having been called on by the Speaker, rose to bring forward his motion for leave to introduce "a bill to amend the laws relating to the registration of voters in Ireland." He said, although he had no reason to apprehend that any opposition would be made to the proposition which he was about to submit to the House, and which had already been conceded by Gentleman on that side of the House, of a plan for the removal of great and acknowledged abuses in the system of the registration of Parliamentary electors in Ireland, yet the subject was one of such great importance, that he considered it due to the subject itself, and more respectful to the House, if he ventured to beg for their indulgence while, as shortly as he could, consistently with the object he had in view, he stated the main objects which he proposed to accomplish, and the objects to which alone his motion was intended to be confined. And in the first place, they would allow him to assure the House that his first grand object was, if it were possible, that this question should be discussed in the House without any reference whatever to party feeling. It had been his fate to be so much mixed up with political discussions, and discussions connected with Ireland, that if he had followed the dictates of his own judgment he had much rather that the question had been brought forward by any other Member than himself, lest the circumstance of his bringing it forward might tend to controversy or excited feeling, which he was most sincerely anxious to avoid. But in bringing the question forward he was merely fulfilling a pledge which he might be supposed to have given when, as the organ of Lord Grey's administration, he stated the grounds on which at that time they did not contemplate any alteration in the system of Irish registration. He begged the House to believe, that he had not entered on this question of details with reference to any party interests in the country at large. 616 He was perfectly aware that a motion brought forward by any hon. Member on that side of the House, on such a question, must rest its only chance of being carried by being capable of supporting the test of fair criticism, and by proof of the fairness with which the principle could be carried out. The English and Irish Reform Bills were, in many respects, very different from one another. In the English Reform Bill there was a total abolition of the franchise in many of the towns; that part of the question which related to Ireland had been dealt with at the period of the union, and in the Irish Reform Bill there was no disfranchising clause. The English Reform Bill diminished the total number of English representatives thirteen. Again, with regard to the freehold tenure, the English Reform Bill was partly occupied in restricting the freehold tenure of the 40s. freeholders. A bill, which passed the House a few years before the Irish Reform Bill, abolished the 40s. freeholders in Ireland, and there had been no alteration with regard to the freeholders in the Irish Reform Bill. The English and Irish Reform Bills proceeded in both countries on the same principle; but with regard to leasehold tenure in counties, the Irish Reform Bill gave the qualification for a shorter term and for a less interest than the corresponding provision in the English bill. Again, a great portion of the English bill was occupied with alterations which no doubt in England worked very beneficially—he meant the provisions for shortening the duration of elections, and for taking the poll at many places instead of at one place, in counties. But on both sides of the House great doubts prevailed at that time, and very great doubts at this time, as to how far it would or not be prudent to adopt the same principle with regard to Ireland. Then, lastly, with regard to the registration in England, there had existed previous to the English Reform Bill, no system of registration whatever; it was, therefore, quite free for the English Legislature to take what course they pleased, unfettered by any precedent, and to make a great, and he believed, he might say, a successful experiment, in introducing a wholly new system of registration. But in Ireland it was different; a law of registration as regarded freehold tenures, had existed in Ireland for many years, resting on a statute dating so 617 far back as the 35th of George 3rd., and on statutes subsequently passed. Under these circumstances, he need not remind the House, that it was thought better to watch the progress of these registrations, and not in the country in which they had a registration—to introduce a wholly new system till they saw how that system worked in England. But, at the same time, it was announced by Lord Grey's Government, that they would watch that great experiment, and if it was found to work advantageously in England, then that it was their wish to apply so much of it as was found practicable to Ireland. He hoped he should not unnecessarily trouble the House if he ventured to submit to it as shortly as he could, the main differences between the law as it stood in England and in Ireland with regard to the system of registration; and he would, in the first place, say, that the measure which he proposed to introduce to the House, he proposed to confine to registration, and to registration only. He did not propose to deal in any manner with the elective franchise; he did not propose to call for any opinion on the subject of those disputed points of law, the attempt to settle which in that House, would only tend to one result—namely, to prevent the passing of a bill to correct the abuses which existed. He did not intend to introduce any provision with regard to taking the poll at elections; his bill would be confined to registration for elections solely, leaving the other points to the consideration of the House on other future occasions. Now, he need hardly tell the House, that in England the registration, or revision of voters, occurred annually, before barristers selected by the judges of assize, making the circuit where they were appointed to register; these fixed the places and the times of holding their sessions, and called on the parties wishing to enfranchise to appear before them at certain times and places, and in certain districts where they purposed to hold their sessions. He need not say, that in counties it was necessary for a person wishing to appear for the first time in the register of voters, to send a notice of his claim to the overseer of the parish, and with this exception, the registration in counties and boroughs differed so little, that he might deal with both together. The period, then, at which the overseers of the towns, from their knowledge of the quail- 618 fications of the rate-payers within the towns, and the clerks of the peace, of the lists sent in of claims, through the overseer of the parish to the clerk of the peace of the County, were required to publish a list, was by the 31st of July; and that published list was required to be posted on the church door of the parish in which the voter sought to register; and the list so posted remained to public exhibition from the 31st of July to the 25th of August, and the overseer had the duty imposed on him, not of striking out any name, or inserting any name given to him, but of setting against any name, the simple words, "objected to," those simple words, obliging the party to substantiate his right to vote before the revising barrister. The list of objections, again, was appointed to be furnished to the overseer; and the list of objections and persons claiming to vote wrongfully left out, were required to be separately published two Sundays before the 15th of September, and the Session could not commence at an earlier period than the 15th of September, nor later than the 25th of October. He knew that all this would be very familiar to Englishmen, but he wished the difference to be seen between this law and the registration law of Ireland. The registry of voters in Ireland, he need hardly say, was not annual, but it was quarterly. The session for the registration of voters was not held before a barrister, appointed, by a judge to go a circuit through the country, but before assistant barristers of the country permanent officers, as a part of