HC Deb 02 March 1855 vol 137 cc76-8

said, he would now beg to ask for leave to introduce a Bill to abolish the Property Qualification of Members of Parliament. He hoped that at that late hour (ten minutes past twelve o'clock) the House would extend to him the courtesy of permitting his Bill to be introduced without his making any statement in its support on that occasion.


seconded the Motion.


said, he trusted that no such courtesy as the hon. Gentleman had asked for would he granted to him. This was a very serious question, and he thought that it ought not to be considered in the absence of the majority of the leading Members of the Government. If it were advisable to introduce such a Bill, it ought to be proposed by the Government, and not by an individual Member.


said, he should support the measure. He thought there was no justice in having a qualification for Ireland and none for Scotland. He objected to a property qualification altogether, and believed that by reason of it many good men were excluded from that House.


said, he thought that the Bill was part of the larger question of reform, and had better be deferred until the great measure which the Government had promised to introduce after the conclusion of the war. The question had so often fallen to the ground when left to stand by itself, that it would be a charity to refuse leave to introduce the hon. Member's Bill.


said, he strongly opposed the Motion. He could not see, and never had been able to see, what good reform had done the country. Talk of genius being excluded from the House by the property qualification—give him property—give him men who, having property of their own to take care of, would take care of other people's as well. He only wished the property qualification were ten times greater, and then the House would be more respectable than it was. At present, we are a company without a shirt among us. For the House of Commons as a body he entertained a high respect, but there were those among them whom he could only look upon as belonging to the tagrag and bobtail of society. They were a sort of mixed company, and, if such a measure as that which was now proposed were adopted, the people of England would laugh at them and say they were only fit to be a set of scavengers. He had been a Member of the House of Commons for twenty-six years, and was sorry to say that he found it going down, and sinking lower in respectability every Session. Keep up the respectability of the House of Commons by property men, and the people at large would be more satisfied that their true interests were protected.


said, he certainly could not undertake to oppose the measure on the grounds which had been urged by the hon. and gallant Colonel. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Murrough) had requested to introduce his Bill without prefacing it by any statement; now such a course was only allowed as a matter of courtesy, when any hon. Member brought forward a Bill, the provisions of which were unknown to the House. This was not a case of that sort, because everybody knew the nature of the measure which the hon. Member proposed. For his own part, he differed from the hon. Gentleman, for, although in Scotland no qualification for Members was required, that arose out of the Act of Union, and was an exception to the rule applicable to England and Ireland. He did not think there was any logic in an attempt to make the rule bend to the exception; but this was not the moment to enter into any detailed reasons why it seemed to him that it was not such a measure as it was desirable should be adopted. He would take the broad principle, that if any changes were to be proposed in the representative system of the country, there was an understanding that those changes should not be proposed now, but should be postponed to another period. On that ground, therefore, he should object to the introduction of the Bill.


said, he did not think there was much force in the argument of the noble Lord, that, because the practice which obtained in Scotland was an exception to the rule that was established in England and Ireland, therefore it ought not to be introduced into those countries. The question was, whether the non-qualification principle worked well in Scotland. He contended that it did; and if so, there was no reason why it should not work equally well in other parts of the United Kingdom. After the decision of the Barnstaple Election Committee, it was impossible to stand by the principle of a property qualification.


said, he could not concur in the argument of the hon. and learned Member, that, because the non-qualification principle worked well in Scotland, therefore it ought to be adopted in England and Ireland. The civil law no doubt also worked well in Scotland, but was that a reason why it should be introduced into this country?


, in reply, said that the obstructive power of the House was very great in regard to such measures as this; but his only chance for this Bill was to press it to a division now. The hon. Member for Antrim (Mr. Macartney) had said that if they wanted a comprehensive system of reform they must look to the Government of which the noble Lord was the head; but he would ask any one who had heard that night the speech of that noble Lord, the soi-disant leader of a Liberal party, whether he could be so deluded as to expect large measures of Parliamentary reform from him. And how could the noble Lord have spoken thus, remembering that within his own Parliamentary experience Mr. Prinsep, the East India director, with far larger property than most of the Members of that House, and Mr. Wilberforce, at another period, were unseated on technicalities, and that there was a petition to Parliament, of the most vexatious description, against the Attorney General for Ireland, who was a member of his own Government? That hon. and learned Gentleman, at least, ought to step forward and assist in carrying this measure. He knew that Cabinets were often divided in opinion upon the question of Parliamentary reform; and some liberal members of the Government ought to support an independent Member in a Motion of this description. The Bill which he now proposed only followed that which was introduced formerly by an hon. Gentleman lately the Member for Devonport, and he did not ask the House to bind itself to the principle, but to allow the Bill to be brought in, and its details to be discussed.

Motion made, and Question put, "That Leave be given to bring in a Bill to abolish the Property Qualification of Members of Parliament."

The House divided:—Ayes 27; Noes 28: Majority 1.