wished to offer a few observations on the bill of the noble Lord opposite, with respect to the accusation which had been so often brought forward, of a settled enmity being entertained by the party amongst whom he stood, against the peace and the liberty of Ireland. He would have hardly thought it necessary to take notice of what had been stated in the speech of the noble Lord (Morpeth) 863 last night, if he did not think the statements made in that speech were more suited to a discourse in some popular assembly than to a speech from an hon. Member to that House. He conceived that the History of Ireland for the last half century, was a sufficient answer to the charges of hostility to the Irish people brought against his party. Since the year 1788, they had founded their policy towards that country on principles of kindness and conciliation. Link by link the chains which bound the Irish people had been struck off; and he could not now discover the least difference between the condition of the Irish Roman Catholics and that of their Protestant countrymen. The statutes which had been passed of late years had been introduced in part by hon. Gentlemen on his side of the House, and the prosperity of Ireland was showing the wisdom of their policy. At the present day he saw no diminution of that good will. He found it stated by the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Tamworth, when introducing the Catholic Relief Bill, that he preferred carrying out its details on principles of generous confidence rather than attempting to impair the value of the concession by any vexatious restrictions. He believed, that that was still the course which the party led by the right hon. Gentleman was willing to pursue. He remembered that it had been stated by the right hon. Member for Pembroke on the Irish Corporation Bill, that his party did not intend to act on a narrow and exclusive policy towards Ireland; and the right hon. Gentleman added that such an attempt could no more be carried into effect than the sun could go back from the dial. In that opinion he fully coincided. The noble Lord, however, in the course of his speech last night, complained of the effects which the bill introduced by the noble Lord, the Member for North Lancashire, would have on the interests of the majority of the people of Ireland. The noble Lord stated that the bill was full of snares and dangers which the most reckless only would be willing to encounter. If, however, it were true that the bill contained clauses of a restricted nature, those clauses could be altered in committee; and for his own part, he would not give his vote for any clause that could tend unduly to restrict the franchise, or to throw vexatious obstacles in the way of the claimant. But 864 the bill of the noble Lord opposite was not a bill merely for the purpose of amending the registration, but a bill to alter the franchise by placing it on a basis materially low, and one which he thought he should be able to show was not calculated to benefit either the agricultural or social improvement of Ireland—and one that, instead of conducing to the real independence of the elector, was calculated to injure it, and to prevent the electors from exercising a proper control over their representatives. He need hardly say a word on the question of the valuation which had been so fully discussed last night. That valuation made by the noble Lord's own Commissioners had not been made according to the provisions of the Poor-law Act, and was, in fact, a fraud upon the landlords in favour of the tenants; and instead of throwing overboard such a valuation, the noble Lord brought it forward as the foundation of his bill for giving an extension to the franchise. He thought the noble Lord ought at least to have laid aside his bill for a time, in order to see how that valuation would have worked. With respect to the question of the lowering of the franchise, most Gentlemen acquainted with the existing franchise in Ireland would agree with him that it would require eight Irish acres of ground, well cultivated, with a good house, to be held at a very low rent, or at no rent at all, in order to confer the franchise upon the holder, according to the beneficial interest test which he should throughout his argument assume to be the proper test for the conferring of the franchise. Now eight Irish acres were equal to twelve English acres. According to the report of the valuator of the Lurgan union, all the land in that union was valued at 1l. 5s. the English acre, therefore the 5l. value would confer the franchise upon the holder of four English acres; thus in the union of Lurgan the possession of one-third the land required at present would confer the franchise, and in the county of Longford the possession of one-half would produce the same effect. He thought that must be admitted to be a great lowering of the franchise. The evils of bribery were felt in the time of the 40s. freeholders, but he thought that those evils would be magnified by the provisions of the noble Lord's bill, for the franchise proposed by that bill was very little above that of the 40s. freeholders. With regard to the numbers 865 likely to be admitted under the franchise of the noble Lord, he found in that portion of the union of Lurgan, which contained the county of Armagh, there was 39,847 acres, the whole county containing about 128,000, and in that county there were about 22,144 tenements which would qualify their occupiers to have the franchise, while in that county the persons employing labourers did not exceed 17,000. Upon the point of what would best promote the social improvement of Ireland he begged leave to quote the opinion of a man who was much respected even by Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House, he alluded to Mr. Blake, the Chief Remembrancer of Ireland; it was given fifteen years ago, but he (Mr. Young) had, he believed, good reason to say, that he retained the same opinion up to the present time. Mr. Blake's opinion was, that by raising the franchise from 40s. to a 10l. beneficial occupation, the country would be much improved. That opinion was quoted with much approbation by Lord Hatherton when he, as Secretary for Ireland, brought in a bill to regulate the franchise for that country. Much had been said in favour of the Belgian system; but looking at all the recent writers upon the state of that country, it was proved that they were in a wretched condition; that after severe and incessant labour, and practising the most rigid economy, they were scarcely able to keep their heads above water. That system might answer in that country, which was still in a state of transition, but it would not do, and ought not to be attempted to be forced upon a people like the Irish, who had borne their difficulties and privations in a most surprisingly peaceable manner. They had recently added to these claims by a fresh title to the sympathy and good feeling of the people of England. No people had given more signal marks of resolution of purpose and energy of character than the people of Ireland in rescuing themselves from the evils of intoxication. He trusted that the reformation might be as lasting as its benefits were obvious and important. It was desirable that the constituencies should be sufficiently numerous, that when some particular subject inflamed the public mind, they should have sufficient weight in numbers and respectability to stem the torrent of popular violence. In the year 1784 it was the general feeling of the justice and sound policy of his mea- 866 sures that placed Mr. Pitt in power, and ensured the safety of the state. On another occasion of later date in their own times, which it was not very palatable to a Conservative to refer to—he meant the Reform Bill—he conceived that it was the constituencies who raised themselves in opposition to the aristocracy, and thereby probably averted the riots and bloodshed which would have ensued in the event of the measure having been rejected. In Ireland there were other influences besides those of the landlord. He would not enter into the details of that much controverted question, whether the political power which the Roman Catholic clergy of Ireland possessed was obtained by legitimate means, or was used for legitimate purposes; but this he would say, that firmly attached as he was to the doctrines of the Established Church—great as was the respect he entertained for the ministers of that church,—yet not even in their hands would he wish to see that vast amount of irresponsible political power which was undoubtedly wielded by the clergymen of the Catholic Church in Ireland. Now upon those considerations, and wishing to do what was fair and just, and looking to what was the present defective state of information on the subject of valuation, he felt bound to oppose the precipitate measure now sought to be introduced. When he looked to the amount of qualification granted by the bill of the noble Lord, and when he saw in that an index of the ideas of Government, he owned he felt apprehensions. It seemed to him that a step was taken in an entirely wrong direction, and contrary to the dictates of sound policy, and opposed to those anticipations entertained and held out to the country by the statesmen who changed the 40s. freeholders to 10l. freeholders. The measure of the noble Lord would destroy the political power of the country, by putting the elective franchise in the hands of a second-rate and less desirable class of persons. It would diminish the independence of the elector and increase the expense of elections, and would perpetuate that low and degraded state from which, under the influence of happier circumstances, the people of Ireland were steadily, though slowly emerging. If the great change so mysteriously prepared—so suddenly brought before the public—if that great change now proposed which went to unsettle all the 867 arrangements of the Reform Act and to alter even the Emancipation Act, should be adopted there would be no ratification so strong that would not be considered most easily changed on the slightest causes. He would, therefore, oppose the measure now sought to be passed into law.
Mr. Smith O'Brien
said, from the admission made by the hon. Member, he thought the time was not far distant when he would be found supporting the extension of the franchise in Ireland. As regarded the tendency of the present bill, he denied that it would create an inferior class of voters, ambitious only of possessing political power, or that it would lead to a subdivision of property. In the earlier part of his speech the noble Lord, who led the attack on the measure last night, had resorted to the usual source of much argument—Hansard; but most assuredly the charge of inconsistency he had founded, on his reference to the Debates, against the noble Secretary for Ireland, came with a peculiarly ill grace from the noble Member for North Lancashire. The noble Lord himself was in many cases more open to the charge of I inconsistency. The noble Lord had complained that a 5l. rent, and not a 5l. profit was adopted as the test for the franchise in the Government measure; but the fact was, that the Poor-law valuation in Ireland, was so low that if the profit test were adopted under it the Irish constituencies would be annihilated. All that the noble Lord had advanced against the valuation now going on, made in fact against his own side of the question; for the lower he showed that valuation to be, the more it established the fitness of a 5l. franchise. The noble Lord had ended his address to the House by quotations and arguments, to show that though the indisposition of the landlords to grant leases to tenants was one cause of the small number of the constituency of Ireland as compared with the constituency in England, yet that the main cause was the poverty of the country. The noble Lord could scarcely be ignorant of the value of I property in Ireland, and he would, with the permission of the House, advert to that part of the country in which the noble Lord was a landlord. In Tipperary I the population in 1831 was 402,000, and in the valuation by Mr. Griffith in 1832, the valuation of the land in that county was 868 886,439l. a-year, and he believed it would be found that the present number of electors in that county was not more than 2,000. The time had now come when the Government had fairly grappled with the subject, and he regarded the present bill as one that would amend the Irish Reform Bill. He considered that a bill which would settle the franchise, and would give a good system of registration in Ireland, would be productive of great good, and such a bill was the one now under the consideration of the House. All parties had admitted, that the present state of things was not sound. The question then came to be, was it not possible so to reform the basis of the franchise as to give satisfaction to all parties. Many attempts had been made of late years to effect that. Sir M. O'Loghlin, when in that House, had proposed and carried a bill which defined the franchise, but the consequence was, that it was thrown out in the Lords. The present Attorney-general brought in bills for the same purpose last year, but he found that there was not the slightest chance of his meeting with any support. The only thing then was to take a new basis for the franchise, and they had adopted that basis which had been most praised by the Conservative party, and more especially by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth, and the hon. and learned Member for Exeter. When they found that the constituencies of Ireland did not amount to one-half of the extent proposed by the authors of the Reform Bill; surely, then, it became their duty to place the standard for the franchise upon such a basis as would bring them to somewhere near that amount. He would take the county of Cork for an illustration; in 1834 the population of that county was 703,716, the value of land was 1,137,942l. and the constituency was about 2,000; apparently there were more, but making allowance for deaths and removals the number of the constituency would be found to be about 2,000, which gave only one elector to every 400 inhabitants. In reference to the valuation there was only one voter to every 500l. of rental. Was that the case in any county in England? For his own part he was of opinion that, keeping the tenure with the 5l. rating, the number of voters in the registry would be smaller than at present though the number of bonâ fide electors might be 869 somewhat enlarged. He was glad, therefore, the Government had erred on the side of liberality, if any error there was, and they acted wisely not to place the franchise upon a higher basis. At the same time he thought they would have followed out a more constitutional principle if the franchise had been granted to the tenantry of Ireland without reference to tenure at all. He did not think it wise in any country to give the landlords the power of withholding the rights of citizenship from the people. In that opinion he concurred with the Ulster Association; and hi; should say, in reference to the report of that association which had been alluded to by the noble Lord, that he had never read a more able and comprehensive document on the whole question of registration. He would add, that if the noble Lord followed the recommendations it contained, he could not be much at variance with the opinions entertained by hon. Members on his side of the House. He regretted, however, that the bill of the Government did not abolish the necessity for the payment of rates and taxes, with the exception of the poor-rates. He supported the bill heartily, because at all events, it accomplished one object—that of registration, and while, on the one hand, it removed bad votes, on the other, it afforded great facilities to obtain the franchise by all who were entitled to it. Registration ought, in the first instance, to be made as perfect as possible, in order that it might be final, and that the freeholders might not be exposed to vexation and expense. He objected to the duration of the poll in Ireland, and wished the law to be assimilated to that of England; but although more might have been included in the bill than he found in it, he was grateful to Ministers for its provisions, and gave them his hearty support. The noble Lord had said, that the bill never could pass both branches of the Legislature, but he (Mr. Smith O'Brien) could not believe, that a measure founded not so much in generosity as in justice would not be made the law of the land.
