HC Deb 07 May 1866 vol 183 cc517-29

rose to move for leave to introduce a Bill to amend the Representation of the People of Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman, who was indistinctly heard in the confusion arising from Members leaving the House, said, that the Bill proposed to deal with three matters—namely, the franchise in Scotland, the additional seats that were to be given to constituencies in Scotland, and the registration of voters in Scotland. In moving for leave to bring in a Bill to effect these objects, he might be allowed for a moment to refer to the state of the representation of Scotland before and since the passing of the Reform Act of 1832. Prior to that date Scotland had not even the shadow of representation. A very limited constituency elected the county Members, and the Members for the boroughs were chosen by corporations who elected themselves. Undoubtedly this state of things did not savour much of democracy, and he was sorry to say that there was not then an entire absence of that corruption from which Scotland was now supposed to be free. With the passing of the Reform Act Scotland for the first time obtained a popular franchise, and the constituencies called into existence by that Act were through it introduced to duties which were entirely new to them, and to which they were utterly unaccustomed. It was not claiming much for the constituencies to say that the privilege then bestowed on them for the first time they had not abused. It could not be said, in language that had been used that night, that there were venality and corruption in the lower grades of the constituency, and neither could it be said that in the higher grades there had been found the disposition to hold out temptations to corruption. There had been but one petition presented against a Return for Scotland on the ground of bribery since the passing of the Reform Act. He did not mention this to extol the superior morality of Scotland; he mentioned it for the double purpose of showing, first, that there was no necessary connection between a popular constituency and electoral corruption—no necessary affinity between a £ 10 franchise and venality; and second, and perhaps of more importance, that probably the only cure for electoral corruption was to be found in a sound and healthy state of public opinion, not merely in the lower, but also in the higher ranks, and not in a higher or a lower franchise. Corruption was a crime which it required two to commit; if there was no one to offer bribes, there would be none to accept them. How was it, then, that the constituencies of Scotland had been comparatively free from the base motives that had influenced other constituencies? He believed it was mainly owing to the fact that they were new constituencies, and that the traditions of corruption did not descend to them. The past history of the franchise in Scotland, and the fact that there was nothing to regret in the way in which the extended franchise had been exercised, inspired considerable confidence now that it was proposed to make a further extension. Now, as regarded the burgh franchise in Scotland, the Government proposed to adopt precisely the same figure that they had chosen for England, and to reduce the burgh occupation franchise to £7. A very few observations would satisfy the House that it need not look with any great apprehension to this extension of the franchise. At present the constituency of the burghs was about 55,515, and of these, as appeared from the statistics presented to the House, 10,174 belonged to the working or artizan class. Their proportion to the whole varied in different places, being 20 per cent in Edinburgh, 12 per cent in Glasgow, and 50 per cent in the Elgin burghs. The reduction of the franchise to £7 would increase the whole constituency by 26,223 voters, which number, added to the existing constituency of 55,515, would give a total of 81,738. Of the 26,223 new voters 17,670 would belong to the working class, their proportion being nearly two-thirds of the new constituency; and adding the 10,174 of the working class now enfranchised to the 17,670 to be enfranchised, would give a total of 27,844 or about one-third of the whole constituency of Scotland, that would belong to the working classes. That was undoubtedly a substantial gain for the working classes. It was adding to their power and influence, undoubtedly; but it was a total misapprehension to suppose that it would have the effect of transferring political power in Scotland from one class to another. There was an entire fallacy in supposing that the Bill would have any such effect, as the working classes who would be enfranchised by the Bill belonged for the most part to the skilled and intelligent portion of them. Moreover, of the 17,000 working men to be added, the majority, as might be expected, were to be absorbed by the great centres of industry. Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Greenock would have 14,000; and the general result was, that while in six burghs the proportionate voting power of working men would be increased, in the fifteen burghs that remained out of the total of twenty-one the voting power of the working men would be diminished. The explanation was, that the majority of those to be admitted to the franchise by the reduction from £10 to £7 were not working men, but were either masters or shopkeepers. For instance, in Aberdeen 657 not working men would be added to the constituency, against 229 of that class. Ayr would have an addition of 288, but of these only fifty-six would be artizans. Falkirk would have 262 masters alone, as against 118 working men added to the constituency. In point of fact, the working men admitted under this franchise would be largely outnumbered by the other classes who would be admitted with them. They had heard a great deal about democracy; but, taking the Returns presented to the House as accurate, there was little reason to apprehend anything on that score. He did not see the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho) in his place, but he would find that the artizans added to the electoral list in the Haddington burghs would be only 38, as against 698; in the Inverness burghs, 33, as against 1,022; in Montrose, 26, as against, 1,806; in Wick, 57, as against 793; and in Wig-ton, 15, as against 518. Now, he neither rejoiced nor regretted at that result, which appeared on the whole satisfactory. It appeared to him to be very desirable that in the great centres of industry, where the artizan was best educated and most prosperous, he should have a considerable voice in the elections. On the other hand, nothing could more clearly exhibit than these Returns how utterly fallacious it was to take the total number of artizans that were to be enrolled and Bay that we were about to transfer political power to them. On the contrary, it was perfectly clear that while we were—he would not say giving a boon, but carrying out the principles of the Constitution by enfranchising these men—we were not in the slightest appreciable degree making a transfer of political power from any one class to any other. Political power did not consist in the mere voting for Members of Parliament, nor in the numbers of those who had votes. As the franchise stood, the occupiers between £25 and £10 probably outnumbered those above them by twenty to one; but was there a doubt that the political power of the country rested with the latter. The truth was, that the whole of this idea of transference of political power from one class to another proceeded upon the error of supposing that political power consisted merely in the possession of the franchise; whereas it consisted in far greater degree in the power of influencing public opinion. The franchise was merely the mechanism by which the power of influencing opinion was carried out. With regard to the burghs, therefore, he should not have the slightest fear in extending the franchise as proposed in this Bill. There was a property franchise qualification in the burghs of Scotland by which a person who lived within seven miles of the burgh, and was possessed of a house worth £10 without occupation, was entitled to the vote. With that privilege it was not intended to interfere. So much, then, with regard to the burgh franchise. With respect to the counties, it was proposed to deal with them in the same manner as in England—namely, to reduce the occupation franchise from £50 to £14. He was, he was sorry to say, not able to state with the same amount of accuracy as he had done with respect to the burghs what the result of that change would be; but he rather thought it would nearly double the electors. The number of voters under the present occupation franchise was 23,794; the £14 occupancy franchise would probably add 22,000, making a total of 45,794 electors. Then, as regards the property qualification, the House was aware that the 40s. freehold franchise existed only in England. It had been considered whether that qualification could not be extended to Scotland; but there were circumstances peculiar to Scotland which induced the Government to come to the conclusion that it would be undesirable to extend the 40s. freehold franchise to that country. They proposed, however, to reduce the £10 property franchise to £5, introducing the additional element of resi- dence where the property was under £10. This is what was proposed for the counties. His right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer had already told the House that it was proposed to give additional seats to Scotland; and he also informed the House how these additional seats were to be distributed. The seats at their disposal were few, and there might be some difference of opinion as to their distribution. But he thought that Glasgow, with its population of more than 400,000, was fairly entitled to one of these seats; he thought it would also be admitted that Edinburgh, as the metropolis of Scotland, ought to have one additional Member; and Dundee, with its population of 90,000, might fairly claim an additional Member. The other seats were distributed between the counties of Ayr, Aberdeen, and Lanark; and the four Universities of Scotland were to be represented by one Member. These formed the two main portions of the Bill. He would not trouble the House by going into the subject of registration further than to say that it was the intention of the Government to consolidate in one Act the provisions on the subject, and although the clauses which related to that matter would make the Bill more voluminous, there was in reality no novelty in them. With regard to the seats for the Universities, that, no doubt, was an experiment, but, like the other points relating to Scotland, he trusted it would turn out a success. He had now concluded all that it was necessary for him to say on the subject of the Bill. It was the third time that he had discharged a like duty, but he trusted that on this occasion the Bill would pass and would prove satisfactory. There was undoubtedly a strong feeling in the country that the proposal of the Government was reasonable; but, however that might be, he was perfectly satisfied that it was not creditable to the character of Parliament, and that it was disparaging to the character of public men, that this question should be bandied about and hustled and jostled from one party to another. He begged to move for leave to bring in the Bill.


