§ The preamble and title were postponed.
§ Clause 1 was agreed to.
§ On Clause 2 being put,
§ Lord Lyndhurst
rose, for the purpose of moving the insertion of a Clause in that part of the Bill; but before he proceeded to state to their Lordships the particular nature of the amendment he was about to propose, he was extremely desirous of freeing himself from an imputation which bad been endeavoured to be fixed upon him by the noble Viscount at the head of his Majesty's Government. The noble Viscount supposed that he had made it matter of charge against the gentlemen who were appointed Commissioners under the Municipal Corporation Commission, that they entertained a particular class of political opinions. Now he had endeavoured most carefully and most anxiously to guard himself against any such imputation. He had stated then, as he slated now, that it was open to any gentleman to entertain any political opinions which were the result of his own unbiassed judgment, and whether he were a Whig, or whether he were a Tory, it was absurd to make his political opinions the ground of any charge against him. He had never entertained, or asserted, or insinuated, or intimated in any way, any such opinion. He did, however, make it matter of charge against the noble Viscount, and those who formed part of his Majesty's Government, that they had selected one particular description of persons entertaining one particular class of opinions, for the purpose of prosecuting the inquiry into the state of the Corporations. He thought such conduct most unjust, considering that the object of that inquiry was, or that its result might be, to strip individuals and bodies of men of their privileges and of their property. To show that this was a mere assumption on the part of the noble Viscount, and that it had no foundation in anything he had said, he would remind their Lordships that he had referred to the practice of the other House of Parliament on the appointment of committees even for party purposes and party objects, and that he had stated that he did not remember any instance in which a committee was exclusively composed of the members of one particular party. He did not make it matter of charge against those gentlemen, many of whom he knew to be 428 honourable persons, that they entertained particular opinions, but he had made it matter of charge, and he still did make it matter of charge, against his Majesty's Government, that it had selected none but men belonging to one party. So much then for the imputation cast upon him by the noble Viscount. A word or two now with respect to the report, and the evidence received at their Lordships' Bar. Many of their Lordships had attended the inquiry sedulously from day to day. He knew what the result was upon the minds of many noble Lords: he knew what was the result upon his own. He was perfectly satisfied upon the evidence, and upon the result of the inquiry as applicable to the corporations, 31 in number, with respect to which evidence had been given at their Lordships' Bar, that there was no foundation whatever for the imputations cast upon them. The evidence uniformly showed a pure administration of justice—an administration of justice unbiassed by party motives and party views; an administration of justice satisfactory to the people over whom that administration was exercised. This, he contended, was the result of the investigation. Further, again, he would say, with respect to the administration of the funds—the public funds—of the Corporations, that it turned out as the result of the inquiry, that the administration of those funds had been correct and free from all imputation. No misapplication in any one instance had been established; on the contrary, the evidence, as given at their Lordships' Bar, showed it to have been in all cases pure and unimpeachable. Again, the evidence offered at their Lordships' Bar, so far as it applied to the great body of respectable inhabitants of the places inquired into at their Lordships' Bar, showed that the administration of the Corporate powers had been satisfactory to that class of persons. Whether it had been completely and entirely satisfactory to every individual in every place, and to persons of all classes, he certainly should not undertake to inquire; but the question was, were they to be governed by the sense, by the intelligence, by the information, by the respectability of the country—or were they to come to that state to which they appeared to be fast approaching—were they to be governed by ignorance and numbers? That was another very material point of consideration, for the testimony he had 429 referred to was the testimony of the intelligence of the town and the ability of the persons by whom these Corporations had been administered. The evidence had proved it; but their Lordships had better evidence even than the Testimony at their Bar, in the manner in which that evidence had been given by the public counsellors of the Corporations, He never saw—and on this point he confidently appealed to their Lordships' recollection—he never saw at their Bar, giving evidence, or in any court of justice, a body of men more rigid, more precise in their evidence, more candid or more fair in every part of their testimony, than those gentlemen, members of the different Corporations, who had given their testimony at the Bar of the House. In addition to this, he was bound to state, as the result of that inquiry, according to the impression on his mind at least, it had shown, in a great variety of instances, a want of care, caution, and accuracy on the part of those gentlemen who were deputed by his Majesty's Government, to make the inquiry. He thought that this was established beyond the possibility of doubt—at least such was the impression on his mind, considering what had been the nature of the evidence with respect to thirty-one of those Corporations. He for one could not consider that a report so framed was a safe foundation upon which to make a great alteration in the institutions of the country—upon which to strip men of their rights and their property. He regretted that his noble and learned Friend (Lord Brougham) was not at present in his place. He regretted it because an attempt—certainly a most dexterous attempt—had been made to put the case in an unfair point of view before their Lordships. What was it? Why that these Commissioners had been put upon their trial, that the evidence had been heard for the purpose of convicting them, that they had desired to be heard at their Lordships' Bar by themselves or their Counsel, for the purpose of answering the charges that had been preferred against them;—when the noble and learned Lord, taking upon himself to speak for the whole House, had refused to admit them to be heard;—and therefore they being the accused culprits, and the House refusing them permission to be heard, nothing could be more unjust, nothing could be more contrary to first principles of justice, than to allow the 430 evidence to weigh at all against them. This was the way, the ingenious, the dexterous, and adroit way in which the question had been presented to their Lordships. But what was the real state of the question? These gentlemen were the paid accusers of the Corporations. They had preferred their indictments against the Corporations, they had preferred charges against them—charges which were to be followed up by disfranchisement and loss of property—and they, the Corporations, therefore, came as defendants against those charges, and prayed to be heard by their counsel and their witnesses against the Commissioners at the Bar of the House. Their Lordships, inspired by that sense of justice which always influenced their conduct, had allowed them to be heard, and the evidence they had adduced had repelled and refuted the charges against them. Surely it would be contrary to the first principles of justice to say that they were not entitled to have the benefit of that testimony? Another accusation had been made, if possible still more extravagant than the position to which he had just adverted. It had been said, in allusion to something that passed yesterday, that when fault was found with the decision of a Judge, before that decision was reversed the learned Judge was applied to, to state the grounds on which it was pronounced; and that, arguing by analogy, the House ought in the present case to refer to the Commissioners who pronounced the decision in question. Why, what was the course pursued on such occasions? The noble Viscount knew well: they applied to the Judge for his report, in order that they might become acquainted with the nature of the case. Why, here they had the report already. The reports were before the House: they had these important materials to guide their opinion. The noble Viscount knew well that if the report obtained from a Judge were a general report, and did not contain the evidence adduced before him, it was matter of course to apply to him for a copy of that evidence. These reports (continued the noble and learned Lord) we contend are unsatisfactory: we apply for the evidence, and that evidence is refused. Such was the extraordinary course of proceeding adopted by the supporters of the measure. Such was the line of argument made use of for the purpose of depriving these Corporations of the benefit of that evidence 431 which had been adduced at the Bar in defence of the charges preferred against them. But a further attempt was made. It was said that selections had been made to establish these charges. He had no intention of going through that selection, but he would take a sample of it. The selection was taken as a sample of the whole: it was said to be a specimen of the whole cargo; he would take a sample of the sample, for the purpose of showing how utterly destitute of foundation were the observations tending to show that the charges of the Commissioners had been established. And first, as to the case respecting the Duke of Newcastle: a charge was made against the Duke of Newcastle that he had given an office to a freeman of the borough of East Retford; that that individual had obtained compensation—amounting he believed to 200l. a-year—in consequence of having resigned or relinquished that office; and that this was done with an ulterior object, and with a view of promoting the interests of the Duke of Newcastle. This was the charge specifically stated in the report—everybody had read it. A gentleman was called to the Bar, who said he was present when evidence of this transaction was given before the Commissioners, and that it was totally misrepresented. He said that no such thing took place, but that the evidence was, that it was through Lord Grenville's interest in conjunction with that of Lord Fitzwilliam, that the place was obtained. "I heard the evidence," said that gentleman, "and I swear that was the evidence." Now, what was the answer on the other side to this contradictory statement? It was said that some person was present who took down this evidence in short-hand; that this short-hand statement of the evidence was not read at their Lordships' Bar, and that therefore the statement made upon oath by this witness ought not to be received. He was sorry his noble and learned Friend was not in his place. This was the first time he had ever heard it advanced as a position of law, that what a man stated he heard in a court of justice was not to be admitted upon oath, according to his representation, because some other man took down that evidence in writing. Why was the evidence taken before the Commissioners if it were not to be produced to their Lordships? But why was not the evidence taken before the Commissioners by the 432 short-hand writer produced? The thing spoke for itself. For whom did this worthy Alderman constantly vote? For a person in the interest of the Duke of Newcastle? No! for Mr. Compton; the Duke of Newcastle he constantly opposed. There were four or five other cases to which he had intended to advert, but which he was very reluctant to enter into in the absence of his noble and learned Friend. As he saw a noble Marquess opposite, however, who was present when