HL Deb 24 May 1832 vol 13 cc19-32

On the Motion of Earl Grey, the House went into Committee on the Reform of Parliament (England) Bill.

On the 18th Clause being moved,

The Marquess of Salisbury

said, that having further considered this clause, he must beg to call upon the noble and learned Lord opposite, in compliance with his promise of last night, to expunge this clause altogether.

The Lord Chancellor

had pledged himself to amend, not to expunge the clause; and he was now prepared to insert such words as he thought would remove the objections that had been raised. The words which he proposed to add to the proviso would effectually preserve the rights of bona fide freeholders.

Lord Wynford

admitted, that the noble and learned Lord's amendment would get rid of a considerable part of the difficulty, but thought it desirable to embody with that amendment a proviso, requiring the estate to have been originally granted for three lives. This would do away with the possibility of granting freeholds, merely for election purposes on very aged single lives; and he thought, taken with the Lord Chancellor's amendment, it would go a great way to correct an acknowledged evil, which he admitted, however, it was almost impossible to put an end to altogether.

The Clause, as amended, was agreed to.

The 19th, the 20th, the 21st, the 22nd, and the 23rd Clauses were agreed to, and ordered to stand parts of the Bill.

On the motion that the 24th Clause, which enacts that no person shall be entitled to vote at the election of members to serve for any county, in respect of any freehold house or premises, occupied by himself, which would confer on him the right of voting for members to serve for any city or borough, stand part of the Bill,

Lord Wharncliffe rose

to propose an Amendment. He said, that the present clause had been introduced in another place, as noble Lords might be aware, by hon. Gentlemen who were unfavourable generally to the Bill itself, and as he was not himself generally unfavourable to the Bill, he trusted he might be allowed to state his objections to this clause, and in doing so, such was the state of the House at the present moment, he should not trouble their Lordships at any great length. He begged to remind noble Lords, that when it was sought to enfranchise large towns, which he regarded as containing the democracy of the country, their Lordships should, at the same time, take care not, in doing so, to interfere with the interests of the agriculturist or aristocratic interests of the country. It was a principle of the Constitution that each interest should send its separate Representatives to Parliament. By this clause, however, a great preponderance would be given to the influence of residents in towns in the election of Members for counties. Even as the law now stood, that influence was too great; and in support of that opinion, he must remind the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack of his own declaration. The noble and learned Lord said, on March 28th, 'His noble friend had alluded to his canvass in the county of York. But he begged to remind his noble friend, that he had never thought of canvassing the squires, though he had taken great care to canvass the town. Indeed, the squires were at first violently opposed to him, as most of his best friends always had been, and among the squires of Yorkshire he had the honour of boasting many friends. The squires actually held a meeting for the purpose of preventing his standing. But he was bound to add, that when they found they could not do that, the meeting ended in an invitation to him to offer himself as a candidate. However, he had not placed any dependence upon the squires; all his reliance was upon the towns, for they were sure to carry the election.'* That was not a proper state of things. These towns had now too much influence over the elections for the counties, and it was quite wrong to leave any of that influence to the towns when it was proposed to give them Representatives of their own. That was done, however, by the present Bill. It was true, that the Bill provided that the occupiers of houses of 10l. value should have a vote for the town in which it was situated, but *Hansard, (third series), vol. iii, p. 1063 those who lived in houses which they hired, of that value, and at the same time had houses of that value, which they did not occupy themselves, would be entitled to vote in respect of the premises they occupied for the town, and in respect of the freehold they did not occupy for the county. That was, in his opinion, wrong, and he should therefore propose, instead of the clause as it stood, a clause to the following effect, as being much better, and more definite—"That notwithstanding any thing hereinbefore contained, no person shall be entitled to vote in the election of any Knight or Knights of the Shire to serve in any future Parliament, in respect of any estate or interest in any lands, hereditaments, or tenements, situate in any city, town, or borough, entitled to return Members to serve in Parliament." Such a clause as this, he conceived, would prevent that abuse of which he complained—an abuse which was not confined to the county with which he had himself been so long connected (the county of York), but also prevailed in every county in the kingdom—in some, certainly, to a greater extent than in others. He admitted that this would disfranchise many individuals quoad the counties, but then they would retain their franchises for boroughs or towns, and would suffer no injury. He would propose, too, in order to save these rights, "that all persons having a freehold in any town or city, shall, by virtue of that freehold, whether occupied by himself or not, or whether of the value of 10l. or not, have a vote for that town or city." That would, he thought, obviate all such objections. This was no trifling matter, for he was inclined to believe, that the proposed division of counties would tend much to increase the evil of which he complained, unless some definite provision, like his proposed clause, was made in the Bill. He could not avoid instancing the county of Warwick as an example, where the influence of the manufacturing towns, such as Birmingham and Coventry, would predominate much in the county election, without such a provision as that he had named; and it was worthy of note, that it was in these very towns that the Political Unions existed, which had almost gone to the extent of usurping the functions of the Government itself. Staffordshire was an instance similar to Warwickshire, and it would return four Members in the manufacturing interest when it was divided. If the Opposition were right in considering that the Bill gave a preponderance to the manufacturing interest in the House of Commons, the only check was, saying fairly to that part of the country which was not manufacturing, "you shall have the right of choosing Members where other interests shall not interfere." He assured their Lordships that he threw out this suggestion only from the purest intention of making the Bill as perfect as possible. He was quite aware that, in the present state of the country, they (the Opposition) had not the means of forcing any alteration upon the other side, He was not reconciled to the Bill; his opinion of which was, that it went further than the occasion required.

