HC Deb 27 September 1831 vol 7 cc663-6
Mr. Robert A. Dundas

presented a Petition from the Lord Provost and Magistrates of Edinburgh, being trustees of landed property, purchased by a legacy which had been devised for charitable purposes, complaining that the Reform Bill, by destroying superiorities, which they had hitherto sold, would take away their property. He contended, that superiorities were private property, and ought not to be taken away without compensation. The petitioners also prayed that they might be heard by counsel at the bar, and receive compensation.

Mr. Pringle

supported the prayer of the petition, and deprecated the language which had formerly been used by the Lord Advocate.

Mr. John Campbell

blushed for his na- country. To the honour of England, it ought to be stated, that not one demand for compensation had been made by any one of the proprietors of rotten boroughs which had been annihilated by this Bill. He was therefore sorry to find, that it was left for Scotland to ask compensation for the loss of that which she ought never to have had. No property would be taken away by this Bill from these Trustees, for the superiority would still remain unimpaired. The property would remain; but the right of voting attached to it would be taken away.

Mr. Dixon

said, that the hon. and learned member for Stafford was misleading English Members, when he instituted a comparison between the rotten boroughs of England and the superiorities of Scotland. Did he mean to say, that the right of voting attached to a superiority was illegal? Superiorities might be legally sold—would the hon. and learned Gentleman say the same of a rotten borough?

Mr. Gillon

was surprised at the extraordinary language held by the hon. member for Glasgow. In his opinion, the holders of superiorities had no more claim to compensation than the holders of rotten boroughs. He had heard with pleasure the declaration of the Lord Advocate, that he intended by his bill to destroy every rag and tatter of the abominable system of Scotch elections.

Sir Edward Sugden

said, that the burgage tenures of England were quite as much legal property as the superiorities of Scotland, and yet the holders of burgage tenures had never put forth any claim to compensation, because much as they disapproved of the English Reform Bill, they felt that private advantage ought to give way to the public good. He was much surprised to hear so stanch a Reformer as the hon. member for Glasgow plead for compensation for the holders of Scotch superiorities. He (Sir E. Sugden) would never consent to give to the holders of Scotch superiorities that which had not even been asked for by the English holders of burgage tenures.

Mr. Kennedy

contended, that the petitioners would lose no property by this Bill. They could not vote themselves on this superiority, but they could sell the right of voting on it to others; and it was only right that they should be deprived of that pecuniary advantage which others obtained from political jobbing.

Mr. Robert A. Dundas,

in moving that this petition be referred to the Committee on the Scotch Reform Bill, took occasion to observe, that the petitioners, in bringing forward this petition, were influenced by public and not by private and selfish considerations.

Lord Stormont

begged to remind the hon. and learned member for Stafford, that though the borough of Old Sarum might be legally sold, the right of voting for members for Old Sarum could not be legally sold. Now, superiorities were sold, and sold daily by auction, in pursuance of processes issuing out of the Courts of Law in Scotland. The hon. and learned Gentleman, therefore, knew nothing about the right of voting in Scotland, however well he might be acquainted with the right of voting in Stafford.

Mr. John Campbell

The right of voting for Old Sarum is in the burgage tenures of Old Sarum; and a burgage tenure may be sold by auction quite as legally as a Scotch superiority.

Sir Charles Forbes

said, if any jobbing had taken place it was on the part of his Majesty's Ministers and the Lord Advocate in the Reform Bill. Ministers had demolished the English Constitution, they had plundered the English people, and now they were going to do the same thing with the people of Scotland. By the Scotch Bill, the freeholders of that country would be deprived of more than 2,000,000l. sterling, on account of losing the superiorities attached to the freeholds. The subject was one of vast importance, and he wished it to meet with the serious attention of the House. He was surprised to hear the assertion of the hon. and learned member for St. Mawes (Sir E. B. Sugden) as to the Scotch superiorities, considering the manner in which he had been returned for Weymouth. He trusted that the Legislature would not inflict upon Scotland the Reform Bill now promulgated. The people of that country, he could assure the House, did not desire it—they did not wish for Reform. It would be a great curse to that country, which had flourished with the present system, and was now proceeding prosperously, to have the tenantry made politicians. Instead of attending to their rural occupations, cheerfully and contented, as was the case at present, they would lose their valuable time in going to elections, and engaging in political matters. He would, however, endeavour to prevent the evils of that description from being introduced among his tenantry, for he would not have one voter under the Bill if possible. He would let leases—supposing seven years was the qualification—for six years and eleven months; and his tenants who had a house rented at a certain sum, should have them a few shillings lower—an arrangement, he apprehended, to which they could have no objection. He begged to tell the learned Lord, that he would set this Bill at defiance. The excitement about Reform had subsided, and he begged to recommend the learned Lord to adopt some measures before another election to prevent a repetition of the scenes which had so disgraced the country at the last.

Sir Edward Sugden

assured the last speaker that he had not made any attack upon the Scotch superiorities: he had only compared them to the burgage tenures of England. As to the burgage tenures of Weymouth, he knew not what they had to do with the matter now under debate. He could, however, assure the hon. Member that there were a great many freeholders in Weymouth, holders of large property, who were unconnected with burgage tenures.

Sir Robert Inglis

was of opinion, that those who had purchased superiorities for the purpose of exercising the elective franchise were entitled to compensation. An action would lie for the recovery of the purchase money of a superiority; and from that it was obvious they were as much property as any thing else. He also was of opinion that the English boroughs which were to be disfranchised were entitled to compensation; there was a precedent for it in the 1,200,000l. given to the proprietors of Irish boroughs abolished at the Union. That the borough proprietors of England had not demanded that compensation to which they were of right entitled, was owing to the system of terrorism which had prevailed ever since this Bill was introduced. The petitioners in this case, instead of asking too much, had asked for much less than they had a right to claim.

Petition referred to the Committee.