moved, that the House resolve itself into a Committee on the Reform of Parliament (Ireland) Bill.
§ House in Committee, on the first clause being read,
said, it would, perhaps, be more convenient for him to mention some alterations which he intended to propose, and to state the views which his Majesty's Government had taken on the subject. They thought it would be desirable to extend the 10l. franchise, which, by the present Bill, was confined to freeholders, and to give it to persons holding under a lease for twenty-one years, and occupying their holdings. In instituting a comparison between the qualifications in England and Ireland, he was bound to admit that under this arrangement the advantage would be in favour of Ireland. The qualification in England was higher, and the tenure longer but then he was bound to state to the House, that though his intended amendment would increase the number of 10l. voters, it would also greatly increase, he believed, the respectability of the voters. Under the Reform Bill it was quite clear 1011 that there would be created a numerous and respectable constituency in England, whilst that for Ireland was not perhaps sufficiently extensive. For this reason he should propose to give the franchise to leaseholders in Ireland of smaller amount and shorter terms than was at present proposed. In Ireland the amount of freehold as compared with the leasehold property was much inferior to what it was in England consequently the freehold qualification in the former country gave a constituency relatively inferior in extent to that which it afforded in England. It was thought that by extending the right of voting in Ireland to persons having a beneficial interest in land to the amount of 10l. annually, on a lease of twenty-one years, Ministers would be conferring a benefit on the agricultural interest, at the same time that they advantageously extended and rendered more respectable the county constituency. He acknowledged that they were in this case going considerably beyond the English right of voting, but taking into consideration the comparative value and amount of freehold and leasehold property in England and Ireland respectively, and feeling that the alteration would improve the Irish constituency, he thought it would be generally admitted, that they were justified in departing from the principle of the English Bill so far as they proposed, in lowering the leasehold qualification, and placing two interests, leasehold and freehold for twenty one years (the one without and the other with a life, in addition to the same yearly term) on an equality. He, therefore, proposed to extend the qualification to all persons being bona fide occupiers (as in the case of freeholds) for twenty-one years certain. He might be permitted to express a hope that, while extending the constituency in Ireland, they would be found to have adopted with that view a measure which would not tend to diminish but increase its respectability, at the same time that it presented an obstacle to the creation of fictitious votes, and placed the relation between landlord and tenant on a better footing than at present existed.
must express his satisfaction at the proposed alteration, and was unwilling to quarrel with the details of the measure. But he must remind the right hon. Secretary, that, even with this alteration, there still existed no comparison between England and Ireland in point of elective franchise—England possessing ad- 1012 vantages in its 40s. freeholders and copyholders, of which Ireland was destitute. However, he hailed the projected change with pleasure, and would take this opportunity of saying, that, if the right hon. Gentleman had said twenty, instead of twenty-one years, he would have very considerably increased the value of the amendment, and the extent of the constituency. This would be easily understood, when he stated that there were in Ireland 700,000 acres of land in the hands of the Church, independently of glebes, and 200,000 acres the property of the University, and that Church and College lands, which were never let for a longer period than twenty-one years, were not leased, in the first instance, by the corporation in question to the actual occupier. These corporations made leases at small rents, subject to periodical renewal fines, and their lessees relet the lands to other parties. But there were legal reasons why the original lessees could not make leases of twenty-one years, and, in point of fact, the actual occupiers generally held under fourteen year leases. Now, Parliament would increase the temptation to make leases of twenty years to the occupiers, if the alteration which he had suggested were adopted. The lengthening of the leases would be of great advantage, by giving the occupier a stronger interest in the property, at the same time that the change would beneficially extend the constituency, which must otherwise be contracted, so far as the occupiers of perhaps 1,200,000 or 1,400,000 acres were concerned.
begged to remind the hon. and learned Gentleman, that when, on a former occasion, the term of nineteen years was proposed, to meet the very case which he had just stated, it was argued that that term was not low enough, because the Church and Collegiate lands being usually sublet two or three times over, it would be useless to propose any term higher than fourteen years. Such having been the argument on a former occasion, he (Mr. Stanley) despaired of affording any satisfaction by reducing the term to twenty years.
said, that the right hon. Gentleman had not understood him. Fourteen years was certainly the term to which he should like to have seen the qualification reduced, and it was his intention to have submitted a motion to that effect. He was, however, now prepared to abandon that intention, because he thought that, if the 1013 term were fixed at twenty years, it would be a temptation to the landlords to give longer leases. The greatest advantage that the Government could confer upon Ireland would be, to give to the occupying tenants a stronger interest in the land.
