HC Deb 02 June 1858 vol 150 cc1421-38

Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [13th May], "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."

Question again proposed.

Debate resumed.


said, he rose to move that the House should resolve itself into the said Committee on that day six months. He ought perhaps to offer some explanation to the House with respect to the time at which he brought forward the Motion. He was aware that it would have been more in accordance with the usual practice if he had opposed the further progress of the measure on the second reading; but he believed he could show the House that no blame could fairly attach to him for a departure upon the present occasion from the general custom. He had a right to anticipate that the second reading of the Bill would have been opposed by the hon. and right hon. Gentlemen at present occupying the Treasury bench, as well as by their predecessors in office. But as he had been disappointed in that expectation he had felt that he could not, with any chance of obtaining a full and fair discussion of the subject, have opposed the second reading upon the occasion on which it was carried. The Motion had at that time been successful solely because hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House had abdicated the position they had formerly maintained, and had, for some reason or another, which he did not pretend to be able to explain, thought proper to deal with the subject with an eye to expediency, rather than principle. He was opposed to the measure on two grounds. He opposed it on principle, because he believed that a property qualification was an essential ingredient in the constitution of that House; and he opposed it because it was essentially a portion of a Reform Bill, and because he believed it was not fair to the House to call on its Members to deal with any isolated portion of the question of Parliamentary Reform. He would, in the first place, say a few words on the merits of the proposal itself. One argument—and an argument of a very plausible character—put forward in favour of the measure was that a property qualification had not been found necessary in Scotland. He thought he could show that the argument against the present system, drawn from that exception, was not well founded. In discussing that point he would read a passage from the work of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Midhurst (Mr. S. Warren) on "Election Law," for the purpose of showing what was the origin of the difference between the law of this country and the law of Scotland upon that subject. That passage was as follows:— This Act, it is to be noted, does not apply to Scotland, where no property qualification was ever necessary. It was contended at the time of the Union, when the matter was discussed, that estates in that country were so small that it would not be easy to find members duly qualified. He wished it to be understood that in reading that quotation he did not mean to question the wealth of hon. Members for Scotland; he used it merely to show how the distinction, as regarded a property qualification, between that country and England had first arisen. He could quote another high authority upon the same subject. He found that on the 2nd of March, 1855, the right hon. and learned Gentleman the present Attorney General for Ireland, said that he "could not concur in the argument of hon. Gentlemen opposite, that because the non-qualification principle worked well in Scotland, therefore it ought to be adopted in England and Ireland." That was the opinion of the right hon. and learned Gentleman in the year 1855, and he (Mr. Bentinck) hoped that it would be repeated by him before the present debate was brought to a conclusion. In the second volume of the work of the hon. and learned Member for Midhurst (Mr. Warren), the learned author quoted from Hallam the remark, that the law was notoriously evaded. No doubt that was a strong and clear opinion, but it did not affect the principle of the measure. If the law was so defective that it did not carry out a good principle, that was a reason for amending the statute, and not for repealing it. The same writer (Mr. Warren) referred to the opinion of the noble Lord the Member for the City of London, and other hon. Members, who wished to place the Members for England and Ireland on the same footing as the Scotch Members, on the ground that the object of the Act had not been attained; but, on the other side, it was urged that such a proceeding would open the door to bankrupts, spendthrifts, and paupers. These reasons were considered sufficient for maintaining the law of property qualification, and he had heard nothing to invalidate those arguments. He would ask, was the House prepared to sanction the principle that a large number of Members might be admitted whose property was of such a reduced character that it was impossible for them to devote the whole of their time to the business of the country without ruin to themselves, and whether it was fair to place them in such a position as to render them liable to temptations, which few men were able to resist? It was clear that if men of such limited means were to be admitted, it would be impossible to maintain the principle of freedom from arrest. The object of that immunity was not, as some appeared to suppose, to enable hon. Members to escape just detention for debt, but to prevent the perpetration of tricks which might be played under certain circumstances to prevent an hon. Member from giving his vote on a great question when parties in the House were nicely balanced. If the House were to admit an unlimited number of men who did not possess an independent means of living, such an immunity must be abolished, otherwise the House would become neither more nor less than a refuge for bankrupt and disreputable characters. He admitted that a man might become a bankrupt from misfortune, and without any blame attaching to his character; but it was well known that many cases of bankruptcy were attended with gross fraud; and he would ask, was it right to make the House a refuge for men of that description? Burke, speaking upon this question, said that the road to eminence and power ought not to be made a thing too much of course, that merit ought to pass through some sort of probation; that the Temple of Honour—which of course meant the House of Commons—ought to be set upon an eminence, and that access thereto should be obtainable only by virtue and merit severely tried. He would refer the House to opinions of a more modern date. He regretted that the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton (Viscount Palmerston) was not in the House, and thought it somewhat remarkable that when questions of this kind now came under discussion he was almost invariably absent, whereas he generally took care to be present when he sat on the Ministerial bench. It looked like one of those accidents which were purposely committed. When the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. L. King) brought forward this measure on the 12th of May, 1857, the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton told him that he had not shown sufficient ground for the proposed change. The hon. Member now urged the same arguments as on the 12th of May, 1857; but the noble Lord was not present to oppose the Bill as he did when in office. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Morpeth (Sir G. Grey) on the 10th of June, 1857, advised the hon. Member to postpone his Bill, and said that if he did not do so he (Sir G. Grey) would move an Amendment that it be read a second time that day six months; and the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton approved the course taken by the right hon. Baronet. He, therefore, claimed the support of the noble Lord and of the right hon. Baronet against the Bill; and he was also entitled to claim the support of several hon. and right hon. Gentlemen now sitting upon the Treasury bench against the Bill, on account of the opposition which they offered to it while sitting on the other side of the House. The President of the Board of Trade said, on the 2nd of March, 1855, that this measure being a part of the large question of Reform, ought to be deferred until they had the whole subject before them. The same argument had now at least thrice the force it had then, because when his right hon. Friend uttered those words there was very little expectation that the promise of hon. Gentlemen opposite to produce their Bill would be fulfilled. Now, every one was anxious to see a comprehensive measure of Reform brought forward. At least he (Mr. Bentinck) was anxious for such a measure, because he considered that the Act of 1832 was a complete anomaly and full of injustice, which he wished to see remedied. He could not but express the regret he found at witnessing the singular want of similarity between the opinions formerly expressed on the Treasury bench and on the bench opposite; but he contended that he had a right to appeal to hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House to support the Amendment.

