HC Deb 19 January 1832 vol 9 cc632-45
The Lord Advocate

, pursuant to notice, rose to move for leave to bring in a Bill to amend the Representation of Scotland. It was not his intention, nor, he was sure, would the House expect him to enter into any detail on the subject; because it must be in the recollection of every one that towards the close of the last Session, and on the second reading of the measure, he had then advocated, he had summed up all that it had appeared to him to be necessary to say on that which was almost identically the same Bill, as the Bill for which he was about to have the honour of moving. In principle there was no alteration whatever; nor was there any change in the details calculated to raise a difference of opinion on the two propositions. In the former Bill the town of Fort Glasgow had been united to Greenock; it was now intended that it should be separate. The way in which the other boroughs were grouped remained the same. With regard to the qualification for franchise, there was no difference whatever in the new Bill with respect to counties; and hardly any with respect to boroughs—merely such as to render the measure in some degree conformable to that for England. There was another little difference with respect to the working part of the Bill. Instead of the former mode of adjudication, a new tribunal was to be formed of three Sheriffs, who were to visit the various counties with the least possible delay, in order to review the registration of votes. Such were the slight points in which the proposed differed from the last Bill. The learned Lord concluded by moving for leave to bring in the Bill.

Sir Charles Forbes

observed, that the purpose professed by the Bill was, to amend the Representation of the people of Scotland; while its real object was, to pull that Representation entirely to pieces. Those who proposed such a measure were like tinkers, who in mending one hole made six. The former Bill was so hurried through the House, that the people of Scotland had not understood it; but they had afterwards come to understand it, and then they found there were most serious objections to it. They had shown this by petitions to Parliament, and by Addresses to the Throne. In particular they objected to the manner in which the county Representation was to be regulated. They objected to the uniform franchise for counties; they would not have cared if it had been carried much lower, so that the present principle had been preserved, instead of the uniform plan of the learned Lord. That plan would give rise to much trouble, difficulty, and dissatisfaction. Besides, it was a positive robbery of the just and legal rights of the proprietors. The freeholders held their qualifications by a title that was as good as that by which the landlords of England owned their land. It was a gross injustice to take that from them without compensation, and they had as good a right to compensation for their superiorities, as if their land were taken away to form a road or a canal. The Bill was a revolutionary measure, which would ruin the country.

Mr. J. E. Gordon

did not wish to discuss the Bill, but to ask the learned Lord on what principle it was founded. He saw small boroughs in England preserving their two Members, while large counties in Scotland had only one. He wished the learned Lord would tell him why the same principles were not applied to Scotland as to England?

