§ Several petitions having been presented against Fictitious Votes in Scotland,
§ Mr. Horsman
went on to say, the question which I am about to bring under the notice of the House is one of very serious importance; it is one on which much excitement is at this moment prevailing in Scotland, and I feel certain that had the question been brought forward a little later, instead of during the first week of the Session, every county constituency in Scotland would have petitioned upon it. They all feel, as indeed those who have already addressed you state, that at this moment their very existence as elective bodies is not only endangered, but actually in the course of being extinguished. Such a grievance, so strongly felt, so generally complained of, must be sufficient to arrest the attention of this House—and having once gained that attention, the few facts that I shall feel it necessary to bring before it cannot fail to rouse its interest, and call forth a prompt and decisive interference.—The petitioners complain that they are being defrauded—nefariously and iniquitously defrauded—of the benefits intended to be 109 conferred on them by the Reform Bill. They find no fault—they allege no insufficiency against that measure; on the contrary, their wishes, in this instance, are bounded to its fair and legitimate operation. But they assert that it is not allowed to operate as was intended—that a scheme has been devised by its enemies, and a system organised with a view to defeating its provisions; and so fatally successful have these efforts been, that already many of the counties are virtually deprived of the power so lately given them, of choosing their own Representatives, and that every county in Scotland will ere long be brought to the same condition. This is their averment, and whether it be a just one or not, the House shall now have the power of deciding. Let me first remind you of what was the end and intention of the Scotch Reform Bill, what had been the elective system previous to that Bill, and what was the change then meant to be introduced. Was it not formerly the complaint that the people at large had no share in the election of their representatives? That the privilege of nominating him was monopolised by a favoured few; and that these consisted for the most part of individuals who had no proper connexion with the county that they voted in; who had no property, no residence within it; and who acquired their franchise by the holding of a merely fictitious superiority. And what was the principle of the Reform Bill? That all the old system should cease to be—that nominal representation should end—that monopoly should be destroyed—that non-resident electors should be swept away, that fictitious qualifications should never more be heard of. The choice of the representative, instead of being vested in the few, was to be given to the many. In the place of the counties being overrun by voters who had no connexion with the soil, the qualification was in future to be limited to the inhabitants, and in lieu of a nominal and fictitious freehold, a real bona fide property was at all times to be held indispensable to the franchise. Such, Sir, and I appeal to the recollection and the candour of hon. Gentlemen on either side of the House—such was the principle of that Bill—such it was announced to me by the Minister who introduced it, and who declared it to be the intention of the Legislature, that not one rag of the old system should remain 110 A new one was substituted in its place, which emancipating Scotland, was received with joy. The first general election took place under the operation of that Bill, and the voters on that occasion (with the exception of the old roll, whose privilege had been preserved to them for their lives) were really and substantially the resident possessors of the estates for which they, had claimed in their respective districts. That election went against the party which had lately been in power, and it became evident to them, with the new order of things, their supremacy was at an end, but it was equally evident that if by any misconstruction or misapplication or evasion or violation of the recent act of Parliament, they could succeed in re-establishing any thing approximating to the former system, their influence must immediately revive. Accordingly the effort was to be made—desperate in its character, and demoralising in its effects, that effort has been made—and so systematic has been the plan adopted, so well organised and so comprehensive in its arrangement—and so ready and resolute, and reckless the instruments selected for its execution—that at this moment some of the counties in Scotland, nearest to the metropolis, are as completely in the hands of the old monopolists as if the Reform Bill had never been introduced. The mode in which this end is attained is by a very extensive manufacturing of purely nominal votes, and by such a series of frauds upon the law, as will be surprising, if not incredible, to English ears. To enumerate all the devices though which the ingenuity of their authors has endeavoured to find some alleviation to their despair would be quite impossible; but, with the permission of the House, I will describe a few of the most notorious. The first is by a system of joint tenancies—a farmer, paying a large rent and having several sons, is made to take them all into his lease. They may none of them be brought up to his line of life—they may not reside with him, or near him, or within a hundred miles of him, yet they are all registered as joint-tenants. Nay, there are instances of men being enrolled in this character, who are following their business as practitioners in the law, and merchants, and shopkeepers, in distant towns—men who never saw that, or perhaps any other farm in all their lives, and who do not know the parish in which it is situate. The second mode of creat- 111 ing these qualifications, is by the creation of a number of life-rent qualifications of some extensive landowner, who being unwilling or unable to denude himself altogether of any part of his estates, makes over a portion of it in life-rent to so many individuals who become joint-proprietors. By this transaction a dozen or score of persons who never saw or heard of one another in their lives before, and who are all strangers to the county, become joint purchasers of a portion of land. The sum to be paid for it is calculated by tables of annuity, according to their respective ages. The agent in this transaction is usually the political agent of the candidate; the disposition is dated the very last day of January, so as to be just within the six months required for registration. The parties themselves are very much ashamed of the proceeding, for it is kept quite secret, the deed need not be registered, and it is not known nor seen by any one except for a few minutes, when produced before the sheriff, after which it may be immediately destroyed.