the evidence was taken, he would allude to the next case. It related to a supposed conflict between a prisoner and a magistrate of the name of Slaney. It was stated as matter of charge in the Report, for the purpose of showing how much the magistrates had misconducted themselves, that the magistrate in this instance was found rolling on the floor, in a struggle with the prisoner. A witness was examined who stated the fact, but Mr. Slaney was present, and Mr. Slaney positively contradicted it; that contradiction was communicated to the Commissioner. Did he afterwards examine Mr. Slaney? No such thing; he took no notice of his contradiction; and though it was made in his presence, to him personally, and within his hearing, he reported the charge as a fact, but took no notice whatever of the contradiction. Three witnesses had been called for the purpose of contradicting the statement; they all said that Mr. Slaney was present on the occasion, but that he took no part in the affair, except to order the person Grimes to be carried to prison: the whole of the witnesses contradicted the story. Well, but then it was suggested that the Report might allude to another transaction different from that to which the evidence of the witnesses related. Unfortunately, however, in the printed evidence, the name of Read, the employer of Grimes, the person in question, was mentioned as the master of the individual to whom the evidence applied; thus fixing and identifying the transaction beyond the possibility of doubt or mistake. There was also the case of Sutton Coldfield, which was one of a very singular nature. In that case the charge against the Corporation was extravagant expenditure, in the building and repairing of certain premises. What was the evidence? Why that the property was in Chancery—that the affair went into the Master's office—that he investigated every part of the case 433 —that he inspected the estimates, and that he, in short, ordered everything to be done that was done. In fact it was shown that the opinion of the Master, who had deliberately investigated the whole matter, was directly at variance with the evidence of the Commissioner, who had taken only a general and superficial view of it. This, however, was not the main point in that case. Some parties had notice of the Commissioners' arrival: they never summoned the Corporation; the persons examined were enemies to the Corporation, and had just been defeated by them in a Chancery suit; they made charges against the Corporation; the Deputy-Steward offered to rebut these accusations, and his (the Commissioners') evidence was rejected. He would cite one case, and only one case more. The question was as to the extent and nature of the population of the county of the city of Coventry, or in other words, the county exclusive of the city. The Commissioners reported—what? That it was almost entirely rural or agricultural. The evidence, and the return of the population Commissioners, showed that the Report in that respect was entirely erroneous—that only 300 or 400 out of 2,500 persons were engaged in agriculture, and that almost all the rest were employed in that peculiar business for which the city of Coventry was remarkable. He would pass over these cases, however; the time for the discussion of them was gone by, and the question for present consideration was as to the clauses of the Bill. He had stated thus much injustice to the witnesses who had been examined at the Bar; and here he stopped on this part of the case. Now, as to the Bill, and as to the Amendment, he was about to propose, he begged to say, in the first instance, and perhaps this might, to a certain degree would, conciliate the good will of noble Lords opposite, that as to the qualification of burgesses, which perhaps was the most prominent provision in the Bill, he did not intend to propose any amendment—at least any amendment on its principle; nor did he believe that any noble Lord on his side of the House would propose such an amendment. He alluded to the clause which gave the right of being burgesses in the new corporate towns to householders rated and inhabitants of the town for a period of two years. Other qualifications had suggested themselves to his mind, and 434 other qualifications had been suggested to him by others; he had considered them over and over again, but he had not been able to satisfy himself that they were so decidedly preferable to the one proposed in the Bill as to induce him to propose any alteration of it. It was not his intention, nor did he believe it to be the intention of any noble Lords who acted with him on that occasion, to propose any alteration, except such as they conceived to be absolutely necessary for the purposes of justice. The first enacting clause of the Bill repealed and annulled all Corporations, or all charters of Corporations, so far as they were inconsistent with the substantive provisions of the Bill. It had struck him, therefore, that this was the proper place effectually to provide for securing to individuals belonging to Corporations their rights of property. If these charters were repealed and annulled, he would not stir one step in the Bill until he found a clause inserted preserving those rights of property which he thought ought to be maintained—rights of property which the freemen enjoyed for themselves, and might transmit to their posterity without limit. He would not infringe upon such rights of property, or upon the regulations of Corporations: he would not consent to transfer those rights of property from the persons who were entitled to them by law, to other persons who were not so entitled to them, from any speculation of the advantage which might result to other individuals holding office under this Bill. They had heard at the Bar much evidence with respect to the nature of this property. He was not now alluding to general corporate property, but to individual and specific rights of property enjoyed by freemen, sometimes as rights of commonalty, sometimes as several rights, sometimes in the shape of rates granted to them for their use, and transmissible by them to their posterity. These were the rights of property to which he adverted. They were not inconsiderable in point of amount, and they were of great value and importance to those who enjoyed them, as would be seen by reference to a few cases. In Berwick-upon-Tweed the annual value of this property was 6,000l.; in Beverley, 4,000l.; in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 3,200l.; in Coventry, 2,000l.; in Sutton Coldfield, 1,000l.; in Oxford, 1,000l.; and so forth. The whole aggregate amount of this description of pro- 435 perty, according to a paper he held in his hand, which was taken from the Report of the Corporation Commissioners, was 26,760l. which at 20 years' purchase would amount to upwards of 500,000l. or half a million of money. Now, he would n t consent to deprive the small proprietors among whom this large sum of money was divided—he would not consent on mere speculation to deprive them of property which they now held under the sanction of what had been hitherto, at least, considered the best possible title, a charter from the Crown, or not merely under charters from the Crown, but in some instances under the authority of Acts of Parliament. He would call their Lordships' attention to a brief view of these cases before he sat down. It seemed to be supposed—indeed he had heard it asserted, there were such wild notions on this subject, that really one scarcely knew how they could have arisen in the mind of any man, that this was all fraud; that the property belonged to the inhabitants at large originally, and that it had become by degrees, and by some secret connivance, vested in select bodies. The Corporation of Berwick-upon-Tweed held its property under charter from James 1st. He specifically granted it for the sole use and behoof of the mayor, bailiffs, and burgesses of Berwick-upon-Tweed. From that period down to the present time it had been enjoyed by them, first as rights in common, and afterwards in severalty according to arrangements among themselves. This properly had been the subject of consideration in the Court of King's Bench. A borough-rate was imposed by magistrates on the inhabitants, it was contended that this was public property, and that they had no right to impose a new charge upon the inhabitants until that property was exhausted. The right of the Corporation was confirmed, and it was decided that the inhabitants were bound to pay the charges in respect of which the borough-rate was imposed. Now, here was property amounting, as he had already said, to 6,000l. in the possession of about 500 freemen, descending from them to their sons, their sons' sons, and so on, from generation to generation. Why were they to be stripped of these rights, not only with no offence committed, but with no offence even imputed? Why were their Lordships with a strong hand to lay hold of this pro- 436 perty and deliver it over to other persons to public purposes? Was there ever such an act of injustice. The next case to which he would beg their Lordships' attention (and he would not trouble them with more than three or four) was that of New-castle-upon-Tyne, where considerable property was held under the authority of Parliament. On this point he would refer the House to page 1656 of the Commissioners' Report:—"14 George 3rd. c. 105, "An Act for confirming to the resident freemen or burgesses of the town of Newcastle-upon-Tyne their full right and benefit to the herbage of the Town Moor, Castle Leases, and Nunn's Moor, within the liberties of the said town, for two milch cows each, in such manner as has been used; and for improving the herbage of the said Town Moor, Castle Leases, and Nunn's Moor, respectively.'" Here were rights existing before the passing of the Act, confirmed by the Legislature—rights of the same description and transmissible in the same manner as those in the case to which he had just adverted. Again in Newcastle-under-Lyne, the burgesses were entitled to 205 acres of land contiguous to the town, a very valuable properly which they held under the best of all titles—namely, the authority of the Legislature. They were commoners over an immense range of land: an inclosure Act was passed, and this allotment was made to them in severalty under the authority of that Act. The next case to which he should beg leave to direct the attention of the House was that of Beverley, with a range of upwards of 4,000 acres, which were the exclusive property of the Corporation, transmissible in the same way, and held upon the same title—the charter of the Crown. The last case to which he should advert, merely as an example, was that of the town of Coventry. The Corporation of Coventry possessed property of the same description, for which they had been offered 30,000l. or 40,000l. a sum they had refused to accept. It was property which belonged to them absolutely, and which they could transmit to their children, grandchildren, and descendants without limit. Were they to be deprived of those rights by such a Bill as the present? Was this half-million of money annually divided in all probability between two million of persons to be at once confiscated to the use of the public? Now let the House refer a little 437 to the Bill. What did the Bill do? It confirmed these rights, but confirmed them only to a certain extent. Those actually in possession of these rights as freemen were confirmed in their titles: the sons of freemen born before the 5th of June last were confirmed in their titles also; but any freeman's son born after the 5th of June, any son now born before the passing of the Act, any son hereafter to be born, any grandson or descendant of a freeman, was absolutely barred and deprived of this property. Would their Lordships sanction this infringement of the rights of property to the purposes of that Act of Parliament? To whom was it to be transferred when it was thus taken with a strong hand from those who were entitled to it. To a borough fund for the benefit of the public. Why, show in the first instance that the public have some title or right to it? Would an Act of Parliament have any right to deprive any noble Lord of an estate he might possess in the neighbourhood of a small town, or dispose of it for the benefit of the inhabitants of that town? He asked their Lordships, then, whether there could be a more gross infringement of the rights of property than that contemplated by the present measure? He would not trouble the House further; he had felt desirous to state this part of the case, both with reference to the amendment he should propose, and as the ground on which he brought it forward, in as plain and succinct terms as he could. He was sure that their Lordships would not sanction the clause depriving freemen of their rights, as it then stood; and he felt persuaded that they would, by an unanimous vote, adopt the amendment with which he should conclude. In forming it he had adhered as closely as possible to the terms made use of in the section of the Act which bore upon that part of the subject. If their Lordships would turn to clause 12, they would see that he had adopted, as far as possible, the phraseology of that clause, merely omitting the limitation it contained, and securing to all the parties who either now had, or hereafter would have property in these tracts of land, that property in the same measure and upon the same terms and conditions as if that Act had never passed. The noble and learned Lord concluded by moving the insertion, immediately after the first clause, of the following clause. 