HC Deb 03 May 1867 vol 186 cc2020-4

said, he rose to call attention to the absence of information as to the intentions of Government relative to the Representation of the People in Scotland. When an inquiry was recently addressed to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the subject, his reply was that it was desirable further progress should be made with the English Reform Bill before that for Scotland was brought in. He was anxious, if possible, to induce the Government to alter the determination on that point at which they seemed to have arrived. He thought it extremely desirable that before the English Bill made any further progress, the House should be made acquainted with the provisions of the Scotch measure. It was hardly reasonable to ask the representatives for Scotland to vote on the question of the English borough occupation franchise while they were kept in complete ignorance as to how far the principles of that franchise were to be applied to their own country. Setting aside differences of detail, the general principles of a Reform Bill applicable to England must be applicable to Scotland also. On the three former occasions on which a measure of Reform had been read a second time, in 1852, 1860 and last year, the Bill for Scotland war introduced before that for England went into Committee. The Chancellor of the Exchequer could hardly forget that on a former occasion his hon. Friend the present Under Secretary for India (Sir James Fergusson) brought forward a Motion—which was debated for three nights—while the English Bill was in Committee, to the effect that its further progress should be stopped until the Bills for Scotland and Ireland were introduced. That Motion, though not made in form, because it could not be so in accordance with the rules of the House, was strongly supported by the right hon. Gentleman, and he trusted he would in the present instance see the propriety of acting as far as possible in accordance with the views he then advanced. He was the more anxious that the Scotch Bill should be at once laid upon the table because a great deal of light might be reflected on the question of the borough franchise for England by the proposals it would contain. The peculiarity of the proposal with regard to compound-householders did not apply to Scotland, because there there was no Small Tenements Act, no compounding, and nothing corresponding to the rates in this country. The poor rate and other rates were, of course, levied there. But those charges were levied by separate bodies under separate statutes. The poor rate was not levied in every parish, though the number in which it was not was inconsiderable. That being so, it would be impossible to apply the principle bearing upon the case of the compound-householder to Scotland. In other words, the personal payment of rates was in that country the universal rule, and in its case, therefore, household suffrage with payment of rates would be nothing less than household suffrage pure and simple. There was, it was true, a provision that where the value of a tenement was under £4 the proprietor should be liable to pay the rates, and should be entitled to recover the amount afterwards from the tenant. But with that exception there was nothing at all which corresponded with the requirements of the English law on the subject. That being so, he should like to know how the case of Scotland was to be met in any Reform Bill which might be introduced. Was there to be house- hold suffrage, without any restriction, or was the sharp, hard line of a £4 rental to be drawn as defining the qualification it boroughs. It would be singular if a rental should be adopted in Scotland as the basis of the borough franchise after all the tremours and fears that were expressed last year about a £7 rental suffrage. He should express no opinion as to whether the proposal to give Scotland substantially household suffrage, pure and simple, was a sound one or not, all he meant to contend for was that if such a proposal was to be made it was time the fact should be known. He did not say they were going too far, but they might be going too fast. He would put it to the right hon. Gentleman and the House to say how long if household suffrage, pure and simple, were granted to Scotland it would be possible to retain in England even a shred of those restrictions which they had been engaged in discussing for the past few weeks. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would be able to give an answer to his remarks which would be regarded by the Scotch Members as satisfactory.


I am not at all surprised that the right hon. Gentleman who is a distinguished Scotch Member should feel a natural curiosity about the measure which the Government proposed to introduce with respect to the representation of Scotland. I am still less surprised that, having been also a distinguished Member of the late Government, he should take a fair and legitimate opportunity to make some criticisms on the past and probable future conduct of the Administration. As to the instance which he has adduced as an argument to prove that it is our duty to bring in a Scotch Reform Bill at an early period—I mean the Motion of my hon. Friend the Under Secretary of State for India (Sir James Fergusson), which was discussed at considerable length at the time, and which led to an important division—I can only say that I do not think it tells exactly in favour of the right hon. Gentleman's position, inasmuch as the Motion was unsuccessful. That being so, and wishing always to profit by experience, I must protest against the supposition that we, sitting on these Benches, are bound to adopt all those proposals which were unsuccessful while we sat on the Benches opposite. But nothing is more reasonable than the wish of the right hon. Gentleman that the House should be made acquainted with our inten- tions in reference to the Scotch representation. I much regret that no inconsiderable delay should have taken place on the subject. I trust, however, the right hon. Gentleman will, in extenuation of that delay, take into account the remarkable and peculiar difficulties which the Government and myself—to whom this business of Reform has been mainly intrusted in its management in this House—have had to encounter. The difficulties connected with the English measure have, in the first place, been very considerable. It is not easy to launch a vessel of such magnitude under any circumstances, but those which we had to contend with were unusually adverse. We have not had the advantage of an able coadjutor in the person of the Lord Advocate. I have felt very much the great inconvenience arising from that circumstance. Several questions have been asked me at different times by hon. Gentlemen connected with Scotland as to the nature of our Bill, and if I have not explicitly replied to them it has been only because I have been in daily hopes that I might have the opportunity of introducing the measure. One is often liable to misapprehension in giving answers to isolated points of inquiry. I hope the Bill will soon be in the hands of hon. Gentlemen. But I have no desire to avoid answering the questions put to me to-night by the right hon. Gentleman; and, after the delay which has unintentionally occurred, I will tell him, as nearly as I can, the character of the measure. It is framed upon the model of the English Bill, as I said it would be when I first noticed it in this House. With regard to the main provisions, they are founded on the same principles, so far as differences in the circumstances of the two countries will permit. With regard to the franchise, in which the right hon. Gentleman, by his inquiry tonight, is particularly interested—namely, the borough franchise, it is identical with that proposed in the English Bill. There is no hard and fast line. Every householder who is rated to the poor and who personally pays his rates will possess the franchise. I deny that in the English Bill there are heavy restrictions. That is a complete misapprehension of the right hon. Gentleman. The conditions of the borough franchise in England are the being rated to the poor and personally paying the rates. These are the same conditions which we have introduced into the Scotch Bill. If Scotland is not blessed with the compound- householder, that is "one of the results of modern civilization," on which she may be congratulated. The Bill which we are about to introduce with regard to the representation in Scotland is, I repeat, framed on the same principle as the English Bill. The franchise for boroughs—respecting which the right hon. Gentleman is desirous of having explicit information—is identical with the borough franchise proposed for England. If this Bill passes every householder in a Scotch burgh who is rated to the poor, and personally pays his rate, will be entitled to a vote. There is another point on which the right hon. Gentleman made some observations, and I beg to state that on that point, as on the previous one relating to the franchise, Her Majesty's Government will be found to have fulfilled their promise. It is the opinion of the Government that the representation of Scotland is not sufficient. We believe that the claims of that country to increased representation are of a character which, on a general revision of this question, cannot be denied. We shall make a proposal on this subject which we think will be deemed fair and adequate. I trust that I have now answered the inquiries of the right hon. Gentleman with sufficient explicitness. If there be any point which I have omitted I shall be glad to be reminded of it. I can tell him, with great satisfaction I hope to him, and certainly to myself, that the Bill is not only drawn, but printed—that I have a proof copy of it in my possession, and that I hope to be able to introduce it on Thursday.


said, he wished to ask, whether the Irish Reform Bill would be introduced at the same time as the Scotch Bill?


I am afraid we shall not be able to bring it in at the same time; but we shall attend to the interests of Ireland.

Original Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Committee deferred till Monday next.