§ Lord John Russell
stated, that he was prepared to agree to the Amendment of which the hon. Member for East Somerset-shire (Mr. W. Miles) had given notice, reserving to all persons now serving under Indentures of Apprenticeship in any borough their pecuniary rights and privileges as freemen, on completing their apprenticeship.
§ Mr. Hughes Hughes
wished to know whether the existing sons of freemen were not to be placed in the same situation as apprentices?
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
interposed and remarked, that all such inquiries would come regularly in Committee, and it was inconvenient to discuss them now.
§ On the question that the Speaker do leave the Chair,
§ Mr. Hughes Hughes
submitted that he was strictly in order in urging, at that time, any point that occurred to him relative to the Bill in question, and he would therefore take that opportunity of expressing his hope that when the noble Lord should, in Committee, propose an Amendment which could go to respect the inchoate and vested rights of apprentices, he would extend it to the existing sons of freemen, whose claim appeared to him to be even stronger than that of apprentices, and numbers of whom would, in point of fact, have been bound apprentices to their parents or to other freemen, but that as being born free, they were entitled on coming to age, to all the rights and privileges which apprenticeship could confer.
§ The House went into Committee on the Bill.
§ Lord John Russell
said, that it would be better for him to state at once all the Amendments which he had to propose to this Clause, and they were only two—one was, to insert after the words "freeman, burgess," &c, in line eight, the words "or inhabitant." This was intended to preserve to the inhabitants the rights which they enjoyed by inhabitancy. In line nine he intended to insert the words proposed by the hon. Member for Somersetshire, "or under indentures of apprenticeship in some borough." He did not intend to propose the insertion of them in line twelve, 1182 as the hon: Member for Somerset shire intended, because the Committee would see that if they were inserted there, they would be clearly inoperative. It would therefore be necessary for him to propose a separate clause, which should give to those persons now under indentures of apprenticeship the power of being immediately enrolled, and then, upon their being put upon the burgess roll, the power of being put in possession of all the rights reserved by this Bill to the burgesses. With regard to freedom by right of birth, he thought that it did not stand on the same ground as the right to freedom by apprenticeship. It had been urged with regard to the latter that the apprentices had either paid themselves, or their friends or relations had paid for them, sums of money in the expectation that those sums of money would be afterwards repaid to them by means of the advantages which they would enjoy on becoming freemen of the borough. It would therefore be a hardship upon them if the House was to deprive them of those advantages which they had been accustomed to expect from the outlay which they had made. As to those who, by the accident of birth, were entitled to become freemen on their coming of age, it was quite clear that the same argument did not apply to them. They gave nothing for the advantages which they might enjoy, and therefore had no reason to complain of the operation of the Clause.
§ Mr. Hughes Hughes
said, that as far as the noble Lord's Amendments went, they were satisfactory to him, and he was grateful for them, and the more so as they admitted a principle which must ultimately be extended to the existing sons of freemen. He could not see why "the accident of birth" should make any difference in the mode of treating the rights of those who were born free from those who would become free by apprenticeship, unless, indeed, it was a difference in favour of the former. Many persons enjoyed titles and estates by "the accident of birth," and he did not see why these poor men should lose their rights as freemen, which were as dear to them as the titles and estates of the noble Lords opposite, merely because they enjoyed them only by "the accident of birth." But, in point of fact, the sons of freemen, if thus deprived, would, in numbers of instances, incur the loss of these rights and privileges solely by reason of "the accident of birth," which ought to confirm them, for, as he had before stated, they would have 1183 been apprenticed, and so have secured them, but that it was considered unnecessary, because they were free born. He declared he could not, for the life of him, see the justice of the distinction drawn by the noble Lord; and if the Clause, as now amended by him, should be carried, and no other hon. Member should take up the subject, he should certainly on the bringing up of the Report, propose to extend the Amendment, so as to place the existing sons of freemen in the same situation with those persons now under indentures of apprenticeship.
