HC Deb 03 August 1832 vol 14 cc1096-103
Mr. Stanley

moved the Order of the Day for taking into consideration the Lords' Amendments to the Irish Reform Bill, He was not disposed to concur in the whole of them; and in one he should propose an amendment. The Amendments were four in number, and there were two to which he felt no objection. The first entitled the clergy to register with the same advantages as 50l, freeholders. To this there could be no objection; for there was no clergyman in Ireland whose benefice was not, at the very least, equal in value to a 50l. freehold. The second Amendment related to the Registering Officer of Dublin. At first it was proposed to throw this duty on the Recorder, but the idea was abandoned, as incompatible with his other avocations. The duty was then imposed, as in other parts of the country, on the Chairman of the Sessions for the County of Dublin. It appeared, however, that it would entirely preclude him from continuing his professional pursuits, and the object of the second Amendment was to enable the Chairman to do business by deputy. The third Amendment related to freeholders created since the 31st of March, 1831. There was an omission in the Lords' Amendment, which it would be necessary for him to rectify, in order to carry into effect the intention of the Legislature. As the Bill passed that House, honorary freemen of Corporations, admitted since the 30th of March, 1831, were disqualified; and the Lords, being desirous to put freeholders and freemen on the same footing, inserted a clause, the object of which was, to prohibit the registration of 40s. freeholders created since March, 1831. The Lords, however, had omitted to insert the words "forty shillings" in the clause, and, therefore, 50l., 20l., and all freeholders created since the 30th March, 1831, would be prohibited from registering, which was clearly contrary to the intentions of the Lords. Freemen obtaining their freedom by birth or servitude since the 31st March, 1831, were not disqualified, and a similar exception was made by the Bill, in favour of freeholders who obtained their freeholds by inheritance, marriage, or devise. In short, the object was to disqualify both freemen and freeholders who might be created fraudulently with a view to the passing of this Bill. To this Amendment of the Lords he presumed there could be no objection. There was another Amendment, however, to which he confessed he objected so much, that he should be disposed in any lighter case to reject it—he meant the Amendment with respect to the admission of freemen. In that Amendment, however, the House of Lords had a precedent in the enactments of the English Bill. When the two Bills were originally introduced, the English and the Irish Bills had the same provisions with respect to the freemen of cities. It was suggested, however, that it was unnecessary to interfere with vested rights, which were not abused in England, and therefore the elective franchise was to be retained by freemen admitted by Corporations in England. Now he could by no means admit that there was not a broad distinction between the two cases of the English and Irish Corporations. It was no reason, because they had not taken away the right from those who had not abused it, that they should not take it from those by whom it was notoriously abused. It was a sufficient ground, he thought, for disfranchising future freemen in Ireland, that the admission of freemen for a series of years had been confined exclusively to Protestants. Still there was the argument of analogy with England in favour of existing rights, and, although he could not say that the argument was sufficient to convince him, yet he could not recommend the House, in consequence of this difference of opinion, to take such a step as to disagree with the Amendment. The House of Commons had already expressed its sense to be against the exclusive doctrine of admitting only Protestants as freemen; it had vindicated the principle of general admission, and condemned the principle of exclusion; and as the Amendment would not cause any practical effect in the operation of the Bill for many years, unless as a matter of principle, he did not think it very important. He believed that the admission of 10l. householders to vote in the cities would overpower the freemen, and take away the motive which Corporations had hitherto had for the exclusive admission of Protestants. He trusted that what had passed on the subject would induce the Corporations of Ireland generally to follow the example set by one or two (he alluded particularly to the Corporation of Waterford admitting persons of all religious persuasions indiscriminately). On the whole, he did not think the Amendment of sufficient importance to induce the House to reject it, more especially as he believed the Lords felt strongly on it, and its rejection would certainly create delay, if it did not risk the passing of the Bill. The right honourable Gentleman concluded by moving the Amendment which he said was necessary in the clause, prohibiting the registration of 40s. freeholders created since the 30th March, 1831, namely, that in the first Amendment, after the word "freehold," there be inserted the words, "under the yearly value of 10l."

Agreed to.