the quarter session duty in each quarter session town, and nowhere else. The claims must be sent in, not as in England, in a period of twelve weeks, but in twenty days previous to the period of registry, that period of registry occurring four times a year. The clerk of the peace was called on to make out a list, which he did, not circulating it in the parish where the claim appeared, but making the list out for a whole county or a whole town, which he was required to post in some conspicuous place in the county or town. Thus, while in England a voter had twenty-five days, from the 31st of July to the 25th of August, to examine the list of voters and claimants in his own immediate neighbourhood and object or not to their right to vote, to the objector in Ireland a period was given of ten days to wade through the whole county list, and to ex- 619 amine if in that list there might be any one person in any part of the county against whom he wished to press an objection. He (Lord Stanley) wished to State the two systems without observation on one or the other. In England the Voter who had no objection made against his claim was not required to appear in any way before the revising barrister, but in the absence of objection against him, his vote was allowed to be good, and for one year he remained on the list of voters but if objected to, he was required to prove his title. In Ireland the law was more stringent on electors, because, whether objected to or not, with the single exception of 50l. freeholders, to which he would presently allude, an elector seeking for the first time to qualify, was obliged to produce the lease by which he held, and the words of the act were, "by his oath or otherwise to prove the title by which he claims to vote." It was right to say, that as in England the notices were served in the parish to which the voter belonged, so the revising barrister fixed the place at which each voter should appear to make good his claim; and consequently all parties could have no difficulty in knowing at what place and at what time the objections that were to be urged must be urged, and where the vote, if it was to be admitted, must be admitted. But, in Ireland, the voter had not only the opportunity of registering at alt Quarter Sessions, but in any part of the county, without reference to where he might be situate. Let them take the case of a rich person, conscious of some flaw in his title, or of a person supported by rich friends; they gave notice twenty days before he intended to register his vote; the claimant made his appearance at a part of the county fifty or sixty miles from the place at which he himself resided; and to a certain extent he might drag the objector after him from quarter session to quarter session, and having failed in one, two, three, four sessions in the course of the year, be may get on the list by wearying at his objector. And what was the result if he got on the register? In England, if a person got on the register and was objected to, in the following year he was called on to come forward and substantiate his claim; not placing the onus of proof on the objector; but if he teas objected to, that voter had to come up to revising barrister's court to prove 620 his title, that he had a right to be placed on the list of voters. He did not say that that was not a subject of vexation; he thought it was. But, if a person got on the register in England improperly, he might, upon objection, be struck off the following year. But, in Ireland, if a person got on the list, he proved his title by affidavit, which affidavit was registered by the clerk of the peace on the records of the county. The claimant then received a certificate from the clerk of the peace, which allowed him to tender his vote at every election for eight years, without examination. These certificates, if some of the decisions of the assistant-barristers were correct, extended not only to a period of eight years, for he understood that it was held in Ireland, that the production of a certificate granted in the year 1832, not by the party himself, but by some persons whom he deputed to bring it into court, was primâ facie evidence of his title to another certificate to vote till the year 1848. The certificates, therefore, were almost in the nature of Exchequerbills; they were renewable and transferable, and there was nothing to prevent the person who renewed from handing over the old certificates to others for the purpose of using them to procure fictitious votes; or in the event of the death of the voter, nothing more was necessary than to obtain the possession of the certificate, and making oath of identity, for that was the only question put on the occasion, except when the validity of the vote was tried by the Upper House, and on certain proceedings, on a petition before a Parliamentary committee. By a multitude of those fraudulent votes returns might be made to that House, and whether the party in whose name the certificate was first taken oat was alive or not, his name was still available, as having been entered on the register. It was a question of great doubt, and he believed various opinions obtained upon it, whether the House had the power to alter the registering, once being made; and when, in case of a petition, numbers of such votes should be stricken off on either side, and the election declared void, these said voters might again present themselves at the ensuing election, without the possibility of their votes being objected to by the returning officer. He had heard it said, that an hon. and learned Gentleman opposite had expressed regret, that be should propose to bring this measure before the 621 House for argument or discussion; but of all the hon. Members in that House, he most wondered that regret on the subject should be expressed by that hon. and learned Gentleman, for reasons which he (Lord Stanley) would show as he proceeded. But to go on with the observations with which he was about to preface the measure which he intended to lay before the House, As the registration at present stood in Ireland, those who registered in 1832 were entitled to receive new certificates for the five succeeding years. Now, this renewal did not cancel the first certificate, nor in making it was there any affidavit required, but the party could go on for five successive years obtaining certificates as if for five distinct persons, each of which might be tendered at the poll, there being no possibility of investigating their validity except by a Committee of the House of Commons. A single individual having possession of the qualification with but six months occupation, might, in the course of seven years and a half procure from that single property no less than fifteen certificates. He did not mean to say that such cases were of common occurrence. [Mr. O'Connell—show one.] That would be exceedingly difficult. How could he show the existence of abuses, to the probability of which he was then calling the attention of the House? He was showing that the present system was liable to gross abuses, and he challenged hon. Members to show to the contrary. For his own part, he had no doubt that in many cases the property which furnished the qualification had furnished two or three individuals with certificates of registration. No provision was made for cancelling old certificates, and the consequence was, that county registries in particular were mere masses of absurdities and confusion, from which it would be almost impossible to ascertain who were, or who were not, the bonâ fide electors. The hon. and learned Member for Dublin had himself, some little time ago, moved for returns, stating the number of electors for Dublin, with a view, no doubt, to show the smallness of their amount. He was of opinion, that these returns would prove even to a greater extent than the hon. Gentleman wished, the confusion which existed in the registries in consequence of the want of a power to expunge the names of those persons whose right had ceased, but who still claimed to be 622 upon them. He had said in the outset, that he would avoid all irritating and unpleasant topics, and this, he conceived, he had fully done, while he had shown the liability to abuse in the existing law. He would not go into the