Amendment proposed,— To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words, "this House will, upon this day six months, resolve itself into the said Committee," instead thereof.


said, that it would be reasonable for him, as a Conservative, to listen to the appeal of his hon. Friend, even if he had not had practical knowledge of the evils which the Bill was intended to cure. He would ask whether anybody could pretend to say that the Scotch Members, who were not compelled to show any property qualification, were not fully equal in respectability, in ability, and even in property, to the Members either of England or Ireland? It might be true that no property qualification was imposed in Scotland, because formerly estates in Scotland were very small; but that was not the case now. Did his hon. Friend propose, as he ought to do, to be consistent, that the qualification should be extended to Scotland? He (Mr. Ker Seymer) had had a great deal of experience upon Election Committees. When a question had been raised as to the sufficiency of the qualification of the hon. Member, whose election was disputed, and it was his opinion that the property qualification was a complete snare. So far from keeping out persons not possessed of a certain amount of property it was entirely nugatory. No person could have any difficulty in procuring a fictitious property qualification for a seat in that House, while many gentlemen who were substantially well qualified by property to sit in the House, had been turned out on account of some nice legal point affecting their qualification. A gentleman relied upon a particular estate to give him a title; but if the ingenuity of the lawyers could make out that there was a charge upon it, then, although they could not prove either bribery or corruption, or undue influence, or treating, against the Member, he might be unseated. Take the case of Harwich. An hon. Gentleman, whose knowledge of Indian matters would have been of great importance in recent debates, was objected to in this way. Her (Mr. Ker Seymer) thought that he was qualified, and so did the hon. and learned Member for Wallingford (Mr. Malins); but the other three Members of the Committee were of a different opinion, and so the House and the country had been deprived of the valuable services of this gentleman. In another case a most unhandsome and ungenerous use was attempted to be made of an hon. Gentleman's connection with the British Bank, but that had happily failed. It was, however, time to put an end to this state of things, and he (Mr. Ker Seymer) should be extremely sorry to think that another general election was likely to take place under the present law.