438And whereas, in divers cities, towns, and boroughs, the common lands and public stock of such cities, towns, and boroughs, and the rents and profits thereof, have been held and applied for the particular benefit of the citizens, freemen, and burgesses of the said cities, towns, and boroughs respectively, or of certain of them, or of the widows or kindred of them, or certain of them, and have not been applied to public purposes, and it would be unjust to deprive such persons of their rights of property, and to apply the same to other purposes: Be it therefore enacted, that every person who now is, or hereafter may be, an inhabitant of any borough, and also every person who has been admitted, or who might hereafter have been admitted, a freeman or burgess of any borough, if this Act had not been passed, or who now is, or hereafter may be, the wife, or widow, or son, or daughter, of any freeman or burgess, or who may have espoused, or may hereafter espouse, the daughter or widow of any freeman or burgess, or who has been or may hereafter be bound an apprentice, shall have and enjoy, and be entitled to acquire and enjoy, the same share and benefit of the lands, tenements, and hereditaments, and of the rents and profits thereof, and of the common lands and public stock of any borough or body corporate, and of any lands, tenements, and hereditaments, and any sum or sums of money, chattels, securities for money, or other personal estate, of which any person or any body corporate may be seized or possessed, in whole or in part, for any charitable uses or trusts, and of any discharge or exemption from any tolls or dues lawfully levied, in whole, or in part, by or to the use of any borough or body corporate, as fully and effectually, and for such time and in such manner, as he or she by any statute, charter, bye-law, or custom, in force at the time of passing this Act, might or could have had acquired or enjoyed, in case this Act had not been passed.
§ Viscount Melbourne
I apprehend, my Lords, that the effect of the Amendment moved by the noble and learned Lord is to preserve all the rights of the freemen, so far as property is concerned. I am very unwilling, my Lords, to revert to the debate of the other night, but as the noble and learned Lord has alluded to it, it becomes necessary for me to say a few words in my own defence. The noble and learned Lord says, that he made no charge against the Commissioners; that it was a charge against the Government for having appointed those Commissioners in so partial a manner. My Lords, I did not say that the noble and learned Lord had made any charge against the Commissioners. What I said was, that in making his charge against the Govern- 439 ment he acted unjustly towards the Commissioners, by giving his own description of their political opinions, with which it was not possible that he could be acquainted. When the noble and learned Lord says that this man was a Whig and that man was a Whig and more than a Whig, do we not all know what that description means. Do we not all know that it means that he entertains extreme opinions? Why, my Lords, when the noble and learned Lord stood in the situation of these barristers—when the noble and learned Lord was at the Bar—if any man had said of him that he was a Whig, would he not have said that he was treated with injustice. And yet, my Lords, if any man had acted upon the general reputation of that noble and learned Lord, or from a general opinion of that noble and learned Lord, or had formed his opinion of the noble and learned Lord's political sentiments from the reputation of his most private friends and companions, undoubtedly he would have so characterized him. Does the noble and learned Lord deny that such was his character, my Lords? No; on the contrary, he admits it; he complains of it as an injustice.
§ Lord Lyndhurst
I never—["Order!"] I am perfectly in order. The noble Lord says I admit it. My Lords, I never did admit it. I do not admit it, nor is there the slightest foundation for the statement. I heard of the attack and repelled it, and it never was renewed till lately. It is a base calumny, and I give it the most unqualified contradiction.
§ Viscount Melbourne
The noble and learned Lord said that he had often heard it before: that he had heard it stated of him. I know it to be erroneous, my Lords, because I have the authority of the noble and learned Lord for saying so; I know it to be a calumny; I know it to be a falsehood, since the noble and learned Lord so characterized it; but at the same time the noble and learned Lord should have the same toleration for others which he demands for himself. The same erroneous impression may prevail with respect to others, which I do believe, from all the knowledge I have on the subject at least, did prevail,—undoubtedly most erroneously—with reference to the noble and learned Lord. It is impossible, my Lords, for me to refrain from taking the present opportunity of commenting on an 440 observation made by the noble Duke opposite in the course of last night's debate, upon which I was very desirous to say a few words upon that occasion. The noble Duke said, that the Commissioners had not produced the evidence, because they knew, and must feel certain, that that evidence would not bear out the Report. Now, my Lords, I say that this is a most foul imputation. I say this is an imputation of the basest breach of trust; an imputation of the basest treachery; an imputation, which, in my opinion, a person of the great weight, a person of the high character, a person of the authority of the noble Duke, should not throw upon any body of men, merely upon inference and suspicion, and without having a certain power of proving the truth of that which he alleges, and which is so prejudicial to the characters of the individuals attacked. My Lords, undoubtedly it appears to me that it would have been much better if the noble and learned Lord had taken the opportunity last night when my noble and learned Friend was in his place, or have waited until he saw him again in his place, to enter into all this minute discussion of the evidence into which he has entered so much at length on the present occasion, and through which, not having myself attended to the evidence as minutely as others have done, I am unable to follow him with any particularity. I will only say, therefore, my Lords, that the points which have been urged by the noble and learned Lord, appear to me to be of little importance; that even if there had been greater mistakes committed, or observations introduced into these Reports which perhaps might have been with discretion omitted, they would not in the slightest degree invalidate the real strength of the essentials, or the veracity of the general Report. The noble and learned Lord has moved an Amendment to preserve the rights of freemen entirely as they standat present, with reference to property; and he says that he anticipates an unanimous vote in its favour. I am sorry to say that I cannot indulge in any likelihood of that anticipation being realized; for most undoubtedly, my Lords, to the introduction of that clause, I shall give my most decided opposition. The noble and learned Lord, in the first place, admits that the rights of the freemen are preserved for the present; that the rights of every existing freeman are saved, and that 441 the rights of almost all persons who can by any possibility, under present circumstances, enjoy any of these rights of property, are preserved by the Bill as it stands at present. If the Bill be defective in this respect, if it do not go far enough, if the period to which it extends the preservation of these rights might be extended with greater regard to equity and justice, undoubtedly such an alteration I should not be disinclined to consider. But, my Lords, an Amendment of this kind, which preserves for ever the rights of these freemen—rights which I believe, as far as they go, are frequently prejudicial in a great degree to the individuals themselves, and which I am certain are greatly prejudicial to the whole community, is a provision which certainly will not be introduced into this Bill with my consent, or with my approbation. These rights of land and common, are, we all know, extremely prejudicial, preventing as they do the proper cultivation of these lands. Nothing is more injurious than those Lammas lands, where one man has the hay, another the after-math, and so on. I mean nothing disrespectful to the freemen generally my Lords, when I say that the possession of those, and other rights, have contributed to render them inferior in station, feeling, property, and integrity, to other classes of the community. Of course, my Lords, this is a question of law, and of course I feel how inferior I must be on such a subject to the noble and learned Lord; but I beg to ask him, as an English lawyer, why are these freemen of all the rest of his Majesty's subjects, why are these freemen of all mankind, to have a perpetuity of their property? Why is their property, of all the property of the country, alone to be perpetual. Why, none of your Lordships property is inalienable; if any of your Lordships attempted to create a perpetuity for yourselves, by will or by deed, the noble and learned Lord, with his sense of justice and knowledge of the law, would tear it to shivers in an instant, and your property would go, according to the disposition of the law. Why, then, my Lords, are these rights, which are prejudicial to the community at large, as well as to the freemen themselves, to be preserved in perpetuity.—I believe them to be prejudicial to the freemen themselves, I think I see the noble Lord opposite, who introduced a Bill for the very purpose of permitting a division and appropriation of these lands, 442 in order to prevent the continuance of all these rights of common. But, my Lords, it is vain for me to argue this question, for it has long been admitted by all lawyers—by all statesmen—by all writers on political economy—and by all who have studied the effects which these rights of property have upon the interests and well-being of mankind. This Bill, however, provides for the perfect security of all rights at present in existence, while it declares that the property shall afterwards be appropriated to other purposes; and in providing for its subsequent destination, I think it is well borne out by considerations of public utility; for I believe the future appropriation of this property will be in the highest degree advantageous to the community, while it commits no injustice towards any. I, for one, therefore, shall give my opposition to the clause.