evidence taken before the committee on fictitious votes in Ireland to make out his case—he would not impugn the decisions made by the barristers, nor would he say that an extensive system of fraud had been carried on; but he would say, that the present law held out a temptation for the commission of perjury, without any dread of detection, or without a possibility of asserting who were, or who were not, the bonâ fide electors either in towns, cities, or counties. The abuses had been acknowledged over and over again. There was no doubt as to the facilities of fraud which had been afforded, nor as to the fact that those facilities had been taken advantage of. The first person who noticed this state of the law was the hon. and learned Member, who now expressed his surprise that he (Lord Stanley) should bring the subject under the consideration of the House. In April, 1835, the hon. and learned Gentleman gave notice of a bill to consolidate and amend the law of election in Ireland, and to assimilate the system of taking the poll to that which existed in this country. Though this notice appeared on the books for some time, no steps were taken to carry it into effect. Another bill having the same object was introduced into the House by Messrs. O'Loghlin and Perrin, on August 11th of the same year. That bill went through all the stages, and having passed through a committee on the 19th of the same month, it was sent up on the 29th to the other House. In that discussion the hon. and learned Member for Dublin admitted that the introduction of some measure would not only be beneficial but necessary. Now, it was strange that hon. and learned Gentlemen should deem a measure of this sort not only beneficial, but essential, in 1835, and yet in 1840 that he should express any surprise that it was actually taken up by another Member for the purpose of legislation. In 1836 his noble Friend opposite, Lord J. Russell, and the then Attorney-general, Mr. O'Loghlin, brought in a measure of the same nature; that measure was read a second time without any debate; yet, notwithstanding this, it was postponed from day to day to the 623 close of the Session. In 1833 the hon. Member for Limerick announced his intention of bringing in a similar measure, but Mr. Woulfe, the then Attorney-general for Ireland, having expressed his intention of taking up the subject, the hon. Gentleman expressed his pleasure that it should be in such hands. The bill was brought in, it was printed, it was read successfully a second time; yet this measure was also postponed, and not an individual in the House took up the question until the hon. and learned Member for Bandon expressed his intention of bringing in a bill upon the subject. Last year again the hon. Member for Limerick brought in a bill, in the greater part of which he concurred. But that bill had also been abandoned, he knew not why. He only knew that it had not proceeded beyond the mere printing. The House had concurred generally in all the main features of that bill. There had been no objection to it from either side of the House; there had been no division; yet up to the present time, though all admitted the abuse, and all acknowledged that a remedy was necessary, the question was left exactly in the same state. Such a course of proceeding was not creditable to the House, and he had therefore endeavoured, as far as in him lay, to bring forward a measure which he hoped would obtain the favourable sanction of both sides of the House, which he was resolved, as far as he was concerned, should suffer neither delay, nor postponement—a measure which he hoped would gain a candid hearing, and a fair discussion, and before the end of the Session, become the law of the land. The nature of this measure he would endeavour to state to the House as briefly as possible. In it he had endeavoured to follow up the provison of those other bills, which seemed to have met with the universal consent of the House. In the first place, he proposed to make the registration annual instead of quarterly. There was one point, however, which he wished to impress strongly upon the House,—namely, that it was not his intention to deal in any way with the franchise. By the English bill it was required that the occupation should be for twelve months, and then the elector was qualified to vote at once. The law in Ireland required but six months' occupancy previous to the registration, but the elector could not vote for six months after- 624 wards. Now, upon this point there must be some change. It had been argued, and with some plausibility, that the establishment of the English principle of annual registration in Ireland would not place the English and the Irish elector on the same footing, because of the different length of time in the previous occupancy of each. It was possible that a tenant in England, coming into occupation in November or September, not being able to show a twelvemonth's occupancy, would practically be deprived of the privilege of voting for twenty-one or twenty-two months, whilst in Ireland no such delay would take place. He hoped that this would be considered an indication of the fair manner in which it was intended by this bill to deal with Ireland. For while it put that country on the same footing as England, with respect to the form of registration, without at all contracting the franchise, still he could not concur in a suggestion which had been made for continuing the six months' occupancy as a qualification, and fixing no period after the registration as that at which the elector should become entitled to his vote. He thought he had devised a means of solving this difficulty, and of placing the voter in a better position than that in which he at present stood; it was this—although making the registration annual, he would still introduce a provision, requiring that the person claiming to be registered should prove six months occupancy, and then that if the registering barrister placed the name upon the list, his title to the franchise should not be postponed beyond a period of occupancy which would in the whole amount to the twelve months. He would make this provision by means of a single clause, and carry it out by the insertion of a column in the registry showing the date of the registration, together with the date of the occupancy. With respect to the revising barrister, it had on a former occasion been proposed that the appointment of that officer should be vested in the Government of the day. To this he objected, on the ground that such appointment might possibly be used for political purposes, especially previously to a contested election, when barristers thus appointed would have a power of nominating subordinates to act for them. Now, the assistant-barristers did this duty in Ireland, and he could not see any rea- 625 son why they could not perform annually that same duty which they at present performed quarterly. He had no doubt that the duty would be fairly performed, whether those officers were appointed by one party in that House, or by the other. The best security for their impartiality was, that they would be acting in the face of the country in which they were known, and under the eye of the public, by whom their conduct would be scrutinized. He should therefore feel the same confidence whether these persons were taken from the ranks of their political opponents, or appointed by the friends who surrounded them. He would not, as was formerly proposed by the now Chief Baron of Ireland, agree to the plan of having the revising barristers varying in their circuits from time to time. Such a course would be calculated to produce great uncertainty in the decisions with respect to claims. It would be much better that they should preside permanently in the same courts and in the same counties, subject to an appeal, a provision for which was made in a subsequent part of the bill. By adopting this plan uniformity of decision would be more likely to be secured, for if it appeared that a great number of appeals were made from one county, and a variety of decisions come to by one barrister, these appeals and decisions would afford an admirable check. He admitted that there ought to be an appeal from these decisions, and he thought the best mode of appeal was that