§ On the Order of the Day for resuming the adjourned debate,
§ Mr. Hume
said, that having last night or rather this morning, proposed the adjournment of this debate, he was anxious to state to the House his reasons for having taken that step. He had several times during the debate endeavoured to catch the Speaker's eye, and not having been 392 successful up to one o'clock, he was anxious to prevent a division on the main question, knowing there were several Irish Members anxious to express their sentiments, which even the hon. and learned Member for Dublin had not done, and he therefore proposed the adjournment of the debate. He quite agreed with the noble Lord, as to its being possible that the power possessed by individuals of impeding any measure by dividing the House, might be carried to excess. But if there was an occasion which called for the exercise of that power, he thought this bill supplied it. He did not think, therefore, that the noble Lord was warranted in throwing out reflections on those who endeavoured to postpone the discussion of the question. He thought, that in every measure of great importance, it was essential that hasty decisions should not become to, and that those to whom the people confided their interests, such persons as the hon. and learned Member for Dublin, should not at any rate, be deprived of any opportunity of freely and fully expressing their sentiments. It must be known to Members on both sides of the House, that at all the public meetings held in Ireland in relation to the subject, the hon. and learned Member for Dublin had been requested to oppose the further progress of the bill by every means in his power. He, therefore, considered that he himself, and those who had acted with him, were perfectly justified in the course they had taken, and he could assure the noble Lord, that if ever a question of equal importance should arise, he would never hesitate to have recourse to a similar proceeding. It appeared to him that the question was considered on two narrow grounds. The noble Lord on introducing the bill had pretended that its object was to improve the franchise in Ireland, and to prevent fraudulent voters from being placed on the list; in short, to give, as he (Mr. Hume) understood the noble Lord, full effect to the votes of those who were really entitled to the franchise. It appeared to him, from every report he had received from Ireland upon the subject, that the character given of the bill last night by the hon. and learned Member, the Solicitor General for England, was a proper and correct one. It appealed to him to be in every sense a bill which would limit the suffrage in Ireland, and that it would be impossible so to amend it in Committee, as that it could 393 be attended with any other effect. He contended, that if there was one point on which the public voice of Ireland had been more decidedly manifested than on another, it was in opposition to the present measure. He would not say, that in some points the feelings from which that opposition arose might not be exaggerated, but the noble Lord would allow him to say, that anything coming from him was looked upon with great suspicion by the people of Ireland. They could not forget that the noble Lord had formerly introduced the Coercion Bill—a measure more calculated to estrange their confidence from him than any, perhaps, that had ever been introduced by the minister of any country. The people recollected the noble Lord's attempt to destroy the civil liberty of Ireland. They could not forget that, and he hoped they never would forget it. That was not the only bill which the noble Lord attempted to pass to destroy their liberties. [An Hon. Member—It was not his bill at all.] The noble Lord had the credit of it, and he believed the noble Lord was the author of it, though others participated in it. He always blamed those who were weak enough to concur in the Coercion Bill. When the Cabinet of which the noble Lord was a Member, was broken up, explanations were given which exonerated those who voted in the minority upon that bill. The noble Lord had also introduced a bill to deprive the people of Ireland of the power of possessing arms as if they were unworthy of being intrusted with the possession of arms. He was sorry that the hon. Member for Caithness was not in his place—for, as an old Radical, he did not like to see those changes in political principles taking place. He hoped the hon. Member would come in before he had done, that he might call to his recollection some of those sentiments which the hon. Member last night professed, and at which he must express his utmost wonder. The hon. Member was a man of good sense in some respects—and of great consideration, and what he had to say he did not say off-hand, like others—but he came down prepared, and what he had to say was not to be taken as ordinary matter or undigested observations. The hon. Member for Caithness, and noble Lord the Member for North Lancashire, said that this bill was a boon to the people of Ireland. He was sorry that the party who were to receive the boon did 394 not consider it as such. The people of Ireland, on the contrary, regarded it as part of the same policy which they had experienced from the noble Lord before, by his Coercion Bill, and other similar measures; and surely no boon was ever received by any people with so much reluctance. If ever there was a bill against which the sense of the people of Ireland was strongly expressed, this was that bill. He could speak with perfect confidence so far as regarded the city which he had the honour to represent. Petitions had been forwarded from every parish in the city of Kilkenny, and he had been requested to offer every opposition to its progress, consistent with the rules of the House. It was pleasing to him to concur in the wishes of his constituents, and he should endeavour, so far as in him lay, to give full effect to them. He should be sorry to differ from his constituents, nor did he feel himself bound to follow their opinion on all occasions, but when they were right, as he believed them to be on the present occasion, he was glad to co-operate with them in resisting an insidious attempt to interfere with the privilege to which they were entitled. Forty years had rolled over Ireland since the people of that country had been told that they would have a community of interests, and an equality of laws with the English people. Instead of that, they had been trampled on and persecuted. The noble Lord certainly did attempt to diminish the master-grievance of the Irish people—an overgrown Church Establishment. He had reduced a portion of the useless bishoprics of that country, but to the present hour Ireland stood in a different situation from either England or Scotland; and he would say that the people of Ireland ought not, and he trusted they never would be satisfied until they were placed on an equal fooling with the people of England and Scotland, not only as regarded civil rights, but also as regarded religious establishments. Up to the present moment the Parliament had refused to place Irishmen on the same footing as Englishmen and Scotchmen, and in England and Scotland, a majority of the population belonged to the Establishment, and, therefore, he did not quarrel with the continuance of establishments in these countries; but he trusted the lime would soon come when the people of Ireland would no longer suffer the existence of 395 that master grievance, from which they derived no benefit whatever. They were taking away from the people of Ireland, that right to which, by the Union, they were entitled. They had refused them that advantage which had been extended to England and Scotland as regarded Municipal Corporations. Was it possible that anything else but discontent with the conduct of those who thus acted in Parliament could arise in the minds of the people of Ireland? Had they not a legitimate cause of discontent? And he would ask the noble Lord why he introduced this bill to add to that discontent, by taking from the people of Ireland, the little remnant of justice which had been done them by the Reform Bill? Could the people of Ireland see with patience this attempt of the noble Lord to deprive them of the little liberty left them by the Reform Bill, to give them over into the hands of those who had ever studied how to promote the benefit of the few at the expense of the many, and to place them in dependence again on that party, who had, until recently, ruled Ireland with a rod of iron. He would tell the noble Lord, that the bill was calculated, and that its object was to reduce the number of the electors of Ireland beyond the present scale, and to deprive the people of that influence to which they were legitimately entitled. The noble Lord declared the object of his bill to be to clear the Irish register of improper persons, but what said the people of Ireland as to the effect which would be produced by the bill of the noble Lord? Why that it would occasion such vexation, plague, litigation, and expense, (hat it would not be worth while for one-half of the constituency of Ireland, to place their names on the registry. He would only allude to one remark which had been made by the noble Lord the Member for Northumberland last night, as that noble Lord was not now in his place, had he been present, he should have commented on what had fallen from him at some length, but as he was absent he would merely make one remark. The noble Lord had stated that the people of Ireland were not fit for an enlarged franchise. Now what right had the noble Lord to make such a remark. The noble Lord had assigned no reason for stating that the people of Ireland were not entitled to equal rights with the people of England and of Scotland, He denied the al- 396 legation of the noble Lord—Ireland was quite as fit for the franchise as England or Scotland; and in the selection of representatives, since they had the power of choosing their own representatives, they had chosen men who were more inclined to popular opinions than the people of England, and therefore, he would say, they were wiser, and the better entitled to an extension of the franchise, at least, equal with England and Scotland. The effect of the bill of the noble Lord would be to reduce the present too limited number of electors in Ireland more than one half. In his opinion every one contributing to the taxes of the country, and called upon to serve her Majesty in the militia, the army, and the navy, ought to have his interests protected, and had a right to participate in the election of those to whom were delegated the destinies of the country. Those who did not were no better than slaves in the West Indies.