HL Deb 29 September 1831 vol 7 cc772-9
The Lord Chancellor

said, the Petition he was about to present to their Lordships— he would not say he held it in his hand, for that was nearly impossible, came from a most important body, and a very numerous class of his Majesty's loyal and dutiful subjects—he meant, the inhabitants of the ancient city of Edinburgh; and if he should state, that it was signed by nearly all the male inhabitants of that city who were entitled to sign it, he believed that in saying so he should be guilty of no exaggeration whatever, for it was signed by no less than 36,150 persons. Aware as he was that the greatest pains had been taken to prevent improper persons, and persons of unripe age, from putting their names to this petition, he knew that he might fairly take it for granted, that it had been signed by every male inhabitant of the adult age—that was to say, capable of bearing arms—in the city of Edinburgh. According to the ordinary calculations of political arithmeticians and statistical writers, that part of the population—namely, the male adults between the age of sixteen and sixty—formed the one-fourth part of the entire population in any place. Now, assuming that the whole population of Edinburgh amounted to 140,000, and he believed that that was giving a large population to the northern metropolis, it was clear that the entire male adult population of that city, that was to say, the population which was between the age of sixteen and sixty, and capable of bearing arms, had put their names to this petition. This was a most important fact, as illustrative of the progress which the great question of Parliamentary Reform had made with the people of Scotland. He knew that about twenty years ago, it might have happened that the ease, instead of being as this petition proved it to be, would have been nearly the reverse in the city of Edinburgh, If any person, twenty or twenty-five years ago, had ventured to call upon the people of Edinburgh to sign a petition in favour of Parliamentary Reform, he would not say that this proportion of one-fourth of the population—namely, all the male adults—would have refused to sign such a petition, but he was certain that a very inconsiderable number of them indeed would have affixed their names to it at that time. Such was the general feeling in Scotland about twenty-five years ago with regard to Reform. But see how matters had changed in that respect. This petition afforded a tolerable proof of the immense progress which the question of Parliamentary Reform had made with the very thinking, solemn, and reflecting people of Scotland. If ever there was a people less liable than any other to be carried away by sudden impulses—to become the tools of party agitators, and the prey of factions—the people of Scotland was that people. There was no people that he was aware of on the face of the earth, that was less liable to be influenced in that way than the population of Scotland. Now this people, the whole population of Scotland, after a solemn and mature deliberation, and after thoroughly discussing and investigating the whole subject, had come to the resolution, one and all, of supporting those measures of Reform which his Majesty's Ministers had introduced to redress their grievances. The prayer of the present petitioners, who so truly represented the 140,000 or 150,000 persons that formed the population of the northern metropolis, was, that their Lordships would pass the measures which had been brought forward by his Majesty's Government for effecting a Reform in the Commons House of Parliament. It was true that that population enjoyed the privilege of having a Member to represent them in the Commons House of Parliament, but they enjoyed not the privilege of electing that Member, of concurring in his election, or of assisting at his election, or even of holding any communication with those who solely and altogether elected that individual, who was denominated their Representative—the Representative of the inhabitants of the city of Edinburgh. He was their Representative, because he did not represent them; he was their Member, because they had not chosen him; and he represented the burgesses of Edinburgh, because Edinburgh had no more elected him than had Constantinople. He was chosen and elected Member of Parliament, it was true, but he was not so chosen by the city of Edinburgh. Perhaps their Lordships would be curious to know how this Edinburgh Representative was elected. Perhaps they might suppose that a great majority of those who had signed this petition had the right of voting at the election of a Member for that city. Such, however, was not the case, and not a single man of them had anything to do with the election of their Representative. Assuring them that the number of his constituents was not large, their Lordships might perhaps imagine that they amounted at least to 1,000, which would be a small and limited number in such a great town with a population of 140,000 persons. But even of that limited constituency this worthy Member could not boast. No: he was not elected by the tenth part nor the eleventh part of the population of Edinburgh, nor by the 100th part, nay, not even by the half again of that 100th part of the population of that city. In short, not to detain their Lordships, and to put them out of pain, he begged to state for their Lordships' information, that this worthy Member was elected by thirty-three persons, and by not one less than thirty-three. And Edinburgh, it should be recollected, was much better off in this respect than were many other places in Scotland, the Scottish counties especially, under the existing much-honoured and highly revered system, which was now drawing, he devoutly hoped and prayed, to its close. It was under that time-honoured system that those abuses had grown up, under that system which some would fain represent as the result of the wisdom of our ancestors. But in justice to our ancestors, he must say, that there were but few of the evils which they had left to us, that had not been remedied and removed, or were in progress of being so, by the superior knowledge and wisdom of modern times, It had been well observed by his greatest predecessor in the office which he had the honour to fill—he meant Lord Bacon—that we are the truly old persons, as compared with our ancestors—that they represented the youth of the human race, while we, possessed as we were of the improvements and experience of modern times, represented its manhood, or rather its old age. He did hope and confidently trust, that this remnant of the wisdom of our ancestors—this close, and of necessity corruption-begetting system of Representation in Scotland—was very quickly approaching to its last end. The fact was, that the counties in Scotland were closer than the closest boroughs in England. The Members for those counties were elected, not by the proprietors of land there, but by persons who might not have an acre of land there, or any where else—by the owners of superiorities, who might be, as had been once said in another place, persons of the Jewish persuasion, living in Lombard-street, and possessing, by the ownership of those superiorities, the right of voting for those counties, while the pro- praetors of property there had no such right of voting at all. He should just mention an instance of the result of this close system of Representation in Scotland. About twenty years ago an election took place for a county in Scotland; there was not a single person in the county, who, had the right of voting but the Sheriff of the county, who, being the returning officer, was thereby disqualified from voting. Nobody, in fact, did exercise the right of voting, and yet a person was returned, and sat as Member for the county in Parliament, and there was nobody to object to his doing so, as there was no person qualified to petition against his return. That was an instance of the close system in Scotland. Indeed, so bad was that system, that he did not suppose that it would meet with any defenders. However, when they came to the discussion of this question on Monday next, he would not allow a line to be drawn with regard to Scotland; he would not permit it to be contended, that though Scotland was ill off, England was well off; and that though Scotland might require Reform, England did not require it at all. If such a line of argument as that should be followed on Monday next, he would take upon him the defence of the close and narrow system of Representation in Scotland, and he would maintain, that it had as good a right to be preserved to Scotland, as the corruption and rottenness of Gatton and Old Sarum had to be continued in England.