The Lord Chancellor

did justice to the fairness and candour of his noble friend in bringing forward this Motion, which he had stated with admirable temper and moderation. Looking at the subject only in one point of view, as his noble friend had done, he might be disposed to concur with him: but, regarding it in all its bearings—considering what rights were preserved, and what created—what the law was at present, and what compensation was given by the Bill before their Lordships—taking into view the whole of these points, he came to an opposite conclusion. His noble friend had argued as if they were in effect, now first giving the right of voting to all those persons whom he would call 40s. freeholders. But all these persons had at present the right of voting. These persons were, in many counties, very numerous. In a contest for Yorkshire, if you could make sure of two or three large towns, you had an exceeding good chance of being returned for the county. That was the case at present, and it undoubtedly gave a great preponderance to the manufacturing interest. By the 24th section of this Bill, in conjunction with the 25th, a large body of voters was taken out of the mass of voters for the county, depriving them of their right of voting for the county; and by so much it remedied the evil complained of. This was enough to show, that the improvement made by the Bill, in the manner wished by his noble friend, was very large; and the only question was, whether the improvement went as far as it ought to be carried. This reduced the objection against the measure to very narrow limits. The object of his noble friend's Motion was, to go further. But his noble friend had under-rated the amount of the persons taken out of the county. A great proportion of these 40s. freeholders were 10l. householders. Nor had his noble friend taken into view the compensation to the agriculturists, by the creation of several classes of new voters, for the balance in favour of the manufacturing interest caused by the new towns created by the Bill. The alterations made in the right of voting called into existence in every county a large proportion of agricultural voters; for, besides copyholders and leaseholders, tenants-at-will were also allowed to vote. He considered that the agricultural interest, so far from suffering loss, would be greatly benefitted by the Bill. He knew that in the county of York, where the Representation was formerly influenced by the great towns, the six Members would be much more under the control of the landed interest; while in Lancashire, of which he had some knowledge, two out of the four county Members would unquestionably be agricultural. He thought, indeed, that the advantages gained by the landed interest had been much under-rated, rather than over-rated, by the supporters of the Bill. His noble friend, in selecting the county of Warwick, had selected an extreme case, upon which it was not fair to argue. But he could assure his noble friend that he (the Lord Chancellor) had not over-stated, but, had rather under-stated the case, when he said, that in that county two out of the four Members, according to the framing of the Bill, would be persons connected with, dependent upon, and speaking the sentiments of, the agricultural, and not the manufacturing interest. It must not be forgotten that the giving of circuits to towns would also have the effect of taking many persons out of the county, and adding them to the agricultural constituency. But, really it was not politic to talk of these as separate interests. The great advantage of the Bill was, that it held the balance of interests equal, tending to mix and blend them in combination, while it secured a just and effective Representation to the whole.

