HC Deb 20 July 1835 vol 29 cc775-84

On the Motion for reading the Order of the Day for the House to go into a Committee on the Stafford Disfranchisement Bill,

Mr William S. O'Brien

moved that the privilege of sending two Members to Parliament, should be transferred from the borough of Stafford to the county of Cork. He said that he brought forward this Motion not only as an Irish Member who felt that his country had been aggrieved in the most important branch of national rights, but also as a Member of the British Legislature, anxious for the harmony and union of the two countries, and convinced that this union and harmony could only be maintained by treating Ireland in every respect as an equal, and by bestowing upon her rights and interests the same consideration which was given to the most favoured part of the United Kingdom. He would entreat English Members in approaching this subject to divest themselves of every thing like national jealousy, or party interest, and to consider it as a great question of international right, which was to be determined solely by the merits and justice of the claim. It had been his intention in an early part of the Session to have submitted the whole of the claim which he conceived Ireland was entitled to make, in reference to her representation in Parliament. He had intended to have proposed a series of resolutions to the effect of giving one additional Member to each of those counties in Ireland, the population of which equalled the population of those counties in England which had obtained, under the Reform Bill, two additional Representatives; and to have bestowed upon five of the largest of these counties two additional Members. The whole number of additional Members to which he should have laid claim would have been twenty-five. He was not sorry, however, that he had failed in obtaining an opportunity of bringing forward these resolutions, because he felt that there were some objections to making so large an addition to the number of the House, although he could not allow that this inconvenience was at all equal to that of leaving the people of Ireland a cause of complaint and discontent. These objections, however, did not apply to the present Motion. The House had determined that Stafford ought to be disfranchised, and what he now asked involved no increase of the numbers of the House. He only called upon the House to evince a disposition to do justice to Ireland, by paying the first instalment of a debt which they could not deny to be fairly due. Before he stated fully the grounds upon which he conceived that Ireland was entitled to twenty-five additional Representatives, he would point out some instances in detail of the very different mode in which the two countries had been treated at the passing of the Reform Bill. He found that the county in England possessing the smallest population which then acquired the privilege of sending four Members to Parliament was the county of Cumberland—the population of which was 169,681. The population of the county Cork, which still sends only two Members to Parliament, is 703,716—being more than four times as great as that of Cumberland. The next lowest county in England, in point of population, which obtained two additional Representatives, was the county of Northampton—the population of which was 179,336. Take another case: the population of the principality of Wales was something less than the united population of the county and city of Cork—the population of Wales being 805,226—that of Cork county and city 810,732. The whole number of Representatives, including boroughs, allotted to Wales was twenty-nine, of which number five had been added by the Reform Bill. The whole number of Members sent to Parliament by the county and city of Cork, boroughs included, was only eight. If the population was taken as the basis of representation, Ireland would be entitled to 210 out of the whole number of 658 Members—the population of Ireland being 7,734,368—whilst that of the United Kingdom was 24,271,763. But it would be said that population was not the only element upon which such a calculation should be founded. He was willing to admit that other elements ought also to be taken into consideration, although, in the allotment of Representatives to the English counties, their relative population alone had been considered. He would, however, admit, that revenue was an ele- ment which ought to be introduced into the computation, and he was quite contented to place the claim of Ireland upon the joint basis of population and revenue. He would take the revenue of Ireland at one-tenth of the whole revenue of the United Kingdom. Every one who knew anything about Irish finance was aware that the financial accounts submitted annually to Parliament did not exhibit a fair statement of the amount of taxation actually paid by Ireland, because a large proportion of the commodities consumed in Ireland paid duty in England. The total amount of taxation which is so paid in England by the Irish consumers, and which is credited to the account of English revenue, he believed rather to exceed than to fall short of one million a-year. In order, also, fully to estimate the amount of taxation paid by Ireland, it would be fair to take into consideration the taxes paid by persons residing in England, who derived their incomes from the industry and resources of Ireland. The revenue arising from the Irish Crown Lands was also carried to the account of the English, not of the Irish revenue. If all these circumstances were fairly taken into consideration, it would be found that the taxation paid by Ireland amounted to about one-eighth of the whole revenue of the United Kingdom. In order, however, to leave no room for cavil, he would take the revenue of Ireland at one-tenth of the whole. Upon the basis of revenue, then, Ireland would be entitled to 65 Members out of the 658; upon the basis of population to 210. If the mean of these two numbers were taken, the result would be, that Ireland would be entitled to 137 Members. Other elements might be introduced into the calculation, and still the claim of Ireland could be fully