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Lord Arch. Hamilton's motion relative to the burgh of Montrose
The Navy estimates moved by Sir G. Warrender.--Army estimates introduced by Lord Palmerston.
N February 13th Lord their burghs--had seen how all
. [47 porate capacity, had lapsed and granted to Montrose was superior become dormant. Application to the old one. If the Crown, on was made through the lord ads its own specific authority, could vocate, to the king in council, to give a constitution better and re-establish the functions of the more enlarged than that which burgh, by granting what is called originally existed, it might, under a poll-election; that is, an election the same power, or assumption of of the magistrates and council by power, give one worse and more a general vote or poll of the contracted. Thus the form, if burgesses; but besides this poll not the existence, of all the election, the act of the king in Scotch burghs, were dependent council had taken to itself the upon the mere will of the crown, privilege of also granting a change or rather upon the will or caprice in the set or constitution of the of its ministers. What he called burgh; and this, he contended, in question was, the power of the was an usurpation of an illegal crown to alter the constitution of power. And although he was these burghs, and not the power ready to admit that the alteration of reviving their lapsed or dor. was an improvement and a benefit mant existence. Supposing that to the burgh, yet he must object parliament should take into coneven to a benefit, if conferred sideration the mismanagement through the medium of an usurped and decayed state of the Scotch and unconstitutional power a in burghs, and should effect an amethe crown. The crown was right lioration of their condition, what in reviving the dormant power of cause would Scotland have to election; but if any change was rejoice in such a just and benefito be made in the burgh itself, it cial measure, if a moment afterought to be made by parliament, wards his majesty's ministers and not by the mere will of the might abrogate all that had been crown, that is, by ministers. He done, by granting a new set, and had endeavoured to avail himself making what alterations in it they of legal authority in Scotland by pleased. There was another every means in his power ; and point to which he wished to he could find no authority, dead advert. The learned lord knew or living, which would sanction very well that there was a society this extraordinary power in the in Scotland called the Conven. erown. What had been done, tion of Burghs, which claimed its amounted to nothing more or less power by law, and certainly had than this ; that the crown took in fact exercised the power of upon itself to alter the constitue altering the constitution of several tion of a burgh in such a way, as burghs. Now, if this convention materially to affect the represen- had such right, and if his majesty's tation in that House. It consti. government had also the same tuted new offices to which the right, he begged to know to which right of voting for a member of of these authorities the burghs parliament was attached. It was must submit? Many of the no argument in favour of the pro- burghs of Scotland were so overceedings to say, that the new set whelmed with debt at this moment,
that little or no revenue remained who had no power at present to for their current expenses ; and take cognizance of the pecuniary the burgesses felt considerable concerns, and to enter into the alarm for their own individual and subject of the administration of private property. It had already the funds of these burghs; but happened in one case, that no this evil would be obviated by the person could be persuaded to bill of which notice had been undertake the office of magistrate. given by his learned friend, the If no political interests were con lord advocate. It was vain to cerned, he was sure that the state think of separating the question of long-continued abuse they had of reform, from giving to the suffered, and of degradation into burgesses the faculty of electing which they were fallen, would their magistrates : and the noble excite the sympathy of all parties lord could not state any practical in the House. The noble lord utility in the projected change, concluded with moving, That except with a view to a reform in there be laid before this House a parliament. As to the question copy of the Act or Warrant of of the legality of what had been his Majesty in Council, dated in done, it was rather for the deci. the month of September 1817, sion of a court of law, than for authorizing the guild brethren that of the House. Now, there and inhabitant burgesses in the was no individual of Montrose burgh of Montrose, to elect (fit affected by the change who had persons to be magistrates and not his legal remedy, and who town councillors of the same, might not question the legality of and authorizing and ordering an the election of magistrates under alteration in the former set or the new charter. The noble lord constitution of the said burgh in had argued, that though the all time coming
present arrangement for the Lord Castlereagh said, that the burgh of Montrose was good in reform which the noble lord itself, ministers might afterwards wished, would lead to an exten- make other arrangements of a sive change in the burgh elections very different character to favour of Scotland, and would therefore particular political views. But carry reform into the representa- here the act had grown out of the tion of that part of the country. circumstance of the suspension of There might be defects in that all the powers of the burgh. The part of the administration, as relief was generally solicited; there were defects in every insti- there was not one complaining tution ; but in so far as his majes- party; and therefore it was unfair ty's ministers were acquainted to consider an act called for under with the state of the country, such circumstances, the beginning there was
no part where the of an arbitrary system of interpopulation was in a sounder ference with the constitutions of condition than in the burghs of the burghs. Scotland. There seemed, how. After some farther observaever, a defect in the law of Scot- tions, his lordship said, that land with respect to the burghs, upon these grounds he considered
it as his duty to dissent from the residing in the burgh ; but he had motion.