—This contrivance was at one time much resorted to, and the votes created by it promised to be very numerous. But it was soon put out of fashion by the restless cunning of its projectors, which, sharpened and improved by practice, and emboldened by success, led to the discovery of yet simpler modes, and the adoption of expedients of an easier and cheaper, and far more shameless, character. The two next which I shall advert to are a proof of this. And to the one I am now going to describe I beg to call the particular attention of hon. Members, as it is the most flagrant and the commonest of ail. The House will scarcely believe that it is a matter of common occurrence for numberless votes on a single tenement, without any right, or title, or interest, being acquired by the persons registering—without any transfer whatever of the premises—without the occupation being changed, or the ownership in any way interfered with, or a single sixpence being exchanged between the parties. Yet so it is—it happens daily and hourly, and this is the manner in which it is brought about. An individual has some premises worth 100l. a-year, on which it is proposed to him to make ten votes, and being a good Conservative and fond of his party he has no objection, provided proper care be taken of his own interests in the transaction. Ten persons are introduced 112 to him as gentlemen who are willing to come to terms and a political agent is employed to conduct the purchase. The price paid for the share of each is to be 200l. But there are two obstacles to the transaction. None of the buyers have got 200l.; they are not in a situation of life to have it. Some of them are grooms and lacqueys in a neighbouring establishment—some of them are clerks or dependents of the agent himself—nay, some of them are as low as farm servants. So far from having 200l. a-piece, they have not got 200 pence amongst them; and, even if they had, the premises are essential to the present owner for the convenience of his trade, and he cannot let them out of his possession. Here, then, are two impediments, apparently insurmountable, at the very outset of the business; but, by the intervention of the agent aforesaid, they are thus nimbly surmounted. He suggests that the purchasers, instead of paying down 200l. a-piece, shall give a bill to that amount, and meanwhile pay five per cent interest upon it; and he suggests, also, that the seller, instead of yielding up the premises, shall continue to occupy them as tenant to the buyers; the rent he pays each of them being 10l. a-year. Accordingly, he gives them a life-rent disposition of the property, and they give him back a life-rent lease. He pays each of them 10l. a-year of rent on his lease, but they pay him back exactly 10l. a-year of interest on his bill; so that for the sum he gives out from his right hand, he receives an equivalent in his left. And thus, by this very fair and honourable expedient, which is afterwards completed by an oath before the Sheriff, that the parties are bona fide possessors of the property, ten additional freeholders are added to the poll, who come forward at the next election to attest the superior purity of Conservative principles, and prove to the unbelieving what a re-action has come upon the country. Now, Sir, can the House hear this with patience? or can it doubt what follows—that votes of course are registered in numbers proportioned to the facility—and from the most unfit of all possible characters. Persons who are well known not to be worth a single sixpence, make oath that they are worth 10l. a-year. Whole batches of servants in a nobleman's or gentleman's household—regiments of butlers and grooms and gamekeepers may be supplied with these 113 fictitious qualifications by their masters' orders—and by such extraordinary persuasion, and upon such frivolous pretences, have these parties been at all times induced to claim, that they have many of them refused to appear to be examined before the Sheriff; and some of them, when the oath has been tendered, have refused to take it. The last plan I have to describe, is one that has as yet occurred but in one county. It does not go even the length of feigning a possession in land or houses; it is a simple bond of annuity for 10l. a-year, secured over an heritable subject—so that as many ten pounds a year as an individual's estate is worth, so many votes can he create without alienating an acre. How such annuities have been hitherto procured, I know not—but how they may be procured I know well. They may be purchased precisely like the subject in the last-mentioned case—a bill may be given for the price—the interest on that bill may be an exact equivalent for the annuity—and the whole transaction fraudulent and fictitious. But the parties, nevertheless, swallow the oath. Having thus shown the nature of these devices—and there are many others with which I shall not deem it necessary to occupy the House, it now only remains for me to prove the extent to which they have been practised. I will take for this purpose the six counties adjacent to one another in the neighbourhood of Edinburgh, viz.:—the three Lothians, Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles, and I will at present confine myself to them. In the county of Edinburgh, in 1832, the constituency amounted to 1,126; non-residents, 61; life-rents, 42. In the present year the life-rents had increased to 146, and the non-residents amounted to 141. He would next refer to the county of Haddington, the constituency in which amounted, in 1832, to 513; the non-residents were 27, that number had since increased to 151. The life-rents in 1832 were 29, in 