§ Colonel Sibthorp
was not inclined to consider these Amendments of the noble Lord as satisfactory. They were merely proposed to induce the Committee to swallow this bitter pill more readily. He complained that every day the noble Lord came down to the House with some Amendment, either verbal or in print; but if in print, with so few copies of the print that not more than two or three Members had an opportunity of seeing it. He denounced this as a most unconstitutional practice. It only showed how absurd it was for the Government to introduce Bills, of which they had not thoroughly considered the details. He agreed with the hon. Member for Oxford, that there was no reason for depriving the sons of freemen of the rights which were continued to the apprentices. He had the honour of being himself a freeman, and he was proud of having received that honour from his revered father, who, he knew, was proud of having transmitted it to him. He should also be proud to transmit the same honour to those who came after him. He condemned the noble Lord for the fickleness of purpose which he had displayed in departing from the solemn compact which he had made with the country in passing the Reform Bill. What could we expect after it? That we should be told, at some day not very distant, that our estates should be confiscated, because the noble Lord willed it, and that they should be given to a multitude of banditti who were all ready to take them. He protested against that. He hoped that the noble Lord would recollect how he had lately been kicked out of Devon, and how many sweet promises he had been obliged to make to gain the sweet voices of the tenpounders at Stroud. These things could not last long. The noble Lord would find that the man who praised him to-day, for making such promises would hunt him down to-morrow if he did not make pro- 1184 mises still larger. The course which the noble Lord had pursued last night was not calculated to do him much honour. The noble Lord would have done himself more honour had he kept to the promises which he made to the House when he said that he would adhere to the Reform Bill as a solemn compact. The noble Lord had often boasted that that Bill had added half a million of electors to the constituency; but now with another Bill he was preparing to cut that constituency short in a very low and cunning manner. Even this was not to be a final Act. The hon. Member for Southwark had frankly told them that he only looked upon it as a step to something else. There was to be a massacre he supposed. Of one thing he was convinced, that there would be a monopoly of Church-property as long as there could be, and that, because the confiscation of Church would touch self. Let hon. Gentlemen give something to their country from their own properties, and then he should believe them patriots. He should get nothing by this, but he stood up on this occasion for a set of poor men against those who had unjustly attacked and vilified them. This was an insult to the country, and as, he believed, most repugnant to the feelings of a liberal and patriotic Sovereign.
suggested, that some further alteration was wanted in this Clause. The circumstances of the different boroughs were so various, that there must be various modes devised for dealing with them. In. some boroughs there were persons connected with them who were neither freemen, nor burgesses, nor inhabitants. For instance, at Morpeth there were certain persons called free brothers, who were neither freemen, nor burgesses, nor inhabitants of the town. They formed, however, a class out of which the burgesses were elected. They were entitled to the benefit of pasturage on certain lands, a privilege which was considered to be worth 9l. a-year. Now the case of these persons was not at all provided for under this Clause, even as the noble Lord had amended it.
§ Lord John Russell
thought that his Amendment would meet all cases; but if it were necessary, he would endeavour to extend it so as to meet the case which the right hon. Gentleman had put to him.
§ Mr. Trevor
said, that his objection to this Amendment was, that it was only a half-and-half measure; in short, that it was an aggravation of the original wrong.
§ First Amendment agreed to.1185
§ On the second Amendment being put,
§ Mr. Estcourt
wished to know if the answer that had been made to his hon. Friend near him (Mr. Edward Peel, we suppose) applied to persons acquiring property, not only by apprenticeship but in other modes, by inheritance, for instance? To the borough of Malmesbury there belonged a large tract of land, to which the freemen had a right, though they had no elective right for Members of Parliament. They had possessed it for centuries by inheritance, and their progeny had the same rights to possess it as themselves. Would the Clause deprive them of those rights?
§ Lord John Russell
The Clause did not relate to what the hon. Member referred. It was not yet decided how property by inheritance could be dealt with, or whether it should be treated like the common case of the rights of burgesses to certain lands. He would take some further time to consider the question.
§ Mr. Estcourt
was obliged to the noble Lord for his answer to the question, as he intended to give notice of an Amendment respecting the rights of freemen to certain landed property.
In order to establish the principle, there should be facts to substantiate it. He did not see a word in the Bill that tended to take away the rights of inheritance. The hon. Member should bring forward his facts, and place them in the hands of the House.
§ Mr. Estcourt
was anxious that the class of persons alluded to should have an opportunity of laying the facts of their several cases before the House. If they really did possess such facts, he should ask the Committee for a fair opportunity of stating them to it. He thought the Clause interfered with the rights alluded to, and at any rate they ought not to legislate until they had the facts of the cases of those persons before them.
Sir Matthew White Ridley
wished to know how corporate property, after the rights of the present holder had ceased, was to be disposed of?
§ Lord John Russell
said, that all persons now entitled to any corporate rights would continue to enjoy them; but that as soon as the interests of those persons ceased, 1186 their proportion would go to the general fund of the borough.
