HC Deb 13 February 1852 vol 119 cc502-16

moved for leave to bring in a Bill to extend the Right of Voting for Members of Parliament, and to amend the Laws relating to the Representation of the People in Scotland. The learned Lord said that the provisions of this Bill would be so nearly identical with those of the Bill moved the other night, by the noble Lord at the head of the Government for England, that he need not detain the House with many observations. There was a topic, however, to which he could not help adverting. It was the good fortune of his noble Friend who introduced the English Bill, not only to have introduced and witnessed throughout its whole career the results of the first measure of reform, but also to have been the instrument of introducing the second measure, which was intended to extend it. In regard to reform in Scot- land, the case was different, Of his great countryman who introduced the former Bill (Lord Jeffrey), unfortunately we bad nothing now left except the fruit of his public labours and the honoured memory of his name; and he (the Lord Advocate) could not more properly and more appropriately commence the honourable and gratifying task committed to him than by recalling to the recollection of the House the name of one who devoted, during so long a period of his life, his great ability to the cause of the liberties of his country—a man who had spread the fame of Scotland throughout every part of the world where the English language was understood, and whose name would he venerated and loved by every true son of Scotland as long as genius and eloquence, and learning, and patriotism, were honoured and appreciated. When Francis Jeffrey moved the first Reform Bill for Scotland, he had a task imposed upon him which, in some particulars, was even one of greater interest than that which had devolved upon his noble Friend in the introduction of the Bill for England. The electoral system of England, though overlaid by antiquated abuses, yet preserved in its form, and to a certain extent in its substance, something of popular representation. Scotland at that time bad not even its shadow. The state of the representation in Scotland before the Reform Bill, would, when a few years had passed away, be entitled to a place among the fabulous parts of Scottish history. The county representation was vested in a small knot of landholders called the Court of Freeholders, not freeholders in the English acceptation of the word, but persons holding directly of the Crown property valued according to certain ancient valuations at a certain amount; and this body was only diversified by the introduction, when political animosity ran high, of certain very expensive but altogether fictitious tenures. As for the borough representation, it was still more unpopular, for the town-councils were the only constituencies, and they not only elected their representatives, but also elected themselves. The House might well conceive to what extent representatives so elected, and constituencies so constituted, were calculated to reflect the opinions of the people. That, notwithstanding such a system of representation, Scotland should have flourished as it did, did not prove that popular representation was of no value, but simply what the energy of a nation might do, notwithstanding the greatest political disadvantages. When Lord Jeffrey proposed the former Bill, it would not have been extraordinary if, in introducing popular representation into Scotland for the first time, the gratification of success had been to a certain extent blended with anxiety; if the Reform Bill was an experiment in England, it was so to a much greater extent in Scotland. But, if an experiment, it had proved completely a successful one. His countrymen had made good use of their privilege. There was no part of the United Kingdom in which the franchise had been more honestly or more independently exercised. He could only hope that if this measure should pass, the same use might be made of it, and that Scotland would maintain and increase her character for purity in elections. He hoped that all parties—candidate and voter, landlord and tenant, employer and employed—would make it their pride and duty to maintain the national character for self-respect and independence, without which popular institutions were at the best but a doubtful good. In regard to the results of the Reform Bill, that part of the subject was one too general for him then to enter on. But he must be allowed to say, when the Reform Bill was spoken of as a failure—however true that might be in a comparative sense, that, as a positive proposition, he could not help thinking the reverse was true. He knew at least that in Scotland it had been productive of great benefits. A great though peaceful revolution in politics and political sentiment had taken place within the last twenty-one years. Any man who saw what an increase of strength public opinion had received during that time, how much the country had found both a voice and a response within the walls of that House, what an increased sense of responsibility prevailed, and what an improvement had taken place in the tone of political morality, must be convinced that, whatever the Reform Bill might not have done, it was impossible to estimate too highly that which it had done. The Government were taunted with the fact, that there was no popular excitement on the subject of reform. They were told within that House and without, that apathy prevailed, that