moved the Order of the Day for the second reading of the Registration of Voters (Ireland) Bill.
§ Mr. F. French
said, the very object of this bill being professedly to assimilate the law of registration in Ireland to that of England, it became important to consider whether the law was satisfactory in this country, and likely to be permanent; neither of which would, he believed, on inquiry, turn out to be the fact. Strong objections against the English system of registration had not only been urged out of the House, but also within the House, and measures to alter it were introduced in 1833 and the five successive years. In 1836, a measure for that purpose received the sanction of this House, but, from certain alterations proposed in the House of Lords, it did not pass into a law. Early in 1837, another measure of the same kind was introduced, but was not proceeded with, the noble Lord, the Secretary for the Home Department declaring he saw no reason to imagine that the House of Lords would pursue a course different from that of the preceding session. In 1838, another bill was brought in, but experienced a similar fate. All parties, Whig, Tory, and Radical, had concurred in the condemnation of that law; and if an assimilation were to take place at all, let it be a beneficial one, and not an assimilation to a system which was universally condemned. In 1831, the noble Lord, the Member for North Lancashire, proposed a system of registration for Ireland which was not in force in this country; but afterwards abandoned it, because he wished to see first how the system in this country worked. That system had been tried, and had proved expensive, vexatious, and unsatisfactory; and yet the noble Lard now proposed to extend it to Ireland. Could he be surprised, then, if they declined to receive it, or that they obstructed it, as they were determined to do, by every means in their power? Independent of his objections to the bill itself, it appeared to him inexpedient to enter into the question of registration, unless they were prepared, as the noble Lord was not, to come to a satisfactory arrangement of certain doubts which 28 had arisen as to the construction of the Reform Act, in respect of the qualification of voters. Among the points to which he alluded were the questions relative to the claims of persons who had acquired certain corporate rights since the passing of the Reform Act, and of persons occupying as joint tenants; but that which he considered the most important point, related to the mode of estimating the beneficial interest which parties, claiming to be put on the registry, had in their premises. In the bill introduced by the noble Lord, the Secretary for Ireland, those doubts which had, he believed, in most instances, practically restricted the franchise in Ireland, and been productive of much protracted and vexatious litigation and expense, were explained, and unless a similar course were adopted in this bill, it would be, with an undefined franchise and a double appeal, an act for curtailing the franchise, instead of one for regulating its registration. There were many objections to this bill, such as the necessity it placed the voter under of twice in each year having to defend his franchise, the amount of costs, and the clashing of the October quarter sessions with that for registration, should the annual revision be left to the assistant-barristers. He must earnestly protest, too, against the onerous and objectionable duties thrown on the judges by this bill. How impossible it was for the judges, in the limited time they had at their disposal during the spring assizes, to decide on these appeals, was shown in Sligo, where, notwithstanding the exertions of the judges, two-thirds of the cases yet remained untried. He objected, then, to this bill, 1st, because it assimilated the law to the system of England, which had been unanimously condemned; 2dly, because under the plea of regulating the registration, it would tend to limit the right of voting in a country where the franchise was already too much restricted; and, 3dly, because it would throw on the judges duties which it was physically impossible they could discharge, and which it was politically objectionable they should undertake. He should, therefore, move that this bill be read a second time this day six months.
§ Mr. Shaw
said, that the speech of his hon. Friend had not relieved him from the difficulty under which he had entered the House, of conceiving upon what grounds hon. Gentlemen opposite could oppose 29 the second reading of the bill. Consistently with their own declarations and former acts upon the subject, it was impossible that they could object to the principle of the measure. They would not, by the second reading, be bound to its details, and in committee they might propose to alter, to add to, or to omit from it, as might best suit their own particular views. But, from the Session of 1835 to the present time, the successive law officers of the Irish Government, and the noble Lord, the Secretary for Ireland, had brought in bills, and they had been supported by the hon. and learned Gentleman, the Member for Dublin, and the other hon. Members on the opposite side who usually took part in such measures, which bills contained every provision which could be said to form the principle of the present one. These were—annual revision of the registration, appeal to the judge both ways, that was, as well against improper admission as improper rejection; and then, that such decision should be conclusive even as against a committee of that House. Now, these very propositions were to be found in the Irish Registration Bill introduced by Sergeant O'Loghlen, now Master of the Rolls, and Sergeant, now Judge, Perrin, in 1835; in the bill introduced by Sergeant O'Loghlen, and the noble Lord opposite, the Secretary for Ireland (Lord Morpeth) in 1836; again, in the bill of the noble Lord and Mr. Woulfe, now Chief Baron, in 1838; and lastly, in a bill brought in by the hon. Member for Limerick (Mr. Smith O'Brien), Sir Den-ham Norreys, and Mr. Wyse, now a Member of her Majesty's Government, in 1839; and was it possible, then, that the present Government, the noble Lord (Lord Morpeth), and several of those whose names were to be found on the bills to which he alluded, could vote against the second reading of the bill of his noble Friend, founded on the very same principle? But it was said, that it was not on account of those principles, but others, which were omitted from that bill, that the former bills had been supported. Upon that point, he would call as a witness, the hon. and learned Gentleman himself (Mr. O'Connell). On the 11th of August, 1835, the hon. and learned Gentleman was reported to have said, in reference to the bill of Messrs O'Loghlen and Perrin, read a first time that day,Such an act as the present will not only 30 be beneficial, but is absolutely necessary. It provides for an annual revision, and gives an appeal both ways, whilst there is at present only an appeal for those whose claims are rejected. I trust therefore that it will be allowed to go into committee, as a measure calculated to save the expense and inconvenience of scrutinizing votes before election committees." "This bill, however, is calculated to put an end to all this (the canvassing for election committees), in making the vote of every party conclusive for twelve months, with an appeal to the judges, and as its principle has been approved of, even by hon. Members opposite, I trust that it will be allowed to go into committee.The same argument which the hon. and learned Gentleman then used he would now press upon the House. But it appeared that the hon. and learned Member had since changed his mind upon the subject, for in a speech which he made to his constituents in Dublin no longer ago than Thursday last, and which he found reported in the Pilot newspaper, a journal whose authority would not, he supposed, be questioned by the hon. and learned Member, the hon. and learned Member said,I will oppose the bill with all my energy.For what reason, did the House imagine? Why this—For it is almost sufficient evidence, that it will be injurious to Ireland to have originated with Stanley.That appeared to be the only reason given by the hon. and learned Member for his opposition to the bill. The hon. and learned Member then said,In 1834 (it ought to have been 1835), O'Loghlen, the present Master of the Rolls, brought in a bill to amend the registration of voters in Ireland, to make the registry conclusive, to give the right of appeal both ways, and to have the registration annually. The bill contained a declaration of the beneficial interest which would put all ambiguity upon that important point out of the question.He did not doubt that that declaration was the principal reason why the hon. and learned Gentleman supported the former measure; but that was not the reason the hon. and learned Gentleman assigned; and that provision to which he objected was a change in the Reform Bill, and not matter for a mere Registration Bill. The hon. and learned Gentleman continued—Upon consideration, I found I had done 31 wrong in acceding to such a bill. I was wrong in advocating the appeal both ways, and the system of annual registration.There was another part of the speech to which he begged to call the attention of the noble Lord, the Secretary for Ireland. The hon. and learned Member said,I dare them to pass such a measure. I defy them to give us this bill. They dare not do it?Did this passage touch the noble Lord's feelings? The hon. and learned Member went on to say,This, then, will be my course—I will move that the bill be read that day six months.The hon. and learned Member had not performed his promise in this respect. What was his next threat? Why this,If I am defeated in that motion, I will use every means which the usages of the House of Commons give me to prevent the people of Ireland from being crushed and weighed down by its oppressive principles.Those principles being the same which in 1835 the hon. and learned Member himself advocated.If I fail in that," continued the hon. and learned Member, "I will call into life again the Repeal Association.And this was described as being received with tremendous cheering. So the hon. and learned Member was forced to resort again to the old bugbear with which it was his custom to frighten old women and children. Were these the motives and principles by which the fate of the bill was to be decided? It might be very possible that the noble Lord (Lord Morpeth) and her Majesty's Ministers, without being at all convinced by the reasoning, might be forced to yield to the threats, of the hon. and learned Gentleman, and that while at the same time satisfied of the justice and necessity of the present bill, and their own inconsistency in opposing it. But he would appeal to independent Members who sat on the opposite side of the House, who he trusted would not suffer themselves to be influenced by such considerations. He would not trouble them with any of the detailed intricacies of the present system of the registry in Ireland, but simply refer them to what were notorious defects, and which it was the object of the present bill to remedy. 32 It was admitted on all hands, and none could deny, that there were at the present moment many fictitious and fraudulent votes registered in Ireland, and that it was most desirable and just that the registry should be purified from these, and that the same evil should be prevented for the future. Let it be recollected, that a vote under the existing law in Ireland, however fraudulently established or improperly admitted, must remain upon the registry for eight years; and upon the production of the former certificate might be renewed from eight years to eight years, and so perpetuated without question or appeal, except to the very uncertain and expensive tribunal of an Election Committee of that House, and then even subject to the preliminary question whether or not the registry should be opened. Then with regard to the system of certificates, many might exist at the same time for the same franchise; and towards the end of the eight years' period of registration must unavoidably. He, for instance, had at the present time six certificates for only three places where he had the right of voting; for, six months' registration being requisite before an election, and seven years of the period having elapsed since 1822, he had registered in order to be qualified to vote when the eight years expired; and if fraudulently disposed, he might lend the duplicate certificates to another person to vote while the eight years lasted, and which he could not doubt was a very common practice, as well as the use of such certificates when the real voter was dead or absent. There was no Gentleman who had served on an Irish Election Committee, or who had looked into the proceedings of the Irish Fictitious Votes Committee, and still less any one practically acquainted with the working of the present system in Ireland, who must not be aware of the frauds and perjury, and long train of consequential evils to which it led. He sincerely believed, that to put an end to these, to give every facility to the bonâ fide voter to register his vote, and to protect him from vexatious objections, was the sole and single object of his noble Friend the Member for North Lancashire. The hon. and learned Gentleman might doubt, but he had the most perfect faith in the sincerity of his noble Friend (Lord Stanley). The bill did not limit or abridge any franchise, as stated by the 33 hon. Gentleman (Mr. French), nor was it a bill to assimilate the law in Ireland to that in England, but simply to amend defects in the registration, which had been admitted by hon. Gentlemen opposite themselves. He would not then advert to objections or proposed alterations, which could be more properly considered in committee; but upon the grounds which he had already stated, and upon every principle of fairness and consistency, he called upon the House to give the bill a second reading.
§ Mr. W. S. O'Brien
felt called upon to address the House on account of the allusions made by the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down, to the course which he had pursued with respect to bills having objects in some degree resembling those of the measure now before the House. There could be no doubt that the present system was injurious to all parties, and that legislation upon the subject was most desirable. He should, therefore, be disposed to support the second reading of this bill, if he thought that it would be likely to substitute a better system for that which now existed; but he confessed, that looking at the general scope and design of the measure, he could not arrive at any such conclusion. There were two objects which it should be the aim of a bill of this description to accomplish; the first was, to provide that no person should be placed upon the register, who was not entitled to the franchise; and the second was to give every facility for the acquisition of the franchise by those who were entitled to exercise it, and to put an end to any vexatious opposition that might be offered to their claims. He found that some provision was made in the bill, to attain the former of these objects, but that the latter was altogether kept out of view. It was not certainly a circumstance likely to inspire confidence on that side of the House, that the present measure was supported by those who desired to limit, and not to extend, the franchise; but when the noble Lord the Member for North Lancashire, instead of attempting to improve the English system of registration, proposed to introduce its worst imperfections into Ireland, it was impossible to help coming to the conclusion that the noble Lord was induced to do so by finding that the English system worked advantageously for his party, while that of Ireland had proved adverse to 34 them. He (Mr. O'Brien) would vote for any measure which would put down fictitious votes in Ireland, and he felt convinced that the effect of such a measure would be to strengthen the Liberal party, but at the same time he could not support a bill which did not give at least the same facilities as now existed for the acquisition of the franchise by the bonâ fide voter. With regard to the details of the bill, and the question was one which depended on the nature of these details, he would observe in the first place, that the noble Lord had in the provisions of his measure broken the promise which he had given to the House, that the bill should not disturb the franchise established by the Reform Act. The clause empowering the assistant-banister to expunge the names of voters who were entered as defaulters by the collectors of rates and taxes were not consistent with that promise of the noble Lord. The noble Lord had also disclaimed any intention to legislate ex post facto, but the provisions of the bill did not accord with the noble Lord's disclaimer, for by those provisions it was necessary that a list should be made out of the persons at present registered, containing many particulars which were not required to be set forth by the Reform Bill. If, therefore, a failure was made in setting out any of those particulars, the voter would be disfranchised by an ex post facto law, notwithstanding the noble Lord's declaration to the contrary. The noble Lord had got rid of one of the objections to the English system by throwing upon the party objecting, the burden of substantiating his objection; but then the noble Lord neutralized this advantage by imposing a penalty upon a man for seeking 10 establish a constitutional right, when it was well known that questions of election law were often so difficult that lawyers themselves could not determine them. It was said that the present bill was similar to that which he (Mr. O'Brien) had introduced, but he had taken care to introduce into his measure a provision which he considered most essential, and which protected voters who had once established the validity of their qualifications from further objections, so long as the qualifications remained the same. With respect to the appellate jurisdiction, the noble Lord had adopted that form of appeal, which of all others would be the most vexatious and expensive; nor would 35 the present number of the judges be sufficient to overtake the vast number of appeals which, upon factious grounds, would be brought under this bill, particularly as costs might be given against the voter. He thought the Government was right in resisting a bill framed apparently for the purpose of limiting the franchise, and preventing its acquisition by the bonâ fide freeholders of Ireland. He did not, however despair that Ministers would be enabled shortly to introduce a measure upon this subject free from the objections to which he had alluded. If the present bill had been introduced upon factious grounds, he hoped the noble Lord would be defeated. If he wished to apply himself to practical legislation, why did he not grapple with the evils of the English system of registration, and when he had succeeded in devising a perfect scheme, let him then, but not before, seek to apply it to Ireland.