—He repeated it, that they were as much slaves in England as the blacks were in Jamaica, for neither had the franchise, and both were obliged to obey the laws made by those in whose election they had no voice. Those who were for restricting the Irish franchise ought to think how they could retain any hold on the affections of the Irish people. In England there was one elector in seventeen; in Scotland one in thirty-two; in Ireland one in eighty-five. He had made an abstract of these returns, and he would read them to the House, to show the disproportion there was in the possession of the franchise between England and Ireland. He had placed in comparison, counties of similar extent and population, and he found that while Middlesex has 65,000 males and 18,000 electors, Kerry had 63,000 males, and but 2,000 electors; Yorkshire had 156,000 males and 29,000 electors, and Cork 171,000 males, and but 3,900 electors; and Huntingdon 11,000 males and 2,700 electors, while Kildare had 27,000 males and but 1,157 electors. Those were circumstances which he thought the House should take into consideration before they adopted the measure of the noble Lord. He had made some other comparisons to which he wished to call their attention. —There were five English counties of Cumberland, Lancashire, Northamptonshire, Worcestershire, and Wiltshire, which with a population of 1,440,000 inhabitants, returned twenty members to the 397 House of Commons, while five Irish counties, with a population of 2,166,000 souls, sent only ten members? He thought that the House should not neglect the consideration of such facts. He found that the Legislature had done little for Ireland, even of late years, with the exception of passing the Act of Catholic Emancipation, a boon for which the people of that country was deeply indebted to the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth. Ireland was progressing in wealth, and was daily improving, The people only wanted equal justice, and to have the laws which gave confidence in England and Scotland extended to that country. If that were done, there would be a field for the employment of English capital, by which the wealth and greatness of this country would be increased. It was lamentable to see eight millions of people unable to make use of the natural advantages they possessed, in consequence of the long series of misgovernment which they had suffered. Were there not enough of causes for discontent in that country already, without the noble Lord's opening up this new source? He would not believe that the noble Lord did not think that his bill would confer benefits upon Ireland. But he did not think so. He agreed rather with the people of Ireland, who believed it to be a bill of disfranchisement. Ireland was now suffering under the consequences of former misrule, and the denial of those institutions which the people had a right to enjoy. They were also burdened with a Church, such as neither England nor Scotland had to maintain. Were not these things enough to render Ireland uneasy? True, they had not enough to prevent the establishment of that quietness and order which was necessary to encourage the employment of capital. He found the Irish when employed in this country, worthy of confidence, active, ready, and industrious. Was it not lamentable that in their own country alone they should be told by this Parliament they were unworthy of equal rights? There was also at this time an effort made to raise a religious hatred against them in this country. Letters were written, aye, and by persons who supported the noble Lord and this bill, to get up meetings and petitions for the repeal of the Catholic Emancipation Act—men whom right hon. Gentlemen opposite associated with, and, as the public journals inform us, Members 398 of the Legislature themselves. The hon. Member for Kent, whom he did not see in his place, had spoken upon the question, and if his speeches might be taken as a proof of the opinions he entertained' the people of Ireland had little to expect from his clemency, for he said that there could not be peace, and there ought not to be peace, until the Emancipation Bill was repealed, and until the penalties against the Roman Catholics were re-enacted. It was impossible to look at all those proceedings without feeling there was a linking feeling of persecution existing towards that country, and he would say, that anything that gave increased power to that dominant and persecuting party, only added fuel to flame, of discontent and insubordination. He agreed that the present was as much an English as an Irish question, because it was most important to England that Ireland should be well governed, and that a perfect equality should be maintained throughout the whole empire, in order that peace, quiet, and tranqaillity, might be preserved. Therefore concurring with his constituents, and agreeing with the great majority of the people of Ireland, that the present was a bill of pains and penalties, he should never consent to forwarding it one single step. On the contrary, he should place every obstacle in its way, that the forms of the House allowed, and on that ground he should heartily concur in the motion to throw it out.
§ Mr. Lucas
wished that the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, had attended the registry sessions in Ireland last summer. If he had, he would have learned many facts that would have produced an alteration, at least a modification of his opinions, and they would then have more weight, both with the House and the country, than they now were entitled to. The hon. Member had complained of the defective state of the representation of Ireland, and compared the numbers who enjoyed the franchise there with those who enjoyed it in England. If the hon. Member complained abstractedly that the numbers were not sufficient in proportion to the population, on the ground which he believed the hon. Member advocated, hat household or universal suffrage was to be the criterion of representation, it would not be necessary for him to combat that opinion, as that was not the question now before the House, but whether the 399 present mode of trying the rights of electors in that country was one which ought to be continued. He did not think the comparison made by the hon. Gentleman was founded on just grounds. So long as the 10l. franchise existed in both countries, it must be expected that the number of electors to possess it in Ireland must be inferior to the number in England. The returns in connection with the Poor-laws proved that the state of agriculture and manufactures in Ireland did not admit of a body equal in wealth and numbers to what this country contained. The constituency of Drogheda consisted of 800 persons, 163 of whom were not able to write their names. Gentlemen talked of the vexations under this bill, but no one adverted to the vexations which at present existed, and which by this bill would be put an end to. He remembered that on one occasion 800 notices had been served in the county of Cavan, and only 200 persons appeared. This bill required notices to be served only once a-year instead of four times. He held in his hand a document, describing the mode of registration in existence before the Reform Bill, and subsequently to the Catholic Relief Bill. This document contained every one of the particulars which the noble Lord proposed to introduce—it contained the names not only of the lessee, but of the lives by name and surname, that were existing, by which means every person who had a fair claim produced it in open day. What the noble Lord asked was, to return to the system of the Roman Catholic Relief Bill—not to impose new restrictions, but to restore the restrictions which had existed. In conclusion, he had only to observe, that he thought a division might fairly be taken on the present occasion, after the long discussion which had taken place.
§ Mr. Redington
would leave it to the noble Lord to say why he wished to return to the system under the Roman Catholic Relief Bill. His proposal so to do only proved that he was attempting to repeal the Reform Bill—he ought to go back to the franchise which existed before the Reform Bill. His objections affected entirely the principle of this measure, and he had not that sanguine expectation which the hon. Member for Northumberland entertained, that the bill would be so altered in committee as to induce him to give it his support. The instances quoted of fraudulent voting and of perjury in sup- 400 port of the right to the franchise, were not peculiar to Ireland. They were of frequent and notorious occurrence in many places in this country since the annual system of registration had been established. Upon the examination of the case of the Petersfield election, it was proved that many had improperly assumed the franchise, and that one had actually exercised the right of voting for twenty-two years, who had really no right to the franchise whatever. There had not been less than eight or nine persons detected in the improper exercise of the franchise in the inquiry into the Southampton election. The same discovery had been made in the cases of the Rochester and the Worcester elections recorded in the minutes of the House. Nor was this really a matter of surprise, whilst human nature continued to be actuated by the same springs and motives of conduct. We must despair, perhaps, of ever attaining a system of registration so perfectly pure as that instances of this nature should not occur. Was it then fair to proceed to argue that because cases had occurred where the franchise had been improperly assumed in Ireland, a system of surreptitious and fraudulent voting was general, and required a general remedy throughout Ireland, more than in England, where the same temptations to fraud and the commission of the offence of bribery existed in respect to the claim of the franchise? He would draw the attention of the House to an important fact, that all those cases to which he had alluded as of later occurrence were cases occurring since the system of annual registration had been introduced into England. With respect to the alleged cases of perjury upon the Longford election, so much insisted upon, by the noble Lord, he had only to state, that in his opinion the laws were perfectly adequate to the repression of the crime if properly enforced. The effect of the existing system of registration was to give to the people at large inducements and temptations almost impossible to be resisted to put themselves upon the registry. Human nature could hardly be expected to resist the temptations held out in those cases to intrusion upon the registry and to perjury. He should oppose the bill, because he considered it was a measure having for its object the disfranchisement to a great extent of the people of Ireland. Those who supported the proceeding to 401 examine the bill in committee should enter into the inquiry in committee with great caution. The course of political events had extremely limited the franchise in Ireland. By the Catholic Relief Act 99 in 100 voters in certain districts had been deprived of the right to vote at elections. This was going very far, but it had its compensation in the Relief Act. But the present bill must have the effect of circumscribing within still narrower limits the exercise of the franchise in Ireland. So far it was dangerous in its principle and in its initiation. The people of Ireland, he believed, generally must feel indignation at the projected circumscription of the franchise, since one of the most prominent subjects of complaint was, that the number of electors in the different cities, districts, and towns in Ireland was inadequate and disproportioned to the population. He was, he confessed, prepared to oppose the bill, because he conceived that it was a measure which must inflict a severe blow upon that portion of the United Kingdom, by narrowing its constituency within disproportionate limits.
