The Lord Chancellor
rose to move the second reading of the Bill. He was quite certain that, in doing so, he was relieved from the necessity of entering at all into any discussion on the subject, by the circumstances under which the Scotch Reform Bill came before them, in consequence of the passing of the English Reform Bill, which was now the law of the land. And he should have availed himself of that dispensation, had it not been that he felt, that respect to their Lordships, and the great importance of the matter itself, required that he should say a few words respecting the Bill which he had in his hand. He would, therefore, briefly advert, in the first place, to the circumstances under which this Bill came before their Lordships; and, in the second place, to the nature of the elective system at present prevailing in Scotland. Whatever doubts might have been entertained as to the propriety of adopting a measure of Reform, with respect to Scotland, before the passing of the English Reform Bill, he believed that, since that Bill had become the law of the land, all doubts on the subject must have been dispelled. No doubt could now exist, not merely as to the expediency, but even as to the necessity, of passing this Bill; so that those noble Lords who might before have hesitated, or might have been reluctant to pass such a Bill as this, or might have been determined not to pass it, might now, with perfect consistency, support it. They might now unhesitatingly give their support to the Bill, without the slightest impeachment of their consistency. The only question was—shall the Representation of Scotland remain as it is, after the Reform Bill for England and Wales has passed? And that was a question which could be answered only in one way. There was 56 every reason for passing this Bill, amending the Representation in Scotland, which existed for the passing of the English Reform Bill; and there were many additional reasons for the passing of this Bill, which did not apply in the case of the English Bill. Having made these few observations in reference to the circumstances under which this Bill was brought forward, he would now proceed to explain to their Lordships the actual state—he hoped it might be soon called the former state—of the elective franchise and the Representation in Scotland. In attempting to explain that system, in such a manner as would make it intelligible to their Lordships, he felt himself involved in much the same kind of difficulty that pressed upon the noble Earl (the Earl of Haddington) near him, in explaining the nature of Superiorities. But he would endeavour to explain, as briefly as possible, the nature of the elective qualification and system of Representation in Scotland, so as to enable their Lordships to comprehend how much stronger was the reason for a change in Scotland than for a change in England. For the whole of Scotland forty-five Members were returned: thirty for the counties, and fifteen for the boroughs; one of the latter being for the Scotch metropolis, and the other fourteen being for the other boroughs in sets. So far the matter was plain, and he would only remark, that the number of voters were far from being sufficient either for counties or boroughs, and that the kind of delegation which prevailed in returning the Members for the boroughs was one of the worst systems that could prevail anywhere. For both of these evils the present Bill provided an ample, and, he hoped, a sufficient remedy. One great objection to the system of delegation was, that in its principle and in its working, it involved the monstrous absurdity, that a comparatively small minority might overrule the majority. This was always the case wherever the system of intermediate election prevailed, as had been exemplified in France. Suppose there were four boroughs, and he took them in even numbers, for the sake of simplifying the illustration, and that in each borough there were 100 voters: each of these boroughs appointed a delegate to vote for the Member; three of the delegates might have each but fifty-one votes, or a bare majority, and yet these three delegates would have the power to determine the election, so 57 that the Member might be elected by 153 voters out of 400, and in opposition to the votes and wishes of the majority of 247. But, suppose the number of the boroughs were five, as it usually was, then the 153 out of the 500 voters might carry the election against a majority of 347, which rendered the absurdity still greater. This, perhaps, did not very frequently happen, but it had happened in many cases, and it was a power which the minority ought not to have. Add to this, that when influence was to be exercised, it might often be thought an easier method to influence the delegate than the voters. But that he would pass over. He came now to the right of voting, according to the present system, for the counties and boroughs, as to which he wished to say a few words. Among those who had made it their pursuit to dive into the antiquarian history of Scotland from the remotest times, some dispute prevailed as to whether there ever was such a thing in Scotland as a popular election; but it was clear, that from the earliest period to which any historical records extended, there never was in Scotland a popular elective system, nor anything like it, either for county or borough. There never was anything approaching to what an Englishman, Welshman, or an Irishman, would understand by a popular election. That there had been elections in Scotland there could be no doubt; but then they were like elections in England for close or nomination boroughs, now happily at an end, and in this manner were the whole forty-five