no crowds were gathering round the walls of Parliament to learn the probable fate of the measure. That was perfectly true; and the case being so, he said, if this were the first measure of the kind proposed in peaceful times, and dis- cussed without excitement, it was one of the greatest distinctions such a measure could possess. But further, there could not be a more expressive, though silent, tribute to the merits of the former Bill. If the people were content to leave the matter for discussion with the House, if that cry of reform, which had been the battle cry from the Rockingham Ministry till the time of Lord Grey, was no longer heard as at former periods, the extinction of that cry was itself one of the greatest triumphs of the former Reform Bill. The reason why it had ceased was, that the system established by the Reform Bill had drawn together more closely the representatives and the people. The people had more confidence than formerly that they would obtain justice in that House, and they felt that it was not necessary to agitate for justice out of it. If there was at the time of the Reform Bill excitement among those who were anxious for progress, there were on the other side tremors among those who were afraid of it. Were there no anticipations of ruin to the constitution? In Scotland, at least, there were many expressed; and now, when a measure was proposed carrying much further the same popular principles, he asked why there were none of those tremors or fears? The moral he read from the position of matters was this, that the Reform Bill had created in the minds of the people a measure of confidence in the Legislature such as it never possessed before; and, on the other hand, those who were jealous of the effects of popular influence, and afraid of the popular voice, had learned at last the still more salutary lesson of confidence in their countrymen. With these few introductory remarks, he would proceed to explain, as shortly as he could, the specific provisions of the measure he had to propose. With respect to the enfranchising clauses, they were, as he had already remarked, almost exactly analogous—they corresponded almost exactly—with those of the English Bill; for instance, at present the right of voting for the county representation was vested, first, in proprietors of real estate and holders of long leases of 10l. annual value; and, in the second place, in those who held of a landlord paying 50l. of yearly rent. It was proposed by the present Bill to reduce the amount conferring the property and long leasehold qualification from 10l. to 5l., and to reduce the 50l. qualification for those paying rent to 20l. Then with respect to burghs, the 10l. occupation franchise was to be reduced to 5l.; and the same provision was to be made with respect to the vote depending on direct taxation, as had been announced with reference to the English Bill. Beyond these points, he did not know that there was anything to explain relating to the franchise. But there were two other points to which he would direct the attention of the House, and which, as regarded Scotland, were of no inconsiderable importance. First, it was thought that in any revision of the electoral system there should he an endeavour to secure that the franchise should be real, honest, and substantial. He did not need to remind hon. Members acquainted with Scotland, that, owing, he supposed, principally to the smallness of the constituencies, there had been, for many years after the Reform Bill, a great manufacture of fictitious votes. He did not mean to take credit for the one side, or to throw blame on the other, with reference to the manufacture of these votes. Both parties, it must be said, had availed themselves very considerably of the facilities they had under the old Reform Bill for carrying on that manufacture; and at the present time he thought he might safely say that both were very considerably tired of it. In extending the franchise, however, the endeavour should he made to procure, if possible, the means of protecting it from invasion by fictitious qualifications. It was proposed, then, in the first place, to insist that parties claiming upon a property qualification should be infeft, which was a step necessary by the law of Scotland to complete a real title, a feudal title, without which the creditor of a party could not attach the property, and without which the party himself had only a personal right. In the second place, it was proposed that persons holding property in joint liferent, who were not placed in that position by succession or by marriage, should not be entitled to enrolment as voters. Hon. Gentlemen acquainted with the law of Scotland would well understand the intention of that provision. The conveyance of a liferent by one man to another during his life, was a kind of right hardly known in ordinary practice to the law. It was competent for a person to convey a liferent to another; but a liferent to two persons jointly, granted by a man possessor of an estate during his own life, was so rare in ordinary transactions, that, by excluding from the register a per- son who held in joint liferent, no one would be excluded who could be supposed to be one really possessing a genuine qualification. There had, however, been a practice of manufacturing votes by large clusters by means of liferents; 20, or 25, or 30 parties were joined together in one deed, thus creating 20, or 25, or 30 liferent votes; and the extent of these creations, and