed in one 1112 county, the union of two, for the purposes of Representation, was much less objectionable than the detaching a portion of one county and annexing it to another. He did not object to the union of Ross and Cromarty, as there were circumstances that might justify that union; for example, community of interest—the same Sheriff was always appointed for the two counties. In point of fact, Cromarty was formerly a portion of the county of Ross. The same observation could not apply to the union of part of Nairn to Elgin in the choice of a Member, and that proposition was most objectionable. If some arrangement of this kind must be made, it would be better to give two members to Ross, Cromarty, and the parish of Nairn, called Ferintosh, which lay near Dingwall, in Ross-shire, and was almost surrounded by that county. This would make up a population of about 80,000 persons, which was sufficient to justify the granting of two Members to it. He had given notice of a motion on this subject, which would come more properly under their attention at a future period, when the House would go into Committee on the Bill. Notwithstanding this separation of parts of counties for the purposes of election, all fiscal concerns, and the control of the Sheriff's Court, were left as heretofore; all the political influence of these detached portions were thrown into other counties, and yet, for the purposes of finance and the administration of justice, they were to remain connected as before. To this he most strongly objected. Either the separation ought to be entire, or not be made at all. But how had the principle adopted by his Majesty's Ministers been applied? It was proposed to commence with the important county of Argyle, from which the district of Cowal was to be separated, for the purpose of being annexed to the county of Bute. This district of Cowal was much nearer to the county town of Argyle than it was to the county of Bute, so that this arrangement could not have been made with a view of facilitating the electors of Cowal in getting access to the place of poll. Throughout the whole of those proceedings, Ministers had rather been governed by caprice than by sound judgment. The districts of Merth, Kinlyn, and Lorn, were all much more remote from the county town, and nearer Bute than the district of Cowal, so that, if it had been necessary to detach a portion of the county of Argyle 1113 for election purposes, it was reasonable to think that the more convenient portion would have been taken. With respect to the county of Perth, the district of Culross ought not to be separated from it with a view of being annexed to the counties of Clackmannan and Kinross. These two counties at present returned one Member, and it would be most unjust to add a large portion of Perth to them. This arrangement was in decided opposition to the wishes of the inhabitants of all that part of Scotland, and was calculated, if persisted in, to excite considerable discontent there. According to the population returns of 1821, the county of Clackmannan contained 13,500 inhabitants, and the county of Kinross 7,900, making together a population of 21,400. This was very nearly 3,000 more inhabitants than the English county of Rutland, which now sent and was to continue to send, two Members to that House. There was no ground or pretence for disuniting the county of Perth for the purpose of making an addition to the counties of Clackmannan and Kinross, which already contained an ample population; and the constituency would be a most respectable body. It was true that this was a remote, and almost a detached portion of the county, but then it must be recollected that considerably more than half the county was more remote than Culross. The very extensive districts of Athol, of Bredalbane, and of Rannock were all more remote from the county town than the district of Culross. He was quite at a loss to understand what principle had been acted upon in those arrangements. In the plan submitted to the House by the Government, relative to this country, it was proposed that all counties containing 150,000 inhabitants, should, for the future, return four Members, and all counties with upwards of 100,000 should have three Representatives. In addition to this, two Members had been conceded to each of the Welsh counties containing upwards of 70,000 inhabitants. It was only a measure of justice that those Scotch counties containing 70,000 should also have two Members each. If, however, detached portions were thus taken off—the population of some of the counties entitled, according to this rule, to two Members, would be reduced below 70,000. This would be the case as regarded the county of Argyle in particular, according to the census of 1821. It might 1114 be said that Wales was a conquered country, and Scotland was united to England by the Legislatures of the two counties, when an arrangement was made as to the Representation, and the inference was drawn, that the former country should be treated in a different manner from the latter. According to every principle of justice, the Scotch counties were entitled to an addition to their Representatives. Not only the large manufacturing counties were entitled to an increased number of representatives, but more particularly the agricultural counties. The county of Argyle, in 1826, contained a population of 90,000; but now, according to the census of 1831, it had considerably more than 100,000 inhabitants, It was, therefore, entitled to two Members. Again, with reference to Perth, although a separate Member had been given to the town, and although the district of Culross had been detached, he would call upon the House to grant her Representatives accordingly. He could see no possible advantage or benefit that could result from the disunion of counties, nor conjecture the reasons that induced his Majesty's Ministers to adopt this course. He did not mean to found a motion on the division of counties, but he hoped that the noble Lord would take the whole question into his consideration. If there were strong grounds which had led to this arrangement, the noble Lord ought to state them; but, in his opinion, no reason that could be given would justify the course adopted. It was his intention to offer every opposition in his power to this arrangement in the Committee.
