HC Deb 19 March 1832 vol 11 cc406-12
Mr. Tennyson

presented a petition from the electors of Stamford, which, he said, was most respectably signed by a majority of his constituents. The petitioners stated, that, although they were grateful for the comprehensive measure of Reform introduced by his Majesty's Ministers, they deprecated the application of a 10l. franchise to scot-and-lot boroughs, as it would gradually lessen the constituency, and render such boroughs more close than they were at present. The petitioners further stated, that Stamford and Newark had rescued themselves from dictation under the scot-and-lot franchise, and they deemed it unjust to substitute a franchise which, would lessen their future means of vindicating their independence; that, in their struggle to establish it, the inhabitants had been exposed to persecution, and in particular that several tenants of a noble Marquis, who had property within the borough, had been turned out of their houses because they would not vote for both his nominees, and had also been grievously oppressed in their trades and occupations, and otherwise assaulted and injured, because they voted conscientiously, and that they could obtain no satisfactory redress—the local magistracy—the corpora- tion of Stamford—(whose general misconduct he meant to bring under the consideration of the House)—being violent partizans of the Marquis of Exeter, their Recorder. The petitioners then stated, that they had heard with surprise and sorrow, that the parish of St. Martin, in Northamptonshire, was to be added to Stamford in Lincolnshire, as nineteen-twentieths of that parish belonged to the noble Marquis he had just alluded to, and if the same persecutions were to be exercised, the newly-achieved independence of the borough would be crushed by the operations of the Bills professing to amend the Representation, and to assure the free exercise of the elective franchise. They added, that such addition was unnecessary for the purpose of forming a sufficient constituency, as there were about 500 houses worth 10l. per annum in Stamford, and they concluded by praying that if the scot-and-lot franchise was to be annihilated, St. Martin's parish might not on that, or any other account, be added to the borough; and that if, in the opinion of the House, that addition should appear proper, then they prayed that, the borough might be wholly disfranchised, and the right of returning Members transferred to some of those important towns omitted in the Reform Bill, where the voters might not be exposed to similar persecution for the free exercise of the elective franchise. He must do his constituents the justice to say, that in the most disinterested, magnanimous, and patriotic manner, they had resolved to sacrifice their individual rights, and those of the class to which a great proportion of them belonged, by returning him as their Representative—under the impression that he should vote for the Reform Bill as it stood, with respect to the annihilation of their rights; but they concluded that, at least, this measure would secure the independency of the new constituency, and conduce to the general welfare of the nation, and, therefore, they nobly and cheerfully sacrificed themselves, little imagining that, by the addition of the parish of St. Martin, the independence of their borough would be entirely overwhelmed, as undoubtedly it would be if that addition were made; but as it would be his duty to bring this question substantively before the House in the Committee upon the Boundary Bill, he would not say more on the subject at present; but merely give notice, that he should then take the sense of the House upon it, even though he had no other sup- porter than the hon. member for Preston. With regard to the scot-and-lot franchise, he had uniformly expressed his opinion in favour of it, as his Majesty's Ministers and others well knew. He was content, however, to forego his own Opinion, and submit to the judgment of Government, supposing that they must have good reasons for not adopting a scot-and-lot franchise generally; and, although he felt especially anxious that the scot-and-lot cities and boroughs, of which there were only about thirty, should retain that franchise, he still consented to stifle his own views, in deference to those of the Government, and to what seemed to be the general opinion, until the appearance of the Boundary Bill—the supposed necessity for which, in the scot-and-lot boroughs, was assumed by his constituents and himself to arise chiefly from the abolition of the scot-and-lot franchise. If that franchise were maintained, the additions to scot-and-lot boroughs proposed by that Bill would, for the most part, be needless; and, in case of his own constituents, he should be prepared to contend, at the proper time, that its operation would be particularly mischievous. With regard to boroughs generally, the new franchise would give a great advantage to the owners of land lying within them; and where additions were made of parishes, the landowners might obtain a preponderating influence. It appeared to him that the landed interest would have altogether a considerable preponderance by the arrangement proposed by the Reform Bill and the Boundary Bill, and that the Gentlemen connected with that interest would have no occasion to feel alarm from democratic influence. The division of counties—the voting of tenants at will—and the additions, proposed by the Boundary Bill, of districts to the smaller boroughs—would much more than protect the landed interests. It was rather the people, as such, who would require representation; and if, late as it was, the scot-and-lot boroughs could be preserved, they would rescue fifty or sixty Representatives for the use of the people, while they would retain in the Constitution a wholesome, ancient, and approved franchise. It might be too late to adopt generally a scot-and-lot franchise; but he must appeal to Government, and he begged to submit to them the propriety of taking the prayer of this petition into consideration, mid, in accordance with which to add a clause of three lines, after the third reading, for the purpose of reserving from the operation of the Reform Bill, and, by consequence, from any necessary operation of the other Bill, those places where the right of voting was vested in householders, or inhabitants paying scot-and-lot.