the facilities which existed for them, were notorious to every man who knew anything of legal proceedings in Scotland. It was therefore proposed that joint liferenters should not be entitled to be enrolled, when liferenters by constitution. Then it was proposed to define and explain the old law of Scotland with respect to nominal and fictitious qualifications; so that in those cases, where real and substantial rights were never intended to be conveyed, the claim to be placed on the register should be rejected. Prom the working of the system in Scotland, it had been found very doubtful whether the old law was applicable to the state of matters which had arisen under the Reform Act. So much for the second of those provisions which the Bill was intended to embrace, relating to the reality of the franchise. There was a third matter on which legislation would, he trusted, be productive of great improvement. Perhaps it might not be generally known that in Scotland the Registration Court consisted, first, of the sheriff, and, secondly, of the Appeal Court, which was constituted by the sheriffs of particular districts. One result had happened from this form of tribunal—that the sheriff of one district decided one way, and the sheriff of another district decided another way; and there was no supereminent tribunal whose decisions might give uniformity to the law relating to registration. It was almost unnecessary to remark that any enfranchising system which might be brought forward would be incomplete without an attempt to remedy that evil. Following the precedent set by a Bill introduced with respect to England in 1843, if he rightly recollected, by the right hon. Member for Ripon (Sir James Graham) [3 Hansard, lxvi. lxvii.], the Government proposed to institute a right of appeal, on points of law only, either from the sheriff or from the Court of Appeal to the Judges of the Court of Exchequer in Scotland. They proposed to make the appeal to that Court, because, from the small amount of business before it, and from the general nature of that business, there seemed to be every reason to believe that a short, summary, and inexpensive mode of bringing appeals to that tribunal might be established without interfering with the ordinary business of the Court. He made that observation, because otherwise it would not appear why that tribunal was selected as a court of ultimate appeal. The object was to afford a compendious and effective court of appeal on points of law, so that the working of the appeal would be, that when a party appealed from the sheriff to the Court of Exchequer at once, he was foreclosed from opening the question in other respects; and if he chose to appeal from the sheriff to the Court of Appeal, and took his chance there, he still had the right of appeal on the law of the case to the Court of Exchequer. With these short explanations, he begged to move for leave to bring in the Bill; and he would conclude by expressing the hope, that as the privileges of the constitution were extended to a lower class, so it would be deeper rooted in the affections of society, and tend more and more to the welfare of the country.


said, that, in the eloquent panegyric which the learned Lord had passed on his eloquent predecessor, whom all who knew must esteem and admire, as one distinguished by great ability and not less distinguished by every good and amiable quality of life, he cordially concurred; but with regard to the measure introduced by the noble Lord, he could not allow even the first stage to be taken in regard to it, without expressing his strong conviction that it was most ill-timed, uncalled for, and in a wrong direction. The provision which the learned Lord had shadowed forth as affecting the county constituencies of Scotland—with which he was more immediately concerned—would, he believed, furnish a class of persons much less qualified to exercise the franchise with advantage to the country than those who were now entitled to vote. He did not mean to say that tenants occupying farms between 20l. and 50l. were not a class of persons as upright, independent, and well qualified to possess the franchise as were those who held for terms of a greater extent; but he conceived that all unnecessary peddling with the basis upon which their representative constitution rested was most mischievous, and must be productive of evil consequences. No increase of the county franchise in Scotland was required. Though he did not object to the class which the Bill proposed to enfranchise, yet he thought it was altogether; uncalled for and unrequired. With regard to the lowering of the qualification for burghs to 5l., he was not sure whether the noble Lord meant a 5l. rating, as in the English Bill, or a 5l. occupancy; but his own knowledge and experience, and all he had heard of the working of the Reform Bill, led him to believe it went a great deal too low. He could not say, from the attention he had been able to give to the statement of the learned Lord, whether he should feel it to be his bounden duty to oppose this Bill; but he thought that by its operation there would be an interference with the independent exorcise of the franchise in the larger towns of Scotland. The learned Lord had greatly glorified the introducer of the former Reform Bill, in consequence of the good effects it had produced. He (Mr. C. Bruce) was one of those who sat in the House when the former measure was introduced, and he had felt it his duty to oppose almost every