§ Sir John Newport
did not see why the term proposed should be altered, merely to benefit the holders of Church and Collegiate lands. If the hon. and learned Gentleman's proposition were acceded to, it would tend to encourage the owners of that description of land to continue a system which experience had proved to be very injurious. On the other hand, the proposition of Government was calculated to induce them to let their land to bona fide tenants for twenty-one years. For his part, he thought that the alteration would be a most beneficial improvement to the Bill.
had no overweening desire to protect the owners of Church and Collegiate lands. He was only anxious that the actual tenants of those lands should not be excluded from the franchise.
Sir Robert Peel
said, that, as the right hon. Gentleman had stated one important alteration, he begged to ask, whether he would have any objection to state what others, if any, it was intended to propose.
said, it was not the intention of any member of his Majesty's Government to propose any other changes except a short proviso, which would exclude from the operation of this Bill all honorary freemen who had been created such since the Bill had been introduced into the House. He had understood, also, from the noble Lord who represented Meath, that there were two or three copyholders in that county, and, as they were so few, h thought they ought to be included in the Bill.
Sir Robert Peel
felt that this was a subject of very great importance to the agriculturists of Ireland, and as such require, mature consideration. The Committee, he thought, were called upon to discuss this point without sufficient notice, and without sufficient information. He admitted that the creation of freeholders in Ireland had led to great abuses; but those abuses were not contemplated by those who propose that measure. He should like to consider whether this new measure might not be equally perverted. He did not, however give any opinion, nor, indeed, had he then the means of forming one. He should like to know the probable extent of votes which this measure would create, though 1014 he admitted that it would be most difficult to make any such calculation. He also wished to guard against giving leaseholders a predominance over the freeholders. If the numbers of 10l. freeholders were too great, perhaps an increase might be safely made from the substantial freeholders in fee. It was, however, said, that the state of Ireland was totally different from that of England; but the condition of Scotland, with respect to freeholds was somewhat similar to that of Ireland, and yet in the former country, a lease of sixty years was required, whilst twenty-one years' lease was considered sufficient to give that franchise in Ireland.
§ Lord Althorp
was desirous to create a respectable constituency in Ireland, and to afford every encouragement to the giving of leases to occupying tenants there, because he knew it would have a most beneficial effect. It was much easier to effect a fraudulent freehold for life, than to effect a fraudulent lease for a term of twenty-one years.
§ Mr. Lefroy
contended, that the 10l. freeholders at present in Ireland were not fictitious, and if the noble Lord had been led to believe they were, he was in error. He was decidedly of opinion that the leasehold system would prove far more faulty, and more open to fraud, than the system of freehold franchise. He also thought that the number of voters would be diminished, instead of increased; for, if leases for twenty-one years were made the means of voting, if the holder of one of these leases died, the interest would be divided among his children, in which case no one would have a vote. He believed, too, that the reluctance of the Irish tenantry to register their votes—a reluctance which they felt, because they did not wish to admit their possession of such an interest—would be another cause of diminishing the number of voters. Much had been said, too, about the smallness of the freehold constituency in Ireland; but the fact was, that the freeholders were numerous enough, but they were not registered. The distractions in Ireland prevented the freeholders from registering.
said, that the supposition of the hon. and learned Member, as to the estate being divided among the tenant's children at the death of the tenant, was 1015 only an additional reason for inserting the clause. If the holding of such an estate would enable the holder to vote, the tenant would make a will, and thus secure the passing of the estate into the hands of one person by whom the right of voting could be exercised. The clause, therefore, would have the advantage of inducing men to do what was prudent, viewed even as a private matter.
thought the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman would add to the number and the respectability of the constituency of Ireland; and he should, therefore, give it his most cordial support.
Sir Robert Bateson
said, with regard to this proposition, he hardly had time to form an opinion; but he must confess, that he should prefer the clause to fix twenty instead of twenty-one years, as there were many of the tenants of Church property, of high respectability, who held leases for twenty, but not for twenty-one years, and who were fully entitled to be admitted to the enjoyment of the franchise. With regard to the 10l. freeholds and the leaseholds, as to which afforded the purest qualification for the exercise of the elective franchise, he agreed with his learned friend (Mr. Lefroy). With respect to the extent of the freeholds at present, it was much greater than was supposed. He believed that a high franchise would be beneficial to tenants.