said, he still sat in the same part of the House as formerly, and that, he supposed, was the reason he was still of the same opinion. He wanted to know what was the object to be gained by this measure? Suppose they had no qualification—suppose they were even all paupers, what would they get by that? If they divorced property from political power it would be impossible to preserve the framework of society. They had heard some little hints as to what those gentlemen who really desired reform meant to do when they got it. It was to throw the whole burden of taxation upon that Utopian society called "the rich," and then they would soon have the happiness of being reduced to an uniform level of pauperism. The hon. Gentleman talked of Scotland. That argument was worth nothing. Scotland was a most aristocratic country. All the voters were tenants in capite of the Crown, and they never presumed to think it possible that one not of that class could be a Member of Parliament. The case was just the same as it was with Jews. There was no law for keeping Jews out of Parliament, because no one in his senses would ever have dreamt of a Jew getting in. The measure now before the House ought not to stop where it did. If they were really going to amend the Legislature no measure would be complete which did not deal with the House of Lords. There were two points with regard to which it was necessary to meddle with that House. In the first, they ought to follow the advice of Sir Wm. Temple, and suffer no pauper Peers; they ought to suffer no one who was not possessed of considerable property to sit in the Upper House. In the next place they must insist on doing away with voting by proxy. He (Mr. Drummond) considered that the people of this country had been ill-used with regard to the question of reform. They were told that it depended on which benches hon. Gentlemen sat whether they were or were not its advocates. The only persons who were really in favour of reform were the Socialists. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen seemed to be very much amused at that; but he did not think they were any more informed as to what was going on than were the upper classes of France before the Revolution. Depend upon it there was an under-current of Radicalism and Socialism in society which hon. Gentlemen little dreamt of. The question was only brought forward by them in order that they might create out of it a little political capital. But the present was a grave matter. It was the first time they had begun to separate political power from wealth; and he could not conceive anything more calculated to lead to a general disruption of the social fabric.


said, he took a diametrically opposite view of the question to that which had just been expressed by the hon. Gentleman. He did not believe that the property qualification afforded any safeguard for the social, intellectual, or educational standing of those who were elected Members of that House. The real safeguard lay in the choice of the electors, and in the after incidents of an election. The Bill would only make a technical change in the law, but it would remove from hon. Members those pitfalls and snares which had been adverted to by the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Ker Seymer).


said, he was not prepared to reverse the votes which he had given in favour of the maintenance of a property qualification as requisite for admission to seats in the House. He knew not what reason might actuate Her Majesty's Government in the course which they seemed inclined to take, but he was sure of this, that the Members of this House, who have for years voted in support of a property qualification, and who suddenly, and for no assigned reason, reversed their votes, would have an awkward explanation demanded of them by their constituents. The hon. Member for Dorsetshire has argued, that because the Scotch Members are not required to have a property qualification, therefore none ought to be required of the Members for England and Ireland, and he has alluded to the Scotch one pound notes as a peculiarity of that country, which currency Reformers think should be extended to England. He (Mr. Newdegate) was not about to argue whether we ought or ought not to have one pound notes in England, but he begged his hon. Friend to consider why the Scotch have one pound notes when the English have none. It was plain that the Scotch have retained their one pound notes, because they have shown that, owing to their manner of transacting business, and owing to the system of banking which is peculiar to that country, they know how to use these one pound notes safely, and that the retention of them is essential to their material interests; this is a privilege adapted to the peculiarities of Scotland, and he held that it was most unwise to neglect these national peculiarities, or to attempt to enforce an arbitrary uniformity in measures applicable to the three countries. It would be to ignore peculiarities and difficulties which you can not annul. He therefore answered his hon. Friend's argument by his own instance. "The Scotch have one pound notes while we have them not in England." But his principal objection to this measure was, that it ought not to be an isolated measure, but to form part of a general scheme for the reform of the representation of the people. He thought that a Reform Bill ought to be introduced—a comprehensive scheme of reform such as would enable the people to weigh one provision of the measure against another, and thus to form an intelligent and sound opinion of the general effect of the measure upon the representative system of this country. He condemned this piecemeal system of reform, because it virtually proposes to effect great changes without the knowledge and consent of the people of this country, for men engaged in business and daily avocation cannot keep their attention fixed upon the constant current of measures passing through this House. Piecemeal reform, therefore, is reform carried on behind the backs of the people of this coun- try, if he might be allowed so to express himself. He objected to this measure on these grounds, but still more strongly because he considered that these isolated measures formed parts of a system of agitation; that they are intended to collect a certain amount of spurious popularity for the movers and supporters of them, and to entail odium upon the House of Lords on account of their rejection. He stated this last night, and he adhered to the same opinion to-day. In conclusion, he repeated that he refused to reverse the votes which he had given against this measure where no new ground for his doing so was shown.