which had been proposed in the bill brought in on a former occasion by Messrs. O'Loghlin and Perrin. It would not be right to subject such appeals either to a subordinate or a coordinate authority, but rather to vest the power of deciding them in the judges of the land at the ensuing assizes, and to allow of an appeal both pro and con. As there was not in Ireland overseers to post up the notices, that duty should be thrown on the clerks of the peace for towns and counties, they being required to specify the names and parishes of the persons claiming, and to make out local lists, as was the case in England. It was necessary, however, that this should be done at an earlier period than that at which it was now done here, so as not to protract the time into October, and thus to interfere with the other duties which the assistant-barrister had to perform at the quarter sessions. The power of appointing the 626 place and time of registration should, as in England, be vested in the barrister, he taking care to hold different sessions in different districts, to accommodate the persons residing in the neighbourhood and parishes. As a check upon the list made by the barrister, he would introduce a condition similar to that in the English bill, which allowed of an appeal to the Lord-lieutenant on a memorial. This, to be sure, was a minor detail, but as the spirit of the bill depended in a great measure upon its detail, he felt warranted in pressing upon the time of the House for the purpose of making its provisions clearly understood. It was supposed that persons possessed of the 50l. freehold franchise would not abuse the privilege they possessed of coming before a court of assize and establishing their claims without liability to objection then or thereafter. He did not say that persons possessed of this qualification would abuse that power, but might it not happen that many persons, not only not possessing this qualification, but absolutely not possessing a penny, might avail themselves of that provision, and swear to that qualification, for the purpose of procuring a certificate, and tendering their votes? He did not propose to take away their exemption, but he would require that copies of the registrations of such persons should be left at the office of the clerk of the peace, and thus made as open to objections as those of the very humblest classes of the community. After this, his bill proposed to do away with the whole existing system of certificates—a system productive of fraud, perjury, and confusion. The bill further proposed to vest a power in the revising barrister of visiting with moderate costs those parties who came forward either with frivolous claims or frivolous objections, and also a provision giving to the judge of assize a discretionary and an unlimited power with respect to costs. Then with respect to persons who had already established their claims, should they, as was the case in England, permit objections to be made to such persons year after year; that was found to be a great hardship in this country, but it would be still more severely felt in Ireland, where preliminary inquiry was more strict. What he proposed to do in this case was, that where an objection was made, the onus of proving it should be thrown upon the person who 627 impugned the vote, and he should be subjected to the liability of substantiating his own case, or else be subjected to the penalty. But, on the other hand, the bill would require that the party claiming to vote in the first instance should send the particulars of his lease, the date in which be registered for the amount of the property in that lease, the period at which the lease was to expire; or, if the lease should be for lives, the names of the parties mentioned in it. This, he thought, was but fair, when the onus of proof was thrown upon the objector, for either the lease might expire, or the lives might fall out, yet the same man might remain the tenant at will of the same landlord; and thus a person making a valid objection might find it difficult, if not impossible, to establish it by proof. Then, again, there was another question. Should there be any limitations as to the nature of these objections, and, in case of one being renewed, should the proof be confined entirely to new matter? Looking to the restriction by which the objector was already bound, seeing that the onus of proof would be thrown upon him, and that, in the event of failure, he would be liable to moderate costs before the revising barrister, and to unlimited costs before the judge of assize, it did not appear to him to be just that the evidence should be restricted to that which occurred since the last objection had been taken. For if it could be proved that the franchise had, in the first instance, been fraudulently procured, it certainly ought not to be continued on these grounds, the law being at present bad enough, as it secured the enjoyment of such fraudulent votes for eight years. If, as the bill proposed, the registration was to be for life, and if at the same time the objector were to be debarred from offering proof that it bad been fraudulently acquired in the first instance, a great hardship would be inflicted in rendering him liable to a penalty. It would be very hard to have the fraud made evident, and admit at the same time that the bill provided no possible remedy for its correction. Mr. O'Loghlin, who was the first to introduce the subject of limitation, seemed to entertain a doubt upon this point, and he had introduced a provision which he hoped would obviate the objection. He first proposed to make an annual registration, which would be good and final against any decision by a 628 committee, but at the same time he proposed not to check an objector from going into matter connected with the claim before the last registry. He, however, would make the last registry final as regarded the committee, and thus avoid the annoyance and the expense, which were so little creditable to that House. There was yet another question to be considered—namely, how were they to deal with the existing registration? He thought he could fairly assume that the existing registries abounded with fictitious votes—of that there could be no doubt. They certainly contained many names which had no existence whatever. It had been said by many persons, why not altogether sweep away the old registries? But it struck him that the doing so would be a very great hardship to those who had already, at no little trouble, established their right to the franchise. It would be very hard to tell a man who, two or three years ago, had had the onus thrown upon him of proving his title, that he must take all the trouble over again; for this reason, then, he would not sweep away the existing registry. A remedy had been suggested in continuing the present certificates for the period they had yet to run, and that would, perhaps, to a certain extent, be doing justice as far as regarded individuals, but would it prevent the fraud, the perjury, and the confusion which were likely to take place before the eight years were expired? The course, then, which he proposed to take was this—to place the existing registry as it now stood on the same footing as that in which it would stand under the proposed bill next year, if the bill should pass into a law, but liable to the same objections as if the claim had to be substantiated under the new act. He had now stated, and he hoped he had done so without acrimony or party feeling, the main features of the measure which he was about to propose to the House. He was prepared either now, or at any future period, to listen to and discuss, with a view to making the measure more perfect, any suggestion or argument coming either from one side of the House or the other; and he could assure hon. Gentlemen that any argument or criticism which bore on the correction of the abuses which he sought to do away with, be they given in public or in private, by those opposite, or by those around him, should meet with respectful consideration,
§ Viscount Morpeth