Lord Wharncliffe

did not rise to impugn any thing that had fallen from the noble and learned Lord, but he rose to say a few words in reference to what had been stated by the noble Lord as to the decision of the House upon the subject which was to come under their consideration on Monday next. He begged to say, that the noble Lord had no right to assume that by the vote which he (Lord Wharncliffe) should give on that night, or at the conclusion of the debate which stood for that night, he (Lord Wharncliffe) would in any degree decide as to the propriety of the present mode of electing Members either for counties or burghs in Scotland. He begged that it should be understood, that if they should think it right to reject the Bill for amending the Representation of England, it should not be taken for granted, that they were therefore unwilling to reform the Representation of Scotland. Though they might be of opinion, that the state of the Representation in England did not require Reform, it did not follow as a consequence that they entertained the same opinion with regard to the Representation in Scotland, which was of a totally different description. Indeed, he had no hesitation in at once declaring it as his opinion, that the state of the Representation in Scotland presented a case which did require Reform and amendment. Before he sat down he begged to ask whether, even under this system of Representation in Scotland, which he was ready to admit required amendment, Scotland had not prospered even, beyond ordinary human calculation? That fact, which he supposed would not be controverted, showed that in the instance of Scotland, where a Representation existed that it was admitted wanted amendment, they should proceed in the adoption of any new regulations with the greatest caution, and with most deliberate consideration.