§ Mr. Robinson
was of opinion that the inchoate rights of the freemen of all classes ought to be as tenderly dealt with by that House as the rights of the nobility themselves.
§ Sir Robert Peel
said, it was desirable that this part of the measure should be settled upon a fixed and sound principle. He knew it was difficult to suggest anything in which it might not be possible to show that some part of it was not in strict conformity with a general principle. But it seemed to be agreed by all parties that it was very desirable to make corporate property available for the benefit of the commonalty at large. There might be special cases in which the property had been given to particular individuals; but assuming that, by the original intention of the donors, the property was for the benefit of the inhabitants of the boroughs at large, it was admitted that, by very long prescription, of which they could scarcely trace the origin, this property had been appropriated to certain descriptions of inhabitants only, and that the right to participate in it was now only to be acquired by birth, servitude, or marriage. It appeared to him that it would be consistent with respect to the original destination of this property—at least it would be as near an approximation to its original destination as it was possible to arrive at, if the House were to establish this principle — namely, that those who were not now married should not hereafter by marriage derive any right to participate in this property: that those who had not yet entered into servitude, should not have any such right; but that those who had so entered into servitude should be considered as having an inchoate right; and that with respect to birth, those now actually born should be put upon the same footing as those who had now actually entered into servitude; while those who should hereafter be born should participate in the property only so far as they were members of the commonalty at large. He thought this would be putting corporate property into the hands of the commonalty as speedily as possible, consistent with justice to the rights of individuals. He would respect the inchoate rights of those who were now married, those who were now bound, and those who were now born, which would be respecting the rights of the existing generation at the expense only of a little delay. That seemed to him to be an in- 1187 telligent principle on which to place the question, and to which he would strongly advise the noble Lord to accede; otherwise the noble Lord would be placed in a situation of great difficulty with respect to the claims by birth and by servitude. If this principle should be adopted, after a certain period the whole of the corporate property would become the property of the commonalty. It was true that the share which these freemen claimed was comparatively small, but, in his opinion, the lower the classes were who claimed it, and the smaller their rights were, the more bounden was the House to respect those rights. If indeed they were dealing with a Rail-road Bill, for instance, then the language to be held would be that the public good should take place of private interest; but when dealing with the rights of the humbler classes, a different feeling ought to guide their proceedings. He thought that the principle he recommended would be the best mode of conciliating that unanimity which was so desirable on this occasion.
thought the Clause as it now stood, without any Amendment, was one better able to be supported upon principle than any Amendment that could be suggested. But if they were to have an Amendment, then he perfectly agreed with the right hon. Baronet that his suggestion was the next best principle. He could not understand why upon principle he ought to consider the inchoate right of an apprentice before the right of any other person whatsoever; for although it might be said that a person on entering into apprenticeship paid a certain sum of money for that purpose, and therefore expected all the advantages which the law gave to him, so also might it be said of the man who purchased his freedom; and the House was aware that there were a great number of cases in which the freedom was purchased. Certainly the inevitable consequence of this Bill must be some interference with property that appeared, at least, if it did not really belong to the persons who were now in possession of it; therefore it was necessary to take care to act upon some sound principle; and he thought it would be a sound principle not to attend to inchoate rights at all, but merely to preserve the rights of those who are now in possession. If, however, Parliament should attend to inchoate rights, he thought the proposition of the right hon. Baronet was the one that came the nearest to the principle of the Clause proposed by the noble Lord.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
quite concurred with the right hon. Baronet, that it was expedient that the House should deal with this part of the subject upon an intelligible and plain principle. He wished to call the attention of the House to the distinction that he conceived to exist between the right of property acquired in these boroughs by means of servitude, and the right acquired by birth. He agreed with the right hon. Baronet that the great object in view was to make this corporate property available in the shortest possible period to the interests of the community at large. He would confine his arguments on the present occasion to the cases of right by birth and right by servitude. The right of servitude arose from contracts entered into either by the individual himself, or by some person on his behalf, frequently in consideration of the payment of a sum of money, in exchange for which he expected to derive certain pecuniary advantages. In the case of a right acquired by birth, none of these considerations arose; there was no contract whatsoever; there was no payment of a fine upon the indentures; there were, in short, none of the elements which peculiarly belonged to the case of servitude. Gentlemen must consider, that if they affirmed the question which had been raised relative to the right by birth, they would postpone—he would not say indefinitely, but for a very long period indeed—the attainment of that ultimate object which the right hon. Baronet opposite, in common with himself, considered they all had in view—namely, the realization of these funds for the common interest. There was no contract in that case; there was no pecuniary consideration; there was only the right which had accrued under the existing state of things, which, after all was a corporate right; which, after all, according to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman himself, was a question of usage, grafted on the original establishment of these Corporations. His object had been to show the great distinction which existed between the right by servitude and the right by birth, and he trusted he had succeeded.