Members elected. First, as to the elections for counties, his noble friend (the Earl of Haddington), when presenting a petition for a compensation to a charity, had occasion to call their Lordships' attention to the nature of superiorities, or the qualification of those who elected the county Members, or Commissioners for shires, and his noble friend had felt the difficulty of giving such an explanation of what was meant by them as their Lordships could understand. He felt the same difficulty, and hardly knew how to express himself, so as to place the subject clearly and distinctly under their Lordships' view. But, instead of giving a definition of what a superiority was, he would try what he could do, by describing, as an illustration, something that would come nearly up to the idea of a superiority. Suppose, then, a manor in England in which the lord had parted with 58 all manorial rights—in which he had no waste, no quit rents, but merely a pepper-corn fine from a copyhold, and as to which, in short, he was stript of all beneficial interest whatever. Let their Lordships figure to themselves a lord of a manor of this description, and they would have some idea of a Scotch superior, and a superiority. The superior might have a vassal, and a feu duty, but that feu duty might be only a pepper-corn, and to the vassal might belong the entire real and beneficial interest in the property, on which the superior might not have a right to set a foot without being a trespasser. In this manner their Lordships might form for themselves the abstract idea of a superiority, or of the dominium directum, as contradistinguished from the dominium utile. To put another example—suppose the case of a lease in perpetuity—and there were such cases—with an annual payment to the lessor of a pepper-corn; the lessor and the lessee in that case might enable their Lordships to form some idea of the superior and the vassal. The superior had the feu duty, but he might release that duty to the vassal for a pepper-corn, and then the vassal had the entire right of property in the soil, and the superior had nothing but the hare and naked right of voting. Not but that a superior might have the right of property in the soil as well as the superiority. But he had the vote—not on account of his right to the soil, but on account of the bare superiority. So that there was, in fact no exaggeration in the statement of him who had asserted that it might happen, that every one of the thirty Members for the Scotch counties might be returned by the Jews of Lombard-street, without the slightest interest ill the soil, or the right to enter upon a single foot of land in these counties. So much for the county Members. And he might add, that the argument was the stronger for a change in this state of things, when it was considered in what a limited number of hands the votes were placed. There was the county of Argyle, for instance, in which were 100,000 inhabitants; and there the number of voters was 113; and of the 113, there were eighty-four who had no property whatever in the county, twenty-nine voters only being connected with the soil. There was also a small county which sent a Member to Parliament alternately with another county—the county of the Isle of Bute, 59 in which the voters were twenty-one in all, and of the twenty-one, only one voter was connected with the land in the county. The county of Caithness had 60,000 inhabitants, and forty voters, and thirty-six out of the forty had no connexion with the properly in the county. He would not go through the whole of the counties in order to show in what condition they stood in regard to their voters, but he would take ten of these counties, and in these the whole number of voters was 610, of whom 446 had no landed property, but merely the ideal votes, and only 162 had property in the counties for which they had the votes. Among these ten counties was the metropolitan county, for he had not selected the ten smallest counties. The county of Edinburgh was included, which had 580,000 inhabitants. To refer to the towns: three-and-thirty voters chose the fraction of a Member for Glasgow, for Glasgow was united to other boroughs. Edinburgh, too, had only thirty-three voters to return its Member, and these were not elected by the inhabitants. There were in Scotland sixty-four boroughs, arranged in fourteen sets, and on an average there were not above twenty-one electors to each Member. There was a sort of election among the inhabitants, who elected those who elected the Member. This was another species of the delegation to which he objected. The delegates were not even chosen by the Guilds or Trades, but the members of the Corporation elected one another. In ancient times, elections were on a different footing; though antiquaries were not agreed as to what was the extent of the right of election. It went, however, once much further than at present. In 1469 an Act was passed for altering and limiting the right of elections. The preamble of that Act stated, that because great clamour arose from a multitude of simple persons, "who were thought not to have any right, it was resolved, that the old Corporation should choose the officers, the Guilds having reserved to them the right of choosing the Deacons." In Edinburgh there were twenty Deacons, and thirteen old Deacons and Bailies. Those to whom some power was given wanted more, and the twenty made up the Leets, as they were called, and so engrossed the whole power into the hands of the Town Councils. This was not intended. In Edinburgh the Council chose twenty of the Council, and 60 interfered in choosing the other thirteen; so that not even the Trades or the Guilds, the select