HC Deb 22 May 1840 vol 54 cc506-13
Lord Stanley

said, that before proceeding with the business of the day, for the convenience of the House, he begged to move the order of the day for the Committee upon the Irish Registration Bill, in order that he might postpone it.

On the question, the order of the day be now read,

Lord John Russell

said, that this seemed to him to be rather an extraordinary course to adopt. This was the day usually appropriated to the Government. Notice had been already given, that the bill with regard to the taxes would be brought on tonight the first thing, but the first question with regard to this order might be one of debate.

Lord Stanley

did not suppose that it would make much difference, whether the notice of the postponement was given now, or at some subsequent time. He wished to take the earliest opportunity of stating to the House the course which he intended to pursue as to bringing on his bill, because he was confident that there was no measure which was better entitled to the gravest and most serious consideration of the House. On Wednesday next, he should not be able to bring it forward, because there were already so many orders of the day fixed for consideration on that day. On the following Wednesday, it was not likely that there would be a very full attendance of Members, if, indeed, the House met at all; and he had, therefore, determined to fix his bill for the next day, Thursday, June 4th, the Thursday after the 1st of June, by a vote of the House, having been appropriated to orders instead of notices.

Lord J. Russell

might as well state the course he proposed to pursue with respect to that subject. It was, as the noble Lord observed, a very important question; and, if the question of registration was to be taken up, of course it would have a considerable effect with respect to the general business of the Session. He had already proposed, that the Thursdays after the 1st of June should be taken with a view to enable the bills to be proceeded with which had been introduced by the Members of her Majesty's Government, and some of which were of great importance, more especially the bills regarding Canada, the bill for the continuance of the Poor-law, and the bill with regard to ecclesiastical duties and revenues. These subjects being before the House, it certainly had not been his intention to have proceeded so early with the Registration Bill: but, agreeing with the noble Lord that it was a very important subject, if the noble Lord proposed that that matter was to be discussed on Thursday, the 4th of June— thereby taking certainly a day intended for other business—he must consider what course he would take with regard to that very important subject. He did not think it would be either for the convenience of the House, or favourable to the discussion upon the bills, that the House should take the subject into consideration without having before it the proposals he had to make with regard to it. It was, therefore, his intention to lay before the House, on Tuesday next, his bill for the Registration of Voters in England; and his hon. and learned Friend, the Solicitor-general for Ireland, would move, on the same day, for leave to bring in a bill with regard to the Registration of Voters in Ireland. He might be obliged to postpone other bills, which he thought were of very great importance, in consequence of the noble Lord's pressing the subject of registration before the House. He did not think, however, that he had a choice on the subject; but, at the same time, he felt it was absolutely necessary he should ask for the opinion of the House with regard to the settlement of the affairs of Canada. It was his duty, of course, from the present office he held, and still more from the deep importance of the question, to take care that that subject should meet with the speedy consideration of the House. But certainly the next subject which he should endeavour to press upon the consideration of the House were the bills with respect to the registration; and he should ask the House for its opinion upon the principles contained in those bills, and the clauses they would embody. The House would, then, be able to decide fairly upon the question, for he did not think that hon. Members had, on the last occasion, on which this question was discussed, and still less on the former occasion, an opportunity of weighing the reasons that might be given for one set of proposals or the other. But when the noble Lord proposed that the House should go into Committee on Thursday the 4th of June, he should, in some way or other (he would not say in what manner), ask for the opinion and decision of the House with regard to the various proposals on this subject, which, as he conceived, did really involve the question, whether the House meant to put a large and liberal construction upon the powers of the Reform Bill, or whether, on the other hand, the House would determine to contract those powers to the greatest possible extent.

