HC Deb 01 March 1867 vol 185 cc1262-71

said, that a few days ago he had warned the Government that when it was known in Scotland that no addition would be made to the representation great dissatisfaction and disappointment would be felt in that country. He had reason to believe that he had by no means exaggerated that feeling. He begged to call the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to a Return laid on the table last year. That Return showed the proportional number of Members which ought to be given to each of the three kingdoms. First, proportionally, as to population; secondly, proportionally, as to contributions to the revenue; and thirdly, the mean between the two. According to population the Return would give to Scotland sixty-nine Members. According to taxation it would give eighty-six Members. And the mean between the two was seventy-eight. The present number of representatives was fifty-three. He did not expect that a claim of that kind would be paid in full; but in the Bill of last year the claim was acknowledged, and it was proposed to add seven Members to Scotland. In 1859, although no specific increase was promised, he remembered that the Lord Advocate, at the close of the debate on the second reading of the Reform Bill, pointed out, in reply to a question, that there were still seats not allotted to other parts of the Empire, and that hon. Gentlemen were not to suppose that no increase was to be made to Scotland. It was generally understood at the time that they were to have three new Members. He wished the Chancellor of the Exchequer merely to apply the same rules to Scotland which he had laid down for England. His right hon. Friend had enlarged with great force and clearness on the necessity for enlarging the county representation in England. Yet the greatest and wealthiest county in Scotland sent no more representatives to that House than half the number sent by the county of Rutland. His right hon. Friend proposed to add to the representation of Stafford shire a new Member, who was to represent what he called the "Black Country." He begged to remind his right hon. Friend that in one of the largest counties in Scotland—Lanark—they had also a "Black Country," which was growing daily in wealth, importance, and population. Yet that county was only represented by a single Member, unless they added to its representation one-third of the Member for the Falkirk district of boroughs. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had now introduced the sixth of the Reform Bills which had been introduced during the last fifteen or sixteen years. The right hon. Gentleman was taking a step, in the name of the Conservative party, in the direction of Reform greater and more solemn than he had taken before. A large majority of the Members from Scotland had always declared themselves in favour of Reform, and if the question had been left to them it would have been settled long ago. Now, it appeared to him that the Conservative Members who assisted the right hon. Gentleman in taking this question out of the hands of the right hon. Gentleman opposite were bound to see that the interests of Scotland were as much considered and as carefully weighed by their leader and his Cabinet as they would have been by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. They were making a concession to the opinions of their hon. Friends opposite, and if that concession were to do any good, it must be fairly and handsomely made. Would it be fair, or handsome, or wise, that a suspicion should be allowed to arise in Scotland that that country was not treated upon that side of the House as it would have been treated on the other; and that, in fact, it was to be deprived of its fair share of the new representation because the timepiece which regulated the opinion of the Treasury Bench went a little slower than that which regulated political opinions on the Opposition? As regards the second part of the question, respecting the source from which the increase might be derived, there were several seats which might be now said to be vacant. That part of the speech the other night, in which the right hon. Gentleman announced the proposed disfranchisement of the four seats which had recently been reported for bribery, was received with especial favour. If these boroughs were to be deprived of the right of sending Members to the House of Commons, would it not be wise to consider the claims of that portion of the kingdom which contained no boroughs that could be disfranchised for a similar cause? If these seats were to be taken away for the purpose not only of punishing the peccant boroughs, but also in order to give a solemn warning to the boroughs which had not yet been found out—though their bad eleotoral habits were, to say the least, strongly suspected—if such were the case, would it not add force and meaning to that warning if some of the seats were transferred to a country which, whatever might be its shortcomings, had during the last thirty years conducted its elections with almost unsullied purity? He asked this question with great reluctance, not with any desire to embarrass the Government, but because the subject excited the greatest possible interest in Scotland. So far from wishing to place any additional obstacle in the way of the right hon. Gentleman, he desired to bring the subject under his notice in order that he might take timely means to remove a difficulty which might otherwise prove serious. He begged to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Whether, in his proposed scheme of Reform, it was proposed to give any additional representatives to Scotland; and, if so, from what source the increase was to be derived?


said, he hoped that the Government, before producing their Bill, would re-consider their proposals as they affected Scotland. The hon. Baronet who had brought this question forward had not exaggerated the dissatisfaction which existed in Scotland on this subject. He should not be doing his duty if he did not state that many places in Scotland, including the borough he represented, were, from their increase in population and wealth, fairly entitled to additional representation.


