§ Viscount Morpeth,
in rising to move for leave to introduce the bill of which he had given notice, said:—The importance of the question to which the motion I am about to submit refers, and the special interest attached to it as the pivot on which the political struggles of parties have turned, and the fact of it bringing me into something like rivalry with my noble Friend, the Member for North Lancashire, as regards the other Irish Registration Bill, in the way in which rivalry between us only can exist—namely, as to the quality of the measures, certainly not as to the qualifications of their proposers—these circumstances compel me to request that the House will, upon this occasion, honour me both with their attention and indulgence. Whenever this subject has been before us on previous occasions, it has been, as was correctly stated by my noble Friend opposite on a preceding evening, acknowledged, almost on all hands, that there are abuses and imperfections attached to the present system and practice of Registration in Ireland, which both admit of and call for the application of a remedy. As to the precise extent of these abuses, and the comparative degree in which fraud is practised either in this country or Scotland, 275 there may be, and I believe has been, ground for controversy; still, it is generally admitted that there are means and facilities for fraud connected with the present system of Registration in Ireland, and that occasional instances of fraud have taken place, is scarcely denied by any one who has addressed himself to the subject. The points which have been more particularly adverted to in discussion are the system of certificates, and the facilities afforded thereby for the fraudulent personation of either dead or absent parties, and the retention of persons on the register after the qualification, by means of which they had originally been placed, had ceased to exist, without any opportunity for subsequent correction or revision during the whole period for which the register remained in force, which, under the Irish Reform Law, is eight years. These certainly are practices which no man can stand up to defend—which every one who has addressed himself to the subject has, at least, professed himself anxious to correct. It therefore follows, that in any measure which the Government may bring forward, they will be anxious to correct such palpable and obvious abuses as those to which I have referred. The unequal and one-sided system of appeal which is confined to an appeal in favour of the franchise being limited to the complainant, and not granted to the objector, has also formed the subject of complaint. I will first apply myself to appeals with respect to matters of fact, which, under the Irish Reform Act, must of necessity be fully sifted and decided before a tribunal duly and specially constituted for that purpose. I think that where the facts of the case have been gone into and substantiated by the evidence which the Irish Reform Act, and that alone, requires at the time of registration, by the production of title deeds and other documents, and by viva voce evidence, none of which it might be easy, or, indeed, possible to collect and bring again together at another time, at another place, and before another tribunal, it is not consonant with the general objects involved in the Reform Act, nor with the easy acquisition of a great public right to grant any power of appeal arising out of a matter of fact. I think, however, it is fair and proper to give the power of appeal both against and in favour of the franchise—to the objector as well as the claimant on any point of law, and in all matters involving 276 the construction of the Act of Parliament and the legal merits of the case, provided always—and it is an important proviso, and one on which I have uniformly insisted when I addressed myself to this part of the subject—that, in the first place, the franchise be placed on a clear, distinct, and ascertained basis, and not on one, as the present, avowedly is of ambiguous and doubtful interpretation. I will not leave the entire Irish people to a second ordeal before an annual professional tribunal where the points will be adjudicated according to the strict technical interpretations of law. I have thus far indicated the length to which I am prepared to go in common with the noble Lord opposite, and I am sure it cannot be otherwise than pleasing to me to travel in his company as long as I am able. Sir, we are prepared, as he is, utterly to abolish the use of certificates, and to make the register, when it shall have been framed under due precautions, the test of the right of voting at the time of election. We are prepared to allow a periodical revision, and an appeal both ways—to the objector as well as the claimant—if Parliament shall have first consented to place the franchise on a clear and intelligible footing. With regard to the time of this periodical revision, I am content to take the same period as that which has been selected by my noble Friend, namely, that it shall occur once in every year. But while I limit the revision to take place at the interval of one year, I cannot consent to give up the point for which I combatted last year, though, I admit, without success, which is to deprive the Irish voter of that facility and advantage which he now enjoys, of preferring his claim to be registered by the assistant barrister every quarter at the ordinary quarter sessions. This is a privilege and an advantage he has long enjoyed, which has incorporated itself with the habits and customs of his life, and I cannot consent to take away from him that of which he has been so long in possession. When the voter is once placed on the register, I propose he shall be liable to have his title to vote annually called into question at the periodical revision. At the same time, if nothing has occurred which in any manner alters the original qualification in virtue of which he was placed upon the register—if nothing has taken place to disturb that—if every thing remains the same, I am content with the strict and searching investigation which is prescribed by the Reform Act. I do not 277 wish to make his vote subject to any further disturbance. I cannot, then, assent to that part of the scheme of the noble Lord which makes the voter, after his claim has been regularly registered, liable to have that claim called in question every year, which would leave that vote which had been judged good and valid in one year, liable to be called in question the next, and so on to all "recorded time." And it should be borne in mind that this is no improbable or hypothetical case that I am stating. It is one that roust be acknowledged to be most likely to occur in Ireland. Suppose there is an assistant barrister who takes the narrower and more limited view of the franchise: he rejects a claim, and the claimant appeals to the judge who takes the more enlarged and liberal view of the franchise. The judge places the man upon the register; but the same claimant is liable to be called again before the assistant barrister, who makes it a point of duty to exclude him. So likewise with respect to the second appeal of the noble Lord opposite. A man claims before an assistant barrister who takes the enlarged view of the franchise, and his claim is admitted. An appeal is made to the judge whose view of the franchise is limited, and he discards the name. And thus it might happen every year that a claim, after having been placed upon the register by an assistant barrister of more liberal views, might be liable to be thrust out of it by a judge of assize. The noble Lord intimated on Tuesday in the course of his speech that he was willing to lop off some of the toppings of that hydra-headed schedule appended to his bill, so far as regarded the different heading of the claims. I therefore think we shall not quarrel upon this part of the subject. For my own part, I am contented with what the Reform Bill specifics as necessary to be stated by the voter. With respect to the court of appeal, I propose to retain the same provisions which were introduced into the bill brought into this House by my right hon. and learned friend the Attorney-general for Ireland in the course of last Session, and which were also the same as those intended to be applied to England by my noble Friend the Secretary for the colonies. I assent to the weight of those arguments which make against the project of the judges of the land being constituted into a new court of appeal; for I think that such an office must have a tendency to contaminate their most important and solemn functions. Far be it 278 from me, indeed, to say that there would be the actual existence, but it is certain there might be the imputation of an existence of political and party feeling in their decisions, and thus might arise a tendency to lower their high office and station in the public estimation. I propose, therefore, instead of the plan introduced by the noble Lord in his bill, that the new court of appeal shall consist of three barristers, of certain standing in their profession, to be appointed by the Speaker of the House of Commons. Having mentioned the court of appeal, I am brought, by a natural transition, to speak on the question of the franchise. The noble Lord, in his speech the other night, seemed to intimate that I was, or should be, guilty of some inconsistency in mixing up the question of the franchise with the other parts of the registration code when called upon to amend it. Sir, so far from admitting this, I am sure it will be acknowledged that I have always stated in this House that it would be expedient at any time, and in any point of view, and absolutely essential before we constituted a second court of appeal to put the franchise on a distinct and ascertained basis. I do not think that any honourable Member who has attended to the course and current of events relating to this question—who has marked what has taken place in Ireland—can doubt the propriety and expediency of combining these subjects together. What is the actual state of things? We find, with respect to the qualification for the right to vote—with respect to the effect of the very words which form the elective franchise of the whole people of Ireland, first, that the opinion of the judges is divided; next, that the opinion of the assistant-barristers is divided. Upon leaving the judgment seat and coming within these walls we find that the opinion of the two great political parties in this House is divided. Nay, further, if we are to give credit to the speeches that have been quoted on both sides—to the speech of the Duke of Richmond—to the speech of the Marquess of Lansdowne, quoted against Lord Melbourne—it would seem that the opinions of the framers themselves of the Reform Bill is divided upon this important question. We find, then, that the judges and the barristers; the framers of the law and its ministers; in a word, that all sides and all parties are equally divided, equally confused, and equally perplexed. All this may be amusement to exercise the ingenuity and talents of the learned func- 279 tionaries of the law, but it is fur from being a source of amusement to the voter. Whatever interpretation you assign to the law; whether you take that definition which for brevity I will call the solvent