substantiated. Exports might be taken, as also area and rental. He believed that the exports of Ireland would be found to be about equal to one-sixth of the whole exports of the United Kingdom. The area of Ireland was something more than one-fourth of the area of the United Kingdom, there being in Ireland 20,399,608 acres, and in Great Britain 56,109,545 acres. The rental of Ireland might be taken at about one fifth of the rental of the United Kingdom. The value of lands and houses in Great Britain, in the year 1815, was 58,551,071l. per annum; and considering the great change which had taken place in the value of money, and in the price of all articles, it was probable that the annual value of real property in Great Britain at the present moment rather fell short of this estimate. The annual value of lands and houses in Ireland might be estimated at fifteen millions sterling. Taking, then, the area and rental jointly of Ireland as one-fifth of the area and rental of the United Kingdom, Ireland would be entitled upon this ground to 130 Members—we may then state the case thus:—population gives 210 Members; revenue, 65; areas and rental, 130;—the mean average result of these three elements is 135. If we throw in exports at one-sixth, we reduce the general result to 130. Upon this number then he would take his stand, and maintain that Ireland was entitled to at least 130 Representatives in Parliament. If any one could show that this calculation was fallacious, he would be quite willing to abate any part of the claim which appeared to be exorbitant; but if his correctness could not be denied, he called upon the House to take the first step towards doing justice to Ireland by supporting the proposition which he had ventured to make. He was prepared to show that the transfer of these Representatives to Ireland would not be attended with any injury to the local interests of Staffordshire; that county would still have an aggregate of fifteen Representatives, and the account as between Staffordshire and Cork would stand thus:—Staffordshire with a population of 410,512 persons, and an area of 736,290 acres, would enjoy fifteen Members; the county of Cork, with a population of 703,716, an area of 1,725,100 acres, and a rental of 1,137,242l., would have only eight Members—its boroughs being included. He would not insult the understanding of the House by dwelling upon the advantages which must result to any country from being fully and fairly represented in the great Council of the nation. He expected to hear it objected to this Motion, that the Reform Bill ought to be considered as a final measure; but for his own part he had always thought it an absurdity to call anything in human affairs final. He could never admit, the right of one Parliament to bind another; but, least of all, could he admit that injustice ought ever to be final. It would also be said that Ireland was now in a better position than that in which she had been placed by the terms of the treaty of the Union—inasmuch as she had obtained five additional Members at the time of the Reform Bill; but he must wholly deny that the terms of that treaty ought to be considered as indicating the just rights of Ireland. It was a matter of historical notoriety that the terms of that Union had been purchased from corrupt majorities in both Houses of the Irish Parliament, against the universal sense of the Irish nation, and therefore every Irishman repudiated the terms of the Union as utterly null and void, when used as an argument against the rights and interests of his country. He was aware, that it would be said by the Scotch Members that Scotland was inadequately represented. He would allow that the Representation of Scotland was inadequate as compared with the Representation of England; but she was more advantageously circumstanced compared to Ireland, than she was disadvantageously circumstanced when compared to England. He thought, therefore, that the Scotch Members ought, in the first instance, to assist in obtaining for Ireland its just rights, and as soon as Scotland and Ireland were placed exactly on a par, it would then be right, that as opportunities offered the Representation of both countries should be brought to the level of the Representation of England. Before he sat down he would only say if it were intended, as it was professed, to adopt a new system of Government in Ireland, to rest upon the affection of the Irish people, the concession of this trifling boon would be an act of wisdom which would be received in a spirit of gratitude by a nation which was at this moment prepared to yield to the Government and to this House all its confidence. He had lived for the last four or five years almost entirely in Ireland, and he could assure hon. Members that they were much deceived if they thought that the agitation which had convulsed Ireland during that period had been the creation of one man, or of any set of individuals. It had its origin in the continued existence of a great many causes of just discontent, which rendered it easy at any time to embody the national sentiment of Ireland in hostility to the Government and institutions of England. Remove these causes and you destroy agitation—allow them to continue and agitation will return; and among the causes of complaint there surely is none more legitimate than that in re- ference to that branch of Ireland's national rights upon which all her other interests depend—you have perpetrated an injustice, which, instead of repairing, you are determined to confirm and continue. In giving the House an opportunity of taking the first step towards dealing out the same justice to Ireland which it accords to other more favoured portions of the United Kingdom, he had endeavoured to perform a duty which he conceived that he owed to his country, and it would be for the House to perform its duty towards a nation which might justly claim to be one of the most important subsidiaries to British grandeur and British power. The hon. Member concluded by moving "That it be an instruction to the Committee to transfer the two Members hitherto returned by the borough of Stafford to the county of Cork."