§ Mr. Milnes Gaskell
was not surprised at the vehement opposition which had been offered by a certain party to this bill. He was not surprised that in compliance with the demands which had been so imperiously and so significantly made by the leaders of that party, her Majesty's Government should have consented to oppose it; he owned, however, he was surprised, that after the second reading of the bill had been carried by a majority of sixteen—that after a majority of that House had declared its opinion that the present system of registration in Ireland did require alteration and revision, her Majesty's Government should deem it to be consistent with their public duty to interpose delay in the consideration of what that revision should be. He was also surprised that her Majesty's Government having resolved upon this course had not thought it necessary to furnish the House with some better reasons for its adoption than any which had yet been urged by the hon. and learned Gentleman (the Solicitor-General,) in this debate. It was not the use of violent and abusive language at the Corn Exchange at Dublin-it was not the branding of the noble Lord, the framer of this bill, with epithets that reflected discredit only upon those who 402 used them; still less was it a panegyric pronounced upon the hon. and learned Member for Dublin by the first Minister of the Crown in that House, that would induce the people of this country or the majority of their representatives to repose any additional confidence in the Government which that noble Lord (J. Russell) represented, or to reject this bill. No; but the greater the fear of its consequences in certain quarters which they discerned, the greater the consciousness of weakness and of insecurity which they saw betrayed, the stronger would their conviction be that there was something in the present system of Irish registration that would not bear the light, and that this bill or some similar bill should pass. And if, in addition to this fear and to this consciousness, they further found that the arguments of its opponents had been characterized by the most desperate hardihood of assertion unredeemed by any attempt at substantiating the allegations which had been made, then they would be of opinion that there were some other motives besides the vaunted attachment to popular privileges which induced Gentlemen to offer so determined and so strenuous an opposition to the progress of the bill. Undoubtedly if any Gentleman was of opinion that there were no abuses in the present system of registration in Ireland which required legislative interference, no one had a right to quarrel with his vote in opposition to the bill. But did any man doubt their existence? Did any man doubt the prevalence of corruption and of perjury in the Irish registration courts? The grievance in this case was all but universally admitted—(Cries of "No, no," from the Ministerial benches.) Why scarcely a single Session had passed away without bills being brought in by the Gentlemen opposite to redress it. Was this disputed? Was it denied by her Majesty's Government? Was it denied by his noble Friend the Secretary for Ireland? Was it not the fact that in the year 1835, a bill founded upon the same principle, and having in view the same objects had been introduced into that House by the law-officers of the Crown in Ireland? Was it not the fact that similar bills had been introduced in subsequent years, recommended by the same authority? Was it not the fact that so late as the year 1839, a similar bill had been brought into that House 403 by an hon. Gentleman opposite, the Member for Limerick (Mr. O'Brien)? Then, if the grievance had been all but universally admitted—if the principle of this bill had been all but universally recognised in former Sessions, how did it happen that during the short period which had elapsed since the close of the last Session of Parliament, the views of Gentlemen upon the other side should have undergone so extraordinary a change? Surely it could not be that her Majesty's Ministers had since discovered that the removal of these abuses would operate to the prejudice of their own party interests in Ireland. Surely it could not be that they held the continuance of fraud and of false personation at elections to be comparatively slight evils when weighed in the balance against the risk of injury to the cause of agitation and repeal. It was true that the hon. Member for Kilkenny (Mr. Hume,) assigned other grounds for the rejection of this bill: he described it as a measure of disfranchisement, as a bill of pains and penalties against the Irish people. Now, he (Mr. Gaskell) confessed he was at a loss to understand how the hon. Gentleman could arrive at that conclusion. The bill proposed no alteration in the existing franchise. It only removed from the register those who had no right to vote, it only interposed difficulty where the claim was false. Then was the amount, he asked, of fraud and perjury so great that the detection of fraudulent and fictitious claimants could materially affect the franchise as now exercised in Ireland? Was it seriously meant that two-thirds of the present Irish constituency were destitute of a bona fide qualification, and obliged to resort to fraud and false personation to obtain one? If it was that admission which only furnished to his mind an additional argument for going into committee upon this bill, and threw no inconsiderable light upon the tenure by which some Gentlemen held their seats. The franchise might be too high or it might be too low; but with the amount of franchise this bill had nothing to do. It dealt only with the franchise that now obtained, and he (Mr. Gaskell) was convinced that the majority of that House would not seek to lower it by conniving at an infraction of the law. He should give his cordial vote for the committal of the bill.
§ Mr. E. B. Roche
; The hon. Member 404 who had just addressed the House had said, that this was not a disfranchising bill; but the very first clause of it went to disfranchise every voter in Ireland. If there had been so much of fraud as had been stated in the registration, surely it must have had some effect on the constituency. If so large a number of fictitious votes had been created as was alleged by the supporters of this bill, it was only reasonable to suppose that the franchise in Ireland would be extended over a much larger number, as compared with the population, than in this country where no such system of fraud existed. But what was the fact? In the county which he (Mr. Roche) had the honour to represent, out of 800,000 inhabitants which that county contained, only 3,926 persons were in possession of the elective franchise; while in Wales, out of a population of little more than 1,000,000 there were 43,026 voters. Therefore, if fraud existed in Ireland, it must prevail to a much greater extent in Wales. In the county of Monmouth, which had a population of not more than 19,000 inhabitants, the number of persons who enjoyed the elective franchise was 4,000. The present registry in Ireland, which had been fixed in 1832, on the passing of the Irish Reform Bill, would expire in November next, and notwithstanding the exertions that had been made by both parties during the present year and the one which preceded it, what did the House suppose had been the result? The number of the constituency now on the registry in Cork was 1,510, and he (Mr. R.) could say, from his knowledge of the county, that in November next, at the expiration of the present registry, the number of registered voters would not exceed 2,000. Was not that a constituency sufficiently limited to meet the views of hon Gentlemen opposite? Representing, which he regarded as a high honour, the largest county of Ireland, and one that contained a very large population, he thought it his duty to express his sentiments on this bill. He believed it to be a bill framed for party purposes, and suggested by party spirit, and that it was urged forward with the view not to improve but to destroy the elective franchise in Ireland.