parts of the Trades, had anything like an effectual right to interfere with the elections. Nothing could be worse than the system of Scotch county elections; but the system of borough elections was a fit companion for its sister. The Bill he was about to propose the second reading of, assumed that this system could be improved; that it was possible to make it worse he would not assert; but it was difficult to imagine a system more hostile to every principle of Representation than this. As to this system, it was not ancient; if antiquity could hold out against reason, it did not give to this system the grace of its sanction. He did not say that there was ever a popular system of Representation in Scotland; but anterior to the accession of the House of Stuart, there were something like elections, at which all those who owed suit and service took part. He would not, however, enter into those obscure parts of the ancient history of Scotland. He would only say, that in remote times the feudal Parliament of Scotland resembled that of England, though it sooner departed from that form. Where veneration was challenged for the antiquity of the Scotch Parliament he refused the appeal; because in England it was fixed in its principles, though it might vary from age to age, changing only a little from century to century; but in Scotland the history of the Parliament was one of quick, great, he might say, violent and fundamental changes. There was in it no abiding principle. The noble and learned Lord referred, at some length, to the history of Scotland, to show, both as to the right of voting, the duration of Parliament, and the persons elected, that the Scotch system had been continually changed. The noble and learned Lord also quoted several successive statutes, showing the manner in which the people were relieved from any concern in electing Members for the Parliament, but were called to nominate Commissioners. In 1681 a great change was made in the number of county Members, which totally overthrew the balance that before existed between the county and borough Members; the county Members having been then increased more than two-thirds. The Parliament which existed at the time of the Union, was a most extraordinary legislative body, for it had no 61 fixed duration; lasting at one time only one Session, while the Parliament of King-William 3rd lasted eight Sessions. This Parliament was completely under the control of the Lords of the Articles. When not sitting, the Parliament intrusted to a sort of Committee the whole power of making laws. It was painful to look back upon the deeds of this Parliament, as affording a melancholy picture of the barbarous state of society in that part of the kingdom. He would only remind their Lord-ships, that sedition, and attending conventicles, were punished with death, as treason. Torture was the law of the land till the latter end of the reign of King William. In the middle of the sixteenth century, a law, which actually existed even at present, was placed in the Statute-book, though it had fallen into desuetude, by which, whoever, not being a nobleman, should shoot wild-fowl, should suffer death, and forfeit all his goods and chattels, which were to be given to whoever should sue for the same. The noble and learned Lord next referred to the fact, that the lesser Barons had staid away from Parliament so long, that it was doubted whether they had any right to attend, and they petitioned to have that right restored. To sum up, he would say, that any argument used in defence of the English system must fail as applied to Scotland. The great argument as to the English system was, that it went on well, notwithstanding the anomalies it contained in theory. When it was said, that Birmingham was not represented—that Bath was only represented by those who were not elected by the people, the answer always was, that these unrepresented towns were safe, in the represented towns in their neighbourhood having the same interest as themselves. That argument had long prevented Reform in this country; but it failed entirely as to Scotland, for in that country there was no represented place whatever. These evils the Bill proposed to amend. It proposed at first to do away with delegation. The noble and learned Lord explained, that the Bill gave Members to Edinburgh and Glasgow; it gave the right of voting to the electors in counties consisting of 10l. holders of land; it adopted a machinery of reg ration, similar to, though somewhat different from that adopted for England. In Scotland the want of the machinery of English Poor laws made another system necessary. 62 Scotland had a parish school system, and the parish schoolmaster was to supply the place of the overseer in England. In England, registration was placed under barristers, and here it had been found necessary, which he regretted very much, to invest the Judges with the power of appointing these barristers; he objected much to this, as increasing the power of the Crown; but necessity compelled them to adopt it. Scotland happily stood under other circumstances. It had a sys-tem of local judicature, and local Judges—the system of which he hoped to see extended to England—and the Bill, taking the advantage of that circumstance, intrusted those duties to the Sheriffs of Scotland which were here intrusted to the barristers. He would not enter further into the particulars. He apologized to their Lordships for troubling them so much on such a dry, though it was such an important subject. He should be repaid for the trouble he had taken, if he should have rendered this dry subject at all interesting to their Lord-ships. He should move that the Bill be read a second time.