Sir George Warrender

had experienced great disappointment at learning that no addition was to be made to the number of Scotch Representatives; but as a better opportunity would be afforded for discussing that topic in the Committee, he would abstain from pressing the question upon the present occasion. With respect to compensation, which the hon. Baronet claimed for the Scotch superiorities, that was out of the question; the only compensation that he would ask for, or wish to have, was an increase in the number of Members to defend the interests of Scotland. A compensation which appeared to him to be reasonable in itself, and fully called for by the increasing importance of that country: numerous and great interests had grown up there, and were daily increasing. They had contributed in an eminent degree to the general welfare of the country, and which, on every principle of justice and equity, demanded an increased number of Representatives. Scotland had an additional claim to this increase of Members, owing to the circumstance that the facility with which Scotch Gentlemen had hitherto obtained seats in that House, through the medium of close English boroughs, would be considerably diminished, if not altogether annihilated by the present measure. That country was so inadequately represented, that she was frequently compelled to resort to English Members for assistance; and he, representing an English borough, had been occasionally called upon, in common with many other English Members, to assist in carrying bills through the House connected with the affairs of Scotland. He affirmed, therefore, upon all those accounts, that Scotland was justly entitled to claim an increased number of Members; and he, who certainly was not disposed to go the whole length of the Bill, had for many years contended for the necessity of a change in the Representation of Scotland, so far as related to its numerical amount. He said to Ministers plainly and openly, that they had not fairly attended to the interests of Scotland. It would be wasting the time of the House to enter into any details for the purpose of proving the importance of Scotland, after the very able statements which were made in the last Session of Parliament, by two members of the late Administration. He alluded to the late right hon. Secretary for the Colonies, and the late right hon. Secretary for the Admiralty. He had not the good fortune to hear their speeches, but he had seen a pamphlet which had been widely circulated in Scotland, in which they were contained; and he knew that this diffusion of their sentiments had procured for those right hon. Gentlemen great and deserved popularity in that country. He would tell those hon. Gentlemen who introduced this measure, that the people of Scotland were not satisfied with it; even the Reformers were dissatisfied; and he would say further, that those persons were mistaken if they supposed the people of Scotland would quietly see their country deprived of her rights. The arguments of the right hon. member for Perthshire were alone sufficient to convince the people that the gradual increase and great prosperity of Scotland entitled her to a proportionate increase of Representation. It was a singular feature in the condition and history of Scotland, that although she produced a revenue of five millions, she retained but a very small portion of that income herself, for the purpose of maintaining either her civil or military establishments. Fortunately, that happy country was in that state of tranquillity, that she required no greater force than some four or five hundred men for her internal protection. He would take that opportunity of saying, that in the discussions which would arise in the Committee on the English Reform Bill, his conduct would be guided by a feeling of the necessity for increasing the Representation of Scotland. He had shewn, by the votes he had already given, that he considered this a most important question; and he certainly should not consent to the enfranchisement of small towns in England, when he found large towns in Scotland were to have only one Representative. With reference to some observations, he begged leave also then to say, that he opposed General Gascoyne's motion from a sincere determination to advocate the interests of Scotland. He felt that if he had voted in favour of his proposition, he should have defeated the object he had in view; and, therefore, in a perfect spirit of fairness, he resisted that motion, because he considered that it had a direct tendency to prevent any addition from being made to the Representation of Scotland. He considered that the best course he could adopt would be, to discuss, and to endeavour to amend, the proposition of his Majesty's Ministers in Committee; and he subsequently voted in favour of the motion of the right hon. member for Perthshire, which had for its object the addition of eight Members to Scotland. These were the principles on which he had acted, and he was convinced that in Scotland one and all of its inhabitants, however their political opinions might differ in other respects, were united in thinking that the number of Members at present allotted to Scotland was in every respect inadequate to the wealth and importance of that portion of the empire.

Mr. Cumming Bruce

said, he saw no material difference between the Bill of last Session and the one which the learned Lord was about to introduce. They both contained the same extensive propositions, and both excluded the great mass of the population from the right of voting. The same levelling injustice, and the same violation of existing rights were a strong feature in both Bills; he was determined, therefore, to oppose this, as he did the last Bill, to the utmost of his power. He could not at present enter into any discussion relating to the details of the measure, but he must take the opportunity of saying, that he fully agreed in the observations made by his right hon. friend (Sir G. Warrender) with respect to the impression which existed in the minds of the people of Scotland on this question, and more particularly in the part of the country with which he was connected. The Bill, in fact, committed several glaring acts of injustice, and he hoped, at least, in the Committee, that they would be remedied.

Mr. Gillon

entered his protest against the declaration which had been made by an hon. Baronet, that the freeholders of Scotland were opposed to the proposed Bill, as being a spoliation of their rights. He would take it on him to say, that no resolution expressive of such an opinion had been agreed to by any respectable body of persons in that country, except by those who were interested in the continuance of the present system, which, ensured to them the possession of exclusive rights. He was sorry to have heard in the course of the debate the scandalous claim of compensation urged on behalf of the superiority holders. The House had been told that these superiorities were property, and that large sums had been paid for their purchase. He could conceive no reason why they should have been purchased at a high rate, unless it was for the purpose of making them the means of a disgraceful jobbing in places and offices. He believed the people of Scotland were generally satisfied with the share of Representation proposed to be given to that country, though he confessed that he should not have been displeased to have seen another Member added to the number. There was one point, however, in which he quite agreed with the hon. Gentleman who had preceded him, and that was, that he thought Irish Gentlemen ought to be satisfied with the number of Representatives allotted to that part of the empire by the Reform Bill. When he compared the revenues of Ireland and Scotland, and the immense cost of maintaining the government of the former, and the small charge for the government of the latter, he thought there could be no reasonable claim for a greater share of Representation to Ireland than had been given.