understood the right hon. Gentleman, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to have argued, that the present was a mere question of property, and should, therefors, be considered apart from the considerations which might otherwise have been involved in its discussion. He contended that the principle laid down by the 1189 right hon. Gentleman was one of a most dangerous nature, inasmuch as it went to establish a broad distinction between the security of property derived from inheritance, and that derived from purchase. The right hon. Gentleman had said, in effect, "I will respect the right of the apprentice, because he has paid a pecuniary consideration for it; but, as the son of a freeman inherits a right which the other acquired by his own purchase, or that of some person on his behalf, I will not consider his title to his property as being equally good, or his right as being equally strong." Now he would say, that by drawing such distinctions, and deciding upon such grounds, they would naturally shake the stability of property in this country, Mark the way in which the principle would operate if the son of the freeman were not allowed the same advantages as the apprentice. In many of the boroughs under discussion, only the eldest sons of freemen had a right to their freedom on their coming of age. In those boroughs it was the custom for the father to bind his second son apprentice, with the view of enabling him to gain his freedom by servitude, trusting to the eldest son acquiring his privilege in the ordinary way without any apprenticeship at all. What would be the state of every family thus circumstanced if the Amendment of the noble Lord alone were introduced? Why, the father would be compelled unwillingly to disinherit the eldest son, because he relied upon the provisions of the Reform Bill, and trusted implicitly to his acquiring his freedom without apprenticeship, and the whole benefit would be transferred to the second son.
§ The Question carried.
§ Mr. Robinson
then moved the addition of the following words to the Amendment: "And also to the sons of freemen now born, who are at present entitled to their freedom in any city or borough."
§ Mr. Maclean
begged to put a not improbable case, of which he thought the Committee should not lose sight in coming to a decision upon this point. A man in the expectation of a family, frequently purchased his own freedom with the view of making his son a freeman; whereas, if he wished him to obtain his freedom by apprenticeship, he paid for his indentures. In the first case he obtained no benefit whatever for himself, but expended a sum of money to procure certain privileges for his son. There were many charities for the education of the sons of freemen, and 1190 where a man had eight or nine, it was an object of great importance to him to obtain an education for them at as little expense as possible. There were many instances in which individuals had made themselves freemen at the expense of a much larger pecuniary outlay than they would have incurred had they acquired the right for their children by apprenticeship for the express purpose of procuring this education. The adoption of the proposed course would entail the greatest hardship and injustice upon these persons.
§ Lord John Russell
would state, in a very few words, the ground on which he anticipated very great danger and difficulty from drawing the line proposed by the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down. The hon. Gentleman had said—and he said, no doubt, with perfect truth—that the father of a family would frequently pay a very large sum for his freedom, because he knew his children would have the benefit of being the sons of a freeman; and because, in the event of his having eight or nine sons, it would be extremely convenient to him to avail himself of the corporate funds in their education. Let the House consider the effect of the Amendment now proposed: a person who had purchased his freedom three years ago, having then two sons, would have paid a large sum for their education, and they would be entitled to the benefit of the schools to which the hon. Gentleman had referred, but the other seven sons he might have afterwards, would be altogether excluded from them. The adoption of the Clause, then, would be productive of the great hardship, that a man who had paid a valuable consideration for the purpose of obtaining an education for his sons, would not obtain the benefit for securing which he had expended his money. The principle now sought to be adopted had been laid down in the first Reform Bill, and it had been met with the very objection he had just stated.