clause except the clause referring to the county voters; and he was free to confess that the evils he had expected from the Bill were not realised to the extent he had apprehended. When the learned Lord, and the noble Lord at the head of the Government, glorified themselves on the manifold good produced by the Reform Bill, he (Mr. C. Bruce) asked, if under that Bill they were yet able to answer the question put by an illustrious man. "How is the Queen's Government to be carried on?" How would they be able to answer it after the passing of the proposed measure? Let them consider what was the power of the Government and of the Legislature since the Reform Bill had passed. Let them consider their relative positions at that moment. Had they not seen Governments, and particularly during the official existence of the parties now in power, at a dead lock, and was it not often found impossible to carry on the business of the country? The move about to be taken would make it still more difficult to answer the question how the Queen's Government was to be carried on; and he could not consider it otherwise than ill-timed, mischievous, and uncalled for. The hon. Member for Inverness-shire (Mr. Baillie) had the other night let fall sentiments in which he could not concur. The hon. Member seemed to think that it was a good opportunity for giving a larger num- ber of Members to Scotland; but he (Mr. C. Bruce) did not think that Scotland required more Members than she had—he did not think she would be a gainer by having ten seats transferred from English boroughs to Scotch burghs. He believed that in the English Parliament his country received a full measure of justice, and that English Members felt as anxious to promote the interests of Scotland, and attended as much to her prosperity, as the Members for that country themselves. The hon. Member had also said that the duration of Parliament should be shortened, and he (Mr. C. Bruce) also dissented from that opinion. The shortening of the duration of Parliament would increase the difficulty of finding persons willing to undertake the responsible duties of representing the interests of Scotland in Parliament. That country was now represented by men who had no motive for seeking a seat in that House but to do their duty to their country. If the duration of Parliaments were shortened to three from seven years, the difficulty of getting persons to perform those laborious duties would be greatly increased. The quality of the representation would undergo a change, and the "Mountain" section of that House would send the fag-end of their agitators to the hustings; the ballot would be introduced; and no doubt some of those candidates would be returned for the large towns; but he doubted whether the nation at large would be benefited. With respect to the provisions which had reference to fictitious voting, he begged to say that he most cordially thanked the learned Lord for having undertaken to deal with the subject, and would go with him heartily in any part of his Bill which tended to prevent anything of the kind.


was not surprised at the observations of the hon. Member (Mr. C. Bruce). He was only consistent; for since he had been in Parliament, he had always been a strenuous opponent of reform and popular progress. He did expect that the hon. Member for Inverness-shire, by his enlightened speech, with which he (Mr. Hume) was delighted, would have benefited those around him more than it appeared he had. He was sorry for it; but he thanked the hon. Member for the very able manner in which he had stated what the Government ought to have done, lie wished they had done so, for they would have avoided what the hon. Member well called this peddling reform. This was a peddling measure of reform, both for England and Scotland; and the noble Lord, who professed to be a bold reformer, when the advocates of reform had been for fifteen years pointing out the errors of the Reform Bill, used to reply there could not be a Reform Bill every year. Now, this peddling measure would indeed necessitate a Reform Bill every year. He was not surprised that the hon. Member for Elginshire should concur with the Duke of Wellington in asking "How the Queen's Government was to be carried on?" But he (Mr. Hume) was of opinion that if the noble Duke and every Member of every Government were swept away, the common sense of the people would soon show how the Queen's Government was to be carried on. He had such confidence in the people of Scotland and England as to believe that they would always select proper Members; and it was an insult to his countrymen to say that they would accept of the "fagend" of any party. They were as good judges of proper representatives as the hon. Gentlemen or any of his friends, and it was not treating them well to make such an assertion. The hon. Member looked back with regret to the period of the Reform Bill, but yet he admitted that all the alarms he felt at the time were groundless. He held the same opinion as to the present measure; but he should not be alarmed now, and believe that those who were bringing in this "peddling" measure were doing no more to realise anticipation of disaster than they had done in introducing the original Reform Bill. As to the Bill now introduced, it was to him a matter of great satisfaction to hear the opinion of the learned Lord. He, unlike the learned Lord, could go back to the years 1817, 1818, and 1819, when, as a Reformer, he proposed a change in the Scotch