On the third Amendment respecting the Freedom of Corporations,

Mr. Jephson

said, I voted on this question of the freemen of Ireland, not because it was proposed to us by his Majesty's Government, but because I wished to see no such class in the constituency. In my opinion his Majesty's Ministers spoiled their first Bill by giving way to the suggestions of those who urged them to preserve the freeman's franchise. By abandoning the principle of resting the franchise upon property, and giving the suffrage to a class, they have left themselves no ground of principle on which to resist universal suffrage. I think this perpetuation of a class of persons to whom the right of voting has descended without any exertion of their own, is throughout objectionable, because it deprives you of that security for the independence of a voter which property is supposed to give. In Ireland this objection is strengthened by the circumstance that freemen are the partizans of a particular creed. The only effect of preserving their rights will be to enable the Corporations of Ireland to make as many fictitious votes as they please—when I say fictitious votes, I mean voters quite as objectionable, if not more so, as the worst class of 40s. freeholders. I cannot see what objection there can be to our having a conference with the Lords upon this subject. I do not mean to say, that I would reject the Reform Bill if the Lords should not withdraw their Amendment, but I think that in justification of our own conduct, we ought to refuse at present to agree to it. If the Lords should not give way, it will be a matter for consideration hereafter whether we shall agree to it or not.

Mr. Leader

I am exceedingly sorry that the Lords should have introduced this Amendment, but as we have already debated the question at length—as we have individually given our opinions, and collectively decided that this is an objectionable class of voters, I shall not trouble the House with another discussion. I again say, that I regret the Amendment made by the Lords, but I fear we cannot help it.

Mr. Ruthven

Although I disagree with the House of Lords as an individual, I fear to do it as a Member of the House of Commons, because I do not wish to run the risk that might arise from our rejection of this Amendment. Having thus expressed my dissatisfaction at it, I shall urge no further opposition, in the hope that it will not be as mischievous and injurious as I apprehend, and upon the consideration that it should prove so, we may correct the evil by a legislative enactment in the next Session.

Lord Althorp

I regret, with my right hon. friend near me, the Secretary for Ireland, that this Amendment has been introduced. I voted against the provision when it was introduced in this House; but as I do not think it likely that we should succeed if we demanded a conference, I think it will be prudent not to do so unless we had good ground to expect success, I do not think that it would be consistent with the dignity of this House to demand the conference. I would therefore express my hope, that the protest entered by the hon. Members opposite against the Amendment will be sufficient to save their and our consistency.

Mr. Callaghan

I am sorry to hear the noble Lord say he has no hopes of our having any success in a conference. I feel strongly on this point, for I think this Amendment affords the means of altogether defeating the main objects of the Bill. [Lord Althorp, "No, no."] Such is my opinion, for it enables corporations to perpetuate a class of voters which will totally overpower the resident householders in whose hands it was the object of the Bill to place the power of election. It is useless to say, that you exclude the most objectionable portion of the freemen, for the result of the inquiries I have made on the subject is, that the freemen, being all entered on the same roll, it is impossible to distinguish those who have been admitted as honorary freemen, from those who obtained their freedom by right or servitude. Besides, although an honorary freeman cannot vote, his eldest son, who becomes a freeman by birth, has the right of voting, and this, clearly, is not a kind of vote which it can be the intention of the Lords to preserve. It was because I felt the provision now introduced was so liable to be abused, that I before opposed it, and I can assure his Majesty's Ministers that in the five or six cities in Ireland which it will more particularly affect, it will be felt that their agreement to this Amendment is an abandonment of the cause of the people, as regards those particular places. It will be felt that the promises which Ministers held out to those towns, that the power of the corporations should not be perpetuated, has not been fulfilled. As if to aggravate the loss of this promised benefit, the 40s. freeholders, who heretofore were considered as a kind of balance against the corporations, are annihilated. Surely, if the rights of the freemen are perpetuated, those of the 40s. freeholders ought to be restored. The question of the freemen was fully discussed in this House, and after we had solemnly decided upon it, I think it very unfair that a material part of the Bill should have been given up by Ministers in the House of Lords without a struggle. It is perhaps hardly regular to state it, but it is known that we have access to that House. Others, too, have access to it, and the conversation which there took place was heard by so many, that I feel myself justified in saying that it will be known to the people of Ireland that the provision of the Bill was given up without even a discussion upon it. [Mr. Stanley: There was a good deal of discussion before it was given up. I It was given up too on the Motion, I may say at the desire, of a Peer who declared himself against all Reform, and who stated that those who had voted for Reform in England and Scotland, might, nevertheless, consistently refuse it to Ireland. His Majesty's Government, therefore, may depend upon it, that in all the cities affected by this Amendment, the passing of it will be considered a slur upon Ministers and upon the House.