tenancy; or whether you take the beneficial interest as the scope and meaning of the law, each almost alike involves the temptation to, and endless opportunities for, controversy. Some indeed, have said, that the door is opened for perjury and fraud, but without going so far, I will say that an endless field is afforded for confliction of opinion and confliction of testimony. Matters being so, I appeal to all those hon. Members who take a calm, dispassionate view of the question, whether it be or not expedient to endeavour, at least, to put an end to so unseemly a state of things. It appears to me that it matters but little whether the object be effected by one or two bills, but it appears clear that in a measure professing to remedy the evils of the existing state of registration, to leave this great evil untouched would be effecting little or nothing in the way of sound and statesmanlike legislation. If doubt and uncertainty are characteristic of the present state of the franchise, it must follow that the best remedy is to place it upon such a basis as to leave no room for doubt. It would further be advisable that we should find some basis distinct and independent, a ground disconnected with the franchise itself, and that the basis should be one which furnished a countervailing check against the introduction and operation of such matter as has been hitherto complained of. Sir, we think we find such a basis, comprising the different qualities and recommendations I have described in the valuation for the poor-rate, as prescribed in the recent Poor-law Act for Ireland. This shows on the face of it a distinct and definite sum; it was assessed for a purpose altogether distinct from the franchise, and it would appear to be operative as an effectual countervailing check in preventing men from endeavouring to be put improperly upon the register. The desire, far more prevalent in human nature than a desire to get on the register, the desire to spare himself from extra burden, would prevent a man from trying to be assessed to the Poor-rate for more than his property is worth. I am glad that this view of the case, founded, as I think it is, on reason, has been strikingly and forcibly confirmed by those whose authority I would rather be supported by than any other on this 280 subject, because they are men who take moderate views of the questions of the day, and belong to both sides of politics. The hon. Member for Mallow, Sir D. Norreys, expressed himself as follows: on the qualification of voters, May 28, 1840:—I rise, Sir, for the purpose of expressing my regret that although the hon. and learned Gentleman has introduced a measure to remove doubts connected with the franchise in Ireland, he will still be leaving that franchise open to dispute, and to be decided by opinion, instead of upon fact. I repeat that I deeply regret that the hon. and learned Gentleman, who has paid greater attention to the business and interests of Ireland than any Solicitor-general I have ever yet seen, has not grappled with this difficulty, and at once attempted effectually to remove it; and I certainly think it is a subject well worthy the attention of the Government, now that Ireland has been regularly valued with reference to the rating under the Poor-law, to consider whether a plan to effect this object might not be formed, taking some standard of rating under the Poor-law upon which a man might claim the exercise of the franchise. According to the bill now brought forward by the hon. and learned Gentleman, proof of value will still be given on oath, and still be met by proof on oath of the contrary. Landlords will still be arrayed against their tenantry, and the tenantry against their landlords, differences which this subject, more than any other, tends to promote. Why not, then, now that the valuation under the Poor-law Act has been taken, adopt some standard of qualification for the franchise, that shall establish it on fact, and render it incapable of being questioned or contradicted? I can only say that I hope some such plan as this may be adopted: and I should be glad to see such a proposition originate with the hon. and learned Gentleman, convinced, as I am, that such a measure would conduce to the welfare of Ireland, by conciliating both landlords and tenants, and rendering votes secure, instead of uncertain and open to every sort of objection, as under the present most vexatious system.I will also read to the House an extract from the speech of the hon. Member for Monaghan, Mr. Lucas.I agree with the hon. Baronet who has just sat down, that the measure now proposed will not remove the evils complained of. I think it will, on the contrary, have the effect of fixing and rendering permanent the evils which at present exist. With respect to the observations that the hon. and learned Gentleman has addressed to the House, as to the mode of ascertaining the franchise in Ireland. I shall feel myself guilty of a dereliction of my duty, if I did not express my concurrence in what has just fallen from the hon. Baronet the Member for Mallow. For my own part, I cannot refrain from saying, that I think a 281 higher franchise for Parliamentary electors would be preferable to a low one; but putting that party consideration out of view, and looking only to the interests of the country at large, I do think that the hon. and learned Gentleman's proposed mode of ascertaining the franchise is one which he will himself, hereafter, have cause to regret; and will remove none (on the contrary, will produce many more) of the evils we have now to complain of.I omit a few sentences here which do not seem to bear so much upon the point. The hon. Member continues:—It would therefore be decidedly better to take some other standard of the value of property which shall confer the elective franchise. The ordnance, or Poor-law valuation, as suggested by the hon. Member for Mallow, might be adopted for this purpose; and even valuations by competent surveyors; though these, I admit, are frequently liable to the objections of uncertainty, and therefore inferior to the other tests, would be preferable to the indefinite criterion now proposed. I must say, therefore, that I think the hon. and learned Gentleman will do better to adopt one of those tests of value; and at all events, I will venture to predict that, when this question shall come before the House, and the principle of this bill of the hon. and learned Gentleman shall have to be determined upon, the good sense of the English Gentlemen in this House will prevent such a measure as the one now proposed, from passing into a law.Sir, I will not quote the remarks which I offered on that occasion, although I confess I am under a strong temptation to do so, if only for the purpose of showing how little I am liable to the charge of inconsistency in attempting to connect the valuation of the Poor-law with the elective franchise. I then distinctly recorded the opinion how desirable I thought such a connection would he. I presume my noble Friend, in making that charge against me, wished to punish me for the single instance in which I supported him with a vote. I now pass on, Sir, to matter which is far more worthy the attention of this House than anything I may have advanced. I mean. Sir, in a speech made, not upon the question of registration, nor upon the Poor-law, but bearing precisely upon the point we have under discussion—a speech made upon the question of Irish municipal corporations on the 29th of May, 1838, by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth, whose absence upon this occasion I much regret. The observations then made by the right hon. Gentleman were distinctly, and I think most strikingly con- 282 clusive upon the point I am endeavouring to urge. Those observations were as follow:—I will not consent to any franchise which may produce the uncertainty which has arisen under the act for the constitution of the elective franchise for Members of Parliament. I will not consent to increase the necessity for appointing a committee of inquiry to ascertain how far the carding out of this bill depends on fictitious votes. I will leave it to the committee, however, and I will say, that it is incumbent on Parliament to define what the franchise shall be. I find that the present test is unsatisfactory, and I would depend on no test which involves the mere principle of valuation. I think that that must be a bad principle which holds out the temptation to lake false oaths. That is entirely unsatisfactory; and I must say, that I expect the concurrence of the greater proportion of this House, in the opinion, that whatever franchise is granted, ought to be a bona fide one. We ought to know what is the franchise intended to be given; and it is necessary to adopt such an one as that no temptation shall be held out to commit fraud in respect of it, as well for the sake of the morality as of the prosperity of the people; and I must repeat, that such a franchise must be determined upon as will not even afford the excuse for fraud. For my own part, I conceive, that by far the most effectual franchise is that, which in itself will act as a check upon the constituents, and that which is adopted under the Poor-law is the best which could be determined upon; because the House must agree that persons who are included in the franchise under that law, are prevented from demanding an entail of it, to which they are not entitled, by their power of voting being proportionate only to their rental; and persons who are rated at a rental larger than they actually pay, are at all times desirous of getting their rates lowered, in preference to enjoying any extended right of voting. In that system, then, there is a constant check upon the voters; and, although it is possible that it could not be applied strictly according to the same rule, in this case, yet a corresponding principle might be acted upon.This extract strikingly confirms the view I have taken, that it would be most desirable to have the criterion of an ascertained amount, and one which supplies a check against attempts to be improperly placed on the register. Sir, I have thus attempted to defend the course pursued by her Majesty's Ministers, on the ground both of reason and authority. But having got thus far, and asking the House to assent to the principle of fixing the franchise on the valuation under the Poor-law, I am led to what is by no means the least difficult part of my undertaking; namely, to 283 state in what mode it shall be applied to the franchise, and at what amount of rating the franchise shall be fixed. I can hardly hope that what I have to propose will be equally acceptable to all parties in this House. I can only hope that a brief and clear statement, such as I can place before this House, will induce the House to believe that the course I am proposing is founded on honest motives, and upon reasonable grounds. Whenever the notion of the Poor-law valuation being applied to the franchise has been broached in this House, it has been apprehended by those who are friendly to a liberal interpretation of the franchise, that it would have the effect of cutting it down. It has been supposed, with any deduction from the gross value, and with the desire that would be inherent in the mind of every person liable to be rated, to have his amount of contribution