1836 they increased to 75. The present constituency was 714. The next county was Linlithgow; in the year 1832, the constituency was 532; the non-residents 112. The non-residents were now increased to 202. The life-rents, in 1832, were 23; nonresidents 4. This year the life-rents were 66; and out of the 66, the non-residents were 63. He would then take the county of Roxburgh. In 1832 the number of the constituency was 1,188, and out of 114 this body not one-seventh were non-residents. At the present time the number of non-residents was not less than 444. The number of life-renters in 1832 did not exceed 33, and all these were residents in the county. The number of life-renters enrolled this year was 89, and of these 87 were non-residents. In 1832 the constituency of Peebleshire was 301. Since that time a great number of persons had been enrolled as voters; for at the present moment the constituency amounted to 576. Out of the list of voters in 1832 there were 15 non-residents; the number of non-residents at the present time was 218—being nearly equal to the original constituency. There were only eight persons in the list of voters as life-renters in 1832. The number of life-renters added this year to the constituency was 137—and of these 121 were non-residents. The list of life-renters at the present time was 160, and of these 132 were nonresidents; so that, in point of fact, there were only 28 resident life-renters, and 22 of these were entitled to be registered in consequence of offices they held as clergymen or schoolmasters. In Selkirkshire, in 1832, the constituency was 180. The number since registered was 444, being nearly double the amount of the constituency in 1822. The whole constituency was now 562, being more than double the number enrolled the year after passing the Reform Bill. In 1832 there were no non-resident voters; in 1836, the number of non-resident voters enrolled was 288—being more than the original constituency. In 1822, there were no life-renters, excepting the clergy and schoolmasters, in number about twelve. During the present year eighty-nine life-renters had been placed on the list of voters, and of these eighty-seven were non-residents. The whole number of life-renters at the present time was 112, and 107 of these were non-residents. Now, Sir, these are facts by which I think it necessary to illustrate this part of the question. Are they not sufficiently convincing? But they are not all—the worst is yet to come: the crowning point of all, the perfection of this machinery, is yet to be arrived at. I have hitherto described the system in its two first stages only—the third and last yet remains. I have shown that it began by the bonâ fide purchase of properties by non-residents, and that it next proceeded to drop all that was 115 honest in the transaction, and combined non-residence with a fictitious qualification. But the House was now to hear of all these counties being drawn into a net—of the constituencies being brought up and made up one concern, of a company of trustees and speculators in votes being established, who monopolise them all, and who, though not numerous enough of themselves to form one separate constituency, in reality engross the power, and exercise the functions of several. Such is the last scene of this strange boastful history, and until this was consummated, the plot was only half successful, and the thraldom of the people but imperfectly secured. Joint tenancies had their inconveniences and their risks, and even the enfranchising of domestics was neither so safe nor so satisfactory as could be desired, for farmers might become independent of the Laird, and even grooms and gamekeepers might change their situation, or in times of popular excitement, precisely when the services of the faithful were most needed, both one and the other might choose to go with their own order. Besides, six constituencies for six counties were deemed too many—and the machinery too troublesome and complicated—especially when, with proper management, one body of electors might do for all. Accordingly a council seems to have been held in Edinburgh, and the muster roll then gone over—and a list of individuals made out, principally resident in that city—men of ascertained sentiments and trustworthy, who have no weak scruples, no defined principles of their own; but the whole thirty-nine articles of whose political creed are summed up in that one watchword—pat y. These gentlemen are forthwith applied to to provide themselves with fictitious qualifications—not in one or two, but each of them, in four, five, or all of the counties I have named, as need may be. What is the result? Do you not see how fatal it must be? Those counties all he close together—their polling-places may all be compassed from Edinburgh in one day—and their constituencies are small—so that this well-drilled corps of Edinburgh citizens and recruits, not limited in number, be it remarked, but capable of being expanded ad libitum, by making a rapid tour of those districts during the contest, and invariably throwing all its weight into the unpopular scale, may, and must decide every one of these elections. Sir, in 116 my observations, hitherto, I have confined myself to a bare narration of facts; I have avoided all remarks that could apply personally to any one. But I see no reason for exercising that self-denial here, nor why I should refrain from uttering my opinion of the individuals who are implicated in this part of the system, for the zeal of partisanship in ordinary cases we can all make ample allowance, and many acts of even questionable propriety entered on amid the keenness and excitement of party warfare, we can pass by without observation or reproof, but for the cold-blooded and deliberate iniquity of this roving band of political assassins, as their business is without example, so I should feel it to be beyond excuse. I hold in my hand a list of the gentlemen I am alluding to, and which I received to-day, and all I can say is, that even the hasty perusal I have been able to give it is sufficient to diminish my astonishment at the offence. It is a list in which any Scotchman, at all versed in the Tory nomenclature of former days, will recognise many old and familiar acquaintances. Let me be just to our opponents. Happy I am to