§ Viscount Howick
said, it was perfectly clear to his mind, that if they gave way to the amendment of the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Robinson), they would open a door which it would be extremely difficult to shut, and adopt a principle which experience proved to be most ill-advised and injurious. The right hon. Baronet had stated, he thought most unanswerably, that it was of the greatest possible importance that the property of the corporations should, at as early a period as possible be vested in the community at 1191 large, to be employed for purposes in which the community at large were interested, instead of being frittered away, as at present, in small donations to individuals, in a manner, he knew practically, in 99 cases out of 100 conducive neither to their own interest, the public interest, nor the interest of the individuals themselves. He agreed with the hon. Member for Hudders-field, whose exertions on the Municipal Corporation Commission had been so unremitting, and attended with so much benefit, that it would have been most desirable to retain the original Clause if possible; but he was convinced that its practical effect would have been to occasion hardships which it would be quite impossible for the House to prevent or remove. It had been distinctly proved, that in some boroughs, persons on entering into their apprenticeship, were compelled to pay, not merely the ordinary premium to the master whom they served, but a fee of 30l. into the corporation chest, as they distinctly said, with a view to the pecuniary benefits which were afterwards to result to them from the freedom so acquired. In these cases, persons having actually paid for their freedom, it would be quite impossible for that House to deprive them of it. It was quite impossible to distinguish the cases in which an increased premium had been paid with a view to the ulterior advantages to be gained; from what he had just suggested, and as in all cases of apprenticeship something was bona fide paid—some actual service performed—with a view to pecuniary advantages, he thought it only fair that those pecuniary advantages should be preserved to the parties interested. On strict legal principles, inchoate rights might stand on an equal footing with these; but morally speaking, there could be no doubt that a right to be inherited, and which was in itself a great abuse and an usurpation, stood on very different grounds from one acquired by servitude. He entreated the Committee to consider the practical effect of the Amendment. They must remember that they were not only dealing with the rights of land and common, but with the right of exemption from toll; and they must remember that that exemption was already felt as a great inconvenience and hardship. There were two notices of amendments in the printed list at that moment, the object of which was to deprive even the existing freemen of that right of exemption from tolls, which the present measure proposed to preserve so far as they 1192 were concerned. He admitted that this would not be an act of justice; but he contended, nevertheless, that to continue for a period the termination of which no man could foresee, the exemption of a certain class of men from the tolls paid by their fellow citizens was an inconvenience of so serious a description that the House, instead of increasing, should be most anxious to prevent it. It was well known, he believed, that in the town of Liverpool one merchant had an advantage over another merchant in precisely similar circumstances, and with an equal amount of capital, of not less than 1,400l.; yet the strict right of these individuals was the same. The hon. Member for Worcester had drawn a distinction between the right of exemption from toll and the right of common. Now, in his opinion, they were precisely similar; both were originally granted by the charter for the common benefit of the whole population of the town. In course of time, however, these privileges, which had been conferred upon the town for the benefit of all, became confined to a certain privileged class of the inhabitants. Looking, then, at the extent of the inconvenience incurred by preserving to peculiar persons pecuniary advantages of this kind, and so depriving the public of funds which might be applied in a much more useful manner, he did not think that the House would be justified in keeping up the present exemptions from toll and rights of common to those who had not actually purchased them for valuable consideration; and, therefore, he could see no grounds to justify their adopting the Amendment of the hon. Member for Worcester. There was another point of view in which the case of these inchoate rights might be viewed. It was clearly the right of the corporation to admit an unlimited number of new burgesses. Now, if this right were to be exercised to any extent, the expectant to the privileges of freedom would find his prospective advantages reduced to an infinitely low amount. Nay, more: the corporation might resign their charter altogether, and then he need hardly say their inchoate rights would be totally annihilated.
§ Sir Robert Inglis
heard with great surprise, the arguments just advanced by the noble Lord. This was certainly the first time that he (Rir R. Inglis) had heard the application of property used as an argument against the possession of it.
§ Viscount Howick
must beg to interrupt the hon. Baronet for one moment. He 1193 had made a very serious charge against him, and he hoped he might be permitted to explain it. What he had said was, that he concurred with the right hon. Baronet in thinking it desirable, as soon as it could be done consistently with justice, that this property should be brought into the hands of the community at large. To show the importance of such a proceeding, he had adverted to its perversion from the objects to which it was originally intended to be applied, and to the little benefit its expenditure conferred even upon the individuals to whose use it was chiefly applied.
§ Sir Robert Inglis
said, that in many instances property in expectancy was as much a matter of right as that in actual possession. Expectancies purchased for a valuable consideration—of 25l., for instance, were fully as much entitled to respect as the 25l, itself if it had remained in the hands of the purchaser, or of the noble Lord opposite himself. He believed that there was scarcely any provision in this Bill which so deeply, and in so important a manner, involved the rights of property as the Clause now under consideration. He disagreed with his right hon. Friend, the late Chancellor of the Exchequer as to the opinion he had stated, that the funds attached to corporate foundations were disposable generally for the public benefit. These funds had been bequeathed and limited for certain defined local and personal purposes, and no one had a right to divest them from the expressed purposes of the original endowment. He held that the House had no more right, on general grounds of expediency, to divert the funds of the corporations from their original source, than they had to put into one general hotch-potch the property of the Members on both sides of the House and apply them to the general purposes of the State.