reduced to the lowest possible sum, that almost any amount of value connected with the Poor-law, would have the practical effect of raising the standard of the elective franchise higher than is required by the Reform Act now in force. When I have before expressed in this House, as I have already intimated, my own opinion that it would be expedient to connect the standard of the elective franchise with the valuation to the rates under the Poor-law, as the most satisfactory and complete assessment of the kind with which we are furnished, I have had at the same time to explain that, in previous years, we were not furnished with sufficient information as to the working and result of the Poor-law, and that, consequently, it would be premature to proceed to final legislation on such a measure. I fear that, even at this day, we are not furnished with as much information as could be wished on a point of so much importance, but such as we could gain we thought it our duty to acquire and collect, and digest as we best could, so far as regarded the leading results. After the close of the last Session, my right hon. and learned Friend near me put himself in communication with the Poor-law commissioners for Ireland, in order to obtain information from them of such a nature as would be most calculated to throw light upon the subject, and also with regard to the working and results of the whole system as applied to different parts of the country, in all the varieties of position. My right hon. and learned Friend, the Attorney-General for Ireland, then selected two gentlemen of his 284 own profession, upon whose character and intelligence he could place the fullest reliance, and they were directed to repair to such unions as were pointed out, as containing materials for the fullest and best information, and there upon the spot diligently to inquire into the nature of the valuations, the mode in which they were drawn up, and, where possible, to compare them with the list of registered electors under the Reform Act. In pursuance of these instructions, those Gentlemen visited the following unions;—Balrothery,County Dublin; Longford, Longford; Lurgan, Armagh, Down, and Antrim; Belfast, Down, and Antrim; Parsonstown, King's County; Clonmel, Tipperary; Carrick, Tipperary, Waterford, and Kilkenny; Scariff, Clare; Fermoy, Cork; and Bandon, Cork. It certainly is to be wished that the report was more comprehensive, but from the incomplete state in which these Gentlemen found many of the valuations, it was impossible it could be so, However, the different circumstances which they observed in the various districts they visited, give us reason to think that the results they have obtained afford a fair sample of what may be obtained over the whole surface of Ireland. The report states:—We inspected the rate-books and the minute-books of the boards of guardians, and we extracted the various resolutions passed in each union with reference to the valuation. The proceedings with reference to valuation bear some traces of uniformity in all the unions. The general course followed was, to appoint a committee of three or more guardians, to inquire into existing surveys and valuations, and to report whether they were available or sufficient for the purposes of the poor-rate. The committee so appointed in all the unions that we visited, came finally to the resolution that the existing surveys and valuations were insufficient, and that new valuations were necessary. In some unions the number of valuations was two, in others three; in some only one. We found in the unions which we visited that the valuators had generally traversed each district of the union; ascertained, as well as circumstances enabled them, the boundaries of each farm; set an acreable value on the land comprised in it, generally added some small sum for the house, and finally entered in the rate book, ' net annual value ' of the whole tenement, according to the interpretation which, under the influence of the Poor-law commissioners, the guardians and inhabitants of the union, and their own opinion, attributed to that phrase. We found an opinion prevailing in every union which we visited that the valuation under the poor-law would 285 probably influence landlords, and perhaps be adopted by some of them in determining the amount of rent at which they would in future let the farms on their estates. An opinion is also generally prevalent that the valuation will probably at some future time be made the basis of other public assessments. By the operation of the 74th section of the act, the lower the test of value adopted in the union, the less the proportion of the rate which is to be paid by the tenantry, and the greater that of the landlords. A desire exists in every union, that the relative value of the tenements within it should be carefully ascertained, so that each locality of the union and each tenement may bear their fair proportion of the common burden. But, probably from the causes already referred to, the inhabitants generally wish the valuators to adopt a low scale of value. In this desire the majority of the board of guardians in every union we have visited, concurred. And the landlords in general do not appear to be induced, even by the operation of the 47th section, to take any active steps for the purpose of having a high value set upon their estates in the rate-book of the union; and it may be questioned whether any of the landlords feel that they would have a lasting interest in doing so. The impulse towards a low valuation is nearly universal. We made minute inquiries in each union with a view to ascertain what test of value had in fact been adopted. The test of value enjoined by the Poor Relief Act is the rent at which, one year with another, the tenement in its actual state might be reasonably expected to let from year to year, the probable annual average costs of the repairs, insurance, and other expences, if any, necessary to maintain it in its actual stale, and all rates, taxes, and public charges, except tithe, being paid by the tenant. In all the unions, however various the forms of language adopted by the valuators in their evidence, we found that the test of value which had been in fact adopted in valuing a tenement was the rent at which a good landlord ought, in their opinion, to let it. And in applying this test the valuators have almost universally reduced their valuations below the rents even of the most indulgent landlords in Ireland.
§ Viscount Morpeth
Mr. Hague and Mr. Vesey. The noble Lord then proceeded to read an extract from that part of the report relating to the rural districts of Belfast, as follows:—In our reports from the rural districts of Belfast, it will be found that wherever the valuation of a tenement coincided with the rent actually paid, the tenant could, in fact, if he were quitting the farm, sell his interest or his good-will, at from 10l. to 15l. an acre. In 286 nine out of the eleven rural divisions of the union the actual rents exceeded the valuation in proportions varying from 5 to 30 per cent. ' In the division of Castlereagh, it appears that the rent and the valuation are nearly equal. In this division, therefore, the valuators were of opinion that the rents were fair as between landlord and tenant. It is in this division, that the farm of John Orr, the valuator, is situate. Lord Downshire is the landlord.' 'He states that in High-street the valuation is sometimes 10 per cent, under the rate actually paid. He has no doubt that those rents (viz., the rents in High-street) are paid.I may also observe that in Clonmel, union, the valuators in all cases inquired into the rents, and found them higher than the value which they set upon the tenements. The following are the words of the report; relating to that district:—The standard of value adopted by them is nearly the same as that adopted by the other valuators whom I had previously examined. They formed in their own minds a scale of living, and valued the land at what a solvent tenant could afford to pay for the land, after having out of the produce of it maintained himself and family according to the scale laid down. That scale was merely a sufficiency of bread and milk every day for himself and his family, and meat two or three times a week, and comfortable clothing for himself and family.In our reports from Lurgan, it will be found that even farms, the tenants of which could get 15l. or 20l. an acre for their interest, the valuation was still below the rent. 'In making the valuation, he always preserved an interest of 10l. an English acre to the tenant; of course he was to have his profit besides.' 'Took the 10l. an English acre as the lowest which the tenant ought to have, under all circumstances.' 'On being asked what he had valued that land at, it appeared that he had valued it only at 26s. an English acre, although in fact it brought 27s or 27s. 6d., and 20l. an acre as a fine. He adds that he valued some land at 26s. which was probably let at 27s. 6d., that land would, if sold, bring more than 20l. an acre; it would bring from 20l. to 30l., and thinks that the purchaser could make his money of the land, if he purchased it at that rate.' He added that he thought the land above referred to, which was let at 27s. 6d., and which had been valued by him at 20s. or 21s., would bring from 42s. to 45s., if set up to be let to the highest bidder; 'and he thought it would bring that from a solvent tenant.' But he never took as a test what land would bring if set up to be let at the highest rate that a solvent tenant would pay. 'There is a valuation in the town of Lurgan, which was made under the Paving and Lighting Act, 9 Geo. 4th, c. 82, which was adopted there about ten years ago. The valuation of the union under the Poor-law, when compared 287 with the preceding valuation of the town of Lurgan, appears about one-third lower.'" "The valuator of Longford stated his valuation to be from one-quarter to one-fifth lower than the rent actually paid. The report from Fermoy union shows the rents actually paid to be sometimes double the valuations inscribed in the Poor-rate book. In Parsonstown, the valuation was from one-quarter to one-fifth lower than the rents. In Scariff, the disparity was still greater. 'That a valuation effected on this principle, must in general be lower than the rent, follows from the valuator having adopted a scale of living for the tenant, above the ordinary situation of the peasantry in this country. Accordingly, Mr. Sampson, in his evidence, states, that in almost all the instances (except on the estate of Colonel Wyndham) his valuation was lower than the rent. He mentions one farm which he valued at 26s. per acre, while the rent paid for it is 35s. per acre.'—Scariff Report. In Carrick, Bahothery, and Naas, the same fact was prominent. In every union the rents were above the valuation.Framed as the valuations have been, if a rating at 10l. in the poor-rate book, combined with the same tenure as is now required by the Reform Act, were made the test of the parliamentary franchise, such a measure would disfranchise a large proportion of those who are now in possession of the right to vote. We compared the rating of the registered electors in each union, in as many instances as the state of the valuations and the books enabled us to make the comparison.