borough system. At that time he was met by hon. Gentlemen connected with Scotland who were determined to stand by the representative system as it then existed. He was now, however, told that great advantage had arisen from the popular franchise in Scotland which had since been given, and that the people had made good and proper use of it. He was certain that that would be the case; and, therefore, was it that he desired to see that franchise further extended. He was opposed to an arbitrary line being drawn, by which one man should have the privilege of electing a Member of Parliament, and another man, equally valuable to society, should be deprived of that privilege, or rather of that right; for he differed from the noble Lord at the head of the Government, and would not call it a privilege. The noble Lord would soon be called upon to give chapter and verse for his authority in support of that strange doctrine which he had laid down—that every man in society had not a right to elect Members to represent his interest in Parliament. Men who associated together and formed a community resigned such of their natural rights as it was found convenient for them to do for the general benefit, while they retained all those which could be exercised by each individual without detriment to the general weal. The noble Lord, however, had broached a different doctrine, and in doing so was laying the ground for continual agitation on the subject. He (Mr. Hume) only wished he could live for twenty years longer, to trouble the noble Lord every year. He should certainly prove a thorn in the side of the noble Lord; for the doctrine he had promulgated was decidedly at variance with all sound policy and common sense. It was entirely at variance with that principle of justice on which he ought to place the population of the country in regard to the rights they were entitled to enjoy. He would ask the learned Lord (the Lord Advocate) why Scotland should not he placed on the some footing as England? Why not give a 40s. freehold franchise to Scotland? If the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) had wished to give satisfaction, and to save trouble, expense, and annoyance, he would have made one registration both for England and Scotland sufficient for all municipal and Parliamentary purposes. Why should not a man who voted for a municipal officer equally have a voice in the election of a Member of Parliament? A more trustworthy class than the municipal voters did not exist. He did not, however, disapprove of all the doings of the noble Lord. In bringing down the franchise to 5l., the noble Lord had acted wisely, but he ought to have gone further. With regard to the counties of Scotland, it was impossible the present proposal could be considered satisfactory. Some of the counties had not more than 2,000 electors, and yet it was intended to continue a system which was discreditable to the Legislature, and an insult to the people. He hoped the House would not sanction such a stigma on the population of the counties, but extend to them the same franchise as was to be given to the towns. Without going further into the question now, he would observe that while he was willing to accept everything which tended to a step forward in the emancipation of his countrymen, and by which the basis of the constitution would be widened, while at the same time the Crown and the proper authorities of the country were maintained, he believed that in order to give the people an interest in good government, the more the suffrage was extended the better. He called this a peddling measure, and one which would cause a Reform Bill every year. The noble Lord would do well to consider the question of triennial Parliaments and the ballot, the absence of which he (Mr. Hume) thought the greatest defect of this measure.


rose, not for the purpose of offering any remarks upon the details of the Bill; these he should reserve till it came to a second reading; but he wished to put a question to the learned Lord Advocate with regard to a circumstance which took place on the first Reform Bill. It was well known to all Scotchmen, that, in ascertaining the value of property in Scotland which gave the franchise, the fact of its being charged with debt was not taken into consideration. Thus, if a house of the yearly value of 10l. was saddled with an incumbrance of 200l., it still conferred the franchise. What he desired to know then was, if it was intended by the present Bill to make the qualification a bonâ fide one, and in ascertaining its value make allowance for the amount of debt with which it might be charged?


was understood to say that the law of Scotland did not at present require that the property should be free from debt, in order to give a right of voting. The present Bill would contain provisions on that subject intended to prevent that state of the law being abused, in the way of creating fictitious votes. The subject had been made a matter of consultation, the result of which was, that no alteration in the law should be made in any other respect. He should be ready at a future day to explain the reasons for that decision. Scotland having a very perfect system of registration of titles, stood in a different position from England with regard to the power of parties to make real property the subject of credit, and he thought it would considerably limit the right of voting, and throw obstacles in the way of ordinary and bonâ fide transactions, were they to alter the law.


