§ Lord Althorp
moved the Order of the day for the third reading of the Reform Bill for Scotland. Petitions against the Member qualification clause of this Bill were presented from the Glasgow Political Union, by Mr. Dixon; and from Edinburgh and Renfrew, by Mr. Hume.
§ Lord Althorp
stated, that the Bill, as it stood, required a qualification for Scotland similar to that of the English Bill. But, looking at the manner in which the qualification had been set aside in England—it being well known that a considerable number of able men, such as Mr. Pitt, Mr. Sheridan, Mr. Burke, Mr. Tierney, and others, had sat in that House without being duly qualified—it was not thought advisable to enforce the qualification for Scotland. It was, therefore, the intention of Government to propose the withdrawal of the qualification of members clause, substituting for it a clause fixing alanded property of 400l. as the minimum qualification of a 1058 county Member, and leaving the Representatives of boroughs and towns, as at present, without a property qualification. He had been of opinion that the property qualification of the Scotch Members should be precisely identical with that required of the Members of counties and boroughs in England, and accordingly had a clause introduced into the present Bill to effect that identity. He, however, felt himself called upon not to press it, in consequence of the great dissatisfaction which the proposition had occasioned throughout Scotland, not only among the working classes, but—as letters to him and the Lord Advocate, from persons of the highest respectability, such as Mr. Murray of Henderland, Mr. Oswald of Glasgow, and Sir John Maxwell, strikingly testified—in classes placed above all sinister motives or suspicions. Those persons declared, that the effect of such a clause would be, to materially fetter the freedom of choice of their Representatives, with which it was a main object of the Bill to invest the electors of Scotland; and that its repeal would give birth to great satisfaction in that country. He, therefore, would propose an amendment to the effect he had stated, in reference to the counties, leaving the boroughs, as at present, without a property qualification condition.
§ Mr. Robert A. Dundas
said, that if he thought he could successfully oppose this Bill, he should undoubtedly persevere in his opposition; but, as all hope of ultimate success was now removed, he should not waste the time of the House by continuing a course of opposition which he felt would be fruitless. With respect to the motion to which the noble Lord had just adverted, he had only to say, that he did not see why the qualification of Members in the two countries should not be the same. It would be a sort of absurdity, that a person who was unfit to represent Carlisle or Newcastle, was quite competent, across the border, to represent Edinburgh or Glasgow. If that were not so, persons would not be prevented from coming into that House who would hardly be admitted into respectable company or decent society.
§ Mr. Dixon
observed, with respect to the declaration of the hon. Member who had just addressed the House—namely, that without a landed property qualification the Scotch boroughs would be likely to return persons unfitted for decent society—that it argued great ignorance on the part 1059 of the hon. Member, with respect to the feelings and mental habits of those inhabitants of the Scotch boroughs whom the Bill would invest with the right of suffrage. There was not the least chance, when the Parliament was reformed, that the inhabitants of Scotch boroughs would elect improper persons. The qualification had been continually evaded in England, and so it would be in Scotland; and why, then, should they pass a law which could not be executed. In Scotland it was very difficult to obtain small estates, and therefore the clause would operate more injuriously in Scotland than in England. The greatest dissatisfaction had been caused by the proposal to inflict a qualification on Scotch Members, and he should certainly oppose that part of the Bill unless it were altered. As to any fear of the people of Scotland not choosing proper persons, in the sense of the hon. member for Edinburgh, he could assure him and the House that the people of Scotland, down to the very lowest, were great worshippers of aristocracy and wealth; so much so, indeed, that mere fitness and talent would have but poor chance in competition with either high birth or great riches.
was decidedly of opinion that there ought to be a qualification in Scotland. There had always confessedly been one with respect to counties, and in his opinion, one with respect to towns. But, whether there had been a qualification or not, a new system was now to be introduced, and it ought to be wholly acted upon—he contended that the sense of Scotland had not been taken on the subject, but the Government by making this alteration was giving way once more to Political Unions. It was true the noble Lord had mentioned respectable names in support of the change, but it was also true, that the Gentlemen mentioned, were much mixed up with popular meetings. He made these remarks not for the purpose of opposing the Bill. He now considered that Bill as passed, and he should heartily rejoice if all or any of his fears respecting it were not realised. For his own part he should seriously and heartily endeavour to render the Bill, in its operations serviceable to the country and its best interests. He had done his duty in opposing the Bill, but finding that the great majority of the legislature was opposed to him, he should henceforth have to perform the next duty of carrying the law into 1060 execution in the least injurious manner to the country.