I know not whether, from these facts, the noble Lord (Lord Stanley) opposite may claim a triumph as exhibiting a proof that there are 10l. voters upon the list who ought not to be placed there. Be that as it may, I have thought it right that the House should be in possession of the true and accurate state of the case. The facts and circumstances I have stated go to show that a rated net value of 10l. would range very far indeed above either the solvent tenant test, or the occupier's profit test; and I think it is also clear that there are 288 instances, and not a few, in which even a rated net value of 5l. would, in fact, raise the standard for the elective franchise higher than is now, under circumstances without any suspicion or allegation of abuse, practically enforced under the Reform Act. I am aware that, if the test of rating by the poor-law valuation were applied to the elective franchise, then there would be in some instances, and to a certain extent, a counter-motive brought into operation for making a person wish to have himself rated higher. But I think that this would operate very feebly in comparison with that which I hold to be the more natural and inherent feeling in the human breast—a feeling which was so well and forcibly expressed in the speech of the right hon. baronet the Member for Tam-worth, to which I have already referred—a feeling which induces persons to seek to incur the smallest possible amount of pecuniary burden coming home to their own purses and pockets; and it will be remembered that the exercise of the elective franchise is an advantage and a privilege which can only be enjoyed occasionally, and at considerable intervals; whilst the pressure of the poor-law-rate upon the purse and pocket of the persons assessed to it is annual and permanent. This, I apprehend, would operate as a great drawback to the desire that might otherwise exist to be rated above the real value for the sake of acquiring the right to vote. When we are called upon to make a large alteration, and a fresh settlement of the elective franchise in Ireland, it can hardly be expected that we should propose to raise the standard. This, I think, must at once be conceded by those who have given any attention whatever to the statements often made in this House, and which have never been impugned, as, indeed, it is impossible they should be, seeing that they have been drawn from parliamentary and authentic documents, of the absolute and the comparative numbers of those who enjoy the franchise in England and in Ireland. I do not wish to enter at any length upon this part of the subject. I am aware that it is the peculiar province of the hon. and learned Member for Dublin to discuss this view of the question. But still I think I should not do justice to the case I have undertaken—the matter being of great importance—if I did not very briefly, and in a very few instances, call the attention of the House to some of the most striking results and contrasts which are to be ob- 289 served between the number of parliamentary electors in Ireland and the other parts of the United Kingdom. The short statement I am about to make is not so conclusive of the point I am now seeking to establish as it would be if I had the most recent data; because, it is well known, that whilst the population of Ireland, within the last few years, has been largely and rapidly increasing, the number of the registered electors has been at least as largely and as sweepingly diminished. In a few days we shall have, in an authentic, and specific form, the number of electors actually upon (he register in Ireland at the present time. Till that authentic information is afforded all that I can do is to refer to the state of the constituency as it appeared from the register at the end of the year 1837, For the amount of the population I must refer to the return of the census of 1831. I will first call the attention of the House to the disparity in the number of electors in counties in England and Ireland, having a population of less than 100,000. It appears, then, that Monmouthshire, having, in 1831, a population of 85,000, has a constituency of 4,347; whilst Carlow, with a population at the same period of 72,391, had, according to the register of 1837, a constituency of only 1,723. Bedfordshire, with a population of 88,424, has a constituency of 4,434, whilst Lowth, with a population of 94,203, has a constituency of only 989. In the counties having a population of between 100,000 and 200,000, I find that Nottinghamshire, with a population of 103,974, has a constituency of 5,760; whilst Kildare, with a population of 108,424, has only a constituency of 1,445. Berkshire, with a population of 114,362, has a constituency of 5,755; whilst Longford, with a population of 112,000, has only a constituency of 1,770. In the counties having a population of between 200,000 and 300,000, I find that Cheshire, with a population of 260,462, has a constituency of 12,811; whilst Roscommon, with a population of 244,000, has only a constituency of 2,061. In the counties having a population of between 300,000 and 500,000, I find that Somerset, with a population of 327,000, has a constituency of 18,415; whilst Tyrone, with a population of 393,000 has only a constituency of 2,862; and Kent, with a population of 379,267, has a constituency of 15,725; whilst Mayo, with a population of 366,328,hasonly a constituency of 2,057. In addition to this, I may 290 refer to a fact, of which I have been credibly informed, to show how the constituencies of Ireland have since dwindled. It has been ascertained at the recent election for Mayo, that the number of electors now actually upon the register in that county does not exceed—I have received two or three accounts somewhat varying in amount—but I believe I may safely say that the actual number of the electors now upon the register does not exceed 600 or 700. These are the constituencies then which my noble Friend and other Members of the House strive to make us believe are so swelled and vamped up by spurious voters. I know not what object either my noble Friend or his supporters can have in seeking still further to contract their numbers. But this I know, that if the noble Lord and his Friends should succeed in bringing the contraction to the point they aim at, they will place the elective franchise in Ireland upon a footing not known or recognised in any other part of the realm. I will not detain the House by any further reference to documents than just to state the disparity in the number of electors in the two counties in the two kingdoms which have a population of upwards of 500,000. It seems that Yorkshire, the county with which I have the honour of being connected, has a population of 891,795, with a constituency of 47,952; whilst Cork, with a population of 660,554, has only a constituency of 4,888. Now, I think that in this state of circumstances—in this state of contrast between the relative positions of the two countries with respect to the number of those who enjoy the elective franchise, it must be admitted, that it would not be expedient to raise, it any degree, the standard of the franchise now subsisting in Ireland. I have already stated my reasons for believing that a very considerable nominal reduction of value—supposing you applied the test of the Poor-law valuation—would practically, and in effect, scarcely reduce the bonâ fide amount of value below what is now prescribed by the Reform Act. Of course it would be hopeless and chimerical in us to attempt to fix upon any precise sum which should act as the precise equivalent for the amount of value now prescribed by the Reform Act. But I think that the Poor-law Act, of which we avail ourselves for testing the reality of the value, will also afford a fair criterion for fixing its amount. The 72d section of the Poor-law Act says,
No. of £10 elections whose rating could be ascertained. No. of the preceding who appeared rated at sums under £10. No. of ditto who appeared rated at sums under £5. Balrothery 200 50 17 Lurgan 348 71 6 Parsonstown 220 79 17 Scariff 66 33 20 Longford 167 9 0Provided always, and be it enacted, that 291 in any case where the net annual value of any property shall not amount to 5l., if the occupier, and his immediate lessor, by any writing under their hands, shall require, and if the guardians of the union, wherein such property is situate shall by a minute of their board agree thereto, such immediate lessor shall be rated instead of such occupier; and such rebate from the rate may be made (not exceeding ten percent.) as the guardians shall by such minute allow; and such minute, until altered as hereinafter provided, shall bind such lessor, his heirs, and assigns, unless the commissioners shall at any time disallow the same or any part thereof, which shall thenceforth, so far as the same shall be disallowed, be of no effect; and such minute shall in no case be altered or rescinded by the guardians until twelve months after the making or last previous alteration thereof, not within six months after the consent of the occupier and lessor to be effected by the alteration shall have been given to such alteration; provided, nevertheless, that the occupier of any property, the immediate lessor of whom shall have been so charged, shall be entitled to be rated, on giving to the board of guardians of the union in which such property is situate, six month's notice, according to the form contained in the 3rd schedule to this Act annexed.Now, I should propose to fix the standard for the elective franchise at the same amount of value at which the Poor-law Act fixes the liability of the occupier to payment as a matter of necessity at that amount which must be discharged by the occupier himself, and which cannot be shifted upon the owner, or upon any other person. That is to say, if you apply the test of the Poor-law valuation, I would take as the amount of rate requisite to give the elective franchise a rated net value of 5l. I do not disguise from myself, that in the course of time this may lead to some increase in the number of those who enjoy the elective franchise. do not think it would give rise to any sudden or violent increase. I think it would operate very slowly, and that it would only extend the franchise in a degree that would be perfectly proportionate with the increasing wealth and resources of the country. The standard for the franchise, whatever it be, must be fixed and definite, and it must be guarded, as far as it can be guarded, against the possibility of fraud or collision. I do not propose to effect any material alteration in the tenure under which the elective franchise is at present enjoyed. I know that there are some who are for fixing the franchise purely upon rating, without any reference to tenure, making the right of 292 voting entirely independent of the period of the interest which the occupier has in. his holding; and I know that one or two very plausible reasons might be stated in defence of that principle. But I think it would be a novel principle in a constitutional point of view. When I refer to the only antecedent that we have of it, to the 50l. tenant-at-will clause, in the English Reform Act, I own that the practical working of that clause, as far as it has yet been developed, does not fill me with a wish to introduce a similar principle upon a more extended scale into the constituency of Ireland. It is true, that this innovation would make the occupier, as to his right of voting, entirely independent of his landlord. But, as we now frequently hear, whether justly or not, of the mode in which landlords deal with the tenants who do not coincide with them in political views, I think that opening to them the temptation of voting when they have no right of possession, would expose a far larger and more helpless class to a much more real dependence upon their landlord, and to much more severe risks of retaliation than it would be either prudent or proper to hazard. Much as I value the enlargement and extension of the franchise, I own I set a higher value upon the harmony and good-will of the several classes of society; and while I would discountenance, and do what in me lay, to suppress all unauthorised aggression, all tyrannical oppression of one class upon another, I would not originate any proposition which I think would have the effect of materially heightening and aggravating the dependence of the humbler upon the higher classes. I therefore would propose to annex to the qualification of a tenement rated at the net annual value of 5l., an interest in the holding of not less than fourteen years, being the lowest tenure at present retained in the Irish Reform Act, and within which two denominations of electors are comprised. I have now gone through the main provisions of the measure which I intend to propose to the consideration of the House. There are of course some subordinate plans and arrangements that must necessarily arise out of it; but these are its principal features;—comprising, annual revision upon all new matter; a right of appeal both ways upon all points of law, and the fixing of the franchise upon the Poor-law valuation; which last great alteration, if the House shall be contented to adopt it, will, as it seems to me, go very 293 far to dispense with the necessity for the other two, inasmuch as that, if you have a fixed and ascertained basis, liable to no fraud, leading to no dispute, susceptible of no contradiction, you will scarcely have room or opportunity for revision or appeal. This is the great superiority which I think the amended registration code, as I now propose it, has over that which is tendered to us by the noble Lord. As a system of registration the noble Lord's may appear the more complete in all its parts, especially if his wish be to enthral the voter in the meshes of a tangled and complicated machinery, out of which, in most instances, it may be impossible for him to escape. But with an unsettled and disputed franchise the noble Lord's plan would still carry with it the seeds of endless doubt and conflict, and would support the continued array of antagonist passions and antagonist parties in Ireland, until at length there would be no means by which these evils could be overcome, except by that process—for which I confess the bill seems likewise admirably calculated—the process of checking and smothering the elective franchise altogether. On the other hand, the measure which I now humbly tender to the preference of the House, puts fin end, almost at once, to every litigated or controverted point, appeals to a test that is at once distinctly ascertained and permanently recorded—supplies in itself a countervailing and counteracting check against the introduction of any abuse, and comes down to us recommended by the combined suffrages of the best authorities. That the measure I have now stated will meet with universal acquiescence, of course I cannot be sanguine enough to anticipate; but I cannot divest myself of the hope, that what I now propose, the more it shall be considered, the more it shall be canvassed, will commend itself to the deliberate acquiescence of the most rational men of all parties, and to the general acquiescence of the country. With this hope, and this faith, I move for leave to bring in a bill to amend the law relating to the qualification and registration of Parliamentary voters in Ireland.