§ Sir Robert Bateson
said, that it would ill become him, after the luminous exposition they had heard from his noble Friend, the Member for North Lancashire, to enter into any lengthened detail of the merits of the bill then before the House; but, nevertheless, he felt it his duty, as the representative of an intelligent. Irish 870 constituency, to get up in his place and to prevent any misrepresentation of their sentiments, such as the House had heard during the last evening's debate. His hon. Friend, who had just sat down, had, as far as he could understand him, expressed a wish that there should be introduced in the bill of the noble Lord opposite, a clause providing that the polling should be taken as in England, in several districts at the same time. In this wish he cordially concurred with his hon. Friend—indeed he was anxious for it for many reasons; but as for the other argument his hon. Friend had used, he must say, that he was entirely opposed to it. He understood his hon. Friend to state, that the noble Lord the Member for North Lancashire had asserted that the landlord had, and ought to have, a right to thwart and control his tenantry in an unconstitutional manner in the exercise of the franchise. He had understood his noble Friend to say—and in the sentiment he cordially concurred—that in the state of society which at present existed, when there was a good, a kind, and a generous landlord, and where there were as a natural consequence happy and grateful tenants, the latter might reasonably be expected to go to some extent with the wishes of their landlord in the exercise of the franchise. That was what he understood to have been the meaning of his noble Friend. He fully entertained that sentiment; he thought such an arrangement must be beneficial to both parties, and that without it the intimate and friendly connexion which should subsist between landlord and tenant must be dissolved. He was proud to say, that in the part of the country from which he came such a state of things existed, and the tenant rarely exercised his franchise without consulting his landlord. At the same time the landlords did not, nor should he wish them to do so, attempt to control a tenant who conscientiously differed from them in political opinion. If a tenant were to come to him (Sir Robert Bateson) and say, "Sir, I am extremely sorry, but I cannot conscientiously vote as you do," he would call such tenant an honest and conscientious man, and would give him credit for his independence, and would desire him to exercise his franchise as he thought best himself. This was not, however, the state of things in another part of the country. He had that day received a 871 letter from Limerick, in which his correspondent said,You will hear it alleged, in the course of the debate, that the constituencies of Ireland are extremely small, in proportion to the English constituencies; and you will hear various reasons given for it; but I will tell you the real one—it is the unwillingness of tenants to register; because in so doing they bring themselves into collision either with their landlords or their priests.It was further stated, in the letter, that a tenant came to a landlord, who wished him to register, and said,For God's sake do not ask me to register; I have the highest regard for you and your family, and am most anxious to oblige you, but if I do I must leave the country, for there will be an end to all peace for me and my family.This was the sort of intimidation that was practised—the death's-head and cross-bones were held up to them, and they should quit the country, for it would be impossible to live in it with any comfort, from the dread of assassination on the one hand, and the denunciations of eternal punishment on the other. Under these circumstances, it was not to be wondered at, that landlords should refuse facilities for the extension of the franchise: this was what made the constituency so small as compared with the population, which had been so much dwelt on. The hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. C. Wood) had said, that all parties in Ireland were united against Lord Stanley's bill. Now, so far from that being the case, he was convinced that there was a great majority in Ireland in favour of that measure. He was quite sure that such was the case in the part of Ireland where he resided. The hon. Member of course knew that Ulster was one of the four provinces, and not the least important one, for intelligence, wealth, and respectability; and he could tell the hon. Member that the great majority of the people of that province had declared themselves in favour of the bill of his noble Friend the Member for North Lancashire. A petition had been printed in its favour on the former evening, signed by 90,000 persons, not one of whom was lower than a farmer, and every one of whom had affixed his own signature and place of abode. That was no petition originated at a hole-and-corner meeting, nor one to which signatures had been obtained by shutting the chapel doors and 872 compelling the people to sign as they went out. It was, in fact, a petition, the signatures to which comprised all the rank and intelligence in the north of Ireland, and represented a million and a half of property. This, he trusted, would be a sufficient answer to the assertion of the hon. Member for Halifax, that the people of Ireland were united against his noble Friend's bill. But this was not all. There would shortly be presented to the House a petition with upwards of 40,000 signatures, comprising the wealth and intelligence of the other provinces. The hon. Member for Limerick had referred to what was called the Ulster Liberal Association. This association some time since published a report approving of the principles of his noble Friend's bill. But since that time they had another meeting—a great meeting, as it was called—which consisted of eighty-five persons, who assembled in the town of Belfast, and styled themselves the Constitutional Association of Ireland. When these persons discussed the very bill which was now the subject of discussion, he believed there were eighty-five different opinions respecting it—so many, indeed, that the meeting separated without coming to any resolution. One gentleman was for universal suffrage, another for household suffrage—one for a 10l., and one for a 6l. franchise; but he begged to remind the hon. Member for Halifax that no one even at that meeting went so low as a 5l. franchise. With the greatest radical among them 6l. was the lowest proposal. Why, a 5l. franchise under the proposed plan would in fact be lower than the far-famed 40s. freehold franchise, which had been considered on all hands to be the bane of Ireland. All the misfortunes of Ireland had arisen from the 40s. system. By it tenants were driven like flocks of sheep to the hustings, and were a class of voters which even the greatest liberals and patriots of the day were anxious to get rid of. He would tell the House a fact, and in doing so he addressed himself to English Gentlemen, who, he trusted, would look to the intrinsic merits of the bill itself, and not to the question of whether or not the existence of the Government depended on its adoption. In the heart of the county from which he came there were two large properties nearly equal in size and value. On one there were registered, under the old system, 1,200 40s. freeholders; while 873 on the other there were none, leases only being given for a few years. What was the result? At the time of the Reform Bill, the property which had been let at will, or on short leases, registered 300 10l. freeholders; while, on the other, only ten could qualify to that amount. This was a fact of which he was himself cognisant, and which fully proved the evils of a low franchise. This was a subject that ought not to be made a party question, but should be viewed solely as it regarded the good of Ireland. For himself, all his property and everything he held most dear, was in that country, and his only wish was to adopt the best measure to benefit his native land. With that view he supported the bill of his noble Friend. He had always felt that the subdivision of land, caused by the 40s. system, had produced misery in the population, and tended to create rack-rents, as the landlords were tempted to let their lands to those who bid highest with reference to their means of payment. For this reason, he deprecated any interference with the franchise; and he conscientiously believed that the bill of the noble Lord opposite would unsettle all the good that had been effected by the 10l. franchise. As to the question of the repeal of the Union, which had been used as a sort of threat, he could assure her Majesty's Government they need not have the slightest fear of that for at least half a century to come. In Ulster he knew that question had been silenced by the perseverance of the intelligent Presbyterian population, headed by that great and good man, Doctor Cooke—notwithstanding the pompous crusade that had been made into that peaceful part of the country with a view to the agitation of that question, and notwithstanding the military parade with which that crusade was attended—a parade of three regiments of foot, two regiments of cavalry, and six pieces of artillery—an armament that put the country to a great expense, and carried consternation into peaceful towns and villages which for years had not seen the face of a soldier. To return to the bill before the House: he was convinced that a great majority of the inhabitants of Ulster would deprecate its adoption as the greatest misery that could befal them. On the other hand, they believed, and in that belief he concurred, that the bill of his noble Friend would, with the adoption of an increased number 874 of polling-places, effect all that could be expected from a well-regulated system of registration.
§ Mr. Carew
would request the indulgence of the House for a few moments, for the question which was at present in deliberation was one of such great, of such very great importance to this country generally, but more particularly to that part with which he was connected, that he could not, either in accordance with his own feelings, or with those whom he in that place represented, give a silent vote on that occasion. He should not detain the House very long, nor did he think it necessary, after what had been presented to the notice of the House that evening (and in the previous debate of last night) to enter into any minute details of the noble Lord's bill; but he would at the same time observe that amongst many of the evils attaching to the present system of registering electors in Ireland, amongst many of the abuses which called most loudly for alteration and improvement, and which characterised that system, intimidation, and he might add, in many instances, vexatious conduct towards freeholders, held a high and very considerable rank. He had known instances, they had come under his own immediate observation, in which substantial farmers had been kept waiting all the day in attendance at the registration courts, wasting their valuable time, and uncertain when their turn would arrive. He had seen these persons, after having undergone a great deal of unpleasant and vexatious cross-examination, return home without having effected their object, having oftentimes been rejected on mere technical, and it would seem (and it certainly did so appear to them) unimportant and vexatious grounds. What, then, was the effect of such a system as this? With such a system, could it be expected that freeholders would willingly come up to the registry court, and claim the franchise? Was it the case in many instances that they did so? He thought that it was well, he was afraid but too well, known to be the case, that, owing mainly to the cause to which he had alluded, a considerable degree of apathy existed among the freeholders in Ireland, accompanied with a disinclination to come forward and register their votes. He thought that the noble Lord's (Viscount Morpeth's) bill was calculated in an eminent degree to remove 875 this apathy, to obviate this evil, and to restore the registry to a wholesome and to a proper state; for the clear definition of the franchise, and the qualification of electors, as introduced in the noble Lord's bill, would not only open the way to a better and more equitable state of things, but extend to the freeholder what was of no less consequence to his claiming the right of voting, as it was indispensable to his personal comfort in preferring that claim, facility of registering. Illustrative of this subject he held in his hand an extract from a letter which he had received but a few days ago from Ireland, and which referred to this part of the system of registration. It was very short, but of considerable importance, as it came from the pen of a clergyman of the established church in the Queen's county, and who was himself an eye witness of what he described:—I cannot avoid communicating to you the pleasure which Lord Morpeth's views on the Irish Registration Bill have given me, and I feel the more pleased, because I have lately been a witness of the present system of registration in this country. With the intention of registering my vote, I attended the last sessions held at Stradbally, and I cannot convey to you any idea of the intense feeling of pain which the registry court system gave me. Without high colouring, it appears to me an arena in which the combatants were hard swearers, and the hardest swearer was, of course, victorious. The honest voter, the man who had experience of the worth of his land and property, and who had sworn to what he was thus so well qualified to know better than any one else, was quite put aside, and was rejected; nay, more, his fate was decided by the swearing of opinions.This was what the rev. Gentleman said, and he would ask if such proceedings as these were not revolting to all religious principle, and destructive of all popular rights? For if the opinion of a valuator, sent out by a party oftentimes with a view to destroy a man's political privileges, was to obtain the ear of a court appointed to maintain those rights inviolate; and if a man's oath and the value of a man's experience were to become of minor importance in such a court, how were popular rights to be upheld? How was religious principle to be preserved? He did hope the House would not oppose the bill of the noble Lord. He did hope that the House would consider the state of public feeling in Ireland, and not throw out a 876 measure as calculated to conciliate that people as it was to place their franchise on a firm and on a popular basis. [Cheers]. If there ever was a time in which it was expedient for the House to conciliate the Irish people, it was the present. In conclusion, he would only observe that it was such a measure as that now before the House which practically showed to the Irish people the benefits which must accrue to them by living under a Government disposed to protect them and guard their rights inviolate. Such a measure as this, by fixing the franchise in favour of the people, and defining it in the clearest way, would ultimately put an end to a system of registration which he felt confident would more and more fritter away, and ultimately destroy the franchise, limited as it was, of the Irish nation.
§ Viscount Howick
said, that the question which, as he conceived, the House was called upon to decide was, whether, in attempting to revise and to amend the system of registration as now existing in Ireland, they should also at the same time attempt a clearer definition of the existing franchise—not whether they were to adopt all the details which his noble Friend had introduced into his bill—not whether the right of voting there ought to depend upon a rating of the exact amount of 5l.—not whether by any given mode they were to adopt a particular amount of rating, as a test of the value of the property qualifying the tenant to vote; but simply whether they should in a manner hereafter to be decided, avail themselves of the assessment to the Poor-rate, in determining upon the claims of electors. That he repeated was the question which the House was now called upon to decide; because, with respect to those parts of the bill which merely regulated the method of registration, it had been made perfectly clear in the course of the present debate, notwithstanding the angry discussions of last year, and notwithstanding the party excitement which was then called into existence, that the system of registration proposed on both sides of the House were substantially and in their main features the same. He said so, because, whether he took the bill of his noble Friend opposite, or the bill of his noble Friend below him (Viscount Morpeth), he appealed to any one conversant with the proceedings in Parliament, to say whether by alterations of no greater 877 magnitude than were frequently introduced in the progress of important measures, it might not be so altered in committee, that the system of one noble Lord might be made to correspond with the system of the other? He would, then, as briefly as he could, and without quoting any documents or statistical returns, which had been already sufficiently referred to, address himself to the simple question, whether they ought, or ought not, when they were making an alteration in the method of registration, to attempt also a definition of the franchise? Without saying, that they were positively bound to reject any plan that might be brought forward for the improvement of the registration, simply because it did not also define the right of voting, yet he was prepared distinctly to express his opinion that it was in the highest degree expedient that they should if possible deal with both subjects at the same time, and in the same bill. Had any one in the course of these discussions denied that many evils had arisen from the want of a more certain definition of the franchise? The hon. Member who had just sat down, and who had given, in his address, such promise of future excellence, had read a letter which had strikingly and clearly developed these evils. No one denied that the present system was faulty. On one side they saw the tenant swearing that the land which he occupied was of such a value, as under the act would give him a qualification, and they too often saw the landlord or his agents swearing directly the opposite; they too frequently saw the upper classes of society pitted against the lower, one swearing that the land was worth the full sum, and the other that it was not. They had the declaration of one revising barrister, who was examined before the Fictitious Votes committee, that upon those occasions they found men springing up on the table, one after another, prepared to sustain upon oath, or to defeat, the claim of the voter. Then they had the decision of the barrister upon this conflicting evidence; if the decision was against the vote, they had a reference to a judge and jury, to decide the question upon the same conflicting evidence; and afterwards, if there should be a decision of an election committee in favour of opening the registry, they had the same conflicting evidence for and in opposition to the vote before a committee of the House of Commons. Was not that a state of things that was a disgrace to a 878 civilised country? Was it not an imperative duty imposed upon Parliament, if it were possible, to put an end to a system that was thus calculated to sap the foundations of peace and order in the country where it prevailed, which had such a tendency to destroy the sanctity of an oath, to array one section of society against the other, and to perpetuate the state of things that they had unhappily to deplore in Ireland? Would any one deny that these were the evils which flowed directly and immediately from the uncertainty of what did confer the right of voting? The right was determined by the value of the tenant's interest in the property he held, and the difficulty of ascertaining this value, by any definite principle or any intelligible rule had hitherto proved insuperable. Well, then, if that were the case, how were they to remove this uncertainty, how were they to clear up these doubts, how were they to make the question which the barristers had to decide so easy and so simple, as not to give any room for any contradiction of opinion, or any collision of oaths? How were they to accomplish an object which all admitted to be desirable? Could