§ Mr. James Grattan
rejoiced to hear the proposition which the right hon. Gentleman had made, and was convinced that it would improve the state of Ireland. He had no doubt that the giving the franchise to this class of tenants would induce them to keep up an interest of the required amount, and would thus perpetuate a respectable class of persons connected with the land.
should also support it, but he thought that the recommendation of the hon. Baronet near him ought to be adopted, that the term should be fixed at twenty instead of twenty-one years.
had no objection to make the change now required from twenty-one to twenty years, and as he had been accused of yielding to the hon. and learned member for Kerry, in granting this franchise at all, he now informed the hon. Baronet opposite, that the hon. Baronet might consider the present question of the twenty years as yielded to him, so that he must take one yielding as a compensation for the other.
§ Mr. Ruthven
said, that as the right hon. Secretary had gone so far, perhaps he would go further, and make the term nineteen years, as it was known there were very many most respectable persons who held leases of that date.
did not feel that, because he had yielded twice, he should yield a third time, and he must, therefore, decidedly decline the recommendation of the hon. Member.
Several verbal amendments having been made, the first clause was agreed to, and ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ On the second clause being read,
said, that it was his intention to take the sense of the Committee on the clause relating to the 40s. franchise in fee, and to the 40s. franchise for three lives.
said, that it was his intention to regulate the mode of registration in such a way as to show at all times the real constituency.
§ Clause agreed to.
§ On clause 3 being read,
suggested an alteration in the verbal arrangement of the clause, in order to render it more distinct than was at present the case. The clause was framed for the purpose of preventing persons from having a vote as well for the county as for the town or borough in which the property might be situated; but it seemed to him that the clause was so worded as to preclude a person from voting at all in right of his property either in county or town.
said, the hon. Member had justly apprehended the motives which had led to the proposal of the clause, but it seemed as if he had not sufficiently weighed it in his mind, for the clause stood exactly as it did in the English Bill—clauses 24 and 25 of which had been copied for the purpose of the present Bill.
observed, that the deprivation of the right of voting for town and county in one individual, had been originally proposed from motives of jealousy that the manufacturing would overpower the agricultural interest in that House. Now, as there was little or no manufacturing interest in Ireland, save and 1017 except Belfast, the same reasons for the deprivation did not exist; at the same time, he did not desire that the same property should confer the right of voting in borough and county, but that the person so possessed should have it in his power to elect which he should vote for.
§ Lord Althorp
said, that the principle which prompted Ministers in preventing persons from possessing two votes was not, as the hon. and learned Member had stated, a desire to appease the jealousy of the agricultural interests, but what he had himself avowed to be a just principle, that, namely, of preventing any one from having two votes for the same property.
§ Clause agreed to, after several verbal amendments.
§ On clause 4 being read, extending the right of voting in cities, counties, and towns to 10l. freeholders,
§ Mr. Lefroy
had an Amendment to move in this clause, the object of which was, to make a substantial and important change in the clause; but not to alter one jot of the principle on which his Majesty's Ministers meant to establish a constituency in the towns and boroughs of Ireland. The language used by the right hon. Gentleman, a short time since, was, that the object of his Majesty's Government was to found a constituency which should be respectable, sound, and independent. But the constituency this clause would establish in towns, would be neither sound, respectable nor independent; and if hon. Gentlemen would favour him with their attention he should be enabled to satisfy them that the result of the proposed qualification would be to establish a constituency that would be actually worse than the 40s. freeholders. The right hon. Secretary stated, that the Bill would not require a man to have a house from which he should derive a profit of one single farthing; he might hold it at a mere rack rent, and was not required to have a lease, but be a mere yearly tenant at a rent of 10l. It was not even required by the subsequent part of the clause that he should have paid the rent, for the words which would have rendered that payment necessary before the qualification could be complete were omitted. If the 40s. freeholders were an exceptionable constituency—if they were excluded from voting in cities, as they would be by the Bill—why was a mere occupier of a house at the annual rent of 10l., holding from year to year at no profit, to be entitled to the franchise? If