The Earl of Haddington
wished, before addressing himself to the question immediately before their Lordships, to offer a single observation on what had fallen from his noble Friend who had just sat down, with respect to the Commissioners. His noble Friend had complained of the noble and learned Lord (Lord Lyndhurst) for making an accusation against those Commissioners, and for describing some of them as being Whigs, and others of them as being more than Whigs, while the noble and learned Lord himself felt very acutely, when it was mentioned that in a former period of his life he was a Whig. But the noble and learned Lord was charged not only with having been a Whig, but with having, for the sake of power and office, abandoned his Whig principles and become a Tory. This was an attack which the noble and learned Lord naturally felt very acutely; and so feeling, repelled with so much force, that the charge had not since been repeated. But what imputation did the noble and learned Lord cast against the Commissioners?—that they had changed their principles? No. But the charge was against the Government, that they, having issued a Commission of Inquiry—which, of all inquiries that were ever instituted, ought to have been undertaken in the most careful and impartial manner—had selected for that purpose persons, who with one exception, were all of one tinge of party politics. This was no imputation upon the Commissioners, of course, though it took from the strength 443 of their Report; but it was an imputation against the conduct of his Majesty's Ministers. He had heard the speech of his noble Friend with no small feelings of pain and surprise. It was with no small pain that he heard from the first Minister of the Crown notions which appeared to him so extremely loose and dangerous, upon the subject of Corporation property. Property he would assert it was; for it was the property of the freemen. They were of the lower class of the community; the most of them were poor men; and he believed that, to many of them, those little lots of property were of great importance. Having himself been for eight years connected with a large body of them, he knew that the possession of these rights gave them pride and satisfaction; and he wished to ask what there was in those feelings that deserved censure? What was there in this property that rendered it less worthy of respect from their Lordships than the property of the richest individuals? Did their Lordships think that they could deal thus lightly with the property of thousands; and that when the day came, as come it might, when fanciful speculators and political theorists might doubt whether certain rights of property held by certain other individuals, were or were not advantageous—were or were not advantageous to the public in general—to that tyrant, the public, who was so often invoked—or to such a portion of the public as in the shape of a popular community might exist in a state of agitation perhaps in the immediate vicinity of their Lordships' House—did their Lordships think that when such doubts should be started they could successfully resist the application of the same principle to all other rights of property? Would it not, however, be their Lordships' duty—would it not be the duty of the other House of Parliament, to defend those other rights? Would their Lordships then, consent to establish a precedent which would make it inconsistent to defend those rights should such a case arise? He could not follow his noble Friend into all the distinctions he had taken as to this being a disadvantageous sort of property, and that it was a bad plan that one man should have one part of the produce of the land, and another man another part of that produce. Why, there was no end of making distinctions of this sort. Take, for instance, the lay impropriator of tithes. 444 His might be considered a disadvantageous sort of property; but was not his right as sacred as that of the owner of the soil? But if they were to deal with the right of the lay impropriator how far would the right of the owner of the soil be safe? It was necessary to make a stand in limine against these doctrines about property. Upon the whole of this matter he entirely concurred in every word stated by his noble and learned Friend (Lord Lyndhurst). He thought it was the peculiar province of their Lordships to stand in the breach and resist this attack upon the property of the poor. He concurred in thinking that if they failed to introduce this clause into the Bill, the Bill itself ought not to pass their Lordships' House. No speculative benefit, no experiment, no untried theories, could be of sufficient value to induce their Lordships to commit an act of gross injustice, or what is neither more nor less than plunder and spoliation. His noble Friend had said, indeed, that he would consent to a modification, and extend the period during which these rights should be reserved to the children of existing freemen. But he would not thank his noble Friend for that concession. Having invaded the principle of the rights of property, he wondered that his noble Friend should stop short, and leave any property at all to those who were now in the actual possession of it. His noble Friend had just as good a right to take the property away from existing freemen as he had to deprive their successors of it. Why, might it not be asked, in the language used elsewhere, act so shabbily? Why, not give the community the full benefit of the bad principle? If the principle were available at all, the noble Viscount ought to destroy all these rights at once. He had just as good a right to take this property from those now enjoying it as he had to take it from those who were to succeed them. The noble Earl concluded by expressing a hope that the Bill might come out of the Committee so improved as to give satisfaction to those for whose benefit it was intended, but certainly in its present shape he could not consent to it.
§ The Duke of Wellington
said that the noble Viscount would have done as well if he had made the observations last night which he had made to-night. He begged to observe, that the noble Viscount had put into his (the Duke of Wellington's) 445 mouth that which he did not say; at all events, the noble Viscount had omitted to state the reasoning which accompanied those words. When the noble Viscount thought proper to rebuke him, it would have been very desirable that the noble Viscount should also have refuted the reasoning by which he had followed up his observations. What he had said was, that the Commissioners had omitted the Evidence from their Report for party purposes, and he then stated his reasons for thinking so. He stated that they might have taken the evidence in writing, and might have given it to the government with as much facility as, and with more accuracy than, they had made their Report. Had the noble Viscount given any answer to that? No such thing; he had not said one word about the matter. He (the Duke of Wellington) had likewise said that the Commissioners might, if they had thought proper, have referred to the evidence which refuted Sir F. Palgrave's Protest, which they knew of before they made their Report. Had the noble Viscount stated anything in answer to that? Not one word; but the noble Viscount had come down to the House to rebuke him for saying that which he did not assert upon his own authority, but which was founded upon reasoning—whether well founded or not was not now the question. Having said so much, he would not weaken the arguments of his noble Friends who had already spoken in favour of the amendment, by adding one word upon the question, excepting this, that he begged to remind their Lordships that these freemen had in general obtained their freedom by servitude or by purchase: if so, they had given a valuable consideration for it, and under these circumstances he thought they were entitled to their Lordships' protection.