§ Lord G. Somerset
thought the latter observations of the hon. Member opposite totally uncalled for. English Members had often been reproached for not taking sufficient interest in the affairs of Ireland, and now they were to be blamed for interfering with them, and told to look to England before they attempted to legislate for Ireland. He had found, that there was but one opinion upon the committee, that the irregularity in the registration required some immediate and stringent remedy, and he thought, that the Gentlemen connected with Ireland so far from complaining of the measure, ought to be grateful to his noble Friend, the Member for Lancashire, for bringing the subject under the consideration of the House, and giving the Legislature an opportunity of correcting any practical defects in the existing system. It might be a very good argument for the hon. and learned Member for Dublin, to say that the name of the noble Lord, the Member for Lancashire, on the-back of the bill was sufficient to condemn it; but the House was to consider, whether the hon. and learned Member himself had correctly stated the fact, when he said, that the present mode of registration was bad, and whether it was necessary to adopt some means for remedying the evil. The present question did not implicate the House in an approval of the details of the bill. If the motion was agreed to the House would only pledge itself, that the present mode of registra- 36 tion was defective, and required alteration. The hon. Member for Roscommon said he objected to the bill, because it assimilated the system of Ireland with that of England. But this was not the case; but it was no reason because the system in England was not always applicable to Ireland, that there might not be cases in which it might be beneficially assimilated. The hon. Member taunted hon. Members on that side of the House for not applying themselves to the improvement of the English registration. Did he recollect, that two or three Sessions ago a committee was appointed, composed equally of Members on each side of the House, to consider the system of English registration, and to propose alterations in it, and that they had instructed the chairman to bring in a bill, but it was abandoned by Gentlemen on that side of the House because it was sought to make it the medium of furthering party objects? The hon. Member objected that persons should vote who had not a certain qualification. That was the object of the persons who supported this bill, and a great advantage was introduced in it by providing that, instead of dragging persons before a committee of the House, means should be taken to prevent improper persons being placed upon the registry, but when they were so inserted under legal authority they should not be impugned by a committee of that House. The hon. Member stated great objections to the appellate jurisdiction of the judges, because they would not have time sufficient for the purpose; but he hoped care would be taken to allow sufficient time, and if it should be found the number was so great that it was impossible for them to discharge their duties, the House would, doubtless, as in other similar cases, provide a remedy. He objected to their going into these minor matters of detail on the second reading of the bill, because when they went into committee there could be no objection to the modification of these points. There was one principle of the bill which had been approved of by all, namely making the revision annual instead of four times a year. The hon. Member for Roscommon admitted, that some change in the registration was necessary, and therefore he and all those who thought with him were bound to go into committee. It was on these grounds that he should give his decided support to the second reading.
§ Mr. Bellew
said: Sir, the bill at present before us ought, in my opinion, to be headed, "A bill to limit, restrain, and, as far as may be, abrogate the elective franchise as at present existing in Ireland." But it is a fit companion for the Irish Reform Bill of the noble Lord, in which, as a favour to the Irish people, he gave a second member to Trinity College, and added a new franchise (that of copyhold), of so extensive a nature, that there was exactly one individual in Ireland who could take advantage of it. On the face of the bill, indeed, all is fair and reasonable. It is only reducing to practice the assimilation principle, of which we hear so much in this House, and of which we profit so little. But in most questions there is an essential difference between theory and practice, and it often happens when the one promises every possible advantage the other presents numerous evils. So it is in the present case. The noble Lord, in his anxiety to produce a uniformity in the system of registration in both countries, would effect very different results, and would in reality be most materially interfering with the franchises of the Irish constituencies. What, I ask, was the professed object of the Irish Reform Bill?—to give full and fair expression in this House to the opinions of the Irish people. Is this object best effected by the law as it at present stands or by the bill of the noble Lord? Who calls for this bill? Not the Irish electors. On the contrary, there have been numerous petitions presented this Session for the extension of the franchise, which it is alleged is every day curtailed by those influences to which this bill would give such increased effect. Its provisions seem, in a great measure, copied from the suggestions contained in the evidence of the fictitious votes committee that sat in 1837, and are the natural results of the questions asked by one of the hon. Members for Belfast, who is also president of the Belfast Conservative Society, and of the answers given by Mr. John Bates, secretary and registering attorney to the same body; and amongst other claims to the favour of the Irish people, I observe this bill bears upon it the name of that hon. Member, whose only indication of political existence during the recess, consisted in going a considerable distance from his own part of the country to the town of Newry, to give 38 the toast of the "glorious memory," and thus insult his Catholic countrymen. But Toryism is now grown old and wary; it has learned that the people are not to be cajoled by the old arts; its maxims are the result of long observation, and are to change things without changing names. Accordingly, the noble Lord, acting upon this principle, does not alter the franchise in words. He fears that might be a precedent on this side of the House for extension. He does not alter the franchise, but he renders the difficulty of obtaining it so great, that he equally effects his object. Grattan, in one of his speeches, talks of a court instrument that murders freedom without the sign of blood—a borough Parliament; and the noble Lord would, by his present bill, effect a somewhat similar result. But it is said this bill very nearly resembles the bills brought forward in former Sessions. In my opinion, it possesses the faults of every previous attempt at legislation on the subject, without any redeeming quality. There have been three bills introduced before the present one. Each of those bills contained favourable provisions with regard to the beneficial interest question Each of those bills confined the annual revision of the existing registry to matters which occurred since the former registry. The appeal against existing registries was not, I am aware, limited, as on the revision, to matters occurring since the registry, but the revision rolls. The present bill appears to give the power of revision, not only as to what occurred since the registry, but as to the original right of registry. By the former bills, no person admitted as a freeman since March, 1831, in right of birth, marriage, or servitude, was to be allowed, unless such right had been acted on within twenty years; and the ninth section of the Reform Bill was held only to apply to such individuals in corporations as were at that time entitled to vote. The 18th section, with regard to magistrates memorialising for additional places of registry, is a complete mockery. The real object, under the appearance of conferring a right seems to be to take away the power possessed at present by the privy council; and the inconsistency of the proceeding is, that with regard to registries, in which magistrates have no particular interest, you give the power; with regard to additional quarter sessions—a matter immedi- 39 ately connected with the administration of justice—you leave the appointment in the hands of the Lord-lieutenant and council. The 29th section contains the extraordinary provision that a claimant may be made to pay costs, if the barrister should determine he had no right to register. Now, not having a lease with the proper stamp, or not producing some deed, or the name of the claimant being on the list, and his nut appearing to urge his claim, may all be considered by the barrister good and valid reasons, not, remember, to prevent a man obtaining the franchise, but to punish him for attempting to seek it. Then, there is the appeal to the judge, which makes it a half-yearly, instead of an annual revision, and, as if that was not enough, frees the judge from the incumbrance of a jury. I am aware that one of the former bills contained this last provision, which, however, I think a very bad one. There is, in fact, a perverse ingenuity in this bill, which would, under one or other of its clauses, render popular representation in Ireland a farce. Why, the form of notice alone required by the ninth clause would prevent numbers from ever thinking of preferring their claims. The power, too, given to summon witnesses from any part of the country would j be made a continual source of vexation and annoyance to any poor man residing in the neighbourhood of a voter; and here recollect another gross hardship—witnesses may be summoned against the claimant, but he has no power to summon any one in his favour. But, Sir, I shall not go any further into those details. The mam, the essential feature in which all the Government bills differed from the present one, was the manner in which the beneficial interest of the voter was to be estimated. Why, Sir, it might as well have been said that if the noble Lord, at the time of the emancipation bill, had adopted only that part of the measure which went to the suppression of the Catholic Association, that he had carried out the intention of that bill, as to compare this bill with the bills previously introduced to the House. But, now, with regard to the assimilation of the laws in the two countries, I can imagine the noble Lord sitting down, musing with himself and saying, "what can I do for Ireland. Let us see what we have got, that Ireland has not, and who knows but we may set all right by supplying it." But, then, I ask, 40 is it intended to give us the English franchise, as well as the machinery for ascertaining what that franchise is? The computation at the time of the Reform Bill was, that half a million of voters would be added to the constituent body of the empire. That the number was considerably overrated, then, is, I believe, now little doubted. I remember the Duke of Buckingham at that time, speaking of the metropolitan boroughs, stated that every pauper in London would have a vote, and cautioned the hon. Baronet the Member for North Wiltshire against giving a beggar a penny as he crossed the street, lest by so doing he might be bribing an elector. The Irish Solicitor-General stated the probable number of electors in Dublin at 18,000. What is the fact? They are at present under 10,000. It was at first intended that sixty-two Members should be taken away from the whole number of this House. This would have given a great advantage to Ireland, and was I fear, principally on that occount opposed. But though General Gascoyne, by his motion, negatived this plan, he stated himself as desirous of giving four members to all towns of 150,000 inhabitants, and two, as well as I recollect, to all towns of 13,000 inhabitants, which would have given at least ten members more to Ireland. There were I believe, seventeen English counties which got an addition of two Members each. No county in Ireland, though containing treble their population, obtained one. The noble Lord himself, on bringing forward the Irish Reform Bill admitted, as well he might, that the increase of the representatives was small, but that the increase of the constituency would be very considerable. Whatever that increase was, it had been materially reduced; and to night we have the noble Lord endeavouring still further to cripple and maim what remains of the franchise. I ask, then, is the number of Irish electors greater than it was at the time of the Reform Bill. On the contrary, they are at least one third less. What is the number in Mayo; 1,700 or 1,800, in a population of 400,000; something better than two per cent. Are they less fit for the enjoyment of the franchise than they were ten years ago? On the contrary, there never was a time when there was such great and permanent improvement in Ireland as within the last few years. Look at the improvement in agriculture, the 41 spread of education, the freedom from crime, the universal adoption of habits of temperance, though I am aware that some hon. and learned Members think sobriety and tranquillity on the part of Irishmen a very suspicious proceeding, and hint darkly that an awful future lurks tinder this apparently most gratifying state of things. It is very well to talk of the fairness of having an annual revision; but is not, I ask, the expensive litigation and the practical injustice which it works a subject of constant complaint in this country? Why, I am told that the annual expense of registering a county here is not less than 500l. If it is neglected by either party for a single year, a great part of this money is thrown away; but in Ireland there are objections to an annual revision, quite apart from the question of expense. Why, even now, when the registry is only once in eight years, the difficulties with which the Liberal voter has to contend are frightful. There is, in the first place, a general refusal to renew a lease to a Catholic tenant, if he attempts to register. A cool, steady, unvarying system of dispossessing Catholic tenants of their holdings, if they attempted to register, has been carried on ever since the passing of the Reform Bill. With what unflinching severity the stern decrees of Tory landlords, in this respect, are carried into effect? The scenes which have taken place in Carlow and Longford, and of which this House has cognizance, bear ample testimony how this bill would oblige the voter to face this persecution—for it can be called by no other name—eight times instead of once within the same period of time. Sir, I admit that it would be most desirable that certain points with regard to the registry in Ireland were explained and amended; with regard to the deductions to which the tenant is entitled; with regard to rent charges; with regard to some other test than the oath of the party concerned; but above all, with regard to the beneficial interest. Sir, I do not deny its defects in those respects; but it is with what I consider its merits, not its faults, the noble Lord quarrels. It is not its failings, but its powers, he dislikes. The interest of the noble Lord for the rights of the Irish electors is only to be equalled by the passion for constitutional liberty with which Gentlemen opposite were suddenly smitten last year on the subject of Jamaica. 42 I remember in one of the Irish corporation debates the hon. Member for Wallingford objected that even a 10l. franchise would give a Catholic preponderance of power in the towns. If it had been 20l. or 30l. it would have been equally objectionable in his eyes, if it had the misfortune to be a Catholic twenty or thirty; and I cannot help thinking that the noble Lord's objection is somewhat of the same sort. I believe that if the Irish constituency returned a Tory majority instead of a majority which, to borrow the language of an hon. Member, is so distateful to the people of this country, we never should have had the advantage of the noble Lord's legislation this evening. The more ultra of the noble Lord's party have repeatedly told the public since the commencement of the session, that the hon. Member for Tamworth had disappointed his friends and supporters. The Dublin corporation and other bodies of the same political complexion, had expressed their opinions in no measured terms. The late Members for that city, gentlemen of station and rank, talk of the Reform Bill as an infamous measure, and protest that their minds are made up to oppose at all risks, and on all occasions, principles of conciliation and concession. Is it to win back the good opinion of such parties that the noble Lord introduces the present bill, or is it one of the claims of the future Government to the confidence of the Irish people? In one of the debates in 1793, in the Irish Parliament, it was observed that the Catholics must be anxious for the elective franchise, if it was only that they might be protected from being turned out of their farms to make way for Protestant freeholders. If this bill became law, the Catholics would be anxious not to have the franchise, for the very same reason. When at that time it was proposed to admit Catholics to seats in Parliament, it was urged, that to have the representatives Protestant was a necessary counterpoise to Catholic electors. The present opinion seems to be, that Protestant electors should be a counterpoise to Catholic Members. Let it not be supposed I am using vague general expressions on this subject. It is only necessary to consider who are the great antagonist parties in the registry courts in Ireland, to see how this bill will inevitably work. On the one hand, a powerful aristocracy of landlords, bent on the extinction of the elective franchise in 43 their tenantry who will not vote as they dictate; on the other, the small, and often dependent farmers, extensive in numbers, but of humble means, who have, at every step of their painful progress to the court, to meet with losses and delays, to say no thing of the annoyances and obstacles they experience when they arrive there. From the stress laid upon revision and appeal, it might be supposed that by the present law any one that pleased walked into the court and registered. What is the fact?—why, that there is a regular bar employed at every quarter sessions, an attorney and counsel, frequently a very eminent one. Every claimant is sifted, witnesses and swearers in abundance are in attendance, and there is a cross examination of so rigorous a nature, that it alone is sufficient to deter, and undoubtedly does deter, numbers from coming forward. Annual revision, the double appeal, and the making a claimant liable to costs, are provisions, each and all of which aggravate instead of lessen, the present difficulties. The true policy, on the contrary, it appears to me, should be to give every facility to the acquisition of the franchise, and in Ireland this is doubly necessary; for, as sure as the legitimate expression of public opinion, through the electors, is sought to be stifled by thus reducing their numbers, recourse will be had to agitation as a measure of self-defence. In conclusion, I have only to repeat, that this bill is destructive to the elective franchise, encumbering the acquisition of what ought to be the easily acquired rights of every individual with vexatious and embarrassing forms and delays. It assumes the rejection, not the admission, of the claimant to be the great object of legislative care; and in its general principles, as well as its details, it exhibles that hostility to the rights of the Irish people which might naturally be expected in the quarter from whence it emanates.