say that little of the respectability of their body is found here. With a few exceptions, it is composed of the very dregs and refuse of their party. The ancient system is in every page, and in every line. Among the gentry, the old compliment in votes is here—he whom the Reform Bill was intended to destroy—here is the pettifogging laird, whose zeal of yore was equally essential to his importance and his profit—and here, too, is the timeserving waiter upon a party providence, who had not only himself long fattened upon the public purse, but had trained up his children after him to regard it as their sure inheritance. You have now the whole brood registered against you, the ancient prejudices of blood being sharpened by the bitterness of recent disappointment; and after these is the well-known tribe of wanting, jobbing, cringing subordinates and officials—the herd of provincial functionaries and petty pluralists—the menials and parasites of the camp, ever ready to fetch and carry as their leaders bid them—the unblushing panderers to party vice, and feeders on party corruption. But enough of this; my object at present is not so much to expose the individuals, as to denounce the system. That system is yet 117 in its infancy—what has been done hitherto has been mere attempt of experiment; but preparations, I warn you, on a more magnificent scale are making for the ensuing registry; what has been done around Edinburgh will next year be done around Glasgow, and Perth, and Aberdeen, and then a section of the inhabitants of a few large towns will have all the counties of Scotland within their grasp. But I fancy I hear the hon. Gentlemen opposite objecting to me, "Why do you direct all your censure against us?—why do you spare your own party, which has also been guilty of these which you describe as improper practices?" Because, Sir, I have discovered a wide distinction between the cases. In tracing the origin and progress of the system, I have thrown the blame on those who were its inventors and its chief promoters; and when individuals of their opponents have partially followed their example, I am ready to prove that it was forced on them against their will—that they acted tardily and reluctantly, and purely in self-defence. I will show this by a reference to facts; and every word that I now state I am prepared to make good before a Committee. The election of 1832 ended late in December, and, as soon as it was over, it was currently reported that great, if not unlimited, power had been given to a well-known Edinburgh agent to create a sufficient number of improper votes to recover the three principal counties that had been lost. This report many people found a difficulty of believing; but when the registry came on, the claims thus made out were produced—they had all been manufactured in the preceding January, and immediately after the election. The Liberals immediately saw what was likely to result from this—the people must be annihilated. They held meetings and consultations; but they thought the proceeding so dangerous, and so disgraceful, that they would not resort to it. The registry of 1834 came, and another inundation of mushroom qualifications; but still the opponents of the Tories did not retaliate. They saw their danger, but they thought it preferable to dishonour—they had had one year of warning and preparation, and now a second, but they kept true to their resolve. But then came the general election—and with it, in its most disastrous form, the fruit of those two registrations. District after district was overwhelmed, 118 and county after county snatched away; and then it was, and then only, that the forbearance of individuals could no longer be secured. The race was in many places commenced by both parties in good earnest, and is now being carried on by such a deluging of counties with votes of all descriptions, that ere long the advocates of universal suffrage will have a favourable opportunity of judging of the practical workings of their favourite theme. I do not approve of the practice, or defend it either in the one party or the other. I will screen neither—I have ever set my face equally against both—and I will expose both equally before the Committee. But is there not a great difference in the culpability of the parties? I say there is the same distinction as between a man who raises his weapon for assault, and another who snatches a sword in self-defence. The act of the one party is from choice, and adopted for aggression and injury; the other only followed the example after long delay and repeated provocation, and from the imperious necessity of personal safety. The aim of the one was to crush the privileges of the electors; the object of the other to protect them. The right hon. Baronet opposite, the Member for Tamworth, declared lately at Glasgow, that it was his determination to support the principle of the Reform Bill, and he called on his followers to do the same. Sir, I honour him for that determination, and I hope that I may now confidently reckon on his support of my motion. The petitioners ask merely for the principle of the Reform Bill to be carried into effect. "Abolish fictitious qualifications," they say, "and we will thank you and be satisfied." There is no further change asked here; no demand for the Ballot; no petition for short Parliaments—and yet they have had their difficulties, and formed their opinions on these topics as well as their southern neighbours. But the elective privilege was so new to them, and so sacred in their eyes was the proper use of it, that they held it firm against all assaults. Intimidation was tried with them, but they braved it all. Bribery was attempted, but they were proof against it; and then the manufacturing of votes was had recourse to. The people were too firm to be bullied—they were too honest to be bribed—but they were not too numerous to be swamped. To swamping, accordingly, they were doomed. The work proceeded 119 at a rapid, a fearful pace, and since the hit was to come upon them, they now do feel at least grateful to their opponents for having brought it so speedily to a head—and that too by a process of operations so open and undisguised, that no man who has eyes to see can have a doubt of its existence—or that has capacity to reason, can deny the