Lord Wynford

contended, that the noble and learned Lord had not answered one of the objections urged by the noble Baron to the most ruinous portion of the Bill. The noble and learned Lord contended that the agriculturists, so far from being injured, had actually received a boon. He knew not what that boon was, but he saw that the manufacturers had received a boon at the expense of the agriculturists. Were the sixty-five new boroughs nothing in favour of the manufacturers? Already the influence of the towns was great in the election of county Members. It was impossible to look at the late contests in Cambridge and Dorset-shires without seeing the influence of the towns; and how much greater would be that influence after the passing of that Bill, with a clause such as that now before them? How, too, was the clause worded? He would ask the noble and learned Lord, who knew as much of the technicalities used by conveyancers as any man did—he would ask him to look at the clause, and say whether it was not the most loosely worded of any he had ever seen in an Act of Parliament? Let the noble and learned Lord look at the words, "any house, warehouse, or other buildings." Now it might happen according to this clause, that a person might have a vote in a town for his dwelling-house, and a vote for the county in right of his buildings. He would ask, was that double vote just? Was it reasonable? or was it in accordance with the avowed principles of the Bill? Was it right to give a double vote of this kind to voters living in towns, when nearly one-half of the inhabitants of England were altogether excluded from exercising such a privilege, and shut out of the pale of the Constitution? He thought that this was gross injustice. It was possible, indeed, when the Bill passed, that although one-half of the inhabitants of the kingdom had no vote, there might be residents of London who would have votes for London, for Lambeth, and for the county of Surrey, with only one occupancy. These were some of the effects of the Bill. The country had been deluded with respect to it; but he was confident it would not be long before the people from every part of the kingdom would appear at the bar with petitions to be relieved from the effects of this most unequal, unjust, and mischievous measure. He had always been a friend of Reform, always an advocate for extensive Reform in the representative system; but he could not consent to place (as the Bill would if the clause remained) all the agricultural interests of the country at the mercy of the manufacturers. He would have destroyed all corrupt boroughs; all those in which the right of voting had been made an object of sale; but he could not see the propriety of destroying all those boroughs, called nomination boroughs, which had been used as property purely on conservative grounds, and for the preservation of the rights of the landed interests of the country. It was said by the noble and learned Lord, that the agricultural interest would lose nothing: but did the noble and learned Lord not see that it had lost all those boroughs, which, in general, belonged to great landed proprietors, and who always returned Members disposed to support the agricultural interests? He believed it would be found under the new Constitution, that there would not now be a hundred Representatives of the landed interest in the House of Commons. Nothing but ruin could be the result of such arrangements; and if, when he walked out of the House, he knew he was to be hanged to the nearest lamp-iron, he should certainly give his vote against the Bill, if the clause was not amended. The country and the House had been deluded with the hope of amendments being considered in the Committee. Their Lordships had been deceived by the promise that the Government would permit some alterations and modifications in Committee, if they permitted the Bill to be read a second time; and he hoped that all who had been thus deceived and deluded, would see the propriety of doing justice to themselves and to their country, by rejecting the Bill, thus unmodified, when it came to be read for the third time.

The Bishop of London

was not prepared to go along with the noble and learned Lord in his proposition for rejecting the Bill on the third reading, because the offered amendments were not agreed to; but he confessed he was not without his misgivings on the disadvantages of the clause then under consideration. He had no objection to give those who held a qualification, but yet were residents in boroughs, a vote for counties, but he could not assent to the double vote, nor did he think it was in accordance with the principle of the Bill.