§ Sir Robert Peel
did not go the full length of saying, that in all cases the interests of individuals should be sacrificed. He expressed an opinion on reserved cases which should be taken into consideration, those of individuals who purchased certain corporate rights and privileges. These he was of opinion should be respected. But, generally, he admitted that most of the property of corporations was intended for the benefit of the community at large; and it would be desirable that the community should recover it as soon as possible.
said, he for one did not maintain that there was no difference between the cases, where a purchase was 1194 made by individuals, and the cases of endowments granted for the general purposes of corporations. Suppose an old man paid to the corporation as large a sum as his freedom cost him, that was a case that should be respected, and that man's right ought not to be touched. But that was different from the diversion of endowments from the original intent. If the Bill was frittered away by one consideration and another, they could never get on. Let those who now enjoy rights possess them all their lives, but let the House not grant inchoate rights.
§ Mr. Poulett Thomson
agreed with the right hon. Baronet (Sir E. Peel) that where money was left for particular purposes the right should be reserved. But where funds were left for the benefit of all it was unjust they should be monopolized by individuals. He was not surprised that the hon. Member for Oxford, who said there should be no diversion of any fund from the parties who now enjoyed it to any other purpose, should vote for the Amendment. But he was surprised that those who thought funds were now appropriated to purposes different from the original intention should vote for it. There was no extent to which the Amendment might not be carried. If inchoate rights by marriage or apprenticeship were allowed, it would apply to children yet unborn. If the Committee adopted that line, there would be no end to the consequences. He would draw another line; but he differed from the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) where the line should end. If they drew the line where an apprentice gave a pecuniary consideration, or made a contract, though no money was given, they would act fairly to the parties, without injuring the community. The hon. Member for Worcester said he did not wish to continue exclusion from tolls. [Mr. Robinson: Exclusive trading.] That made very little distinction. If two persons set up in trade in a town, and one of them was exempted from a certain tax, and the other not, the latter could not compete with the former, and would suffer in his business. It seemed the grievance of the tolls was sought to be perpetuated to the community by continuing the exemption to children unborn, in secula seculorum. In Liverpool he heard of one Gentleman whose exemption from town fees and tolls amounted to 500l. a-year. Gentlemen on the other side seemed to think that the Clause meant to injure individuals without benefitting society. That 1195 was not so. For to reserve a benefit to persons not yet born, would be to deprive society of it. He (Mr. Thomson) would rather benefit than injure the community —he would guard the rights of property without injuring society.
§ Mr. Williams Wynn
said, the general principle laid down by the right hon. Gentleman, of not allowing a descent of right to the son, was opposed to every principle of law and property. The title of the son was confirmed to him by law, and should not be taken away without compensation. The person on whom an estate was settled in succession had as good a right to it as the existing owner. That was one of the fundamental principles of the Law of Property, and could not be violated without the grossest outrage on justice. It was said, "If you establish a case of perpetual succession, where will you end? But Parliament and the law had granted the right to him, and it could not be taken away without compensation. Parliament certainly could interfere with the Law of Property; but when, he wished to know, did Parliament ever deprive a man of his property without compensation? If Parliament once established the principle, that it had a right to take away property of any description by the mere fiat of its will, and without giving in lieu thereof compensation to the deprived party, such a principle would go far to shake the foundations of all property whatsoever. Those who supported the inchoate rights of the sons of freemen were charged with the support of rights originally grounded in abuse and usurpation; but it would be very difficult, if such an objection were admitted, to save any property in the land from the fate which was likely to await the rights of freemen. What property would be safe if they looked back into past centuries for its origin? What Was the title to Abbey-lands and other estates obtained by the ancestors of their present posessors, 300 years since, but the unjust attainders or confiscation of former proprietors? Nay, they might even look back to Domesday-book, and examine what would be the validity of title to all that property which was acquired from the Saxon owners by Norman plunderers, if this laxity of principle were admitted in dealing with property? The argument really applied as well to the cases he had put, as to that now under discussion. Many advantages had been conceded, by testamentary bequests, to the freemen; 1196 and if these were not held sacred, why should other property continued in succession, in a similar manner, be held sacred by the laws of the land? Much also had been said by hon. Members in the debate, on the subject of exemption from tolls; and it had been argued, that it was unfair, that one class of men should be exempt while another were subject; but were freemen the only persons who had a right of exemption from tolls? He knew of many instances, where centuries ago, the original grantors of the tolls had reserved to the occupiers of land in particular townships, which were their own property, a perpetual exemption from those tolls. These lands had repeatedly been sold, and, of course, commanded a larger price, on account of these exemptions. Surely it would be most unjust to take away property thus obtained; yet how was the right of the freeholder to be maintained if that of the freemen were destroyed? Nor was the assertion correct, that these rights had generally been acquired by usurpation and abuse. He would take, for instance, the cases of which he knew most, the boroughs in Wales, and the Marches. In these it would be found, that exemption from toll in all fairs and markets, valuable lands, common of pasture, and other similar privileges, were granted in the Charters of the Kings of England and the Lords Marchers, as an inducement to Englishmen to settle under the walls of their Castles, to control a newly-conquered and hostile people. These had been transmitted to the descendants and successors of the first grantees, and seemed to him to be held by a title as firm and as pure as any property which existed in the kingdom. He hoped that his Majesty's Ministers would pause before they agreed to this monstrous proposition—that they would not only respect existing rights, but also those in expectancy, for both the one and the other were equally sacred products of the Law of Property.