Mr. Divett

was not disposed to regard the Reform Act as a final measure, if it were shown that its provisions could in any instance be altered with advantage. At the present period, however, he thought it would be extremely inconvenient to enter into a discussion involving the whole question of the general distribution of representation. He should, therefore, oppose the motion, although he could assure the hon. Member that, if ever the Question of Representation should be opened, he should be prepared to do full justice to Ireland.

The House divided on the Amendment, Ayes, 19; Noes, 159;—Majority, 140.

List of the AYES.
Baldwin O'Brien, C.
Blake, M. Rundle, J.
Clements, Lord Roche, W.
Crawford, S. Roche, D.
Fitzsimon, C. Vigors,
Fitzsimon, N. Vigors, T.
Martin, T. (Galway) Westenra, Hon. H.
Martin, J. Westenra, Hon. Col.
M'Namara, W. TELLERS.
Mullins, Hon. O'Connor, Don
Nagle, Sir R. O'Brien, W. S.

The Order of the Day was read.

On the Question that Mr. Speaker do leave the Chair,

Mr. Edward Buller

, in introducing the motion which he was about to make as an amendment to that of the hon. Member for Exeter, said, his object was not to make a speech, but to serve Stafford; and, therefore, he should not detain the House longer than necessary. If he could show as the grounds on which he moved the amendment, that notwithstanding the evidence brought forward in the case of Stafford, the criminality in that case did not equal that degree which had always been required by that House before adopting proceedings to disfranchise it;—if he could show that in a recent case, the degree of criminality exceeded that of Stafford, and yet no such proceedings were taken—if he could show (as he trusted he should) that the course pursued with regard to Stafford was altogether unprecedented, and that there were circumstances which entitled that borough to considerable indulgence—if he could show, during a considerable time which had elapsed subsequently to those proceedings, that a very great change had taken place in the borough; that a great portion of the guilt formerly contracted had been removed, by men, since added to the burgess roll, who had no participation in that guilt—if he could further show, that at a late election, very similar to the case of Stafford, where bribery had been clearly proved as well as intimidation, the inhabitants threw themselves on the justice of the House and demanded further investigation, and that in a case so similar the House did allow further inquiry—if he could make out all these points, he thought he should satisfy the House that, with respect to Stafford, further inquiry was necessary. With respect to criminality, he (Mr. Edward Buller) trusted the House would do him the justice to believe, that he would not stand there as the advocate of those who, by their guilty practices made the borough appear unworthy to possess the elective franchise. But, admitting the whole of the evidence in respect to Stafford to be correct, there still remained 324 individual electors whose character was unimpeached. There was also to be regarded the character of the evidence, which in this instance was peculiar. In all other cases they had unwilling witnesses, and were forced to extort the truth from those who gave it most reluctantly; but in this case there was a peculiar violence of political party—of the friends of opposing candidates—the new 10l. householders, and the old freemen of the town; and the object of each was, to bring forward all they knew, (and even a little more than they knew) to blacken the character of the other. When he regarded all this, he must say, that it appeared to him, the evidence ought to be received with considerable caution. He knew it was said, in a recent case, that notwithstanding what had previously transpired, tickets for soup, &c. were given to all the voters; but he could say, that 596 tickets were given to those who did not vote, and had no votes at all; in fact, they were given to every person in the borough who was willing to take them; and he must put it to the House whether it was likely, any man in his overflowings of liberality would, in a town containing 9,000 inhabitants, give 5s. to every man who asked for them, even to numbers who had no residence in the borough. In the case of another