admitted that the noble Lord had truly stated the history of the several steps which had been taken with regard to this subject since 1835, when the present Master of the Rolls for Ireland introduced a bill, which having passed through that House was sent up to the House of Lords, and was there, after a brief consideration, rejected. Another bill, which was very nearly the same in its provisions, was introduced into that House in 1836. It was true it had not gone through many stages there, but the Government had no reason to believe that its fate would be different to that of its predecessor, and they were also aware that if they persisted in forcing it on, they would expose themselves to the accusation which had been so frequently made from the opposite side, that it was a mockery of legislation to press on measures which they knew would be rejected elsewhere. From those considerations, the bill was abandoned. In 1838, the present Irish Chief Baron, then Attorney-general for Ireland, introduced another bill, with some slight difference in the provisions; that bill had not been carried through the House, but enough had been done to show that there was no chance of both sides agreeing to such a measure as would be calculated to conciliate the favour of the other House of Parliament, and that if they continued to urge it, they would be liable to the same imputation which he had already mentioned. It was clear, too, that that feeling was not confined to his (Lord Morpeth's) side of the House, for the hon. and learned Member for Bandon had in the same year obtained leave to introduce another bill, which he, however, did not carry through, though it proceeded to the last stage, and was recommitted for the purpose of being printed. In 1839 the hon. and learned Gentleman again gave notice of a motion for leave to introduce a bill upon this subject, and he (Lord Morpeth) naturally expected to find it the same as that which had previously been re-committed for the purpose of re-printing. The hon. and learned Gentleman, however, had not proceeded, probably because he felt that to carry any measure of amendment, however, desirable, would not prove an easy task. Since the accession of the present Government measures had been introduced during every session for the purpose of improving the system of registra- 630 tion; but though they involved far slighter changes than that of the hon. and learned Member for Bandon, it was obvious that the two Houses were never likely to agree upon them. Seeing, then, the difficulty of introducing any measure likely to gain the joint assent of the two parties in that House, or of both Houses of Parliament, and as a plan for amending the registrations in England and Scotland was at present under the consideration of the Government, it was thought more advisable to wait, with a view, if possible, of bringing the three countries under one joint and united plan; and that the case as regarded Ireland could be far better considered and discussed after the valuation which would take place under the New Poor Law. Taking all these points into consideration, it was thought advisable to suspend the introduction of any measure, with a view to insure soundness and permanence in whatever bill should be brought in. The noble Lord, however, would appear as if he were desirous of merging his character of obstructer in that of constructor on the present occasion by this attempt at solving the difficulties with which the question was beset. Whether the noble Lord might not feel that he had some scores to pay off upon the present constituent body of Ireland, was a matter which would be best considered when the House had an opportunity of deliberately weighing the provisions of his bill as he had developed it, and developed it, he must say, very fairly and candidly, and of seeing the manner in which he worked out its details, which of course could only be when the printed bill was in the hands of Members. Until that time, reserving whatever opinion he might hereafter have to express upon the provisions, the scope, and the tendency of the noble Lord's measure, he should have been content to say nothing upon the subject upon the present occasion, but for one consideration to which he wished to advert. It might be in the recollection of the House that in the course of last session his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dublin brought forward a measure for assimilating the franchise of the people of Ireland to that enjoyed by the constituency of England. Now, his hon. and learned Friend, besides proposing measures for assimilating and identifying the electoral rights of the people of both countries to the general principle of which the present 631 Government had always been favourable, also brought forward some striking instances of a disproportion in the number of voters in England and Ireland, a disproportion which the noble Lord opposite had himself admitted, and his hon. and learned Friend contended that this was sufficient proof of the necessity for an extension of the franchise in Ireland. Upon the first motion which his hon. and learned Friend made for leave to bring in the bill he met it with a decided negative. In doing so he hoped that he had not acted with any discourtesy, and he had some reason for entertaining that hope, as he knew that the charge made against him in some quarters was that his opposition to the motion was too courteous and deferential. He could not deny the statistics, or contravene the logic, of the arithmetical proportions laid by his hon. and learned Friend before the House, but he felt that after a great settlement of a constitutional question, by which the proportion of representation was ascertained for the three countries, after the great opposition which had been offered to the settlement of that question, and the great excitement which it had occasioned all over the country, it would be inexpedient, so short a period having intervened, to lend any countenance to a proposition for further change. The Government were now disposed to act in the same spirit; but at the same time he wished to state that if, notwithstanding the remonstrances of the bulk of the people of Ireland, who honoured the Government with their generous confidence—"and if the confidence of the Irish people, were regarded as a disparagement, he wished never to exchange destinies with the party opposite" if, he would say, notwithstanding the representations of a number of the Irish Members, a great proportion of whom gave the Government their support—if, notwithstanding the force of the arithmetical and statistical details which the hon. and learned Member for Dublin had laid before the House, the Government yet refused its consent to such an assimlation and extension of the franchise, as those parties required at its hands, because the Government considered it inexpedient to alter the existing law, so, on the other hand, the Government was not prepared to assent to any proposition for altering the present system of registration in Ireland, if they found that it was the 632 object or the tendency of the proposed measure to limit, control, and obstruct—to use the favourite word of the noble Lord opposite, beyond its due and just limits, that franchise which the people of Ireland had received at the hands of the noble Lord. There were some topics in the speech of the noble Lord which might excite discussion, but these, as he had said, he should reserve stating his opinion upon until the time when he had made up his mind upon, the provisions and the tendency of the noble Lord's measure. He had, however, thought it most candid towards his noble Friend opposite to say at once, without any reserve, that with whatever ingenuity the bill might be framed, however well calculated it might be to effect its own objects, and whatever collateral and incidental advantages it might possess, still if he were convinced in his own mind that its tendency would be to narrow and obstruct the political rights of the people of Ireland, he would offer his decided opposition to the further progress of the measure. Having thus stated the principles by which he should be guided in dealing with any measure which should affect the franchise in Ireland, and having intimated the spirit in which he should approach the consideration of any proposition of that nature, he should offer no obstacle to the noble Lord bringing in his bill, and submitting it to the consideration of the House.