had no doubt that what the noble Duke had just said was considered as a well-grounded matter of complaint against his noble Friend (Melbourne), the charge being that, instead of answering the noble Duke last night, he had answered him this night. He had no doubt that the reason why his noble Friend did not answer the noble Duke last night was, that he (Lord Brougham) had taken upon himself the burden of the debate on the ministerial side of the question ["Hear, hear!"] "And why not (said Lord Brougham)? If my noble Friend does not 446 repudiate my assistance, I do not see why his adversaries have any right to complain. On the contrary, they have great reason to be satisfied, for they may be assured of one thing, that if instead of my having answered them, my noble Friend had done so himself, they would have had a much worse customer to have dealt with." The noble and learned Lord proceeded to say that he had taken a part in the debate because he had himself originated the measure, and considered that it would have been unmanly to have shrunk from its defence. But with respect to the complaint of the noble Duke, though it might be well founded, there was one thing of which the noble Duke had no right to complain. The answer had been made to-night by his noble Friend, in the presence of the noble Duke: but how had he (Lord Brougham) been treated? He could not have believed it unless he had heard it from the testimony of men who were incapable of deceiving. [The Earl of Wicklow: You did not come in till half-past seven o'clock.] I came in at half-past seven o'clock—that is the charge of the noble Lord. Perhaps, in his opinion, it is an impeachable offence—a great moral iniquity ["Hear, hear!" from the Earl of Wicklow]. The noble Lord says it is a great moral iniquity. [The Earl of Wicklow: I said no such thing.] You did not say so, but you cheered when I said it, which is tantamount to giving your assent to it. My Lords, am I bound to be here from sun-rise to sun-set? I was here this morning at the sitting of the House to do judicial business. If any other man in this House, except the noble Earl, will have the courage to get up and say I do not attend to my duty in this House, I will retire from the House and plead guilty to the charge. There is no man in this House who attends one-fifth part so much as I do. I have been here every day, from the 13th of February, at ten o'clock in the morning till the rising of the House. I was not lounging upon the seats last night, like some noble Lords—I took part in the debate, and I shall always do so when it suits my convenience; I care not one jot whether my doing so pleases noble Lords or displeases them. I do not do it to please them, but to satisfy my own sense of duty. I did it with infinite pain, because I was labouring under indisposition; but I did it as an act of justice to the Commissioners, whose conduct had been 447 impeached by speeches in the House and at the Bar, in their absence, and when they had not the physical possibility of defending themselves. I came here today at a quarter to eleven and remained till half-past five o'clock, when I left to attend a society elsewhere, and I find on my returning hither that I have been answered by my noble and learned Friend (Lyndhurst), whom I have never refused to meet in fair fight, face to face, in my life, though in all our conflicts, political and professional, nothing has for a mo-moment interfered with that friendship which unites us personally. It is a very extraordinary thing that my noble and learned Friend could not have just attended to the noble Duke's doctrine, and have made his answer last night intead of tonight—last night, when it would have been appropriate to the discussion. But no doubt the zeal of my noble and learned Friend in the cause of his clients, the Corporations, made it incumbent on him to treat me as the Commissioners have been treated—they were attacked in their absence, and I, their defender, have been replied to behind my back. Yes, my Lords, I see that not only do a large majority of you think that it was proper to attack, convict, and condemn the Commissioners in their absence, but that it was also proper to attack, convict, and condemn me, the defender of those Commissioners, in my absence ["Question!"] Yes, and that one or two of you cry "question!" when I undertake to meet this attack, from a total ignorance of my nature, and of my habits of life; from a foolish and ridiculous and absurd notion, that by crying "question!" you can put me down. Why, I have stood up against half the House of Commons when they have cried "question!" for three quarters of an hour, and they could not put me down. Catalinæ gladios contempsi; non tuos pertimescam. I know what it is to stand up against 300 men, pretending to be the representatives of the people, who have attempted to drown the voice of one man, who was their real friend and representative, and they did not succeed; and do you think that one of you, by crying "question!" can put me down?
The Earl of Rosslyn
rose to order. He put it to the noble and learned Lord himself, and he put it to their Lordships, whether the observations of the noble and learned Lord had any thing to do with the Question before the House.
§ Lord Lyndhurst
said the reason why he did not reply to his noble and learned Friend last night, was the lateness of the hour when his noble and learned Friend finished his speech. He (Lord Lyndhurst) did not mean particularly to reply to his noble and learned Friend to-night, but he thought he could not address their Lordships without saying something in defence of the Corporations.
§ The Earl of Ripon
lamented exceedingly the course which the debate had taken: he should confine himself entirely to the question before the House. He could not extract anything from the speech of his noble Friend at the head of the Government in the shape of an argument that there was any high ground of expediency to warrant a course of legislation which, on the principle of justice, ought not to take place. He could not conceive upon what principle they were called upon to take away this property, unless they could establish a clear and intelligible ground that there was some great public object to be gained by taking it away, and which could not be gained without it. All that his noble Friend had said was that this species of property was injurious to those who held it, and injurious to the community; and then his noble Friend invoked the principles of political economy to sanction this proposition. But, whatever speculative opinions his noble Friend might entertain, yet if these poor men told him that their interests were involved in the protection of these rights, he could not consent to violate them. It was perfectly ludicrous to argue a question of this kind upon such very inadequate and unsubstantial grounds as those that had been advanced by his noble Friend. He had supported this Bill with a sincere and honest desire that it should pass into a law; but he at the same time must support the clause proposed by the noble and learned Lord. Some persons in high places might designate this conduct as yielding to the sentiments and dictation of persons who were the friends and creatures of corruption. He did not know whether he was understood by their Lordships; but he referred to a certain document which had been published, with respect to which, if it was intelligible at all—which he would hardly presume to pronounce, he considered it was a specimen of marvellous indiscretion. With regard to the Bill, he wished to give greater free- 449 dom in elections, in order to satisfy and conciliate the public mind; but at the same time he was anxious to conciliate it with justice to individuals. That was the feeling which prompted him to support this Amendment; and he should do so, regardless of what might be said of him in that House or elsewhere.
The Earl of Radnor
said, that noble Lords talked of this Corporation property as if it were the real and indefeasible inheritance of the freemen, whereas it was property, the value of which might be diminished to an indefinite extent by the persons who had the management of it. It was said that the freemen highly valued this property; he did not believe that to be the fact; although it was true that those who had the management of it were very anxious to keep it. How could property be of any great value to a numerous body of freemen, who, as in the case of Leicester, were liable to have their members increased by no less than 800 shareholders in one year? The noble Duke had accused the Commissioners of not attending to Sir Francis Palgrave's protest, before they gave in their Report. Now, on turning to the dates, he found the protest dated, but not the Report. There was, however, a Commissioner present in the House, to whom he (Lord Radnor) applied, and that Gentleman had written him the following note:—"When Sir Francis Palgrave stated his objection to the Report, the last thing he said to me was, 'I will read the Report carefully, and if lean sign it, I will!' On the same evening he wrote to Mr. Goulburn, to say that a Report was coming which he could not sign, and requiring to know whether he would allow a protest against it. The Commissioners never saw the protest till long after our Report was sent in." Therefore the Commissioners had not an opportunity to refer to the protest before they signed their Report. The noble and learned Lord had renewed the attack upon the Commissioners. He would not say (because others had done that) how accessible the noble and learned Lord might be to imputations similar to those he had thrown out against these Gentlemen; but he could not help expressing in the strongest terms his dissent from the language which the noble and learned Lord had used against those Gentlemen, by way of setting up the evidence given at the Bar. He talked as if it were con- 450 clusive evidence, and such as could not be impeached. Now he would venture to say that the noble and learned Lord, when sitting in a court of justice, would not have hung a cat upon such evidence as that. What was the case? Here were persons coming to the Bar, applying to their Lordships to hear their own evidence. They were themselves the witnesses, and the instructors of counsel, and the evidence they gave was as to their own conduct. There was nothing offered on the other side: they were the interested party, and they drew the briefs. On more than one occasion he had seen the witness suggest questions to the counsel; and on more than one occasion, also, he had seen the witness prevent the counsel from putting questions to which he supposed it would not be possible to give a satisfactory reply. Would it be said that evidence so obtained was of a character that would justify their Lordships in acting upon it? It had been said by a noble Lord last night that it was the duty of that House to do that which it deemed right in spite of the popular opinion of the House, and to leave the public afterwards to appreciate the soundness of their views. Now, it certainly appeared to him that the House had done much to lower itself in the popular estimation by the proceedings which it had adopted with respect to this Bill. If they did that which was just and honourable, he had no doubt but that ultimately the public would give them credit for it; in the present instance, however, he thought the House had acted in a way which could only reflect discredit upon them. He should certainly oppose the Amendment of the noble and learned Lord.