borough to which he had alluded, corruption was extended to all classes: one witness was asked how many electors he thought might not have been bribed? His answer was, "There might, perhaps, have been two or three." But in this case of Stafford, it appeared in evidence that upwards of 300 were pure; and as to the Corporation of Stafford, there was the strongest testimony borne to it in the Report of the Committee. He could not see why a greater degree of punishment should be awarded to the case of Stafford than to that of East Retford. All that he asked was further inquiry; he could find no parallel between the case of Stafford and the cases of boroughs which had been disfranchised. In the case of Stafford, no person had been prosecuted for those transactions, and not one of the Members had lost their seats; nor was there one precedent which could justify the House in proceeding without the clearest evidence of the Committee, to inflict the severest of the penalties which it was in the power of the House to inflict. In the case of East Retford, the bribery was much more systematic than that of Stafford. The clergymen, the aldermen, the most respectable men of the town, were corrupted; 20l. was the regular sum demanded for a vote, and the Town-Clerk actually could not lay his hand upon more than three electors who had escaped the corruption, and yet, in this case, attended with such a mass of corruption, the Legislature was satisfied with extending the franchise to the adjoining villages. He did not mean to ask so much as that; he only put it to the House whether, in the case of Stafford, there was not a stronger claim upon its indulgence than a borough on which it had inflicted a much lighter penalty than was now proposed to inflict on Stafford. At the last election for Stafford there were five candidates. There had been petitions presented to the House by upwards of 300 voters, distinctly denying all bribery whatever. He had received from his hon. Friend, who now represented the borough, a distinct denial of any bribery on his part; he had also received the same assertion from the other late hon. Member for that borough. He had also a letter, addressed to one of the candidates, signed by 312 electors, solemnly denying corruption of any kind on his or their part, in the late election for the borough. He had the same testimony, in short, for four out of the five candidates. He had had an opportunity of communicating with the fifth, but with regard to the four, he had no doubt that every vote was given in the most constitutional way, without any promises of remuneration of any kind whatever. He, therefore, did believe with many other hon. Members, that further inquiry on this subject would be desirable. In the case of Liverpool, the corruption was at least as bad as that of Stafford; but peculiar circumstances interfered with the Bill for its disfranchisement. After a delay of two years the House granted a Committee for further inquiry, although in that case there was not, as in the case of Stafford, a petition denying bribery at the last election. Upon these grounds he would beg leave to move, in conclusion, as an Amendment to the Motion for going into Committee, "That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the bribery and corruption which have prevailed at elections for Representatives for the Borough of Stafford, and to report their inquiries to the House. And that it be an instruction to the Committee, that they report, in the first place, the result of their inquiries as to the last election.

Mr. Divett

contended, that if Amendments like the present were acceded to, it would always be impossible, especially at an advanced period of the Session, to disfranchise a corrupt borough.

Lord Sandon

maintained, that there was a growing desire on the part of the respectable inhabitants of Stafford to rescue the town from the imputation which had so long attached to it. He supported the Amendment.

Mr. W. E. Gladstone

said, that as allusions had been made to Liverpool, he would take upon himself to say, that during the long time that Mr. Huskisson and Mr. Canning represented Liverpool, not one sixpence had been spent in bribery. The great scene of bribery was in 1830, when the candidates were of the same political opinions.