such a man was entitled to vote, 1018 on what principle was it that the 40s. freeholders were excluded? If the 40s. freeholders were excluded on the ground that they were opposed to the institutions of the country, or were not independent, the same objections were applicable to these voters, for there was not one argument urged in opposition to the 40s. freeholders to which this description of votes was not equally open. These voters must be of a most poor and wretched description. The total number of houses in cities was 53,143; and of this number only 29,316 would give a qualification to vote, so that there must be a vast number of wretched habitations occupied by persons not even equal to 40s. freeholders. Directions were given to the Commissioners who made this return, to state the number of thatched houses, but though the number was not stated, yet it was clear that there must be a considerable number of thatched houses, because, round all the great towns of Ireland, there was an enormous extent of suburb in which there were houses, with small portions of land attached to them, rented at 10l. a-year, or even, during the war, at 12l. This was the species of constituency which Ireland would have for these cities which had large agricultural districts belonging to them, and the wealthy occupiers of houses would be completely overpowered by this description of voters. Under these circumstances, he would suggest to the Committee, that, in order to have a respectable, independent, and sound constituency, there should be some qualification over and above the mere circumstance of occupying a house at the annual rent of 10l. If a man wished to become a voter, as the Bill stood, he had only to take a house at the rent of 10l a-year, for six months before the election; and he had no doubt that numerous small houses would be built upon mere speculation, for the purpose of letting votes by wholesale. If the 40s. freeholders had nothing beyond their freeholds to render them independent of the landlords, there was no doubt that the Legislature did right in abolishing them, because they were fictitious voters in the power of priests and agitating demagogues. What was there to take the constituency to be created now out of the hands of those persons? Would not the yearly tenant be as much in the power, and under the control of, his landlord as the 40s. freeholder? If it was a fair argument against the 40s. freeholder, that his poverty made him little better than the 1019 slave of his landlord, on what ground could tenants-at-will, who might be turned out at six months' notice, be considered a proper constituency, such as it was the object of his Majesty's Government to establish? The only ground on which the 40s. freeholders had been continued in cities was, that in cities there existed the power of making freemen ad infinitum; which, in conjunction with the absentee freemen, was a counterpoise to the mischief occasioned by the continuance of the 40s. freeholders. It was admitted that they were a disreputable species of constituency; but, unless they had been continued, the whole dominion of the cities and towns would have fallen into the hands of the Corporations. That ground of retaining them, however, ceased henceforward, for the right of making freemen was to be taken away, and the right of absentee freemen to vote was abolished by this Bill. It was said, that we ought to proceed upon analogous principles with respect to England and Ireland; but those who maintained this argument forgot that this Bill introduced a county constituency into reland which was not established in England, and that, on the other hand, in order to establish a respectable borough constituency in Ireland, qualifications must be introduced which were not necessary in England. The Amendment he proposed would make an important difference between the household voters in England and Ireland. It should be recollected that the 10l. householders in England were subject to the poor's-rate, and various assessments, which proved that the tenant was, to that extent, a man of substance. The case, however, was different in Ireland. In consequence of the great competition which existed there, a landlord could obtain offers to any amount, though the tenant had no ability to pay the rent. If the household franchise proposed by the Bill were carried into effect, it would produce more mischievous effects in Ireland than were occasioned by the 40s. freehold voters. Houses would be built on speculation, in order to create a mass of voters who must obey the dictates of their landlords, and the operation of the Bill would be, to transfer the franchise from freemen and substantial freeholders, to a miserable, dependant, degraded set of voters. The Bill, instead of being a boon to Ireland, would be the greatest aggravation of the evils resulting from the state of her constituency which had existed since 1793. Under these circumstances he should feel it his duty 1020 to press his Amendment, and to take the sense of the Committee upon it. He moved the insertion of the following words, "In which he shall have a beneficial interest of the clear value of 10l., over and above all charges payable on the same, except Parliamentary taxes, Parish rates, and Church cesses."