said, notwithstanding the encouraging words of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, he feared the Scotch Reform Bill, at least, was likely to be some time under debate. He need not take up the time of the House by going into the proposed reduction of the franchise for Scotland, because, as they had been told that the Government would leave the House to fill up the blanks in the Reform Bill with any figures they might think proper, it was unnecessary to discuss the effect on the existing constituencies. For his own part, he did not view with any apprehension the admission of working men, who would be placed on the registry by the Bill. In his opinion the working classes in Scotland were as well prepared for the exercise of the franchise as in any part of Her Majesty's dominions. He would go further, and say, at the risk of being charged with unduly praising his own countrymen, that the working classes in Scotland, from the general prevalence of education and habits of thought among the people, were better fitted for the extension of the franchise than those in any other part of the country. But that was not the question. It was this, whether the representative system was to be so settled that the various classes and interests in the country were to be virtually represented, or whether the proposal of the Government would give too great a preponderance to a particular class—for, though the British Constitution took no heed of classes, it should be borne in mind that if the various classes were not represented the system of representation could not be right. The Lord Advocate had pointed to the satisfactory results of the Reform Bill in Scotland. Now, there could be no doubt that the Reform Act of 1832 had been very successful in Scotland, so far as the Whig party were concerned. A large majority of the representatives of Scotland were returned in that interest, and he believed the measure was so designed. The minds of English Members were at that time too much occupied otherwise to give their attention to the framing of a good Bill for Scotland, and great skill had been exercised in arranging the Scotch constituencies so that they should be true to the party that gave them political existence. He supposed the system thus created would be defended on the ground that it worked well, and that many excellent Members had been returned by Scotland to that House. The working classes were not enfranchised by the Reform Act to any great extent, nor did they exist in the constituency before, and if a considerable number of them were brought into the constituency by the present measure it would only be supplementing the Act of 1832. But a great anomaly and a great injustice existed in Scotland. It was notorious that in many counties the urban element predominated to so great an extent that the country interest was altogether swamped. In all the counties, for instance, on which Glasgow bordered the urban constituency exercised a predominating influence. He had no reason himself to complain of the result; but he did not think it satisfactory that the county representation should be decided not by the rural, but by the suburban, and virtually by urban influences. There was another peculiarity. A village in Scotland was not like a village in England. The villages there were like small towns in their characteristics; and the effect of the proposed franchise would be to give them a large influence in the counties; and he was confident that in a large number of the counties of Scotland the Members would be virtually returned by the urban influence. Unless the statistics, which were not yet in the hands of Members—he at least had not had the advantage of seeing them—included some calculation of the comparative number of voters that would be influenced by the low property and feuing qualification, they would be absolutely legislating in the dark. If some compensating element could not be found, the rural influence in counties would be altogether destroyed. The grouping system had been attended with great advantage in keeping pure the burgh constituencies. That system might with propriety be very much extended, only care should be taken that the districts so grouped were homogeneous in character, and if possible in the same county; instead of one town in Ayrshire being associated with those in Renfrew-shire, and another, only ten miles distant, with Argyllshire. He thought, in some instances, it would be well if the burghs now united were divorced and united to more congenial partners. A good deal had been said about a Scotch Bill being passed during the present Session. He hoped the measure would go on pari passu with the Bill for England, for unless it was advanced in company with the English Bill, they could not hope that it would obtain the fair measure of consideration which so important a measure demanded. If the measure for Scotland was one which did not remedy, but would increase, the anomalies existing in the country, it would not be an improvement on their representative system.