The Earl of Haddington
said, that his noble and learned friend had begun by stating, that those who had opposed Reform in general, would be guilty of no inconsistency in supporting this Bill, after the English Reform Bill had passed. It seemed to him that the state of the House, and the appearance of the benches around him, rendered that appeal unnecessary, and showed that there was no sort of opposition intended to the second reading of this Bill. The case was quite altered by the change which had been made in the law relating to England, and although he was in no wise influenced by the arguments which had been employed in favour of Reform in general, he should not object to this Bill. He was no greater friend to the old constitution of the Parliament of Scotland than his noble and learned friend, who had devoted a considerable portion of his speech to an exposure of its defects, but if ever a people felt grief, indignation and sorrow, it was the Scotch, at the loss of that Parliament. He saw near the Woolsack a noble Lord, whose ancestor was distinguished by the celebrated and eloquent speech he made in behalf of the ancient Constitution of Scotland. The bad laws the noble and learned Lord had mentioned, were as much a proof of the barbarous state of 63 the time, as that the Parliament of Scotland was a bad legislative institution. That Parliament had passed many bad acts, but it had passed several good laws, and, amongst them, one which a noble friend of his had once considered as nearly equal to the Habeas Corpus Act of England—he alluded to the Act "Anent wrongous Imprisonment." Though he knew that there was no popular representation in Scotland, yet he had aways considered that the county Members of Scotland represented the landed interest fairly and fully; as to the fifteen borough Members, no doubt they were now returned by close Corporations, and it was impossible to say that, when any change took place in the Scotch system of Representation, that branch could be allowed to remain precisely as it now existed. In considering the alterations made in the Representation of Scotland, however, by the present Bill, the first question was, whether justice was done to Scotland by it? By the Act of Union, forty-five Members was the number allotted to Scotland; but that bargain had been made with a view to the then existing state of the English Representation. It was felt that Scotch Gentlemen would be enabled to find their way into the House of Commons by means of English boroughs; and it was impossible not to perceive that in that indirect way Scotland had a much larger share in the Representation than she could now have with fifty-three Scotch Members, the facility of getting into Parliament for English boroughs being so much diminished. The inevitable tendency of the English Reform Bill was to localize the interests, and to preclude the chance, or at least to limit it extremely, of persons connected with Scotland being able to find their way into Parliament through the English boroughs. If this circumstance were taken into consideration, he thought that it would appear that Scotland, with her own forty-five Members, added to those Members representing her interests, who obtained admission to the House of Commons, possessed more influence in Parliament than she would obtain by the fifty-three Members whom this Bill proposed to give her. With reference to the principles on which the English Bill was founded, and upon which the general question of Reform had been argued, he certainly was of opinion, that Scotland was entitled to greater consideration than she had obtained from 64 Ministers. In the first place, the population of Scotland bore a larger proportion to the population of England than the Representation of Scotland bore to the Representation of England; the same statement might be made with respect to taxation and real property. In England the proportion of county Members was as one to every 25,000 county voters, whilst in Scotland there would be on an average, only one county Member to every 44,000 county constituents. The people of Scotland had a right to demand, and he had heard no arguments, and saw no reason why Scotland should not be allowed to partake fully of all the benefits which were expected to flow from the change about to be made in the Representation of the United Kingdom. There was one objection made to the present measure, in which he could not agree. Their Lordships were aware that, at the Union, it was settled that Scotland should have thirty county Members, and fifteen borough Members, and it was now complained that the proportion of borough Members was about to be increased—the number in the new Bill being twenty-three, whilst the number of county Members remained at thirty. Considering the great increase of wealth, intelligence, and population in the towns of Scotland, he confessed