Lord Holland

observed, that the noble and learned Lord (Wynford) had, in the course of his argument on that occasion, displayed the same ignorance of the constitutional history of the country which he (Lord Holland) had more than once remarked in the addresses with which the noble and learned Lord had favoured the House. The noble and learned Lord said, that his noble and learned friend (the Lord Chancellor) had not answered the objections of the noble Baron, but he contended that the noble and learned Lord had answered most clearly and satisfactorily. Without dwelling on the advantages conceded to the agriculturists, with respect to leaseholders and copyholders, he was prepared to prove that the agriculturists would gain largely in actual Representation. The noble and learned Lord had talked of Constitutional Representation. In what portion of the noble Lord's constitutional history did he find it stated that the nomination boroughs were part of the agricultural Representation? On what authority did the noble and learned Lord state that? He denied the noble and learned Lord's assertion in the strongest manner. These boroughs did not belong to the agricultural interests—they belonged to any one who had money to purchase them. They were the mere objects of barter and sale. Their voters were the slaves of any master. The nomination boroughs were any man's property, as the defenders of any rights. They were the representatives of that which had been described "as mine, as his, and as having been slave to thousands;" and they formed no part of the landed, any more than the other interests of the country. But how did the Bill injure the landed interests? Why, it actually gave sixty-five Members to the county interests, and took away seventy-eight from the borough interests. Was this depriving the agriculturists of their fair share of the Representation? The noble and learned Lord (Wynford) had displayed an ignorance of the provisions of the Bill which he could not have anticipated. He would only refer to one other point. While the addition of leaseholders, and copyholders, and tenants-at-will would give the agriculturist a great deal more influence in county elections than they had, the boroughs would not have so many residents entitled to vote for counties, as well as boroughs, as they had before.

Lord Wharncliffe

said, all 20l. leaseholders would have a right of voting for the county.

Lord Holland

denied this; he believed it was not so—but the time was coming when it would be argued more fully. All he would further say was, that the answer of his noble and learned friend (the Lord Chancellor) seemed to him to be perfectly satisfactory as a refutation of the statements of the noble Baron.

Lord Wynford

complained, that the noble Baron had made observations on him which were not warranted, and that he had violated the courtesy of the House, in not addressing himself to the subject rather than to comments on his ignorance as an individual. With respect to what he had said on the subject of nomination boroughs, he would repeat, that he believed these boroughs in general were the property of great landholders, and used for the protection of the landed interests, but he had not said they were a part of the landed Representation.

