HC Deb 06 July 1840 vol 55 cc458-63
Lord Stanley

rose and said, that although he might not be strictly in order, he was anxious to take an opportunity of stating to the House the course he intended to pursue with respect to the Irish Registration Bill, which was fixed for Thursday next. He had introduced that bill at an early period of the Session, but not so early as perhaps he ought, seeing the opposition, and the nature of that opposition that had been opposed to its progress. The bill was read a second time on the 25th of March, and from circumstances over which he had no control, the Committee stood over until after the Easter recess. On the 18th of April the discussion on going into Committee commenced, and lasted three days. He was then obliged to postpone the further proceedings with the measure until after the Whitsuntide holidays, when the Bill underwent three days more discussion, from the 11th of June to the 14th. Ten divisions had taken place upon the bill, and on five of those divisions the whole power of the Government was directed to throw it out. Of those ten divisions the Government only succeeded in one, nine being in favour of the bill, which to the present moment remained untouched. In the remaining nine divisions the bill stood the test, and remained untouched. If the bill encountered an opposition rather unusual, he must say, and he said it with feelings of gratitude, that it had been supported with a degree of cordiality and enthusiasm unprecedented in the history of any country. He repeated it—it was supported by a degree of enthusiasm hardly precedented in the annals of Parliament. He knew of no instance in which, week after week, Gentlemen would be found coming down to their places in that House, as had been the case on the present occasion, at the sacrifice of great personal convenience, which he was most unwilling to put them to. He knew no occasion on which, for three successive weeks, 300 Gentlemen, without a single defaulter, recorded their support of a measure brought forward by an individual against the declared determination of opposition by any Government whatsoever. So long as he felt a chance of carrying the bill this Session, he did not scruple to tax the kindness of hon. Friends; but, looking to what had occurred, he felt himself obliged to say, that he would abstain from calling for their further exertions in favour of his bill. The more cordial their support, the more unwilling was he to tax that support, as it was impossible that it could be ultimately successful. What was the position of the bill? They had now occupied nine days in discussing this measure; five or six of those days they had been in Committee; in five days they had passed five clauses out of a bill which contained forty-six; and if the remaining clauses—one of which was a money clause, and required their peculiar consideration—took a like time, it was absolutely impossible that the bill could pass in the present Session. He could not anticipate, either, that the opposition to the bill would be relaxed, or the enmity to it diminished. The last day they went into Committee, after they had given five days to its discussion, instead of making any progress, the whole evening was occupied in the discussion of an instruction which had been previously negatived by the House. He had every reason to believe, that the same degree of opposition would be persisted in during the Session, and that it would be ultitimately successful. He feared, then, even had the opposition been fair and candid, that it would occupy too much time to allow of the bill passing this Session. But he wished to notify to the House that the exertions he and his Friends had made this Session were not altogether fruitless. They had established by majorities—certainly not by large majorities, but sufficiently so to command the respect of Government—the fact that evils existed in the system of voting in Ireland so glaring as to require an effectual remedy. The House had decided in favour of his bill against that of her Majesty's Government. They had four times affirmed the principle of his bill. They had approved of annual registration in opposition to the quarterly registrations supported by Government. He might go on carrying the other clauses, and achieving barren triumphs; but as he would, by doing this, stand in the way of much public business, and not having the least hope of being able to carry the bill in the present Session, he did not, for the mere sake of harassing Government or defeating their measures, think it proper to take this course. They had other very important measures before them, which it would not be expedient to postpone, and he should feel exceedingly sorry if any act of his should be productive of incon- venience to the public business. Upon that principle he was prepared to rest, and if he abstained from pressing this bill in the present Session, he would distinctly state, that profiting by the experience of this Session, and knowing the opposition he was likely to encounter, he should take the earliest opportunity in the next Session of again inviting the consideration of the House to this measure, and should bring it forward at so early a period of that Session, that he trusted the act would be brought into operation at no later a period than that which he had proposed for the measure in this Session. He should, therefore, move the Order of the Day for going into Committee on this bill for the purpose of its being discharged.