§ Mr. D. Callaghan
observed, that although they had been abandoned by the Members of the Government, and by the noble Lord who had brought forward the 405 bill, he thought it would not be right to come to a division in their absence; he would therefore, with the permission of the House, offer a few observations in order to give the noble Lord and the Government an opportunity of coming back before the division took place. He (Mr. Callaghan) denied the existence of the abuses that had been charged against the constituency of Ireland, and he called upon those hon. Members who made the accusation to prove them. There was nothing in the evidence which had been produced before the fictitious votes committee to show the existence of such abuses. The hon. and learned Sergeant opposite had said, that dead men had been polled at the Cork election; but that assertion was entirely unsupported. He (Mr. Callaghan) had attended a great many registries, and had never known a case in which a person had succeeded in getting his name placed upon the registry by fraudulent means. He had supported the bill that had been brought forward by the Government for the purpose of improving the registration system in Ireland; he alluded to the bill that contained the obnoxious clause (as it was considered by some persons) of annual revision. He was not one of those who considered that clause obnoxious—but the bill now before the House was of a very different character to the one which had been brought forward by Mr. Sergeant O'Loghlin. When the Irish Reform Bill was under discussion, he (Mr. C.) was anxious to have a clause inserted that should afford an easy and speedy revision of the registry, without entailing expense upon the claimant, but that proposition was opposed by the noble Lord, who was at that time Secretary for Ireland, and others, and, consequently did not succeed. The noble Lord (Stanley) considered that the English system was objectionable, and therefore he would not extend it to Ire land; but the system which the noble Lord now proposed was infinitely worse than that which existed in this country. If this bill should pass, it would be a mockery to say that Ireland was longer governed upon the representative system.
§ Mr. Somers
said, that he was at all times unwilling to obtrude himself on the attention of the House, when he had around him so many hon. Members who were fully able to do justice to the views and feelings he entertained, yet he could 406 not on this occasion, as an Irishman, be content to give a silent vote. It appeared to him that he owed it alike to himself, as to his constituency and his country, to give utterance to his individual opposition to a measure not less remarkable for its specious than its intolerant character, and which he firmly believed would, if carried into effect, lead to the disfranchisement and degradation of the Roman Catholics of Ireland. Whatever might be the fate of this insidious measure, he was anxious to appear on the list of those who then posed, and would oppose it, to the best of their ability and spirit, through every stage of its progress. The noble Lord's bill has been so thoroughly dissected by persons adequate, from their legal acquirements, ability, and information, to estimate its object and effect, that he should not engross the time of the House in scrutinizing so ingenious an accommodation of spoliation legislised of impossibilities prescribed, and national disfranchisement, in terms and forms of the most elaborate absurdity. He had little apprehension of the passing of the bill. He believed that the noble Lord himself, whose antipathy to Ireland was so visible in every clause and object of the bill, did not expect that it would pass, for the noble Lord knew that England must be largely a partaker of its disastrous consequences. He looked upon the bill as one of those periodical devices so illustrative of the system of the noble Lord, and those who shared his feelings towards Ireland. It was intended (and well adapted was it to its end) to exasperate the patient spirit of a people, whom it seems to be the policy of certain hon. Gentlemen opposite to visit with the alternations of their oppression and contempt. He gave the noble Lord and his partisans credit for too much sagacity, to think that, they seriously believed in the evils they assigned to the existing mode of registration, which, notwithstanding i they had chosen to depict with so much studious distortion. He could hardly believe the flagrant zeal of the determined champion of the old and Orange policy, the gallant Member for Sligo himself, would advocate the abolition of existing rights, to substitute them by a bill replete with prescripts of impossibility. But he could see that the tranquil state of Ireland was a stubborn impediment to The plans and hopes of some Gentlemen opposite, and that any measure which could repro- 407 duce by its exasperating tendency, an insurrectionary movement in that now peaceful country would eminently serve the purposes of party, and give occasion for another burst of patriotic censure and regret from the opponents to the Government, to show with what contentious eloquence they could bewail and aggravate the evils of their own origination. He had recently witnessed so much of the love of country among the supporters of the noble Lord, that every fresh contingent difficulty, domestic or external, however utterly defying the control of human foresight, was hailed by them as an auspicious circumstance that would augment the difficulties of the Government, and re-open to them, no matter at what amount of national disaster, the avenue to short-lived power. Let it be remembered, that with all those evidences of deflection in the political morality of hon. Gentlemen opposite, the Irish people, when a question of their rights arises, are impeached for their deficiency in qualities, to which their worthiest opponents, and even their most notable revilers, have themselves but questionable claims. He would ask, from what indications hon. Gentlemen opposite, especially those high conservative, and anti-Irish Orange Gentleman, the gallant Members for Sligo and Donegal, who apparently neglected no opportunity in which an overstrained construction could convict their countrymen of the shadow of misdeed — he would ask from what these Gentlemen had drawn their inferences of the moral inferiority of the Irish people? Was it from the pacific condition of Ireland? Was it from the comparative view of crime as it existed in Ireland and Great Britain? Was it by contrasting her constituencies generally with those specimens of purity but recently produced before Committees of this House, in the striking instances of Cambridge and Ludlow? and he would here remark, that the corruption which was brought to light in those boroughs, as compared with any body of electors in Ireland, would be as "Ossa to a wart." Were hon. Gentlemen disposed to rate morality in Ireland so extremely low from the evidences of her loyalty and generous devotion to the Sovereign Lady of these realms? Let them, if they choose, contrast the chivalrous allegiance of the Irish people to the throne, with certain of those pestilent and seditious falsehoods by which in. England the purity of 408 virtue and the royal dignity had been assailed, beneath the shabby subterfuge of public duty, but to the indelible disgrace of those who uttered or endured such loathsome combinations of gross effrontery and unmanly spleen. It would create no surprise in any one possessing a becoming spirit, to find that Gentlemen who think with him (Mr. Somers) on points so intimately connected with the interests and dignity of Ireland, should eventually manifest some slight impatience at those eternally recurring misrepresentations advanced by hon. Gentlemen opposite—advanced in palpable derision of our rightful claims; in opposition to the dictates of expediency and justice. It was the duty of the Irish Members to spurn the shallow pausibilities by which insult, disgrace, and destruction were threatened to their country. The noble Lord himself would think it something meaner than subserviency, if they should speak with apathy while sustaining those privileges which the noble Lord's despoiling but consistent policy—at any sacrifice of the internal peace of Ireland, at the hazard of her separation in interests, in feeling, and in common sympathy (at all events) from this country—would deprive a country unwisely chosen by that noble Lord, on all occasions, as the object of his unrelenting and unjust assaults. Much as he objected to the hostility of most of the provisions of the bill, he far more deprecated the insult than the enmity it breathes to Ireland. She was too accustomed to endurance to shrink from conflict with the bigotry of her persecutors; but it was reserved for this occasion to degrade her with the grossness of contempt. But her firm spirit, however conversant with suffering, is not bound to the endurance of affront; let it come, if come it must, from the unwise determinations of a senate, or from the puny fretful-ness of uncontrollable asperity. It could not be forgotten, in a discussion of such moment to Ireland, that any subject connected with that country had invariably provoked the noble Lord's acerbity of feeling1, his exaltation at the statement of her depression and her sufferings, a tone and diction but too faithfully expressive of the noble Lord's hostility to all her interests and predilections, to her rights, her independence, and religion—in short, a palpable incorporation of those incorrigible prejudices which the noble Lord appears to cherish as the brightest denotement of his 409 public life, and doubtless will continue to exhibit as the honourable proofs of his political consistency. He had heard the taunting observations of the noble Lord addressed to a distinguished Member of that House, the leader of the Irish people. Why has the noble Lord confined his attacks to that hon. and learned Member? Why did he not taunt other hon. Members who participate in the sentiments of the hon. and learned Member for Dublin, and who, like him (Mr. Somers), concurred in every expression used by the hon. and learned Member towards the noble Lord. He should trouble the House no farther than to express his decided hostility to the bill, and his determination to resist its progress in every stage consistent with the forms of the House.
