The Lord Advocate
moved for leave to bring in a Bill to ascertain and define the rights of voting for Members of Parliament in Scotland. He was aware that this was a subject of great importance, but it had been investigated by a committee of the House; and the Bill which he proposed to introduce was in a great measure founded on the recommendations of that committee. He trusted that it was not necessary to enter into any details, but that leave would be given to bring in the Bill that the provisions might be before the House.
said, that as the learned Lord moved the introduction of the measure, with the advice, no doubt, of her Majesty's Government, he would not object to the introduction that the provisions might be seen by the House and the country; but, at the same time, he could not allow the introduction of the Bill without entering his protest against any distinction being introduced between freeholders as a class in England and Scotland, and against introducing into Scotland any provisions incompatible with the Reform Act for the three countries, and against attempting to impose on freehold property, before it gave the right of voting, the necessary qualification of residence. The principle now proposed was not in the English Bill; it went far beyond the necessity of the case, and beyond the recommendation of the committee, the labours of which the learned Lord had used. For his own part he never would consent to make any distinction between the law of England and of Scotland.
§ Lord John Russell
said, that having considered this point, it appeared to him that the old law in England need not be touched, unless the right of voting of freeholders had been attended with any evil, and when they were introducing a real representation into Scotland, where there had been none before, they might take the English law. At the same time, he thought that those who had the real right ought to vote. If he had found that gross abuses had been introduced into England—if he had found that the electors of York and of Middlesex were not bona fide freeholders—he would have thought that some restriction ought to have been introduced. That position it was for his noble Friend to make out; the Bill must not be supported because votes were given to persons who were not resident, but that the right had been abused.
§ Mr. Goulburn
said, that if this Bill passed, no person could vote unless he had a house on the spot.
§ Mr. Ewart
said, that to his own knowledge, many persons became freeholders who were not real residents; he knew that such things had occurred in the small counties of Wales. Now residence was required by the old law, and it should be their serious consideration, when deciding upon the law of voting, to attend to this old law. He thought, therefore, that the learned Lord was fully justified in the principle of this Bill.
§ Sir George Clerk
hoped that the noble Lord had heard the speech of the hon. Member, showing that the same things existed in Wales. If abuses existed they ought to be remedied, but by this Bill it was contrived to disfranchise the bona fide freeholders.
§ Mr. Gillon
said, that as the hon. Gentleman admitted that if abuses existed, they ought to be remedied, if there were no means of correcting those abuses and of preventing the swamping of the bona fide electors, but by enforcing residence, he hoped that he should have the support of the hon. Gentleman. Certain he was, that in order to arrive at a pure representation of the people, it would be necessary to adopt the principle that each individual should have one vote and no more.
§ Leave given.