he did not think the objection a valid one, or that the proportion of borough Members was too great. He did complain, however, that, by means of the new qualification introduced by the Bill, the Representation of five or six of the counties of Scotland would be taken away from the landed interest, and placed in the hands of the manufacturing population, whilst in the remaining counties, the voters in towns would compete with the agricultural voters in a way which he believed the framers of the Bill had not contemplated. He feared that this would have the pernicious effect of creating a division of classes in Scotland, It was not wise nor fair towards the landed interest that they should be overborne in the counties by the votes of persons resident in towns, and having no connexion with the landed interest. In his opinion, those who framed the Bill ought to have laid the foundation of the county constituency in the possession of landed property, and then they might have made the qualification 10l. or 5l. as might be deemed most advisable. As the Bill now stood, however, he did not think 65 the landed interest of Scotland would I be sufficiently represented. Another complaint was, the manner in which the Universities of Scotland were neglected. He should only ask, why it was, that the University of Dublin should have an additional Member granted to it, and should hereafter return two Members, whilst the four Universities of Scotland were left without any Representation? It would only have been justice to the Universities of Scotland, to have allowed them to return at least one Member; and he should certainly feel it his duty to call their Lordships' attention more particularly to this point when the Bill went into Committee. He had risen on this occasion without in tending to offer any opposition to the second reading, and merely because he thought it would have seemed strange if no one connected with Scotland had spoken on a question of so much importance to that country. Many noble Lords had, no doubt, absented themselves, being aware that no opposition was intended to be given at this stage of the Bill. When it got into Committee, however, he hoped to see the benches present a different appearance, as several important improvements would certainly be proposed.
thought, the noble Earl had put a wrong interpretation upon the speech delivered by his (Lord Belhaven) ancestor, who, he was sure, intended as his whole conduct had shown, to bestow no praise on the ancient constitution of Scotland. He might be allowed, as he was on his legs, to add, that he gave the Bill his most cordial support, believing that it would promote the real interests of Scotland.
The Earl of Rosebery
said, that the observation which fell from the noble Earl who had just sal down, that it would appear singular if Peers connected with Scotland took no part in the present discussion, as well as the deep interest he felt in the question, would, he hoped, excuse him with the House for briefly stating the view he took of the necessity and sound policy of the measure now recommended to their Lordships, and of the futility of those arguments employed against it, which though, in some respects, specious, appeared to him either unfounded, inconclusive, or much exaggerated. The noble Earl, it was true, had not, on the present occasion, resorted to a favourite objection 66 to a change in the Parliamentary Representation of Scotland, grounded on the vast improvement which had taken place in the condition of that country, under the system which now prevailed there, but as he and others, in the incidental discussions which had occurred, frequently made use of this reasoning, he must advert to it for a few moments. He thought that those who urged this fact as an argument against the proposed change, were either ignorant themselves of the means by which a great and beneficial end had been accomplished, or practising on the ignorance of others, deluded them with this idea for the sake of obtaining their political support. It was only necessary to look to the state of Scotland, when a separate kingdom, under the unmixed dominion of that species of Representation which was peculiarly her own, to see what evils it produced, and what good it was the means of preventing. If their Lordships would turn to the history of that country, from the Restoration to the Union, they would perceive, that a legislature so constructed, committed, or connived at acts of injustice, cruelty, despotism and treachery, which would disgrace the annals of any government, while the legislative proceedings which were good in themselves, produced no good fruit, in consequence of the universal depression and poverty of the people, occasioned either by the direct conduct of their Parliament, or by the latter exercising no control over the executive government, which thus became, at