Mr. Lefroy

I never was able to understand the principle of the distinction which was made in this House between the freemen of England and the freemen of Ireland. The ground taken in this House was, that the corporations of Ireland admitted only Protestants to the freedom. Suppose the fact to be so, why should you visit upon the freemen the consequences of the delinquency of the governing power of the corporation? It could not be expected that they would decline to accept the rights offered to them because the governing power refused it to others. We must consider, too, that it was contrary to the principles of liberality so much advocated and acted upon of late years, to disfranchise the freemen simply because they were Protestants. I think we ought to be glad of the opportunity given us for reviewing our own decision, as precipitate and unjust, and adopting that of the Lords.

Mr. Spring Rice

I was one of those who opposed the proposition affirmed by this Amendment, when brought before this House. I shall not reply to the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down on the principle of the question, for, as far as the judgment of the House of Commons goes, it is decided, and I doubt not if we were again to re-argue it, we should again decide as we did before. My object in rising was to say, that thus perpetuating the freemen will make it the duty of my right hon. friend, the Secretary for Ireland, in an ensuing Session, to take care that a hill is introduced to provide against two evils which may otherwise arise. One of these has been alluded to by my hon. friend, the member for the city of Cork, namely, the prevention of the enjoyment of the right of voting by merely honorary freemen. It would be a great fraud in the Bill as it now stands if such a practice were suffered, and assuredly it will exist if not effectually guarded against. The other fraud to which we shall be exposed, and against which we shall be called upon to take precautions, in consequence of this unfortunate Amendment, is the refusal to admit persons to the freedom who are justly entitled to it. What I apprehend is, that corporate bodies, acting as they always have done, will, under this Bill, as heretofore, give every possible facility to the admission of freemen of one class, and throw every possible impediment in the way of the admission of freemen of another class; for, instance, they will say of a person whom they favour—"Let him be admitted without a too strict examination,—do not give him too much trouble," and of another—" Require all the technicalities of legal proof from him; let him establish his right upon a foundation which even we cannot help acknowledging, and if he does not, leave him to his mandamus in the Court of King's Bench." If that be the construction put upon this Bill—and I am sure it will be the construction put upon it by all corporate bodies in Ireland, it will be the duty of those who support the Reform Bill, to give full, fair and equal effect to the intentions of the Legislature, by taking care that all persons admissible as freemen under the provisions of the Bill, shall be admitted, and that all intended to be excluded shall be excluded. With respect to the present vote, when we are told by my noble friend near me, that the choice is really between taking the Bill with the Amendment, or running the risk of losing the Bill altogether, although I deeply regret that Amendment as much as any man, I am not willing, at the present period of the Session, even for the assertion of a principle, to hazard the consequence of not immediately agreeing to it. I have dwelt upon this longer than I intended, for unless an assurance be given to the people of Ireland, that the abuses I have alluded to shall be prevented, this Amendment will be productive of the greatest dismay in all the cities of that country which have suffered under these corporate bodies. The free opinion of the inhabitants of corporate towns has hitherto been completely borne down by the gross abuse of corporate privileges; and if it were to go abroad that corporations are to be left to the exercise of what they call their discretion, but which I call their injustice, great alarm will be excited.

Mr. Stanley

It is impossible for any man who knows Ireland not to feel the force and truth of what has just been stated by my right hon. friend, the Secretary of the Treasury, and that the Amendment of the Lords necessarily devolves upon those who, under circumstances, cannot oppose, however they may disagree with it, the duty of remedying, as far as possible, the evils he has pointed out, namely, on the one hand, a too ready admission of a certain class of persons to the freedom, and, on the other, the intervention of discouraging and vexatious inquiries, previous to the admission of another class. There will be some difficulty in framing a bill to meet these two objects; but the attention of the Government will be anxiously turned to this subject, with a view of introducing a measure which will have all the effect desired. In the mean time, I am satisfied that a consequence of the Reform Bill itself, by diminishing the temptation to create freemen, who will be outnumbered by the 10l. householders, will be, to diminish the wishes of corporations to abuse their power. We must also recollect that non-resident freemen and honorary freemen are altogether struck off, so that, it is hardly likely that the influence of the 10l. householders will not be real and effective. I feel, however, that it will be the duty of the Government to find a check for the two abuses referred to by my right hon. friend, and it is a duty to which they will attend.

The Amendments severally put and agreed to.

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