said, he would take the earliest opportunity of tendering his thanks to the Government on behalf of his constituents, to whom it was proposed to give an increased share in the representation; though he must suspend his judgment as to the mode by which the plan was to be carried out, until he saw the exact effect of the Government proposition. He understood the Chancellor of the Exchequer to indicate that the boundaries of the burghs were to be determined by the population of the surrounding districts. That he thought fair and just; but he thought that those who were to be severed from their former constituencies ought to have a voice in determining their new relation. He must also tender his thanks to the Government for the liberality they had shown to Scotland generally. The scheme of distribution would, he believed, approve itself to the people of Scotland. There was only one part on which he had any misgiving. It was proposed to give an additional Member to Edinburgh, as the capital of Scotland. He thought it would be better to give that Member to the University, rather than a third Member to the burgh constituency. In conclusion, he would express his satisfaction at the indication given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that the Government were willing to re-consider their manner of procedure, and to give the House an opportunity of discussing the franchise and the re-distribution of seats as part of one comprehensive measure. It would be a great advantage to prevent a mere question of procedure from again dividing that side of the House, and he thought the Government might make the concession without any loss of dignity, and without being justly open to the taunts of the right hon. Gentleman opposite.


hoped the hon. and learned Gentleman (the Lord Advocate) would explain one part of his Bill, respecting which some misunderstanding existed, at least on that (the Opposition) side of the House—namely, whether he intended that residence was in all cases to be attached to a county qualification, or whether the qualification was to remain as at present. While trespassing on the indulgence of the House, he might venture to say that, although considerable satisfaction would be felt that the Government had not altogether overlooked the claims of the Scotch Universities, there would be some disappointment at only one Member being assigned them. When, a few years ago, on the occasion of additional seats being given to Lancashire and Yorkshire, the claims of those Universities were brought into competition with those of the London University, it was shown that the constituency of the Scotch Universities exceeded by nearly three to one that of the London University. He believed that the constituency created by this Bill would number considerably over 4,000, and he was not aware that the relative proportions of the London University had changed. He was justified, therefore, in saying that the allowance of one Member was too small; and, among the many Amendments which would no doubt be proposed, he should venture to move that another Member be given. The additional representative to Glasgow he regarded as quite unnecessary, for that city was gradually monopolizing the representation of the greater part of the West of Scotland, and it could not be better left than in the hands of the two hon. Members who now represented it.


said, he would not have risen but for the impression sought to be created by hon. Gentlemen opposite, that Scotland was being unduly favoured. This he entirely denied, for whether they took population alone, or taxation alone, or the two combined, Scotland was clearly entitled to twenty more Members. Such was proved to be the case by the Return presented in 1859; and he had no doubt that when the continuation of that Return, for which he moved three weeks ago, was produced, the claim of Scotland would be found even larger. Looking, however, at the difficulties with which the Government were beset in doing Scotland full justice, he was grateful to them for the concessions they had made; but he maintained that the people of Scotland were justly entitled to much more. In some other respects he thought Scotland was rather unfairly dealt with. He could not understand, for example, why the 40s. freehold franchise should not be extended to it;—for though the Lord Advocate said there were legal difficulties in the way, he had never heard anybody but a lawyer say so, and he did not think they would get a hundred men in Scotland to entertain that opinion. He quite approved of means being taken to check the creation of fictitious votes, which had been extensively resorted to, and by which men who did not possess an inch of soil had obtained electoral influence. As to the burgh franchise, he thought the people of Scotland had some reason to complain that by the Bill the franchise was to be the same as in England, because it must be remembered that rents were much lower in Scotland than in England, and, consequently, a man with the same income lived in a lower rented house in the former country than in the latter. While, therefore, a £7 franchise might add considerably to the electoral body in England, the Returns just presented showed that in Scotland the addition would be only 26,223, and of these 22,740 would be added in six burghs, leaving only 3,483 for the remaining seventy burghs, or an average of about fifty each. He contended that regard should have been had to the different circumstances of the two countries, and that a £6 rental should have been adopted, because it would have given a greater influx of the working classes, or other classes, into the constituencies. With reference also to the remark that Scotland had been unduly favoured, he would ask why the rule laid down by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that counties with 150,000 population should have three Members, should not be applied to Scotland, for Ayr and Lanark were in this position. Why should not these counties have three Members as the counties in England of the same population had? The Scotch burghs had been complimented on their freedom from bribery; but too much of the credit had, he thought, been given to the system of grouping; for thirty-nine Members were returned by counties and by burghs not grouped, and only fourteen from grouped burghs; and although it had been stated that but one petition had been presented from Scotland on the ground of bribery, it would be seen by reference to the Parliamentary Returns that four petitions were presented, two of them being from counties and two from grouped burghs. Again, it was laid down that a population of 15,000 in the English grouped boroughs was to have a second Member, and why should not this be applied to Leith, Montrose, Stirling, and other Scotch groups of burghs, and why should not the large towns in each group have a Member to themselves? He would only add that the population of Scotland had increased during the last fifty years from 1,800,000 to upwards of 3,000,000, and its wealth in a much greater ratio, and though it might have had its fair complement of Members at that time it was entitled to much more now, and it received but a scant measure of justice by this Bill.