once, arbitrary and corrupt. The advocates of such a system of Representation as this, were in fact, hostile to any real Representation, of which this had scarcely a semblance, and none of its spirit, or effect. Besides other great evils, it was the cause of a reproach (undoubtedly an unjust and prejudiced one), frequently made against the political character of the Scotch and—by the small number, and description of many of the electors, led to a mode of acting which contaminated both them and those who were elected to the other House, who he had heard ludicrously called the accredited agents of those who chose them to the Treasury, Admiralty, and War Office, rather than Representatives of the people. In the burghs, besides this kind of political servility, as they were all close corporations, or nearly so, it frequently alienated, or set them in direct opposition to the wishes or interests 67 of the inhabitants, and, in a contest for a Member, led to the most shameful and corrupting bribery. This system, therefore, was bad in every particular belonging to it—greatly to be deprecated on account of its effects; and it would have been quite intolerable if it had been the only mode of Representation known in the kingdom. It was indispensable to have it now completely changed, when a great alteration was adopting to improve what was defective in the Representation of England. But although, for the reasons he had given, the prosperous condition of Scotland could not be ascribed to her peculiar political system, it was principally owing to the great and rapid advancement which the people of that country had made, that they could no longer remain satisfied with it, but implored, with intense anxiety and earnestness, a total change in the system of their elections. It was undoubtedly in consequence of the vast increase of wealth—of the extension of knowledge and intelligence among all classes—of the augmentation of the middle order in number and power—of the desire to share in political privileges by the smaller proprietors, at present excluded from such rights—that a feeling in favour of Parliamentary Reform, and of obtaining a real Representation in the House of Commons had become so intense and general, among the people of Scotland. The Government, therefore, had, in his opinion, acted most wisely, with regard to Scotland, in making a complete change in this respect, and assimilating in principle, the Representation of both divisions of the Island: and when the noble Earl who spoke last complained that Scotland was ill-treated in the small number of additional Representatives given to her, although he should have been glad if more could have been granted, he thought that England had acted most liberally on this point, when, out of a partial disfranchisement of some of her own boroughs, she gratuitously conferred eight additional Members on Scotland. The noble Earl had also pressed earnestly for Representatives being given to the Scottish Universities, an object which he originally had been as desirous to obtain for them—at least, to the extent of one Member for the four—as the noble Earl; but now when the full number of the House of Commons was filled up, to increase which, he trusted, would never 68 be thought of, he saw it was impossible to give a Representative to the Universities, without depriving some other place of one, possessing stronger claims, and he was reluctantly compelled to abandon what he had long wished to see accomplished. To revert to the general measure, the questions to be solved in the consideration of it were, first, whether in its principle and provisions, it carried the seeds of danger within it; and next, whether such a Parliamentary Reform in Scotland would occasion any retrograde movement, or keep that country even in a stationary condition; with regard to all, or any of her great and fundamental interests. Believing that any risk to be incurred was grounded rather upon apprehensions arising out of the magnitude of the change, than from what it was proposed to enact, and, above all, being convinced that any evils which might follow, would not only be trifling in themselves, but as nothing compared to the danger and mischief which would ensue from not passing this measure, he could see no cause for alarm, but much to give assurance for the future, by its adoption. Then, again, so far from undermining the sources of prosperity, or arresting the progress of improvements in Scotland, he would venture to affirm that by the contentment and happiness which Reform would diffuse, and the new feelings of self-respect and laudable ambition which it would excite among the intelligent, the energies of the people would increase, and all those causes which had hitherto produced such beneficial effects in that country, would remain not merely with undiminished vigour, but would acquire additional force.
