HC Deb 02 July 1832 vol 13 cc1257-63

Lord Althorp moved the Order of the Day for the House to resolve itself into a Committee on the Reform of Parliament (Ireland) Bill.

Colonel Davies

wished to take that opportunity of calling the attention of the House to a statement which had appeared in the public papers, and which he thought required explanation. It was a statement of what took place on Saturday last at the Foreign Office, where a number of Members of that House had attended to hear an explanation from the Government upon the subject of the Russian-Dutch Loan. In justice to himself, and to his Majesty's Ministers also, he thought he ought to explain to the House, that the statement contained in the papers was not exactly correct. It was stated in the Courier of that night, that the feeling of the hon. Members who had attended on that occasion was unanimous in favour of the course pursued by the Government. Now, he could only say, that if he could have supposed that silence would have been construed into consent, he would at that meeting have stated his dissent. He thought, however, that the more regular course would be, to wait until the matter was brought fairly before the House. He could also say, that many other hon. Members entertained precisely the same feelings upon the subject.

The House then went into a Committee.

Sir Robert Bateson

said, he had no wish to offer any factious opposition to the Bill. He had always been a Reformer, but be wished to apply the pruning-knife, and not the axe. The 10l. franchise might work very well in small boroughs, but he thought it too low for large towns. Liverpool was a proof of the ill effects of too low a franchise. In Ireland there were large towns, and he thought the franchise should not be so low as 10l., for it would place the franchise in the hands of the populace, and be the cause of corruption. Belfast was a great and flourishing, town, and well worthy to send two Members to Parliament, but he thought the 10l. franchise too low. He should propose to represent property rather than people, and therefore he should propose, that the 10l. franchise be retained only in small towns; that a 15l. franchise be established in large towns; and that a 20l. franchise be established in the largest towns and cities, as Dublin, Cork, and Limerick. He should prefer Universal Suffrage to a general 10l. franchise. A 10l. franchise would induce corruption, but Universal Suffrage would so much increase the number of voters as to render it impracticable. His only object was, to render the Bill as advantageous as possible to Ireland, not to offer factious opposition to the measure. He moved, as an amendment, that in all cities and boroughs with from 300 to 500 houses of 10l. annual value, the franchise should be 10l.; that in all cities and boroughs with from 500 to 1,000 houses of the annual value of 10l., the franchise should be 15l.; find that in all cities and boroughs having 1,000 houses and upwards of the value of 10l. annually, the franchise should be 20l.

Mr. O'Connell

opposed the Motion, because, with the exception of Belfast and Newry, no towns remained to be disposed of which would come under its operation.

Amendment negatived.

Clause again read.

Mr. O'Connell

would not then oppose the Clause, but, on the bringing up of the Report, he would move that the qualification be a yearly payment of 5l.

Mr. Leader

said, he should move, that the householders at 5l., who were now voters in the boroughs of Dungarvan, Newry, and Downpatrick be permitted to retain their franchise.

Mr. Lamb

saw great hardship in depriving those persons, whose numbers were very small, of the rights they at present possessed; but he should certainly object to any extension of the privilege beyond the lives of the occupants.

The sixth Clause, with verbal amendments, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

On the seventh Clause being put,

Mr. Shaw

wished to know, how it was that the freemen of England, in boroughs and corporate towns, should be permitted to retain their rights for their lives, while those of Ireland were to be disfranchised? In behalf of the numerous body of freemen whom he represented, he must complain of this species of injustice. The Clause was both an insult and an injury to the freemen of Ireland, and he should certainly like to hear why it was introduced into the Bill.

Mr. Stanley

said, that the monopoly of freemen in Ireland had been used for the perpetuation of sectarian distinctions, and the Government being, of all things, anxious to abolish such distinctions, they therefore took away that privilege in Ireland which they permitted to remain in England, because it had never been abused in England in the same manner. If they were to perpetuate the rights of freemen in Ireland, they should only perpetuate those sectarian exclusions, of which these freemen had been the instruments.

Mr. O'Connell

would vote for an amendment, should the hon. Recorder for Dublin move one, and press it to a division, as he conceived that the Clause would have an effect quite contrary to that stated by the right hon. Irish Secretary. He thought that the right of the freemen in Ireland should be preserved, as well as those of England. Catholics were entitled to their freedom for the last forty years, and if a clause were inserted to enforce this right, he did not see upon what principle the freemen should be disfranchised. Several corporations had made returns to a mandamus, that the power to admit Catholics was discretionary with them. Make it obligatory, and the evil would be cured.