would maintain, that the Political Unions, which hon. Members seemed so anxious to sneer down, included within their members persons of the highest respectability and intellectual eminence. They were to the full as respectable as the Carlton Conservative Club, to which the hon. Member belonged, and were not the less so that they were mainly composed of persons in the middle classes of society. He approved of the principle of the noble Lord's Amendment, so far as it applied to the boroughs, and only regretted that the counties were not placed on the same footing, as a property qualification was pro tanto an impediment to freedom of choice on the part of the represented as to their Representatives. The only test should be fitness, as indicated by talent, and information, and zeal in the public service, and to make property the condition was to shut out intellectual competency. What test was a man's money of his intellect? If it could be proved that talents and integrity were proportionate to wealth, he would support the clause; but was it not a too notorious fact, that the half-witted, and wholly ignorant, and profligate sat in that House merely because they happened to be born with a silver spoon in their mouths? And was it not equally undeniable, that many a person not possessing a clear property of 100l. per annum, possessed far higher senatorial qualifications than the large majority of his hearers? Should such persons be excluded from a station for which they were so eminently fitted, while some monied man, without any other qualification, was representing his own breeches-pocket? The qualification was evaded in England, and evaded by the law-makers themselves, and therefore he thought it was absurd to pass another similar law, only to break it in a similar manner.
The Lord Advocate
admitted that there had not been much time to take the opinion of Scotland upon this clause; but the time that had elapsed had been industriously employed for that purpose. As soon as the clause had been printed, he sent off 250 copies to the different boroughs in Scotland, for their consideration. Among the answers he had received, thirty-six in number, there was not one which approved of the proposed increase in the amount of the qualification, 1061 but every one of them exclaimed against it. He was sure that the rules as to qualification had not been of benefit in England; but he was even more fully convinced, that if they had been innocuous here, they would be actually injurious in Scotland. He was, therefore glad to support the Amendment of his noble friend, as he was sure that it would be beneficial, and that Scotland would be grateful for it.
§ Sir George Murray
said, he had always thought, with respect to requiring a qualification, that if it had been effectual, it would often have been injurious, as it might have excluded some of those who were in all respects, except that of property, the best qualified to sit in that House. It might often exclude men of noble families, and men of great ability and extensive education, but who did not possess the requisite property. But he was aware that in England this qualification had not been effectual; and, if it was not more effectual in Scotland than it had been in England, it might as well be omitted. In this view of the matter, he could not see the reason of the distinction which the noble Lord took with regard to counties and boroughs; or, if there was any distinction in order to exclude persons who might have no other claims than what arose from the particular excitement of the moment, he believed that the reason of that distinction would go to show, that the qualification clause was more necessary to be applied to boroughs than to county elections, for the danger of electing persons of that description was greater in boroughs than it was likely to be in counties. He should take another opportunity of expressing his opinion on the clause generally.
agreed with the spirit of the observations just made by the right hon. and gallant Member opposite, and, after the display of opinion which this discussion had elicited, perhaps the noble Lord would not think of pressing that part of the clause which related to the qualification for counties. He hoped that such a proof would be given of the confidence placed in the people of Scotland, that they would elect fit and proper persons to sit in that House as their Representatives. He was sure that the people of Scotland deserved that confidence, and he had no doubt whatever that, under the Reform Bill, even if no qualification were required, the gentlemen who were returned would be such as would do honour, not only to their native country., but to the 1062 Legislature of which they had been elected to form a part. He thanked the noble Lord for what he had done, and he was sure, that there was no part of the noble Lord's conduct that would give the people of Scotland more satisfaction, than the candid and manly manner in which the noble Lord had retracted a recommendation which they could not have seen carried into effect without feeling the deepest possible regret.