they clear up the difficulty of the construction put upon the words of the act of Parliament? Should they take the construction put upon those words by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Dublin? Should they construe the beneficial interest, as meaning that the tenant could make 10l. out of the land, including the value of his own labour? If they attempted to pass a declaratory act in that sense, every one knew that in the present state of opinion in that House and in the country it would be an idle task. But if it were otherwise—if it were possible to pass an act to this effect, he must acknowledge, for one, he could not approve of such a measure, he believed it would produce very bad consequences in Ireland, that it would create a numerous class of dependent voters, and thus produce the very consequences which the hon. Gentleman, the Member for Cavan (Mr. Young) had that night declared would flow from the measure then before the House. If they could not clear up the doubt in this manner, could they in the other? Could they pass a declaratory act, or introduce a clause into any bill for the amendment of the registration to declare that the meaning of the term "beneficial interest" should be as his noble Friend opposite (Lord Stanley) would desire—that it should mean that a solvent 879 tenant should be able to pay 10l. more than the tenant himself paid fur the lands? Would even his noble Friend opposite, in the present circumstances of Ireland, propose to pass such a bill? He doubted whether he would. He was under the conviction that even his noble Friend's courage would shrink from such an experiment. Perhaps his noble Friend would say, "I will not recommend such a declaratory act at all, because the law as it at present stands is sufficiently clear, and the construction I contend for is the right one. I am ready to admit that, although I believe the intention of the framers of the Reform Act to have been very different, yet the strict technical interpretation which ought to be put upon the words as they stand is that which is given to them on the other side of the House." His noble Friend might say also, "The decision of the majority of the judges ought to be binding on the minority, and the assistant barristers are bound to take the law from the mouths of those who, by the constitution of this country, had the authority to declare it." Again he would not shrink from stating that in this respect also he concurred with his noble Friend opposite. He had not heard, without considerable dismay, the opinion broached, that the minority of the judges were not bound by the decision of the majority on points of law, for, if such a principle should be established, it must overturn the whole system of our jurisprudence. If that opinion were to prevail, the whole system of the administration of justice in England, in Ireland, and in Scotland, would crumble into dust; for it was an opinion which he believed undermined the very foundation on which that system was based. Such was his own opinion upon this point, but had he, or had his noble Friend, or had the House, the power of compelling others to act upon their views of this subject? He feared that they could not. But even admitting that they could force every assistant barrister in Ireland to decide that the "beneficial interest" should mean what a solvent tenant was able to pay beyond the rent paid by the immediate occupier—even if he admitted that they could compel every judge thus to explain the law when he left the question to the jury, still he (Viscount Howick) would ask, had they yet got rid of the evil? Had they got rid of the real cause for that contradictory swearing of which they all complained? Did the evil begin with the introduction of the terms "beneficial in- 880 terest?" Undoubtedly not; the complaint existed previous to the year 1829, when the forty-shilling freeholders were the voters; it existed between 1829 and the year of the passing of the Reform Bill, under the 10l. franchise: nay, so notorious at that time was the very same abuse which still prevails, that it was one of the arguments insisted upon in favour of the alteration of the words of the oath imposed upon the elector at the time of the Reform Act, that it was said the alteration would get rid of a great deal of perjury. He thought that the change did get rid of a great deal of the perjury, because under the words as they stood, and putting one interpretation on the law, the Irish peasant, whose maintenance depended upon the possession of his farm, and who had no other means of livelihood, might conscientiously take the oath imposed by that act even for the smallest holding. Much of the contradictory swearing, which now took place, was undoubtedly to be accounted for by the opposite sense in which the same words were used by different parties; but even if the doubt as to the sense of the words were cleared up, they could not expect thus to get rid of contradictory swearing, and for the reason that, after all, the question of value was a subject upon which opinions might honestly differ; it was a subject on which men's minds might differ within very wide limits, and all experience had shown that upon questions not depending upon matters of fact, but upon opinion and judgement, they could not expect evidence to be given upon oath with the strictness which every one would deem desirable. He would not repeat the charges against the Irish people and against their religion, which he had formerly heard with great disgust in that House, and which he was glad that he had not heard repeated in the course of the present debate. He did not attribute any peculiar want of veracity to the Irish people on account of the religion which the majority professed, but he said, that not only in England, but in Ireland, and not only in England and in Ireland, but in all countries and in all times, where the passions and interests of large classes were at stake, oaths and promises were barriers which were easily overleaped or broken through even by those who were in other respects men of honour and of integrity. There was no class of men who stood higher in the estimation of the whole world for probity and 881 integrity, than the merchants of Great Britain. Was not their character for these virtues recognised from one end of the globe to the other? Was it not known even among barbarous nations, and was there not a reliance on their good faith even among those to whom civilization had not yet extended? Yet, even this body of men, when the Legislature imposed upon their trade, in a mistaken policy, absurd restrictions, which were only to be got rid of by false oaths sworn at the Custom-house, broke through the trammels by which they were fettered, and Custom-house oaths became a bye-word for all that was worthless and undeserving of credit or regard, and their uselessness had at length become so notorious, and their abuse so well known, that the Legislature had wisely taken away the necessity of an oath altogether, which was to be made by an individual who had a direct interest in swearing falsely. But there was a case which was still stronger, and one which referred to a class of men on whom the sense of honour was usually deemed to be binding in the highest degree, and in whom sometimes the respect for that sense of honour was carried to an extravagant extreme—he meant the officers of the British army. And yet, was not every Gentleman aware of the fact, that officers of the British army, on purchasing their commissions, were called upon to declare, upon their honour, that they had neither, directly nor indirectly, given more than the regulation price? It was found that the imposition on them of this declaration did not check the practice which it was intended to prevent, but that that practice still continued: and a wiser policy was adopted, of putting an end to the necessity for a declaration the making of which only created an additional and a crying evil. With these examples before their eyes, and the experience of the past, how could he consent to vest the right of voting in Ireland on declarations with respect to the 10l. value of property, which were to be made on oath in the way proposed? Was it not clear that even if they were to do this, the effect would be to produce a return to that state of things which had formerly existed in Ireland, that among the agricultural classes men would be found who, disregarding their oath, would not be thought to be perjured, but, on the contrary, would be deemed patriots, standing up for the rights and liberties of their countrymen, who would swear, with an 882 easy conscience, as to the value of their own or their neighbour's occupation? When passions were excited by the array of party, he knew not what chance they would stand of procuring their object, of preventing false oaths being given in obtaining their right of voting. Did they not know that election committees, sworn solemnly at the Table of the House, to administer justice between party and party, were not to be trusted with the administration of the law when they viewed the facts and the law brought before them through the medium of political partizanship? He thought, then, that if the argument which he now adduced to the House was well founded, the conclusion was irresistible, that it was necessary that they should adopt some test of the right of voting, so clear and simple that it might be easy to distinguish between truth and falsehood, that men might not be tempted by the vagueness of that to which they were to bear testimony to be guilty of deception. He might be met by the argument, that in England that which he had suggested was not found to be the case—that it was universally admitted that the leasehold interest was created by the amount of profit which the tenant fairly had after deducting the amount of rent due to the landlord. That was true, but the circumstances of the two countries were so different, that this did not invalidate his argument. In England, in the great majority of cases, the franchise did not depend upon a leasehold qualification; but there was either a direct right to the property, which was far more easily estimated than the surplus profit derived under the lease; or, there was a right by virtue of occupation, which was measured, not by the amount of profit, but by the amount of rent paid, Leasehold qualifications analogous to that which existed in Ireland, existed in England only to a very limited extent; and where they did exist, it was usually only in cases of leases for lives, or for long terms of years, on which it was clear that the tenant was provided with a qualification sufficient to give him a right of voting in the eye of the law. Then his argument was, that it was necessary to adopt some clear and more easily-ascertained test of the right of voting than that which was given by the surplus profit which the tenant derived after paying rent to the landlord. And what should that test be? Had any been proposed which was so simple—so little liable to evasion—so little 883 likely to lead to opposition of any sort—as that which might be adopted under some terms or restrictions, upon the basis of connecting the right of voting with the assessment under the Poor-law? He thought that the person who claimed the franchise, should, by so doing, subject the property from which the franchise arose to a corresponding burthen. When he said that this principle appeared to him the simple and obvious one which they should adopt, he was bound to say, that he did not think that, upon the information which was before the House, they were in a situation to adopt the measure as proposed by his noble Friend the Secretary for Ireland. He must state that when he had read the reports which had been laid upon the Table of the House, he was grievously disappointed as to the nature of the information which they gave. They appeared to him to be in the highest degree unsatisfactory, but he did not say that it followed from that admission that they should not now read the bill of his noble Friend a second time. It was true that he could not upon data so vague and uncertain establish the right of voting which his noble Friend proposed; because, although it was true that according to the valuation which had been made in the particular unions, of which they had an account, the right of voting might not be too largely extended; yet if they were to adopt the clause as it now stood, this, at least, was clear, that the right of voting created in different parts of Ireland would be of a very different character, although given by the same words. In Scariff for instance, there would be one right of voting and in Lurgan and Longford the right conferred would be of an entirely different character. And further than this it appeared to him that, as not one of these valuations, even upon the opinions of those gentlemen who had been sent to examine them, was, according to the terms of the Act of Parliament, they would probably be all set aside, and a new and different valuation adopted; and if this were to happen while the franchise were regulated with reference to the valuations before them, the effect would be to extend the right far more widely than was contemplated. But he did not see why it was not in the power of Parliament to secure a more complete valuation. If the House should determine that they would couple the right of voting with the assessment under the Poor-law, he thought that it 884 would clearly be their duty to introduce into this bill clauses for the purpose of causing a new valuation of property in the unions established in Ireland—a valuation he should say, conducted under the direction of the Poor-law commissioners, and in which the local authorities should not interfere, as they had shown by their past conduct that they were not fit to be trusted with this duty. They might thus establish a fair and just valuation in Ireland; and then it seemed to him that there were many modes which might be suggested of using such a valuation, as the test of the right of voting. They might adopt the proposition which had been made by his hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mr. C. Wood), who spoke last night. They might dispense with the leasehold tenure, and at the same time require a rating at a much higher amount than had been proposed by his noble Friend (Viscount Morpeth), or they might also take advantage of the provisions of the Irish Poor-law, which regulated the manner in which the burden of the Poor-rate was to be divided between the tenant and the landlord, and they might provide that the right of voting should depend upon the payment by the occupier of a certain portion of the Poor-rate, beyond that which he was entitled to deduct from his rent, and so meet, in a great degree, the argument of the noble Lord, the Member for North Lancashire (Lord Stanley,) against this bill, that as it now stood, it conferred the right of voting in respect of property, which, instead of an advantage, was a positive disadvantage to the holder, inasmuch as a higher rent was paid for it than it was really and actually worth. But this was not the time or the occasion when, if they agreed in the principle of coupling the determination of the right of voting with the assessment under the Poor-law, they should discuss the manner in which that principle should be carried into effect. He would only say, that without committing himself to any particular mode of doing so, he, for one, saw no reason why, in the present Session of Parliament, they should not carry that principle into effect. He was convinced that hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House, who had a greater local knowledge than he had, if they came to apply their minds to the subject, would have no difficulty in devising means by which this object might be attained. What he conceived to be the end at which they should aim, would be that of maintaining, 885 as nearly as possible, the number of voters who, since the Reform Act, had enjoyed the right of voting in Ireland, and he thought that it was particularly necessary that they should do so at the present time. He had last night heard with great satisfaction from the noble Lord opposite, that he was not one of those who had any wish to restrain within the narrowest bounds the enjoyment of the right of voting in Ireland. He confessed that it was only what he had expected from him, when he remembered that during the first three years that he sat with him hi that House, the noble Lord was one of the most strenuous supporters of the principles of the Roman Catholic Relief Bill, and one of the most ardent supporters of the Reform Bills for England and Ireland. He had never doubted, therefore, that the noble Lord would not be in favour of a great restriction and narrowing of the franchise in Ireland. The hon. Member for Cavan, (Mr. J. Young), who had spoken this evening, had said, much in reference to this subject, in which he entirely concurred; he had shown that nothing could be more detrimental to the prosperity of Ireland, than so to narrow the right, of voting as that it should be possessed almost exclusively by the small class who had a property in the soil in that country; that in the state of society described by the noble Lord (Lord Stanley) nothing could be more injurious than to allow the franchise to fall exclusively into the hands of the owners of the soil, but that a proportion of occupiers should be so taken as that the real feelings of the great bulk of the inhabitants should be represented. To a certain extent the noble Lord the Member for North Lancashire, the hon. Member for Cavan, and he were agreed, because they were all of opinion that it was desirable to avoid restricting the franchise, and that the great proportion of the most substantial of the tenantry of Ireland should continue to exercise the right of voting; but the noble Lord and the hon. Member differed from him in this, that they would wait until the restriction of the franchise had actually occurred, before they consented to any measure affecting that point. They would postpone the remedy until they were more clearly convinced of the evil. He thought, however, that both the noble Lord and the hon. Member would agree with him when they came to reconsider the question, upon looking at the facts of the case, that the 886 time had arrived at which the remedy should be applied. And he said so for this reason. The noble Lord, in trying to prove that the evil had not yet arisen, had quoted a paper which had been laid upon the Table of the House, upon the motion of the hon. Member for Kilkenny, and which showed upon the face of it that there was a very considerable number of voters in Ireland. If that paper did show the number of voters really on the register in Ireland at this moment, and the number which would continue on the register, he should be satisfied. He adhered to the opinion which he had often expressed in that House, that the distribution of political power which was effected by the operation of the Reform Act should be maintained, and that they should avoid re-opening all those agitating matters which were then happily arranged; if therefore the number of voters, who on that paper appeared to exist were really to be found, he should not advocate any change in the existing law upon the ground that the franchise had become too restricted. But what was the fact? His noble Friend, the Secretary for Ireland, had justly remarked, in answer to what had fallen from the noble Lord opposite, that in that paper were included all who were placed on the register in the year 1832. Many of the persons then registered had notoriously lost their qualification, and on that ground, as well as by reason of the double entry of many names, a very large deduction must be made. With respect to the double entry of names it was important to observe, that this return having been made immediately before the time when the registry of 1832 expired, a large proportion of those who had then registered and retained their right would have again claimed to be registered, and that would appear in the list a second time; hence, as had been stated last night, the real number of voters was very greatly indeed below what it appeared on that paper; for instance, he was told, that upon a very full inquiry in Cork, it turned out that the number of voters now to be found entitled to exercise the right of voting in that county, did not much exceed one half of that which appeared