said, the feeling in Scotland upon this subject was very strong indeed, and he found himself in a position of some difficulty; for, though he desired to lend his support to Her Majesty's Government in bringing to a settlement the most difficult question which they had taken in hand, he was considerably embarrassed in consequence of the marked silence maintained by the Government in reference to a subject which excited very great interest, not only in his own county, but throughout the whole of Scotland. That was not exactly the time to enter upon the question; but he might state that he represented one of the largest counties in Scotland (Lanark), in which there were five towns of many inhabitants wholly unrepresented. There was not a case in the United Kingdom with stronger claims to be considered, although its claim was not peculiar, for Ayrshire, Perth, Aberdeen, and a number of Scotch burghs were imperfectly represented, and had also strong claims on the Government. He submitted the claims of Scotland in the interest, not only of the country itself, but in the interest of the Government and of Parliament. He desired to ask English Members whether it was fair that the position of Scotland, which was now in the enjoyment of so much wealth and prosperity, and which contributed so largely to the national resources, should remain, with regard to representation, even below the position occupied by it on its union with England. At that time, when only forty-five Members were given to Scotland, the proportion was one in twelve, and it was less than that at the present day. The union between the two countries was a close and hearty one, and English Members should not object to the claim now made for additional Members for Scotland.


said, he begged to join with those hon. Members who had preceded him in raising his voice in support of the claims of Scotland to be fairly considered in this matter. He wished to enlarge the question, and to suggest an extension of it to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The discussion which had taken place had turned chiefly on the question of giving more Members to counties; but that point could be much better considered when the discussion on the Reform Bill took place, and he did not intend, therefore, to offer any observations upon that matter now. But his hon. Friend the Member for Brighton had made an inquiry of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that evening respecting the sum of £3,600, paid out of the public Treasury for the procuring of statistics upon which to found a Reform Bill in 1859. The right hon. Gentleman very properly justified that expenditure on the ground that the information then obtained was of a most valuable nature, and that some of the first statisticians of the day, and some of the most scientific men, were employed to procure that information. He (Mr. M'Laren) had an opportunity of reading these private papers, which had never been published, and one of which was specially directed to the claims of Scotland. It was, as appears from the heading, prepared at the request of the noble Lord, now First. Commissioner of Works; and it placed those claims on such fair grounds that he should be prepared at once to accept those grounds, and ask the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he was prepared to give effect to the opinions expressed by the scientific gentlemen and the eminent statisticians whom he employed for the purpose? The summing up of the argument, in which the claims of Scotland were rested, was as follows:— In order, therefore, to ascertain whether the Scotch Members for counties and boroughs ought in fairness to be increased or diminished, he ought first to ascertain to what number of Members Scotland is entitled by virtue of her population, and then to what deduction from that number she ought to be subjected in consequence of the smaller amount of her real property. That principle he held to be undeniable. The result arrived at by the writer of that able paper was, that Scotch counties have too many Members, as compared with England and Ireland; and that Scotch boroughs should have twenty-eight additional Members according to population, and twelve according to population and wealth combined. The Union had been referred to. It would be seen from a Return which he had the honour of moving for last Session, and which was laid on the table, but had not yet been printed, that while the revenue derived from England had increased tenfold since the union, the revene derived from Scotland had increased sixtyfold within the same period. But it had been stated that at the time of the passing of the Reform Bill, Scotland got eight additional Members. That, so far, put matters right. But assuming that everything was then made right as between England and Scotland, still the progress of Scotland since the Reform Bill, as indicated by its taxation, was so much greater than England as to be almost incredible, he would just mention two figures to show how the case stood, and to found upon it the supplemental question with which he should conclude. The revenue derived from England, on an average of three years before the passing of the Reform Act, was £44,059,256, while the revenue derived from Scotland during the same period was £4,656,306. The revenue derived from England, on an average of three years ending in 1866, was £51,303,346, while that derived from Scotland for the same period was £7,740,494. Therefore, while the revenue derived from England had increased 16 per cent since the passing of the Reform Bill, the revenue from Scotland had increased 66 per cent during the same period. Justice to Scotland demanded that her proportion of representation should have adjusted at the present time; and he joined with other hon. Members who had spoken in the course of the debate, in entreating the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give effect to the calculations and statistics, which, as the right hon. Gentleman himself said, were obtained from the most eminent authorities in 1859. He begged that the right hon. Gentleman would look into the Returns which had been laid on the table last night, and that he would do justice to Scotland in the proposals which he would lay before the House. He should state that the Return laid upon the table last night excluded from the revenue collected within Scotland the duties upon spirits which had been sent to England and consumed in that country. The supplemental question which he wished to put to the Chancellor of the Exchequer was, whether he was prepared to give effect to the recommendation made to him in 1859, and give twelve additional Members to the boroughs of Scotland?


said, he wished to urge the claims of the Scotch Universities. The English Universities and the University of Dublin were represented in that House by six Members, and yet the Chancellor of the Exchequer spoke of giving a Member to the University of London, while the, Scotch Universities were altogether unrepresented. He was informed that the constituency of the University of London would not amount to 2,000. The Universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh would give a constituency of 4,000. They were entitled to one Member, and the Universities of St. Andrew's and Aberdeen ought to have one also.


said, he hoped that, in dealing with the question of Reform, the Government and the House would consider what was for the substantial benefit of the country. It was said that the Act of 1832 was a settlement of the question. He denied it. That Act had only unlocked the mind of the country.


said, he would remind the hon. Member that the general subject of Reform was not under discussion. The discussion was confined to certain matters referred to in a Question put to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.