Lord John Russell

said, there was one part of the noble Lord's statement, and one part only, to which he thought himself bound to advert. Upon the reasons which the noble Lord had given for not pressing this bill in the present Session, on the grounds of public convenience, he had nothing to say; but with regard to what seemed to be imputed with respect to the opposition to this bill, he thought it his duty, after what the noble Lord had stated, to say, that fair, candid, and open had been the character of that opposition. There might be a question certainly whether, after the House had agreed to go into Committee on the bill, any motion should be made to prefer any other bill to the bill of the noble Lord. He felt he was fully entitled to have made such a motion; but, in order that there might be no excuse for alleging that he endeavoured to prevent the progress of this bill, it had not been his intention to do so. The hon. Member for Halifax had however, proposed such a motion to the House. That hon. Member had voted for going into Committee, at the same time giving reasons, which, as he thought, should have induced him to vote against it. But he did not think the noble Lord could say, that his hon. Friend had been actuated by motives of unfair and un-candid opposition. There had been another occasion to which the noble Lord adverted when they were about to go into Committee, when the hon. and learned Member for Dublin moved an instruction; but under what circumstances did he move it, and what was the debate that then took place? It was under these circum- stances:—The hon. Member for Bridport had wished to move it on a previous occasion, but was prevented from doing so by some technical form of the House, and it was a form upon which at that time, seeing the excitement of the House upon this subject, he did not like to express any opinion contrary to that which had been given by the Chair. But if the question should occur again, he should with great deference, state his own opinion to be at variance with that of the Chair. Being prevented, then, from moving the clauses at that time, the House went into Committee. There was a desultory discussion, but the motion was never made until it was made by the hon. and learned Member for Dublin. But what was the debate that then took place? He was blamed in the course of that debate for not stopping it; but the fact was, that four hon. and learned Gentlemen on the other side carried on that debate, arguing the whole subject with great diffuseness. Every argument that could possibly be urged was urged against that motion. Was he to prevent that? He should certainly have thought that the noble Lord opposite ought to have prevented that discussion, and while they were going into arguments which appeared so prolix, he could not help observing to his noble Friend beside him (Lord Morpeth), that by their carrying on their arguments at such great length, it could not be the intention of the other side to proceed with this measure in the present Session. With regard to the measure itself, as the noble Lord declared his intention of abandoning it, it was not his intention to say anything. But in the next Session, if any measure were brought forward with regard to registration in Ireland, whether on the Government side of the House or the Opposition, he should certainly be ready to discuss it; but always with this view, that if it was intended fairly to allow persons who by law were entitled to vote easily to register themselves, and without exorbitant expense or needless delay, to place their votes on the list, by which they might be enabled to go to the poll at the time of an election, everything that could forward that object should have his earnest support. But whatever proposition was introduced under the name of registration to obstruct and destroy the franchise which was given by the Reform Act, he having been concerned in the passing of that Act, should feel it his duty to give the strongest opposition to that measure. He was looking the other day at what had been the course of the discussion in the progress of the Reform Act, and he found that for forty days his noble Friend (Lord Spencer,) and himself had argued in the Committee in favour of that measure, and that bill being thrown out of the House of Lords in the next Session, they argued for twenty-two days more in favour of it in Committee. That was besides all the discussion upon going into the Committee, and on the third reading of that bill; but long as that time was, sixty-two days altogether in Committee, besides various other days of discussion, he was ready to encounter, either for that or a longer period of time, a discussion in this House rather than submit to an effectual and virtual repeal of an important part of that Act.

Order for the Committee on Thursday read and discharged, sine die.

Sir C. Douglas

wished to know whether it was the intention of the noble Lord to proceed with the Rights of Voting Bill this Session?

Lord J. Russell

was understood to answer in the negative.

Sir R. Peel

said, that as this was about the time for clearing off bills, he wished to know whether the Government intended to go on now with the Treating and Bribery Bill?

Lord J. Russell

said, there were some points connected with that measure which required consideration before it could be further proceeded with. He had, however, been anxious to introduce it to the House, but he did not intend to go on with it this Session.

Sir R. Peel

I presume, then, that the English Registration Bill will also be postponed?

Lord J. Russell


Sir R. Peel

And the same, I suppose, with regard to the Ireland Registration Bill (No. 2), so that we shall have got rid of these five bills at once.

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