Lord Stanley

wished to know from the noble Lord, whether it were his intention to bring forward any motion for the purpose, for the third time, of offering opposition to going into Committee on this bill? With regard to the comparison between the bills, which it appeared they were now to have on the part of her Majesty's Government, and that which he had had the honour of suggesting to the House, he should now only say that he would not, on his part, offer the least opposition to the Solicitor-general for Ireland introducing his bill on Tuesday; but he must declare that it would be a source of great gratification to him to see the manner in which the Government proposed to carry out their plan of registration, although, he must say, that, he thought it would have tended more to save the time of the House, and to save the discussions which had taken place, if, after the long notice which had been given of his measure, the bills which were now to be produced had been laid upon the table at an earlier period of the Session, instead of there being now brought forward to obstruct the measure which he had introduced. As to the day which he had selected, he was not aware, that when the House had come to the resolution that orders of the day should take precedence of motions on Thursdays, it had determined that the Government should have three days out of the five for the purpose of bringing forward its bills, but still less did he imagine that this objection would be raised, when he found that Wednesday, the 3rd of June, being occupied by Government bills, the following Wednesday, the 10th of June, was the only day left open to him. lie should hardly believe, therefore, in the first place, that it was the intention of the Government to monopolise all three days; and, in the next place, that having all those three days occupied by orders of their own, they should seek to deprive him of that day. He begged to inquire, therefore, whether the noble Lord intended to bring forward his motion in the form of an amendment to that which he proposed?

Lord J. Russell

must beg to say a few words with respect to the last observations which had fallen from the noble Lord opposite, and he really wished to assure the noble Lord that no intention existed on his part to monopolise the Wednesday. As to what the noble Lord had said with respect to this bill, he begged leave to point out to him that, of course, if there were a certain number of bills introduced by the Government, and if, in addition to those, three or four others should be introduced, all upon very important subjects, it would not conduce to the passing the Government bills through the House. The noble Lord had asked him whether he meant to interpose any proposal, in order to obstruct him in his carrying the question that the Speaker leave the Chair in the Registration of Voters' Bill. He begged to say, without exactly pledging himself to the course which he should take, that he should think himself perfectly at liberty to move any other of these bills relating to the registration to be considered in Committee in preference to that of the noble Lord's. He He did not, at the same time, however, pledge himself to any particular course. If they could see that it was better to consider the bill of the noble Lord before any other, that bill having already received the sanction of the House, so far as to its going into Committee, he should hold himself quite at liberty to take that course; but he really thought that it was rather too much that these denunciations against obstructions should come from hon. Members opposite, who were themselves the first persons to threaten the Government with an obstruction of public business.