said, he should support the Bill; but if the property qualification was wrong in 1858 it could not have been right in 1857; and he would remind the House that there was a gentleman at the present moment suffering from the consequences of the law they now condemned.


said, he entirely agreed with the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Drummond) in deprecating the divorce of political power from property. If the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Walpole) was prepared to give way on this, which formed one point of the people's charter, he should like to know how he could resist another point which was nearly allied to it—namely, universal suffrage. There was obviously a close connection in principle between the qualification of the voter and of the candidate; and accordingly, as no property qualification was demanded from representatives of the Universities, none was required of their constituents. The hon. Member for Dorsetshire (Mr. Ker Seymer) referred to the case of Scotland. He (Mr. Knightley) admitted that the position of Scotland in this respect was rather anomalous; but the law in many other respects was also different in Scotland to what it was in England. It should be recollected that the spirit, the tastes, and the manners of the two countries were of a very opposite character; for example, their sense of decorum would no doubt be greatly shocked at seeing the hon. Member for Surrey, or any hon. Gentleman from Scotland, walking up to that House with nothing but his shirt on, and such conduct would hardly be excused, because in some parts of Scotland trousers were unknown. Reference had been made to the cases of Mr. Carter and Mr. Glover; but, he must say, that in exchanging those gentlemen for Mr. Robert Phillimore and the present hon. Member for Beverley, neither the voters, nor the House, nor yet the country, had had any cause to complain. He (Mr. Knightley) certainly thought that a large professional income was a sufficient qualification; but the fact that it might be desirable to amend a law was no reason why the law should be altogether repealed. The object of insisting on a property qualification was to secure, as far as might be, the independence and the incorruptibility of Members of Parliament, which, important as it was in the discharge of their general duties, was still more important in connection with the delicate functions they had to perform upstairs. An attack had recently been made on an hon. Gentleman in connection with the manner in which he had performed those functions, and they had seen how completely the charges had fallen to the ground. But would that have been the case if the hon. Gentleman had been some unknown, hungry, penniless adventurer? Far be it from him to say that a poor man might not be as honest as a rich one; but if a man was in debt, or in embarrassed circumstances, or wanting possibly bread for his family, the temptations which the position of a Member of Parliament would throw in his way would be too great for human nature. Depend upon it, if they allowed doubts to rest upon their individual honesty, they would soon destroy, never to be restored again, the authority of the House itself as a branch of the Legislature.


said, he was opposed to proceeding further with the present measure, on the ground that they had been promised a Reform Bill by the Government next year; and he thought it better that the whole subject should be taken into consideration at one time, than that they should attempt to legislate in this piecemeal manner.


Sir, my bon. Friend behind me (Mr. Bentinck) has done me the honour to rake up some opinions which I submitted to the House upon this subject a couple of years ago. I am happy to inform my hon. Friend that as the same grounds exist at present as induced me to make the observations on the occasion referred to, I hold precisely the same opinions as I before expressed upon this subject, and I am prepared to support those opinions by my vote. I will not now consider the principle of the particular measure before us, whether it is one of a good or evil character, viewing it as but a portion of a very large and important question, but shall wait until the general measure is before us for our consideration. The noble Viscount (Viscount Palmerston) promised us a Reform Bill some two years ago, but, unfortunately, we have never been blessed with the sight of it. I still, therefore, take the same view of the present Bill as I did in 1856.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 222; Noes 109: Majority 113.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

House in Committee.