Mr. Spring Rice

had often been surprised by the learned member for Kerry's declarations, but never more than by the present one. On a former occasion, the vested rights of freemen in corporations had been loudly condemned, and he had no doubt the hon. and learned Gentleman would have opposed, in the strongest manner, the perpetuity of those rights, if the Bill had contained a provision to that effect. He thought the Committee ought to consider whether the Clause was right or wrong. The principle of the Bill was, to give an adequate representation of property. All distinctions in the exercise of the elective franchise should be done away. If corporations had the power to give the right of voting to persons favourable to certain religious principles, it would be the way to perpetuate sectarianism.

Mr. O'Connell

said, he would not permit the right hon. member for Limerick to calumniate him with impunity. What right had that hon. Member to make such unfounded assertions as those which he had presumed to make in respect to him? The hon. Member had said, that if the Ministry had adopted a clause for preserving the rights to the freemen he would have opposed it. He denied this assertion, and he flung back the slander to the source from whence it came. It might suit the right hon. Gentleman, who had once defended the freemen of Ireland, to desert them now; but the hon. Gentleman slandered him (Mr. O'Connell) when he said he was ready to adopt the same course. The right hon. Gentleman had done right to desert the people of Limerick so early, for it was not improbable they would have returned the compliment at an early opportunity. He congratulated him, indeed, on his importation to England, and thought he acted wisely, before he made this declaration, to take care to have Cambridge in his rear. He wished Cambridge joy of their bargain, with all his heart.

Mr. Spring Rice

said, that the example of the hon. member for Kerry should not entrap him into a violation of the courtesies of the House. He had been twelve years in Parliament, and he would appeal to his career during that period, as to whether he had ever acted or spoken on both sides of any question. He admitted the power and the great talents of the hon. and learned member for Kerry, but he would tell that hon. Member, that no fear of either the one or the other would prevent him from expressing his opinions openly and fearlessly in that House. He did not expect such treatment from the hon. member for Kerry, nor did he deserve it from him. He well remembered that, when that hon. Member was excluded by a legislative enactment from the benefits of the Relief Bill, he stood up and advocated his cause, and protested against that act of injustice.

Mr. O'Connell

was thankful to the House for the silent manner in which they had received the right hon. Gentleman's intended attack upon him, for the right hon. Gentleman by no means received the cheers which attacks upon him (Mr. O'Connell) usually elicited in that House. He would tell the right hon. Gentleman, without mincing the matter, by way of rejoinder to his assertion that he (Mr. O'Connell) would have opposed the Clause were it the very opposite in principle to the present, that, be that as it might, there could be no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman would have supported that Clause, or its opposite, or any other which the present dispensers of place might propose, sooner than risk his seat at the Treasury. Now, if he (Mr. O'Connell) had said this under other circumstances, the right hon. Gentleman would have pronounced it a gross calumny, and the unfortunate box would have suffered much more severely at the hands of the right hon. Gentleman. [Mr. Spring Rice, while addressing the House, struck one of the boxes which stand on the Table of the House repeatedly, and with considerable vehemence.] Yes, he repeated, the right hen. Gentleman would be as zealous and bustling in his advocacy—thumping the box, and dancing attendance about the Treasury with equal precision—if the King's Government had adopted a clause in the very teeth of that with which he was just now so disinterestedly enamoured.

Mr. Stanley

said, he would refer the House to a letter written by the hon. and learned Member, in which, after pointing out the advantages of the Irish Reform Bill, he went on to state, that he approved above all of the provision, by which the power of creating an unlimited number of freemen, to swamp the independent voters in towns, was taken from corporations. For that the hon. and learned Member had said, that the Government were entitled to the gratitude of Ireland.