agreed with the hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. M'Laren) that Scotland was entitled to more representatives, and thought there were many towns which might very fairly be grouped, thus relieving the rural constituencies of a preponderating urban element. He wished to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer why he had not dealt with Scotland in the same manner as he had dealt with England as regarded the small constituencies? Wherever he had found a small constituency in England, he had grouped it with other small constituencies. Why was not the same system pursued with regard to Scotland? The Reform Bill for Scotland of 1832 dealt in this manner with the small Scotch counties. All counties too small to return representatives were grouped together, Nairnshire being coupled with Elginshire, and Cromarty with Ross. The same course should have been taken with the county of Sutherland, which should have been joined with Caithnessshire. That such was not the case was the result of a cool Whig job, by which the county was saved for a Whig nobleman. If they were to have Reform, let them have justice to one side as well as to the other.


said, he had no desire to prolong the discussion; but he desired to call to the Lord Advocate's attention the fact that Aberdeen, the northern capital of Scotland, the seat of a University, containing 75,000 inhabitants, of whom 3,996 were electors, Was omitted from the list of burghs which were to receive additional representation. Some of the county constituencies required grouping: thus, the county of Bute, with a population of 16,831, had 510 electors while that of Caithnessshire, with a population of 33,636, had only 508 electors; and Sutherlandshire, with a population of 24,599, had 181 electors. This was ample proof of the necessity for grouping the county as well as the borough constituencies.


thanked the hon. Member opposite for Inverness -shire (Mr. Henry Baillie) for the particular interest he took in the county of Sutherland. The hon. Member had just been elected by 336 electors, and therefore it was but right that he should come forward as a great reforming authority, and should endeavour to put down the county of Sutherland. The hon. Gentleman had been voting against the enlargement of the franchise in England; perhaps he would do the same with regard to Scotland. He (Sir David Dundas) had voted for the enlargement of the English constituencies, and he would do the same with regard to the constituencies in Scotland. The hon. Gentleman had said that the whole of the constituency of Sutherland was under the hand of the Duke of Sutherland. That was a most unhandsome observation, and the hon. Gentleman could know very little of the noble Duke or of himself (Sir David Dundas), or he would know that both of them were incapable of such low electoral failings. He believed that at this moment he (Sir David Dundas) was the most independent Member of the House of Commons, and if the hon. Gentleman said he was not he would quote the lines of the poet— And if they say I am not peer To any man in England here; Highland or lowland—far or near— He would leave the hon. Gentleman to finish the verse for himself.


said, that a Re-distribution Bill was much more necessary for Scotland than one for the reduction of the franchise, which would not materially affect the representation in that country. He looked upon the present measure as a very scant measure of justice, whether they looked to the point of population or property. Under the Bill Scotland would obtain seven additional Members, for which he heartily thanked Her Majesty's Government; but still he could only look upon it as an instalment. The Lord Advocate had said that he (Mr. Laing) might be startled from his propriety by the influx of fifteen working men into his borough, whereas, in point of fact, there would be a much greater number admitted under the Bill, as already the working men possessed 30 per cent of the constituency. So far from being afraid of the Bill going too far, he was only sorry that it was not more extensive in its operations, and he wished to ask the Lord Advocate whether the franchise could not be still further reduced. The 40s. freeholders were found to act very well in England, and he should like to see them possessed of a vote in Scotland.

Motion agreed, to.

Bill further to amend the Laws relating to the Representation in Parliament of the People of Scotland, ordered to be brought in by The LORD ADVOCATE, Mr. CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER, Sir GEORGE GREY, and Mr. SOLICITOR GENERAL for SCOTLAND. Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 139.]