§ Mr. Redington
said, that the bill of the noble Lord was anything but a bill to amend the registration of voters in Ireland. Annual registration was objectionable in England, on account of the machinery of its working; but much more objectionable would it be in Ireland, from the peculiarity of tenures in that country. Until that difficult question, the value of the franchise, was settled, annual registration or revision, was a complete mockery.
§ Mr. Lucas
said, the usual course in that 44 House was to discuss the principle of a bill only on the second reading; but he had listened attentively to the arguments of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and found, that all their objections went to mere matters of detail. Some of the hon. Gentlemen had, indeed, said, that they objected to the principle, but not one of them had stated what that principle was. If they had, it would have been seen, that they differed widely from each other as to what the principle of the bill was. The principle of the bill, in his opinion, was to let in the light upon the registration, which, beyond all question, contained at present hundreds and thousands of fraudulent votes. No committee sat upon which one hundred such votes were not struck off. That being the admitted grievance, the bill sought to remedy it by giving every possible facility to the fair claimant, and every possible opportunity of inquiring into the claims at the spot most convenient to the voter. The tribunal, in the first instance, established by this bill was a tribunal to which the poor man could resort without difficulty, because it was near his own home and in the midst of his friends, and those who could prove his claim; and it was no objection that after there had been a decision by that tribunal there was no appeal to the judges of assize, and that the second tribunal was not close to the voter's locality, because, he would ask, was a Committee of that House near the voter's locality? He had some experience on that subject, for he had suffered twenty-six days under the infliction of a committee, and upon that occasion, 600 voters who had voted against him had been summoned to come here instead of going before the judge of assize; and in a petition which they presented to Parliament they had complained, that having taken every means to prove and establish their franchise at home, it was the greatest of all hardships that they should be obliged to come to London to prove it again; and those Roman Catholic voters prayed for a remedy, and that grievance, amongst others, this bill sought to remove. Hon. Gentlemen objected to various provisions in the bill, but the mode of correcting them was not to throw out the bill, but to allow it to go into committee. The objection that the provision made with reference to costs would give rise to an array of attorneys in opposition to the rights of the poor, was, like all the others 45 which had been started entirely beside the present question, as it referred to matter of detail. The noble Lord, the Member for North Lancashire, had been taunted with not bringing in a similar bill for England, and it was said, that he probably Would have done so, but that he found that the present law worked well for his party; but he begged to ask whether that observation did not apply with greater strength to hon. Gentleman opposite? At a long interval of legislation the noble Lord had come forward; but how many bills had the hon. Gentlemen opposite brought in? They had brought in five, and abandoned every one without any opposition being offered to them, though by the impression of their names on the back of the bill, they had thought legislation necessary. Besides, it applied more strongly to them because they were in power, and what they submitted, stood a good chance of being carried, at least, in that House. The noble Lord, the Secretary for Ireland, would not venture to say, that legislation for Ireland was not necessary. The great defect of the present system must be admitted, and the present bill was prepared as a remedy. It might be an efficient remedy or not; but for the sake of all fair argument, he begged hon. Gentlemen not to enter into the details of the bill upon the motion for the second reading.
§ Sir W. Somerville
could assure the noble Lord that he had no desire to offer a factious opposition to the bill; he opposed it, because he did not think that it could be amended in committee so as to make it beneficial to Ireland. He opposed it on account of the principle of the bill—because he conceived that principle to be disfranchisement, and because he believed that the effect of it would be to disfranchise, not one-third, but three-fourths of the constituency of Ireland. He was far from saying that he approved of the present system; indeed, he thought that this very bill would introduce some improvements. Nothing could be more fair and reasonable than the provisions, which lengthened the necessary notice of objection, and empowered the Lord-lieutenant to appoint places of registry; but the kernel of the bill being the annual revision, and the double appeal, these improvements were matters of very minor importance; and he felt himself perfectly justified on account of those two main provisions, in 46 giving his opposition to the second reading of the bill. The price at which they were to purchase those improvements was a price which far exceeded their value, and which he, for one, was not willing to pay. Were they to have the annual revision? Had it worked so well in England that it was now to be extended to Ireland? He went nowhere but he heard complaints that it had operated most vexatiously; and if that were the case in this country, what would it be in Ireland, where the poor voter was obliged to meet an array of attorneys; where his landlord, in most instances, knowing that he would exercise his franchise in opposition to his wishes, sat frowning upon him, and where nothing but the most exalted patriotism could make him come forward and claim his franchise at all? Yet this bill proposed that, year after year, he should undergo this ordeal. As to the double appeal to the judge of assize, this was not the first time that that proposition had been made; but in 1829 the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth, in his bill for disqualifying the 40s. freeholders, had introduced the single appeal to a jury, presided over by a judge of assize, as a concession to the popular party; and Lord Lyndhurst, in the House of Lords, had said, that if the appeal were given upon the registration generally to claims already admitted, it would give rise to contests of the most troublesome character. So would this bill give rise to contests of a troublesome and vexatious character, and the judges would be turned into mere registering officers, for he would venture to say, that there was not a 10l. freeholder who would not every year be dragged before the judge of assize. If that provision were to come into operation, another Spottiswoode subscription would disfranchise one-half of Ireland. They were bound to consider, too, the quarter from which the measure came, and the animus by which the noble Lord seemed to be actuated. The noble Lord said, that as a Member of Earl Grey's Government, he felt bound to come forward and attempt to remedy that evil. One thing the noble Lord was bound to do, and that was, to declare his opinion of the value of the franchise, because, if he did not, it would look very much as if the noble Lord wished to take advantage of the obscurity of his own bill, and the judges having decided one way, to make the appeal in all these cases to them. He gave the 47 noble Lord credit for acting with sincerity when he was Secretary for Ireland in Lord Grey's Government; and he also gave him credit for sincerity in his present conduct. Now, the Lord was a prominent member of an anti-reforming Opposition, and as his object at that time had been to facilitate the registration in that country, so his object now must be, not to facilitate, but to obstruct and impede that registration. Hon. Gentlemen ought to be aware, that at this moment there was going on in Ireland a regular conspiracy of landlords for the total disfranchisement of the people. From the evidence given by Mr. Ford last year before the committee of the House of Lords to examine into the state of Ireland, it appeared that the landlords were getting up the old leases for fourteen years, giving new ones for thirteen years and a half, and frequently not giving any at all, the effect of which would be to disfranchise three-fourths of the people. He should, therefore, oppose the bill upon its principles, which were such as would lead to the disfranchisement of the people, and because it was neither open nor manly in its. professions, and because it would increase the expence, the trouble, and the annoyance, which already existed to too great an extent. He had heard that "to do a great good," it might sometimes be lawful "to do a little wrong," but it was against all systems of morality that to produce a great evil they should think it enough to do a little benefit.
§ Mr. J. Grattan
said, the effects of the noble Lord's bill would be to produce a degree of confusion and a state of things dreadful to contemplate. Ireland was becoming a little peaceable at present under the existing Government, but should such a bill pass, its effects would be to turn all to confusion again. The expense of the system now in operation was hard enough, and difficult to be borne once in eight years, but, should it be annually, it would be intolerable. He regretted to see that the question was about to be made a party one, and that his unfortunate country, which had been made the tool of parties for thirty years, should still be destined for that purpose. The present system of registration was no doubt objectionable, but it was better than that now proposed by the noble Lord. He never did advocate the annual registration, and he would never wish to see it introduced into Ireland. He should give to the bill 48 of the noble Lord every opposition in his power during every one of its stages.