§ Mr. Gillon
begged to express the satisfaction which he had received from the declaration which had fallen from the Chancellor of the Exchequer—a satisfaction which, he was sure, would be shared by the whole community of Scotland. Their promptitude in coming forward to resist what they considered an undue restriction on those privileges which they were about to receive, was most creditable to them, influenced by the feeling which he was sure animated them, that the qualification was to be a bona fide one, and not a mere illusion, as it had been in England. He rejoiced that the qualification had been dispensed with in boroughs, and that the electors were to be left to their free choice of a Representative, in whom they had confidence, who understood their interests, and participated in their feelings, whether he was rich or poor; and he had yet to learn that a man was the honester from being rich, and it was honest men they wanted in this place, not men who were to represent only their breeches-pockets. He could have wished that the same principle had been extended to counties; but as the qualification would be, he trusted, nearly inoperative, as in England, little inconvenience was to be apprehended from the modified one introduced. He trusted so much in the education, in the good sense, in the morality of the people of Scotland, that he could not doubt of their exercising with discrimination those privileges which the new Charter of their liberties was about to confer on them; and it was time, when legislating on so great a scale, to get rid of obsolete and aristocratic notions of exclusion. He hoped that the noble Lord would withdraw the county qualification, as well as that required for boroughs.
Mr. Fysche Palmer
rejoiced at the change which had taken place in public opinion, on the subject of Reform. In 1792, a great many gentlemen of the highest respectability were transported, because they had advocated the cause of 1063 Reform. If the Government were now to transport all the people who held the same opinions, they would transport nine-tenths of the people of Scotland.
§ Mr. Robert Ferguson
said, that the best qualification a Member could have was, the fact of his having been returned by a numerous constituency as their Representative. He was against all qualification whatever; and he was grateful to the noble Lord for the improvement he proposed to make in the Bill.
§ Captain William Gordon
asked, whether the noble Lord had taken into consideration the proposition for transferring the election for the county of Edinburgh from the town of Edinburgh to Dalkeith?
The Lord Advocate
said, that the county-town had always been preferred, and that places geographically more central were often not so convenient. In this instance, Dalkeith was by no means so conveniently accessible as Edinburgh.
§ Bill read a third time.
The Lord Advocate
said, that seeing it was the sense of the House, he would propose, in addition to the Amendment of his noble friend, to withdraw the whole of the qualification clause.
moved, as an Amendment, that Shetland and Orkney have separate Members, and for this purpose, that a change be made in the clause, fixing the number of borough Representatives.
apprehended, that if this alteration were made, it must be done by giving the two counties of Selkirk and Peebles only one Member between them.
The Lord Advocate
admitted, that the case of Shetland was one of singular hardship, yet this did not arise from the drawing up of the Bill, but from the peculiar situation of that cluster of islands. The hon. member for Orkney, had founded his Motion on a basis which was not sound. He had argued that the two clusters of islands—namely, those of Orkney and Shetland, had hitherto formed separate counties. In this the hon. Member was incorrect. He was ready to admit that, from the cession of Shetland by the Court of Denmark, up to the Restoration, they were distinct districts, but from 1669 to the Union, they had constituted only one stewartry, and writs were issued in all succeeding reigns to elect a Member for the united stewartry of Orkney and Shetland. Now, looking at the population and property of these two districts, he did not see on what grounds they could claim two 1064 Members. It was of no use to say, that the two places were separated by a tempestuous ocean. He was ready to agree to that statement, but it did not apply peculiarly to Orkney and Shetland. Ross-shire, for instance, and the island of Lewis, were divided by an ocean equally tempestuous, and other places in Scotland were in a similar position; but that arose from circumstances over which human power had no control. In addition to that, he must say, that looking at the population and assessed taxes, these two districts had no just claim for two Members. They contained a population of about 50,000 inhabitants, and paid assessed taxes little more than one-tenth part of what was paid by many counties in Scotland. The counties of Perth, Renfrew, Fife, Aberdeen, and Edinburgh, had each, at an average, more than four times as many inhabitants, yet they were to return only one Member each; for these reasons, he should oppose the Amendment.
had no doubt that the two places formed only one stewartry; but that was not the question. The question was, whether, from their population and their peculiar situation, they ought not to have two Members. The one had a population of 27,000, and the other 30,000; and they were distant 120 miles; separated, too, by a tempestuous ocean. He must, however, say, that he doubted much whether there was any chance of carrying such an Amendment in the present stage of the Bill. Had the Motion been brought forward sooner, the case might have been otherwise. He, therefore, hoped his hon. friend would not divide the House; but satisfy himself with recording his Motion, and reserve the further discussion of it to another Parliament.