on the face of this return; but more than that, the noble Lord had admitted, that in Ireland there was a great disposition on the part of landlords to refuse to grant leases. As leases fell in, they were not renewed, and the consequence was, a very great reduction in the number of persons entitled 887 to claim the elective franchise. But the effect of this disinclination to grant leases was only beginning to be felt; he only stated, that which was within the knowledge of every man when he said, that the first appearance of those circumstances which had produced such a disposition on the part of the Irish land-owners was in 1826. It was at the general election in that year, that the first great stand was made by the tenantry of Ireland against the improper, for he might use that terra, influence of landlords. The shortest time for which leases could be granted to confer the right of voting was fourteen years. [Mr. O'Connell: Twenty years by the law, fourteen by the present bill.] Taking it at twenty years, it must of course be obvious that a large proportion of leases, which were granted before the year 1826 could not yet have fallen in; still less could they have done so in 1832, the registry of which year was included in the return before them. They were in the process of falling in, but that process had not yet reached its extent. But it was only since the passing of the Reform Act, a period of nine years, that the feeling had become so strong and general as it had now shown itself to be; and that being the case, when the House considered the length of the leases necessary to confer the franchise, it was an obvious consequence, that we were now only at the beginning of the process of diminution, which, under the influence of the admitted disinclination to renew leases, must take place as they fell in. Every month which passed, every life that dropped, and every lease which expired, would increase the extent of disfranchisement. But that was by no means the whole of the case. Under the operation of any good system of registration; under the operation of the measure of the noble Lord, the Secretary for Ireland, or of the noble Lord opposite, it was obvious that there must be a great diminution in the number of persons entitled to exercise the right of voting. It was clear, that, admitting the valuation which had been made under the authority of the Poor-law to be ever so imperfect—to be even more below the real and true valuation than it had been represented to be, a vast proportion of tenements with respect to which the right of voting was now enjoyed were of such a description, that under a more effective system, the elective franchise in reference to them would, to a great extent, cease to exist. According to the noble 888 Lord opposite, they would be immediately the subject of investigation, and a primâ facie case only would be taken to be in their favour; but it was obvious, that under the operation of any really effective scrutiny a very large deduction in the number of persons exercising the right of voting in Ireland must be made. But if this was to be the case—if the effect of passing a measure on this subject would be to reduce the number of voters—if there were also to be taken into account the feelings of the landlords, inducing them to withhold leases, and if they were to judge of the effect which must thus be produced from that which the House knew of, the state of society in Ireland from various sources of information, as well from the report lately presented which had been already so often referred to, as from that of Mr. Nicholls, which had been made without any reference to this subject, surely it was obvious that injustice to the people of Ireland, and consistently with sound policy with respect to the interests of the empire at large, they should, at the same time that they established a severe system of scrutiny of the right of voting in Ireland, make the definition of that right clearer and plainer, and at the same time, place it on such a footing as to prevent the diminution of the number of voters, which must otherwise take place. He said, that this appeared to him to be the course which it became the House to adopt; but before he brought to a close the observations which he was making upon this subject, and which he had already addressed to the House at a greater length than he intended, he must refer back to an argument to which he had omitted to advert, but which he considered to be extremely important for the House to consider. In speaking of the inconvenience which resulted from making the right of voting depend upon that which was so difficult correctly to ascertain as the value of a tenant's interest in a property held upon lease, he had intended to call the attention of the House to this fact, that the application of so uncertain a test of the right of voting by means of the assistant barrister, must produce very serious evils in Ireland. His argument was, that now, as in times past, there would be conflicting evidence on the subject of value on every occasion of there being a registration in Ireland. To call upon the assistant barrister to decide upon his own judgment upon the evidence which 889 should be tendered to him, would be to compel him by his decision to throw discredit upon one of the parties—either upon the occupier cm one side, or the landlord on the other. The opinion he pronounced must imply his disbelief of the sworn evidence, and at the same time materially affect the political interests of one of the conflicting parties. It was clear, that feelings must thus be excited which could not fail to throw impediments in the way of the due administration of justice. Every man knew what important effects the introduction of revising barristers in Ireland had produced upon the administration of justice there. It had done much towards creating feelings among the Irish people, with respect to the law, such as had not before existed, towards taking away that impression which formerly existed with too much reason, that the law was the poor man's enemy, and that it ought to be defeated by any means which he could employ. The adoption of this system had been calculated to provide for the satisfactory adjustment of all those disputes which arose between man and man, and was, therefore, the foundation of improved order and tranquillity in Ireland. But if they threw doubt on the proceedings of the assistant barrister—if they mixed him up with polities by imposing on him, the duty of deciding on a right of voting, which was in itself vague and uncertain, this would, in effect, be to do all in their power to bring back to that state of things which had before existed, and to destroy the probably beneficial effects of a most valuable institution. And when he declared this opinion, he did not express it as his own view of the case only. Hon. Members opposite, who had sat upon the Fictitious Votes Committee (Ireland), could not fail to recollect the evidence of the assistant barristers who had been examined before them. These gentlemen had expressed the strongest opinion of the extreme inconvenience and mischief likely to arise from uniting in their persons the duty be had described with that which properly belonged to them. They said, that if they were to be called upon to perform the duties of registration, it was of the utmost importance, that they should not be required to adjudicate upon an uncertain, indefinite, and vague right of voting. This was their opinion, and he thought, that the arguments which he had suggested, showed, that the present uncertainty of 890 the right of voting in the manner in which he had pointed out, was calculated to affect the administration of justice. It might be argued, that registering barristers might be appointed distinct from the assistant barristers; but if they were to be so, who was to be intrusted, he would ask, with the invidious duty of appointing the barristers to perform this task? The noble Lord opposite had pointed out, bethought, with great justice, the great objections which existed to imposing upon the Speaker of the House a duty of that description. Could it be imposed upon the judges? In his opinion, they could be called upon to undertake it still less than the Speaker. Would it be trusted to the Executive Government? He was sure, that to that proposition, hon. Gentlemen opposite would say no; and he was bound to admit, with every appearance of reason and justice. But could they allow the right of deciding upon matters so vague and uncertain as the value of property to be given without any appeal irreversibly to any barrister, however chosen? Could they impose such an extent of authority and power to any one man? He thought not; and he asked if this question of value, as it at present stood under the existing law, were proposed to be allowed to continue in the same position, to what tribunal was it to be referred? Were they to give it, as at present, to a judge and jury? He was sure that no friend to Ireland would recommend such a course. Party politics and animosities had already gained by far too great admission to the sanctuaries of justice, and no man who had the slightest regard for the interests of Ireland would consent to the adoption of so injurious a system. Was it to be referred to a court of appeal such as the noble Lord the Secretary for Ireland proposed to form? He did not wish to pronounce an opinion as to how far such a court might answer for the purpose for which his noble Friend proposed it, of deciding upon points of law, but be thought, that at all events it was clear such a court would be altogether incompetent to deal with questions not of law but of fact when the result of evidence was to be determined on. In cases of disputed value, when the nice balance of conflicting testimony was to be decided, the evidence must be heard to be justly estimated, and of course three barristers sitting in Dublin could not hear evidence on appeals from all the courts of registration in Ireland. What, then, was the alternative? 891 Were they to leave the question of value open to the decision of a committee of that House? Were they upon every case of a contested election in Ireland to allow persons to be brought over at a vast expence to give evidence as to whether the property of every individual who had voted was not worth 10l. a-year more than he paid for it? The effect of that would be, that in every case where there was any thing like an equal division of parties in Ireland, the representation would be virtually placed at the command of the longest purse. He had now stated the grounds on which it appeared to him that it was in the highest degree important that they should endeavour, by some modification of the bill on the Table of the House, to connect the right of voting with the assessment under the Poor-law. In stating the grounds of his opinion to the House, he was aware that he had made admissions and expressed views upon some points which he must expect to be disapproved by hon. Gentlemen who sat around him. He knew also, that the conclusion at which he had arrived would be equally disapproved by hon. Gentlemen opposite. He was deeply sensible of the painful position in which a Member of that House was placed who looked around and could in no quarter find approbation of the course which he felt himself bound to pursue. It was much easier to go with the stream, to take decidedly one side or the other, and march in the ranks of one's party. But while he had the honour to hold a seat in that House, such would not be his conduct. He thought that in a question of this kind, in which he believed the peace, happiness, and stability, of the empire were at stake, he should act on the dictates of his own independent judgment, free from the trammels of party interests and connections. And he would respectfully appeal to hon. Gentlemen opposite who agreed with him in disapproving of extreme views on either side, and desiring that the question should be settled on a basis fair to all parties and to all interests, and entreat them to ask themselves whether this bill did not hold out a fair prospect of arriving at such a settlement. If it did hold out such a prospect, was it not their duty to support it? He did not profess any Utopian views as to the necessity of men always voting in that House merely on the dictates of their own opinions. He knew that it was a necessary consequence of the constitution of our Go- 892 vernment, and of the very nature of popular assemblies, that no great or useful object could be carried except by the cooperation of many men and many minds to one purpose. He knew also that such cooperation was only attainable by mutual concessions, by mutual sacrifices of opinion on minor points, in order that a general coincidence might be produced. He had himself always acted on that conviction, but in recognizing the propriety of such a rule of conduct, it must be with this reserve and this qualification, that it must not be taken as applying to questions of vital importance; but in all those great and important occasions when the highest interests of the country were at stake, he considered it necessary to act on his own individual judgment. Was not the present question one of the kind? Let any man look to the present situation of Ireland, and say that it was consistent with the security of the empire that this agitating question should any longer remain subject to the anger and acrimony of party discussion. Was it consistent with their hopes of the improvement of that country, and of its ultimately settling down into that state of security and tranquillity that would invite the application of English capital and intelligence to improve the condition of its vast, and, he feared, still miserable population? If they looked not merely to the internal state of Ireland, but also to the state of our foreign relations, would any man venture to tell him that the importance of settling this question was not greatly increased? Were there not in many quarters clouds casting up that were most ominous in their appearance? Was there not a feeling and a temper arising in the minds and opinions of men in other countries, that threatened the most serious consequences? We had already enjoyed an European peace as long, if not longer, than any which this country had ever enjoyed, but ought we therefore to reckon that that peace would last for ever? For his own part, he could not help thinking that the very length of time during which we had enjoyed peace added to the doubt whether it would continue, and to the danger lest a different state of things might succeed it. He believed that a population was arising in this and other countries, by whom the miseries of war were to a great extent forgotten, and that the same passions and interests which in former times had desolated the world with war and bloodshed might again lead to si- 893 milar results. If, then, they took into consideration all these probabilities (or at all events possibilities), and at the same time looked at the position of the country at home and abroad, could they honestly reconcile to themselves to regard this measure as one of minor importance, and one upon which they could vote according to party interests and party animosities? He confessed that he could not believe that this would be the case; he could not believe that the House would not participate with him in the deep feeling which he entertained, that this was a question on which they were bound to give their votes unbiassed by any such considerations. He for one would give his vote under a sense of the greatest responsibility, but without the slightest hesitation or doubt that it was his duty to support the second reading of the bill now before the House.
§ Dr. Lefroy
said, there were some parts of the speech of the noble Lord who had just sat down, in which he cordially concurred. He had expressed himself in reference to the conduct of some of the Irish judges in a manner which every man anxious for the honour of the profession, and the due administration of the law must approve of. If the object of the bill before the House were to establish, what he concurred with the noble Lord in thinking was very desirable, namely, a test of the qualification, which would put an end to all doubt and perjury, he should give it his hearty concurrence. If it were what it imported to be in its preamble, he would have no hesitation in giving it his support; but the bill before the House was anything but a bill carrying into effect its own preamble. The noble Lord had also stated what appeared to him a very decisive reason for opposing the second reading of the bill—namely, that they had not sufficient information before them on which to proceed. That he conceived was quite sufficient ground to prevent their wasting the time of the House in going into committee, when they had not sufficient evidence to act upon throughout. Under these circumstances, he had not the slightest hesitation in giving his unqualified support to the motion of his noble Friend, for the postponement of the bill. It was admitted by the hen. Member for Halifax, who last night took a leading part in support of the bill, that it abolished all the county franchises, and substituted a new species of franchise in their stead, and reduced those 894 of the towns to one-half of their present qualification. The same thing was admitted by the noble Lord who closed the debate, and they had, therefore, a distinct admission that the bill was of a nature which of necessity infringed upon the great leading principles of the Reform Act. In truth the honest title of the bill should be a bill to abolish all the county franchises in Ireland, as established by the Reform Act, and to substitute others in their stead, and to modify and alter those for the towns. Now, if that which should be so, were the title of the bill, he should wish to know what the noble Lord who last addressed the House (the hon. Member for Halifax) would say to it. He should like to know whether it would come within those limits beyond the four corners of the Reform Act which his doctrines of finality would permit him to go to? But let the opinion of the noble Lord, or the hon. Member for Halifax, be what it might on that point, the present bill was, in the face of it, a bill for violating plainly and palpably the great principles of the Reform Act; and upon that ground he conceived the House was bound, in the very first instance, to reject such a measure. The noble Lord who had just addressed the House, had expressed what he perfectly concurred with him in—a wish for the establishment of some test by which they would get rid of the oath of the party, and of all the uncertainty and difficulty attending the decision of the question on the existing franchise for counties. He perfectly concurred with the noble Lord in that object; but was that the object of the present bill? It was not, except in its preamble; but the object of its enactments was to abolish altogether the existing franchise. It might have been a bill to achieve the other object, but it was not so. If it had been a bill to establish a criterion of value founded on the valuation under the Poor-law Act, and that valuation had been legally and correctly made according to the directions of the act, it would have afforded one great and fundamental element in ascertaining the franchise, namely, the value of the land out of which the franchise was derived; and if, after deducting the rent from this valuation, the tenant should appear to have a profit of 10l. per annum, they would then have had a clear test to ascertain the qualification without the conflict of the solvent tenant test, or the beneficial interest test at present ex- 895 isting; and, if the Poor-law valuation had been above suspicion (which was far from being the case), they would have had a basis on which to arrive at certainty, without being obliged to appeal to the oath of the party, and have thus avoided those temptations to perjury to which the noble Lord alluded. But that was not the object of the bill—it was not to adopt any criterion for ascertaining the clear profit of the voter beyond the rent he paid—it was simply to abolish the existing qualification, and to substitute in its place what he must take the liberty of saying was a pure democratic principle—namely, the liability to vote, which was no test whatsoever of profit or interest in the land—a principle which those who brought in the Reform Bill never would condescend to adopt. If there were any principle, plain and clear, on the face of that bill—if there were any principle which the promoters of the bill had clearly in view, it was this—that, although the object was to enlarge the constituency, and to enlarge it very considerably, the extension of the franchise, to be given to additional population, was to be given through the medium of property. This was plain and palpable in the face of the Irish Reform Act. In counties the test of property was having a profit of 10l. a year beyond the rent. It was not material then to discuss how that profit was to be ascertained; but a profit of 10l. a year beyond the rent was required for the county franchise, and in a town the qualification was the occupation of a house of the yearly value of 10l.