The Lord Chancellor

was most happy to have been the means of eliciting from his noble friend this admission—that the state of the Representation in Scotland was too bad to be defended even by the Anti-reformers, and that the system required revision and alteration. This admission was to him most refreshing, for this was the first time that he had ever heard it admitted by an Anti-reformer, that the Scotch system was too bad to be allowed to continue. So, then, Scotland was to be blessed with a Reform, while England was to remain without it. He had anticipated that some attempt would be made to draw a line of distinction between Reform in England and Reform in Scotland, and had grappled with that notion by adverting to the state of Old Sarum and Gallon. If the people of Scotland were to have a reform in their Representation, were the people of England still to continue to be represented by Members for such places as Old Sarum and Gatton? If the old system in Scotland was to come tumbling down, why should Old Sarum and Gatton continue to send Members to Parliament? But as his noble friend had admitted, that although Edinburgh had a Representative, and Glasgow a fourth part of a Representative, the Scotch system required Reform, he was prepared for the next concession, which would be, that the system of Representation in England also required Reform, and that his noble friend would go a great way towards effecting that Reform, although he would not go to the extent of this Bill.

Lord Wharncliffe

did not mean to enter into any discussion on the subject of Reform that night. He had not said anything as to how he intended to vote on the English Reform Bill, nor had he given any opinion as to whether the English system required Reform or not. His noble and learned friend had supposed that he entertained a certain opinion on that subject; but his noble and learned friend did not know what his opinions were, and had no right to ask what were his opinions, or to suppose that he held the opinions which his noble friend chose to ascribe to him.

The Earl of Camperdown

was anxious to make a few observations on what the noble Lord had said in regard to the prosperity of Scotland. The noble Lord—his noble friend, if he would allow him to call him so—had said, that Scotland had thriven remarkably under its present system of Representation; but that prosperity certainly did not arise from its Representative system. Nothing could be worse than the state of the Representation in Scotland; but Scotland had prospered because of its connection with England, in spite of its bad system of Representation. Whatever Scotland might have sacrificed by the Union with England, it must be acknowledged that it had derived great benefits from having the advantage of the English system of Representation, which, with all its faults, was, upon the whole, much superior to that of Scotland, in which there was no Representation that deserved the name. The English system itself had been deteriorated by having the Scotch infused into it.

Lord Melville

said, that he must join in the protest which had been made by the noble Lord below him (Lord Wharncliffe), against its being assumed that the vote to which they would come with respect to the Bill which was to come under discussion on Monday next, would in any degree bind them with respect to any Reform which they might consider necessary in the Scottish system of Representation. From the observations made by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, he expected to hear it hinted by that noble Lord, that it would be more convenient for their Lordships to. have the Scotch and English Bills before them at the same time. If the English Bill should be rejected, it did not follow that some alteration might not be adopted with regard to the Scotch Representative system. He (Lord Melville) should be prepared to state his opinion as to the English Bill when it came under discussion; and no noble Lords had a right to inquire what that opinion was until that time arrived. He was ready to concur in the statement made by the noble and learned Lord, that a great proportion of those who had votes for Scottish counties possessed no property in them. So far was he from thinking that the system in Scotland did not require amendment, that he had been for several years endeavouring to carry measures for its improvement. He must protest, therefore, against being classed with those individuals who approved of the Scottish system in all its parts, though he was not inclined to go the length of the wild propositions which were so hastily advanced on every side. With regard to the calculation of the noble and learned Lord, of the population of Edinburgh, he apprehended that there was some mistake, or if 140,000 was taken as the number of the inhabitants, it must mean that of the city and the county of the city. He also doubted the unanimity which the noble and learned Lord alleged prevailed in Edinburgh on the subject of Reform, and he imagined that the extent of that feeling was not a little overrated.

The Earl of Carnarvon

also protested against mixing up the question of English Reform with that of a reformation of the Scottish Representative system, for though many noble Lords might be opposed to any alteration in the English system, it did not follow that their opinion was the same with regard to the system in Scotland.

Petition to be laid on the Table.