HC Deb 04 June 1832 vol 13 cc390-7

The Lord Advocate moved the Order of the Day for going into a Committee on the Reform Bill (Scotland).

Sir John Welsh

said, he had intended to move that Representatives should be given to the Scotch Universities. He did not expect, however, in the present state of parties and of that House to obtain any considerable support, and he should, therefore, abandon his intention for the present. He hoped, however, that a measure so just was only deferred. In better times he trusted to see such an arrangement carried into effect.

Mr. Cutlar Fergusson

said, that the omission of any qualification for the Representatives of counties, which had been made by the present Bill, though not by the former, would excite much disapprobation amongst the people of Scotland. He did not see why there should be a distinction made between England and Scotland in this respect. He thought it the more desirable that a qualification should be required since the constituency had been so much enlarged.

The Lord Advocate

said, that that question could not with any advantage be discussed then. If it were introduced at a proper stage, the necessary consideration could be given to it. He would merely observe, that the present law of Scotland required no qualification, and so far this part of the Bill was conformable to it. He had no apprehension that less proper persons would be returned under the Bill than were returned at present.

Sir George Clerk

thought, that there should be a qualification in land for Members for counties in Scotland, as well as in England and Ireland.

Lord Althorp

said, that it was well known that the qualification in question was not strictly attended to in England, and as the thing would be strictly interpreted in Scotland if it were introduced there, it was thought advisable not to introduce it. However, if it were the opinion of hon. Members that such a qualification should be required in Scotland, there would be no objection to the introduction of it into the Bill.

House in Committee.

On Clause 6 being read, which limits the right of voting for life only to certain 10l. freeholders,

Sir George Clerk

objected to this clause, on the ground that it disfranchised those who had purchased their votes, and which purchase had been recognised by the law of Scotland; in which respect the Scotch Reform Bill differed from the English, because the latter had to deal with boroughs, the mode of voting in which was punishable if detected to be such as described by the advocates of the Bill. He wished to call the attention of the House to a passage that appeared in The Edinburgh Review, which no doubt would pass for very great authority with the learned Lord. That passage stated, that whatever Reform took place, care should be taken to leave all existing rights untouched. But the present Bill altogether extinguished existing rights, or at least, so increased the franchise that the whole character of the former state of things was destroyed. Under these circumstances, it was his intention to move for the omission of this clause altogether.

Mr. Cumming Bruce

supported the same view. This Bill, if allowed to pass in its present state, would give a violent blow to the rights of the people. When the English Bill was proposed, hon. Gentlemen complained of its taking away their breath; and with respect to the Scotch Bill, the landed proprietors could equally say that it took away their breath, for it took away, much to their surprise, a great deal of their property. Hitherto the law of Great Britain had always respected property; but in this Bill, which was to be the panacea for all evils, the greatest of all evils was committed—that of violating the rights of property. He was aware that it was unpopular to ask for compensation under this Reform measure; but he must risk that imputation in this case, for he was fully convinced of the justice of making compensation for that which was taken away. It was said that elections ought to be pure. He granted that; but the condition by which the use of the privilege was regu- lated had no necessary connection with the means by which it was transferred. He could cite a similar case in English law. The purchase of an advowson had nothing to do with simony—it was very distinct from simony; and it seemed to him that exactly the same considerations applied to the purchase and the use of the right of voting in Scotland. Neither could he admit the proposition, that because a law was passed for England, a similar law was required for Scotland. He could not admit this, and former Parliaments had not admitted it, as might be seen by reference to the 1l. note circulation, and to the Cholera Prevention Bill, in which the Scotch Members properly insisted on a recognition of Divine Providence being inserted. These were two instances; and he heartily hoped that the Government would allow the Reform measure to be a third, as he was well persuaded that the present Bill, instead of conferring a benefit, would be inflicting an evil on Scotland.

Mr. Robert Ferguson

contended, that no claim for compensation for loss sustained by the holders or possessors of superiority votes could be made, because, in point of fact, they were really of no value, and the parchments which conveyed the rights to the superiority votes were only valuable to hang up in their baronial halls, and afford information to some future historian or antiquary, bent on an inquiry into the ancient political history of Scotland. They were founded on a corrupt fiction invented for a corrupt political purpose, and they were so base that the owners had always a repugnance to take the oaths—a practice, indeed, that was never rsorted to unless in a case of the candidate being very hard pushed.