§ Sir Charles Grey
, after vindicating the motives of those who had called for the prolongation of the debate to the third night, and the propriety of that course, said, that he was opposed to this bill, upon the ground that it was calculated to continue and confirm the existing system of Irish franchise, and consequently that dissimilarity between the Irish and the English franchises, which, he thought, ought to have been only temporary, and that it would have the effect of giving validity to an interpretation, in his opinion erroneous, which had been put upon a very important portion of the Irish Reform Act, by a majority of the Irish Judges; and which it had been attempted to enforce by claiming for the twelve Judges as a tribunal, an authority, which in this province of law, did not belong to them. The abolition, in 1829, of the qualification arising from the forty shillings freehold, might be justified as a necessary precaution against the dangers inseparable from so great a political change as then took place; but, it was to be hoped that those dangers were temporary, and the restrictive precaution ought to be temporary also. It was not necessary to consider upon this occasion, whether there ought to be, simply, an assimilation of the Irish to the present English franchise; or whether the English franchise should not undergo some change, but it was desirable, that, in one way or another, at, at no very distant day, the English and the Irish franchises should be made identically the same. On the 13th April, 1839, in a debate on a bill brought in by the Lord Advocate of Scotland, the noble Lord himself, who brought in the Bill now under discussion, 410 expressed an inclination in favour of an assimilation of the franchises of England, Scotland, and Ireland, and declared, that,He could not consent, after the experience of the last few years, and the anxiety which had been shewn for the establishment in the three countries, of a representation founded upon the same principles to apply to the property of Scotland, a different rule from that which governed England and Ireland.Now my first objection to the whole body of the noble Lord's bill, is, that although it does not introduce any new difference, yet it has the appearance of being intended for the purpose of rivetting upon the Irish people, a system which includes a difference of franchise; and it holds out no prospect, nor hope, nor gives any hint of a tendency to assimilation. But the objection to the present state of the Irish franchise which this bill might have the effect of fixing and establishing as its permanent condition, is not merely its inequality and dissimilarity to the English franchise. There has been a struggle going on as to the interpretation of an important part of the law of Irish franchise; and this bill is framed for the purpose of giving the victory to the party, which, in my opinion, is in the wrong. This is the state of circumstances of which the hon. Member for Coleraine made, according to his own views of the case, a representation to the House last night, but of which, with the permission of the House, I wish to state at least a different opinion. The old English statute of the 8 Henry VI. c. 7., which fixed the qualification of the forty shilling freehold, explains the meaning with which it employed the word value by saying that the freeholder must be "able to expend forty shillings by the year." Now when it is considered that at that time the modern relation of farmer and landlord was comparatively unknown, and that the condition of small freeholders was, in general, that they were themselves tenants of manors, paying quit-rents, or rendering services, and that they occupied their own lands, it scarcely admits of any dispute, as an historical fact, that the statute was intended to recognize the qualifications of those freeholders who, by the sale of the produce and stock of the lands in their own occupation, were able yearly to raise and expend forty shillings of money, and that it had no reference at all to rack-rent as a criterion of the value of the occupying freeholder's interest. But it seems that no formal interpretation 411 of the words of the statute was called for before 1785, in which year a committee of this House, in the Bedfordshire case, is reported to have resolved,That the value of a freehold, in right of which the owner votes, is the rent which a tenant would give for it, and not what the owner occupying it himself may possibly acquire from it.It is to be observed, that no case, in which the freeholder was the occupant of his own land, is circumstantially stated as having called for this resolution of the Bedfordshire committee; if there had been any, it would have been curious to see in what way they would have disposed of any well proved fact of the land yielding in the whole a larger amount of clear annual gain than the sum which it would let for: but the case in which the question first arose, and was argued before the committee, appears to have been Southwell's case, in which the freeholder was not the occupant of the land; and so, of course, the right measure of the annual value to him was the rent received by him. This same case of Southwell is stated by Sergeant Peckwell, in a note to his report of the Middlesex case, as the illustration of this decision of the Bedfordshire committee. The wording also of the resolution is remarkable—Not what the owner occupying it himself may possibly acquire from it.Which seems to imply either that the committee meant only to refuse to take unascertained, and merely possible profits, as a measure of value, or else that they had shut their eyes against the fact, that, generally speaking, there must necessarily be some considerable profit and value beyond the rent of land, or land would not be let, and that a decision which declares that the annual value of land, to the owner of it, is the same whether he receives only the rent, or, by occupying it, receives additional profits, amounts, in reality, to a deliberate assertion, that a part is equal to the whole. In the case of a small tenement this may be kept out of sight, or may escape observation: but what can be said in support of such a rule when applied to large farms of one or two thousand acres on which the farmer's annual gain amounts to one or two thousand pounds, and from which he accumulates in the course of years a considerable fortune? Taking these circumstances into consideration, it does seem that more deference was paid to this decision than it merited, and that a wider effect has 412 been given to it than, perhaps, the authors of it contemplated. Such as it was, however, the decision of the Bedfordshire committee being formally reported by Luders, and stated by Sergeant Heywood, in his book on Election Law, as applying indiscriminately to freeholds, whether let to tenants or occupied by the owners, was followed by other committees, and excused them from taking evidence of the actual profits of land: and an interpretation was thus affixed to the statute of the 8th Henry 6th, c. 7, which no historian would even now venture to assert was the meaning of those by whom it was made; which it is morally impossible they could at that period have contemplated; and which, even within a few years of the present time, it would have been very difficult to apply to some parts of England in which whole districts were inhabited by small freeholders occupying their own lands, and never thinking of letting them to farmers. At this day, in the greater part of the United States of America, the English relation of landlord and tenant does not subsist, unless in towns or suburbs, and cannot be created. Where a man can so easily obtain land of his own he wont hold any of a landlord. He perfectly well understands the annual value of the land when it is measured by what he can make of it, but, if he was to be asked to measure it by what it would let for in a country where there are no farmers, in our sense of the word, he would be obliged to say, it had no value at all. The resolution of the Bedfordshire Committee, if it really was meant to apply to land in the occupation of the owner, appears to me to have been an infringement of the franchise of the small freeholders, but made carelessly, and with a view only to the ease of those who might have to ascertain the value of qualifications of this class, and to save the trouble and avoid the difficulty of determining the annual profits obtained from land by those who might claim to vote upon that footing. The decision, however, not only was followed, but occasioned, no doubt, the introduction into the Irish statutes of those express enactments which required that the value of the freeholder's land should be such, that a solvent tenant would give 40s. a year for it. A similar provision was re-enacted even when the 10l. was substituted for the 40s. freehold by the 10 Geo. 4th; and as long as those enactments were in force, undoubtedly there could not be any difference of opinion as to what must be the criterion of 413 value. But then came the Irish Reform Act, the 2nd and 3rd Will. 4, cap. 88 which omitted, and as I should say, rejected these provisions, and the point to be determined was, whether, under the first section of that statute the criterion of a qualification claimed by a leaseholder and occupant, and