I was wandering. Every interest has been attended to but the claim of 5,000,000 of our fellow-subjects. ["Order, order!"]


Ample occasion will be given to enter into that.


The people of Scotland are the friends of liberty and enlightened policy, as is shown by the Members they send to this House. Scotland is an example to the United Kingdom. I join in the request made by the hon. Gentleman. It is a glorious opportunity, such as is seldom given to any mortal man, that is now given to my right hon. Friend (the Chancellor of the Exchequer)—an opportunity of elevating the character of the United Kingdom.


said, he was disposed to augur favourably of the result of this discussion from the expression of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's countenance while he listened to the figures which were cited by the hon. Baronet who had introduced it, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would state what his intentions were.


Sir, it appears to me that the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Perthshire is framed on a misconception of the precise state of affairs. I have promised the House that, with their permission, I would introduce a Bill that will improve the representation of the people in Parliament. Her Majesty's Government have not arrived at the conclusion that there is too much representative power in England. The conclusion at which we have arrived is that the representative power in England might be more efficiently distributed. As to that we have a clear opinion; but there is a great difficulty in extending the representative power in some places and curtailing it in others, so as to distribute it in a more efficient manner. In the Bill which I shall shortly ask for leave to introduce, we make proposals when we believe will render the representation of England more efficient. We call into the representation a number of towns which have risen into importance since the passing of the Bill of 1832. We also propose to give more representation to large districts, which, I believe, every one of candid mind admits to be insufficiently represented. We see no reason to believe that the representative power of England is greater than its population, its property, and those mixed considerations, which ought to be admitted in an adjustment of such important details, entitle it to. Therefore, I cannot admit that, in attempting to improve the representation of England and Wales, we are bound to consider the claims of any other part of the United Kingdom. I think it a course much to be deprecated that the justice of any claim, which may be urged on behalf of one part of the United Kingdom, should be made to depend on what can be subtracted from another part of the kingdom. Having said that, I must beg the Representatives for Scotland to understand that Her Majesty's Government, when dealing with the case of Scotland, will consider it without any foregone conclusion, and solely with reference to the claims which it may fairly put forth to perfect its representation in this House. The claims to representation of the Scotch Universities are, no doubt, claims that may fairly be urged. My hon. Friend has spoken of the superiority, in point of numbers, of the Scotch Universities as compared with the University of London, to which I said a few nights ago it was the intention of the Government to recommend that a Member should be assigned. But my hon. Friend cannot accuse the present Ministers of the Crown of any neglect of Scotch Universities. These Universities may now appeal with pride and confidence to the character of their constituencies and to the interests which they represent. But to whom are they indebted for that character and for those constituencies? It was the Bill introduced under our auspices in 1859 which gave, I may say, a corporate character to those Universities, and laid the foundation of the claim which they could not before then have with any propriety urged. It cannot be supposed, therefore, that we, as a Ministry, are insensible to the claims of the great seats of learning in Scotland. I have always been favourable to constituencies which, mixed with those based on the great material interests that must always form the bulk of a representative assembly, should be founded on intellect and educa- tion. I can only repeat to the House, and especially to the Representatives for Scotland, that they are under a very great error, if they suppose that the Government are insensible to their claims, or unwilling to consider them; but they cannot consider them on the condition, that the improved representation of Scotland is to be satisfied by the sacrifice of English interests.


said, he wished to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer when the Scotch Reform Bill was likely to be introduced? The character of that Bill might make a great difference in the support the English Bill might receive from Scotland.


said, he wished to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he could inform the House of the number of male occupiers resident in the boroughs and cities of England and Wales who would be placed upon the register for the election of Members of Parliament, by a household suffrage, accompanied by a three years' residence and the personal payment of rates? He had no wish to provoke a premature discussion on Reform; but the need of information on this point was sorely felt by many representatives of boroughs in England, and by none more than by some hon. Friends who sat on the Benches near him. If the right hon. Gentleman had it in his power to grant the information, or could suggest any other form in which the question might more acceptably be framed, he felt certain that, with his invariable courtesy to the younger Members of the House, he would not object to do so. From the information already in possession of the House it would appear that the borough occupiers in England and Wales, resident in houses of £10 and upwards, amounted to 639,000. Including the metropolitan constituency, these 639,000 were divided into equal halves at the £20 point; but, deducting the metropolitan occupiers whose house-rent was exceptionally high, there would remain 400,000 equally divided at the £18 point. So much for the houses above £10. Now, what was in the abyss below that limit? Looking down into it, he could not say, with Sir Charles Coldstream, that "there was nothing in it," but he believed there was much less in it than was generally supposed. The number of occupiers below the £10 level he took to be 650,000 or 700,000, not greatly exceeding therefore the number of those above the £10 level. What he wished to ascertain was the number of those who would come upon the electoral register in case the conditions of a three years' residence, with personal payment of rates, were insisted upon. In putting this question he was actuated by an earnest desire for the satisfactory solution of the question of Reform upon some basis that should satisfy the conditions of an equitable, a comprehensive, and a conclusive settlement?

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.