necessity for a remedy. The petitioners come before you with this plain, unanimous remonstrance—that if they deserved the franchise to be bestowed, they may now, on stronger grounds, demand that it should continue to them. That they did deserve it, they tell you is attested by the use that they have made of it. Look at their elections. Wherever popular contests have taken place they have been conducted with peace, and order, and decorum. Wherever popular candidates have been chosen, they have been men of experience, of ability, and of character. The anticipations of their friends on these heads have been more than realised. The hopes and predictions of their enemies have, been as grievously disappointed. The people of Scotland now contemplate with joy the prospect, that through their instrumentality the real character of their countrymen may be understood. It was with a pang of shame and humiliation, that they had hitherto submitted to be judged of by the miserable samples of a begging Aristocracy, which an exclusive system threw up. Though their former representatives, being elected by an oligarchy, were like the oligarchy that elected them—venal, and subservient, and corrupt—the great body of the nation, despised and disregarded as they were, were always intelligent in mind—educated in habit—highly moral and religious in feeling—and nobly independent in character. And as soon as the power was given them, these were the qualities they sought in their Members; and they then saw, for the first time, a body of independent men, the organs of the free voice of Scotland, enrolled among the best friends of freedom in the empire, and welcomed by them as stout and valued allies in the great constitutional battles of the age. They bid you observe how the prejudices of country have already died away, and the choice of a Scottish constituency been admitted a title of distinction. On the one hand, they point with satisfaction to the distinguished men from England and Ireland who have been 120 united to their connexion, and to whom have been confided the interests of their wealthiest and most populous towns—their great marts of enterprise and commerce on the Clyde or on the Tay; and, on the other, they remember, with a feeling of pride, amounting to exultation, the tribute that was indirectly paid to them by this very House of Commons; inasmuch as when it was thought essential to its dignity, that the assertion of a principle should be involved in the election of a Speaker, the Member of their body, unanimously pointed at by all classes of Reformers to be put in competition with a Gentleman of great experience and acknowledged merit, as the fittest to supersede him in his exalted office, and sit in that Chair as the triumphant champion of their opinions, was no other than the popular representative of their own ancient metropolis. With such feelings, then, and such results—so encouraged and so rewarded—the political mind has become peaceful, happy, and contented—and with political contentment national prosperity has gone hand in hand. But if you reverse the picture—if you endeavour to wrest from them the boon that has been so lately conferred, or suffer it to be filched from them by others—have you calculated the effects? Will the people remain tranquil and submissive? Will the law be similarly respected? Will the elections go on equally smooth and undisturbed? Even in the olden times, we are none of us too young to remember, that the murmurings of the populace have been known to swell to such a pitch as to blanch the cheek of the favourite of the town-council, while he was undergoing the very honours of ordination—aye, and even to shake the powder from the wig of the all-potent but bewildered Lord Advocate of the day. And is it not wisdom to foresee that all this may soon return? If you stop up the channel which the constitution has provided for the feelings of the people, depend upon it they will break out through other channels which the law has not acknowledged. The Scotch have but lately tasted the sweets of freedom, but their appetite for reform has only been sharpened by enjoyment; and if their enemies should succeed for a time in depriving them of its expected fruits, believe me, sooner or later, they will bring the evil to such a head, that it can neither be continued without danger, nor ended 121 without convulsion. Sir, I have now concluded all I have to say upon the subject. I thank the House for its attention; and I have now to say that the petitions presented to you are just and reasonable in their nature, the arguments they are founded on are strong, and the appeal to your protection is not likely to be made in vain. The hon. Member concluded by moving for a Committee to inquire into the system of creating fictitious votes in Scotland.
Mr. Robert Ferguson
seconded the motion. After the able, eloquent, and conclusive speech of his hon. Friend, he need only encroach on the House for a few minutes. But he must say, that the sweeping creation of fictitious votes now going on in Scotland was felt by the real constituency to be an intolerable grievance. They found that whatever importance was intended to be bestowed upon them by the Reform Act was gone, or fast going; and that the results of the means of influence resorted to by the Tories were of such a description, that very many persons had reason to regret that they ever possessed the franchise. The speech of his hon. Friend had obviously not failed to make a deep impression on the House, and he trusted would not fail to rouse them to inquire into the character of these fictitious votes, and to ascertain if it were possible that they could be consistent either with the letter or the spirit of the Reform Act, be far as respected Scotland. The fact was, the Tories had pushed these transactions much too far; inquiry has become necessary, a remedy must be found. Their modes of influence, he must also observe, had been so undisguisedly and so prejudiciously used towards individuals, as to push on the Ballot question—to force it on; and although he was originally adverse to the Ballot on principle, the monstrous evils which existed now induced him to consider it as the only remedy; and, whenever the question came on for discussion, it would most probably induce him to vote for it.