defined by the words of the act simply as "a beneficial interest in lands or tenements of the clear yearly value of not less than 10l. over and above all rents and charges," should be the question whether the occupants' interest might be let a second time to a second tenant for a second rent of 10l., or whether the amount of his annual profit derived from the land, is not the true measure of the annual value of his interest in it. It is strange that so shortly after the passing of the Reform Acts, there should have been any difficulty in this House in learning what in fact was the meaning of those by whom the acts were framed, and upon a point so directly affecting the franchises of small leaseholders in Ireland; but I will not stop to inquire into that matter, nor the history of the introduction into the act of the words "beneficial interest" of which rather a curious account is given in the notes to the report of the Longford case, which was heard before a committee of this House in 1833. Neither will I ask the House to listen to a repetition from me of the arguments which were so ably urged by the counsel on either side, and which are so fully recorded in the printed reports of that case, and of the two cases of Glennon and of Feighny in the Irish courts, as to the question of value of the beneficial interest; but I am obliged so far to advert to them, as to say, that after reading these discussions with great attention, and after having heard more than once in this House from the hon. and learned Member for Exeter, that his opinion as a legislator is the same as that which he urged as an advocate, I cannot agree in his view of the matter and that I abide by the plain and obvious meaning of the words such as would be put upon them by common understandings in the ordinary intercourse of life. The terms "beneficial interest" are large enough to include the interest of the farmer, who takes land even at a rack rent, because if it was not beneficial to him, he would not take it. Then the remaining question is, as to the circumstances in which the occupants' interest may be considered as of 10l. value within the year; and it seems to me that if the annual 414 produce and increase of his farm be such as to leave him 10l. after paying his rent, and all the expenses of cultivation, including the wear and tear of implements, and the ordinary rate of interest upon any capital laid out; if, in short, the farmer's profit be 10l., it is clearly sufficient to satisfy the words of a statute, which having for its declared object the extension of the franchise, ought to be construed liberally. It is said, that the beneficial interest must be measured in money, and by what it will bring in the market. Well, you have it in money; the farmer takes his produce and his stock to market, and he sells them for gold and silver, for hard coin, which he puts into his chest—one portion he applies in payment of his rent, another repays him for the expenses of cultivation, and the remainder is his profit, and the measure of the value he has got for his interest in the land. The rule laid down by the Bedfordshire committee, even if it should be recognised, for the valuation of a freehold, is not applicable as the measure of the beneficial interest: because the freehold may be, and under the existing system of landlord and tenant, is most frequently understood to be separated from the occupation: but the beneficial interest of the farmer implies occupation: and upon any general view of the subject, is inconsistent with the supposition of its being separated from the occupation, and let a second time to an under-tenant for a new rent, so as to make the farmer a subordinate landlord. That it would save a great deal of trouble, both to returning officers and to judges, to be relieved from the necessity of entering into evidence as to the farmers' profits, and to make use of a more palpable criterion there can be no doubt. But the question is not to be determined by such considerations of convenience. If the Legislature has established a franchise which is inconvenient, or even which has a tendency to produce perjury, the remedy ought not to be sought in any strained construction of the statute, but in a new act of the Legislature. Upon the best consideration, therefore, which I am able to give to the question, I am obliged to say, as a Member of this House, that the construction which has been put upon this part of the Irish Reform Act, by ten out of the twelve judges in Ireland, appears to me to be an erroneous one. But this is not the only misfortune. The hon. Member for Coleraine has informed us, that the point having been reserved by the Chief 415 Justice of the Queen's Bench, for the consideration of the twelve judges; and the judges having been assembled, and the matter having been formally argued before them, and a decision having been made by ten judges against two, the dispute ought to have been regarded as settled, just as much, and for the same reasons, as any doubtful point of crown law which has been reserved on circuit, to be argued before the twelve judges of England: but that to his surprise, the two judges who were in the minority do not acquiesce in that view of the matter: that one of them has given a fresh decision in opposition to the majority of the judges, and that his authority and example has been followed, or is likely to be followed by some of the assistant barristers. These are untoward circumstances which, the hon. Member for Coleraine says, the bill of the noble Lord is intended to correct, and will correct, and unless I am mistaken, the hon. and learned Member for Exeter, stated on a former night, that he gave the bill his support for nearly the same reasons; but it is mainly upon this ground that I found my second objection to the whole body and purpose of the bill. I think that the two judges who differed from their brethren have been right in their construction of the statute, and that the attempt to refer the point to the twelve Judges, and to set up the opinion of the majority as the judgment of an authoritative tribunal was an injudicious proceeding, and one of very hazardous consequence. The hon. Member for Coleraine says it is exactly the same thing as the reservation of a point of Crown law, but to me it appears to be very different. That is an established usage—this is an innovation—the whole province of criminal law is entirely within the jurisdiction and in the hands of the Judges. But on all questions as to the right of voting at elections of Members of Parliament, the ultimate decision is by this House, or by a Committee of its Members, and I should have thought that what has recently taken place, what we have all witnessed at the bar of this House would have made the hon. Member for Coleraine alive to the inconvenience of any irregular interference with such matters. It is no light thing to claim upon untenable grounds a right for the twelve judges to overrule the decisions of this House or even to forestall them. It may be very convenient and perfectly right for the judges to communicate amongst themselves their 416 several opinions for the purposes merely of mutual information, but when it is claimed that the twelve judges may form themselves into an authoritative tribunal, in cases of election law in which the statute has given authority only to the judges of assize separately, it is interposing a new and self-created tribunal between the judge of assize and the committees of this House, and you run the risk of bringing Committees into collision with the twelve judges. Nay, this deplorable result could scarcely be avoided if the claim should be persisted in for the opinions of the majority of the judges seem to be in direct opposition to the decision of the Committee in the Longford case. Whether the present bill, therefore, is to be considered as sanctioning the claim of authority in this matter for the ten judges, or as leaving their decision to work its own effect on the minds of the assistant-barristers, I am opposed to it as tending to perpetuate a condition of franchise in Ireland which ought not to be permanent, and as countenancing an interpretation of the Irish Reform Act which I believe to be erroneous, and as permitting an assumption of authority which cannot be justified, and which has a direct tendency to very inconvenient and dangerous consequences. I have other objections to the bill, but, of themselves, they would not have induced me to vote against its going into commitee. Of these I will only say, at present, that the bill appears to me to present more obstacles than are necessary or fitting to the registration of poor voters; and, I think, the noble Lord must have overlooked the difficulty and inconvenience in which they would be placed. The first clause sweeps away at once the whole existing registry, and to deny the consequences which would result seems to me very much as if some one was to walk into a house full of inmates, and to say to them, "Gentlemen, I don't mean to put you to the slightest inconvenience, but, in the first place, every man of you must go into the street; I wish then to put some bars and a new lock upon the outer door, and to make a few alterations in the entrance hall, after which it will give me great pleasure to see as many of you as may be able to find their way up stairs."