Sir George Murray

could not remain wholly silent when a measure of so much importance was brought forward affecting his country. The feeling of alarm and apprehension had increased in Scotland, and great danger, it was conceived, would result from the introduction of the measure. The greater part of the people of property there, who, from their intelligence, were capable of judging of the effects of a complicated measure, were decidedly of opinion that the consequences likely to result from this Bill would be very dangerous. He was at the same time aware that the measure had many supporters, some of whom were gentlemen of rank and station, but the great majority of those who advocated it, were actuated chiefly by the spirit of innovation and the desire of power. It had been held out to them as a lure, that the Bill would increase their influence, which very naturally induced them to give their sanction and cordial support to this formidable innovation. Although there might be some individuals who were aware of the danger that might accrue even to themselves if placed in possession of too much power, yet it was out of the question to suppose that the great body of the people could reason in this manner, and would ever think of entertaining any diffidence, or suppose that the possession of power might be ultimately prejudicial to their own interests. The measure was one of complete innovation; it was upsetting and altering the Constitution of the country; and in doing that, reconstructing the Representation upon an entirely new basis, at least all parts of the empire ought to have been fairly treated. According to the principles of the Bill, however, Scotland was not fairly treated, and was not adequately represented. He concurred in opinion with those Gentlemen from Ireland, who complained that Ireland was unjustly dealt with; and so was Scotland. Why were the principles which were applied to England, not applied to Scotland and Ireland? He did not approve of those principles; he thought it dangerous to legislate on general principles; but in adopting them, they ought to be carried fully into effect, and be extended equally to all places. Small boroughs in England were allowed to retain their two Members, and the counties which had 150,000 inhabitants were to have four Members, while two Representatives were denied in Scotland to counties containing a large population. Ireland and Scotland had both ample cause for complaint that the number of their Representatives was not increased. The noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, said, he did not see why the same principles should be applied to Scotland and Ireland as to England; but he asked, why should they not? The people of those parts of the empire were not conscious of any inferiority, and claimed that the same principles should be applied to them as to England. Would the noble Lord point out in what the difference consisted, that different principles should be applied to them? Again he begged to leave to observe, that the new Members that were given to Scotland, were all allotted to the commercial interests; but were the agricultural interests of Scotland deserving no increase? There was no part of the empire where agriculture had made greater progress, or was conducted with more skill and science than in that country. The agriculturists, had as good a claim to an increased Representation as the commercial classes, and they were unjustly treated when it was denied to them. There was another part, in this Bill in which, no departure was to be made from the provisions of the measure which was brought forward last Session; he alluded to the alteration in the boundaries of some of the Scotch counties. He remembered hearing the noble Lord, the Representative for Yorkshire, state, that part of the principle of the English Bill was, that no alteration was intended to be made in the boundaries of counties. Why was this principle not applied to Scotland? Why was a portion of the county of Perth to be taken off, and added to Kinross and Clackmannan? Why was a portion of the county of Argyle to be taken off and added to Bute? He saw no reason whatever for a partial disfranchisement of these great counties, which, for their extent, magnitude, and general importance, were very prominent in the system of Scotch Representation, especially Perth. There was no county in the United Kingdom more purely independent in its Representation, and it was, therefore, most unjust to mutilate it? He saw no other reason for the mutilation but an attempt to render it and other counties to which the severed portions were to be attached, dependent on some oligarchy or great family. Again, he could see no reasons for the augmentation of Kinross and Clackmannan; these counties were sufficiently extensive to send Representatives to Parliament, as they had hitherto done. He could conceive nothing more contrary to the principle intended to be laid down by the English Bill, than such a mutilation. In like manner, why was the county of Argyle to have one of its districts severed from it? If, at any time hereafter, it was proposed to extend the Representation of the Scotch counties in proportion to their magnitude and the amount of their population, they would be defrauded of their rights by this very process of mutilation. He entirely agreed with those hon. Members who considered this great measure as one, the fate of which was dependent on that of the other Bills, and not as a separate measure unconnected with them. He had always considered that one of the greatest disadvantages under which they laboured, in the course of these discussions, was, the being called upon to decide separately on the three Bills. It was utterly impossible that justice could be done to Ireland or Scotland by such a course of proceeding. The experience of last Session warranted him in saying, that very little attention would be bestowed upon the Scotch Bill when the English one was passed; and this observation would apply also to the Irish Bill. During the course of last Session, the attendance of Members was very small on discussing these Bills, except when a division was about to take place—and then, indeed, a number of Members flowed in for the purpose of putting down the claims of the sister countries. The only way, therefore, by which he could protect his country from the act of gross injustice which he conceived was to be committed on it, through the means of this Bill, was, not to wait for any future stage of the Bill, but to begin his opposition at once, because he knew that the second step would do injustice to Scotland, and the third, injustice to Ireland.