§ Mr. George F. Young
conceived, that in any case where the Question was between inconvenience on the one hand, and the subversion of the rights of property on the other, he could never hesitate on which side to give his vote. This Question involved the most sacred rights of property; and, to him, it appeared, that if he purchased an estate last year, and gave it for an equivalent in money, he had as good a right as, or better, to retain his estate, and transmit it, than had the Marquess of Tavistock to retain, and transmit his. He 1197 knew no other title to property than that which the laws of the land conferred; and although he was well aware of the omnipotence of Parliament, yet he could not hut think that the holders of property had a right to expect that the laws of the land should be maintained. He should therefore vote for the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for Worcester.
§ Mr. Divett
was of opinion, that the system pursued by Corporations was but little calculated for the preservation of the right of property. On the contrary, its tendency was more calculated for the destruction of that right. Unless the Clause as it stood was agreed to, there would be twenty or thirty years more of the heart-burning which at present existed. The rights contended for were not generally rights for which a valuable consideration had been given, but privileges conferred by the favour of Corporations.
§ Sir William Follett
understood the Amendment of the noble Lord opposite to admit the principle, that certain persons had vested rights in property which ought not to be destroyed, and on that ground he supposed the noble Lord was now prepared to exempt from the operation of the Clause, not only existing freemen, but all those who should be serving their apprenticeships on a certain day. Now, if this principle were once fairly established, we ought in furtherance of it to exempt all persons having at this moment the same description of vested interests. He therefore asked the noble Lord to preserve every existing right. —every vested interest now in being; but he did not ask him to go beyond that point, which fell fairly within the operation of his own principle, or to maintain contingent interests, as in the case of parties now unborn. It appeared to him, that it mattered not whether such interests were vested in parties by birth or purchase—in either case they ought to be preserved. He was aware of the difficulty of drawing a line, but put it to the Committee, whether the best line that could be drawn did not consist in the preservation of existing vested interests? What was the distinction between an apprentice whose right was admitted and the son of a freeman now born who would possess the same right on arriving at the age of twenty-one? The right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer had said, that in the case of apprentices the vested right might have been purchased; but to this he replied, that in many cases there was no purchase, the apprentice 1198 having been taken without fee. What preferable claim had a gratuitous apprentice over the son of a freeman? Did it make any difference when they were dealing with rights of property, whether the property was that of a poor or of a rich man— an estate of 20,000l. a-year, or a right to turn out a few head of cattle on a common? The right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer and the right hon. Gentleman near him had observed that there was difficulty in the Amendment of the hon. Member for Worcester—that it went to postpone the time of applying corporate property for the benefit of the community. Now he said, that the property intended to be applied for the advantage of the public under this Bill was not, generally speaking, that species of property in which freemen had vested rights. But even if it were the common practice, the principle of preserving property for the sake of those interested in it ought to counterbalance any inconvenience that might arise from respecting existing vested rights. However, he contended that no inconvenience could occur from adhering to the principles of justice in this case, for the rights of freemen generally arose out of bequests of property left in trust for particular purposes, and were quite different from those funds by which the community could be benefited under the present Bill. What he meant to propose by way of Amendment to the Clause would be substantially this, that every person having an actual right as a freeman at the time of the passing of the Act, and every person then having an inchoate right to be admitted to his freedom by birth or otherwise, should have the same rights of property as if this Bill had not passed. As to exemption from tolls, that might be a public inconvenience; notwithstanding which, he thought the House ought to be cautious how it took such privileges away from individuals. He hoped, however, that some mode might be found to compensate persons having vested interests in such cases, so as to reconcile the rights of individuals with public convenience. He repeated what he meant to propose was, that the rights of property, distinct from those connected with tolls, should be preserved to existing freemen, and all who at the time of the passing of the Act possessed vested inchoate rights such as he had described. He had no wish to preserve exclusive rights of trading. He hoped he was correct in his understanding of the noble Lord's Amendment, as admitting the principle for which he contended. 1199 If so, probably the noble Lord would not object to insert words in the Clause which would set the question at rest; but if he were mistaken in his construction, or if the noble Lord now declared against the principle referred to, he should feel bound to move an Amendment to the effect already stated, and take the sense of the Committee upon it.