§ Mr. Thesiger
said, that after three nights of unrestrained discussion upon the bill before the House, he confessed it did astonish him to hear the speech which had just been delivered by the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite. After the 417 character and objects of the bill had been, as he should have thought, fully understood, he was not a little surprised to hear a speech professedly delivered upon the principle of the bill, yet betraying on the part of the hon. and learned Member by whom it was pronounced, the grossest misapprehension as to what really was involved in that principle. There were, he believed, but two points in the speech of the hon. and learned Member opposite, which were not entirely irrelevant to the subject matter of the discussion. He desired to be informed what they had to do on the present occasion with the inequality subsisting between the English and the Irish franchise, or what they had to do with the existence or the abolition of the 40s. freeholders, or with the beneficial interests of the electors, or with the decision of the judges upon that subject. These were matters not involved in the present inquiry, and with them the bill did not profess to deal. Now, to him it appeared that nothing could be more unprofitable than for hon. Members to invite discussion upon subjects so totally foreign to the real question before them. It was a waste of time to provoke answers to irrelevant arguments, and most unfair towards the supporters of the bill, should they take no notice of such arguments, to assume that they were unable to render any sufficient reply. Entertaining these views, then, he should certainly not follow the hon. and learned Gentleman through the observations which he had thought it right to address to the House, but on the contrary, he should rather endeavour to bring the attention of hon. Members to that which really ought to form the object of their consideration. He proposed to confine himself closely to the principle of the measure, to consider the objections which had been urged against it, and respectfully to give such answers as it appeared to him those objections deserved. At the present stage of the debate it was extremely difficult to avoid going over the same ground that other Members had travelled, and in doing so he need hardly observe, that there was great hazard of effacing the impression that they might have made. The question upon which the House had now to pronounce a decision was one which, in an especial degree, demanded, at their hands, a calm and temperate examination. He should, therefore, take all possible pains to avoid any 418 topic calculated to occasion the least feeling of irritation or discontent; but he was bound, nevertheless, in discharging the duty which he owed to his constituents and to the country, frankly to express the sentiments to which the present discussion necessarily gave rise. He confessed himself one of those who looked forward to the speech of the hon. and learned Solicitor-general with great expectations as to its effect. He admitted the great talent, the indefatigable industry of that hon. and learned Gentleman, and he was sure the House would agree with him when he said, that the bent of that hon. and learned Gentleman's mind led him to investigate thoroughly every subject with which he had occasion to grapple. For these reasons he did expect to see the hon. and learned Gentleman fully prepared to discuss the question then before the House. Every one present naturally expected to hear him state the real objections to the measure, they having looked to hearing them from preceding speakers, and looked in vain. The highest expectations had been formed with respect to that address, and he must be permitted to say, that those expectations had ended in the most complete disappointment. From the commencement to the conclusion of that speech, not one substantial objection had been raised to the principle of the bill, and yet the principle of the bill was the only matter with which the House had to deal. The hon. and learned Gentleman had recommended the Government to introduce a bill themselves upon the subject calculated to secure the support and approbation of certain parties out of doors, to frame it without the least reference to the probability of its receiving the sanction of the other House of Parliament, and assuming it to be there rejected, he recommended them to go to the country, and appeal to the constituency of the united kingdom by a dissolution of Parliament. To some it might appear, that that was a very easy and a very cheap mode of earning popularity; but he must be allowed to say, that, in his opinion, it would be paying for it a most hazardous price. He acknowledged that he felt sufficient reliance upon the characters of the Members of her Majesty's Government, as gentlemen and as statesmen, to believe that they would not have recourse to any such ad captandumlegislation. It had been said, that the effect of the present measure would be to 419 impair the efficacy of the Reform Act; but he professed himself utterly unable to comprehend in what sense of the terms it could by any possibility have such an effect; for it neither extended nor did it reduce the franchise—it interfered in no respect with the essence or with the foundation of the elective right. It left the rights and franchises of the elector precisely where it found them, and merely proposed to alter and improve the mode in which the title to the franchise was ascertained. He was unable, then, to understand how such a measure could be called a bill of pains and penalties. It might be perfectly true that the opponents of the measure did not impute to its promoters any intention of encroaching upon the liberties of the people, but they said this—wait for some better opportunity than the present, and then introduce a general measure of which the provisions of this bill might form a part. It was difficult to avoid being struck with the suspicious time at which this proposal had been made, and the absence of explanation on that point was not calculated to increase confidence. He wanted to know how any measure of registration intended for the united kingdom could be comprehended in one bill? How could the provisions necessary for such a purpose be confined within the four corners of one Act of Parliament? In Scotland the title to the franchise was ascertained, and the business of registration was conducted, in a manner wholly different from the practice which prevailed in Ireland, and both were dissimilar to the management of those affairs in England. It was evident, then, that if any such change as that which had been spoken of were to take place they must have three separate bills, and if that were to be the case, why might not the present measure form part of them? Was there not sufficient in the bill then before the House to form the foundation of a scheme of general registration. The hon. and learned Solicitor-general had denied, that the bill of the noble Lord, the Member for North Lancashire, did contain a provision, as its supporters affirmed it did, for bringing the registration courts home to the doors of the electors. The hon. and learned Gentleman did not go the length of asserting that the framer of the bill bad not read his own measure, but he hinted pretty broadly that he did not quite understand its scope and effect. That was a 420 remark which recoiled upon the hon. and learned Gentleman himself in a manner the most ludicrous. Hon. Members must see on examining the bill that it made an improvement upon the old system by adding benefits which the elector had been previously unable to obtain. By the 36th section of the bill it would be seen that the assistant-barristers were authorised to adjourn from one time to another, and from one place to another, as they might consider convenient; the limitation was to places within the county or town for which the registration was held, that no adjourned court should be held after the 20th of October in any year, according to the 17th section, that notice should be given at the time and the place at which such courts were to be held, and further, that such places should always include those at which quarter sessions were usually held. The 18th section gave power to the Lord-lieutenant, on the requisition of a certain number of the magistrates of a county or of a town, to appoint other permanent places for holding registration courts in addition to those at which quarter sessions were usually held. The assistant-barrister could have no difficulty in accomplishing all that the bill required of him, for after the 10th of August he would give sufficient notice of the places to which he proposed to adjourn during his intended sittings between the 10th of September and the 20th of October. In his opinion, there had been much misapprehension about this part of the bill. If it passed into a law, it would prove a great benefit and accommodation to the people of Ireland. The hon. and learned Gentleman had mentioned another objection, he had adverted to the registration of voters here, and said there were generally two parties who took considerable interest in the registration, and who were likely, therefore, to assist the different voters in obtaining the English franchise; but he had painted a most melancholy picture of a solitary independent voter, who received no encouragement from either party, and who had the trouble and great expense of travelling far to obtain the registration of his own vote without being assisted by any one. Where such an extraordinary being was to be met with, he (Mr. Thesiger) was at a loss to conceive. That there should be such an individual in the registration of whose vote no person took any interest, he could hardly 421 believe; but, even if there were, it must be remembered, that our laws were made for the many, and not for the few. He must confess, it appeared to him, that if the suggestion of the hon. and learned gentleman were correct, it could not have any bearing on this particular subject. Hon. Gentlemen opposite, admitted, that the octennial system was full of inconvenience, and gave rise to fraud and perjury. Now, this bill proposed to amend and alter that- to stop the floodgates by which the legitimate constituency was likely to be overwhelmed. He asked them, then, why they objected to this bill? Why they who called for annual registration in 1832, and repeated that call year after year, now for the first time should say it was objectionable, and apply their objections to this particular system only? It must be because it was introduced by the noble Lord. The hon. and learned Solicitor-general adverting to the evils of the system, would, if he had turned the attention of his acute mind closely to the subject, have discovered how the evils originated, and how necessary it was to apply a particular remedy, which had been called for even by the hon. and learned Member for Dublin himself. Could any hon. Member doubt, that if no system of registration had existed in Ireland at the time of the Reform Bill, the system to be established there, would have been assimilated to that which was established in England and Scotland, and that there would have been an annual scrutiny of votes? The hon. and learned Member for Dublin, whom