Dr. Lefroy

rose to request the attention of the House to a matter connected with this subject, upon which he conceived that he was bound to say a few words to the House. It would be in the recollection of the House, that upon the debate the other evening upon this bill, a statement had been made by the hon. Member for Kerry as to certain evidence produced before the fictitious votes committee for Ireland. The evidence which that hon. Member had stated to the House related to certain leases made on a part of his (Dr. Lefroy's) property in the county of Longford; and it had been referred to with the view of showing that the leases were valueless for the purpose of voting, and that the tenants who had sworn were, therefore, guilty of perjury, and he had been accessory to the crime. He did not mean to say that the hon. Member had travelled out of the privilege or duty; but when the House had heard the charge, and when the hon. Member had thought fit to make it, considering its grave and serious nature, he thought that the House would now allow him an opportunity of giving an answer to it. He certainly should have expected that when a charge of this nature was brought before the House, the hon. Member would have laid all the evidence before them which fairly related to it; but he contended that the most important part of it was omitted. At the time when these leases were made, a certain part of the property, occupied by Roman Catholics, being out of lease, it was determined, instead of putting them off the property, to give them new leases. But at that time the country was in a peculiar state of excitement, produced by intimidation; and he would now call the attention of the House to the particular evidence in relation to this subject. The witness, Thomas Courtenay, had been examined with respect to the leases; and he was asked:— With respect to leaving in Roman Catholics and not bringing in Protestants upon the estate?—There is not a single Protestant upon that part with respect to which I was asked about the leases. Only two deaths had taken place, and the widow had been left in at the same rent, though in setting the farm, I desired the surveyor, who is a very experienced person, to give me a return of what he thought the land was worth, without reference to the registration, and in every instance I made an abatement from the rent he laid on to enable the tenants to register. On suggesting to Mr. Lefroy that these men should not be disturbed in their holdings, I recommended some covenant should be shaped, in protection to them, that they could say, if wanted to be forced to poll against his interest, there was something or other which stood between them and their doing so. I believe it was in consequence of that suggestion that those covenants were introduced. Then those covenants were introduced as a protection to the tenants, that they might have an excuse to those who pressed them to act against the wishes of their landlord and their own wishes?—Certainly; as a protection to the tenant. Now, from your acquaintance with the estate, have you any doubt the wish of the tenants would have been to have gone in accordance with the wishes of their landlord upon all occasions, if they had been left to their own free choice?—My own opinion is they would. These were the tenants who held the leases which were alleged as being calculated to give fictitious votes. With respect to the influence at that time employed over the tenants, the same witness was asked:— Is there any reason why those tenants should have been disposed, if they had been left to the exercise of their own feelings and judgment, to have acted against their landlord?—I think not. How did the remaining tenants act; did any others go against their landlord; I think you said there were sixteen altogether?—Yes; I remember polling every man of them. Chairman: With the exception of Burne and Cunningham?—Without any exception. Upon a former occasion?—Yes; the excitement might not have been so great. These men might have been induced to go against their landlord in consequence of intimidation, of graves being dug opposite the houses of some of the voters, Graves were dug opposite to the houses of some of the voters?—Yes, in this townland of Driminacreeher; on the other townland of Derrihelin, upon which the six voters were, some were obliged to go from their houses and conceal themselves. Mr. Lefroy: Upon that townland, after the last election, were not the tenants refused assistance to mow their land?—I understood the labourers would not assist to take their crops out, to reap their corn; but I did not hear of any thing else. They told me they dare not go out to fair or market; they all voted with their landlord. Mr. O'Conaell: Have any been actually injured?—Not personally; they have been injured in pocket, so far that they could not get their corn purchased in the town of Drumleish when they brought it there, and in other instances they were obliged to send it out in strangers' names, that they should not tell who it belonged to. But their persons have not been injured? —Not that I know of. Nor their property, by any violence?—Yes, their houses were attacked; I made them an allowance for their windows, which they said had been broken and their doors smashed in. Was that before or after the election?—It was after. The intimidation that had been resorted to, accounted for the introduction of the covenant; nevertheless, it had been alleged, that the leases were invalid, that the tenants who had qualified under them had been guilty of perjury, to which the landlord was accessory. One circumstance, which more especially showed the absurdity of the accusation which had been made, was, that although the leases in question were all produced at a very strongly contested registry, over which a gentleman presided as revising barrister who was never suspected of any attachment to Conservative principles, the validity of them was never once contested. Was it likely that, had they been invalid, the revising barrister, under such circumstances, would have allowed the tenants who claimed under them, to be placed on the registry? Two petitions also were presented against the return of the Members for whom these tenants voted, but no charge was made of the invalidity of these leases, which would certainly have been done had any ground existed, as the petitioning candidate had only been beaten by a majority of two, which majority proof of the invalidity of the leases would have destroyed. He thought these facts ought to satisfy the House that the leases were not invalid, and that the qualifications were sound. He would stake his professional character that the leases were not invalid. In addition to this, some of the most eminent conveyancers on this side of the water were of opinion, that the covenants in question did not in any respect invalidate the leases.

Mr. M. J. O'Connell

said, that his objection was, that the voters could not be entitled to the franchise when they were subject to be turned out by their landlords at six months' notice. In answer to the Opinion of the right hon. Gentleman, he would only observe, that the question of the validity of one of these qualifications was brought before Mr. Tighe, the assistant-barrister for the county of Longford, who rejected it on the ground referred to.

Mr. Sergeant Jackson

could state an additional fact to that stated by the hon. Member for Kerry; and that was, that on Mr. Tighe returning to Dublin, and conferring with other Members of the legal profession, he became convinced that his decision in the case in question was erroneous, and he intimated that if the same claims were brought forward again, he would admit them.

Sir M. Chapman

begged to contradict, from beginning to end, the statement of the learned Sergeant. So far from Mr. Tighe having any doubt of his decision, he still adhered to it. Not a single appeal had been lodged against them. He regretted that he had not with him a letter which he had received from Mr. Tighe, but he would be happy to afford the right hon. Gentleman, or the learned Sergeant, an opportunity of seeing it.

Order of the day discharged, and the committee was fixed for the 4th of June.