§ Lord John Russell
said, it appeared to him that the true ground on which this Clause ought to be debated was to be found in the principle laid down by the right hon. Member for Tamworth, who stated that he believed the application of common lands and other property to the use and advantage of individuals was not consistent with their original purpose, but had occurred in consequence of usages that gradually became established, certainly not for the benefit of the community, and that the only question for the House to consider was, at what time such usages could be abolished consistently with the interests of the parties concerned. Going that on principle, he found a great deal of what had been said as to the rights of property to be in fact entirely beside this question. If corporate property were to be considered in the same light as hereditary property, it would be necessary not only to preserve it to existing freemen and their sons, but to all their future descendants; but this was wholly inconsistent with the principle of the present Bill. However, he apprehended he might put this assumption out of the question. The hon. and learned Member's was a different proposition, and did not rest on hereditary rights, but on rights now actually existing. He thought, however, that there was a great distinction (though the hon. and learned Member did not seem to perceive it) between rights acquired by apprenticeship and by birth; the one might have been purchased, the other was accidental, and in the latter case, although an individual might he entitled by law to certain privileges on attaining the age of twenty-one, no one could say that his occupation or course of life had been adopted in consequence or contemplation of those rights. At the same time, he thought that there was a great deal of reason in the argument, that you might easily draw a line, by admitting rights now existing in reference to servitude or birth; and his main reason for objecting to such a principle consisted in an apprehension of the danger of being drawn on from one step to another to the admission of more than could be 1200 conceded consistently with the maintenance of the Bill in its original design. If he could believe, that the House was ready to adopt some settled principle of this kind, such as was involved in the proposition of the hon. and learned Member for Exeter, and would rest there without attempting to proceed further, he should be disposed to say, "Our great object in this Bill must be to establish provisions for the future maintenance of good government, and we should therefore take care to confer no municipal or political rights inconsistent with that object, but at the same time we ought to treat all existing rights of property as tenderly as possible, and if we commit any error, in this way it ought rather to be the fault of handling such privileges too tenderly or permitting them to continue too long, than to adopt a course that might be attended with much hardship and injury to individuals." Therefore, if he could find any thing like a general consent in the House on the proposition of the hon. and learned Member for Exeter, reserving the question of exemption from tolls, he would much rather yield to that general consent than go to a division on the other proposition.
§ Mr. Sheil
said, that there was another right, that of marriage, which should be preserved if the rights by birth were preserved, as the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Exeter went to effect. Marriage with a freeman's daughter, especially in Bristol, gave the husband the rights of a freeman. The hon. Gentlemen opposite had got the inch, and they now wanted the ell. They had obtained rights by birthright, by servitude, and now they should, as a matter of course, preserve the rights of women.
§ Lord John Russell
observed, that if he was right in his construction of the hon. and learned Member's meaning, the hon. Gentleman intended to propose an amendment which should maintain the rights only of persons now alive.—[Sir W. Follett assented.]—Probably the best course he could adopt was to move that the Chairman do report progress. The hon. and learned Member could inform him of the words which he proposed to introduce into the Clause, and he (Lord John Russell) would consider them.
§ Mr. Robinson withdrew his Amendment.
§ House resumed. Committee to sit again.