Commentary on Article III

III & XXII. One Parliament

THAT the United Kingdom of Great Britain be Represented by one and the same Parliament to be stiled The Parliament of Great Britain.

As this was to be an incorporating union, the Parliaments of England and Scotland were replaced with a single Parliament, whose constitution was set out. Scottish voices had long been heard at Court, but for the first time they spoke in the House of Commons. Negotiation went back and forth as to the number of members to be elected from Scotland: the Scottish commissioners wanted more, and the English commissioners fewer, so they compromised on 45, which gave Scotland some 10% of all the seats in the House of Commons, at a time when the revenue of Scotland was less than 3% of that supplied by England.

This allocation of 45 seats was considered to leave Scotland overrepresented in terms of the number of voters to each seat, so in the Parliamentary reforms of the Victorian Age this overrepresentation was continued.

In both England and Scotland the boroughs and burghs were thoroughly corrupted and representation bore no relation to population: in England, rotten boroughs void of population could still elect two members each, and outside the boroughs a vast shire like Lancashire would be equal with tiny Rutland. Cornwall was notorious for its distorted representation; by virtue of its many boroughs, Cornwall returned fully 46 members. It took over a century to begin to cleanse the system.

In the House of Lords the peers of Scotland were not all permitted to come but had to elect 16 representative peers. The reason was the large size of the peerage of Scotland: at the time there were 168 English peers and 154 Scottish peers in spite of Scotland’s much smaller size. From the union, all new peerage titles were of the Peerage of Great Britain, with membership of the House of Lords at once. The peerages of the old kingdoms dwindled over the ages, so that all Scottish peers were admitted to the Lords in equality in 1963. (During this change, the terms of the union were raised, but the Lords were assured that the Treaty intended to guarantee to the Scottish peerage 16 places, not to limit them to that figure.)

A similar system of representative peers was introduced at the union with Ireland in 1801, though in that case the size of the Irish peerage was swollen by the former habit of granting Irish peerages as a way to give a worthy man a title without bringing him into the House of Lords.

The first Parliament of Great Britain would be a one-off: to avoid the need for an immediate election, Article XXII of the Treaty allowed the Queen to declare that the initial members were the members of the last English House of Commons together with 45 newly chosen Scottish members. It opened as a new Parliament and the new House of Commons chose a new Speaker, sponsored by a new Scottish Member, and business began in a new atmosphere.