Sir Edward Sugden

had never heard a more extraordinary speech than that just delivered. He (Sir E. Sugden) had a right to consider his right hon. friend (Mr. Tennyson) as a Member of his Majesty's Government, for it was said, that his right hon. friend had retired from office only on account of ill health. And yet what did his right hon. friend say? Why, judging from the right hon. Gentleman's speech, he was as much opposed to the Bill as he himself was. He wondered how his right hon. friend could so long have kept his opinions to himself, and if he did not repose the most implicit confidence in his sincerity and straightforwardness, he should almost suppose that his speech was meant as a sort of cunning prelude, preparatory to the drawing up of a curtain for the completion of the last act of the Reform Bill. Such, under other circumstances, would have been his impression; for his right hon. friend, as a Reformer, complained that the Bill would give too much power to the landed interest, while the landed interest itself complained that the contrary was the fact. His right hon. friend was a sweeping Reformer where his own interests were not concerned, but the moment his own interests were touched he became loud in his complaints. His right hon. friend required a particular interest to be supported for his own benefit, and, with that view, although at the twelfth hour, he proposed to amend the Bill. Facetiously enough his right hon. friend said, his amendment, as a recommendation to it, would only occupy three lines. Why, he would be content if he were allowed to insert two lines, or even one line, in the Bill. Let him but insert one line, and he would undertake to say, that Ministers should remember his amendment to the last hour of their existence.

Mr. Hunt

had also been greatly astonished at the speech of the right hon. Member (Mr. Tennyson). He asked the hon. Member, and he had a right to do so, why he had not brought forward the subject before, or supported him when he (Mr. Hunt) had shown that the electors in Newark would be reduced from 1,400 to 300 by the operation of the Bill. It was most remarkable that the right hon. Member had said nothing until the eleventh hour. Then, again, there was the place he had the honour to represent, which had now 7,000 voters, but under this Bill, after a few years, it would only have 700, and be a borough under the command of an aristocratical Whig Peer—he alluded to Lord Derby, The hon. Member ought to have told his constituents that they were too late, for that the matter was settled long ago, and the hon. Member himself had connived at such settlement, by not supporting him when he had brought the question forward.

Mr. Paget

thought the petition of the electors of Stamford was entitled to great consideration, for they had hitherto exercised their franchise most righteously. The hon. member for Preston said, the petition was too late, and he feared it was, so far as the scot-and-lot franchise was concerned, but it was not too late for the Boundary Bill, and he should hold himself ready to support the hon. member for Stamford against the parish of St. Martin's being added to that borough.

Mr. Wilks

said, the present Bill allowed freemen to retain their privileges, and he saw no reason why scot-and-lot voters should not have the same advantages extended to them in the boroughs where that custom of voting had hitherto prevailed. At all events there ought to be some alteration with regard to Stamford; either the Boundary Bill should be altered, or some other regulation made, to prevent that place from again falling under the influence of its former patron, as it certainly would do by the measures now before the House.