Under any circumstances I should have followed the example which was set me the other evening, by the noble Lord, the Secretary for the Colonies (Lord John Russell), and upon the motion of the noble Lord, the Secretary for Ireland, to introduce either his bill, as it originally stood for "the registration of Parliamen- 294 tary electors," or as it has been altered within the last eight-and-forty hours, for "the amendment of the law relating to the qualification as well as the registration of Parliamentary voters;" I say, under any circumstances, I should have followed the example set me by the noble Lord the other night, and abstained upon the introduction of this bill from offering either any opposition to it or any lengthened observations upon its contents. But if I should have done so under any circumstances, more especially am I called upon most cautiously to abstain from making any observations when the noble Lord introduces by way of postscript, into a bill professing to have for its object the amendment of the law relating to the registration of voters in Ireland, a clause affecting the qualification of voters, which in effect would amount to nothing short of a new Reform Bill for Ireland. Yes, the noble Lord now wishes us to agree to a new Reform Bill for Ireland, founded upon principles unheard of in England, and never dreamed of by any human being as applied to Scotland. To imagine that the noble Lord can introduce this important postscript into his bill, and that it should not have the effect, whatever his intention may be, of rendering it utterly impossible to carry the measure in the present Session of Parliament, is what I cannot for a moment doubt. Up to the present moment the House has been not only without notice of the nature of the measure which the noble Lord intended to bring forward, but actually without any information beyond that which the noble Lord has himself quoted this evening, upon which it could found any possible criterion by which—I will not say to judge, but even to guess, of the probable result of the measure which the noble Lord has opened to us. Upon what ground is it that the noble Lord founds his proposed alteration of the whole system in Ireland? Upon what ground is it that he proposes to introduce into Ireland so wide a departure from the law of England and of Scotland? Upon the information of two gentlemen, friends, as he states of the right hon. and learned Attorney-general for Ireland, who have been sent privately by the noble Lord to the ten Poor-law unions which have been formed in that country—who bring back their returns from those unions, which the noble Lord reads to us in Parliament from the manuscript as he has received them—which the noble Lord has not even informed us he meant to Jay upon the 295 Table of the House for our guidance; but upon which the noble Lord considers himself justified in calling upon Parliament for the enormous alterations he now proposes to us. It is impossible, listening to the noble Lord when he reads the statements of these Gentlemen, derived as they have been from the various guardians of the ten unions which they visited, in all of which it appears that a different and varying principle of assessment has been observed—it is impossible, I say, to pursue the noble Lord through those statements and ascertain upon what principle it is that this Poor-law valuation, upon which he rests the whole fabric of his measure, has been conducted. But, as well as I could collect, from the statement of the noble Lord, it appears—I hardly know whether I mistook the noble Lord's reading, whether I am to believe the evidence of my own senses, whether I am not labouring under some strange mis-impression as to the noble Lord's meaning and intention; but, as well as I could collect from the noble Lord's statement, I understood him to tell us that these valuations have been founded, as he considers, upon the net value of the property according to the amount of rent, at which a fair and justly dealing landlord might be expected to let it to a tenant. And yet the noble Lord tells us that valuations so founded, giving to the whole of the property the net value, independent of any deductions of 5l. or 10l., are found to be fifty per cent, and 100 per cent, too high for the persons who actually are registered at this moment as electors having a 10l. beneficial interest. The noble Lord tells us that at Balrothery there are 200 registered 10l. voters; 200 men, who in the holdings which they occupy are supposed, under any construction of the existing law, to have, in some shape or other, a beneficial interest of 10l. a-year arising out of the property on which they live. The noble Lord tells us, that of these 200 registered electors he finds no less than fifty, the whole value of whose property does not exceed 10l., and not less than seventeen, the whole of whose property, if sold in the market to-morrow, would not produce more than 5l. a-year. Yet every one of these persons are registered as having a clear beneficial interest in their holdings, over and above the rent, of 10l. Well might the noble Lord think that he was giving me a triumph when he mentioned this fact. I could hardly have believed 296 that the system of fraud under the existing law could, in any instance, have been carried to such an extent as I now learn it has been from the statement of the noble Lord. The noble Lord, says, that the measure he now proposes is a large alteration of the existing system, and that it is a fresh settlement of the franchise in Ireland. There can be no doubt of these two facts. I will not follow the noble Lord through the details into which he has entered upon a topic which he very properly remarked might be considered as the exclusive property of the hon. and learned Member for Dublin—I mean the comparative proportion of representation and population in the various counties of England and Ireland. I should like, however, to know distinctly from the noble Lord, and from her Majesty's Government, whether they now mean to declare that it was the intention of the authors of the Reform Bill, that the qualification for the elective franchise should be based upon population and not upon property. I, as a Member of Lord Grey's Government, always understood that it was distinctly stated by every Member of that Government, that it was upon property only that the qualification was to be based—that the right to vote should depend, not upon the gross amount of the population of any town or county, but upon the number of that population who were in possession of a certain amount of property, which property should enable them to hold such a station of respectability in society as might be expected to permit them to exercise the elective franchise with honesty and independence. I do not think I shall have a denial of this fact from the noble Lord, the Secretary for the Colonies. I will now ask the noble Lord, the Secretary for Ireland, and I entreat him to correct me if wrong, whether this is not the basis of the proposition which he now submits for forming the list of Parliamentary electors in Ireland—namely, that every man who occupies a dwelling which, with the land attached, is rated at 5l. net annual value, shall be entitled to exercise the privileges which are now restricted to persons having 10l. beneficial interest? [Viscount Morpeth: With fourteen years' possession.] Just so. I am right then in supposing that I heard from the noble Lord, a proposition to deluge the counties of Ireland by infusing into the constituency every man who has a dwelling and land of the net annual value of 5l., and fourteen years' 297 possession. Every man who has a cabin and a couple of acres of land, with fourteen years' possession, is to be placed upon the constituency, for the purpose of creating in Ireland a body of free and independent voters! I hope I rightly understood the noble Lord. I hope I am not misinterpreting him. I hope, from his silence, I have given his statement as he wished it to be understood by this House and by the country. If I satisfy myself, that I have riot misinterpreted, not misunderstood the noble Lord, I will not now prematurely comment upon one single part of the bill which proposes to purify the constituency of Ireland in the manner disclosed to us this evening. I will offer no opposition to the bill being introduced. I earnestly desire to see the bill printed. Till that be done, I leave it, with the explanation of the noble Lord, to tell its own tale, and to make its own way if it can—with the people of England and the people of Ireland.