—a sure criterion that property should be represented as well as numbers. Indeed, if landed property was to be represented, he could not conceive how it was possible, consistently with a very extended franchise among the population, that it could be effectually represented, unless you guard it by requiring some interest in the land on the part of him who was to obtain the franchise. The man who held an estate of 10,000l. per annum, had only one vote in right of his land, and if every one having a vote in right of land had not an interest, so as to make all participate in what regarded the land, it was evident the large proprietors would not be fairly represented. But a community of interest was established by the provision that the franchise derived out of land should be accompanied by a certain profit as the test of an interest. Rut this test was abolished by 896 the present bill. The rating under the Poor-law was no criterion of property or profit. The occupier was not rated the higher or lower on account of paying a rent for his land. It was not the value over the rent which was inquired into, but the value of the land as it stood. Rating under the Poor-law could never therefore of itself be a test of profit above the rent—and yet this was the only test which this bill provides for the future franchise in counties—and that a rating on a value of 5 l. per annum. A man may pay a rent higher than the value, and thus have demonstrably no interest in the land, and yet he would be entitled to the franchise. In towns the party was only required to occupy a House of the yearly value of 10l.; it was therefore utterly unnecessary to reduce the qualification by one-half. It was plain therefore, that the object was not as asserted in the preamble, to remove doubts and difficulties in ascertaining the qualification; for no conflicting question as to the solvent interest test, or the beneficial interest, could arise in towns. He trusted that one object, which appeared to him inevitable, had not been contemplated, when it was proposed to reduce the Parliamentary franchise in towns to 5l. It was plain, that if that was done, the qualification for the municipal electors could not stand at 10l. Was it, then, intended, or was that result to be overlooked, that in these times they were to have the question of the municipal franchise stirred up again? That question was supposed to have been set at rest; but if the Parliamentary franchise was to be reduced to 5l., it was impossible that the municipal qualification could stand at 10l. It appeared to him that that alteration as suggested in the bill, was substantially an alteration of the Reform Act—and that had been admitted by the noble Lord who had brought forward the present measure in February, 1839. When the hon. and learned Member for Dublin moved for leave to bring in a bill to assimilate the franchise in the two countries, the noble Lord is reported to have said—The motion of my hon. and learned Friend, if assented to, would be in direct contravention both of the settlement which accompanied the emancipation act of 1829, and of the settlement made by the Reform Act of 1832.Here was the declaration of the noble 897 Lord, in February 1839, and he would ask how long were they to depend upon the declarations of a Government whose sentiments and opinions were so quickly violated? He was astonished that the Government did not feel the mischief to the country, and the disgrace to themselves, that attached to such vacillating and improper conduct. The Government in that case had made a distinct avowal, founded on the supposition that it was for the interest of the whole empire to abide by it, and almost immediately afterwards they found them departing from that line of policy without any adequate cause or occasion. Another ground of objection was the novelty of the franchise which it sought to introduce. He could not put his opinion of it in such strong language or adequate terms as his noble Friend the Member for North Lancashire when discussing that newly-invented franchise. The noble Lord said it was a franchise which nobody ever thought of for England, or dreamt of for Scotland. Indeed it had only been heard of occasionally from the hon. Member for Kilkeny, when he broached it as the basis of his favourite theory of testing the qualification of the franchise by the mere payment of the rate. The noble Lord had done the hon. Member's proposition injustice, and had gone somewhat short of the democratic principle of the hon. Member. It was on liability to vote, the noble Lord would found the franchise, not on payment; and accordingly the bill before them was founded not upon the payment of the rate, but upon the liability. It might be matter of gratification to her Majesty's Government, but it was matter of regret to him, that in so many points, the bill was in conformity with the principles expressed by those who undoubtedly carried their democratic views to an extent which he was happy to say the great body of the House had never yet given their countenance to. But it was a melancholy thing to find the Government laying on the Table of the House a bill adopting so many of those views, and giving it the sanction of their names and authority. He had already observed that the proposed franchise was worse than the 40s. franchise, for that required not only a larger interest in point of estate, but also a profit, although not a large one: whereas the present did not require one farthing of profit. It was plain the Government had 898 contemplated this class of persons as no better than paupers, for according to the two first Poor-law bills brought in by them, the tenant who paid no higher rent than 5l. was entitled to deduct from the landlord the whole amount of his rate. The present Poor-law Act was brought on in the same form, and it was not until it had been altered in committee that the tenant under such circumstances was debarred from deducting the amount of the rate from his landlord. Now let the House consider what was the state of the law in England in that respect—it required the rating of a tenement of the value of 10l. a-year to enable the pauper to receive the parish relief. That was the right of settlement as it existed in England under the old law. So that in reality, if the bill should pass into a law, they would have a qualification for the Irish Parliamentary franchise, not exceeding half, and not necessarily amounting even to one-half the value, which was necessary to qualify a pauper in England to receive parish relief. One of the grounds on which that mischievous and extraordinary change had been supported was, first of all, that it was with a view to enlarge the constituency of Ireland; and secondly, to prevent its being diminished, when the poor laws came generally into operation. Now, upon that point they had no sufficient evidence before them of the fact, either that the constituency had been diminished, or of the probable occurrence of such an event. The document which had been already adverted to, and which had been laid upon the table on the motion of the hon. Member for Kilkenny—that document, with one observation, gave them the present state of the constituency in Ireland. He admitted that the constituency, registered in 1832, had fallen to the ground, unless since reregistered; but he contended that if that constituency was such as it was represented, and ought to have been, they might be registered upon their certificates. If that constituency had a right to be on the registry in October, 1840, they might, according to the present decision of the law in Ireland, on the production of their certificates be put upon the registry. Therefore he was entitled to take that return as establishing the constituency as it did, or at all events, as it might exist in Ireland. What was the result according to that document? A great deal had been said 899 to disparage the effect of the reform act in Ireland, and to show that it had not worked in the way that was expected to increase the constituency; but let the House compare the constituency as it stood previously to the reform act, and subsequently to it. By the returns which had been laid before the House, the constituency in Ireland in 1831, before the passing of the reform act, consisted, in the counties, of 52,170, and in the towns, of 18,238, making a total constituency of 70,408. According to the return which had been made of the present state of the constituency, it appeared that there were in the counties 99,157, and in the cities, boroughs, and towns, 55,530, making a total constituency, at the present moment, of 154,687—showing an increase upon the constituency, before the passing of the reform act, of 46,987, being a total increase of the Irish constituency of 84,287. The House would thus see that the constituency had more than doubled since the passing of the reform act. It was a very remarkable thing that in Cork, looking at the constituency in that exclusive and, as regards property, best managed, county in Ireland—the constituency of Cork, prior to the abolition of the 40s. freeholders, did not exceed 5,448. Now, at the present moment, according to the returns on the table, it amounted to 5,738: so that on a comparison of the constituency of Cork, even in the high and palmy days of the 40s. freeholders with the present time, it was somewhat less under the old system. There was no ground, therefore, for saying that the constituency of Ireland had been so diminished as to render it necessary to have recourse to any expedient, particularly such a desperate means as the present, to keep a reasonable proportion between the constituency and the population. When hon. Gentlemen talked of enlarging the constituency, in reference to the population, he would take leave to say that it was utterly impossible to legislate with respect to the mere mathematical principles of proportion. Many other things must be taken into account besides numbers—the circumstances of the country in respect of property, which might materially account for, and justify, a diminished constituency. There were circumstances, also, attending the effect of increasing the constituency, in reference to the general balance of power in the state. It was a serious consideration, and should be well weighed by 900 the House whether the democratic influence in Ireland was not of a sufficiently high amount at the present moment. Was it not worth consideration, whether it was not at the amount at which it ought to stand? Were they to increase that influence to an amount which would throw into that House a preponderance of that influence which would stifle the voice of the majority of the people of England and Scotland in that House? He felt the more justified in urging that argument, when he referred to the observations of the noble Lord the Secretary for Ireland, on the occasion to which he had before alluded. In February, 1839, the noble Lord observed:—Is it to be said that the Irish reform bill has utterly failed and perished? This, at least, cannot he said with any grace by the hon. and learned Gentleman, when he looks around on those who surround him, and sees the benches on all sides of him filled with such a large majority of Gentlemen from Ireland who profess the same opinions as his own.Now, the House would recollect that before the passing of the reform act, the Irish Members on the opposite side of the House professing liberal opinions amounted to thirty-three; while the Members on his side amounted to sixty-three. What was the case since the passing of the reform bill? Why, that the Members who sat on the opposite side, and surrounded the hon. and learned Member for Dublin, amounted to seventy; while those on his (Mr. Lefroy's) side, amounted to only thirty-five. He would venture to predict that if a constituency were to be formed, such as this bill proposed, a very considerable proportion of the future Members for Ireland would be repealers; and it should be recollected that at the very moment when Lord Althorp said he would rather see a civil war than a violation of the union, he added, unless it were desired by a very large and preponderating majority of the Irish Members. They had had another argument for increasing the constituency, and that was the report of the Gentlemen commissioned by the noble Lord the Secretary for Ireland to make a report upon the working of the Poor law act in that country. He referred to the report of Messrs. Haig and Deasy, and he doubted exceedingly, without wishing to cast any imputation on these gentlemen, whether that report had not been made to support the bill before the House 901 rather than that the bill was founded upon the report. He could not find any date to the report which he held in his hand, and which had been laid upon the Table of the House the previous day. He found, however, by a former report, that they were proceeding on their commission at the end of the month of October. Now if these Gentleman were not apprised at that time of what was brewing in the cauldron, they were more ignorant than most other persons—for it was pretty generally surmised that a bill was being prepared on that principle. These Gentlemen had been sent to make a report on the working of the valuation under the Poor-law act, and he found that in their report they staled its working to be in precisely such terms as would recommend to the House the adoption of the principle of the present bill. He found in the report this short but remarkable observation:—If the law were to require any excess of rating over rent, however small, framed as the Poor-law valuations have been, such a test would exclude the tenants, even of the most indulgent landlords. This is a necessary consequence of the valuations being generally below the rents.Here was a strong reason given for abolishing the existing system; for if this were so, and the Poor-law rating was to abide, it made it almost impracticable for any tenant to have the franchise, if the rent was to be deducted. But what did these gentlemen say with respect to the rate? Why, that it was totally contrary to all the provisions of the Poor-law act—that it was taken on a principle in total contravention of all law—that it was a rule which could not be maintained; and yet the rule which they themselves so disparage, and which they maintained, could not be instanced as valid, and which must at the very next valuation be abandoned. The House was to legislate upon that rate as an appropriate one for the franchise in Ireland. Whatever weight might be due to the report of those gentlemen, it was an opinion given upon a review of ten unions only out of 140; and on the basis of such an opinion they were now called upon to legislate, and with such imperfect information as was now before them. The noble Lord (Howick) who had last addressed the House—with what consistency he himself could best judge, for he did not pretend 902 to do so—had told them that he meant to vote for the second reading. There was one more objection which he wished to advert to before sitting down—an objection on the principle of which the 40s. freeholders had been mainly abolished—a principle in support of the value of which he was prepared to call for a witness of the highest authority on the opposite side of the House—he meant the hon. and learned Member for Dublin. The principle of the objection he was about to state to the present qualification was its tendency to break up the property of the country into small and inconsiderable portions. That was one of the mischievous consequences of the old 40s. system, and that was got rid of by the evidence taken before committees of both Houses of Parliament. Before a Committee of the House of Lords the hon. and learned Member for Dublin was examined, and he should trouble the House by reading a few passages of the testimony the hon. and learned Gentleman had given on the importance of increasing the franchise, and the mischievous consequences of reducing and subdividing the land with a view to increasing the constituency. In answer to questions put to the hon. and learned Member, he said, on being asked,—Do you think the raising the qualification to 10l. would be productive of great benefit to Ireland?—I think it would be productive of benefit; it is, in my humble judgment, no small benefit if you get rid of any portion of perjury; and it is the commencement of what we want in Ireland—a substantial yeomanry. Would the qualification of 10l. be effectual for that purpose?—I think it would, for this reason: your Lordships will recollect that there must be a clear profit of 10l. a-year, and a freehold tenure—-an interest in the land for life.Now, that was what would be the result of the present measure. The landlord would lose nothing—the property would be broken up into small fragments, but the rent would not be diminished The number of voters would be immensely increased, and it would tend to the corruption of the constituency; and no hon. Gentleman could doubt that the fewer the constituency, the more liable it was to corruption. The system was injurious, therefore, to the soundness of the constituency itself. While he held the evidence of the hon. and learned Member in his hands, perhaps the House would allow him to call its attention to another passage 903 in that evidence, which had a bearing upon another objection to the present measure. It was not only an infringement on the Reform Act, but it was also an infringement on, and a violation of, that settlement which took place in 1829, by which the franchise of 10l. was substituted for that of the 40s. freeholders, and that upon a compact and understanding that the franchise was not to be disturbed. The hon. and learned Member was asked—Do you think the Catholics of Ireland would be content to exchange the indirect political power they now possess, by means of the 40s. freeholders, for the direct advantage of the particular influence they would possess, if admitted to the enjoyment of equal rights?—(He answered) "There may be some little clamour upon that subject, but it would be an irrational one, and I think easily put down. I am convinced the Catholics would very readily make that exchange.Again, the noble Lord the Secretary for Ireland, on the occasion already alluded to, when a motion was made to assimilate the franchise in the two countries, observed,—The motion of the hon. and learned Member, if assented to, would be in direct contravention both of the settlement which accompanied the Emancipation Act of 1829 and of the settlement made by the Reform Act of 1832.Here, then, they had a recognition by the noble Lord so lately as February, 1839, that the principle of the measure which he now proposed to the House to agree to, was a violation not only of the Reform Act, but of that settlement of 1829, by which the 10l. franchise was substituted for the 40s. freeholders, and of a compact, with reference to which the noble Lord said,—It is well known that the disfranchisement of the 40s. freeholders was a condition for carrying the Emancipation Bill, without which it would not have been carried.And yet they now heard the noble Lord proposing to the House, under the mask of removing doubts and difficulties in the county and town franchises, to abolish the present existing 10l. franchise, and to substitute in its place a rating test which never, at any amount, could be a test or criterion of the voter having any account of profit; and which, therefore, never could be a fair test of property, being based on a purely democratic principle, and utterly subservive of the constitution. 904 For these reasons, he should give his most hearty concurrence to the motion of the noble Lord who had proposed the amendment.