The Earl of Malmesbury

contended, that a great proportion of the county Representation would, if the clause remained unaltered, become subservient to the manufacturing interests. In Hampshire, with which he was connected, he knew, that the county interest had always been compelled to struggle with the power of the dock-yards at Portsmouth in the contest for the Members; and he was convinced that the Members for the southern division of the county would now be wholly in the interest of the towns. Of the whole Representation, he had calculated there would only be 129 Members left to support the landed interest. No man would tell him that that interest was represented in the county of Middlesex. One of the present Representatives of that county was a decided enemy to the Corn laws—those laws which were considered by the landed interest as their especial protection. Some time ago the same Gentleman had made a motion in the other House of Parliament, which, if carried, would have been ruinous to that interest. It might, therefore, be said, that in this county the town interest was predominant. The same was the case with Lancashire. In the county of York it was possible that there might be a gain of one Member to the landed interest; but he apprehended that in that of Leicester one-half would go to the manufacturing interest, and this, too, in a county in which hitherto the agricultural interest had predominated. In Norfolk and Gloucester shire the interests would be balanced; the landed interest would prevail in the one-half of each county, and the manufacturing in the other. In the county of Not- tingham, if this clause were retained as part of the Bill, the effect would be similar. Of Derbyshire he had doubts; of the county of Warwick he had none; for it would be so altered by this Bill, that it would be impossible for any independent country gentleman who, as a matter of course, meant to support the agricultural interest, and what was called a Corn Bill, to obtain even the chance of a seat. He had been alluded to the other night on a question connected with this subject, and had been charged with being unwilling that the manufacturing towns should be represented. He entertained no such wish: it had always been his desire to blend together the two interests to which he had alluded; but there did exist, on the part of the persons composing the manufacturing interest, a very strong feeling of prejudice against the great landed interest. Of this there was abundant evidence; and a most decisive proof of it was to be found in the addresses which had been published of many of the would-be Members of a reformed Parliament, men furnished by a Society which existed in this metropolis for that purpose—a sort of register-office to provide candidates for seats in Parliament. All the individuals alluded to were distinguished for their enmity to the Corn laws; some of them had written pamphlets—most had delivered speeches on the subject. He believed that question had been first debated in the other House of Parliament; and if it were now to happen that appeal was made by petitions from the people, praying for the repeal of those laws, it would be quite impossible for any Government, however popular, to stem the torrent. He believed that the noble Lords opposite entertained no feeling of hostility to the agricultural interest: but it would be impossible for them to resist the popular will on such a subject as that, especially with the House of Commons, constituted as it would be of Members chosen under the operation of this clause as it now stood. He had but few hopes of inducing his Majesty's Ministers to accede to the proposition of his noble friend. He was aware that they (the Opposition) were fishing for impossibilities in the pool of despondency. He was also aware that the omission of this clause would be accompanied with an act of disfranchisement, but there would be nothing new in that respect; the whole Bill was one of disfranchisement; witness the scot-and-lot voters in towns, and the 40s. freeholders in counties. It was certainly, in part, a Bill of disfranchisement, if not wholly so. There could, therefore, be no obstacle to the application of the same principle in this case—a case which was supported by the most unanswerable arguments. These towns, now unrepresented, but which were to have that privilege conferred on them for the first time by this Bill, in some parts of the country hung together in clusters as thick as cherries. In one county there would be not less than fourteen of these new boroughs; in that county, therefore, it was certain that if the existence of this clause were allowed, the influence of those voters would, of course, predominate at a county election. He must urge and press it upon their Lordships most strenuously, whether, by the adoption of the Amendment of his noble friend, something might not be gained. With respect to another point which had been touched upon—the influence of the agricultural interest over what were called the rotten boroughs, he had no doubt that there was an immediate connexion between that interest and the boroughs which were by this Bill to be disfranchised. It was equally certain that that interest was protected by those boroughs. If their Lordships looked to the numbers which were to be disfranchised in the southern and eastern, or agricultural, districts of England, compared with the numbers which remained in the northern districts which were the manufacturing; it would become evident to them, that there was some reason for the assertion, that the agricultural interest would suffer by the disfranchisement. Of the boroughs in schedule A, there were thirty-nine boroughs taken from the south and west, sending seventy-eight Representatives to Parliament; the north lost only five boroughs, or ten Members, and the eastern and midland counties were deprived of twelve boroughs, returning twenty-four Members. So, to the north of England thirty-one additional Members were given, while the southern and west were to receive only six; thus creating a difference of nearly seventy Members in favour of the northern, over the southern portion of the empire. No man could deny, that that must affect, more or less, the landed interest; and he therefore considered it an additional argument why that interest should not be any further weakened, and be entirely subjected to the overpowering influence of the manufacturing interest, by the admission of town voters also to the franchise of the county, as proposed by this clause.

The Earl of Warwick

said, that it was a mistake to suppose that the county from which he derived his title would receive any benefit from the Bill. The 40s. freeholders of the town of Warwick were numerous enough to influence the return for one division of the county, while the voters from Birmingham and Coventry would overwhelm the agricultural electors of the other division.

Lord Seagrave

, having formerly represented Gloucestershire, could say, from his own experience, that the danger there to the agricultural interest was by no means so great as the noble Earl (the Earl of Malmesbury) seemed to anticipate. At Stroud there was no wish, as he knew, to return a Member connected with manufactures, and the voters to be created by the Bill had actually fixed upon one individual whose property and connexion were purely agricultural. He could not tell what would be the character of their second Member; but this he could say, that none of the three gentlemen now canvassing for the future Representation of that town was connected with the manufacturing interest.