§ Mr. Francis W. Grant
trusted, that before going into Committee, his Majesty's Government would re-consider the proposal of uniting the counties of Elgin and Nairn, a measure which was extremely unjust. By it the county of Elgin, with a population of 34,000 souls, was to be deprived of one-half of its present rights. There were several other counties in Scotland with a less population, which were left by the proposed Bill in the full enjoyment of the share in the Representation which they had hitherto enjoyed; and why was the county of Elgin to receive a different measure of justice? He would also mention the cases of the counties of Peebles and Selkirk, whose united population did not amount to that of Elgin alone. The proposal of partially disfranchising these counties, 1115 had been very properly given up; but why should the county which he had the honour to represent be treated with less consideration than those small counties? No county in Scotland boasted a more respectable constituency—or would, if this measure should pass, afford one more independent. The feeling in the county was unanimous against this union and in proof of it he would refer to the county paper, which contained an article protesting strongly against it, and which although in general advocating the cause of Reform, had expressed the greatest dislike of the proposal. This paper expressed the unanimous opinion of the county, and he hoped that the Government would not persevere in forcing that clause through the House.
had the honour of representing the united counties of Clackmannan and Kinross, and felt called upon to make one or two observations, in consequence of what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman. The only object of his Majesty's Ministers in the proposed arrangement was, to procure a better system of Representation, and they would attain this object by the proposed arrangement. It should be recollected that the two parishes of Perth which it was proposed to annex to the counties of Clackmannan and Kinross, were separated from the rest of Perthshire by the county of Kinross; and therefore, for the purposes of election, it was infinitely better that the districts should be united to the two counties, than that the voters should have to go to a great distance to exercise their privilege of voting. The right hon. Gentleman said, that this arrangement was directly opposed to the feelings of the people; but this was not the case. He held in his hand a letter dated from that part of the country, in which it was stated, that the people gave their support to the Bill, and had expressed their approval of it; and the inhabitants of the parish he had alluded to, entertained not the least objection to be united with Clackmannan and Kinross in the choice of a Member. From the union of the two counties, with a more extensive constituency than at present, a feeling of rivalry might grow up; therefore, it would be a useful arrangement to unite these parishes, which did not properly belong to Perthshire, to the two counties. Indeed, a considerable portion of one of these parishes was in the county of Kinross. In short, the intention 1116 of Government was, to make a more united and compact constituency; and this might be done, without injuring any one, by the present plan. The right hon. Gentleman said, that Perthshire ought to send two Members to Parliament; and if this parish were detached from it, together with the city of Perth and the burghs, the population of the county would be diminished below the number of inhabitants which he suggested that a county should contain in order to entitle it to return two Members. The right hon. Gentleman must, however, be aware that there was not the least probability of his motion being assented to, as the object of it was opposed to the wishes of his Majesty's Government, and to the feelings of the majority of the English Members. The population of the county of Perth was large, and the inhabitants of that county were most respectable; but the right hon. Gentleman should recollect, that already a Member had been given to the city of Perth, which formerly only had a share with five other places in the choice of one Member, while a large portion had been detached from the county for the purpose of adding it to the counties which he (Admiral Adam) had the honour to represent, and thus the county constituency was greatly reduced. With respect to the union of the parish of Ferintosh, which belonged to the county of Nairn, to the counties of Ross and Cromarty, for the purposes of