was not sorry that he was able at that period of the debate to rise and address the House, after the speech of his right hon. and learned Friend, who had introduced into the discussion some matters which had not previously been adverted to on the present occasion. In the consideration of this bill, and in the progress of the legislation which the Government had suggested to Parliament on the subject, the main subject of discussion was, whether the franchise, on the basis on which it existed in Ireland at present, ought to be continued. To the consideration of this question, as the debate proceeded, the chief attention of the House seemed to be directed. The main question was, whether or not they should continue as the qualification the test of value as it had been described by the noble Lord opposite, and by those who had followed him in the debate, and who supported the view which he had taken of the question. In the first place, then, let them see what the test at present was by law. He would ask the House what was the present state of things as regarded the test of value? He would again and again ask the House to stop and consider what was the present state of things as regarded the test of value for the franchise. He asked this, not only in cases where the franchise was doubtful in itself, but also when it was mixed up with contested questions of law. This, then, was the main question upon which he wished for a distinct answer from Gentlemen opposite. As it was, the question of value was made a matter of the greatest difficulty. It was stated, that there were three things necessary for the possession of the franchise: first, that the claimant should have a title; secondly, that there should clearly be an occupancy; and thirdly, that the test of value on the part of the tenant should be clear and distinct. All the allegations of which they had heard so much, with respect to cases of fraud, and which had been so strongly urged on the attention of the House, referred to this last conflicting test on the subject of value, and not at all on the two other points. As to the title of the claimant of the franchise, that could be clearly proved, for the party could easily show the deed under which he claimed to be placed upon the 905 register. As to the occupancy, there could be little difficulty, as it could be clearly proved and ascertained to the satisfaction of every one; but when they came to the question of value, they resorted to a test of the greatest difficulty; for, instead of being capable of direct proof by documentary or other evidence, it excited numerous doubts, and became a question of the utmost perplexity. The House well knew that, even in questions involving matters of fart of what passed before their eyes, and of scenes that came under their observation, and when they had only to refer to what they saw and heard, and when there was nothing calculated to swerve the mind, how much human testimony varied; but when interests were mixed up with discrepancies which otherwise arose, it was impossible that human testimony should not vary greatly. When, then, they had a great diversity of opinion, arising from opposing interests, or prejudices, or passions, was it to be regarded as a matter of astonishment? Could they, under such circumstances, expect strong and distinct testimony, utterly free from contradiction or variation. On all questions of the value of tenancies of estates, there was something in the very nature of the subject—there was something conflicting in the question itself, which was calculated to give rise to opposite testimony. The test or interpretation, however, was applied in Ireland in a manner which was utterly unknown in this country. In England this species of 10l. qualification was nominal, and could hardly be said to exist at all. The great proportion of the voters were freeholders, or tenants at will, or leaseholders of a different grade. There was also a facility of ascertaining in England the nature of the qualification, and of investigating the whole facts of the case which did not exist in Ireland. The lower franchise in England was composed almost entirely of small freeholds, and there was nothing in Ireland at present which coincided with the 40s. freeholders of this country. In point of fact, throughout the whole of the franchise the most glaring differences and discrepancies existed between the two countries. But in addition, the test of value as applied in Ireland was not only always a matter of ambiguity, but it was also a question of contested law. This was one of the most baneful evils which could exist in any state of things, and, above all, on a matter involving a question of contested rights. 906 This state of things had been described by a most able and distinguished writer as being a state of things which must be productive of the worst effects in any country; and to what an alarming extent was this evil allowed to attain in Ireland! The House was aware that a question had arisen before the Irish courts, as to the interpretation of the law on the subject of this test of value, and he wished Gentlemen to observe how this had affected the franchise in that country. By the act of 1829 the test for the franchise was declared to be what a solvent tenant could pay beyond his rent. This was inserted in the body of the act, and also in two of the schedules to it; thus there was a distinct incorporation of the point in the Act of Parliament. Amongst the tests which Parliament in its wisdom at that period thought it right to apply on this subject was a form of oath to be put to juries, in appeals to the assizes, on questions involving the value of premises for which the franchise was claimed. This oath was omitted in the Irish Reform Act, and the whole of this part of the act of 1829 was left out of that measure. The question, then, arose, not as to what was contained in the Reform Act, but as to whether the test he had just described was to be applied in questions arising out of the case of leaseholders, which was not inserted in the Act of 1829. The question came before the Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench in Ireland, who determined that the oath should not be administered. It then came before another of the judges, who decided in an opposite way. The subject then became a matter for the consideration of all the judges. He would ask whether this was not putting a question of doubtful law? The judges met, and gave their distinct opinions on the subject. The point raised was, whether the oath he had described was or was not lawful. It was determined by five of the judges, including the Lord Chief Justice of the Queen's Bench, that the oath was unlawful. On the other hand, some of the judges were of opinion that the administration of this oath was necessary. When the question was again put, it was carried by a majority of ten to two in favour of the test, as three of the judges who had formed a portion of the minority stated that they conceived that the opinion of the majority should be binding on the minority on a question of that nature. If, then, he showed that five of the judges were 907 against the administering this oath to juries on the questions of disputed value of tenancies, and that also three out of the ten judges who formed the last majority, which decided for the oath, had, in the first instance, given their opinions that it should not be administered, he considered that it would be a sufficient ground to come to Parliament and ask it to have this question settled and placed on a sure foundation. The case, then, stood thus—the opinions of the judges were divided in the proportion of five to seven. It then became in the proportion of ten to two, as three out of the five forming the former minority afterwards thought proper to sanction the opinion of the majority. He need hardly state, that it was the opinion of several judges that, in cases of a doubtful nature as to the interpretation of the law, the minority should be bound in the last instance to sanction the opinion of the majority. This was the case in the year 1837, but how stood the question now? Then the majority of the judges were in favour of applying this test, but since that time there had been changes on the bench, and he believed that if the opinion of the judges was to be asked at the present moment, it would be found that the opinion of the majority was contrary to what it appeared to be in 1837. The majority against the putting the oath he believed would at present be found to be in the proportion of seven to five. Under this conflicting state of opinion, he would ask how was the law to be upheld. On one day the Chief Justice of the King's Bench was in a minority as to his opinion, and the Chief Justice of the Common Pleas in the majority. Since then there had been a change, and the Chief Justice of the former court was now in a majority, while the other Chief Justice was in a minority. Were they, then, to postpone legislating on the subject until the judges were unanimous on the point, or until they obtained an opinion similar to that which had formerly been given. He contended that this state of things called imperatively for an alteration in the law, and it really became a disgrace to the Legislature not to remove all doubts as to the question of the franchise. If a question of the slightest importance had arisen as to property, on which there was a conflicting opinion amongst the judges, or involving a matter of the smallest amount, there would not be the least scruple on the part of Parliament to apply a remedy. Was it not, then, 908 the duty of the House to take the proper steps to remove all doubts on the subject, and make the law clear and unambiguous on a matter of such vast importance as the elective franchise? In every case, a doubt in the law was both a dishonour to the law, and an affliction to the people; but in the case of political law, for a doubt to exist, for this conflict of opinion among the judges, and among the people to continue, was a nuisance which must be abated; that such a state of things should exist in a part of the fundamental constitution of this realm, and that yet any man should for a moment doubt the absolute necessity of taking up the question, with a view to its settlement, impressed him with the utmost astonishment. There were two projects upon this subject before the House, between which the House was now called upon to decide. Let him assume—and he conceived there were very few persons in or out of the House, who did not see it was essential to remove this blot on our institutions—let him assume that something must be done, that some alteration in the law must be made to remedy the evil, and let him go into the main features of the measures before the House. The bill of the noble Lord opposite, so far from affording a remedy, did but aggravate and exasperate the evil, for the main principle, the essence, the vital feature of it was, that it gave an appeal against the franchise to the judges. To the judges—and to the judges to do what? Not to settle questions between parties according to a law, the principles of which were known and acknowledged, but to give the judges an opportunity of having still further questions made, of exposing the constituencies to the hazard of having doubtful law made still more doubtful by its application. What would be the consequence? What must necessarily arise under such a state of things? Suppose an assistant barrister admitted 500 votes; or suppose rather, that on the first annual revision he rejected 500 votes. An appeal is made to a judge; the votes, according to his view of the cases, are good, and he places them on the register; an election takes place—the candidate is returned. An intervening registry occurs, the same voters are objected to, but the assistant barrister, obeying the opinion of the judge, leaves them on the register. The objector, however, appeals from the decision to another judge who has come into the circuit, and the new judge hating an opinion on the case dif- 909 ferent from his predecessors, removes the 500 votes from the register. Would this be a remedy for the evil, or would it not rather be an aggravation of it. Again, under the present law, where appeals were to be made to any judge sitting at Nisi Prius, and where the Chief Justice of the Common Pleas was of one way of thinking on the subject, and the Chief Justice of the Queen's Bench of another, any person who chose to appeal against a vote was nearly sure to succeed, for all he had to do was to elect his judge according to the nature of his case. It was pretty well admitted on all hands, that by no definition of the words of the Reform Act could this question be settled. On what basis, then, could they proceed to supply a remedy for the evil? What were the qualities which should be required as a test? In the first place, they should require it to pervade the whole island, either at once or in the course of a tow years. This was the case in the Poor-law rating. One hundred and forty unions would comprise the whole of Ireland, and of these one hundred and twenty had already been declared. Next came the consideration as to what test would best comprise every species of property. Here again, with a slight exception, into which he would not then enter—a very slight exception—the Poor-law test would be found to apply to every species of property which could give the elective franchise. The next point to be looked to was not indeed a rating perfectly uniform through all parts of the island, but a rating uniform in large districts and among large populations. Now, he found from the returns relating to the unions already declared, that there was only one with a population under 20,000; while there were eight with populations of upwards of 100,000. As to the extent of district, there were only twenty-six which had under 100,000 acres. In the test of the Poor-law rating, therefore, they had a test which provided the utmost possible degree of uniformity over large districts and among extensive populations. In the Poor-law rating, also, would be found another important requisite—a counter check to prevent fraud, and to furnish something which of itself would prevent the endeavour to get the franchise without a title to it. Next came the question whether there was a precedent for the proposed registration, and he was prepared with an answer in the affirmative. Before the English Poor-law Act had been tried, 910 before it had been seen in practice, so as at all to arrive at a proof of its adequacy in operation, its rating was adopted by the Legislature as the rating for the municipal franchise; and this, on the same ground as was now advanced in reference to the present measure, the equality of rating, and the existence of counterchecking motives to prevent fraud. Had any other mode been suggested by which this difficulty could be got rid of? He had heard of none in all the discussions on the subject, cither in this debate or on a former occasion; and it, therefore, appeared to him that if they retired from the experiment now proposed without fully considering its merits—without seeing how near it could be modelled to the purpose, he must look on the case as utterly hopeless. The valuations which had been proceeded upon in this case were considerably below the net value of the property. The argument that the valuation was not absolutely uniform was most absurd: to suppose that you could obtain uniformity in questions of value was to suppose an impossibility. If rating were taken as a test by which the franchise was to be determined, it was impossible to exempt the test from this infirmity—that in some places it would be rather higher than in others. It was quite sufficient for the purpose that they were assured that the rating could never exceed the net value of the property. In no part of her Majesty's dominions, could they have a valuation made for the purpose of a rate which would exceed the net valuation of the property. They had, therefore, in this, as far as regarded the poverty of the franchise, an unobjectionable test. Who had a right to complain of this? No one; for anyone who had a tenement rated below its value, had his remedy by appeal. The first great point, then, was that the basis should be ascertained clearly before the parties went into the conflict of a Registration Court; and next, that the basis, extending all over the island, should be uniform over large districts, and over large populations. The question of the amount of franchise he was aware was one which, even on the second reading of the bill, was one of great consideration, but still the exact amount of the franchise was not the real question now. If he was asked, however, why 5l. in the present state of their information on the subject, was taken—though this was a question altogether for committee—but if he was asked why this sum had been 911 taken as the test, he should refer to the statement made by his noble Friend on introducing the bill. One main reason was, that the extent of the franchise, it was calculated, would be considerably diminished by the adoption of a higher test. Much controversy had arisen as to the intentions of the framers of the Reform Bill. In considering this question, it was for the House to regard it, not as lawyers, but as politicians and statesmen; and the question was what, in this point of view, they considered were the intentions of the authors of that bill, and what were the rights of the people under it? They were not dealing now with a recent question; they were not dealing with men who were for the first time seeking to acquire rights, but they were dealing with men who had acquired a franchise, and who had exercised it now for eight years. The point was, how did the Irish people, for whom they were legislating, look at the question? They did not inquire into the particular meaning of particular clauses, but they looked to the declaration of their legislators, to the declarations of statesmen, of those who brought forward measures, and who explained them to Parliament; and from these declarations let him ask, what meaning was it probable the Irish people attached to the one part of the Reform Bill which immediately related to their franchise? They found that in 1829, an act was passed to establish a certain franchise; and that in 1832 another act was passed to extend that franchise; but that, whereas the act of 1829 laid down as a test, that the solvent tenant should be able to afford 10l. over and above the rent, this test was dropped in the Reform Act of 1832. Again, they found that the definition of the beneficial interest of 10l. which a man may have in his own holding, was in their Act of 1832, though it was not in the English or the Scottish Act; and they further found that the oath which in the former Act the assistant-barrister was authorised to require from them as to the solvent tenant test was abandoned in the act of 1832. The argument on the opposite side of the House was, that the definition was unchanged, and that the test ought to be retained, and that by law it was so retained. This was not a question to be argued by the House, in the character of lawyers, but as politicians; they must consider the Reform Act with reference to the people to whom they gave it, and with reference to the rights which 912 had been actually enjoyed under the act. Now there was ample evidence to prove that in 1832, when the new tribunal was established by which the act was to be administered, when the sixty barristers were employed under the direction of the noble Lord opposite, then Secretary for Ireland, that these barristers went about administering it in the manner in which the people there generally understood it to stand. Let him just call the attention of the House to the state of things which existed under the Reform Act, and as it existed under the former statute. The act of 1829 required that all the 10l. freeholders in Ireland, then created, should be registered. In May, 1831, a return was made to the House of Commons, whence it appeared that under the act of 1829 there were then (in the month of May) registered 20,109 10l. freeholders in Ireland. Now, what was the operation of the law of 1832, a year after that return of registered 10l. freeholders was made? In the Autumn of 1832, it appeared that the number of 10l. freeholders registered under the Reform Act was 37,730, making an addition of 17,639, nearly one-half, to the number registered under the former act. The Reform Act was notoriously administered on the construction of extension by the barristers, and on that construction it was understood by the people. Was it not then, the duty of Parliament, in considering exactly how this matter stood, and how a new law was to be applied to existing rights, to consider what rights accrued to the people under the Reform Act, in that construction of extension? Let him say another word on this point: The noble Lord opposite was at that time Secretary for Ireland; this investigation into the number of freeholders took place under his guidance, and it was in evidence that the barristers were constantly in communication with him, and that he gave them readily and promptly, and with the acuteness and intelligence which characterised him, the construction which he contemplated, though nothing then was said by him against that construction. In 1832 there was a contested election; and a contested petition; but after that petition, after an inquiry had taken place, after the law thus administered under the Reform Act had been investigated by a select committee of the House, there was no attempt made to introduce an act declaratory of an opposite construction. The Longford com- 913 mittee, also, composed for the most part of gentlemen on the other side of the House, came to a decision, founded upon the construction: if, then, an opposite construction had been intended, it was most dishonest towards the people of Ireland not to declare it. Never, until the present question arose, had the principle been contested. And here let him cite one opinion upon the subject which the House would do well to attend to. In 1829, when the House was debating a bill for raising the Irish franchise, in connection with the Emancipation Act, the introduction of this very test of good and solvent tenant was made the subject of discussion. Among others, Mr. Leslie Foster said,The ordinary question was put every day to the freeholder—'By virtue of your oath, sir, would you take 40s. a year to give up your house?" And the answer was of course, 'No, it is worth more, and I will not leave it.' He saw no difference between the law of England and the principle adopted in this case.Upon which the noble Lord, then Mr. Stanley, said,He conceived, that it was quite sufficient for the freeholder to prove that he had a beneficial interest of 10l. in his land, without calling on him to show that a solvent tenant could afford 10l. more. The hon. Member for Louth had put a question which, he said, had frequently been put forth from this side of the House. He asked, 'If you do not approve of this, what will you do?' And he said that he saw no middle course. Now he (Mr. Stanley) did see a middle course. The complaint of those who objected to this clause was, not that the franchise was raised from 40s. to 10l., but that it was raised much higher, at the same time that a new criterion was established for ascertaining the reality of the interest. The middle course will be to demand proof of a bona fide 10l. interest and no more.Now here was the noble Lord using the very expression of beneficial interest, and doing more, saying that it should not be tested by the good and solvent tenant test. He conceived that his noble Friend was quite right in taking the Reform Act as its authors framed it, and as the people had received it. In conclusion, he would call on all who looked on this question—not with a view to the sordid interests of party—who looked to the interests of one-third of the population of the British islands—who looked to the future peace and tranquillity of Ireland—who desired the progress in the rapid career of improvement which was now developing so much of the resources of that country—who 914 wished to extend to that part of the empire happiness and prosperity—fairly and candidly to come to the consideration of this question, with a view to useful and practical legislation; and he trusted that, for this purpose, they would allow the bill to go into committee.