Mr. O'Connell

; "The Lord has delivered them into my hands." The right hon. Gentleman had undertaken to vindicate his friend, the member for Limerick, and, by way of doing so, he commenced with an attack on him (Mr. O'Connell). He had referred to a letter of his, but in doing so he had certainly exhibited the grossest ignorance in the construction which he attempted to put on it. Now, if the right hon. Gentleman would only take the trouble of reading that letter again, he would find that his objection related to the power of swamping bona fide voters possessed by the corporation. He had always supported, and would continue to support, that part of the Bill which took away this unconstitutional power. But the present proposition was not opposed to that provision of the Bill. It was not a proposition to continue such a power to the corporations, but, on the contrary, it would compel them, whether they would or not, to admit freemen. With respect to the taunts of the right hon. Gentleman, they would have but little, effect upon him. The people of England had compelled the right hon. Gentleman to make concessions in the Reform Bill, and they would no longer permit the right hon. Gentleman to continue his misgovernment of Ireland.

Mr. Dawson

rose as a peace-maker. The member for Kerry had inflicted a severe castigation on two members of the Government, and very probably, if these members had time to consider the question in dispute, they would, as they had done before, after similar castigations, consent to withdraw the obnoxious proposition. He suggested, therefore, that the Clause be postponed till to-morrow. The debate had been warm, and he mentioned this purely as a means of making peace between the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. and learned member for Kerry—at least, be intended it to be so.

Mr. Sheil

The hon. Member who had last spoken had himself so often received the castigation of the hon. member for Kerry, that he was well qualified to speak upon the subject. He might say, Great thou must be, For thou hast conquered me.

Mr. Shaw

could not avoid saying, that the Corporation of Dublin had been unjustly accused of partiality. The right of giving the freedom of the Corporation by special favour had never been abused. It had been conferred on distinguished persons, such as Secretaries of Ireland, the Lord Lieutenant, and other meritorious persons, who had never voted for the return of improper candidates. The Clause taking away the right of freemen, he considered an insult to the Corporation and the Protestant interest. It was his intention to divide against the Clause. He conjured the right hon. Gentleman to withdraw it, as all classes of the people were, from the harsh measures of the Government, becoming converts to the necessity of a Repeal of the Union. He was sorry to say, Catholics and Protestants were beginning to be alike convinced that they would receive benefit from the repeal. The hon. Member concluded by moving an Amendment, the object of which was, to preserve the rights of freemen, by making the same perpetual.

Mr. Henry Grattan

opposed the Amendment, and spoke in defence of the Clause as it stood in the present Bill. He was convinced, indeed, that it would do good by discountenancing sectarianism.

Mr. Callaghan

, as the Representative of a large body of freemen, was bound to state, that no part of the Bill was more lauded and praised than that part of it which did away with freemen. He had not spoken to a single man who did not approve of the freemen being merged in the citizens.

Mr. Walker

supported the views of the Government, and thanked the Ministers for what they had done as to corporations.

Mr. Hunt

said, freemen were the worst class of voters in the country.

Mr. Keith Douglas

supported the Amendment.

The Committee divided on the Amendment:—Ayes 39; Noes 128—Majority 89.

The Clause, with Amendments, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

List of the AYES.
Agnew, Sir A. Gordon, J. E.
Bateson, Sir R. Hayes, Sir E. S.
Best, Hon. W. Herries, Rt. Hon. J. C.
Blaney, Hon. C. D. Ingestre, Viscount
Castlereagh, Visc. Jolliffe, Sir W.
Clements, J. M. Jones, T.
Cole, Viscount Knox, Hon. J.
Cole, H. A. H. Lefroy, A.
Copeland, Alderman Lefroy, T.
Corry, Hon. H. Martin, Sir T. B.
Croker, J. W. Maxwell, H.
Domville, Sir C. O'Connell, D.
Ellis, W. O'Connell, M.
Ferguson, R. Pelham, C.
Fitzgerald, Sir A. Pemberton, T.
Forbes, Sir C. Perceval, Colonel
Fox, S. Pringle, A.
Pryse, P. Young, J.
Stewart, C.
Thicknesse, R TELLER.
Willoughby, Sir H. Shaw, F.

On Clause 8 being put,

Mr. Ruthven moved, that the Chairman report progress, and ask leave to sit again.

On this Amendment the Committee divided:—Ayes 10; Noes 64—Majority 54.

Mr. Ruthven

then moved an Amendment for disallowing the additional Member to the University of Dublin. The hon. Member said, that the University was already sufficiently represented, and it would be better to give additional Members to the large counties, such as Cork, with 800,000 inhabitants, or Mayo, than to the University of Dublin, which had very few constituents.

Amendment negatived, and Clause agreed to.

The ninth Clause was agreed to.

The House resumed—the Committee to sit again.