§ Lord Segrave
had taken the opportunity, when presenting a petition on a former occasion, to state that he approved of the principle of the Bill; but at the same time a sense of justice led him to declare that in his opinion some alterations would be required in its details. In making that remark he could not refrain from alluding to a subject which had been more or less adverted to on both sides of the House; and that was the indecent attacks which were made from without upon the proceedings which took place within the walls of that House; as if their Lordships were bound at once to surrender their right of discussing and considering any measure that might come before them, and blindly 451 to adopt it because it had passed through another branch of the Legislature. It was notorious that if their Lordships did not submit to that species of dictation, a part of the press became clamorous, and the walls of the town were placarded with such questions as these—"What is to be done with the Lords?" or "Of what use are the Lords?" Ever since he had taken part in political affairs he had been attached to what was called the liberal side even to the ultra liberal side; but he confessed that this species of conduct from without on the part of pretended friends filled him with the deepest regret, because he was sure it must detach from the side to which he belonged its truest and most honest friends. If he were asked "Of what use were the Lords?" his answer would be "to hold the balance between the Crown and the people—to protect the state against the unlimited power of the Sovereign on the one hand—and against the violence of a democracy on the other." On the subject of the Amendment brought forward by the noble and learned Lord he begged to state that being intimately connected with a very ancient corporation, which, on the death of a late illustrious Duke had done him the honour of electing him as their High Steward, he could distinctly and positively take upon himself to say that the benefits which the freemen derived from their rights and privileges as members of the corporation were of a substantial description, and were valued by them in the highest degree. For that reason he felt himself conscientiously bound to give his support to the Amendment which had been moved by the noble and learned Lord.
would not trespass upon their Lordships' time for more than a minute; but he thought that his situation as a member of the legal profession called upon him to make a few observations with respect to the Amendment moved by his noble and learned Friend. His noble and learned Friend had founded his Amendment upon what he termed a sacred regard for the rights of property. He (Lord Plunkett) hoped there was only one feeling on every side of the House on that subject. No one would deny that in that House it was their bounden duty to regard the rights of property with the utmost care and anxiety. But it appeared to him that his noble and learned Friend, deceiving himself, had practised a sort of sophis- 452 try upon the House, by calling upon it to consider the Bill as a violation of the rights of private property. The rights of freemen were not equivalent to the rights of property: they had nothing in them indefeasible, hereditary, or acquired by industry or labour; they devolved on the freemen in their political and not in their private character—as portions of a public body, not as individuals. They were not direct rights, therefore they were only incidental to their public capacity, if the Bill went to take away the direct rights of property, he (Lord Plunkett) should feel it his duty to concur entirely with his noble and learned Friend, however dependent these rights might be even on the select body or corporation. In that case he should say that to adopt the principle would be to admit a very dangerous precedent, which in the end would be subversive of all tenure of property and all rights thereto. Property, if held in a direct right, however precariously it might be circumstanced, should never be infringed on. But the Bill before their Lordships did not infringe on property. It was introduced for a totally different object. It was not for taking away rights of any kind, direct or indirect, but for regulating the internal constitution of corporations. If the indirect rights of freemen were incidentally affected by it, it was only because the possessors were members of these corporations and it affected them only in their corporate capacity. His noble and learned Friend (Lord Brougham) had given a distinct and substantial answer to the substantial objection respecting these rights. He (Lord Plunkett) only desired to give a technical answer to a technical objection. The same argument urged in favour of incidental rights in this instance and their inviolability might be urged with equal force and efficacy in the case of any alteration in any department of the State, whereby the interests of individuals would be injured. The rights in question were not equal to the rights of private property; they were public rights, and, as such, subject to the public good. He (Lord Plunkett) spoke as a lawyer on the subject. He wished he could do the general abstract question all the justice which had been done to it in another place by a late excellent, Friend of his, whose name, to be revered, had but to be mentioned, he meant, Sir James Mackintosh; but that was impossible, and he should not attempt it. He 453 could only repeat that the rights of private property were absolute and indefeasible, such as the Legislature could not or should not touch. But the rights at present under consideration were public, derived to the possessors in their politic character. Unless they could be dealt with as the Legislature saw fit, there was an end to all improvements in public matters.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
was only induced to rise in consequence of a remark which had been made by a noble Lord opposite, that they were taking great trouble and great interest about the property of freemen, who had no feeling of interest in the matter themselves. He wished the noble Lord to know that he was completely mistaken when he made that remark. It was true that the noble Lords who had presented petitions against the measure, with the laudable view of not taking up too much of their Lordships' time, did not state the contents of those petitions at length. Had they done so, it would have been seen that the freemen in almost every corporate town in the kingdom had expressed the utmost anxiety about the preservation of their rights and privileges.
The Marquess of Northampton
said, he felt that he should degrade himself if he suffered any feelings of partiality to the general principle of the measure to interfere with his sense of justice. The question before the House was, not whether an injustice should be done the present race of freemen or their immediate descendants, for that was capable of being remedied; but whether an injustice should be done the generation or generations which might succeed them. The rights of freemen were to be purchased by the provisions of the Bill; but these could only be sold by the present generation as for themselves, not as for their successors. In other words, the purchase could be valid only for the lives of the present freemen and their sons, not for their descendants in perpetuity. The noble Marquess proceeded to read an extract from the last number of the Edinburgh Review, article, "Philosophy of Mankind," on the rights of property. The article argued that security was the soul of capital, and that without it it would be a useless mass. He (the Marquess of Northampton) agreed with the sentiments it expressed; and he thought so did the House. The Legisla- 454 ture could never contemplate property as a matter of small moment, or its security as a thing of trivial importance. An erroneous course taken by their Lordships on this occasion might involve the country in hopeless evils. He would put it to the Ministers, therefore, whether they had not better yield when the subject was of such difficulty? He (the Marquess of Northampton) regretted the tone of the speech of the noble and learned Lord who moved the Amendment, and was sorry that, by mixing up the judicial and the party question together, he had not done the subject the justice it deserved. He would support the Amendment.
§ The Marquess of Lansdowne
agreed with the noble Marquess, that the question was one beset with difficulties, but he thought it too important to be at once yielded by the Ministers. A numerous class of persons were about to be affected in their political existence, and certain rights held in conjunction with that existence would, necessarily, be disturbed. As far as these rights could partake of the nature of property, he thought the vigilance exercised by their Lordships was perfectly proper, and, therefore, he should state the grounds on which he opposed the Amendment. In his opinion it did not in any degree partake of the nature of individual or private property. It was vested in a certain class of persons as a political privilege in reward for their performance of certain public duties; and it was inseparably connected in the idea of the grantee, as well as in that of the person granting it—whether it were a king or a private person—with the performance of certain public conditions. It was absurd to suppose that it was from any especial affection to the class called freemen that it was granted; and, therefore, it did not follow that it was perpetual if these duties were to be neglected, or the stipulations to remain unperformed. The right was granted as a public trust—as a reward for the performance of certain public duties. It did not, however, follow that it was to be for ever. If that principle were admitted, the offices and emoluments of admirals, generals, aldermen of London, and other offices of a similar character, should be perpetual as to emolument and hereditary as to succession, and the Parliament would be bound to uphold their rights and defend their privileges. The French Parliaments 455 were bodies established originally for the dispensation of justice, and they possessed estates, like the corporations of England, to facilitate the performance of that duty; yet, no one attempted to assert, on their abolition and the substitution of courts in their stead, that these estates and emoluments should be continued to their descendants. But, what were the freemen about to be deprived of by the Bill before their Lordships? Nothing. When the noble and learned Lord entered into a statement of this case he produced an unfair amount of the average. He said, 26,000l., but that was the present positive value, not that with which the House was called to deal—the reversion at the end of forty years, which would be about one-third of the sum. He could not agree with the arrangement of the noble Marquess who had just sat down, because no arrangement would be satisfactory to the parties. If the question arose on inchoate rights, it should be carried into all parts of the subject. The inchoate rights of the freemen had been spoken of by the noble Lord, but he had forgotten to mention the inchoate rights possessed by every inhabitant as well as freeman. The very poorest inhabitant had an inchoate right to be free, but he was stripped of it by the exclusive privileges hitherto enjoyed by the corporations. Formerly the class of persons of whom the freemen were composed might be the fit depositaries of political privileges; but if that were no longer the case, was it to be maintained that the Legislature was not at liberty to vest these privileges elsewhere? The Legislature had already done so with respect to the Scotch corporations, and he confessed he felt some surprise to find some noble Lords who had raised no objection to the Scotch Burgh Reform Bill, among the strongest of the opponents to the present measure. He thought their Lordships would not be justified in perpetuating a class of men solely for the purpose of enjoying property which it was never intended they should enjoy as individuals.
said, that if the Bill as it stood interfered with property strictly so called, or if, in proposing to deal with the rights of freemen, their Lordships were pursuing a course wholly unprecedented in the proceedings of the Legislature, he would vote for the proposition of his noble and learned Friend (Lord Lynd- 456 hurst). But, he maintained that they were not interfering with property strictly so called, and that they were not pursuing an unprecedented course. His noble and learned Friend (Lord Plunkett), and the noble Marquess wno had last spoken, had pointed out the distinction which existed, and ought to be observed, between public and private property; and if precedents were wanted, he would only refer to the law which enabled men to cut off entails, and to the Act which had recently been introduced by the noble and learned Lord (Lyndhurst) himself with respect to the Thellusson property. No compensation had been given on demolishing the borough system. No compensation had been given to the corporations of Edinburgh, Glasgow, and other places in Scotland, when property to a considerable amount was taken from them by an Act of Parliament. There was nothing, therefore, in that respect which ought to influence their Lordships with reference to the measure under consideration.