§ Sir William Follett
quite agreed with the right hon. and learned Gentleman who had just addressed the House, that the question which they had properly to consider on the second reading of this bill, was with respect to the clauses which had been introduced respecting, the elective franchise. He quite agreed with the right hon. and learned Gentleman, that the details of the bill respecting registrations in Ireland would be much better discussed in committee. But it was the question involved in those clauses respecting the elective franchise that now properly arose on the second reading of the bill. And he must say, at the outset, he could not avoid expressing his surprise, that the right hon. and learned Gentleman, the Attorney-general for Ireland, under whose auspices this bill was mainly introduced, should have concluded his speech without addressing a single word to the House on the great and sweeping change, without one single word on the great and sweeping alterations made by those clauses in the principle of the Reform Bill, which related to the elective franchise in Ireland. He could not suppose that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was not perfectly aware of the full scope and intent of this bill, although he had treated it as if the whole principle which they were discussing,—as if the whole principle which those on his side of the House were opposing, was the application of the Poor-rate valuation as a test of the elective franchise. That was the main argument of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech, with the exception of the argument, partly legal and partly political, which he had addressed to the House on the meaning of the beneficial interest under the Reform Bill. But was the application of the Poor-rate, as a test of value, really the great objection on that side of the House? or had they really offered the application of that test? On the contrary, he (Sir W. Follett) for one was perfectly prepared to agree with the observation of his hon. Friend, the Member for Monaghan (Mr. Lucas), and with the noble Lord, the Member for Northumberland, that it would be extremely desirable that some test, arising 915 from the rate for the relief of the poor, duly and properly imposed, or from some other public burden, duly and properly imposed on the occupiers of land in Ireland, should be applied to determine the qualification for the franchise, and that they should not rest alone on the oath either of the claimant or of witnesses coming forward for the occasion. He knew not why it should be supposed that they were hostile to such a test; on the contrary, he had supported it, and his right hon. Friends near him had supported that test as applied to the qualification for voting in municipal bodies. No; that was not what he objected to. What he objected to was this; that, under pretence, if he might so say, of applying the Poor-rate as a test of value, it swept away and destroyed the present elective franchise in Ireland. It entirely and completely destroyed the constituency created by the Reform Bill, and substituted another constituency on a totally different principle and of a totally different character. He would undertake to say, that he could satisfy the hon. Member for Halifax, who he regretted not to see in his place, that this was not one of the minor alterations in the Reform Bill, that it was not an alteration for the purpose of carrying out and settling a question arising from that bill, but that it was, on the contrary, a violent interference with the very principle on which that bill rested. On that ground he objected to the second reading of the bill, and he must again say he was astonished, that the right hon. and learned Gentleman, the Attorney-general for Ireland, should not have addressed one single word of argument to that part of the subject. Before he went into the bill to show that it was an interference with the Reform Act, the House would permit him to say one word as to the doubts and difficulties which the right hon. and learned Gentleman had spoken of as having arisen under the Reform Act, and which were set forth in the preamble as the ground of the present measure. The bill did not profess to be introduced for the purpose of altering the Reform Bill, or of creating a new constituency in Ireland. They found nothing of either in the preamble of the bill. The preamble of the bill stated, that its object was mainly to remove certain doubts respecting the qualification of electors in Ireland. The bill was introduced on the ground of removing doubts, but when they came to the enacting part of the 916 bill, they found that it removed no doubts, but that it simply swept away and destroyed the existing qualifications in Ireland. What were the doubts and difficulties that had arisen. He perfectly agreed with the right hon. and learned Gentleman; and no one more deeply lamented the fact than he did; that the scenes which were now exhibited in Ireland in reference to the elective franchise were a very great scandal and reproach to the administration of justice in the country. No one more deeply lamented those scenes than he did; but at the same time he was not prepared to admit, that the blame of those scenes could be properly laid, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman had laid them, to deficiencies in the wording of the Reform Bill. He was not prepared to admit that. As an English gentleman, and an English lawyer, he entirely agreed with the hon. Member for Halifax, that he could not understand how the doubts and difficulties had arisen. The difficulty was this. They had in Ireland words giving the elective franchise almost precisely the same as in England. With regard to two great classes of voters the words were exactly the same. The freeholders and occupiers of 10l. tenements had the franchise under precisely the same words as in England. The difference in the case of leaseholders was in the use of the words beneficial interest. He would again appeal to the hon. Member for Halifax, whether any English Gentleman—he knew no English lawyer would—rise in his place and say, that the introduction of such words created the slightest doubt in his mind. In England, then, where they had words with respect to some franchises exactly the same as in Ireland, what was the case? They had revising barristers in different parts of England. They had discordant decisions of those revising barristers. But he never heard of a revising barrister entertaining the slightest doubt of the meaning of those words. Those words had been carried into effect in England without exciting doubts or differences of opinion at all. But what had occurred in Ireland? As the right hon. and learned Gentleman had informed them—as soon as the Reform Bill was passed, certain barristers who had been sent down under the act to preside at the registries, had given what was called the large and liberal construction of the act. But did the right hon. and learned Gentleman know—did the House know—how far some of those 917 revising barristers went in the liberality of their constructions, not with regard to the value of freeholds or leaseholds, but with regard to occupiers of 10l. tenements? He could state, for he had seen it proved before committees of the House of Commons, that persons occupying portions of houses which had been left out of the local rate because they were under the value of 5l., had received the franchise as 10l. occupiers. Those revising barristers thought they were giving a right construction to the act in admitting the occupiers of cellars to the elective franchise, because by their trade, or in some other way they made 10l. a-year in them. That was one way of giving a construction to the bill in Ireland. So with regard to freeholds, instead of taking the only mode which had ever been heard of in this country, of ascertaining the value, they took the fanciful mode of calculating the profits of the possessor in some other way, by which he might make up the 10l. If doubts occurred upon this act—which worked so well and with so little doubt in England—but if doubts occurred from the extraordinary interpretation of these revising barristers, what was the right and proper mode of settling the dispute? It was certainly not to conic to Parliament, and ask Parliament to define and give instructions, because Parliament had already spoken in plain language. He could fancy no mode but one—an appeal to the judges—and he could not conceive any more judicious, right, or proper mode of settling a disputed question of law than assembling the twelve judges of Ireland to hear the matter solemnly argued and discussed; and when the opinion of that tribunal was pronounced, he could not understand how, he could hardly believe, that any one had acted against the decision of the assembled judges. Yet what was the fact? Ten of the judges in Ireland had given a decision in favour of that construction of the act which was adopted in England without doubt or difficulty. Ten of the judges were of the same opinion, but two were dissentients, and those two dissentient judges chose, notwithstanding the judgment of their brethren on the bench, to act on their own opinions, and that had led to those scenes which were complained of. He could assure the House, that he never approached this subject without regret. He trusted the House would believe, that in any observations which he had made, or might make, he was not im- 918 puting improper motives to these judges. He was quite sure of this, that there was no member of the English bar who had attained a seat on the judicial bench, had ever allowed political feelings to interfere with the discharge of his duties. He believed the same of the Irish bar, and for that reason, he the more deeply lamented, that in a question of a purely political nature, where one would have supposed, that an individual would be more glad to yield his opinion to a majority—the two dissentient judges should have chosen to set up their opinions against the judgment of the others. He knew they might be told, as they had been by the hon. and learned Member for Dublin, on a former occasion, that the judgment of the judges was not binding, not being in a court of appeal or a court of error. He perfectly agreed, that the judgment was not legally binding, but neither was the judgment of the Queen's Bench, or of the Common Pleas, or of the twelve judges in criminal cases, binding upon individuals. But what a state would the law of England be in, and what scenes would the courts exhibit, if such decisions were not really observed? What man's life or fortune would be safe if judges in England chose to stick to their individual opinions, instead of yielding to the solemn judgments of the courts? No doubtful question could be settled, and there would be no security or certainty if every judge, notwithstanding the decision of a majority of his brethren, still rated on his own opinion. Even the Government acted on the opinion of a majority of the judges. In the late case of high treason, a majority of the judges who tried the prisoners were of opinion that they ought to be acquitted, yet the Government acted on the opinion of a majority of the twelve judges, in carrying out the sentence so far as to inflict severe, although not the full punishment. He could not help thinking that it would have been more decorous, and more calculated to create respect for the administration of justice, if the two judges in question had given up their individual opinions, and been bound by the opinion of the majority. He should say so if the question were one unconnected with politics, but it was doubly incumbent on them to do so on a question in which political feeling was involved. He would not follow the right hon. and learned Gentleman in detail, but he must refer to the quotation which he had made from a speech of his noble 919 Friend the Member for North Lancashire, and which the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to as if the speech had been made on the introduction of the Reform Bill. That speech was made before the granting of the Catholic Emancipation Bill, and it had no reference to the question which the right hon. and learned Gentleman was discussing, which was the meaning of certain clauses of the Reform Bill. The right hon. Gentleman had introduced a bill last Session, containing a definition of franchise very different from anything that was known in England. If that bill had passed, it would have increased tenfold the mischiefs of the Irish system, and being, moreover, a declaratory act relating to that which was law in England as well as in Ireland, it would have introduced the same doubts, the same perplexity, and the same difficulties as in England. He did not think there would be more success with the present bill. He did not think it would remove doubts or difficulties, and he did not think it quite fair, nor quite honest, under pretence of removing doubts and difficulties to introduce such a clause as he should now quote to the House. What was it? He said its effect was this:—It not only destroyed the franchise as created by the Reform Bill, but it created another, based on a totally different principle. How did the right of voting now stand? The present constituency was created by the Catholic Emancipation Act and the Reform Bill. The qualifications were 10l. freeholds and leaseholds for certain terms, for sixty, twenty, and fourteen years, with a beneficial interest of 10l. or 20l., according to the length of the term. The copyhold franchise hardly existed in Ireland. Well, what was the principle on which these franchises were given? The principle of the Reform Bill was this—that in counties the elective franchise should be based upon property, and that the right of voting in boroughs should be based upon occupation. On that principle the Reform Bill was framed. And such, too, was the old and constitutional principle, both in England and Ireland, that the right of voting in counties should depend upon property, and in boroughs upon occupation. The noble Lord the Secretary for the Colonies would pardon him for adverting to some observations made by him—not in the House—upon the 50l. clause in England. The noble Lord said he objected to that clause, not so much on the ground 920 of abuses to which it led, as because it interfered with the principle on which the elective franchise in counties was bottomed by the Reform Bill, namely, property, and not occupation. That 50l. franchise was the only instance in England in which the right of voting in counties was not based upon property. In Ireland there was no instance. But what was proposed by this bill? Nothing less than to take away the necessity for any property at all. He begged the attention of the House particularly to this, because it was impossible to collect this from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. The bill proposed to require no property qualification whatever. Instead of a freehold or leasehold of ten pounds value, a claimant need not have any property at all to entitle him to vote, because the bill only required him to be an occupier, with a lease of fourteen years, of a tenement rated at the value of 5l. But the occupier of such a tenement not only might not have an interest of 10l. or 5l., but he need not have an interest of one single farthing to entitle him to vote. Now, he wanted to know, in the first place, was not this a complete alteration in the principle of the Reform Bill. What was its effect? Its effect would be this—that every occupier, under a full rack-rent of a cottage or garden, paying the full value, or more than the full value for it, if he held a lease of fourteen years, would be entitled to vote in elections for counties. What was this in point of fact? It was an approach to, if it was not at once admitting the principle of universal suffrage. It was almost admitting the principle of universal suffrage in counties in Ireland. He asked whether that was not the construction to be put upon it? He could not forget the observation of the hon. Member for Kilkenny upon the noble Lord's bill, when he hoped it would soon be introduced into England, and if it were, that there would no longer be revising barristers or courts of registration—an observation which was not very far from the truth, for where there was hardly any qualification required, there would be little matter to call for a decision. He objected to this bill, therefore, as altering the principle of the Reform Bill, by not requiring any property as a qualification for voting in counties. It was also objectionable, because it was a direct violation of the condition which accompanied the bill for Roman Catholic relief, which imposed and required a 10l. 921 freehold franchise in Ireland. [Hear, hear, from Lord J. Russell]. The noble Lord cheered. The noble Lord himself had not long ago opposed a bill, not upon the second reading, but opposed its introduction, on the ground that it interfered with the settlement under the Catholic Emancipation Act and the Reform Bill. Well, the present measure required no longer a 10l. freehold, the property required by the Reform Bill. It did not even restore the 40s. freeholds, but made a much worse franchise—a franchise every way more objectionable. What was the great objection to the 40s. freeholder in Ireland? It was not only the state of dependance in which the voter was—it was not only the way in which he was taken up to the poll, but that the existence of a 40s. freehold