The Lord Advocate

said, that if any fault was to be found with the clause now before the House, it ought to be found with the mercy which it manifested. The superiority votes were in point of fact, of no value and were based in corruption, and in the usurpation of the ancient Constitution of the country. Formerly their value was real; it depended on property held of the Crown of the annual value of 40s. or feudally of the value of 400l. Scots. But they had long since been separated from property, and were sold separately. If any one superiority should be found to contain property of 10l. yearly value, the owner of that superiority would, of course, still continue to possess his vote, for in the clause no class of votes were struck at but those which did not originate in the possession of the annual value of 10l., and he contended that the proprietors of the boroughs enumerated in schedules A and B of the English Bill of Reform, were just as much entitled to compensation as were the proprietors of superiority votes in Scotland.

Mr. Pringle

must support the claim for compensation. A money value had been given for the superiority votes, at a time when they were recognized by the existing law of the land. He regarded the present measure as a measure of spoliation—a sweeping, revolutionary measure, which abrogated rights which ought not to be disturbed; and he felt sure a measure of Reform might have been framed by the learned Lord opposite, which would have given much greater satisfaction, both to the Reformers and Anti-Reformers of Scotland.

Mr. John Campbell

said, that he hoped the House would use the same despatch in disposing of the present measure which had been used by the other House in disposing of the English Bill. The other House of Parliament had set them a noble example; for they had only been occupied in Committee three days in despatching that which had cost this House so much of time and labour, as well as, to some, so many pangs to part with—namely, the rotten boroughs. Indeed he hoped that at the moment he was speaking the Reform Bill had become the law of the land. As the superiority votes were unconnected with property, they were valueless, except as a means of political corruption. They could not, therefore; come into question, and if he understood any thing of the principle of the measure of Reform, it was, that property should be represented. If the superiorities to which the clause referred had any real property attached to them, they would then possess representative power; but, if they were of no real value, their holders had no claim whatever to compensation. In this country it was unknown, the fact of a freeman's vote being announced for sale, while it was not uncommon to see advertised in the Scotch journals, ten votes for sale, and the upset price named. This was a disgrace to the country, and would be remedied by the present measure.

Lord Loughborough

opposed the clause. The votes advertised, as mentioned by the hon. and learned Member, arose out of property to be sold, and not otherwise.

Mr. Kennedy

conceived that it was monstrous to contend (if it really was contended) that compensation ought to be granted for any supposed wrong inflicted upon the possessors of superiority votes. He himself had bought some of the votes at 50l., and he had known other gentlemen purchase them at 2,500l. each; at which rate, then, he would ask, was compensation to be given? It was monstrous and absurd to think of such a proposition, and he maintained that the Bill and its provisions, as they stood, ought to be adhered to, to benefit the country.

Sir George Warrender

said, that compensation in this case, was, as he thought, entirely out of the question—indeed, as an hon. Member had said, was moonshine. However he had opposed the English Bill of Reform, he felt himself called upon to support the measure now before the House.

Mr. Hume

was of opinion, that there could be no departure from the principle of the Scotch Bill, or from that general principle of Reform to which the House was pledged, if they omitted the Clause altogether. In the English Bill they had preserved the rights of freemen, and he saw no reason why they should not extend the same privileges to the holders of superiorities in Scotland.

Lord Althorp

could not consent to the omission of the Clause. In arranging a new Constitution, it was a most desirable thing that they should not lend themselves to the preservation of fictitious votes; besides, all the holders of superiorities would have a vote for property elsewhere.

Mr. Dixon

supported the Clause; he was surprised at the opinion of the hon. member for Middlesex, for he thought the omission of the Clause entirely inconsistent with the principle of the Bill.

Sir Charles Forbes

was of opinion, the consideration of the subject of compensation for the extinction of the franchise in right of superiorities, was of importance sufficient to be referred to a Committee above-stairs. He certainly spoke as a possessor of superiorities which he had purchased.

Sir George Murray

was in favour of continuing the right of voting to the parties themselves possessed of superiorities.