said, on the principle just laid down by his noble relative, on the other side, and acknowledged by his noble friend below him, that every Scotchman who felt an interest in his country, should express his opinions on the present measure, he had to request their Lordships' attention, for he had not, hitherto, had an opportunity of stating his opinion on this momentous question of Reform. The opinion, indeed, of a Scotch Representative might be matter of little concern to the people of England, but not so to the people of Scotland on the present occasion. They had now turned their eyes from their Representatives in the other House of Parliament—if such they might be called—and their whole attention and 69 regard was fixed with the deepest anxiety on their Lordships' House, but more especially on the Representatives of their ancient Peerage, of that Peerage whose greatest glory was identified of old with the history of that people, and to which Peerage those people had from time immemorial, been accustomed to look up with veneration and respect. He entreated his noble countrymen, as many of them as might differ from him on the present question, to beware that they did not forfeit that veneration and respect. He entreated of his noble friends, at once to renounce their antiquated opinions, and this night to do an act of grace and of courtesy—or rather an act of justice to their fellow-countrymen—to those persons who had raised the character of their ancient kingdom to a pitch of eminence for intelligence and moral worth, to which he did not hesitate to say, that no other country in the world had ever yet arrived. Scotland had been eulogized over and over again within the walls of that House, as the best-conditioned country in Europe; but he would ask, had this condition arisen from the close boroughs, the 400l. superiorities, and the paper votes? No; he flattered himself that the genius of his country had towered with aspiring wing far above those shameful parts of her Constitution, which were left uncorrected at there Revolution; the industry, the intelligence, and moral worth of Scotland, had arisen from those fair Reforms in Church and State, effected by the best blood of her sons, from the reign of the unfortunate Mary to the demise of her bigotted descendant, the Seventh James; but the work was not completed: notwithstanding which it was to those reforms—partial though they might be—that Scotland was indebted for that amount of intelligence and moral worth which marked the character of his countrymen at the present day, and which had raised them to that pitch of eminence among the nations for which they were so justly eulogized. He would ask, then, how could they any longer deny to such men the reasonable privilege of a voice in the nomination of their own Representatives? It was impossible. Whatever, therefore, might have been their Lordships opinions in times past, they were under present circumstances, at full liberty to renounce those opinions, and thus to meet the wishes of their countrymen in a spirit of 70 conciliation and regard. He would say this for himself, that he had never yet experienced in his own breast one single sentiment in opposition to those wishes, because he believed them to be founded on the basis of eternal justice, and he felt not the slightest doubt or cold-hearted hesitation as to the result—his confidence was in the people. Like many of their Lordships he had long seen not only the necessity, but the gradual approach of this Reform in Parliament; at the same time he must honestly confess, that his preconceived ideas—for he had neither theory nor wishes on the subject—had not led him to anticipate the full extent of the present measure. He had had neither the wisdom nor the experience to suggest so great a measure; but, having seen it, he willingly gave up his own ideas, for one moment's consideration assured him, that the people of Scotland could no longer be left behind the people of England in the exercise or in the enjoyment of any one political privilege. He, therefore, tendered his best thanks to that united Administration, which, with inflexibility of purpose, had already effected so great a consummation. A great deal had been said, about re-action, and that the Yeomanry of Scotland were altogether indifferent to the measure. He most positively denied the assertion, for his experience among the yeomen convinced him of the contrary; at the same time he was willing to confess that where so many of the landed proprietors had evinced such a determined hostility to the present measure, that, out of regard to their prejudices—out of respect to their persons as old friends—but, above all, under a thorough conviction that the great measure would work its own way, in spite of every obstacle and of every objection—the Yeomen had not, on all occasions evinced that degree of energy in favour of the cause which had been so remarkable among other classes of the people; but, to tell him that they did not require it—that they would not have it—and, above all, that they were not deeply anxious for it—whoever could entertain an opinion of that sort, at the present day, must be labouring under a degree of aberration or of mental delusion, which could only arise from the most unaccountable amount of prejudice and of error. Supposing that their opponents no longer denied the wishes of the people, they next took their stand on 71 the fitness or propriety of the present concession. With respect to the Yeomen or Tenantry of the country, he would ask, if they were not men of capital, some of them of considerable capital, and others, indeed, of very great capital, all of which was invested in the properties of their Lordships and others—their whole stock was amalgamated with their Lordships' own—their interests were identified and indivisible—they mounted their horses and drew their swords in defence of their property and their Lordships' own—they were the legitimate military force