thought that if the Bill were accurately described by the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume), when he said that, instead of improving the representation either of counties or boroughs, it would only lead to continual agitations upon the subject, then it was deeply to be regretted that the fruits of the noble Lord's labours should be so unworthy the attention of the Douse. To him it was a matter of great surprise that upon the introduction of a question of this kind, and when the learned Lord Advocate referred to what took place on the Scotch Reform Bill of 1832, he did not also notice the fact that the sense of the House was on that occasion taken, after an extraordinary debate, upon the question of the county representation in Scotland. It was then proposed to the House that the county representation of Scotland should be revised, in regard to the number of Members who should appear in this House as the representatives of Scotch counties; and its attention was called to the circumstance that several of the great counties of Scotland—Perthshire, Aberdeenshire, Lanarkshire, and Inverness-shire—all of them having immense populations and a large amount of property, returning to this House but one Member each, whilst insignificant boroughs in England, with not one-tenth of their populations, or of their importance in point of property, returned two Members to Parliament? The proposition made by Sir George Murray upon this subject had the support of a considerable portion of the Members of this House, and it had the reluctant, the avowedly-reluctant, opposition of Lord Jeffrey; and his (Mr. Stuart's) hon. Friend (Mr. Bruce), who had declared his change of opinion upon other matters, seemed to have changed his opinion also on that; for if he (Mr. Stuart) was not mistaken, his hon. Friend voted at that time for Sir G. Murray's Amendment. Well, a proposition, reluctantly opposed by Lord Jeffrey, and founded upon justice and common sense, was at least entitled to consideration in bringing forward a measure of this kind. The circumstances and the situation of the constituencies of the larger Scotch counties were very extraordinary indeed; and he hoped that when the attention of Government should be applied to this point, they would give it their full and fair con- sideration, and introduce some proposal which would render it unnecessary for an independent Member of the House to raise a discussion upon the subject. Let them take the case of the county of Inverness, with a population of above 100,000, and they would find that little short of one-half of that county was in the Western Isles, totally dissociated from the other parts of the county, with interests altogether different from the interests of the great body of the inhabitants and proprietors in the same county on the eastern coast. He submitted it to the consideration of the Government, therefore, whether a more reasonable proposal could be made than that the county of Inverness should, in future, like some of the counties of England, be constituted of two divisions, each of which should return its own Member to this House? He mentioned this proposition with no hostile view, but with the view of making this Bill something which should really improve the representation of Scotland, and render it worthy of a measure proposed for the adoption of that House.


said, that while he agreed with his hon. Friend the Member for Montrose upon the general principle of widening the basis of representation in Scotland, he differed from him with regard to making payment of rates the basis of representation in that country, as it was well known that in many parts of Scotland the people were not rated at all. He had not yet heard whether the 40s. freeholders in Scotland were to be put on the same footing as those in England. He hoped, on the second reading of the Bill, the House would have that matter cleared up to its satisfaction. He might say that he cordially approved of that part of the noble and learned Lord's Bill intended to put a stop to the practice of fictitious voting.


said, he always held the principle that taxation and representation should go hand in hand. He considered that the Bill was exceedingly unsatisfactory with regard to Scotland, and that it was casting an extraordinary reflection on the property, industry, and intelligence of that part of the kingdom, that it should only be represented in that House by 53 Members. He agreed with all that had fallen from the hon. and learned Member for Newark (Mr. John Stuart), with respect to the large Scotch counties. He would take the case of Aberdeenshire, with its immense population and its exten- sive trade, and when he knew that it only sent one Member to Parliament, and that no addition was to be made in its representation by this Bill, he said such a state of things was exceedingly unjust with regard to Scotland, and to that populous and thriving district of it in particular. He should reserve his opinion upon the details of the Bill itself until it came before the House; but he did trust that, with reference to the large counties and cities in Scotland, some alteration would be made in it before it received the sanction of the House. When he looked to the city of Glasgow, containing, with its suburbs, half a million of inhabitants, and yet only sending two Members to Parliament, while miserable places like Harwich, and others, returned each two, he said this Bill would only be an instalment of the reform in the representation which the people of Scotland had a right to look to in future. He would accept the measures proposed by Government as an instalment of justice as regarded England and Ireland; but that portion of them which regarded Scotland he considered as utterly unjust.

Leave given.

Bill ordered to be brought in by the Lord Advocate, Lord John Russell, and Mr. Fox Maule.