§ Mr. Emerson Tennent
. The hon. Member who had just sat down had concluded the strongest speech yet delivered on the question in favour of an amendment of the law, by an avowal of his intention to give a vote upon the question, which was literally tantamount to a refusal of all interference upon it. He had assigned as a reason for no alteration whatsoever, the turmoil incident to an annual revision, and would prefer the system, odious as it was, in its present form, with all the accumulating abuses of years, to the trouble of annually correcting the abuses of a brief twelve months. From almost every Gentleman who had preceded the hon. Member for Wicklow, so far as the debate had proceeded, he had heard much which might with great propriety be urged by those who held peculiar views respecting the bill, against its details when in committee; but he must say, that he had yet heard no one broad or comprehensive argument against taking the great principle of the measure into consideration on a second reading. The real question before the House was not whether this or that clause was objectionable, or whether one or another provision was susceptible of amendment, but whether the House would recognise the principle that the present unparalleled condition of the Registry Law in Ireland required amendment, and whether they were prepared to introduce a bill for that purpose? Those who at once negatived that proposition—those who felt it their interest to continue matters as they were—he could at once understand why they voted against the second reading of the bill; but that those who admitted and avowed the existence of the evil, and who had year after year introduced and supported measures professing to extend a remedy to it—that those should now falsify their own admissions by negativing a proposition for the self-same object, would be to him a matter of some astonishment. And yet this was distinctly the proposition which the House was now called upon to affirm or to reject. He, in the very few observations which he had to offer to the House, would endeavour to confine himself strictly to this view of the question, and would avoid, as far as possible, all discussion of details, which would be much more appropriately reserved for another stage of the measure, There was 49 no Member of the House (and in making this remark, he addressed himself indifferently to both sides of it), there was no Member who had served upon an Irish election committee when a scrutiny of the register had been instituted, or who had read the evidence given before the Fictious Votes Committee of 1837, who could posbly be ignorant of the monstrous inadequacies of the present system, and of the confusion, the uncertainty, the frauds, and the iniquity with which it abounded in its practical operation. But to give those who had not availed themselves of either of these opportunities of becoming acquainted with the facts, some idea of the grievance under which they laboured in Ireland, he would mention to them the single case of the town he had the honour to represent—Belfast. In that town, the present bona fide constituency legally entitled to vote, amounted to about 1,900 persons. But would the House credit it, that on the face of the register, they had no less than 6,000 names of ostensible electors, being the gross number registered and re-registered since the year 1832? Of these many hundreds were long since dead, others had emigrated to America or the colonies, others had become paupers and bankrupts, and thousands had lost their original qualifications by removing to other premises. But in each and in every case, the registration was nevertheless valid for eight years from the date of the original insertion of the name on the register, as no one name was, or could be, removed from the register, either from the fact of death or disqualification, nor could one single certificate be called in or cancelled. So that with the bona fide constituency he had just named, of 1,900, they had actually in Belfast upwards of 6,000 certificates capable of being presented at the booth, and any one of which, if presented, would entitle its holder to poll forthwith, without challenge or scrutiny. Now, he would put it to the good feeling of the House, was this a state of things that in common honesty and fairnes sought to be permitted to continue? Was it common justice that a candidate, no matter what his politics, willing to encounter the legitimate costs of a contest, should be compelled to come to the poll in such a state of uncertainty, and with such a temptation and fraud to encounter, as this state of things presented? To call out the real constituency from a list 50 where four-sixths of the registered names were mere deceptions and men of straw—but who, nevertheless, might be spirited up to appear against him, leaving him no other remedy than the costly one—an appeal to a committee of the House of Commons? In this he might be corrected; he might be told he had likewise a penal protection in a prosecution for perjury; but this was not effectual as a preservation—in application it had been found an operation. It was true, that in cases of personation or manifest falsehood, such a prosecution could be maintained, and with probable success; but then, such was the indefinite nature of the law, that in nine cases out often it was impossible to prove to the satisfaction of a jury, that the perjury was deliberate and wilful, without which the penalties could not be applied. For instance, the most common case of which they had to complain was this. A man rents a house, and registers out of it in 1832; he removes to another without registering in 1833, or perhaps leaves the town altogether; but in 1834, he returns on the news of an election, obtaining from his landlord the key of the door, or some other colourable title to tenancy, and presents himself at the poll, to take the oath that "his qualification as a registered voter still continues," on which, as a matter of course, be must be admitted to vote, on producing his original certificate. This was a fraud which had been practised again and again, but in every instance where it had been tried, the prosecution for wilful perjury had failed, as the connivance of the landlord might have led to a belief in the offender's mind, that he had a technical, though no moral, title to swear himself a tenant. Had they, in such a case, in Ireland, as in England, the means of erasing the name of the party from the list so soon as his possession of the qualification had terminated, such a fraud could not be attempted; but this was only one out of a thousand instances of the mal-practices for which the present law offered interminable temptation and security. Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House, said they were opposed to this bill because they imagined, that it threw difficulties in the way of the elector getting upon the registry when he possessed the necessary qualification. His satisfaction with it, arose principally from its enabling him to get rid of his name from the register immediately on his 51 having Ceased to possess it. The annual purgation of the lists by the erasure of the dead and disqualified, was its chief and its leading recommendation in his eyes. At: the same time he was by no means insensible to the other advantages in affording evidence which vitas not at present accessible for testing the original right of any claimant to be enrolled as an elector, and, so far from there being an impediment to a clearly entitled party, he could see no one provision regarding it in the bill which was not analogous to, if not identical with, the law of England, and which did not extend alike to both parties the means of access to the information requisite for investigating the title of their political opponents. There was no one of its provisions that did not apply alike to the whole community. It placed the 50l. Freeholder, so far as the investigation of his right was concerned, on the same footing as the 10l. householder; and if, as was asserted, its enactments threw impediments in the way of obtaining the franchise, then it furnished weapons which could be as readily used against its promoters as by them. In the terms and conditions of the franchise, the amount of qualification and the payment of rates, it introduced no new principle, and imposed no new restriction, whilst, by increasing the number of places for registration, and bringing the barrister's court to the very door of the claimant—by giving the applicant a power to summon witnesses in support of his right, a power which he did not now possess—in giving him costs against vexatious objections to his title—and abolishing all fees now payable upon obtaining his franchise, facilities, instead of obstructions have been afforded to his admission. The annual revision, the necessity of serving a notice before instituting an objection, the temporary disfranchisement of parties whilst receiving parochial relief, and the substitution of a regular record as the register, instead of a bundle of loose affidavits, were all assimilations to the law of England, and regulations tending to the accuracy as well as impartiality of the franchise. And the main departure from the English law, and that which seemed to excite the greatest dissatisfaction, was the appeal from the assistant barrister to the judge of assize. The hon. Member for Limerick had admitted the exceeding difficulty of discovering any new tribunal to whom the appeal could be confided, and, at the same 52 time, he presumed the opponents of the bill did not mean that there should be no appeal from his decision whatsoever? They could not mean that, whilst the judges themselves were liable to have an appeal from their decisions, and whilst from the Lord Chancellor there was an appeal to the House of Lords, the assistant-barristers of Ireland were to have a privilege beyond the judges and the Lord Chancellor, and they were to be constituted the only tribunal below the House of Peers, whose fiat was to be final, and from whose judgment there was to be no appeal, to whom then was it to be made? From an inferior tribunal the appeal must of course be to a superior, and the natural course was manifestly from the barrister to the judges of assize. This must either be so, or, if there be an appeal at all, it else must be to the House of Commons, as at present. They must continue the present law, which this bill, for the first time, sought to alter, rendering the register final, and they must still permit it to be questioned by a Committee of the House. One or other of these two courses they must adopt, and he was satisfied, that of the two the elector would prefer the steady and economical appeal to the going judge of assize, rather than be brought to London to substantiate his right before a Committee of the House of Commons. As to the judges themselves, make but the law clear and defined, and such was his respect for the sacred character of a judge, that be his politics what they may, he had no apprehension for its just and impartial administration by the bench in Ireland. There was but one other objection suggested by the hon. Member for Dundalk, to which he would allude, as to the difficulties thrown in the way of the claimant, namely, the number of particulars required by the bill to be supplied by the applicant in his notice of claim to register, and which it had been represented as a grievance, amounted to no less than ten. The House would perceive, that this was not an ingenious objection, when he stated, that all these particulars, though not specifically enumerated, were each substantially required, both by the English and the present Irish law. In the latter, especially the schedule particularised seven out of these ten particulars, namely, the name, the residence and profession of the claimant, the situation, the description, and the value of the 53 property out of which he sought to register, and the right in which he claimed, whether as a freeholder, or a leaseholder, as the case might be. To these the present bill superadded three, namely, the nature and particulars of his lease, the date at which his twelve months' possession commenced, and the name of his tenant when he was not himself the occupant. Each of these was essential to investigate his claim, and he (Mr. E. Tennent) would put it to the House whether, as his claim depended on their force, it was any hardship to state them in his notice, to prove them to the satisfaction of the court. Besides, it had been said, that an error in setting them out would be fatal to his claim. But this again was erroneous. At the present moment such an error would be fatal, but it was another of the facilities afforded by this bill, that it amended the existing law, in that particular, as well as gave a power by the 26th clause to the barrister, to correct any error in these particulars which was not wilful, or calculated to mislead the public. There was no one provision of the bill which he did not conceive moderate, equitable, and impartial. So far from impeding the establishment of a claimant's right, it extended to him facilities which he did not possess, and there was no one material provision contained in it which was not analagous to, if not extracted from the English law. He trusted the House would not declare by their vote against the second reading, that they were opposed to any amendment of the law, but they would suffer the bill to go into committee, where, if they passed but one of its provisions, if they gave but the means of removing the dead and the disqualified from the present lists he would receive it with gratitude as an instalment of "Justice to Ireland."
Mr. M. J. O'Connell
was opposed to the bill, both in principle and detail. It was said, that it would assimilate the law between the two countries; but he denied, that it would have that effect. The only point upon which it would produce the slightest assimilation, was in the facility it would give to the voter not to get his name placed upon the list, but to have it struck off. It would throw difficulties, impediments, and expenses in the way of registration, which, in thousands of instances, would induce men to submit to disfranchisement rather than undergo the 54 ordeal of getting their names placed upon the lists of voters. The noble Lord proposed to give to the magistrates of the county, at a public meeting, power to appoint a permanent place for taking the registration of voters; but did any hon. Gentleman suppose that the magistrates of Ireland would be anxious to afford facilities for the registration of votes? On the contrary, they would rather endeavour to deter men from obtaining the franchise. At present the Lord-lieutenant and the Privy Council had the power to name any place in the county for taking the registrations; but this bill would take away that power, and give it wholly to the magistrates. But he confessed, that the part of this measure against which he had the very strongest objection, was the appeal to the judges of assize. Was it not known, that every man against whose title a shadow of objection could be made would be brought from their homes, and that advantage would be taken of this clause to harass him and put him to a great expense. It was clear, that all the objections to the existing law of appeal would be obviated by confining the right of appeal to the question of title. But this was not the course the noble Lord found it convenient to take. In 1831 the noble Lord introduced a measure to to give some extension of the franchise to the people of Ireland, and some increase to their liberties; but now they found him bringing in a bill which would have the effect of limiting the franchise. One did not like to ask why this change of conduct should have arisen, but if post hoc were propter hoc, he thought a person might remark this fact, that at the time the noble Lord brought in his Reform Bill, the people of Ireland were among the generous supporters of his administration, but now the people of Ireland were the most determined opponents of his present party. It was not a proper occasion for the noble Lord to come forward with a measure to restrict the franchise. It was true, that the bill defined and declared the law upon the two disputed points—first, the question of joint occupancy; and, secondly, the question of "beneficial interest." But, even with those advantages, he should be sorry to put the Irish constituency to the inconvenience and annoyance which the adoption of such a system, even with those checks upon it that the noble Lord 55 provided, as this bill imposed. He begged to ask whether the bill was wanted in Ireland, even by the Conservatives? In the shape as it now stood, he should say not. The bill would take away, not the name, indeed, but the reality of the very franchise which the noble Lord had himself given to the people of Ireland—miserably limited as that franchise was. He felt himself, therefore, entitled to call upon the House not to adopt or sanction this bill. It had been the modern policy of the party opposite not to propose openly any measure to limit the rights of the people. They found, in these days of patent inventions, a more approved mode of proceeding. Their principle was, to leave to the people nominally the rights of freemen—but they took express and especial good care, by one means or the other, that those whom they wished to deprive of political rights should not have the power of practically enjoying them. They had sought to make the Catholic Relief Bill a dead letter; they had sought to make of the municipal franchise a dead letter; and now they sought to make the Reform Bill a dead letter. The passing of such a bill as this would be an insult to the people of Ireland. They would feel, that while you gave them what bore the name of privilege, you denied them the reality. It was a measure that would do the deepest injury to a people whom you confess to consider free.
§ Mr. Fitzpatrick
said: aware of the evils arising out of the present law of registration in Ireland, I was in hopes that the noble Lord would have introduced a measure containing such provisions as would facilitate registration to the bonâ fide freeholder, and at the same time grapple effectually with the crime of perjury, too common at present, I fear, in the registry courts; but I am sorry to say I can find nothing in this bill that would offer an effectual check to the evil I complain of, or afford facilities to those justly entitled to the franchise. My own opinion is, that the root of the evil lies in the disputed state of the franchise; and if we leave that untouched, our efforts will be unavailing and without benefit to the people. We must first place the franchise on such plain and well-defined grounds, that they cannot be misunderstood, and I think the Poor-law Act will soon furnish the necessary materials. Without this preparatory step, annual re- 56 gistration would only multiply the difficulties the poor ten-pound voter has at present to contend with; and though the fear of costs might often deter him from attempting to make out his claim, yet I suspect they would not, on the other hand, preserve him from frivolous objections. It is for these reasons I shall oppose the second reading of this bill, believing, as I do, that its sole effect will be to curtail the franchise, without applying a remedy to the most glaring and the worst of all the evils attendant on the present system.
Sir G. Strickland
believed, that it was a growing opinion, both in England and Ireland, that the legislation for the two countries should be assimilated. The principal features of the present bill were annual revision, payment of rates, and finality of registration. This he thought the most important feature of the measure, and a great improvement of the existing system. Was there, however, any chance of a similar measure being passed for England? If so, he should be disposed to pass over many of the defects of this bill, for the sake of securing that great advantage. He had, however, a strong objection to the annual revision of the voters' lists. It was one of the great defects of the English law, and why should they extend it to Ireland? He objected to passing such a measure as this for Ireland, without reference to England. It would be leaving nothing but a source of increasing anxiety among all persons interested in elections. He therefore would strongly urge the House, before they proceeded further with this bill, to support a proposition for the appointment of a committee, by whom the subject should be thoroughly taken into review, and a measure be prepared beneficial both to England and Ireland, and that would give satisfaction, upon the great principle of assimilation of the laws of the two countries.