Clause 1.


said, Sir, there is one subject I wish to call the attention of the Committee to before we proceed further with this Bill. That subject, I think, is one of a very remarkable character, and one which appears to me to affect generally the character and independence of this House. I allude to the somewhat extraordinary position in which we stand in reference to this measure. The hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. L. King) has for several years past brought this measure under the consideration of the House. His conduct in relation to it has been ever, I admit, fair and consistent. But I need not remind the House that, up to the present Session, that hon. Gentleman has failed to secure a second reading to his Bill, so decided has been the opposition hitherto offered to its principles by both sides of the House.


I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon. My measure last year was read a second time.


I stand corrected by the hon. Gentleman, but that does not affect my argument. So decided has been the opposition to the Bill on both sides of the House for years past, that it has never until now reached that stage of Committee in which we now find ourselves. I feel, therefore, Sir, warranted in saying, that the whole character and conduct of the House in respect to this Bill has been entirely changed. I hope, then, we shall have, before this subject is disposed of, a distinct explanation from the Treasury bench, as well as from the front opposition bench, as to the grounds upon which a number of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen occupying seats on both benches have thought proper to take the democratical course in respect to this measure, from which they have heretofore avowedly shrunk. Sir, I think that these explanations are due to the character and the independence of this House. I want to know whether such measures are to be dealt with henceforward upon the grounds of principle or of expediency. If they are to be treated as questions of principle, I want to know what are the particular grounds upon which hon. and right hon. Gentlemen sitting on the Ministerial as well as on the Opposition bench have come to a directly opposite conclusion on this subject to that which they arrived at on former occasions. In my judgment, Sir, these changes of opinion affect considerably the character and reputation of this House; and, therefore, I think we are entitled to have a distinct explanation of the grounds upon which they have thought proper to vote so directly contrary to the way they have voted on former occasions.