§ Mr. Patrick Stewart
would support the Amendment of the hon. member for Orkney. From the geographical position of these groups of islands, it was at once evident that their having only one and the same Member, could never be more than a mockery of Representation. Yet the claims of Shetland to a share in that Representation could not be denied; and it was neither impossible nor inexpedient to grant it. Let Peebles and Selkirk have only one Member between them, and the other be given to Shetland; or else let the boroughs of Wigtown be united with the county, and their Member be given to Shetland. He would likewise propose, that in place of making the qualification of voters in Shetland 10l., it should be the 1065 possession for a certain time of a Shetland pony.
§ Sir George Murray
said, that the House had not to go back to the time when these islands were under the Crown of Norway. It had to look to their present position, and it appeared to him (Sir George Murray), that Shetland could not be properly represented without having a separate Member. The case was a very strong one, and had the hon. Member moved to give a separate Member, without decreasing the number of the boroughs, the Motion should have had his support; but as the Motion was shaped, he regretted that he must vote against it.
§ Mr. Robert A. Dundas
would oppose the Motion, also, on the same grounds on which the hon. and gallant Baronet objected to it.
would not press for a division on his Motion, which he had brought forward in justice to his constituents, and with a hope that a reforming Government might consider it incumbent upon them to take the subject into consideration.
§ Amendment negatived, and original Clause to stand part of the Bill.
moved, as an Amendment, that Dalkeith be substituted for Edinburgh, as the place for holding the election for the county of Edinburgh.
§ Amendment negatived.
Mr. Stuart Wortley
observed, that the Town Clerks in Scotland were persons of great respectability, and ought to continue to be intrusted with the duty of Returning-officers as heretofore. Their respectability and worthiness of trust were fully recognised by their being appointed to make out the lists; he saw no reason why they should not still fulfil the duty of Returning-officers; and he should, therefore, move an Amendment, having for its object to continue to them their former privilege.
The Lord Advocate
said, that it certainly was not intended by the clause to cast any imputation upon that respectable class, the Town Clerks of the Scottish burghs, but as the right of election formerly resided in the Corporation, and as the Town Clerks were their officers, and theirs only, he saw no reason in the fact of their having once been Returning officers, that would require 1066 their continuance in that situation; on the contrary, he was perfectly sure the House would agree with him, that the Returning-officers provided under the Bill were much more eligible.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ The Lord Advocate then moved that the clause requiring qualifications in Members should be withdrawn from the Bill.
§ Mr. Horatio Ross
contended, that at least they ought to have a qualification for the Scotch county Members.
observed, that the Scotch borough Members never had been required to have any qualification, and he was sure that the general feeling of the people of Scotland was in favour of the extension of that rule to the counties.
said, that as there was now to be no qualification for Scotland, be wished to know why there should be any qualification required for any part of the United Kingdom? The fact was, that qualification was a mockery, and by mental reservation was always evaded.
Mr. C. W. Wynn
concurred with those who thought that the qualification as proved by oath at the Table, ought to be altered, and especially that it should not be restricted to merely landed qualification. It might be evaded, and perhaps by many Members that was done with a safe conscience—they considering that an oath was to be taken in the sense in which it was understood by the parties to it.
§ Sir Charles Wetherell
objected to so important a change as the abolition of qualifications being thus introduced incidentally into the Scotch Reform Bill. If they proceeded in this way the consequence would be, that all qualification in money or land would be done away with in the course of time. He would not undertake to say, that it might not be desirable to generalise the qualification, by attaching it to property in the funds, as well as to landed property. There was no principle in the English, Irish, or Scotch Bills, with respect to which the Council in Downing-street did not suffer themselves to be overruled by the affiliated councils. Why should such an exemption be given to a Scotch Member or a Scotch voter, and refused to an English or an Irish Member or voter? The learned Lord. Advocate said there was something peculiar in a Scotch conscience, which revolted at oaths of this kind. He believed, if the truth were known, it would be found that the Scotch Unions overruled the noble Lord (Althorp) and his colleagues, and that a 1067 hint from them was the cause of this alteration in the Scotch Bill. The noble Lord seemed to have washed his hands entirely of the Bill, and left it solely to the care of the learned Lord.