§ Mr. Sergeant Jackson
had expected that some Member of her Majesty's Government would have felt it incumbent upon him to arise and signify to the House what were the intentions of her Majesty's advisers with respect to that bill. As they had not thought fit to do so, he should offer a few observations to the House, although he should say that he had heard very little urged against the bill in the course of the debate which called for a re- 57 ply. His hon. Friends at that side of the House had already discussed all the topics which were contained in the bill, and he felt himself called on to repeat that which had been said by his hon. Friends who supported the bill, namely, that he did not see on what grounds the second reading could be opposed by those who had already admitted the necessity for an alteration in the law respecting registration in Ireland. It was said, that the objections were not so much to the principle as to the details of the bill; but that did not answer his argument, for he had always understood that objections in detail were roost conveniently discussed when a bill was in committee, and when it would come before the House clause by clause. The opposition to the bill was characterised by an inclination to indulge in personal attack upon the noble Lord, the Member for North Lancashire, who had devoted so much of his time and his attention and his talents, to a subject upon which legislation had been admitted by all to be necessary, and who had brought forward that most valuable measure. There were great misconceptions and misrepresentations with regard to the provisions and the effect of the operations of that bill, and he trusted that the second reading would not be opposed upon those grounds, for, the principle being admitted, if there were minor objections it would be better to suggest a remedy for those objections at a future stage than to oppose it at the second reading. It would be admitted, on all hands, and hon. Members at either side would not deny that the state of things with respect to the registration of electors in Ireland was one which ought not to continue. It was said, that Ireland ought to have similar regulations to those of England as regarded the registration of votes, but he would remind hon. Members that, in this respect, England was better off than Ireland. However, with respect to that similiarity of legislation, it might be well to remark, that when the Reform Bill was passed, it was not proposed to give the same Reform Bill to Ireland as that which had been granted to England, and a Reform Bill was accordingly granted to Ireland totally different from that which had been given to England. Ireland had also a system of registration totally different from the English system. According to the system of registration which prevailed in Ireland, 58 if a man produced a certificate of his right to vote, no matter how unfounded his claim might be, that certificate was taken to be evidence of his right to register, which right was to continue for eight years; but it might be renewed toties quoties, for the production of the certificate was to be taken as sufficient evidence of his right to register without any inquiry as to whether his claim was well founded, or whether anything had occurred to affect his claim since the time of his obtaining the certificate; in fact, it might be renewed in perpetuation, no matter how unfounded his claim might be to register. No matter what might have occurred to affect his claim, it was sufficient to produce the certificate, in order to prove his claim for renewal before the barrister. Several hon. Gentlemen, opposite, had expressed their opinion of the evils which resulted from the present system in Ireland, and the hon. Member for Limerick had introduced a bill to afford a remedy for those evils, which bill contained many provisions similar to those contained in the bill of the noble Lord who introduced the bill then before the House. What hope was there that her Majesty's Government would bring in a bill on that subject, or to remedy those evils which were admitted to exist? And if the Government would not bring in a bill this Session, how could they with any degree of consistency oppose that bill on the second reading, after having themselves on former occasions introduced measures which contained nearly similar provisions? If they opposed the bill under these circumstances, their conduct would be highly discreditable, and it could not be looked on in any other light by the people of this great and enlightened nation. In 1835 a bill was brought in to amend the law respecting the registration of electors in Ireland. It was brought in by the present Mr. Justice Perrin, and that bill being brought in by the Government, contained the privilege of appeal to the judges, which was so much complained of in the present bill. The measure was at that time thought to be of so much importance that it was passed through all its stages with as little delay as possible. It was brought up to the House of Lords with almost railroad speed, but it did not pass that House. A great deal of abuse had been levelled at the House of Lords for having thrown out that bill, and a 59 law officer of the Crown inveighed against the House of Lords at a public meeting in Ireland, for not having passed it, notwithstanding it had been introduced to their Lordships only twelve days before their adjournment, and when there was an immense amount of other business before them. That bill even effected the qualification of electors, whilst the bill before them (and he looked upon that as one of its greatest advantages) did not tamper with the qualification. The bill before them did not affect the qualification by a sidewind—it was devoted solely to the purpose which it professed, and, in fact, a more bonâ fide measure could not be introduced to the House than the bill which the noble Lord, the Member for North Lancashire had taken the pains to introduce. It was a bill in every provision of which anything that could by possibility give advantage to either side was carefully abstained from. It had not the great objection which was to be found in another bill that had been introduced to the House on that subject, namely a declaratory clause with respect to the beneficial interest—a clause declaring the law to be quite the contrary to what the judges had decided it to be. In 1836 another bill on the subject of registration had been introduced by the present Master of the Rolls in Ireland and the noble Lord opposite, but, for some reason or another, they were not in any great haste with that bill as they had been with the former bill, for although it had been brought in on the 29th of March, it was not read a second time until the 18th of July, and then it was proposed to go into committee that day two months. That bill, which was not proceeded with, he should remark, was liable to all the objections which had been made against the bill now before them. With respect to the appeal to the judges, he could not hear objections made which conveyed imputations against those learned personages who sat on the bench in Ireland, without repelling, on his own part, such imputations. Every one of the learned individuals who at present sat in the Queen's Bench in Ireland, were gentlemen who, at one period, belonged to the party that the gentlemen on the lower bench opposite were attached to, he meant the Whigs. The great majority of the Judges in Ireland had been persons who were of liberal politics; but 60 whatever might be their political opinions, he could not hear, without an observation, objections made which would amount to imputations against those learned personages. There was a decision of Baron Penefather (one of the greatest ornaments of the bench,) with respect to nonresident freemen, overruled; but would any one say, that it was a subject of grave charge against him, or that sinister motives could be attributed to him in that decision? To return to the subject of the bill, it should be remarked that the former bills gave the right of appeal to the Judges, and Judges, be it recollected, a majority of whom were of liberal opinions. He had heard the Judges assailed for their decision with respect to a process of the Court of Exchequer, the writ of rebellion; but what had been the result when the question was argued in the House of Lords? There was no difference of opinion as to the propriety of that decision amongst their Lordships. He should now call attention to the next proceeding in the matter of legislation on the subject of registration in Ireland. The bill of 1836 not having been proceeded with, there was no bill brought forward in 1837, but in 1838 the Attorney-General for Ireland obtained leave to bring in a bill on that subject. The bill was not brought forward for some time after leave had been obtained to introduce it, and at length he gave notice, that he would move for leave to bring in a bill on the subject immediately after that notice. The Attorney-general brought in the bill, but not having proceeded with it, he brought in his bill, at so late a period, however, that there was not sufficient time to proceed with it. Last year, again, an hon. Member, at the same side of the House, did introduce a bill of a similar nature, but it would appear he was so discouraged that he did not proceed with it, and gave it up. Seeing this, having it before them that so many bills were introduced by the Government, which bills they did not proceed with, was it fair to taunt the noble Lord, the Member for North Lancashire, with precipitation in bringing forward this bill at this period? Yet the hon. Member for Wicklow, after witnessing so many delays and postponements, had called the bill of the noble Lord precipitate legislation. Legislation had been delayed from time to time since 1832, and at length, when the noble 61 Lord brought in that bill to remedy evils that were admitted on all hands, it was called precipitate legislation. All the parties who had been examined before the fictitious votes committee, had declared their opinion that the existing state of the law respecting registrations in Ireland was such as called for alteration, and this opinion was delivered without any respect of party or politics. Mr. Bernard's evidence, which had been alluded to, went to show that there was a necessity for an alteration in the law. Mr. Meagher, and the present mayor of Cork, gentlemen who were of liberal politics, stated their opinion to be, that an alteration in the law was very much required; that there was a great necessity existing in Ireland to remedy those evils which this bill was brought forward to remedy. They agreed in stating, that the existing system of registration was such as to give rise to perjury, fictitious votes, and to various frauds. On this head there was not the slightest diversity of opinion. Under those circumstances, he thought that hon. Members at the opposite side of the House could not consistently vote against the second reading. They were told that it was an innovation to give costs, and that it was an objectionable provision; but if a party took an objection against a person claiming to register, and that the person appealed, if the decision then proved the party taking the objection to have been right, he should be glad to know on what principle they would oppose a provision to give the objector costs, if the opposition to him were found to be frivolous and vexatious. He did not want to trespass on the time of the House any longer, when he recollected that so little had been said at the opposite side of the House which called for any observation from him. He could not see how Ministers could oppose a bill, the principle of which they had agreed to as necessary to be applied to Ireland. If, after admitting the principle in so many bills, they supported an attempt to put a stop to that measure, it would not place them before the country in a very creditable point of view.
§ Mr. D. R. Pigot
said, that as he had never had an opportunity of addressing the House upon the subject then before it, he trusted that it would lend him its indulgence, whilst he endeavoured to 62 state, as briefly as he could, the objections which he had to the present bill—objections so strong, that he thought it was not possible that any change of details could remove them. And when hon. Gentlemen opposite said that they did not understand why an objection should be made to the second reading, founded on the details of the measure, let him remind honourable Members, that it was the uniform practice of Parliament, founded upon solid sense and sound judgment, when it was found that a bill, the ultimate end of which might be good, was so encumbered in its provisions, that however altered it might be in its provisions, it could not be shaped so as to be beneficial to the community, the House was bound to reject the bill altogether, even if the end itself might be desirable. He objected to the bill, because he saw in it principles of legislation which were inconsistent with the basis on which constitutional liberty was founded: and because he looked upon the bill as one under which it would be impossible that the enjoyment of the franchise in the country could long last. He frankly said, that he objected to the principle of an annual revision. He objected also to the proposed appeal; and he would not suffer himself to be fettered by any proposition that might have been made in Parliament on any former occasion. At the time it was proposed to legislate, he thought it would not be very difficult to show that the annual revisions of the franchise had been little tried in England, and that the mischiefs of the system had been but little developed. Would the House bear with him whilst he read to them opinions upon this subject, expressed in language far better than he could find. He believed the fact to have been and to be, that for some time after the passing of the Reform Act, little attention was paid in England to the registries, the excitement consequent on a nicely balanced state of parties had not arisen; and so little attention was paid, and so little management was applied to carry out for the purposes of party the provisions of the Reform Act, that the mischiefs which had been since experienced, had not been, and could not be, displayed. In a publication which was not in the hands of the party whose views were favourable to his side of the House, but which was conducted with great ability, and was of much legal value 63 —the Law Magazine—he found that the editor, in entering upon a review of a work on elections, made these remarks:—After the great difficulty and confusion which attended the revision of the county and borough registration in 1832, the work of the two following years, was performed with tolerable facility and expedition. …. It was pretty generally pronounced that the registration clauses of the reform act worked well upon the whole, and that both the expense and the inconveniences of the revision would proceed for some years in a diminishing ratio. The revision of the lists in 1835, was conducted under very different auspices. Parties had not until that time become fully aware of the working of a system of registration, in a country where nothing of the sort had before existed. They had not learnt to estimate the advantage which it gives to the united and the active, over the scattered and the indolent. It had not been understood what facilities the provisions of the reform act afford for the insertion of bad votes on the register; nor, on the other hand, what advantage the power of indefinite objection gives to those who are inclined to use it without scruple; how it can be made to serve as an engine not only for the extirpation of bad votes, but also to entrap the bonâ fide claimant, who has been unwary in his mode of entering himself on the lists. All the provincial address and ingenuity, which usually find too narrow room in the precincts of a magistrate's chamber at petty sessions, or before an under-sheriff, were set to work on the Reform Act; every means of vexation and chicanery—we speak generally, and Know that our assertion is too generally true—was unscrupulously resorted to by both parties; seldom, indeed, was any reluctance evinced to use the opportunities which the act unfortunately gives for sowing tares among the wheat, and also for rooting tares and wheat together.That opinion was formed after an experience of some years, and after a knowledge of the working of the Reform Act. And was he to be told that he was to be bound by a precedent set in 1836, before any experience had been had of the working of the act, by a mere proposal made to that House, and not carried forward to ultimate legislation? Let