forgotten that in the Declaration Mr. Abercromby affirmed that of Grievances at the Revolution, the subject brought forward by to levy money without the con. his noble friend had no connexion sent of parliament was declared with that of parliamentary reform. contrary to law. He knew that It was said, that it was only opinions had been given by when the rights of the burgh were counsel that the inhabitants were suspended, that the crown inter- liable for the debts of the burgh ; fered to reanimate them ; but in but though these opinions had the case alluded to, it went been given years ago, no suit had farther; it altered the set alto ever been commenced on them. gether. If this was wrong, it The magistrates of some burghs, was an usurpation on the part of Aberdeen for instance, had atthe Crown; and though in the tempted to levy petty customs present instance it might have for the defrayment of the public been exerted beneficially, yet it debt; but the question was ultiwent to establish a precedent mately decided on appeal to the which, in the hands of bad minis- House of Lords that the magis. ters, might be made use of to trates of burghs had no such justify the worst encroachments. power to levy customs. There No subject appeared to him was hardly a year in which appli. more suitable for parliamentary cations were not made to the inquiry. He thought that copies legislature by burghs, for a power of the old and new set should be of levying money to pay debts : produced, that they might be surely, if an'act of the town council able by the comparison to see was à sufficient authority, they whether the Crown had improperly would not have been so ill ad. interfered, or in such a manner vised as to apply to parliament. as demanded parliamentary in. The noble lord would find the quiry. If its interference was power exercised by the crown in improper, and no notice was the case of the burgh of Montrose, taken of it, the measure would be was virtually recognized in the acquiesced in, and be established Declaration of Grievances. The as a precedent. Finding that in complaint in that declaration the course of this year five or six against king James was, not for other burghs were likely to be altering the constitution of burghs, placed in a similar situation to but for having done so of his own that in which Montrose lately authority," without judgment, stood, he thought it of very great surrender, or consent.” In 1789 importance that the subject or 1790,
a motion should be fully discussed. respecting the state of the Scots
The Lord Advocate said, that burghs, and in the report of a the noble mover had given it as committee the modes were dishis opinion that the magistrates cussed by which alterations could and counsel of the burghs pos. be legally made by course of sessed an unlimited power of time, by the burghs themselves, taxing the property of persons and by the act
of the crown. The Vol. LX
case of Stirling was referred to, who declared their decided opinion and the right of altering the set, that a new constitution was neas was done in 1781 or 1782, was cessary for the sake both of the not questioned. The alteration magistrates and people. This in Stirling was precisely the same address was written by gentlemen as that in the burgh of Montrose; who had been in the uniform there was therefore no ground habit of supporting his majesty's for the allegation that this exer ministers. The hope of a change tion of the prerogative of the in the constitution of the burghs crown was illegal. He had been had been fostered by the comasked by the noble lord, whether missioners at Montrose; one of he intended to propose the same whom, the sheriff of Perthshire, alteration in every burgh which, praised the liberal constitution by neglect, might become dis- which the paternal government franchised. He should answer of the country had given them, No. Every case must stand and adduced it as a proof that the upon its own merits. The same ministers were willing to effect constitution could not possibly reform, when reform was necesbe applied to all the burghs, sary. because electors with the same
Archibald Hamilton, qualifications could not be had in rising to reply, said, that the all of them, unless all the exclu. question still returned, whether sive privileges which had existed the Crown had legally the power for ages should be abolished. It to alter by its own authority the was said that the question did constitution of a burgh, how it not touch upon political reform. pleased, when it pleased, and as This was true, if the question was often as it pleased. The question confined to the consideration of was certainly worthy of being the particular case; but if, in settled; and if the Crown had defiance of the act of Union, it any such legal power, even in was intended to introduce a new circumstances similar to those of system of election in all the Montrose, he meant when an burghs, it would have the same alteration was requested by the effect as a sweeping measure of burgh itself, the consequence parliamentary reform. He was must be fatal to the stability of convinced that there would be a the burghs, even under any imgeneral feeling of alarm if a provement they might receive; general change were apprehended, for the influence of the Crown and should therefore oppose the throughout Scotland was so great, motion.
that it might easily procure an Sir R. Fergusson supported application to be made for alterathe motion. No one who looked tion in almost every one of the at the deplorable state of the Scotch burghs, at such times as representation in Scotland could its ministers conceived to be conagree in the eulogies which had venient. The learned lord had been pronounced on it. He then maintained very positively that read the parting address of the the burgesses were not liable for late magistrates of Aberdeen, the debts contracted by the