§ Viscount Howick,
like his noble Friend who had just sat down, proposed to reserve the full statement of his views upon this subject for a subsequent stage of the bill which the noble Lord the Secretary for Ireland now sought leave to introduce. But as he was last year placed in the very painful situation of being compelled on more than one occasion with reference to this subject to oppose those Friends with whom, during so long a series of years, he had constantly and regularly acted, he could not deny himself the satisfaction now, in this first moment that the measure was brought forward, of declaring at once, and without the slightest hesitation, that to the principle of so much of the bill as related to the alteration of the qualification of voters in Ireland he should give his most hearty concurrence. He stated last year, when the subject was under the consideration of the House, that he was persuaded—indeed the fact was admitted on both sides—that the existing system of registration in Ireland afforded facilities for fraud, and temptation for perjury. It afforded he repeated facilities for breaking through the provisions of the existing law, which it was hardly possible to expect that the people of Ireland could resist. Such being the case, he did not regret the opinion he then expressed, that he was bound to support any measure which would ensure a more satisfactory administration of the existing law. At the same time, however, he had said that if the law itself as 298 well as the mode of administering it was bad, he would concur in the amendment of the law, but while the franchise continued, what it was he would not be a party to any attempt to obviate the inconveniences arising from it by maintaining a mode of registration which afforded facilities for defeating the intentions of the Act of Parliament. He would not consent to any such course, because he believed that by doing so he should be undermining the sanctity of an oath, the feeling of respect for the law of the land, and the great principles of religion and morality which formed the real strength of every country. He then stated that it was for these reasons that he had supported the bill of the noble Lord the Member for North Lancashire, because he believed, and he still believed, that that bill, with a few alterations, would have ensured the means of applying the law in respect of the franchise in a more satisfactory manner than at present. He believed that it would have established—after some alterations which could easily have been introduced—a fair tribunal before which the right of the voter to be placed on the registry could have been ascertained. Believing this, he would not oppose the measure for any temporary purpose or party convenience, nor even to avoid what was infinitely more painful to him, the separation from Friends with whom he was accustomed to vote. At that time he gave a pledge which he was now there to redeem; he had declared that though he concurred fully with the noble Lord in his desire to establish a tribunal which might fairly adjudicate on the claims of persons applying to be put on the registry, his object in doing so was not to restrict the franchise; on the contrary, he was prepared to concur in any satisfactory measure for amending what he considered to be the extremely defective state of the franchise at present existing in Ireland. The principle on which the recommendations of his noble Friend (Lord Morpeth) was founded, he remembered was originally thrown out by the hon. Member for Monaghan (Mr. Lucas), or if it was not, it at all events met with his support. These recommendations seemed to him to rest on the plainest principles of expediency. It might be true that the plan now proposed unheard of in England and undreamt of in Scotland; this he was not prepared to deny; but even though it might be unheard of in England and 299 undreamt of in Scotland, if, as he believed it were, suited to the existing state of society in Ireland, if it were calculated to cure the great evils that now prevailed in that country, he would not be deterred, from any consideration of that kind, from giving it his support; and he would say that he believed it was so adapted to the present state of society in Ireland. With respect to the existing franchise, it was impossible for any man to look around at what was passing before his eyes, and not be convinced that it was wholly inapplicable to that country. What was the meaning which the two great parties in that House attached to the term, beneficial interest, as applicable to holdings in Ireland? It was contended on his side of the House (the Ministerial), and by many able lawyers, that the term beneficial interest meant whatever profit a tenant might make from his holding, including in this definition the produce of his own labour and that of his family. This was justly objected to by the other side of the House, who said that even in Ireland, where wages were so low, a man's labour for a year was worth more than 10l.; consequently, under such a definition, there could be no holding of land so small as not to convey the right of voting, they therefore contend, that the term beneficial interest implies that the person should be able to underlet his land to a solvent tenant at the yearly rent of 10l. If that was to be the valuation under the Reform Bill, he begged to ask, what advantage had it conferred on Ireland? It was impossible not to see that the adoption of such a definition as that of the solvent test would narrow and restrict the franchise of that country in a manner wholly inconsistent with the principles of popular liberty. Both these constructions of the existing law that seemed to him to involve consequences clearly contrary to the intentions of its framers. But if this was the case, if both those definitions failed, if they would put an end to those scenes with which they were familiar in election committees of that House, in which parties are brought forward—a land surveyor on the one side swearing that the land was not worth 10l., and the occupier swearing, on the other, that it was worth that sum—both attaching different meanings to the word, and both justifying thereby, in their own opinions, the oaths they had taken—if, he repeated, they wish to put an end to these abuses, they must be driven to look for a 300 new franchise, and in seeking for that new franchise, what principle is so simple in the existing state of Ireland, so likely to prevent disputes and conflicting swearing, and all the excitement of the present registration—what is so likely to answer all these purposes as to regulate the franchise according to the amount at which land is rated, and make this the test of the value of the holding by which the franchise is to be gained? It appeared to him that such a principle was just and proper; of course it remained for a future stage of the proceeding to consider whether the amount proposed by his noble Friend the Secretary for Ireland, namely 5l. was a proper amount. On that point it was impossible, without further information, to express a definitive opinion; but he would freely state that, as far as his opinion went, he was perfectly prepared to concur in the views taken by his noble Friend. He considered it of extreme importance to the future welfare of Ireland, that they should pass this measure, so that the franchise of Ireland might not be improperly narrowed; and although he considered those statements, which the hon. and learned Member for Dublin had so often repeated last year, of the comparative number of voters in England and Ireland in respect to the population of each country, to be utterly worthless as an argument against establishing an effectual tribunal for deciding on the qualification of the voters, whatever that qualification might be; he was yet of opinion that they were of material importance when they were considering the manner in which the franchise itself should be regulated. He felt too strongly attached to the great principles of popular liberty not to consider it absolutely necessary to fix the franchise in such a manner as that the great body of the people of Ireland might feel that the Gentlemen who represented them in that House did really support the opinions and represent the feelings of the majority. Unhappily it was the misfortune of Ireland, entailed on her by the misgovernment of centuries, that the great bulk of the property in that country was in the hands of persons divided by their strong opinions, and yet stronger prejudices, from the great majority of the population. He regarded that as one of the greatest evils in the present condition of Ireland, but such being its state at the present moment it would be in vain that they had passed Ca- 301 tholic Relief bills—it would be all in vain that they had passed the Reform Bill—if, notwithstanding these measures, the whole political power of that great country was again to be thrown into the hands of a small minority—if that class whose power for the last few years had virtually been put an end to, should again be restored to its former ascendancy. The interval that had elapsed during which Ireland had enjoyed a system of representation which, notwithstanding its imperfections, he might say notwithstanding its gross and glaring defects, still practically secured a community of feeling between the Irish people and their representatives; this interval of freedom, would render perfectly intolerable the restoration now of that ascendancy of a minority which formerly existed. He did not regard the scenes that had taken place during the last two months in that country without great concern and alarm, but be believed that none of the great parties into which that country was divided were free from great and serious blame for the danger which might at present exist in Ireland. He thought that great blame was attachable to the party opposite, who bad been in the habit of holding language and supporting measures which must have been highly distasteful to the great body of the people of Ireland. On the other band, very great blame rested with those who had been accustomed for many months past to represent to the people of Ireland that the British House of Commons, in assenting to several of the stages of a measure which professed for its object the amendment of the tribunal for the registering of electors, had really the intention in seeking to pass that measure to disfranchise the people of Ireland. He thought great and serious responsibility remained with those who represented in this light the act of the majority of the House of Commons adopting a bill, the principal parts of which had at different times been proposed by Ministers themselves. He believed that such a representation of the measure, however unfounded, must have had a most injurious effect on the people of Ireland, who could not be expected to read over and compare together the provisions of long and complicated bills brought into Parliament, and could only judge of the measure from the representations of those in whom they placed confidence. It could not fail to create in them a feeling of soreness 302 and a sense of injustice, the ground on which the foundation of the repeal agitation had been laid. Great blame rested with both these parties, but a still greater blame—he would not shrink even in the presence of the hon. Member himself to declare it—was attributable to the hon. and learned Member for Dublin, for the means he had taken to excite that feeling of dissatisfaction. Entertaining these opinions, he deeply lamented the state of feeling that had been produced; and though be blamed the different parties as accessory in producing it, he was firmly persuaded that if both sides of the House really wished to combat with success the repeal agitation—if they wished to deprive the hon. and learned Member for Dublin of that lever which be well knew how to use with the greatest effect, they must take care in considering this measure so to frame it that the principle of ascendancy could not be restored. He had already, in this first stage of the question, stated more than was his intention to do when he arose. He would not continue further his observations, except once more to repeat that he should not consider himself pledged in any manner to the details which his noble Friend the Secretary for Ireland had sketched out. He entirely concurred in the principle on which the proposed alteration of the franchise was founded. When the bill was printed, be would look into its details, and be anxiously hoped that it would be found to carry into effect the views which he had expressed.