§ Mr. Sergeant Jackson
was happy to find, that the noble Lord, the Secretary for Ireland, did not intend to offer any opposition to the motion of the noble Lord who had asked permission of the House to bring in his bill, and he was also exceedingly happy to find that the noble Lord would give this bill a fair and candid consideration. That was all that the noble Lord asked the House to give. He had now risen because the noble Lord who had just resumed his seat had done him the honour to refer to his conduct on this subject. It was one which had been admitted to be of great importance by Members on both sides of the House. Some years ago the hon. and learned Member for Dublin had himself complained of the state of the law affecting registration, and gave notice that he would move for leave to bring in a bill to amend it. The hon. and learned Gentleman, however, for reasons on which he would not speculate, never brought forward, any motion in pur- 633 suance of that notice, and the subject dropped for a time. In 1835, however, Mr. Justice Perrin, then Attorney-general for Ireland, did bring in a bill for the purpose of amending the system of registration, which went through the House between the 20th and the 29th of August in that year. Having stated that circumstance, he must say he thought that the noble Lord, the Secretary for Ireland, had not dealt fairly and candidly with the other House of Parliament for having thrown out that bill. It did not go to the House of Lords till the 29th of August, 1835, and it was impossible for them to consider its provisions during the short remainder of the Session. It had been too much the practice, not in 1835 only, to send up to the House of Lords a heap of bills at the end of a Session, having till then given them nothing to do. In the next year, 1836, a similar bill was introduced in the House of Commons, but after it had passed through some stages, the right hon. Gentleman who brought it forward himself moved, that it should be taken into consideration that day three months. In 1837 no attempt whatever was made by her Majesty's Government to redress the grievance which they had acknowledged to exist. In 1838 his right hon. Friend, now Chief Baron in Ireland, was Attorney-general, and he called on him to ask whether it were his intention to bring forward any measure on the subject, and his right hon. Friend told him that such was his intention. A great part of the Session, however, passed without any motion on the subject by his right hon. Friend, and, under these circumstances, he gave notice that he would move for leave to bring in a bill. His right hon. Friend then got leave to bring in his bill, which not appearing, he obtained leave to bring in his own bill. He had asked that permission of the House, because he was sincerely desirous, as his noble Friend below him was, to bring in a bill which should be satisfactory to both sides of the House. His bill was then printed, and during the long vacation which followed the Session of 1838, he took all the pains' he could to get it circulated in Ireland. In 1839 he again asked leave to bring in his bill, and the bill not only related to the registration of voters, bat altered the mode of taking the polls in Ireland. He had subsequently withdrawn it, not because the subject was one which 634 he did not feel to be important, but because the machinery which he had intended to adopt, which was provided by the Poor-law Act, was not then complete. His noble Friend had now taken up the subject, and if there were one man more than another who was able to deal with it, the noble Lord who sat below him was the man. The noble Lord was the minister who brought in the Irish Reform Bill, professing at the time, that so far as the registration was concerned, it was merely an experiment, which was to be continued only until the working of the new registration system in England under the Reform Bill could be seen. The noble Lord, the Secretary for Ireland, had referred invidiously to a word which fell from his noble Friend in a former debate. His noble Friend did not state that he would make it his business to obstruct the measures of the Government. What his noble Friend said was, that Gentlemen on the Opposition side of the House would propose good measures, and obstruct such as appeared to them to be of a contrary tendency and character. Having stated what was the humble part which he bore in this matter on a former occasion, he should not enter further into the subject at present. His noble Friend invited investigation, and he was quite convinced that both the measure and the motion of his noble Friend would bear the closest scrutiny.
did not intend any offence to the noble Lord when he expressed his regret that the noble Lord should have brought this measure forward, but he expressed the general feeling of the people of Ireland when he said that the noble Lord was the last person in the world who, from his principles and conduct towards Ireland, ought to have meddled in this matter. The principle of the noble Lord's political conduct had been to limit and restrict as much as possible the franchise of the people of Ireland. The noble Lord brought in the Irish Reform Bill on that principle. He contended with him on the subject out of the House and in the House, foot by foot, but where the noble Lord was worsted in argument he outvoted him. The noble Lord had great influence in the cabinet, and he succeeded in giving to Ireland a franchise which was admitted to be inferior in extent to that bestowed on England. ("No, no.") If it was not admitted, it could not be controverted, Let the House look at the 635 result. Ireland had not the franchise for even five per cent, of her population, while England had it for 19 per cent. The people of Ireland knew that the object of the noble Lord's Bill was not to assimilate the franchise between England and Ireland, or even if it were, the Bill would lose its grace and power to the people of Ireland, as being transmitted through the noble Lord. He was not surprised that he should have been urged to undertake the task by hon. Gentlemen opposite, because, unrivalled as were his talents in debate, and notorious as was his zeal for the restriction of the franchise, he must have been quite a godsend to them. But when his ingenious and artificial speech, full of admissions and concessions that could not serve the people, arrived in Ireland, the people would at once perceive that no good could come from a measure which had the noble Lord for its proposer. He was not going to enter into the details of the Bill, but the principle was vexation, expense, and trouble. Was the noble Lord aware that the Conservative party in Ireland—he would not call them Orange now—were in the habit of employing both counsel and attornies to oppose the registration of Liberal voters, and this at every registry? They had regular paid swearers to put down the franchise; there was a staff of them in every county, and the landlords were constantly attempting to prevent their tenants registering their franchise. They sat on the bench with the assistant-barristers, and whispering to them one moment, and speaking to them the next, the unfortunate peasant had their testimony against him, and lost his vote. Every attempt was made to keep documents from the claimant, who had no process by which he could enforce the attendance of witnesses. If his lease should happen to be at all eligible, the landlord or agent refused to produce it for him; every