Sir, after the emphatic challenge which my hon. Friend has thrown out, especially to the occupants of the Treasury bench, it would ill become me to decline making some statement in reference, at all events, to my view of this question; although I must say I should have thought the statement I had made the other night in connection with this Bill might have been considered as sufficient. Now, let me recal the attention of the House to the course I have taken in relation to this matter, and in doing so I will appeal to the recollection of the House, and if that be insufficient I will appeal to authentic documents, to which any one can refer, whether there has or has not been on my part, that change of principle of which my hon. Friend has complained. When the noble Lord the Member for London (Lord J. Russell) was at the head of the Government he proposed to introduce a Reform Bill. Soon afterwards that noble Lord went out of office. In the Reform Bill which the noble Lord had, however, introduced, this measure for the abolition of the property qualification formed part, though but a small part. The Earl of Derby succeeded the noble Lord in office in the year 1852. Mr. Tufnell, who was then a Member of the House, proposed the introduction of a Bill identically the same in substance as that of the hon. Member for East Surrey. That Gentleman asked the Government of the Earl of Derby what they intended to do in relation to the subject? I said a few words on the occasion, to the effect that, inasmuch as we had not opposed the consideration of the greater and the general question of Reform by the House when the noble Lord the Member for London proposed to introduce his measure, I thought it would ill become the Government to refuse their assent to the introduction of a small branch of that question, in order that it might be fully considered by the House and the country. The House assented to the introduction of the measure, which, however, was not proceeded with much further. The House, at all events, pronounced no opinion upon the principle of the Bill. When has the question been since brought before us? Never, I believe, except by the hon. Member for East Surrey has the question since been opened. I have read the debate that took place upon the question last year. I certainly then voted against the second reading of the hon. Member's Bill, but I will ask hon. Gentlemen if they have not the facts in connection with the discussion of that Session vividly before their minds? To refer to the authentic records of the time for precise information on the matter, I will ask the House whether the debate that took place last year on the subject did not altogether turn upon the principles just referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxfordshire—namely, that inasmuch as the whole question of Reform was to be proposed in another year, it was thought much better to postpone the consideration of this small portion of the general subject. That, Sir, was the ground upon which I voted against the hon. Member's Bill; but I deny that I ever expressed any opinion upon its principle. I challenge my hon. Friend, or any other hon. Gentleman, to show that I have ever, at that or any other time previously expressed any opinion upon the principle of the measure; therefore, so far as the principle of the Bill is concerned, I do not think that I have left myself open to the charge of my hon. Friend. But he says that this is either a question of principle or expediency with us, and that he thinks it is essential to the independence of hon. Members to maintain their property qualification. Essential to the independence of hon. Members! Now my hon. Friend knows that Members for the Universities do not require the possession of this qualification. And what is more, the hon. Gentleman's own son, if returned to this House, need not declare that he possessed any property, the sons of county Members being exempted from this law. There is, too, one out of the three parts of the United Kingdom—Scotland—the Members of which are not required to show any property qualification; and I think that if there is any one class of Members in this House especially remarkable for their exercise of an independent judgment on all occasions, the Gentlemen who are returned from Scotland belong to that class. Sir, I have never seen anything in the Parliamentary conduct of Scotch Members that could make us believe this property qualification was at all essential to secure an independence of character. The hon. Gentleman referred us to the book of the hon. and learned Member for Midhurst on "Election Law" for the purpose of showing that, in the time of Queen Anne, the Scotch Members were then so poor that it would be difficult to find a man in that part of the kingdom that could produce a property qualification. Well, then, if independence of character in this House is to be tested only by the value of a man's property, how are we to reconcile the facts to which I have referred with the arguments of the hon. Gentleman? If the argument of the hon. Gentleman be worth anything, it would go the length of saying that we have a number of men amongst us, who are more likely to be led away from the proper course by the undue influences which are exercised over them, because the law does not require them to show that they are possessed of any property. But we know that that is not the case, and that that particular class of Members are, at all events, as little obnoxious to any such charge of undue influences as any other representatives in this House, and, therefore, it is a fair inference that no undue influence will be exercised upon other Members because they come to the table to be sworn, not necessarily without the present qualification, but without being obliged to state that they had it. My hon. Friend the Member for Northamptonshire (Mr. Knightly) has reproached me—good humouredly, no doubt—with being on this occasion a supporter of what he calls the People's Charter. Now I agree with the hon. Gentleman in this respect, that representation ought to rest upon the basis of property, as the best to secure independence of action, and I am anxious that that principle should be brought in mind by the framers of any Reform Bill to be submitted to this House. But I do not think that that exactly applies to the present question. I think, Sir, that in abolishing this property qualification for Members to sit in this House, we shall be abolishing that which is in a great many cases nothing more than a mere sham. I believe, too, that if that qualification be done away with we shall see as many men of property and independence sent into this House as at present occupy its benches. The practical inconvenience of the present law is this; many persons possessed of knowledge, experience and ability, who enjoy only professional incomes, are prevented entering this House, unless they are willing to submit to this fiction and sham in order to secure their seats. That is an inconvenience which we shall get rid of, if we abolish this property qualification. Now, Sir, I should not have troubled the Committee at this length but for the challenge thrown out by my hon. Friend. The more I think of this question the less value am I disposed to place upon the maintenance of this property qualification. And when I recollect, Sir, that about thirty years ago a certain gentleman was returned as a Member of this House in his absence, by the free and independent choice of a constituency, who incurred the whole expense necessary to such a proceeding—that that person so returned was unable to take his seat here because he could not produce the nominal property qualification required—that that gentleman was neither a pauper nor a bankrupt nor an insolvent, but was one of the ablest literary characters and politicians that ever lived—I mean Southey—when I recollect this fact, and that there are many hon. and independent minded men whom your law prevents entering this House. I say, Sir, that I cannot see any objection to abolishing a useless and even mischievous sham, when at the same time without that sham existing, a property qualification would, in point of fact, be the basis of our representation. For these reasons I am as strongly convinced as I was when I addressed the House upon the second reading of this Bill that in point of reason, in point of principle, and, give me leave to add, in point of expediency, it is desirable to get rid of this sham.