wished, in the first instance, to call the attention of the House to a statement which had been made by the noble Lord on that side of the House, and alluded to by the noble Lord opposite, relating to the registration in the baronry of Balrothery, in the county of Dublin. The statement was, that out of 200 registered voters there were no less than 50, the whole of whose property was not rated at more than 10l. a-year to the Poor-law. Now he wished to inform the House, that the gentleman who had registered those voters, the chairman of Kilmainham, had, up to the time of his elevation to the Bench, been considered as a rigid Conservative, it had even been stated, that that Gentleman had on one occasion appeared in public wearing the Orange badge. He was not aware whether such was the fact, but there could be no doubt 303 as to his political principles, neither could there be any doubt that that gentleman had extreme opinions as to the value. He considered that the test to be applied, was the solvent tenant test, so that these voters had been registered by a gentleman of Conservative principles, and who adopted the highest test of value, and got under the Poor-law valuation 50 out of 200 of the voters thus registered were rated under 10l. That showed the House that the Poor-law valuation was not a low rated valuation. He would confess frankly, that this bill of the noble Lord had given him great satisfaction, and he thought he was entitled to say, that if adopted, it would give satisfaction to the people of Ireland. As the other noble Lord had stated, it would take a strong weapon out of his hands. The noble Lord had said, that he had made a wrong use of that weapon, he would not then enter into a discussion with that subject. The noble Lord was of opinion, that last Session the House had intended fairly by Ireland. Now he was of opinion, that the House had intended to oppress Ireland. The noble Lord looked upon the measure of last Session as one intended for the good regulation of the franchise. He looked upon it as a measure having' for its object to extinguish the franchises of the people of Ireland. But there was a way to solve every doubt, an easy way of contradicting him, and showing he was wrong. He would propose the present measure as a test. If the House agreed to the noble Lord's bill, they would be adopting a measure which would give satisfaction to the people of Ireland, which would do away with every pretence for bringing forward against them the false and foul charge of perjury. It would have the advantage of taking away from every body even the temptation to false swearing. But what if they adopted the measures of the noble Lord opposite? Why, that noble Lord had shrank from defining the franchise—he introduced a registration bill, and although he had taken the trouble to construct a most elaborate machine, when he was asked what the machine was to do, he would not tell. If he went to any manufacturing town in the north of England, and proposed the erection of some most elaborate piece of machinery, the first question which would be proposed to him would be, What do you propose your machinery to do? If he said, "I am unde- 304 cided what sort of article it shall be, but lay out your capital on the machine." He thought the noble Lord would be as much laughed at in Yorkshire as he was disrelished in Ireland. But then the excuse was, it would take up too much time of the House—and the noble Lord had not leisure to define the franchise. But it must be defined somehow. Would they send it to the quarter sessions, and have an appeal every year to the judges? to judges who differed on the subject? When he had addressed the House before he had stated, that seven judges were in favour of the question of the solvent tenant test, but that five were the other way, but there had been a change since. The present Chief Baron had joined the five, so that take it as strongly as they would, there were six to six. Mr. Justice Ball had not had the point brought before him, but if he was of the same opinion as he was when at the bar, then the proportion would be exactly altered, there would be seven of his way of thinking, and five the contrary. Was this the condition in which the people of Ireland should be placed? Could any man impute to the present Chief Baron political motives? He knew this of him—that he was not much employed as an advocate, but he made a most excellent judge. They had a similar instance in this country, the present Lord Chancellor was not a first-rate advocate, but he believed it was admitted, that he was a first-rate judge. The powers requisite for an advocate and for a judge were totally different. He thought the Chief Baron of Ireland had delivered a most satisfactory judgment in respect to the franchise. But the noble Lord's bill would put an end to all this, and an end to all discussion as to the politics of judges. Was it not said, that they came into that House with any politics that would make themselves judges? While this system lasted it must be so, the fairest men would be liable to calumny, and calumny against the bench should not be encouraged by any statesmen. That must, however, continue if they followed the noble Lord's (Lord Stanley's) plan, who refused to define what the franchise was. The Chief Baron decided one way, and Mr. Howley, the chairman of Tipperary decided another way. Here were two men, as far as they could be influenced by it, of the same politics, who differed on the subject. Was this a situation to leave the 305 franchise in? Suppose Judge Crampton went the circuit, he would construe it strictly; if the Chief Baron went he would construe it liberally. All this would be avoided by adopting the bill of the Government. "The noble Lord," continued Mr. O'Connell, "talked of the situation of Ireland. Is it right that he should do so. I may be sneered at by some; but I know more of the situation of Ireland than most men, and I avow that there is among the people of Ireland a strong, an overwhelming, a rooted conviction, that they cannot obtain justice in this House. This is my opinion. Is it, then, more prudent for you—for now you have your choice—to show a disposition to do justice, or to act with oppression. The House has now the opportunity of showing its feelings towards Ireland. And I ask you, is it not wise to do us justice? I don't care what prejudice or bigotry may think, and I believe it is from a notion, that it is good for the Protestant that you act oppressively towards us, though you thereby pay but a bad compliment to the Protestant Church when you make it the ally of injustice and oppression. But, taking the situation of Ireland, this feeling is increasing. And are you at liberty to forget that you may want the right arm of the country? You may want it sooner than you suppose. France is now determined not to go to war at present, but has she made her mind up not to go to war when she is prepared? Are you sure she is not now preparing to go to war? Is not the popular sentiment set at nought by erecting forts round Paris, and are not those who have been thought most anxious for liberty straining every nerve to make Paris formidable to the world? Is not your peace an armed peace, as was said on the first evening of the Session? Is not Germany, is not every state in Europe arming? And are you going at such time to weaken England by making an enemy of Ireland? The noble Lord may display his talent, he may display his prejudice—I won't call it his hatred, or his virulence—towards us, he may display his prejudices virulently, but let him remember, that at no time is it wise or honest to make a country disaffected. At the present time it is totally unsafe to make Ireland disaffected. You will want Ireland, I know not how soon, and no doubt you may have her at the slight purchase of justice; and no doubt, also, you may lose her by doing her in- 306 justice. In one of those despatches of the noble Lord (Lord Palmerston), which should be made the study of this House, the noble Lord writes to Mehemet Ali, "Your Highness must know, that nothing is so difficult as to retain possession of a country, the people of which are disaffected." What is true of Syria, is equally true of Ireland. It is true. I therefore call upon the House—you will not divide to-night, you will have time to think—I call upon those of large fortunes, of great possessions, who live in case and luxury—I call upon the wealthy portion of the community to well bethink themselves, that for the secure enjoyment of all these luxuries, they may want the support of Ireland in the day of battle. They cannot have a braver or a stronger—I call upon them to think of these things, and to make their choice between the curse of Ireland and the noble Lord's bill on the one side, and the blessing of Ireland and the bill of the noble Secretary on the other.
§ Mr. Shaw
was not surprised at the hon. and learned Member for Dublin being satisfied with the measure of the noble Lord, the Secretary for Ireland, for it might as well be called a bill to establish universal suffrage, as one to fix the qualification at 5l. He would remind the House, that it was only last year that they passed the Municipal Corporations Bill, which fixed the qualifications of persons residing in the boroughs at double the extent of that which the noble Lord had now proposed for the county constituency. He thought the proposition monstrous.
§ Mr. Hume
said, that although the hon. and learned Gentleman thought the proposition monstrous, he was more inclined to take the noble Lord's interpretation, which was, that it would give a fait and full representation to the people of Ireland. Was that a monstrous proposition? On the contrary, he thought the proposition a most excellent one, and was quite sure that it would put an end to the discontent and agitation at present existing in Ireland. He would not say more than that he hoped the House of Commons would show to the people of Ireland that they were determined to do them justice.
§ Sir R. Bateson
could not sit still and leave uncontradicted the misrepresentations that had been made on this subject. He would beg to ask, whether there was any county or parish in the province of Ulster that 307 had petitioned against the noble Lord's (Lord Stanley's) bill. He had just returned from that country, and had attended a meeting representing the intelligence and property of Ulster, equalling in those respects all the other three provinces of Ireland, at which not only the bill was approved of, but all the enormous abuses of the present system exposed. Knowing this to be the case—knowing that all ranks and persuasions in that district were in favour of the bill—he could not sit still without contradicting the misrepresentations that had been made.
observed, that every parish in the county with which he was connected had petitioned against the bill of the noble Lord, the Member for North Lancashire. He offered his thanks to the noble Lord, the Secretary for Ireland, for the Bill he had that night moved for leave to introducers he believed it would be productive of great good in Ireland. Nothing but a definition of the franchise would effect the object they had in view, which was to tranquilize the minds of the people of Ireland. The noble Lord, the Member for North Lancashire, was, or pretended to be, sadly afraid of any extension of the suffrage to the people of Ireland; but had he ever expressed the slightest horror at the extermination of the tenantry, which had taken place since 1832, and for political offences, as they were called? For the sake of Ireland and justice, he trusted, that a fair consideration would be afforded to the bill of the noble Secretary for Ireland, without regard to any party triumph. If that were not done, it would create in the minds of the people of Ireland, even in the minds of those who were earnestly in favour of the two countries, an estrangement, a species of insular feeling, because they would be convinced, that they had nothing more to hope for from that House, and then all feeling in favour of the union would be swept away by despair. He trusted the conduct of the House would still allow them to hope.