Mr. Cutlar Fergusson

agreed with the right, hon. Gentleman, that Scotland ought to receive a greater number of Members, and he therefore differed with the hon. Member (Mr. Gillon), who said that Scotland was satisfied. Scotland was not satisfied, and it was not likely she could be so, when the allotment of Members was manifestly partial. He complained that this Bill increased the number of Members for England twenty-three more than the last Bill, while it gave no increase whatever to Scotland. He did not grudge England her number of Members, but he claimed for Scotland an equal and proportionable share. The present measure was to effect a great and complete change in the Representation, and Scotland, as a part of Great Britain, was entitled to an equal portion of Representation. The partiality to England would only injure the measure. No Representative for the other parts of the empire could be satisfied with it. The Members now reserved for the English small boroughs, would have been more appropriately given to represent counties of Scotland and Ireland. He denied that Scotland was satisfied with her share of Representation as settled at the Union. That event was mainly brought about by corrupting her nobles, and their country was in consequence unfairly dealt with. That injustice ought now to be remedied; but even admitting, for the sake of argument, that justice was done to Scotland at the Union, the great alteration which had since taken place in her condition made a great increase in her Representation necessary. At the period of the Union, the amount of her revenue to that of England was only as one to about thirty-five but the proportion she now contributed was as much as one to seven or eight On the very lowest calculation, therefore, that country ought at least to have sixty Representatives under the provisions of any just principles of general Representation. He objected wholly to two Representatives being retained for small boroughs, and the same portion allotted to towns of small account, while only one was given to the largest and wealthiest county of Scotland. Were not the counties of Perth, Argyle, and Fife, each better entitled to two Representatives than Brighton? It was said that there were many advantages in giving two Members to places generally, and why, then, not allow the Scotch counties to have those advantages? If it were thought advisable to give such a place as Brighton two Members, why not give to Lanarkshire, with 250,000 people, a similar share in the Representation? He was not of opinion that two Members should be given to each place; he thought in many cases one was enough; but as the Bill gave more than one to small and unimportant boroughs, why not give two to all places of greater wealth and importance? He did not object to England having 500 Members, but he must say, that while England had 500, and Scotland only the number allowed by this Bill, Scotland ought not to be satisfied. He objected to any compensation for Superiorities. Who was to give it, or from whence was it to come? In his opinion, as a general principle, Representation should be based on property or means—on property which would insure independence, or on means, by the exercise of industry, of insuring subsistence and independence. Voters should also be independent of the will of others, and, therefore he disapproved of that part of the English Bill which allowed votes to tenants-at-will for counties, and to weekly tenants in towns. Such persons could not be independent. There was a part of the English Bill, however, which confirmed to freemen all the rights which they inherited as their birth-right. Freemen and their descendants were allowed to retain their votes, though they had no property. This was a concession on the part of Ministers. Now there were superiorities in Scotland without beneficial property attached to them; and he would suggest to the learned Lord, and strongly recommend, as a concession, also, that the principle adopted with regard to the freemen should be extended to the superiority voters in fee in Scotland. The superiority was at least connected, and nearly connected, with the property, which was not the case with the rights of freemen. Certainly he would take care that no superiorities should be separated to make votes hereafter; but preserving those now in existence would, he thought, do no harm: if he thought preserving them would perpetuate the present right of voting, which was the worst system that ever existed, he would be the last man to advocate their continuance. But as the retention of their votes by the freemen of England would be of little importance, from the mass of new voters who would be introduced, in like manner the extension of the franchise in Scotland would so neutralize the superiority holders, as to render them no longer mischievous. He would not allow the superiority to be separated from the property, in future, so as to give the franchise to the bare superiority; but as a concession, and with a view to remove all objections on the ground of disfranchisement, he would preserve the rights of the present holders of superiorities. He was satisfied with the principles of the Bill: he would give them his most cordial support; but he hoped, at the same time, that the learned Lord would take into consideration the suggestion he had thrown out, which would only make the Bill more efficacious.