Sir George Clerk
said, that he fully agreed with the hon. Member who last addressed the House, in what he had said of the clear and able manner in which the hon. Member had introduced the subject to their notice; but the hon. Member must excuse him if he refused to concur in the difference which he had made as to life-rent qualifications between one party and 122 another. The hon. Member had made his statement in such a manner as if he wished it to be inferred, that those creations were made for the support of one party. He would admit that it must be disagreeable to the House to say with which party the system had begun; but with whatever party, Whig or Tory, it had originated, he had no hesitation in saying, that it ought to be put down. He must declare for one, he was perfectly prepared to say, that if there existed in Scotland fictitious and collusive qualifications, for which no sufficient remedy could be found in the enactments of the Reform Act, that Act ought to be amended. If facilities for the creation of such qualifications did exist, he was quite as ready as any hon. Member in that House to admit, that neither party would be very scrupulous in pushing the law to its utmost verge, for the purpose of augmenting their own political power. The hon. Member opposite had presented to the House the view which he took of the Reform Bill, but it was for the House to say, whether or not that was a correct view of its character, in reference to the elective franchise, at all events. The opinion of the hon. Member seemed to be, that the intention of the Legislature in enacting that measure, was to do away with non-residence in counties. From that he begged to express his dissent. Unquestionably the intention was apparent on the face of the Act to do away with non-residence in cities and boroughs, but by no means in counties; else, why did a property qualification for counties form a necessary part of the Bill? It was clearly admitted on all hands, it could not be denied, that the Reform Act created a property qualification; it therefore did not insist upon residence as a necessary condition. Owing, probably, to the political system which prevailed in Scotland, the people of that country were less disposed than in other parts of the United Kingdom, to a minute division of property, but an extension of the elective franchise naturally led to a more minute subdivision of property. For a long time, in Ireland, the same causes had led to similar results. If the evil to which the hon. Member referred was an evil of serious importance in Scotland, of how much greater importance was it in Ireland, and how much more widely extended was its operation? It was notorious, that the fictitious qualifications in Ireland were greater than in 123 any other part of Great Britain. The House had heard some strong condemnations of the practice of creating voters. He desired to know, was there anything that persons of wealth need be ashamed of, in the circumstance of their purchasing property, with a view to serving the party to which they belonged? He might be allowed to hope, that there was no intention of doing away with bonâ fide qualifications, and he might be allowed to add, that when the hon. Mover thought proper to refer to the state of the elective franchise in 1832 and 1836, he had omitted to pay any attention at all to its condition in England in those years, still less had he noticed the state of Ireland. The proprietors of land found new rights under the Reform Act, and that naturally disposed them to make a new arrangement with respect to their property; upon what ground, then, could exception be taken to that? It really did appear to him a most novel and startling doctrine, that the increase of the persons invested with the elective franchise, was to be regarded as an evil. It was particularly novel and startling when it proceeded from the other side of the House. Judging of what might be the feelings and sentiments of hon. Members opposite, from what had been the opinions put forward in the Edinburgh Review, that publication declared, that however strong the objection of its party might be to fictitious qualifications, however great their aversion to mere parchment votes, they would still take away no man's right. In their opinions, the more who were invested with the power of voting the better; it therefore much astonished him to find an increased constituency made a matter of complaint by hon. Members professing liberal opinions; and he confessed it did appear to him that the avowal of such doctrines, on their part, seemed to warrant the insinuations so generally thrown out during the discussions on the Reform Bill, that the elective franchise which that measure created, had been studiously framed, with a view to strengthen the political interests of that party, who were the authors and promoters of that great change in our Constitution. The hon. Member for Bath had said, that the Reform Bill was a measure which its authors introduced, not for the people's interest, but to secure their own. It was no longer ago than Tuesday night, that the hon. Member expressed that opinion; and within the 124 short period which had since then elapsed, they found the hon. Member for Cocker-mouth expressing sentiments which the supporters of Government cheered, and gave the strongest possible confirmation to the assertion of the hon. Member for Bath. The argument of the hon. Mover was, that the fictitious qualifications of which he so much complained, would have the effect of swamping the legitimate 10l. electors. The simple answer to that was this—the particular enactments of the law bearing upon that point, permitted such a state of things to exist; there was clearly nothing illegal in non-resident voters for counties, neither