The Earl of Haddington
rose, pursuant to notice, to present a Petition relative to the effect which the Scotch Reform Bill was calculated to have upon lands belonging to 52 Charitable Institutions in Scotland. The petitioners complained, that certain charitable institutions with which they were officially connected, would suffer considerable loss in consequence of some of the provisions of the Bill then before their Lordships' House, for effecting a Reform in the Representation of Scotland. It appeared that a Mr. Shaw, of Prescot, had devised his whole property, to which were attached a number of superiorities, in furtherance of charitable purposes. The value of those superiorities would be prejudicially affected by the proposed alteration in the representative system of Scotland. The petitioners argued, that such a proceeding was contrary to justice. They, therefore, prayed for compensation, and called on their Lordships to hear them by counsel at their Lordships' bar, in support of their claim. He was auxious to make a few observations; but he despaired of being able to render intelligible to an assembly of English gentlemen, the distinction between that interest in land which in Scotland was called "dominium directum" and that which was called "dominium utile:" he would endeavour to illustrate it, by a comparison between the actual possession, and the holding in capite. The "dominium directum" in Scotland, was as much a real property as any other estate in land. It was as much actual property as the actual possession of the land itself could confer, and it was often a source of considerable profit, for large sums were frequently paid upon the issuing of charters: indeed, superiorities had often been sold for several hundred pounds; and in Scotland it was customary for a man to sell the estate, and retain the superiority. In 1681, by an Act of the Scotch Parliament, the privilege of voting at county elections was conferred upon those who held direct from the Crown. In whom that privilege previously resided he was not sufficiently conversant with the subject to be able to inform their Lordships; but it was wholly unimportant to the matter now in hand. Let it have been what it might then, and what it might now, the Parliament was not thereby precluded from legislating in any manner which the public good might require. If the public good demanded that a great change be made in the mode of exercising this privilege, and in the persons who were to be intrusted with it, it did, however, become the justice and good policy of Parliament to consider that this was a 53 vested right, and that For a lung lime past it had been a vested right, that it had been purchased and sold, and that, under the faith of legislative enactments, it had been devised to heirs. By the Reform measure, between 3,000 and 4,000 qualifications for voting for Members of Parliament would be put an end to; now, taking these at the market price of 400l. each, there would be a confiscation of 1,200,000l. By the law of Scotland, this species of property was considered real property; and the then measure before the House, it was very evident, would invade, and greatly deteriorate that property. He did not say, that the right of voting was property, but it had been so connected with property that it could not be separated at present without injuring property. It was, he conceived, a subject that well deserved the serious consideration of the House.
The Earl of Rosebery
said, as he was not present when, on a former occasion, a noble Earl, the Lord-lieutenant of Linlithgowshire, had presented a similar petition, he should take this opportunity of stating his opinion on the claims put forth, in each case, by the petitioners. He did not think that they had any ground, or shadow of ground, for the compensation which they claimed. They asserted, that, by the measure of Reform then before the House, certain charitable funds were likely to be deteriorated. But the real question was much more extensive. The point to be considered was, whether the measure contemplated was a measure of justice to all parties. The petitioners laid claim to a particular privilege—a privilege which, after due consideration, Parliament thought had not been exercised for the general good. Therefore, they took away the right of voting which those superiorities conferred, and placed it in the hands of those by whom they supposed that it would be beneficially exercised. There were three points connected with superiorities. The first referred to casualties, and as that involved property, it was not interfered with. The second had reference to titles, and the simplifying the conveyance of property; that was admitted to be useful, and was not touched at all. The third referred to the simple naked right of voting. Now, it was unquestionably the duty of Parliament to look to that right, to see whether it was or was not properly exercised; and, if Parliament were of 54 opinion that it was not correctly exercised, Parliament had the undoubted right to take it away from those by whom it was held. The only precedent for compensation in cases of this kind which could be found, was at the period of the Irish Union; and, in his opinion, such a precedent was rather to be avoided than followed. The compensation given at that time was not so much granted on a principle of justice to those who required it, as it was agreed to as a means to effect more readily that great national and political object, the Union with Ireland. The noble Earl had argued that the Reform Bill would be the cause of confiscation of property to an incredible amount. He could not assent to this proposition, when he saw that the Bill only referred to the mere abstract right of voting, and the interest of the individual possessing that right, but, at the same time, having no real or beneficial interest in the property from which it was derived. The right of voting would certainly be destroyed, but no real or beneficial interest in the property, would be in any manner affected.
§ The Earl of Aberdeen
maintained, that those superiorities were as much property, in the eye of the law, as the land possessed by the noble Earl. If there were any doubt on the subject, the simple way of setting the question at rest was, to state to their Lordships what the Legislature had said on the subject. Now, in point of fact, Acts of Parliament could be quoted in which these superiorities were considered to be property, as much as any property in land. The noble Earl said, that no instance of compensation could be pointed out, except in the case of the proprietors of Irish boroughs. He (the Earl of Aberdeen), however, contended, that there were other cases of compensation. There was the case of compensation for heritable jurisdictions. In that instance, superiorities were exempted, because they were considered as being enjoyed on the right of property. This very fact gave a claim to superiorities, for they were described as possessing all the rights of property, and the doctrine had been recognised over and over again as legal.
The Earl of Rosebery
had recognised that Superiorities were property, but nut the right of voting connected with them.
The Earl of Minto
said, with reference to the Act of Parliament which the noble Earl (the Earl of Aberdeen) opposite had quoted in support of his assertion, that the 55 Superiorities were recognised by the Legislature, that the word Superiorities was inconsiderately and hastily introduced into that Act of Parliament, and that its sole meaning there was the same with the words heritable jurisdictions, it being considered, when introduced in the Act, to convey synonymous rights with those of the heritable jurisdictions.
§ The Petition laid on the Table.