§ Lord Althorp
said, if what the hon. and learned Member had advanced were true, that, because no qualification for a Scotch borough was required, it was a reason why none should be required for Irish and English Members, he wondered why that had not before been brought forward in that House, as it had long been notorious that the Members for Scotch boroughs were exempt from bringing proof of qualification. The whole question had, notwithstanding the complaint of the hon. and learned Member of its being a new principle, been already discussed, and had the hon. and learned Member attended at an earlier part of the evening, he would have then been informed of the reasons by which his noble and learned friend had been guided in moving the withdrawal of the qualification. This was not a proper time to enter into the discussion of this question. If ever the whole question as to qualification in England, Ireland, and Scotland, were brought before the House unitedly, then he should with cheerfulness enter into the discussion.
§ Sir Edward Sugden
said, he feared the reason of the noble Lord's attempting to withdraw the clause was to be attributed to his having given way to the Political Unions.
§ Sir Edward Sugden
replied, that insinuations of this kind, whenever made, were always met in this way by a positive denial; but he knew that the noble Lord had, on the occasion of the English Bill, given way to the English Unions. In this manner they might go on making concessions, one by one, and step by step, till they had yielded up all the barriers by which the respectability of that House was alone to be defended.
§ Lord Althorp
gave his honour that the representations upon which the Government had been induced to concur in the present alteration, came not from the Political Unions, but from other very respectable persons in the better classes of society.
Sir Robert Inglis
said, that the same securities should be required from the Members for Scottish boroughs as were required for boroughs in this country.
Sir Robert Peel
was apprehensive they were about to establish a most dangerous 1068 precedent in respect to Scotland, which was capable of being applied hereafter, by the discontented out of doors, as a reason for similar concessions as to qualification in respect to the English and Irish boroughs. They had refused to abolish the qualification in this respect as to English and Irish borough Members; why, then, should it not be required in Scottish boroughs? There was but one reason given for the exemption by the hon. and learned Lord, which was, the tenderness of their conscience about taking the oaths at the Table as to their qualification. Yet the learned Lord had represented an English borough himself, and felt none of those qualms of conscience when the oath was put to him at the Table on his return to Parliament. [The Lord Advocate: I possessed the proper qualification.] Indeed, he never yet recollected that the House had experienced the misfortune of losing any Scotchman, elected for an English borough in consequence of his excessive sensibility in respect to taking the oath prescribed. He was unwilling to sanction, in this case, a precedent which would not fail to be laid hold of by a certain class of zealots in politics, when the opportunity arose, in a Reformed Parliament, of introducing a similar abandonment of security for the respectability and independence of the person returned to Parliament. He was unwilling to permit Government, or that House, to be led or dictated to by bodies of men out of doors, calling themselves Political Unions, as to points of such vital importance to the respectability of that House. They were better judges of such subjects than any Political Unions. It looked, certainly, as if this Motion was introduced at the suggestion of the Political Unions; for in the first bill the clause had been inserted, in the second omitted, and again reintroduced in the third draft of this very Bill. It was remarkable, also, that petitions from two Political Unions were but just presented against the clause.
assured the right hon. Baronet, that the suggestion originated not with the Unions in Scotland, but with a majority of the persons of property in parts even of Scotland where no such Unions existed. At present no qualification, on the ground of possessing property in the United Kingdom, existed in Scotland; that it might have at one period of time existed he would not contend.
§ Mr. Wrangham
said, that the people of Scotland were deeply interested in having their Representatives duly qualified. He 1069 should feel it his duty to vote for retaining the clause then rejected by the hon. and learned Lord.
§ Sir George Warrender
recommended, that if the Act of Anne, requiring a qualification, were a good one, it should not be suffered to be evaded, but ought to be made efficient. It was notorious, however, that it was evaded by English Members at the present day, and he saw no reason why that which had been so long a dead letter as to qualification, should be revived in its strictness with reference to Scotland.
§ Mr. Andrew Johnston
thought there were peculiar circumstances connected with Scotland, which made it ineligible to introduce the qualification clause into the Scotch Bill. He should be sorry to see ally part of this great measure carried in opposition to the new constituency of Scotland.
§ Motion for withdrawing the clause agreed to, and the Bill passed.