him refer, however, for one minute to the former bills, upon which so much stress had been laid. In 1835, a bill had been introduced by one of the law officers of the crown, the other having, if he mistook not, just retired. In 1836, that same bill was reintroduced into that House. But was that bill anything like the prerent. The hon. and learned Member, the Recorder for the city of Dublin, said that annual revision had 64 been before adopted, and that an appeal was sanctioned by that bill. What, however, was the annual revision proposed by that bill? Why, that the barrister should revise the list of names, provided any objection should be made, founded upon anything that had occurred since the former registry; and it provided specially that the barrister should not attend to any objection that existed or could have been made to the voter in any prior registry. What did this bill provide? Not that, but the very contrary. The noble Lord introduced into his bill the words, "If it shall appear he is no longer entitled." Not only was there to be a system of annual revision, but they were to bring back the voter to undergo an investigation year after year into the title which he had previously established. They were asking for the introduction of a principle into the franchise which was not known in the law for any other purpose. Who ever heard of a man who established his title by ejectment, being called upon, not only to sustain his right against adverse proceedings, but being required year after year to establish the title he had obtained by an adjudication—by a competent court of law? He said, then, that there was no system of annual registration in the former bills. There was the very reverse. The bill of 1838 repudiated an annual revision. There was to be an annual registration; but there was a distinct provision, that when a voter had been once registered, when he had once been subjected to a scrutiny, which the noble Lord admitted to be severe, should retain his right for eight years. Surely, then, it could not be said, that that bill afforded any precedent for the present measure. The present bill did provide an annual revision and an appeal, and both in the most objectionable way. He would, to make his position clear, recall to the House the state of things under which they were called upon to legislate. What was the present practice of registration in Ireland? Hon. Members opposite said, they wanted "to let in the light." How did they attempt to give that light? A system of registration had prevailed in Ireland since 1727; it was part of the original law of Ireland, and it was modified under several statutes up to 1829. For upwards of a century, up to 1829, there had been a system of registration in Ireland, and, according to that system in 65 every modification, the voter invariably retained his right for eight years. The system which had prevailed he admitted to have been bad; the voter came before the court of quarter sessions, an affidavit was sworn and filed among the records of the county, and that constituted the registration. In 1829 that great settlement was made which admitted the Roman Catholics to all the honours of the state, and which at the same time swept away 197,000 electors of Ireland. Upon that settlement, what did the House do? Did they establish an annual revision, or an appeal? An annual revision was never thought of? An appeal was, indeed, suggested, not for the purpose of guarding against any imposition from bad votes, but for giving protection to parties claiming the franchise after the most stringent examination. There was an appeal to the judges upon points of law; but from the consideration of the judges was excluded the questions of value; that was a question of fact, and it was sent to be tried before a jury. When the bill was originally introduced, it was intended to give the barrister the power of trying the question of fact with a jury; but in the progress of the bill it was thought better not to allow the barrister to preside over a jury on a question which was an appeal from his own decision; but ultimately the question of fact was sent to the assizes. Did any one seek to change by this bill the mode of investigation which now existed in Ireland? Those who had framed the present bill had tried their skill, but they had not discovered a single additional test for examination beyond that which the law at present provided. The original investigation was already so secure, that they could not make it more stringent. He had the admission of the noble Lord himself, that there was no possibility of increasing the stringency, for the noble Lord, in the able speech in which he ushered in the present bill, declared, first, that the examination was so strict, that anything like it was unknown in England, and secondly, that he could not cast any imputation on the tribunals before which it was conducted. And, then, he was to be told by hon. Gentlemen opposite, that the object of the present bill was "to let in light." He was sure, that if the English Members were aware of the accurate and close investigation that took place in the assistant-barrister 66 courts of Ireland they would not sanction the present bill. In the first place, no one could be put upon the register without a distinct examination by the barrister; whilst in England, if a person gave in a claim, and no notice of objection was given by another person on the register, however bad the claim might be, no inquiry would take place, and the name would remain on the register. In Ireland, on the contrary, no man was admitted till the process of examination had been gone through. By the 16th section of the Irish Reform Act, every one must serve a notice of his intention to apply to be registered. That notice was not, as had been stated, so framed as that the party could appear in any quarter sessions court within the county, but the particular place at which he would appear must be described in the notice, and it was absolutely impossible, that there could be a failure of sufficient notice to enable any parties intending to make an objection to find him. Next, the party was bound to appear in person before the barrister; he muse produce his deeds, lease, or other instrument, which must be duly stamped; or he must on oath, or by some other mode to the satisfaction of the barrister account for the non-production of the lease, if he had it not with him; and he must then submit to an investigation into the nature and value of the franchise, not merely if any party came to the court to make objection, but even if there were no objection, it was the duty of the banister strictly to examine the claimant, and in the absence of all opposition, to see that the franchise was perfect. In every registration court in Ireland, however, there was a staff of persons—there were able counsel and sharp attorneys, and plenty of witnesses; and the ultimate resolve of the barrister was frequently come to after an investigation longer than it took to decide many questions of great value that were tried at the assizes. Was he to be told that light was not let in? And were they to have this species of investigation going on year by year, till the unhappy elector should be worried into a surrender of his right, to prevent the expenses and so severe a loss of time. But the principle introduced into the present bill, was not merely for an annual revision; it was to be half-yearly. If the decision of the barrister be objected to, the party may be made to appear before the assizes; and here let him remark, 67 that the noble Lord objected to the present bill, because the court did not come near enough to the dwellings of the claimants. What, however, was his remedy? Not to multiply the courts as a matter of course, but only to allow the magistrates to say, if they chose, that other courts were wanted; for he did not find by the bill, that by the barrister any other places could be permanently appointed for the revision courts, than the places in which were held the quarter sessions. The law at the present moment afforded ample and better opportunities of bringing home the revision courts to the doors of the claimants. By the 33d section of the Reform Act for Ireland, the barrister himself, in cases of exigency, or the Lord-lieutenant, had the power of directing that the court should adjourn from time to time, and from place to place, as the exigencies of the election might require. That salutary provision of the Irish Act—a provision that had been exercised cautiously, he admitted—was superseded by the provisions of the present bill, which limited the places for holding the courts to the towns in which the quarter sessions were held, and such other towns as the magistrates, of whom five were to be a quorum, should agree upon, to be reported to the Lord-lieutenant, and be sanctioned by him. Therefore the present bill, instead of giving facilities for bringing justice home to all, increased the difficulties both of place and of distance. Not merely, then, was there to be an annual revision of the whole counties, but if the whole of the constituency should be objected to, even on frivolous grounds or vexatious reasons, they must come before the assizes in March, to establish the very right which they had established before the barrister in the preceding September. The party must have attended the barrister in September, and, if he were objected to, he must go before the assizes in March. When September came round again, he must again attend the barrister, and if again objected to, when March came round, he must once more go to the assizes; and so he must oscillate between every September and every March. Why, such a bill was not a bill to amend the registration, but to extinguish the franchise. Let him next call the noble Lord's attention to a change in the franchise, which, with his knowledge of the noble Lord's manliness of character, he could not think him aware of. Hon. 68 Members thought this a bonâ fide bill, and it was said that it did not make any provision to give legislative aid to a fresh construction of the franchise, and particularly that it did not attach any meaning to the words "beneficial interest" adverse to the extension of the franchise. By the explicit terms of the Reform Act, the barrister was bound to inquire into the nature and value of the franchise, as the nature and value were declared by that act. Now, the terms of the 16th and 17th sections of the Reform Act, followed exactly the corresponding provisions of the act of 10 George 4ih, by which what was called the good solvent tenant's test was applied to the franchise; and to make assurance doubly sure, the Reform Act declared that the barrister should determine the nature and value of the franchise as prescribed by that act, or as set forth in the affidavit in the schedule. Now, one affidavit in the Reform Act, which stated the "beneficial interest," was copied from the 10th of George 4th; so that the strong, potent, and irresistible manner in which the intentions of those who took part in the passing of the Reform Act were expressed, were fortified by all the particulars of the provisions. Let him next call the attention of the House to one of the clauses in this bill, which had been most industriously and most skilfully framed, so as to make it certain that the drawer knew the value of every phrase and every word in the section. By the 22nd clause, it was first declared, that the voter should establish his right to be registered pursuant to his notice, and then he is to make it appear, that his property is of "the value and nature by the acts now in force in Ireland, required to entitle him to be registered." He would ask the noble Lord, whether, in the mind of any man of common sense reading this bill, any doubt could exist of the object with which these words were introduced. But what was said further? The banister was in conclusion, directed to inquire into the several particulars required by the provisions of that Act on oath, and "into the truth of the several particulars upon which such claim to be registered is founded," dropping all reference to the Reform Act, which defined what was the nature and value. If the bill were intended to make no declaration against the franchise, then he must say, that it seemed to him the persons who framed the bill would have adopted 69 the phraseology of the Reform Act, and not have resorted to this species of legislation for the purpose of introducing, by a side-wind, a construction of the term "beneficial interest," whilst at the same time, they accused Gentlemen on his (the Ministerial) side of the House, of attempting directly to alter that construction. He did not intend to go through the details of the bill, but he must call the attention of the House to another clause, to show the plain intention disclosed by it. He had referred to one plain intention; he would now take another. The noble Lord had said, that the register was to be prima facie evidence of the franchise, and that, on an appeal to the judge, his duty would not correspond with that of the banister, and yet he was to be bound to call upon the claimant to produce the lease, to go through all the inquiry, and not make the register prima facie evidence. He found the definition of the judges' duty in the 31st clause of this bill. They were to investigate the right of such person to be inserted in the register, in the same manner, as they are, by the said recited Act of his late Majesty, to investigate the claim of a person against whose claim an order was made by the assistant-barrister, save that no jury shall be empanelled upon such appeal. Here the term was not "acts," but "act." The party who framed the bill well knew the difference. He had referred to these provisions for the purpose of illustrating the conclusion to which he had come, that the purport and the object of the parties who drew this bill were to fritter away the franchise, by fettering it with difficulties under which it would be impossible to maintain it. Just let them conceive for one moment what the difficulties must be, that were thrown in the way of persons seeking the franchise. What was likely to be the proportion of objections that would be given? He had made inquiries during the last day or two, as to what the proportion was in this country, where there was not the same stringent examination, and he found that in the county of Middlesex, in which the constituency was between 11,000 and 12,000, the number objected to in 1835 was 2,234; in 1836 it was 1,485; in 1837 it was 3,191; in 1838 it was 1,568; and in 1839 it was 2,000. Now, only let them conceive one-fourth of the constituency in any county in Ireland, limited 70 though that constituency was annually objected to, and compelled, first to leave their home to attend the barrister's circuit, and then to attend the assizes. Let them conceive hundreds drawn to the same place, at the same time, at a great expense to themselves, and their witnesses, and how impossible it would be not to reprehend any measure that should produce such results. He did not mean to breathe one syllable of imputation against the high legal functionaries who had been referred to, but he objected on principle to such an appeal to them as was proposed by this bill. It might by possibility be right to refer to them a matter of law, although it might be one of political law; but he was sure that, on a question connected with political rights, to make the judges the arbiters without the intervention of a jury, was more calculated to damage the political character, and to bring into suspicion the distribution of the public justice, which they were called upon to administer, than anything else that he could conceive. The administration of justice should be secured not only from the fact of corruption, but from the taint of suspicion. And he would ask, how it would be possible for hundreds of persons to be brought annually before the judges on the question of political rights, and for crowds to be deprived, by the decisions of those judges, of the franchise to which they should think themselves entitled, without many persons of each party, and of both sides, attributing the defeat of the claim not to their own wrong claim, but to a want of purity in the judges? He objected therefore to the bill, not only as being unconstitutional, but because of the trouble, the vexation, and the expense which it would create, and which were calculated to abridge the rights of the electors; and he objected to it, also, because it was likely to detract from the character of the highest legal functionaries in the discharge of their duties, whilst it would tend to damage the enjoyment by the people of the franchise which had been entrusted to them.