§ The House divided on the Amendment. Contents 130; Not Contents 37;—Majority 93.458
|List of the CONTENTS.|
|Rutland||Hillsborough (Marquess of Downshire)|
|Doncaster (Duke of Buccleuch)||Brownlow|
|Airlie||Vane (Marquess of (Londonderry|
|Sydney||Meldrom (Earl of Aboyne)|
|Gordon (Earl of Aberdeen)||Harris|
|Combermere||Ker (Marquess of Lothian)|
|BARONS.||Ormonde (Marquess of Ormonde)|
|Willoughby de Broke||Oriel (Viscount Ferrard)|
|Reay||Penshurst (Viscount Strangford)|
|Hay (Earl of Kinnoul)|
|Camden (Earl of Brecknock)||Lyndhurst|
|Dynevor||Melross (Earl of Haddington)|
|Montague||Stuart de Rothesay|
|Gage (Viscount Gage)||Fitzgerald|
|Stuart of Castle Stuart||Ashburton|
|(Earl of Moray)||ARCHBISHOP.|
|Stewart of Garlies||Canterbury|
|(Earl of Galloway)||BISHOPS.|
|Wodehouse||Lichfield & Coventry|
|Fitzgibbon (Earl of Clare)||Worcester|
|Sheffield (Earl of Sheffield)||Exeter|
|Richmond||Melbourne (Viscount Melbourne)|
|Lansdowne||Somerhill (Marquess of Clanricarde)|
|Westminster||Minster (Marquess Conyngham)|
|Chichester||Brougham and Vaux|
|Minto||Kilmarnock (Earl of Erroll)|
|Stradbroke||Sefton (Earl of Sefton)|
|Lichfield||Clements (Earl of Leitrim)|
|Howard of Effingham||Kenlis (Marquess of Headfort)|
|Saye and Sele|
|Solway (Marquess of Queensberry)||BISHOPS.|
§ Lord Lyndhurst
regretted that in moving the Clause which their Lordships had just adopted, he had been compelled to preface it with remarks which were absolutely necessary, in order to do justice to his feelings towards those who were the subjects of that Clause. That, however, being over, he would propose his next Amendment in the shortest manner that was consistent with an explanation of his object. Their Lordships would recollect the history of the Bill for Amending the Representation of the People. In the first draught of that Bill, the right of existing freemen or burgesses to vote at the election of Members of Parliament was provided for. After a short interval, that was extended to persons possessing inchoate rights. In that form the Bill came up to their Lordships' House, and was rejected. It was then considered expedient by those who had the conduct of the measure in the other House of Parliament, to do something further to conciliate their Lordships. Accordingly an Amended Bill came up to their Lordships, extending it to all who might possess the right of freemen hereafter, acquired either by birth or servitude, through or from persons originally freemen. That Bill was adopted by their Lordships, and was considered a final measure. And yet there were now two Bills in their Lordships' House, the one altering by a side-wind this right of voting; the other altering the forms of election. The Bill now under consideration, was entituled a Bill for the "Better Regulation of Municipal Corporations." When introduced into the other House of Parliament, it contained no provision to preserve the rights of freemen to vote at the election of Members of Parliament. That was made a matter of Debate. The Bill, however, went into Committee; but there every endeavour to amend it was ineffectual. It was re-committed, with the same result. It was only in the last stage of the Bill in the other House that a provision had been introduced into it, extending protection only to the rights of existing freemen; thus making a decided alteration in the law as it stood, when the Bill for the Reform of the Representation 459 was passed. He did not think that any serious objection would be made to the Clause, which he was about to propose; the substance of which was, that the right of voting, as it existed under the Act for the Reform of the Representation, should be preserved. When he told their Lordships that, on a division in the other House of Parliament, a majority of the representatives of England, who alone were interested in the question, voted for the introduction of such a provision, he thought that that fact made out so strong a case in favour of his proposition, that their Lordships could not refuse to give it their sanction. His Lordship concluded with reading the Clause which he proposed to introduce, the substance of which was as follows:—"And whereas the right of voting at the election of Members of Parliament, was by the Act entituled, 'An Act for Amending the Representation of the People,' preserved to all persons who then were, or hereafter might become, freemen or burgesses of any borough represented in Parliament under certain conditions named in the Act; be it, therefore, enacted that whoever, as a burgess or freeman, enjoys, or shall enjoy, by birth or servitude, the right of voting at the election of a Member of Parliament, shall be entitled to enjoy such right as if this Act had not been passed."
§ Viscount Melbourne
would endeavour to abstain from using any more words than the noble and learned Lord had used. He certainly expected that the adoption of the last Clause proposed by the noble and learned Lord would be considered as rendering necessary the present proposition. For his part, he was of opinion that the Bill should stand as it was. The noble and learned Lord had given them the history of the Bill for reforming the representation of the people. The noble and learned Lord seemed to imply that there was a sort of understanding with reference to that Bill of which he was not at all aware. According to the noble and learned Lord, a provision had been introduced into the third Reform Bill, for the express purpose of conciliating their Lordships. If so, it certainly had not had the effect which it was intended to have. It had conciliated very few indeed of their Lordships. For the second reading of that Bill was opposed nearly as strongly as the second reading of the second Reform Bill, which was thrown out by their Lordships in 460 October, 1831. And, if their Lordships were to trust to the representations of a noble Earl on a former evening (to which representations he would not now particularly allude), the eventual passing of that Bill was not in any respect owing to any provision which had been introduced into it for the purpose of conciliation. He entirely disagreed from the Amendment proposed by the noble and learned Lord. He disagreed from it on the grounds upon which the noble and learned Lord had himself founded it. He (Lord Melbourne) said that the proposition was rejected by the House of Commons. And here he must observe, that it was not fitting or respectful in the Imperial Parliament of Great Britain and Ireland, to say that a Bill was carried by a majority of any particular description of Members. The Parliament was a united Parliament. Its duty was to legislate, unitedly, for the interests of the whole empire. And if they said that a Bill had been adopted because the majority in its favour were composed of the Members of one particular country, what was that but to favour the repeal of the Union—to favour that separation which had been heretofore so loudly deprecated? In his opinion, the rights of freemen, such as were contemplated by the noble and learned Lord, ought no longer to exist. He disclaimed the idea of any interference with the rights of property founded on the fantastic notions of political economy. But he thought that the rights in question differed from all other rights of property, and that they were sufficiently protected by the Bill as it stood. It was on that ground that he had opposed the last Clause proposed by the noble and learned Lord. He said the same of the Clause now proposed. It was not because any particular provision had been introduced into the Reform Bill that the Municipal Corporation Bill was to be rendered an imperfect and inefficient measure. The noble and learned Lord said that, although the Reform Bill had been considered a final measure, there were two Bills before their Lordships—one trenching on the machinery by which the poll was to be taken at elections. Now, did the noble and learned Lord mean to say that the Reform Bill was to be so peremptorily considered a final measure, that no improvement in the mode of election should be adopted? He considered the proposition of the noble and learned, Lord 461 replete with disadvantages and inconveniences, and that its adoption would be inconsistent with the system which they were about to introduce. He should, therefore, oppose the Clause.