Captain Chetwynd

warmly defended the Borough of Stafford from the imputations which had been cast upon it. He would have done so upon the second reading of the Stafford Disfranchisement Bill; but such was the noise and confusion in the House, that that Bill had been read a second time without his being at all aware of the fact. He solemnly declared, that the constituents by whom he had been returned for Stafford, had not received a single bribe or reward of any description. The hon. Gentleman proceeded to read passages from the Report of the Committee that had been appointed on the subject, and from the evidence adduced before that Committee, and to point out numerous inconsistencies in the former and discrepancies in the latter. The hon. and gallant Member then concluded by expressing it as his opinion, that there was not sufficient evidence to warrant the disfranchisement of the borough. If he should again have the honour of being returned for that borough at the next election, he pledged himself that if any corrupt or unlawful practices were resorted to, so far from attempting to defend them, he should cheerfully lend a helping hand to bring those guilty of them to justice.

The House divided on the original Motion; Ayes 98; Noes 19; Majority 79.

The House went into a Committee; the Bill read and agreed to and ordered to be reported.

List of the AYES.
Adam, Admiral Clerk, Sir G.
Alston, R. Crawford, S.
Baines, E. Curteis, H. B.
Baring, F. Curteis, Major E.
Bewes, T. Divett, E.
Blake, M. Donkin, Sir R.
Blount, Sir C. Dundas, T.
Bowring, Dr. Dykes, F. L.
Brabazon, Sir W. Ebrington, Lord
Bridgman, H. Egerton, Sir P.D.M.
Brodie, W. B. Elphinstone, H.
Brotherton, J. Etwall, R.
Campbell, Sir H.P.H Ewart, W.
Cayley, E. S. Fellowes, Hon. N.
Cavendish, C. Gaskell, D.
Chapman, M. L. Gladstone, W. E.
Hardy, J. Roche, D.
Harland, W. C. Rundle, John
Hay, Colonel L. Ruthven, E., sen.
Heneage, A. Ruthven, E., jun.
Hindley, Charles Sheldon, E. R.
Howard, P. Sheppard, Thomas
Hume, Joseph Speirs, A. G.
Hutt, W. Stanley, E. J.
Hurst, R. Strutt, E.
Ingham, R. Stewart, R.
Labouchere, H. Stuart, Lord J.
Lennard, Sir B. Talbot, C. M.
Lennox, Lord G. Thompson, Colonel
Macnamara, Major Thornely, T.
Marsland, H. Tooke, Win.
M'Cance, John Tracy, H.
Murray, J. Trowbridge, Sir T.
O'Brien, C. Tulkc, C. A.
O'Loghlen, M. Tynte, Colonel
Parrott, J. Tynte, C. J. K.
Parry, Colonel J. Vesey, Hon. T.
Pease, J. Wakley, Thomas
Pechell, Captain Wallace, R.
Pelham, Hon. C. A. Warburton, H.
Phillips, C. Wason, R.
Plumtre, J. P. Westenra, Hon. Col.
Poulter, J. S. Wigney, J. N.
Poyntz, W. S. Williams, W.
Price, Price Wilson, Henry
Price, Sir R. Wynn, Right Hon. C.
Pryme, G. Wyse, T.
Raphael Young, G. F.
List of the NOES.
Bagot, Hon. W. Kirk, P.
Buller, Sir J. Y. Mackinnon, W. A.
Buller, E. Morgan, C. M. R.
Chetwynd, Captain Moseley, Sir O.
Cole, Viscount Perceval, Colonel
Davenport, J. Rushbrooke, Colonel
Fleetwood, P. H. Sandon, Viscount
Gaskell, J. Milnes Scott, Sir E. D.
Goodricke, Sir F. H. Vere, Sir C. B.
Heathcote, R. E. PAIRED OFF.
Houldsworth, T. Lord E. Bruce
Jones, Wilson Mr. Chisholm