§ Sir W. Follett
said, that he did not rise to follow the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down through any of the details of this bill, or through the objections which he had urged to what he supposed would be its political working, but to state the reasons which would induce 71 him to give his vote for the second reading of the bill. He owned that he had felt anxious, after all that had occurred on this subject in former sessions, to hear from some Member of her Majesty's Government their reasons for voting against the second reading. Taunts had been thrown out at the opposite side that this till proceeded from his noble Friend, who was an English Member, as if it were not an English Member's business. He might disclaim that supposition upon the part of every English Member. But, speaking for himself, he could say that he had personally more experience than, perhaps, any other English Member, probably than any Irish Member, of the working of the present system. He was satisfied it was impossible that any system could be more defective, or could lead to more fraud—he thought he might say to more perjury. He had heard the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman. He had not thought that any hon. Member connected either with England or with Ireland, would have attempted to defend the existing system of registration in Ireland. That system had been condemned most completely by her Majesty's Government. They had condemned it in their speeches—they had condemned it in their acts. It had been condemned by hon. Members at the Ministerial side of the House—it had been condemned by the hon. and learned Member for Dublin—it had been condemned by all parties. Until the hon. and learned Gentleman rose that night, no one had ever attempted to defend it. They had had bill after bill brought in to correct this evil, and a bill was now brought in by his noble Friend for that purpose. Her Majesty's Government thought it right not to object to the details of this bill, but to meet it at the outset by negativing the second reading, and preventing it from going into a committee. On what grounds? Did they object to the principle of the bill? He asked the noble Lord, the Secretary for Ireland, did he object to its principle, as pointed out by the hon. Gentleman, the Member for Yorkshire? Would any Member of her Majesty's Government answer his question by telling him that they objected to the principle of the bill? What were the evils which it proposed to cure? The hon. Member for Limerick and for the Queen's County said, that the present system led to fraud and perjury, that it was as bad for the Liberal party as 72 for their opponents, and that it led to extensive litigation before committees of the House of Commons. Why, it was a well-known fact that, in many places, the parties had come to a compromise, and agreed to strike off certain votes at either side to avoid a contest. How were they to avoid all this? What had they proposed themselves? Had they not introduced this same principle into every bill they had brought in? Instead of a registry in force for eight years, had they not proposed to substitute a registry subject to be revised every year? Had they not proposed a double appeal, either to one of the judges, or to a court specially constituted? Their bills had all proposed this. Now, if they had this established, with the annual revision, surely they might safely make the Irish registry conclusive. The hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to have forgotten that such a system would put an end to the appeals to committees of the House of Commons; and when the hon. Gentleman spoke of the defects of a former system, he must also have forgotten that then, too, there existed an appeal to a committee of the House of Commons. The question was, whether they would object to the introduction of a bill which made the registry conclusive, took away the appeal to the House of Commons, removed the heavy expenditure of the prevailing system, and substituted for it the effectual control of an annual revision. When the hon. and learned Gentleman was speaking of the annual revision, the noble Lord, the Secretary for the Colonies cheered him, as if he objected to the introduction of the system of annual revision into Ireland. Now, the registration in England had been so conducted for some years with benefit. Numerous errors and defects had been found in the working of the Reform Bill after it first became the law of the land; and her Majesty's Government had, Session after Session, introduced bills to amend the registration in England; yet they had never extended their operation to the registration system in Ireland. If the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) had come to the decision that an annual revision was a bad thing, he could not help thinking that the noble Lord had done so merely for the purpose of this bill. Why, there had been a bill brought in during the past Session to amend the English, and also the Irish, registration, and an annual revi- 73 sion was incorporated in that bill. He was obliged to arrive at the conclusion, that it was because the proposition proceeded from his noble Friend—because it emanated from that side of the House—the noble Lord had found this annual revision a very bad thing, though it was a principle beneficially operative in England, and though the noble Lord had introduced it into his own bill. If there was any force in the objections which had been urged by the hon. and learned Gentleman, it was not to the second reading that they could apply. By objecting to the second reading of the bill, they formally pronounced their decision against the principle of an annual revision. Would any hon. Member have the hardihood to say that the annual revision was a bad thing, or that to make the registry conclusive and establish the double appeal would be an evil? Yet, they could not otherwise object to permitting this bill to pass through its present stage. Why, every one of the bills which had been introduced by the Government—the bill of Mr. O'Loghlen, and the two bills introduced by the noble Lord, the Secretary for Ireland—all contained the annual revision. Let not the mistake go forth that by "annual revision" they meant that all the minutely scrutinizing inquiry of which the hon. and learned Gentleman had spoken, and which could only take place when the claimant first made his appearance in the registry court, was to be renewed in each successive year. No such thing. It was not an annual registration in that sense, nor any thing like it. The parties whose names were on the registry had a right to remain there. The process which the noble Lord contemplated in his bill was no more stringent than that which existed in England; in fact it was not so stringent. If an objection was made in England, the voter must appear. But it was not so in this bill. The party objecting had the onus thrown upon him of appearing and establishing his objection. The bill merely provided, that if a voter's name were fraudulently placed upon the registry, any individual might object, but must prove his objection, and at the peril of being obliged to pay the costs. Surely this was nothing like the statement which the hon. and learned Gentleman had made to the House, but something widely and totally different. If they made the registry final, was it too much to ask for at least this amount of 74 control? The hon. and learned Gentleman was not aware that the registry, even in England, was not conclusive, but that the right still existed of appealing to the House of Commons? They wanted here to concede a boon to Ireland—there was no Irish Member who disputed that it was a boon—but while they conceded it, surely they should take measures to secure some degree of control against an improper exercise of the powers which would be introduced under the new system. Was it too much to ask the certificate of the assistant-barrister, afterwards verified by the judges? He did not consider himself as at all pledged by voting for the second reading, that the judges should be the individuals before whom the appeal should be brought; that was a question for the committee. He had a strong opinion, however, on the subject. He thought that theirs would be the best tribunal. They were pointed out for the purpose by several acts of Parliament; and the power was one which they had previously exercised. If the hon. Member for Limerick could satisfy the House that the court of appeal which he proposed would be a better court than the judges, of course this was a question upon which it would be for the committee to decide. But they objected to the second reading of this bill, because they objected to the double appeal altogether. They should consider, however, that at the same time that they established the twofold appeal, they made the decision final, and removed the cumbrous and tedious process of appealing to committees of the House of Commons. The hon. Member for Limerick had said that the bill of Mr. O'Loghlen was very superior to this, because the notice was served on the baronial clerk instead of the clerk of the peace—because its definition of value was clearer, and further, because fresh difficulties were, as he alleged, thrown by the present bill in the way of the bona fide voter. They had heard this latter statement made over and over again on the opposite side. He had waited to hear what these new difficulties were, either from the hon. and learned Member who had last addressed the House, or from any other hon. Member at the same side. But he had not heard a syllable of explanation upon the subject from any one of those hon. Members. In fact, none could be given. The parties would stand precisely as under the old bill, with this difference 75 only, that while the constant litigation before committees would be suspended, they would be subject to an annual revision, of which the principle had already been adopted in those bills. The hon. Members for Limerick, Roscommon, and Clonmel said that they would not object to the bill provided there were introduced into it a definition of the words "beneficial interest." Let him bring the House for a moment to the consideration of what this was in effect. His noble Friend had introduced a bill for the purpose simply of amending the registry in Ireland; and his great object was to prevent any interference with the exisiting elective franchise in Ireland. That he knew to have been his noble Friend's intention; and he asserted that no part of the noble Lord's bill interfered with it in any way whatever. He did not pretend to put his legal knowledge in competition with that of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor-General for Ireland; but the construction which he had put upon a portion of his noble Friend's bill appeared to him most extraordinary. There certainly must be one mode of construing acts of Parliament in Ireland, and another made in England. When, because the word "acts" was introduced instead of "act," and "particulars" instead of "particular," the hon. and learned Gentleman said that this became a declaratory act, altering the existing law in Ireland, and making; the beneficial interest something different from that which it had hitherto been. He must say, that it was beyond his comprehension to understand this. He might venture to say that the hon. and learned Gentleman would have his noble Friend's permission to alter that clause, to substitute "act" for "acts," and "particular" for "particulars," and the meaning would still remain the same. He begged to ask whether they would do right, in introducing a bill for the mere purpose of amending a defective system of registration, to introduce a clause relating to a disputed question connected with the elective franchise? It was utterly impossible that, such a bill should pass—a declaratory bill, directly in the teeth of the judges who had given a decision upon the point, and if it were meant as an enacting bill, they would be altering the Reform Bill, and under a pretence of amending the system of registration they would be 76 very materially interfering with the elective franchise. He recollected when the present Lord Chief Baron of Ireland, at that lime holding the office of Attorney-General in that House, brought in his bill for amending the registration of Ireland, and stated that such a clause was contained in it. He then took the liberty of stating to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, that he was quite satisfied that such a clause would never pass, he did not say through Parliament, but through that House, for he was sure that there was no English Gentleman, no matter on what side of the House, who would not at once dissent from that definition of a beneficial interest which was then given, and was now adopted by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. The Reform Bill required that any man voting in respect of a house should have a beneficial interest of 10l. over and above his rent. Now, there could be no doubt as to the manner in which that value was to be ascertained. No one who ever sat at a quarter sessions, no one who had attended a county election under the old system of 10s. freeholders, could have any doubt as to the mode in which the value was to be determined. The value of freehold land was what the land would sell for; the value of land when let was the rate that was paid by the tenant. If land were let at 50l. which was really worth 60l., there could be no doubt that the tenant had a beneficial interest of 10/. The hon. and learned Member for Dublin had himself admitted, in his hearing, that that was the only construction that could be put upon the phrase. Now he (Sir W. Follett) knew of many instances in which houses in Ireland at 5l. or under, which were not rated by the commissioners, were placed upon the register as 10l. houses in virtue of a beneficial interest arising out of some cellar not worth 1l. If any man carried on a trade in his house, from which he made 10l. or 20l. a-year in Ireland, they had been in the habit of saying that the premises were worth such a sum to him. He would venture to say that such a definition of a beneficial interest, was wholly untenable in law. He would now explain very shortly why he should vote for the second reading of his noble Friend's bill. He should vote for it, because, as he had stated in the outset, he believed that nothing could be worse than the system now existing in Ireland. 77 The right hon. and learned Gentleman who had last spoken, had stated that he rested his opposition to the second reading on the mode in which the present system was working in Ireland, and the whole of his argument had been directed to point out the checks and restraints on the undue multiplication of votes, which he contended were now amply sufficient to secure a bonâ fide constituency. He entirely dissented from the right hon. and learned Gentleman in that view. If her Majesty's Government, and if the House thought that the right hon. Gentleman was in the right, and that the present system really worked well, then he could understand why they should object to the second reading; but, as her Majesty's Government, in common, he had no doubt, with the vast majority of the House, had an entirely different opinion, he would ask, on what ground it was that they objected to a bill which had for its purpose the amendment of the present system? He would vote for it on account of its enacting that the registry should not be continued for eight years, and allowing opportunities to strike off fraudulent voters. He approved of it because it gave a double appeal, because it took away from the House the power of deciding contested elections, and would thereby confer a great benefit on Ireland, and prevent gross fraud and perjury. If her Majesty's Government were earnest in wishing to improve the existing system of registration in Ireland, he could not understand on what principle they objected to allow this bill to be read a second time.