Mr. Hunt

could not avoid congratulating the noble Lord and hon. Gentlemen opposite, particularly the right hon. Gentleman (the Secretary for Ireland), and the learned Lord who had brought forward the present motion, at the great unanimity which prevailed amongst the Scotch and Irish Members against their respective Bills. Not one Member, he believed, from Scotland or Ireland that had spoken, had expressed himself satisfied with these Bills. One Member, indeed, said, the people of Scotland were satisfied, but even he wanted one Member more. He could not also avoid reminding the hon. member for Kirkcudbright that he was not now satisfied with the Bill, although when he (Mr. Hunt) had formerly stated, from his own sources of information, that the people of Scotland were not satisfied with the Bill, the hon. Member had met his assertion with a contradiction, and assured the House that there were not three persons in all Scotland who were unfavourable to the measure. The hon. member for Middlesex said the same. [Mr. Hume: I say so now.] Then the hon. Member would contradict all the statements made to-night by the Members for Scotland, which he heard with satisfaction, because they confirmed the statement he had formerly made to the House. They had been told that the Bill was to pass, and that an adequate number of 10l. Lords was to be created to effect that object. He had heard, that when twelve Peers were made at once, during the reign of Queen Anne, a certain Duchess had observed, that one could not spit out of a window without its falling upon a Lord. What the Duchesses of the present day would say he could not anticipate; but certainly Lords would be common enough if the contemplated creation was to take place. He moreover asserted, that Ireland would be dissatisfied, and that Ministers must be aware, that do what they would, they could not give satisfaction to certain parties there. Unless they gave a place of some sort to the hon. and learned member for Kerry they must have a separation. As for himself, he had always been for separation, and was convinced they would have it if they did not give something to the hon. and learned member for Kerry.

Mr. Kennedy

denied the assertion of the hon. Member for Preston, that the people of Scotland were dissatisfied and disappointed with this Bill. On the contrary he could assure the House, that the people of Scotland not only were satisfied with the Bill, but that they were impatient, if be might so say, for the enactment of it. Those who said, that the people of Scotland were dissatisfied with the Bill, were those who would be dissatisfied with any bill of Reform, and who were opposed to Reform altogether. He should like to know, if an augmentation of Members was granted equal to meet their wishes, whether they would undertake to support the Bill. He fully believed they would not, and therefore he looked with distrust, and he might almost say, with indignation, at the clamour that had been raised by hon. Gentlemen on the other side for an additional number of Members for Scotland. He cautioned the supporters of the Bill against this cry, for he was sure that those who raised it would not pledge themselves to vote for the Bill, if the additional Members were given. Indeed, he was certain that the giving of these additional Members would only be made the means for embarrassing the Ministers, as there must then be a remodelling of the proposed system. The measure was calculated to produce great advantages, and he, therefore, most heartily wished to see it passed into a law, and would give it, his support without quarrelling with the minor details because they might not be absolutely perfect.

Mr. Hume

said, that it appeared to him that the charge made by some hon. Members against this measure was its greatest recommendation—he meant that it effected a total change in the system of Scotch Representation. He said so, because he thought that nothing could be worse than that system. He was always aware that the Bill would not satisfy all parties in Scotland, but it satisfied the majority, and he fully believed its operation would be most beneficial to the country. The question was, whether it would effect such a change in the present system as to give to the mass of the people a voice and an interest in the Representation of their country in that House? He thought it would have that effect fully, and, therefore, it should have his most cordial support. However, he must beg leave to make one observation on the speech of the right hon. Baronet (Sir George Murray) who had remarked that the Bill could not be defended on general principles; and that the Reform measure differed in such principles when applied to the three distinct divisions of the empire. The question he wished to put was, would the right hon. Baronet consent to a measure, by which every 30,000 people should choose a Representative to be sent into that House—a measure by which the whole country would be divided into districts for that purpose? That would be a measure of principle—it would be the most fair method—and it would not be open to those objections to which the present was, perhaps, liable; for he admitted, that in the various systems adopted for England and for Ireland, and for Scotland, there were many objections; and, indeed, the whole was a perfect anomaly [hear, hear!]. Gentlemen need not halloo before they were out of the wood. If the new system was an anomaly, the old one was still worse. It was the most anomalous and absurd system that could be conceived. He should be very glad when the change was effected. He was prepared to be content with the new plan, and so were the people; not because they should get all that they wanted, but because they should get much that was good. He was sure that the general results would be advantageous, and therefore he supported the measure. There was no doubt that the Ministers had not done all that could be wished, but he believed they had gone quite as far as they could at the present time. The difficulties that surrounded them provided them with an excuse, or else he should have wished them to reject all the petty boroughs, and to have given thirty or forty additional Members to Ireland and Scotland. He knew, however, that in carrying such a measure, they would meet with the greatest difficulties. He urged the Ministers to press the Bill through the House, and he was sure it would give general satisfaction; it would indeed give dissatisfaction to the proprietors, and to those who had hitherto held the election in their own hands, but to the great body of the people it would be most acceptable.

Sir George Murray

explained. He was not a friend to the application of general principles in legislation, in the manner supposed by the hon. member for Middlesex. What he had said was, that as general principles had been applied to England, they ought to be applied to Scotland.

Leave given, and the Bill brought in.