of a free country—they were men possessed of great wealth and of great power in the state—he would then, ask, was it any longer possible to deny to such men a voice in choosing the Representatives of so much wealth and of such great power? It would be as unjust as it was impossible. Then, again, there were the merchants, shopkeepers, middle classes of all descriptions, down to the humble and industrious artizan, who himself aspired to become a shopkeeper, and then a merchant—as many of them had been, and were at the present day—could their wealth be denied? Why, he had heard it said, that the wealth of these men would purchase the whole wealth of the Peerage a thousand times over; and he believed the fact—or did they deny their power, or the multiplied increase of that power, through the means of political combinations? It was impossible, he therefore contended, that they could longer deny to these men the privilege which was now to be given them. Then, again, there was the mob; they were in many places numerous—at all times prone to wickedness—but as a party in the State, when left to themselves, they were utterly contemptible. But if the wealthy and respectable classes were denied the privilege in question, they were identified with the mob. And where was the Peerage—far less the faction of a Peerage—which could withstand the rush of such a torrent? But, on the other hand, if a timely concession were granted to the Yeomen and middle classes of society, they would be rescued from the contact and contamination of the mob, withdrawn, as it were, upwards to the higher classes and from enemies be converted into friends. With respect to the principle of this measure as well as a great part of its details it had his warmest approbation and support. It did not af- 72 fect one single prerogative of the Crown, neither did it deprive their Lordships of one single legitimate privilege. If it affected the constitutional rights of either the one party or the other, this measure should have none of his support. The subject was, in fact, reduced to the plain simple question between the people and their representatives, in which the Peers, in his opinion, had little or no concern; therefore, that House ought only to interpose their authority to protect the rights of the Crown, and their own peculiar privileges; but, in doing so, they should also be particularly careful not to give cause of offence to those people and to those Representatives, in a matter, in which they had but little right of parliamentary interference. He deprecated, that interference, especially after two such majorities in the other House of Parliament. Consequently, not only Scotland in the present instance, but the whole United Kingdom, had his best wishes and support in connexion with the present measure. A noble and learned friend of his, whom he was sorry not to see in his place on the present occasion, took an opportunity of saying, on a former night, that no true Scotchman—no Scotchman who loved his country—could support the present Bill. He begged to assure his noble friend, that he (Lord Napier) was one of those Scotchmen who dared love his country—aye better than any other country—and, during his wanderings he had visited a few—nay, more—with all their imperfections on their heads, which were neither few nor small, he gloried in the name and character of a Scotchman; and it was for that love and glory which he felt and entertained towards his country, and for that perfect confidence which he reposed in the integrity and good sense of his countrymen, that he now offered his most anxious and heartfelt support to the Bill on their Lordships' Table. He would not take up their Lordships' time in attempting to point out the abominations of the present system. He could not forget the effect which was produced on his own mind by the first general election which he witnessed in Scotland on his return to his native country, after many years' absence in his Majesty's service. The first impression was sufficient to satisfy him that such things could not last, because the time of peace had arrived, and the people had leisure to inquire into the state of their 73 own affairs. He had not been deceived in his anticipations; that night (if it had not received it before) would give the deathblow to that system—which, however, well it might have worked, was not the origin of our prosperity, for the country throve in spite of it. Neither would he attempt to point out the advantages—the unforeseen advantages, which must arise from the present change—because he conceived, that to those who had fully made up their minds against it, common sense and experience were alike thrown away; but as a responsible person—as responsible to the noble Peers who sent him to their Lordships' House, and as responsible to his country in general—he had thought it his duty so far to record his opinions on the present subject. He had addressed himself more particularly to his noble countrymen on the other side—to his noble brothers in the Representation—they were twelve on that side of the House, to four upon this—and where were they? He called upon them to come forward and refute every sentiment he had expressed; and if they could do so to his conviction, he promised them his support; but if they could not do so—if they could not prove, that their countrymen were not the people he had described them to be—if they could not contradict everything that had been said, now, or here to fore in their behalf—if they could not prove that they were unworthy of the privilege, and incapable of exercising it—then his noble friends were bound, on every principle of honour and of justice, to support their countrymen and the present Bill.
The Earl of Haddington,
wished it to be understood, that no person could more cordially approve than he did of the proposition for extending the right of voting to that most respectable body of men the tenantry of Scotland.
§ Bill read a second time.