impediment was thrown in The way of the poor voter; he was examined on oath, cross-examined hour after hour, and speeches were made to overthrow what he had sworn on oath, and force him to contradict himself. If the landlord were a Conservative, all this was a matter of course; if the landlord were a liberal, in nine instances out of ten, or at least in the greater number of cases, the agent was a Conservative. In his (Mr. O'Connell's) own county, Lord Monteagle's agent was as ready to oppose 636 the registration of his own tenantry, as the most decided Conservative in the county could be, and Lord Listowell's agent acted in the same manner. The claimant had first to go through this ordeal at the sessions, and then, if the assistant-barrister decided in his favour, an appeal to the assizes was open to the objector, where the unfortunate voter had to encounter all this formidable array of opposition a second time. But was that all? The Conservative landlord endeavoured to intimidate him from coming up to the registry at all in the first instance, and again from availing himself of the second opportunity to press his claim at the assizes. The agent also intimidated him on both occasions, and at the risk of ruin the tenant was obliged to stand the two ordeals, which were forced upon him in order to accumulate and double the evils of intimidation. The noble Lord had talked with great seeming regret of the difficulty which the voter had in going thirty or forty miles to the sessions. Why, the voter would have first to go to the sessions, and then he would have to go fifty or sixty miles to the assizes, where he would have to wait, Heaven knew how long, while all the engines of intimidation were in motion against him, and that, too, year after year, to face the same difficulties on each successive occasion. Why, if the noble Lord had asked leave to bring in a stifling or gagging bill for preventing the votes from obtaining the franchise except by consent of his landlord, his measure would have been an excellent one, because it would have exactly answered the title. He sincerely trusted that this bill, if persevered in, would not succeed, and he knew no means of stopping its progress to which he would not think himself justified in resorting. He thanked the noble Lord opposite for the word "obstruct;"—it was the noble Lord who taught that policy, although the learned Sergeant who had last spoken, had declared that he was no obstructor;—for this was a measure which he thought every friend to the rights of the people of Ireland ought o join in obstructing. In saying this, he was not applauding the present system of registration. He knew that it had great evils, but the people had worked themselves out a certain degree of freedom under it, and while he would desire to alter it, in order that its operation might 637 be made more unembarrassed, he would still adhere to it in preference to the noble Lord's bill, especially as that bill had not a proper basis. Every other bill that had been introduced on the subject of the elective franchise in Ireland, was favourable to the free exercise of the franchise by alt who were rightfully entitled to it, and explained the original act in a manner consonant with that view. Even the learned Sergeant's bill contained a clause which, if it had passed, would have been a really useful and beneficial enactment, and would have worked well; but the noble Lord stood alone, and opposed the Irish people's enjoyment of their rights, introducing no provision, except such as would in his judgment contract the present extent of the franchise. Why had not the noble Lord introduced a bill for the improvement of the English registration? Would hon. Members say that the English system was perfect, or that it gave satisfaction to the people? He would have thought it a legitimate exertion of the noble Lord's great talents and powers to prepare a bill for the amendment of the registration law in England before he went over the Channel to destroy the franchise of the people of Ireland. He wished the noble Lord's friends had persuaded him to try his maiden essay in England or in Scotland, where, according to all accounts, he would have found abuses enough to remedy. A really good bill would take up the subject for the three countries, or at all events to put Ireland on an equality with England in respect of the franchise. He called on the House to give Ireland the same franchise; that was what he had urged during the discussions on the Reform Bill. The noble Lord had treated with most unbecoming lightness, the affidavits of Irishmen upon oath. [Lord Stanley: I did not talk of "paid swearers."] The noble Lord had talked of volunteer perjurers, but he would not accuse the noble Lord of any more hostile purpose than that of restricting the franchise. All that the noble Lord had not deprived the Irish people of at the time of the Reform Bill, he would succeed in depriving them of by this bill. The noble Lord had complained of the Irish law being defective in this respect, that the committees of the House had it not in their power to strike off Irish voters from the register. He had always considered that circumstance to be a mitigation of the 638 committees, which now stood condemned by the universal sentence of the House. When he had on a former occasion talked of perjury in connexion with those committees, he had been reprimanded for it; but, without going so far as to accuse them of that, the right hon. Gentleman opposite had shown how little those committees were entitled to the confidence of the public, having annihilated them, and replaced them by other tribunals, though he very much feared that the new committees would not be more satisfactory, from the specimens they had already had of the spirit of compromise prevailing in them, which was entirely opposed to anything like generous confidence on either side. He would not divide the House at this stage of the bill, as the noble Lord below him had conceded the first reading of the bill, and there was no distinct reason why they should refuse it; but on every other stage it should have his most decided opposition. Indeed, no friend to popular rights ought to rest satisfied until something was done to place the franchise on a proper footing, by introducing a bill containing at least, a definition of what constituted the franchise, so as to put an end to the vexatious questions now continually arising. He believed the noble Lord did not imagine that there were many judges in Ireland, in whose hands the people would be inclined to place the ultimate disposal of the franchise. He was sure that part of the bill would meet the universal reprobation of the people of Ireland. On the whole, the present bill appeared to him to be one calculated, not for the purpose of securing, as it pretended to do, a fair investigation of the claimant's right to vote, but of introducing such vexatious details as would be inconsistent with the situation of the tenantry in Ireland, as would be ruinous to them in point of expense and time, as would bring them twice every year under the lash of their landlord, as would expose them to the most merciless intimidation, and thus annihilate the elective franchise. Certainly the situation of the Irish people ought to have excited commiseration rather than resentment in the breast of the noble Lord, for he had left them so little of the franchise in his Reform Bill, that it was hardly worth while now to endeavour to extinguish the remainder.