was it in any respect inconsistent with the acknowledged principles of the Constitution, nor adverse either to the spirit or the letter of the Reform Act. Was it to be supposed that all persons connected with the proprietorship of land, in pastoral districts, would at all times be resident? But it was contended, that however consistent with the existing state of the law such a condition of things might be, it had become inexpedient to allow its continuance. Then to what did that species of argument lead? To nothing less than that the Reform Act rested upon a wrong basis. Its authors could not deny, that they based their measure upon property, and not numbers. To meet the views of the hon. Gentleman, they must now remodel the measure, and establish it upon a new foundation. As must be fully in the recollection of the House, the attempts to curtail the number of voters had been most frequent on the part of liberal Members. At present they complained, that the voters for counties were too numerous, while but a short time since, there were loud complaints of a similar kind against the poorer votes in corporations. His remarks, however, he begged to say, were not made with the least desire to continue or uphold any description of fictitious or collusive voters. He looked at the existing condition of the elective franchise, as all persons ought, who were engaged in electioneering proceedings—namely, with a view to get rid of every thing unfair; he had, therefore, not the least objection to a full and fair inquiry into the causes of collusive and fictitious votes; but he must be distinctly understood, as drawing a wide distinction between those, and persons holding certain qualifications under the Reform Act; especially he objected to the doctrines of the 125 hon. Mover, with respect to farmers who admitted their sons, for example, to a participation in their leases. It was, in effect, admitting them into a partnership in their business, and to that he apprehended no rational objection could exist. Life-renters formed the next class, to whose exercise of the franchise exception had been taken. He would ask this question—did they mean to deprive of their rights all the electors in England who possessed estates for life? And he would further ask, to what point did the observations made to the House tend, if not to that? Hon. Members could not have forgotten the long discussions on the 40s. life qualifications, nor the difficulty with which the noble Lord, who had the care of the Reform Bill, now Earl Spencer, consented to the 40s. life qualification. To these observations he had only to add, that if the object of the proposed Committee was to inquire into the causes of fictitious and collusive voting, by leaseholders and life-renters, he should not raise the least objection to its appointment; and if he saw that a remedy for that evil could be devised, he should rejoice. That many attempts had been made to create fictitious and collusive votes, he readily admitted; but, in his opinion, the Reform Act furnished a sufficient remedy for that evil; and that remedy, he conceived, was in full operation in the courts of the Revising Barristers. He knew, and many other Members connected with Scotland must also know, that in Roxburgh, and several other counties, very many claims were rejected in the courts of the Revising Barristers; but in determining upon the appointment of this Committee, it might not be unimportant to inquire on which side in politics the electors, who had been so often complained of, were likely to vote. The House had been told, that a conclave existed in Edinburgh, for the purpose of promoting the operation of those collusive and fictitious votes. He might be permitted to say, that he knew something of Edinburgh; of this conclave he knew nothing, and he had no reason to believe that it existed. Allusion had been made to the lists prepared in Edinburgh, of the voters who came within the description given by the hon. Member; on that point he should only observe, that if they went to other parts of the United Kingdom, it was probable that they would find them very nearly balanced. He professed his desire not to make the present a party 126 question, and he trusted that there existed no intention on the part of hon. Members at the other side of the House to restrict any qualification which the Reform Act imparted. If such a course were contemplated, he must be allowed to say, from what had occurred, there was some reason to fear, that a selection would be made of those most favourable to the views of hon. Members on the other side of the House. He repeated, that the evils complained of were not peculiar to Scotland; he had seen some accounts of what took place at the Registration Courts in England, where numberless attempts were made to create fictitious votes; forty individuals, deriving their franchise out of one small field, and not one of the forty was able to point out the portion which fell to his own share; not only did practices of this nature prevail in counties of England, but in cities; they were attempted in a city not very far distant from the spot on which he then stood. If the pure love of reform were the only motive which influenced the mover and supporters of the present motion, he should say that he saw no cause why they should confine their inquiries to Scotland. If the proceeding were necessary as to one part of the United Kingdom, he should like to see it extended to the counties and towns of England and of Ireland, and he hoped that equal justice would be done to all; he also hoped, that when the list of the Committee was submitted to the noble Lord on the Treasury Bench, it would be found to contain such names as would divest it of any suspicion of being framed for party purposes.