Mr. Charles Grant

conceived, that the continuance of the right to vote in virtue of superiorities would be a violation of the principle of this Bill, and fraught with much litigation and confusion. He would support the clause, although, in doing so, he made as great a sacrifice, in a pecuniary point of view, with respect to superiorities, as any man in Scotland.

Clause agreed to.

Upon the 7th Clause being read,

Sir William Rae

objected to it for its complexity, and contended, that its effect would be, by admitting 10l. householders, to overpower the landed interest in all places where manufactories were established. As there was to be a new arrangement for Scotland, they ought to attend to the interests of the landowners, and grant, as in England, additional Members to the counties.

The Lord Advocate

thought, that his right hon. friend was unnecessarily alarmed. A great number of Scotch towns were small, and dependant upon agriculture, and all their voters would support the landed interest. He believed that the clause would be found to work well; and must deny that any just ground existed for the apprehensions of his right hon. friend as to the county constituency. [During the discussion on these Clauses, the House, which had been tolerably full, suddenly became almost empty, the majority of Members present rushing out with great eagerness, on its being rumoured that a division was taking place in the Lords, on the third reading of the Reform Bill. On the return of the Members, the greatest excitement prevailed, and business was for some minutes suspended while the result of the division was communicated and commented on. The feeling prevalent below stairs spread to the strangers' gallery, and a general sentiment of joy and congratulation was exhibited within the walls of the House, at the triumph of the Reform Bill.]

Clause agreed to.

Clause 8 read.

Mr. Alderman Wood

rose to move that the Chairman do report progress and ask leave to sit again.

[The English Reform Bill had been brought to the bar, and the messengers from the Lords were waiting to present it.]

Lord Althorp

said, that he knew the object which the hon. Alderman had in view in making the Motion, and the circumstance in question gave him as much pleasure and satisfaction as it did to the hon. Alderman; but he hoped, never- theless, that the Motion would not be persevered in.

Mr. Andrew Johnston

said, that such was the excitement in Scotland about the Scotch Reform Bill, that there would be no peace for the Scotch Members until it was passed, and he therefore hoped that no needless delay would be interposed in the way of its progress.

Lord Althorp

said, that he did not wish the Committee to be divided on the subject, but the hon. Alderman might, if he chose, press his Motion to a division.

Sir Robert Peel

said, that he had more confidence in the judgment of the noble Lord than in that of the worthy Alderman, and if the House did divide, he (Sir R. Peel) should go with the noble Lord.

Lord Althorp

hoped that the hon. Alderman would not, on account of any temporary feeling, delay the progress of the Scotch Reform Bill; but if it was impossible, in the present state of the House, that any attention could be paid to the subject before it, they must have in that case an adjournment of it. [The House was at this period in an indescribable state of confusion.]

Mr. Dixon

said, that this Motion was extremely disrespectful to Scotland, and that, even should he stand alone, he would divide the House fifty times against it.

Sir Charles Forbes

found fault with the manner in which the Scotch Reform Bill had been treated in that House. If the Members were not prepared to give it their attention, they might as well adjourn to receive the Message which he understood had been sent down to them from the other House. However, he hoped that they would go on with the Scotch Reform Bill, and not lose the opportunity of considering it upon the 4th of June, the anniversary of the birth day of our late most gracious Sovereign, George 3rd.

Lord Althorp

was surprised at the observations of the hon. Baronet, especially when he considered what had been the course adopted by the hon. Baronet, with respect to Reform.

Sir George Warrender

, as a friend of the Scotch Reform [hear]—he was a friend of the Scotch Reform Bill, though he was opposed to the other Bill; and, as a friend of the Scotch Reform Bill he would not consent to this Motion, which would unnecessarily delay it.

Mr. Alderman Wood

denied that he had any wish to interfere with the progress of the Scotch Reform Bill. All he wished was, that the House should have the gratification of receiving the English Reform Bill, which was now ready to be presented to them from the other House; and he could not conceive why he should be supposed careless about the Scotch Reform Bill, merely because he wished them to adjourn for ten minutes for the purpose he had mentioned.

Motion withdrawn.

Several Clauses, with merely verbal Amendments were agreed to.

The House resumed—Committee to sit again.