§ Mr. Sheil
said, the hon. and learned Gentleman had rested his approval of the bill upon two grounds, first, that it provided a system of registration analogous to that of England; and secondly, that it gave a double appeal. It was somewhat remarkable, however, that at the same time that he selected the double appeal as one ground of his support of the bill, he did not pledge himself to support that provision in committee, nor did he suggest any substitute for that appeal to the judges in the event of his not supporting it, or of its not being adopted in committee. When the hon. and learned Member advanced as one of the grounds of his support of the measure, the double appeal it gave, when there was in the bill complicated machinery to regulate that appeal, and when, too, the hon. and learned Member for 78 Bandon had declared himself a strong advocate of the appeal to the judges, surely it was reasonable to ask the hon. and learned Member for Exeter what were the details of the measure which he would recommend in the event of his not supporting the provision for the appeal to the judges. But it was manifest that the appeal to the judges was that on which hon. Gentlemen opposite mainly relied, for, with the sole exception of the hon. and learned Gentleman, not a single hon. Member had suggested a doubt as to the appeal being to the judges. The hon. and learned Gentleman had argued in favour of the English system of revision as applicable to Ireland. Were there no objections to the English system of revision? Those evils had been pointed out by his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Pigot)—evils not suggested by his own spirit of conjecture, but taken from a work the authority of which could not be suspected. Had the hon. and learned Gentleman ventured to suggest that the allegations contained in that work were not founded on fact? He had heard universal complaints against the system of revision in England—he had never heard an English Member yet speaking on the subject who had not described the greatest evils resulting from it. Had not the noble Lord who moved this bill detailed many evils arising from that system? Was there not an enormous expense imposed on the people? Did not every one feel that the result of the election depended upon the result of the revision of the registry? Was it not a common case for the newspapers on each side to give accounts of the annual revision, and to prophesy the result of the next election from the numbers put upon the registry or struck off it? Yet, notwithstanding hon. Gentlemen opposite knew all these things, they wanted to inoculate Ireland with those very evils under which England was suffering. The hon. Member for Belfast, who was introduced by the noble Lord as one of the sponsors of this bill—that hon. Gentleman, in a sort of parenthesis, moved that the Irish Municipal Bill be read on that day six months—that hon. Member who wished to check and destroy the municipal franchise in Ireland, and who now said he was anxious to strengthen the parliamentary franchise there, that hon. Gentleman had been appropriately selected as a coadjutor in this bill by the noble Lord, the Liberal Secre- 79 tary for Ireland; and that noble Lord was bound in good faith and honour to support the Irish Municipal Bill. Did the hon. Member refer to the state of Belfast as incidental to the present state of things as regarded the parliamentary franchise, and to the change which he wished to effect? Would the hon. Member say, with respect to Belfast, that in that place the evils of the fraudulent exhibition of certificates was strongly experienced? Would he say that any practical injuries had resulted in that place from these certificates? Did the hon. Gentleman himself feel any injurious effects from this cause, when he stood on the hustings at that place? Was anything proved before the Fictitious Vote Committee having reference to the subject which the hon. Member had so much dwelt on? If the hon. Member meant to assert this, where was it to be found in the evidence? The noble Lord who was chairman of this committee, and who had assisted in bringing in the present bill, and who had addressed the House in support of it that night, could not state, after all his research, more than fifty or sixty instances of the certificates of registration belonging to dead men having been used fraudulently. There was no evidence of this practice before the committee, and there was no proof that it had existed to any extent in any place. When the noble Lord proposed to introduce the present bill, and stated a number of conjectural evils which were likely to arise, he had asked for one case, with reference to these certificates, of men who were dead having been used. The noble Lord did not furnish him with a single instance; but if he had done so, and could give many cases of the kind, was he on that account to introduce a system into Ireland which was calculated to be attended with such pernicious consequences? Was this the mode in which it was intended to introduce British institutions into Ireland? and he would ask the noble Lord whether it was by this course that he meant to give the English parliamentary franchise to Ireland? The noble Lord said, that he was anxious for this, but was he willing to extend the forty shilling parliamentary franchise to Ireland? Would he do so? He would ask the noble Lord whether he would give the municipal franchise of this country to Ireland, and yet more, would he give that of Scotland? If such a proposition were made, the noble Lord would 80 at once repudiate the proposition. Let only the means be shown of molesting the people of Ireland by any English institution—let it only be pointed out that by such a course you could cut down the franchise—and then you would carry the spirit of assimilation of the institutions of the two countries with force. The noble Lord said that he was desirous of seeing a complete identity between the institutions of the two countries, and he declared, in the plenitude of his bounty, that he would give the inhabitants of Ireland British institutions. Was this appeal to the judge, with reference to the Parliamentary franchise, any portion of any British institution? He recollected on the night of the former debate on this bill, it was stated that the question with respect to the revision of the lists had been reserved when the Irish Reform Bill was before the House, but was the question of appeal reserved? If there was any force in the allegation as to the annual revision, what became of his other objection, if there was to be this double appeal? The hon. Baronet, the Member for Drogheda, had adverted to a matter of paramount importance—and here he could not help lamenting the absence of the right hon. Member for Tamworth, as it materially affected him—his hon. Friend alluded to the debates that arose when the Catholic Emancipation Bill passed, and when there was a specific compact entered into with respect to the franchise. The right hon. Member for Tamworth declared that he had maturely considered the question of the franchise in Ireland, and more especially with reference to the 40s. freeholders. He then proposed that the 40s. franchise should be abolished, and that there should be a bonâ fide freehold franchise of 10l. He then proposed that the assistant barrister of each county should be charged with inquiring into the title and value of the freehold. The right hon. Member for Tamworth declared, that it was desirable that the decision should be referred to the assistant-barrister, and he passed a high encomium upon the gentlemen who filled that office, and said, that too much praise could not be bestowed upon them for the manner in which they discharged the duties which devolved upon them. He observed, that they must be gentlemen who had been ten years at the bar, and that they were, generally speaking, most admirably adapted, for the dis- 81 charge of this duty. The right hon. Member for Tamworth proposed that there should be no appeal from the assistant-barrister's decision, when he placed the name of a claimant on the register; but to prevent any possible abuse of power, the right of appeal should be given to a freeholder, in case his claim was rejected on the ground of defective title or of insufficient value. Would any man deny this? Did any hon. Gentleman take the slightest notice of what the right hon. Member for Tamworth then proposed? This very point he now adverted to had been taken up by some of the Members of the party opposite. In the other House, a noble Lord (Lord Falmouth we believe) asked for an appeal to the judge of assize against the claim of a person placed on the register by the assistant-barrister. The then Lord Chancellor (Lord Lyndhurst) declared—and the hon. and learned Member for Exeter cautiously abstained from adverting to this point—that he objected to any such appeal against the decision of the assistant-barrister when given in favour of the claimant, for the expenses of such appeals to the Judge of Assize, if they were to fall upon the voters, would be overwhelming. He would ask the hon. and learned Member for Exeter, why he did not advert to this most important declaration? This declaration was made when the 40s. franchise was abolished in Ireland, and when the 10l. franchise was created. The decision on the matter as to the validity of the claim was left to a new judicial tribunal, the judge of which was the assistant-barrister for the county, and in case of the decision of that officer being in favour of the claimant, it remained good without appeal for seven years. The right hon. Member for Tamworth at the time stated, that he regarded this as a most important consideration, and declared that there should be no appeal in case the decision was for the voter. Would not those who acted with him be charged with breaking the compact if they required the restoration of the 40s. franchise; and would they not be told, that they broke this compact if they made any proposal of this kind, for the alteration of the settlement that was made when the Catholic Emancipation Act passed? If this, then, was the case on the one side, he would ask Gentlemen opposite, whether they did not go back from the compact when they resorted to such a proposition as was in- 82 volved in the present bill? The Catholic Emancipation Act had, on these points, been considered a final measure, and who had been the parties who had proposed to depart from it? He would not go to those evils, which had not been felt anywhere with respect to these certificates; but he would ask what had occurred to justify their adopting this second appeal? Since that Act passed, and previous to the Irish Reform Bill two general elections had occurred. It could not be supposed that the Irish Reform Act was framed without consideration, and in that there did not exist any provisions for a double appeal, such as was proposed in the present bill. The Catholic Emancipation Act passed on the 15th of April, 1829, and between that period and the time of the Irish Reform Act, he repeated, there had been two general elections. What had been the result of the experience of these elections? The noble Lord, the Member for North Lancashire, after that experience in the Irish Reform Bill, said, that there should be no appeal against the rate. The noble Lord then declared that, with reference to that Act, there should be some questions open to revision at a future period, but this was not one of the questions that he reserved. A most powerful influence was thus raised against the noble Lord respecting this appeal, but he refused to listen to it. He then asked the noble Lord whether he reserved this double appeal—he knew that the noble Lord would answer in the negative—was he then not right when he asserted that the noble Lord's proposition involved in this bill was a departure from the spirit and letter of the Catholic Emancipation Act, and a violation of the Irish Reform Bill introduced by the noble Lord. This was a most important consideration. If he were told that the Reform Bill was a final measure, he would ask the noble Lord whether he did not rely on the finality of the measure whenever the proposition was to extend the franchise of the people? and he would call upon the noble Lord not to open the bill when the object was to interfere with the interests of the people, and to restrict the franchise. The appeal to the judge of assize was the proposition in the bill, and Gentlemen opposite exclaimed what objection could there be to this security? You cannot attack the judges of assize. He would ask, did not this appeal to the 83 judge of assize involve the most serious expense to the voter? Suppose this proposition was passed into a law, and made applicable to tins country, pass from Tipperary to Yorkshire and see what the effect of it would be. The revising barrister had placed the names of certain persons in the list as being duly qualified as voters. Some of them lived at a distant part of the county, and in case of appeal to the judge of assize, they must go thirty or forty or fifty miles to the county town to defend their right, or their names would be struck off the register. Suppose when they were objected to they went to York; they would be detained there four or five days, at a period, too, when their labour was most valuable to them, and when their superintendence on their farms was most imperatively called for. Did the noble Lord consider that such a state of things was desirable in this country? He was sure that no one did so. The hon. and learned Gentleman who spoke last did not meet the difficulty as to the expense of the appeal, nor did he for a single moment attempt to justify the adoption of such a state of things in this country. Suppose, however, that this plan of the noble Lord's were adopted, what would be the inevitable consequence? The people, when they found that they were exposed to such harassing and vexations proceedings, would not persist in making their claims to be placed on the register, and thus, by almost a matter of necessity one half of the constituency of Ireland would be cut down. Hon. Gentlemen opposite exclaimed over and over again, do not attempt to impute motives; he would not do so, but he must point out the consequences of such a proceeding. For instance, if in a large county, 300 objections were made at the summer assize, to voters living at a distant part of the county, the greater portion of the persons objected to could not attend to defend their claims, and they would consequently be struck oft the register. One hon. Gentleman opposite observed, that it was a calamity to open the register before a committee—but recollect if it was so, it was only a calamity to the Member defending his seat. The calamity did not fall upon the voters, but upon the Member or the petitioner; but if this bill were passed, it might affect 300 or 400 voters in a county at any one assize. 84 They would have intimation that they were objected to, and if they appeared, they would have probably to remain for some time with their witnesses in the county towns; and if they failed in supporting the decision of the assistant-barrister in their favour, they would have costs given against them. Would you leave it to the caprice of the judge to determine on this question of costs? This point was left entirely to the judge, who alone had to determine on the costs. The claimant might have to go forty miles to the place where the assizes were held, and although he might have had his name placed on the register by the barrister, still the judge might choose to have him mulcted of the costs. The hon. Member for Bandon had adverted to the integrity of the Irish judges. Putting aside the integrity of the judges, why place this duty on the judge of assize, which must involve him in the most disagreeable position. After having gone through all the civil cases, and after having heard the criminal cases, and discharged the duties in which his solicitude must be most deeply engaged, and in which all his feelings might be involved, and when he might have to pass the most awful sentence of the law on a fellow-creature, and when the feelings that had arisen on this account had hardly died away, was it right to thrust upon the judge new duties, and to involve him in contests from which it was hardly possible that he should escape, without a charge of being influenced by some political bias. You say, do not attack the judges; he said, do not expose and tempt the judges, by imposing duties upon them in the discharge of which it was hardly possible for them to escape the imputation of being influenced by political considerations. While hon. Gentlemen opposite were so loth to intrust the judges with the power of deciding upon their privileges, they should be slow in allowing the judges the power over the privileges of the people. He did not deny that there were men of intelligence and integrity on the judgment seat, but let the House recollect that they were men who might be influenced by those passions and prejudices incidental to all. He would suggest also to the noble Lord that there was a time when he did not take exactly the same view of the integrity of the judges that he did at present. This was not at a very remote period, for the 85 House must well recollect the charge that was brought against Baron Smith. On that occasion the right hon. the Recorder of Dublin said, that into a breast covered with ermine, factions and base passions could not enter. At that time the noble Lord stated that he did not wish to cast any imputation on the bench; but stated that enough had been shown to prove that there was matter for investigation. He now said that he did not wish to cast any imputations on the judges, but they were now casting upon them duties which they could not discharge without imputation. He could not help feeling that, under all the circumstances of the case, this bill was directed against that party in Ireland which it had repeatedly been declared the Government had received such important assistance and support. The great subject of attack of the great Tory party, for the last three years, had been the state of the Irish constituency; and, notwithstanding, two years ago, a great attempt was made to bribe them, by means of a subscription raised in this country, it had entirely failed, and they had now been obliged to resort to ulterior proceedings. At the time these subscriptions had been eloquently defended by the hon. and learned Member for Exeter, who now with equal eloquence and dexterity defended the bill of the noble Lord, having the same object in view as the subscription—namely, the defeat of the party to which he had alluded. The hon. Member for Belfast had alluded to the great expense that fell on a Member when the register was opened; but if he (Mr. Sheil) was not mistaken, that hon. Gentleman had the benefit of the great Spottiswoode subscription to aid him in his contest before the committee. Instead, however, of anything of this kind being repealed, it was proposed at once to strike the axe at the root of the tree, by cutting off the means of returning the present Members to Parliament. The result of the measure, if carried, would be to put an end to the goodwill and tranquillity that now prevailed in Ireland. They had settled the tithe question, and were, he trusted, on the point of settling another great question; and he was happy to find that strong feelings of amity were growing up between the two countries; but this bill would destroy all these feelings. In this state of things, why cast this firebrand, among them? 86 Why furnish the Irish people with room to suspect that Parliament wished to infringe the Emancipation Act, to violate the principles of the Reform Bill? It was impossible that the Irish people could look at this bill with any other feeling than disrelish; it wits impossible they could agree to it. No, they had become too like the English; they were now too nearly assimilated to the people of England to submit to injustice; and that part which Englishmen had ever acted, and would act again, when their rights were infringed upon, that part would Irishmen, he trusted, be found prepared to act.
also rose, and begged to point out to the noble Lord that the debate could not possibly end that night. He would appeal to the noble Lord, therefore, whether it would not be better at once to adjourn the debate. He moved the adjournment of the debate.
said, I would earnestly make an appeal to the House. I have come here this day under circumstances of very great domestic affliction, in order to attend this debate, because I felt that very many Gentlemen had been called together from all parts of the country, to whom it would operate as a great inconvenience if this question were postponed. To do this I have left the performance, I am afraid of the last duties, to a near and dear relative, and I earnestly entreat the House, if possible, so far to indulge me as to permit this debate to close to-night. Or if the noble Lord opposite will distinctly state to me that he will have the kindness to grant to me the precedence to-morrow evening, I would for another four-and-twenty hours postpone that return, which I dare not postpone for a longer period. I have not the power of claiming the precedence to-morrow, and am aware that I must throw myself on the indulgence of the House either to permit the debate to close to-night, or to give me the precedence to-morrow, with the understanding that then the debate shall close.
§ Lord J. Russell
said, that of course it was not in his power to do other than as the House thought proper. For his own part, if the noble Lord asked his opinion, it was that the debate could not conclude that night. He should be anxious for the House to allow the debate to go on the 87 first thing to-morrow, and if any Gentleman who had motions for that evening saw grounds for complaining of this arrangement, he should be very willing to give them the precedence on Friday or Monday.
§ Debate adjourned.