§ The Earl of Harrowby
observed, that the Bill proposed the extinction of the rights of freemen. He had supported the last Clause proposed by his noble and learned Friend, and he should support the present, because he considered the perpetuity of those rights as one of the most valuable parts of the Constitution. In an able work which had been written by a friend of his, now no more, it was stated that it was a matter of regret that the lower classes of the people in this country had much less direct individual interest and connexion with the land, than in most other parts of Europe. He agreed that this was very unfortunate, although he could not see any immediate means of remedying it. But here was a numerous class of persons connected with landed property, having direct interest in the land. Now, although he could not create such a class, God forbid that he should do anything to destroy such a class. The freemen had purchased their rights by useful industry. Those rights had originated in long and laborious apprenticeships. What they had thus purchased was not merely their own individual rights, but the right of transmitting their privileges to their immediate descendants, and even to their connexions. Such a right conferred a great value on the property in question. It was a valuable right not only in itself, but with reference to the feelings which it was calculated to engender. Nothing could be more desirable, with reference to the general peace of the country, than that even the lowest classes of the people should have the feelings connected with hereditary property. For their Lordships to set aside the hereditary rights of the poorer classes, would be to encourage an attempt to set aside the hereditary rights of the other classes of society.
§ Lord Hatherton
observed that the freemen, generally speaking, were a very inferior class of persons. They need not possess any property, or pay any rates; and in many instances, their residence was principally in gaols. To show the facilities which they afforded for corruption, the noble Lord read various statements of the vast number of persons who had been admitted as freemen just pre- 462 vious to general elections. For such persons the Bill proposed to substitute a class of men who had paid rates for three years. If their Lordships refused to sanction this proposition, he was afraid they would expose themselves to strong observations out of doors, where it was the universal opinion that they had found the class of individuals which the Bill tended to get rid of—extremely convenient, and easily to be managed on certain occasions.
The Earl of Carnarvon
said, that the noble Viscount observed that he was not aware of any understanding having existed with reference to the Reform Bill. He (Lord Carnarvon) might be greatly mistaken, but he certainly thought that the principle which had been laid down by Ministers in advocating that measure was, that there was to be no further interference with the elective franchise. He believed that it was on that understanding that the majority of their Lordships consented to adopt the Reform Bill. He believed that it had been so considered by the country at large. The noble Lord who had just spoken, had said that their Lordships would expose themselves to unpleasant suspicions, if they adopted the proposition of his noble and learned Friend. If, however, their Lordships did not defend privileges which had the same foundation as their own privileges, how could they expect successfully to defend their own privileges if they were attacked? He hoped he should not be supposed guilty of the affectation of wishing to be considered as the peculiar champion of popular rights; but he must declare, that he strongly objected to see the poorer classes deprived of their privileges. Admitting that property ought to be the test of certain rights, still he did not like to see a hard and inexorable line drawn on the subject. It had, perhaps, been the fault of past legislators, that they had not sufficiently consulted the interests of the middle classes. Their fault seemed to have been, not that they had consulted too much the interests of the middle classes (for that was impossible), but that they had consulted them too exclusively, and without sufficient reference to the claims of the poorer classes. The bias of the House of Commons was more and more in favour of the middle classes; and he feared that scarcely a voice was raised in that House in favour of the lower classes. Under these circumstances, he thought it 463 of the utmost importance that the interests of the lower classes should not be neglected by their Lordships.
The Earl of Limerick
asked the authors of the Reform Bill, whether they were satisfied with its operation? Was it not notorious that in many instances that operation had been most injurious? Was it not notorious that the south and the west of Ireland were engrossed by a band of persons who carried everything according to their own particular views? ["Question!" withdraw!"]
§ Clause agreed to.
§ Lord Lyndhurst
moved anoth er Clause, the substance of which was, that the Town-clerk of every borough should, on or before the 25th of October next, make out a list of all the freemen on the roll who had been admitted as burgesses of such borough; and that when hereafter any claim of admission should be made, and after examination, established, that the name of the person making that successful claim should be entered on the roll; and that the Town-clerk should make out a copy of the roll to be open for inspection, without expense, at all reasonable times; and deliver copies of it, on the payment of a reasonable remuneration, to any persons requiring them.
said, that the principle involved in this Clause had been already discussed and decided upon; but he would observe that it fully illustrated all the defects, without any of the advantages of the hereditary principle. He objected entirely to the arithmetical argument of his noble Friend—that Irish questions were to be decided by the feelings of the majority of Irish Members; English questions by the feelings of the majority of English Members; and Scotch questions by those of Scotch Members. He was sorry to find that his noble Friend, in his old age, was becoming a Repealer; for certainly that principle was essentially one of repeal, and one which would lead to strange conclusions.
§ Lord Lyndhurst
thought that the Clauses which he proposed would answer the purposes desired; if they would not, he was willing to amend them so as to give effect completely to their Lordships' intentions.
asked if the noble Lord wished to preserve the rights of freemen for municipal purposes?
§ Clause inserted.
§ On the Clause which provides that the boundaries of Parliamentary boroughs shall be the boundaries for municipal purposes, and that the boundaries of others should be determined by the King in Council,
§ The Duke of Wellington
said, that there was no part of the Bill which was more complained of, and which had excited more alarm and discontent than this Clause; many portions of boroughs not now included within the boundaries would be compelled to pay the rates levied for municipal purposes, without participating in the Parliamentary privileges of the boroughs. He moved, as an Amendment,—"That the boundaries of boroughs in schedules A and B, should remain fixed as they now are, unless Parliament should otherwise determine."
had not heard that this portion of the Bill had created the alarm of which the noble Duke spoke. There was no inconvenience in the arrangement proposed, and the only effect of the Amendment would be to cause much delay.
§ The Earl of Devon
said, that on this particular part of the subject they were proceeding to act without sufficient information. Before they adopted the course of fixing the limits to which local taxation should extend—for that was one of the effects of the Bill—they should ascertain in the first instance whether the persons included within those limits required the assistance which it was the object of that taxation to afford.
§ The Duke of Richmond
did not think that there was any hardship in calling upon the proprietors of land in the neighbourhood of towns to contribute towards the municipal expenditure; their land was rendered so much more valuable by the circumstance of that proximity; and they were especially interested in the keeping up of an efficient police.
§ Lord Wharncliffe
would not have been disposed to question the justice and conclusiveness of the noble Duke's (Richmond's) reasoning, if this Bill would confer that additional value on property situate in the neighbourhood of a borough, in consideration of which it was thought proper to subject it to the imposition of a borough rate. But such was not, by any means, the fact. That property was, no 465 doubt, valuable from its situation; but this provision of the Bill would impose a tax without affording any equivalent advantage, and in many instances would be productive of the greatest hardship and inconvenience.
did not believe the noble Duke (Wellington) was aware of the length to which his Amendment, if adopted, would really go. Its effect would be to postpone the operation of the Bill at least for twelve months, until another Act of Parliament whose nature, authors, provisions, and fate they could not foresee, could be introduced to settle the question of boundaries. The amendment involved everything to which boundary was applicable; among other things it would apply to the elective franchise within the borough, so that the old municipal boundaries being preserved, not above one third part of those entitled to vote would come within the purview of the Bill.
§ Lord Ashburton
remarked that the only inconvenience of delay would be this—that the boroughs would remain for a time with the same limits as at present existed; and that was much less evil than would be occasioned by the Bill in its present form. As an instance of the latter, he would refer to the borough of Thetford. The Commissioners had in that case included several thousands of acres belonging to him within the borough, although they had not before been liable to the payment of rates; their value would not be improved by the Bill; and as to the police, the efficiency of that could not in any way be increased. This slashing method of reform, which overlooked all individual interests, was inconsistent with justice.
§ Lord Hatherton
earnestly recommended the noble Duke to postpone his Amendment, in order to see in what manner it would affect each peculiar borough.
§ The Duke of Wellington
was not insensible to the advantages which might arise from connecting country districts with the borough for the purposes of voting; his object was to confine municipal taxation to towns without extending it too much to country districts.
§ Lord Lyndhurst
thought that certain districts might very well be annexed for Parliamentary purposes, which it would be very improper to annex to a borough for municipal purposes. At the same time, before this Bill passed, they might, as far as related to the particular boroughs referred 466 to in the Clause now under discussion, inspect the plans of the boundary commissioners, and determine which could properly apply to the municipal districts. What he most of all objected to was the leaving the settlement of this Question to the Privy Council, which he could not help thinking would be much better settled by Parliament, as had been the case with the Parliamentary Reform Bill.
§ Clause 7 agreed to. The House resumed. The Committee to sit again.