§ Mr. Roebuck
was of opinion, that the country owed much to the hon. Gentleman who had submitted the present motion, because it would test the sincerity of that House, as to its desire of promoting purity in the representation; and they would have the means of ascertaining whether the House would do that, which former Houses of Commons had not done, amend the representation by putting down the system of fictitious votes. The hon. Baronet opposite (Sir G. Clerk) considered, that property was the essential qualification for a man to exercise the right of legislation, and if he possessed property in three or a dozen places, he should have the right of voting for three or a dozen individuals, and thus influence the election of twelve persons to be returned as representatives to that House. [Hear, hear.] 127 Hon. Members might say "hear, hear;" but did they look to the consequences? The present motion had been introduced with a degree of virtuous indignation in which he sympathised; but he hoped that the hon. Member would feel it equally, whether the parties were rich or poor. He did not feel the same anxiety respecting collusive or fictitious votes which some hon. Members appeared to endure; what was it to him whether the votes were fictitious or otherwise? The question in which he felt an interest was, whether or not the voter was sufficiently intelligent to exercise the right of voting. In his judgment intelligence was the true qualification. One occurrence of the present evening afforded him much satisfaction, and that was, to see the hon. Members on the other side of the House complain of restrictions upon the elective franchise; he quite rejoiced to find them advocating the principle of an extended suffrage, and every year they remained out of office, he had no doubt that their desire for such extension would increase. "Wait a little longer," said the hon. Gentleman, "and they will become advocates for universal suffrage." He was also an advocate of the Ballot, which, in his opinion, was the only remedy for the evils now stated. The creation or' fictitious votes was complained of, and of persons possessing a power which they ought not to have in influencing elections; the object, therefore, ought to be to find out the means for the prevention of these evils. Where was that remedy to be found? why, for one, in the Ballot, and for the other, in universal suffrage; because, so long as property gave a qualification, it was impossible to secure the purity of election. If the elective franchise was given in consequence of the possession of riches, the individual so possessing them would take an advantage of his wealth, which he ought not to be allowed to possess.
would remind the hon. Gentlemen opposite, that one of the great objects contemplated by the Duke of Wellington on the Catholic Relief Bill was to prevent subdivision of property; and that measure was accompanied by another, which disfranchised the 40s. freeholders in counties, and raised the qualification to 10l. With regard to the observation of the hon. Baronet as to bonâ fide purchase, and the case he cited, he understood him to refer to the county of Huntingdon; but 128 he would ask, did that case at all resemble what had taken place in the counties of Scotland? The object of the hon. Member who brought forward the present motion was, to put down the practice of creating fictitious votes, which had been pursued to a considerable extent in Scotland, in some degree in England, and in Ireland also. He agreed with the hon. Baronet opposite, that the practice ought to be put down in one part of the country as well as another; and with that view, if the hon. Baronet would move for a Committee to consider this subject as regards Ireland as well as England, he would vote for that motion.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, that he assented to the principle of the motion as to Scotland, and was perfectly ready to carry it on with respect to England and Ireland; but he cautioned the hon. Mover not to allow his motion to be swamped by any suggestion for extending it. He thanked the hon. Baronet opposite for having used the term "justice to Ireland;" and he hoped that the time was not far distant when the sincerity of his desire to do justice to Ireland would be put to the test. At present, he thought that the most convenient course would be, to affirm the principle of the motion, and allow the nomination of the Committee to be postponed till Monday. He desired that the Report of the Committee should be as authoritative as possible; and he therefore wished that it should bear an impartial, nay, even a judicial character.
was glad to hear what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for the University of Dublin. For the first open day he intended to give notice of the extension of the Committee to Ireland, and he looked to the right hon. Gentleman as his seconder. He thought he had a right to expect that no one would seek to separate them when united for so good a purpose.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
ex- 129 pressed his willingness to give his best assistance to any Committee appointed with reference to Ireland.
§ Sir Henry Hardinge
certainly saw no reason why the proposed Committee might not, without the appointment of a separate Committee, extend its inquiries to Ireland, in the same manner as the Intimidation Committee had previously done.
§ Mr. Forbes
challenged the most rigid examination, and desired that the part of the country with which he was connected should be judged by the letter of the Reform Bill. It was perfectly true, that the merchants of Glasgow, and even the learned persons connected with its University, had purchased landed property, and had thereby increased their political influence; but he would ask, were they therefore to be called political assassins? The hon. mover might know something of the "clique;" they might be called political assassins; but he knew of no other body deserving the appellation. With regard to the county which he had the honour to represent, he would take upon himself to say, that upon examination it would be found as pure as any in the United Kingdom, and to have conformed as closely as any other to the spirit of the Reform Act. The counties of Perth, Roxburgh, and Haddington, had also supported the cause of good government, sound reform, and the Protestant religion. If such were the conduct of political assassins, he must acknowledge that the electors of those counties were guilty.
§ Motion agreed to; appointment of Committee postponed.