said, that though he had 639 been somewhat disappointed with the manner in which his bill had been received by the hon. and learned Member for Dublin, and in some respects by the noble Lord the Secretary for Ireland, yet the strain of observations in which they had chosen to indulge, would not lead him to depart for a moment from that deliberate line of argument and calm discussion to which he had determined to confine himself in bringing forward this bill, and in which he would persevere. He had indeed suspected, that such a course might be taken on this occasion by those who were opposed to the policy which he had formerly adopted in Irish politics, for he had found that the Loyal Irish Registry Association of Dublin, had shown exactly the same spirit and announced the same hostility, even before he moved for leave to bring in the bill, as the hon. and learned Member for Dublin, having agreed that instructions should be sent to all the liberal Members for Ireland to oppose the measure, whatever its provisions might be. For an assembly calling itself a deliberative body, and assuming, under the guidance of the hon. and learned Member opposite, to direct the judgment of the people of Ireland, he must say that a more absurd resolution, or one which more clearly showed its passers to be utterly unworthy of the confidence of any class of the community, never had been passed, and he trusted that the liberal Members of the House would show that they had at least more liberality of feeling, than to be guided by such blind leaders, and would not take the instructions that might be given to them by such unreflecting politicians, but would fairly consider the merits of the question. He would not take any notice of the imputations which the hon. Member for Dublin had cast upon him in attributing to him motives by which he was not actuated; but there was one part of the hon. Member's statement, which it was impossible for him to pass over in silence. The hon. and learned Member had repeated over and over again, that by the Reform Bill there was given to Ireland a franchise infinitely more cramped and restricted than that which was given to England, and that he (Lord Stanley) was the author of the plan. Now, he met the hon. and learned Member with a direct denial of the fact, and with the assertion, which he would prove, that the franchise in Ireland as settled by the Irish Reform 640 Bill, was more extensive, and not less extensive, than the corresponding franchise given to England. He did not refer to the case of the 40s. freeholders; he had already stated, that that question was settled some years before, and was not at all disturbed by the Reform Act. The English bill restricted the 40s. freehold franchise, but did not abolish it; the Irish bill did not interfere in any mode whatever with freehold occupation, but left it as it had been previously established in Ireland. The Irish and English bills both added a leasehold constituency to the freehold constituency, which had formerly prevailed. What, then, was the tenure of leasehold property required to entitle to a vote? There were three several classes of leasehold voters. In England the franchise was given to the lessee or assignee entitled to any land or tenements to be held during a term of not less than sixty years of the clear value of not less than 10l. over and above all charges. In Ireland the property was to be held for a period of not less than sixty years, with a beneficial interest—the words were originally exactly the same as in the English bill, but were altered on the suggestion of the hon. and learned Member for Dublin himself—"arising out of it, of the yearly value of not less than 10l." The second description of voters under leasehold tenure in England must hold property for a term of not less than twenty years, of the clear yearly value of 50l. over and above all charges on it. In Ireland the second class was composed of those who held property for not less than fourteen years, having a clear yearly value of 20l. No lower term of years entitled to vote in England, excepting the tenant-at-will qualification, the voters under which must pay a rent of 50l. But there was another leasehold qualification in Ireland, to which there was no parallel in England. The franchise was given to a class of Irish tenants holding property for a term of twenty years, with a beneficial interest of not less than 10l. to the person entitled to occupy. That was the plan, as regarded the comparison of the leasehold franchises given by the Reform Bill to England and Ireland, and he defied the hon. and learned Member to prove that the Irish franchise, as he had stated its conditions, was more restricted than the English. The hon. and learned Member had urged, that the Irish constituency was smaller in propor- 641 tion to the population than that of England; but that was no argument whatever in regard to the amount of the franchise. He said, that the Irish bill required a shorter and not a longer term, a smaller and not a greater interest; and if in Ireland there was a smaller proportion possessing the smaller interest than the proportion possessing a greater in England, that was no ground for charging the authors of the Irish Reform Bill, which like the English bill was founded on the basis, not of numbers, but of property, with giving a more restricted franchise to the one country than they had conferred on the other. With respect to the household franchise, there was no difference, and there was intended to be none, between the English and Irish bills, except that the English bill required all rates due on the 6th of April to be paid on or before the 20th of July following, while the Irish bill required all rates to be paid, except such as were due for the period of six months next preceding the day of registration. He defied the hon. and learned Member to shake these facts, or to make out any shadow of foundation for the assertion he had hazarded, that the Irish franchise was more restricted than the English. The hon. and learned Member said, that he wished to introduce needless expense and vexation in compelling persons to submit to an examination, and in giving an appeal to the judges, remarking, that there were not many Irish judges who had the confidence of the country. He was sorry to hear such language from the hon. and learned Member; he must protest against the justice of such a reflection. He had as much confidence in the decisions of Chief Justice Perrin, Chief Baron Woulfe, and Baron O'Loghlin, as in those of any judges who had ever been connected with his own side of the House. It was most detrimental to the usefulness of the judges to have such imputations cast upon them on every occasion, because they might have at one period expressed opinions different from those of the Speaker. With respect to what the hon. and learned Member had said in disapproval of allowing an appeal to the judges, he would content himself with referring to what the hon. Member had said when a bill for the amendment of the registration was introduced by Mr. Perrin in 1835. After speaking of the evils which arose from the uncertainty previously 642 arising from the conflicting decisions of assistant-barristers, the hon. Member said, "This bill is calculated to put an end to all this by making the vote of every party conclusive for twelve months, and then allowing an appeal to the judges."
said, that when he asserted that the Irish franchise was more restricted than the English, his meaning was, that the Irish Reform Bill, not going so far as to restore the same franchise which was continued in England—the freehold franchise, was by that means made infinitely short of the Reform Bill in England, comparing the two measures on the whole.
Then he had the hon. Member's admission of the fact, that setting the freehold franchise aside, the qualification of the leaseholders and householders was at least as comprehensive in the Irish bill as in the English. He had proved, indeed, that it was more so.
§ Motion agreed to.