supported the Amendment. His Majesty's Government was labouring under a mistake, if it supposed that persons holding houses in towns in Ireland, at 10l. rent, without leases, were of the same class as the 10l. householders in England. The latter might be respectable, while in Ireland they must be persons totally destitute. The operation of the clause must be, to open an inexhaustible source of corruption, which it was impossible to contemplate without pain. The original proposition would have the effect of stultifying former acts of the Legislature, and create a worse and lower degree of constituency than that of the 40s. franchise. Deprecating, as every one must, the 40s. votes, he could not remain silent while such a clause as the present was under consideration, without raising his voice, and endeavouring, if possible, to open the eyes of his Majesty's Government to the fatal consequences which must arise, if this portion of the Bill was carried into a law. He was not connected in any manner either with a borough, or with those who possessed borough influence, and he had grounds for complaining, that when his Majesty's Ministers talked of giving an equal measure of Reform to Ireland as that conferred upon England, they had taken the term without the reality, and adopted the measure for Ireland as if that country were similarly placed with England, when it was a notorious fact, that no analogy whatever existed between the description of voters in the two countries. In one case, they were decent; but, such would be the inducement held out by the Bill for letting tenements for the sake of creating fictitious votes, that the paupers in the suburbs of the town would be made to form the main constituency. Looking at the extraordinary extent to which intimidation had been carried in Ireland, and knowing that persons who had presumed to act independently at recent elections, were held up as objects of horror and detestation to the public—their names printed and placarded through the country, and exhibited as if they had forfeited all claims to the sympathy of their fellow-creatures, and were unfit to hold any com- 1021 munication with the rest of society; looking at these circumstances, he wished to prevent a recurrence of such scenes. But this could not be effectually done, unless the franchise, as at present proposed, should be altered. When he saw his Majesty's Government originating a great and boundless field of corruption, he should not be doing his duty were he not ready to expend his last breath in opposing an enactment which would have so dangerous and demoralizing a tendency. The wretched beings who would be the inmates of these miserable tenements, would be as open to intimidation and menace, and as guilty of perjury, as the 40s. freeholders whose franchise had been abolished. Every misconstruction to which it was possible to subject an oath, would be resorted to; and a mingled scene of fraud, venality, and perjury, would take place, which must tend more to deteriorate the lower classes of society, than any other plan which human ingenuity could devise. The franchise in boroughs, if this clause should be carried, might be increased to any extent. It would be only necessary to erect tenements in a field, or on a common, near the town, and the respectable part of the constituency would be completely over-ridden. The Bill would open again the full tide of agitation, which would proceed uninterruptedly, until it overturned the power of the law. The twenty boroughs which it professed to throw open, and which were originally created for the purpose of supporting the Protestant establishments of the country, would be by this clause as completely the nomination boroughs of the hon. and learned member for Kerry, as were Gatton and Sarum the nomination boroughs of any nobleman in the land. It was unfair that nomination boroughs should be put an end to in England, without any delinquency; while, by this measure, a constituency would be created, which would place the boroughs of Ireland in the hands of those who uniformly combined with agitators and demagogues, and whose objects were inimical to the interests of society, and subversive of the institutions of the empire. For these reasons, he should support the Amendment proposed by his hon. and learned friend.
§ Lord Althorp
was certainly surprised at the very unfavourable description which the hon. and learned Member had given of the constituency for towns, which would be created by this Bill, because, if he remembered rightly, he, on a former occasion, stated that his constituency would be more re- 1022 spectable than that which was created in England under the English Reform Bill. Both the hon. and learned Member, and the hon. and gallant Member who seconded his Amendment, had argued as if they thought that the qualification of voters for counties and towns was the same; this, however, was not the principle on which the right of election proceeded. In towns, the franchise depended on household occupation; in counties, the right was dependant on the interest possessed by the voters. If the Amendment now proposed should be adopted, it would disfranchise many householders in towns. At the present moment, some of the best houses in the metropolis were let for more than their worth. Men in towns occupied houses, not for the sake of profit, but for the convenience of living in them. The only reason why the franchise was limited to houses of a certain value was, that it served as a criterion of the respectability and independence of the persons who occupied them. The hon. and learned Member had, throughout his speech assumed that the right of voting would depend upon the amount of rent paid; this, however, was not the case, for the right of voting would depend upon the value of the house. Unless it be proved that a house be bona fide worth 10l., no person residing in it would possess a vote. By adopting the Amendment, the Committee would disqualify every man whose landlord might obtain for his house more than it was worth. He entertained no apprehension of the danger which the hon. and learned Member had foretold. The same dangers were predicted when the English Bill was under discussion, and yet the hon. and learned Member now said, that they had adopted a very respectable constituency for England; and he expected shortly to be told the same thing with respect to Ireland.
§ Mr. Shaw
said, the constituency to be established by this Bill would be more dependant and liable to be perverted to bad purposes than the 40s. freeholders. The number of houses of the value of 10l. in towns in Ireland was much greater than the noble Lord anticipated. When the last return was made respecting the city of Dublin, houses were valued with reference to the amount of taxation. With the view of favouring the tenants, the lowest valuation was fixed on the houses; now, however, the circumstances being different, the highest value would be given to them. He was sure that there would be 20,000 voters in the city of Dublin; and how was 1023 it possible to apply the machinery of this Bill to so large a body?
§ The Committee divided on the Amendment:—Ayes 26; Noes 152—Majority 126.
§ The clause agreed to.
§ The House resumed—Committee to sit again.