election, he would merely observe, that it was almost completely surrounded by the county of Ross. If the district of Cowal, in the county of Argyle, had not been annexed to Bute, that county must have been disfranchised; as it would have been impossible to form a constituency without adopting the course which had been pursued. It would have been an act of the grossest absurdity to continue a Member to Bute when the number of electors would have been so extremely small. Notice of a motion had been given by an hon. friend of his, relative to giving two Members to the county of Argyle, in consequence of its numerous constituency; but if the district of Cowal, which touched on Bute, was separated from Argyle, and annexed to the county of Bute, the number of the voters would be reduced, and that objection obviated. He was desirous that two Members should be granted to such Scotch counties as contained a population beyond a certain number; but as he saw no probability of 1117 carrying this proposition into effect, he was loth to hazard the safety of the Reform Bill by lending his aid in support of it. He would abstain from making any further observations on that topic until the right hon. Baronet should have brought forward the motion of which he had given notice. Government had his most cordial support in this measure, and he was satisfied that the noble Lord had been actuated by the purest motives in the arrangements he had proposed.
§ Sir George Murray
most distinctly disclaimed having cast, or intending to cast, any imputation on the motives of the noble Lord. He entertained the highest possible respect for his character, and should be extremely sorry to say anything of him that would bear the construction of harshness.
§ Sir William Cumming
, being connected with the county of Elgin, must enter his protest against the partial disfranchisement of that county by the annexing the county of Nairn to it in the choice of a Representative. If his Majesty's Ministers took population as a test, he would remind them, that there were several counties with less numerous populations, each of which was to continue to return an independent Member. For instance, the county of Elgin, according to the population returns of 1821, contained 31,800 inhabitants; Caithness contained only 30,800, Kincardine, 29,700, Linlithgow, 23,100, Dumbarton, 27,900, Sutherland, 24,300, Bute, 14,000, Peebles, 10,000, and Selkirk rather less than that number. The excitement of the people of Elgin on this subject was very great, and the newspapers published in that county very properly designated the proposal of Ministers as being as gross a piece of injustice as ever was inflicted by a Government.
§ Mr. Cumming Bruce
protested against the language used by the hon. member for Ayr with respect to the owners of superiority votes. The hon. Gentleman had designated these votes as mere pieces of old parchment; he could tell that hon. Member, that had it not been for these parchment voters, the right hon. Gentleman, the member for Inverness, would not have been returned for that county, and his services would have been lost to the country. That right hon. Gentleman, at the last election, was returned by these voters, against the feeling of the landed interest of the county. 1118 He did not mention this circumstance out of any disrespect to the right hon. Gentleman, for any county might be proud of possessing a Representative of his high talents and distinguished abilities.
§ Lord Stormont
was sure that, the right hon. member for Inverness would not object to that species of votes to which he was indebted for his election. The influence of Government had been exerted to procure the return of certain candidates; the expenses of voters were almost paid out of the public purse; and yet, except in one instance, no change had taken place in the county Representatives of Scotland.
§ Mr. Robert Grant
, in the absence of his right hon. relative, with all due deference to the hon. Gentleman opposite, gave a most unqualified contradiction to his assertion, that his right hon. relative was returned by that species of voters called paper voters, against the sense of the county. He was returned, indeed, against the wishes of some great landed proprietors, who endeavoured to introduce at the poll a number of paper voters.
§ The House resolved itself into Committee.
§ The Bill read a first time—on the question that it be read a second time.
§ Lord Althorp moved that the Chairman report progress, and ask leave to sit again to-morrow.
§ Motion agreed to—House resumed.