The Earl of Radnor

contended, that the arguments of noble Lords on the other side, if good for anything, went to the extent that the manufacturing interests ought not to be represented at all. As to what the noble Lord (Lord Wynford) had said about nomination, or, as he would call them, rotten boroughs, affirming that they ought to be preserved, as they gave additional and beneficial influence to the agricultural interest, it was remarkable in what various ways these unfortunate blemishes of the Constitution were used. At one time it was asserted that they were useful, because they afforded the means of more fully representing the landed interest; at another that they gave Members to the monied interest; at a third, that they formed the only mode by which the voice of the colonies could be heard; at a fourth, that they were advantageous to the East-India Company; at a fifth, to the Bank of England; and at a sixth, that they were the nurseries of sucking Statesmen. Certainly noble Lords on the other side had every reason to be grateful to rotten bo- roughs, and not least for the convenient manner in which they were applicable in argument.

The Earl of Carnarvon

said, that in the formation of the Bill, nothing like impartiality had been shown, inasmuch as the landed interest was entirely neglected, while the manufacturing interest obtained a most undue preponderance. The agricultural districts in the neighbourhood of great towns—as it were under their guns—would be inundated with voters who had no connexion whatever with the soil, and whose wishes must be opposed to those engaged in husbandry. Ever since he had heard anything of Parliamentary Reform the nomination boroughs were objected to because they were the property of Peers; that is, of men connected with the landed interests of the county, and by destroying them that interest would be injured. The object ought to have been to preserve an equilibrium among all interests, which was not done. That Constitution was the best which equalized all, giving strength to the weak, and controlling the powerful.

Lord King

said, that if the noble Earl (the Earl of Malmesbury) could carry his wishes to the full extent, he would find that the disfranchisement of the freeholders residing in boroughs would be carried much further than he at all contemplated; for at present they were enabled to vote for two Members for the borough, and for two for the county, in right of their freeholds; whereas, if residing in any of the boroughs in schedule D, they would, according to the proposition of the noble Lord, lose not only the right of voting for the two county Members, but would also lose the right of voting for one Member for the borough. Thus, instead of the right of four votes, they would have only one.

The Earl of Haddington

said, that in the Scotch Reform Bill, yet before the other House of Parliament, a clause, the 35th, had actually been inserted by the framers, carrying into effect the very object of his noble friend's Amendment. He could not see why one principle was to be applied to England, and another to Scotland.

The Earl of Camperdown

remarked, that the cases of Scotland and England, in this respect, were by no means parallel. The right of voting in Scotland was peculiar.

The Lord Chancellor

adverted more particularly to the distinction in the right of voting in the two countries. The description of freeholders known in England did not exist in Scotland, and the Scotch Bill was, therefore, adapted to the circumstances of the country.

Lord Wharncliffe

, in reply, observed, that it was stated by the noble Lord who brought in the Bill, that it was intended to allow each class to choose each its own Representative, and not interfere with any other. It was expressly said, that the inhabitants of towns were not to interfere with the county elections. That intention was not, however, fulfilled by the clause as it stood; and he, therefore, felt bound to take the sense of the Committee on his Amendment.

The Committee divided on the Amendment: Contents 23; Not Contents 84—Majority 61.

List of the NOT-CONTENTS.
His R. H. the Duke of SUSSEX. EARLS. POMFRET
BOYLE (Earl of Cork) GARDNER PONSONBY of Imokilly
CHAWORTH (E. of Meath) GRANARD (E. of Granard) SEAFORD
CLEMENTS (E. of Leitrim) HAWKE SEFTON (Earl of Sefton)
List of the CONTENTS.

Clauses 24, 25, and 26, were agreed to.

On Clause 27 being read,

Lord Wharncliffe

stated, that he had several amendments to propose, and suggested the propriety of adjourning.

Earl Grey consented.

The House resumed. The Committee to sit again.