§ Mr. J. O'Connell
said, that as to the respectability of the meeting to which the hon. Baronet, the Member for Londonderry, had alluded, the House, he was afraid, must take the hon. Baronet's own word for it; for, with the exception of his own very respectable name, and the names of a few other equally respectable persons attached to the requisition, the names of the rest were shrouded in mystery. With 308 respect to the bill proposed to be introduced by the noble Secretary, all that the House at present knew of it was its principle. Of that he certainly, as far as it went, approved, and he hoped, by the details of the measure, that that principle would be well worked out; but if hon. Gentlemen opposite thought all those on his side of the House were completely satisfied with the noble Lord's measure, they were very much mistaken; for he, and many hon. Gentlemen around him, could wish that the franchise should be still more extended, and that it should be placed on the footing of the Poor-law rating. He hoped that the noble Lord opposite (Lord Stanley) would see the propriety of withdrawing his own bill, and of allowing the bill of the noble Lord, the Secretary for Ireland, to be the measure for redressing the evils which were, on all hands, acknowledged to exist under the present system. Although the noble Lord might not pay much regard to anything that might fall from him, still he would implore the noble Lord to consider his steps, and to avail himself of the golden bridge that was now offered to him, and give up his own, and support the bill which the noble Secretary asked leave to introduce. The noble Lord would act wisely in adopting this suggestion, for he might depend upon it that every step taken in his own bill was but adding immensely to the ranks of the Repealers, and nothing could more certainly insure the triumph of that cause than the success of the noble Lord's own measure. If the noble Lord were really pledged against Repeal to the death, the best means he could take to defeat it was to adopt the bill of the noble Secretary of Ireland. He, however, confessed, that he did not think the noble Lord would do so; for there seemed to be a short-sightedness and a species of mental blindness, as if by the interposition of Providence, ever accompanying the acts of men whose aim it was to prejudice the rights and interests of a whole nation. Such men looked only at the immediate injury they wished to inflict, being quite reckless of the terrible re-action that might come. However, whatever the noble Lord might do, he hoped hon. Gentlemen on his side of the House would give the people of Ireland more than a mere divided support, such as they gave them last year—that they would not allow parliamentary courtesies to do 309 away with the rights of a nation, but that they all, on each and every occasion upon which they were called upon to battle with the noble Lord opposite, give to Ireland their earnest assistance. The people of Ireland did not understand parliamentary forms and the niceties of parliamentary courtesies. He, therefore, hoped that if they really wished to prove to the people of Ireland that there was a disposition in the House of Commons to do them justice, they would give the noble Secretary's bill their support throughout.
§ Mr. Sergeant Jackson
did not rise for the purpose of offering any opposition to the introduction of the bill by the noble Lord, the Secretary for Ireland, but he had hoped that by this time all those ridiculous and absurd attacks which had heretofore been made upon his noble Friend (Lord Stanley) would have ceased. He was glad to see evidence of a disposition on the part of the noble Secretary to improve the registration system in Ireland. There was no person of any political party that could deny that there were grievous evils existing under that system. So strong and general did this opinion prevail, that the noble Lord had actually been coerced to bring forward this measure. He would not at this stage of the debate enter upon a discussion of the provisions of the bill, but he could not help deprecating the clause which went to establish the 5l. franchise, which was, in other words, taking population instead of property and intelligence as the basis of representation, Before he sat down he wished to allude to an observation which fell from the hon. and learned Member for Dublin, respecting a most hon. Member of the Irish bar, Mr. Blackman. The hon. and learned Member had said, that Mr. Blackman, who was the Chairman of the Registration Court for the county of Dublin, had appeared on the circuit wearing an orange badge on his coat. Now, he (Mr. Sergeant Jackson) knew that there was not a more honourable person at the Irish Bar than Mr. Blackman, and he did not believe that that gentleman ever could have been guilty of so improper an act. He had never heard it said or insinuated that Mr. Blackman was ever guilty of the impropriety or indecency of wearing a badge of any party description on the circuit. It certainly became the hon. and learned Member for Dublin less than anybody else to talk of persons wearing badges, 310 when that hon. and learned Member himself appeared in that House with the repeal button on his coat. With respect to the noble Secretary for Ireland's bill, he was quite ready to examine its provisions, and do what he could to improve it, in order that it might, in case the bill of his noble Friend (Lord Stanley) should be rejected, be passed into a law for the improvement of the system of registration and of the franchise in Ireland.
§ Mr. O'Connell
wished to say, in explanation, that he did not state the rumour of the wearing of a badge by Mr. Blackman in the way of disparaging that Gentleman, he mentioned it only as illustrating a fact. It seemed that the hon. and learned Sergeant was the only person who thought that the wearing of an Orange badge was derogatory to a person filling an official station.
Mr. Villiers Stuart
agreed with the hon. and learned Sergeant, that the present system was accompanied with many evils, but it did not follow that the bill proposed by the noble Lord, the Member for North Lancashire (Lord Stanley) would apply a proper remedy. He could state, from his own knowledge, that in the county of Waterford, in consequence of the trouble and inconvenience to which parties were put by the present system, there was an apathy on the part of the people with regard to the franchise, which, in his view, was fraught with danger to the country. If they were to have a really representative system, they must give the parties an easy way of acquiring their right. If they did not, the people would look to illegitimate sources for obtaining it. Instead of seeking their rights through the Imperial Parliament, they would endeavour to find them by setting up a sort of Parliament in Dublin or elsewhere.
congratulated the House upon having some substantial measure at length brought forward that would at once settle all disputes arising out of the present defective system respecting the registration and the franchise in Ireland. The valuation upon the Poor-law rating was notoriously exceedingly low, and the noble Lord opposite had availed himself of that fact to raise an objection against the proposition of his noble Friend; but had his noble Friend, instead of mentioning that valuation, quoted the ordnance valuation, the noble Lord opposite could not have jumped to the same conclusion, because 311 it was almost invariably the case that the ordnance valuation was much above the rent. He hoped the noble Lord would not persevere with his bill. He did not wish to inquire whether it were the fault of the noble Lord or no; but any bill emanating from him, no matter what it was, even supposing it carried benefit with it, would be taken with distrust, and must necessarily be taken with distrust, as coming from him. [Laughter.] The noble Lord might laugh, but the fact was so. Why, the noble Lord was the very author of the measure which was now so loudly and universally complained of throughout Ireland. The very uncertain phraseology in which the franchise was expressed, had caused all the injurious effects that were now sought to be remedied. He hoped, therefore, that the noble Lord would act upon his word, and leave the present measure to be dealt with by the House without his interference.
§ Mr. Ward
thought he had had the pleasure of hearing the noble Lord opposite (Lord Stanley) say that he would leave this question with confidence to the judgment of the House of Commons. He was, therefore, anxious to take the first opportunity of expressing his conviction that there would be a very powerful feeling in favour of the system proposed by the noble Lord the Secretary for Ireland. The noble Lord opposite must permit him to say (without meaning any discourtesy), that his bill was not an honest bill. It was a dishonest bill; because the noble Lord had avoided the very difficulty upon which all the other inconveniences rested. The noble Lord's bill did not mention the franchise; it did not attempt to define it. The noble Lord proposed nothing, but to throw more difficulties in the way of those who were entitled to exercise the franchise as the law now stood. It was his distinct conviction that the evils of the existing system must be corrected, and that the settlement of the question could be infinitely better effected by the bill of his noble Friend than by the bill of the noble Lord opposite. The remedy which that noble Lord proposed appeared to him to be worse than the disease. It would only lead to a series of embarrassments and persecutions in Ireland of the humbler class of voters by those who were placed above them.
§ Mr. Litton
denied that the bill of the noble Lord the Member for North Lancashire had been received in Ireland with disapprobation. On the contrary, he would 312 assert, from his own knowledge of Ireland, that it was received by all the influential and respectable classes, and by the great mass of intelligence in that country, as a useful measure, and only likely to meet and put an end to the demoralizing system which had long and still existed in that country, arising from the present mode of registration. It was also utterly untrue that the lower classes looked with regret at the passing of this bill. On the contrary, the attempt to get up agitation against the noble Lord's bill it was notorious utterly failed. The petitions in favour of Lord Stanley's bill were most numerous. Those who were for universal suffrage, no doubt, would support the bill now proposed to be introduced. Those who thought that property, intelligence, and character should be nothing, and numbers everything, would of course approve of that clause which gave a 5l. rating, irrespective of any rent. It was nothing short of universal suffrage. Nay, he would rather have universal suffrage, because then they would have it by its right name. But the noble Lord (Lord Morpeth) was desirous of having it by its wrong name—he would call it an illegitimate suffrage.
The O'Connor Don
could not help observing upon one statement that had been made by the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just spoken. That hon. and learned Gentleman had said that all the respectable people of Ireland were in favour of the bill of the noble Lord the Member for North Lancashire. He hoped the hon. and learned Member did not, limit all the respectability of Ireland merely to the circle of his own acquaintance. He confessed that among his acquaintance there was a strong pervading feeling against the bill of the noble Lord. The general feeling throughout Ireland was that the intention of the noble Lord was not to amend the registry but to restrict the franchise. He thought the most beneficial part of the bill of the noble Lord below him (Lord Morpeth) was that which went to define the franchise. At present, for want of that definition, imputations of perjury were made on both sides, and, perhaps, neither party was really guilty of the crime.
§ Leave given.