Sir Robert Peel

had not heard the observations of the right hon. Gentleman on introducing this petition to the notice of the House; but if he understood the object of its prayer aright, and if that object had been made the subject of an amendment in the Committee, he should certainly have felt disposed to give it his support for three reasons. First, on the ground that it was desirable to break the uniformity of the 10l. right of voting; secondly, because the inhabitants of most of the scot-and-lot boroughs were quite as respectable as the 10l. voters of the other boroughs; and, thirdly, because, in those scot-and-lot places, the distribution of the property had, by the course of time, been accommodated to that species of franchise, whereas, by the alteration, they would be holding out a premium to the landlords of the houses to withdraw the tenure from the scot-and-lot voter, and substitute in his place, as far as possible, the 10l. voter.

Sir Charles Wetherell

said, that if the right hon. Gentleman would move to recommit the Bill, it was not too late to reconsider this point. He had heard that there were some Whig Reformers, and also some Radical Reformers, who, with a sort of shabby-genteel Reform, endeavoured to accommodate the Bill to their own purposes; and, what was more, he believed it. This was a dirty, contemptible hypocrisy, by which individuals endeavoured to promote the interests of particular places. But, as a general proposition, he saw no ground for disfranchising the scot-and-lot boroughs.

Petition read.

Mr. Tennyson

, in moving that it be be printed, said, that his hon. and learned friend (Sir E. Sugden) was mistaken in supposing that any political ground had separated him from his Majesty's Government. He felt it due to the Government, and still more so to himself, to state, that, neither when he quitted office, nor now, was there any political difference whatever between his Majesty's Government and him. He had no doubt that the Ministers would do him the justice to acknowledge that during the whole course of his connection with them, he had represented his humble wishes that the scot-and-lot franchise should be observed as a general principle, or at least that the scot-and-lot boroughs should be retained as they had hitherto existed. He was of opinion that it would have been much better had the Ministers adopted the scot-and-lot qualifications in many instances where it was now in force. He begged to state, that he had the fullest confidence in the wisdom and integrity of his Majesty's Government, and was willing to let the case rest with them. Still he could not help expressing his own decided opinion in favour of the preservation of the scot-and-lot franchise, subject to some conditions. He had been asked why, if he entertained such opinions, he was so late in expressing them, and in bringing forward any such petition as that which he then presented. To this he must reply, in the language of his hon. friend the member for Buckinghamshire, on the Reform Bill, that the Boundary Bill literally took away his breath, and that he required some time to recover; or, in other terms, he had deemed it necessary to examine that measure. He should, certainly, reserve his right of opposing the Boundary Bill. With respect to the borough of Stamford, he was actuated by no personal feeling, but solely by the wish to secure to the people a privilege which was their property and inheritance.

Lord Milton

said, he felt himself bound to support the petition, though not on the grounds set forth by the petitioners. He considered it highly objectionable to entrench on the rights of a county, for the purpose of making up a sufficient constituency for a borough situate in a different county, which was the course proposed to be taken with respect to Stamford—part of its projected addition being in the county of Northampton. In assertion, therefore, of the rights of the freeholders of the county of Northampton, he must offer his decided objection to the freeholders of this county being deprived of any portion of their votes, for the purpose of adding to the constituency of Lincolnshire.

Sir Edward Sugden

said, as the electors of Stamford had proposed that their franchise should be taken from them, unless they could have their borough left in such a state as suited themselves, be took the liberty of suggesting to the Ministers the propriety of conceding to their wishes with regard to disfranchisement, and to transfer their Member to the county of Monmouth, which had been deprived of its unicorn Member for the purpose of bestowing him upon Merthyr Tydvil.

Petition to be printed.

Lord Granville Somerset

said, as the hon. and learned Member had alluded to Monmouthshire, he begged to ask the noble Lord, if the Government still persisted in their unjust proceedings with respect to that county. They had originally contemplated the addition of one Member to that county, and having thus excited hopes which they afterwards had frustrated, by taking away that additional Member, he could not but feel that Monmouthshire had been unjustly treated, and he wished to know whether the noble Lord intended to persist in refusing to grant an additional Member?

Lord John Russell

, in reply, stated, that it was not the intention of Government to propose any further changes in the Reform Bill as it now stood.