he did not then see in his place, had foreseen the evils that would arise from the present system, and had suggested a remedy; and it said something for the acuteness and foresight of that hon. and learned Member, that all the evils he had foreseen, had actually occurred, and cried aloud for the particular remedy which was now proposed by the noble Lord, the Member for North Lancashire. What answer had been given to the proposal of the noble Lord, that there should be a double appeal? Had any hon. Member on the other side, ventured to say, that the appeal ought to be one way only, and that there should be no opportunity of correcting the registration list when persons had been improperly admitted to vote? And let this be borne in mind, that they never could consider this question properly without 422 regarding the impression there was on the minds of many hon. Members that the Irish registration lists could not be opened by a Committee of the House of Commons, and therefore a person once on the list, was entitled to remain there for eight years, whatever might be the defect in his right to the elective franchise. He considered the English franchise as the interest and right of every person within the particular place in which the constituency existed, and that the intrusion of any improper person on the registration lists, was an injury to the whole constituency, against which they had a right to appeal. That principle was admitted by hon. Members opposite, when the Reform Bill was passed. The question whether that appeal should be to the judges or not, was a question which ought not to be discussed on the present occasion; it was one of detail, and ought, to be reserved for consideration in the Committee. The only principle which the House had to consider, was, whether there should be an appeal on one side or both sides, as well against the admission as against the rejection. And he called upon the House to consider the position in which they would place the constituencies of Ireland if they prevented this bill going into Committee—that they would thereby permit the intrusion on the registration list of any person, however feeble might be his right to the elective franchise. To those who thought that the registration lists ought to be opened, and that a Committee of this House should have the power of doing it, he would, in referring them to the provisions it contained, appeal for their sanction of this measure; and he would remind them of the enormous expense of resorting to a Committee of the House of Commons, for the purpose of purging the register. Certainly the hon. and learned Member for Dublin had said, it was provided by Act of Parliament, that if any Member of the Committee believed that the matters in question might be investigated more conveniently nearer home, a commission might issue; but was not the remedy infinitely worse than the evil? The commissioners were mere ciphers, and had no power to prevent any question being put which any person might think proper to put, in order to delay the proceedings. He would, as an example of this, refer hon. Members to the Drogheda commission in 819, in which it would be found 423 that inquiries were made with respect to the Lord-lieutenant and his establishment, and, the whole of the state affairs of the Castle having been rnsacked, the different courts were then inquired into, the commissioners themselves having no power to do anything but to take the questions and answers and put them in the rejected sheet. The hon. and learned Member for Dublin would remember how that commission had been protracted to the extraordinary term of ten months, by the course of those who were the representatives there of the hon. and learned Member refusing to take the admissions of many persons. The report of that commission consisted of about twenty volumes, four or five of which contained nothing but rejected evidence, which the hon. and learned Member was himself afterwards obliged to make use of. Could it be said, then, that with such a system it was any advantage to a person who was compelled to petition the House of Commons? What then was the answer to the provisions which the noble Lord proposed for the existing evils? The hon. Member for Cork said, he preferred an annual registration. He had, therefore, no doubt, that that hon. Member would vote for this bill. No one had ventured to say there should be a double appeal. How, then, could they refuse to go into Committee on a bill which embraced that important principle? Was there any part of the provisions of the bill that had been fairly met by argument or the other side? Let the House then go into Committee, and cordially co-operate to make the system of registration as perfect as possible. Why should they object to do so; for it must be admitted, that tin principle of the bill had not been in the slightest degree assailed by hon. Members opposite?
Instead of feeling annoyed at the unnecessary allegation of fact by the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Thesiger), which, if I thought it necessary, I could show to be different, I am ready to concede to him that he has mad out a case, to a certain extent, in his attempt to prove, that this bill is favourable to Members, and to persons petitioning It is equally advantageous to the 50l freeholder and to the clergy of the Established Church. It is a good bill for the clergy; it is a good bill for the 50l.freeholder; it is a good bill for those win have obtained seats, or those who struggle 424 for them; but it would be hard to show that it is a good bill for the poorer classes. Sir, the noble Lord under whose patronage this bill was introduced, exhibited last night a good deal of his excellent resentment against me. He threw it completely away. From the state of the House at present; from the open hostility of the enemies of Ireland, and the lukewarm zeal of her friends, I have no fear that I am safe in adjourning any retaliation I may be disposed to make on the noble Lord's vituperative attacks to another discussion. I think it obvious that we shall have opportunities enough of carrying on our disputes before the forty clauses of this bill are disposed of in the Committee. I, therefore, adjourn the quarrel to some future occasion. Before I proceed I must take notice of one quotation which the noble Lord has made. The noble Lord has made a statement, attributed to me, out of the Mirror of Parliament, which he read correctly, and in which it is alleged that I favoured the 10l. franchise in counties. The noble Lord states his recollection of the matter being canvassed in 1832, and he says I have changed my opinion since that period. Now, I wish just to tell him, that in 1832 that passage was quoted against me by the noble Lord's Solicitor-general, and I said it was arrant nonsense. To be sure, that was not conclusive of my not having uttered it; but I ventured to show Mr. Crampton, who was not very remarkable for his candour, that it was wholly unintelligible, and was a mistake of the reporter, which he might have naturally fallen into, from not having the Act of Parliament before him. I also asked Mr. Crampton whether he was prepared to deny the accuracy of my recollection of what I had really stated. His answer was, "I have no recollection of the circumstance; but I make my statement from the records of the period." I asserted in a more solemn manner than, perhaps, was necessary, that the passage had been misstated; but here, again, it is brought up in judgment against me. I do not blame the noble Lord for not recollecting these details, but I hope he will not quote this passage again without bearing in mind the contradiction I gave it in 1832. At all events, this explanation disembarrasses the discussion of that point. One remark more before I go into the merits of the case between the noble Lord and me. He accuses me of having unjustly and untruly 425 —I don't mean with any want of courtesy—alleged that no franchises were annihilated in England, and he maintains that there were several. The noble Lord instanced the burgage tenure. Not being a lawyer, it was not difficult for him to fall into this error; but if he looks to the 31st clause of the Reform Act, he will find it gives the franchise to such persons without reference to value or occupation. He also stated that the freemen's franchise was annihilated, whereas it remained, the non residents only being disqualified. I am glad I have got rid of these preliminaries. [Lord Stanley: Where do you leave the potwallopers and scot and lot voters?] I'll show on a future occasion the amount and nature of that loss. I prefer now, if the noble Lord will consent, going on with an examination of the merits of this bill. I denounce this bill as one for annihilating the franchise under the pretence of revising it. How is that to be effected? By unnecessary trouble—by multiplied vexation—by enormous expense—by the hazard of costs—by inducing a repetition of the landlord's power of intimidation and persecution—by throwing every obstacle in the way of the electors' registration—in short, by a dissolution of all the powers with which the oppressor can harass the victim of his wrath, and of all the authority which wealth can exercise over comparative poverty. Who will take up this bill and deny that these are its characteristics? The hon. Member for Halifax seems (o disapprove of every material section in it. He is not even satisfied with its title, and yet he votes forgoing into Committee. He is like the man who denied that his knife was a new one, though he had changed both the blade and handle. He disapproves of all the details, and yet votes for the entire bill. There are some English Gentlemen here who are ignorant of the machinery by which the franchise is opposed in Ireland. They do not know the extreme lengths to which some persons go to prevent the people from registering. There are two documents I wish the House to attend to. They will show the obstacles which the Irish electors have to contend with. The first of these is the circular of Mr. Nettles, who, it was said, last night bore an apposite name. This is the letter:—Nettleville, March 25, 1839.SIR,—I have been directed to state to you, that the person whose name is mentioned on the other side, has served notice to re-register 426 his vote at the ensuing Cork sessions, which will commence on the 1st of April. As our being able to return Conservative members for this county, entirely depends on our preventing the re-registry of our own tenants, the committee trust that you will exert yourself to effect that desirable object, and that you will have the goodness to inform me as soon as possible whether his certificate has been forwarded to our opponents, or any authority given to produce it at the sessions, as in such ease it will be necessary for us to have a notice served on him requiring his presence at these sessions, where, if he does not appear, the re-registry cannot take place,I remain, Sir,Your obedient servant,ROB. NETTLES, Hon. Dist. Sec.Do you understand now, gentlemen of England, the position to which the Irish claimant is reduced 1 I will give another Conservative specimen, and I venture to say that no English gentleman would treat voters thus. This is the report of the quarter session in Westmeath, January, 1840:—