said, his right hon. Friend had stated that the reason why he opposed the second reading of this Bill last year was, that there was a Reform Bill then looming in the distance. He should like to know whether that was not the state of things at present—whether the present Government had not promised a Reform Bill? [Mr. WALPOLE: No; the consideration of a Reform Bill.] He had always voted against this Bill, and should continue to do so, viewing it, as he did, as an encroachment on the institutions of the country; and he was sorry that so many members of the Government with whom he had long had the honour of acting had changed their opinions with their seats. There could be no greater peril to the country than the having in Parliament a body of men who had nothing to lose and everything to gain by a scramble. A short time ago a Member of that House declared in a police court that he did not know where on earth to turn for £40. He would ask, whether a person of that description was fit to represent any county or borough in this kingdom? The privilege from arrest was dishonouring to any body of gentlemen, but more especially dishonouring to those to whom were intrusted the honour and dignity of the country, and therefore he should support the proposition of his hon. Friend near him (Mr. Hunt) for its abolition.


It is not my intention to enter into the dispute which has arisen between the right hon. Gentleman and those who sit beside him. All I can say is, that I think the right hon. Gentleman gave an excellent reason for the course which he has taken, and that until better reasons are given against it, he has a right to adhere to it. What I have risen to say, and what I should have said before had not the House been anxious to divide, is, that there is no foundation for the assumption of the hon. Member for Norfolk (Mr. Bentinck) and others, that the property qualification is essential to the constitution of this House. On the contrary, I have always considered that that qualification, introduced by the 9th of Queen Anne, was an invasion, an usurpation, and, in fact, a contradiction of the ancient constitution of this House. According to that constitution, the Members for the boroughs were called burgesses, and were many of them actually burgesses of the places which they represented, and, therefore, they could very seldom have had landed property to the amount of £300. a year. Take some of the most eminent Members of this House—take Mr. Selden, one of the most learned and able men who ever sat here; he was the son of a yeoman. Mr. Somers, afterwards Lord Somers, one of the greatest ornaments of the House, was the son of an attorney; and although I believe his father had £300 a year in land, he himself had not that qualification. Therefore, according to the ancient consti- tution of this House, these eminent men, qualified by their ability, sat in this House without any obstacle or impediment. You sought by the Act of Anne to shut out men of abilities who had not property, but have you succeeded? It would have been a great misfortune if you had, but you have not, because your law, like those of prohibitory duties, has been evaded. Men of abilities have come in here, and have been obliged to resort to an evasion of that law which you attempt to hold up as essential to the constitution of this House. I think the sooner we get rid of such a law the better. I attempted to get rid of it in 1852; and, as I have since said, I have seen reason to think that it is far better that we should go on with one good measure after another, with a view to improve the constitution of this House. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department has discussed this question upon its merits, without reference to that great Reform Bill which the Government are to consider during the autumn. I hope he will take the same course with regard to another Bill of my hon. Friend (Mr. L. King) which is to come on next week—that he will discuss that measure upon its merits, and will make as successful a speech in its favour as he has made upon this subject.


said, but for the remarks of his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Oxfordshire (Colonel North) he should have been contented with the defence of the Government made by the Home Secretary. His hon. and gallant Friend had charged the Government with having changed their opinions. He begged to assure him that he had not changed his opinions, and that his vote in favour of this Bill was one of the most Tory votes that he ever gave in the House of Commons. He firmly believed that the passing of this Bill would rather tend to strengthen than to weaken the landed and Conservative interests of the country.


said, that in giving a vote opposed to that of his noble Friend, he had certainly supposed that he was giving a Tory vote. He rose, however, to state that, as he had been informed that he could not regularly move the insertion of the clause of which he had given notice (to abolish the privilege front arrest), he therefore should not press it.


said, he must still beg to refer to the vote of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department against this Bill in 1857 as a proof that he had at different times voted black and white upon the same question.

Clause agreed to.

House resumed.

Bill reported, without Amendments; to be read 3° To-morrow.