franchise led to the division and sub-division of land in Ireland to a degree not only injurious to the landlords, but destructive to the comforts of the people. Every man anxious for the well-being of the population, desired that the utmost efforts should be made to counteract the evil of this division and sub-division. But this bill would bring back the whole of the old grievance, and they would again have landlords who were more anxious for political power than for the permanent improvement of their estates and the well-being of the agricultural population, dividing and sub-dividing their land, and giving fourteen year leases of 5l. holding, to enable their tenants to vote at elections. Nor would there be the same restriction which existed in the case of the 40s. franchise, because a landlord could not create a 40s. freehold without giving a long interest in the land and making some degree of sacrifice. In order to give the tenant the proper interest, the land must be underlet by at least 40s. a year. But with the franchise which the noble Lord proposed to introduce, there would be no check whatever on the landlord. He might grant leases for fourteen years, but reserve the full rack-rent, and introduce any conditions he pleased for enforcing payment. Thus it would give to the oppressive landlord a political influence which the indulgent landlord had not. If a man chose to take a high rent and introduce covenants of re-entry, he might hold his tenant at his mercy, so that he must vote for him or be removed from his holding. That was the constituency which the noble Lord proposed to introduce into Ireland, and in a bill which pretended only to clear 922 up doubts and difficulties with regard to the franchise. But let him ask English Gentlemen, was it true, that this bill related to Ireland only? If the occupation of a cottage or garden of 5l. annual value was to give the right of voting in Ireland he wished to know how they could resist the demand, when the demand came to be made, that the people of England and Scotland should have the same franchise? Let them consider well the probability of such a demand, when they saw what was taking place out of doors—when they heard the organs of a particular party, hailing the bill of the noble Lord as the first step towards the revolution which was contemplated, and as necessarily leading to the establishment of household or universal suffrage. He should like to ask the noble Lord if he gave to the simple occupier the franchise, if he gave it to the tenant having no interest of any kind in the land, what answer would the noble Lord have to give to the people of England if they asked for a 5l. qualification? And if they gave the 5l. qualification, they would not find it easy to stop until they went to household suffrage. Let them look now to see on what it was the principle of the bill was founded. The noble Lord, the Secretary for Ireland, and the right hon. the Attorney-general had stated, that the information on which it was founded was meagre and unsatisfactory; and yet the noble Lord considered, that he was justified, notwithstanding all this, to introduce a most extensive alteration in the franchise. This was to be done upon information that was meagre and unsatisfactory—he might say, still worse than meagre and unsatisfactory. The noble Lord introduced a bill which made a great alteration in the franchise, and which was a violation of a recent act of Parliament. They were not to wonder that the people of Ireland would not obey an act of the Imperial Legislature, if her Majesty's Government thought they had a right to legislate upon that which was done in violation of that act. Now, what had been done by the valuators of the poor-law guardians in Ireland, was that which the Government and the noble Lord himself must admit was in direct disobedience to an act of Parliament. What had been done by these persons? They found a part of those gentlemen, the valuators, instead of obeying the direction of the act of Parliament, and which, it was to be supposed, was as clear and plain as 923 the words could convey, they actually acted in direct violation of it. They did not make the valuation in the way that the act directed. It would be found, in the very report on which the noble Lord proposed to legislate, that there was not any trivial variation from the act of Parliament, but that the parties proceeded in direct violation, and direct disobedience to the act of Parliament. In the first place, the valuation was not according to the directions of the act of Parliament, but it was made in such a way as to enable the guardians of the unions, according as the interests of landlords or of tenants predominated, to have the valuation made in the manner that would be more or less beneficial to themselves. This was according to a statement made in the report, and he would now read a passage to them, showing on what basis the noble Lord was legislating:—It does not appear to us, that summaries prepared in that form could be sufficient for that purpose; but those summaries manifest on the part of the board an anxiety to secure a uniform scale of value in all parts of their own union, and a desire to counteract the original defects in the constitution of their revising bodies. These localities, having each had the power of valuing itself, each being interested in lowering its valuation, and having no common standard of value but opinion, it is natural to expect, that some irregularity must result. The steps taken by the board, with, a view to correct this tendency to irregularity, we have described; but it is worthy of remark, that the attention of the board appears to have been directed entirely to the object of securing uniformity in the valuation between different parts of the union; but no steps appear to have been taken to ascertain how far their valuation approached or varied from the actual letting value of the tenements.Then they had this, as the basis of their legislation—and this, too, when they found Gentlemen, in violation of an Act of Parliament, rated property according to their caprice. The Government saw this, and yet they came down to Parliament in this way, to say that the Poor-law had been carried into effect in Ireland. Was this, then, the mode to compel obedience to an Act of Parliament in Ireland? Was there, he asked, no mode of compelling obedience to that act? Were there no courts in Ireland to enforce obedience to it? Seeing the sort of valuation that had taken place—he asked how near was it to the valuation contemplated by the Poor-law Bill. One assistant Poor-law commissioner said that it was altogether illegal—alto- 924 gether illegal. One gentleman wrote to an assistant Poor-law commissioner one of the most extraordinary questions he had ever heard of. It was this:—I am directed by the guardians of the Scariff union to forward to you the foregoing resolutions, and to request an answer, as to whether the board of guardians have the power of directing the valuator to value lands of the union according to their wishes, even though it should be against the judgment of the valuator.This was a question put to an assistant Poor-law commissioner; and this was one of those gentlemen who had been valuing lands in Ireland, and it was their valuation that the noble Lord made the basis of the present bill. The assistant Poor-law commissioner gave them a very proper, and, considering the question, a very civil answer; and as it was probable the noble Lord was not aware of the basis on which his bill was founded, he would read the answer for him:—I wish to inform the guardians, in reply to their inquiry, that they have no power of directing the valuator to value the lands, &c., according to their wishes, even though it should be against the judgment of the valuator, unless they have satisfied themselves by an inspection of the property that his valuation is incorrect, and ought to be set aside. It is contrary to the principle of valuation, defined by the Act of Parliament, to assume any fixed sum as the maximum value of the land in any particular division of the union. Each occupation must be separately inspected by the valuator, and separately valued by him; and the value affixed will be the rent at which, one year with another, in its actual state, it might be reasonably expected to let from year to year, the tenant undertaking to pay all public taxes and charges, including such as are necessary to maintain it in its present condition. If the valuation be not conducted strictly on this principle, it will lead to useless appeals when a rate is to be raised, and the union be thereby involved in serious litigation and expense.That, he conceived, was a proper admonition to the noble Lord himself; but let them even suppose that the rating was lower than the value, still it did not authorise the Government to say that there should be no property qualification. The only effect of it would be to adopt the suggestion of the hon. Member for Mallow, and conceding that the rating might be below the actual value to fix upon the sum of 8l. over the rent. The effect of the lowness of the rate was not, however, a ground for making the proposed alteration. The lowness of the rating did not afford 925 any reason to her Majesty's Government for proposing an alteration in the constituency. So much for the county constituency; but then they had done the same in towns; and having passed a bill last Session—the Municipal Corporations (Ireland) Bill—by which the franchise was tested at 10l., they now introduced a new principle, by which the franchise for electing Members of Parliament was only to be 5l. And upon what information did they go to do this? Upon that which, it must be admitted by the noble Lord himself, was illegal and unsatisfactory. It was because Gentlemen made a very bad calculation, that they were now asked to reduce the franchise to 5l. He had attended to the noble Lord when opening this subject—he had done so on the previous night, and on that he had given his best attention to the right hon. the Attorney-general for Ireland, and yet he had not heard one single reason why the franchise in England and in Scotland should be 10l., and in Ireland that it should be 5l. The noble Lord had not stated it—the right hon. Gentleman had not stated it—and it could be only in consequence of the report of Messrs. Haig and Deasy. It was then only, in consequence of an unauthorised document, that the noble Lord or the right hon. Gentleman could ask for this alteration. He thought now that, he had redeemed the pledge that he had given to the House, that he had shown that the right hon. Gentleman had omitted to state any reason for making this alteration in the Reform Bill, and also in the Roman Catholic Emancipation Bill. He had shown that this bill did interfere with the principles of two acts of parliament. He appealed, then, to those hon. Gentlemen who in that House had hitherto resisted the wild and visionary schemes that had been brought forward from time to time by a section of the supporters of her Majesty's Government, and he asked them were they prepared to support a bill that was more objectionable than any that had been yet proposed? He could well understand how some of the supporters of her Majesty's Government might do so, but not how hon. Gentlemen, who considered that the Reform Bill was the settlement of a great question—he did not understand how they could join those Gentlemen, and he did venture to hope, whatever might be the motives or the objects, and he did not stop to inquire into the motives or the objects of her Majesty's Government in intro- 926 ducing this bill, yet he did hope that a majority that night would declare to them that they would not consent, under the guise of a bill to amend the registration in Ireland, to set aside the Reform Bill for the three countries, and thus allow a new experiment upon the constituency of the empire, which he thought must be attended with danger to all the established institutions of the country, if not to the constitution itself.
§ Mr. Macaulay
Sir, if this were a mere legal question, I should think it most presumptuous in me to interfere, or intrude into a discussion between two persons so distinguished for forensic ability as the hon. and learned Member who has just sat down, and my right hon. Friend behind me. If this were a question to be decided by local knowledge, I should be equally disposed to leave it to the numerous representatives of the Irish constituencies who have shown an inclination to address the House. But as it appears to me that at this stage of the bill, at least, it is possible, for one who pretends to neither legal nor local knowledge to form an opinion of the subject of which it treats, I shall venture to state what appears to me to be the grounds on which a representative of a British constituency, bringing to the subject no knowledge beyond that general information which is common to every hon. Member, may feel himself justified in supporting the second reading of the bill. Sir, in what I have to say, I shall attempt to follow the precept rather than the example of the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down. The hon. and learned Member began by declaring his intention to go into none of the questions which might, with more advantage, be regularly discussed when you have left the chair; but I must say, that it appears to me that the greater part of his observations did relate to questions of detail—to important questions of detail I admit; but I never can consider, that whether the time be fourteen years, or whether the sum be 5l. are other than questions of detail. Sir, I do conceive, however extraordinary that avowal may seem to hon. Gentlemen opposite—I do conceive, that if any hon. Gentleman in this House be convinced that the test proposed by my noble Friend be the best test—then, although he might be disposed to think that the sum of 5l. was too low—then, although he might be disposed to fix it at 6l., 7l., 8l., or 10l., I should say he would still be acting in a 927 reasonable and Parliamentary manner if he voted for the second reading. For my own part, I believe, for I had not then the honour of a seat in this House, that this was the case in discussing another bill of great importance, the Irish Municipal Bill—the general principle of the bill having been approved of, it was read a second time with the support of many hon. Members, although several divisions were subsequently taken by them upon its details. Sir, I have no hesitation in stating, that I do believe that the evils which are to be apprehended from the restriction of the franchise in Ireland are greater than those which are to be dreaded from its extension. Sir, whether the test of my noble Friend should be adopted or not, I should see with satisfaction that a greater proportion of votes should be given to the large counties of Cork and Down. I think it better that they should have 8,000 rather than 2,000 voters, but whether they are to have 8,000 or 2,000, still I prefer the test of my noble Friend near me to the undefined franchise in the bill of the noble Lord. Sir, I shall at present not touch upon the question of the amount of the franchise—I shall confine myself to the principle of the bill, and it will be necessary for me to follow the example of the noble Lord, and look, not at my noble Friend's bill alone, but also at the other bill that accompanies it on the table of the House. The case is certainly a grave and important one, for it involves a right which is the foundation of all other rights. Serious evils are admitted to exist with regard to that precious and important right; both parties in the State admit the existence of these evils, and both have come forward with remedies which are now lying on your table, and it is for the House to decide between them. Sir, I cannot disguise from myself the fact that it is not on these two bills alone we are sitting in judgment. I say, that each of these bills appears to me to be strongly marked by all the great and characteristic features of the party from which it proceeds. Those who with so much zeal and perseverance support the noble Lord opposite, will not be disinclined to admit that his measure embodies their feelings, while I, and my Friends around me, are of opinion that my noble Friend's bill involves those great principles upon which we think the legislation of the country should be carried on. Now what is the end and object of registration? If there be any person who thinks that a Bill 928 of Registration should be a Bill of Disfranchisement in disguise—if there be any person who thinks that we ought so to frame the law as to filch from the people as much as possible of that power which the liberality of a substantive law has given them covertly—there are many who may think fit to act upon that suggestion, but there are few who will avow it, they will support the bill of the noble Lord. I shall, therefore, in what I have to offer to the House, take the proposition for granted—a proposition which may be disliked but cannot be disputed—that the object of a Registration Bill is to keep out bad voters and let in good ones. This is not a simple object—it aims at two things quite distinct, and which may be incompatible. It is possible to conceive that there may be a law giving ample facilities for the admission of honest voters, but at the same time permitting a crowd of dishonest voters to press in. It is equally obvious that there may be a law enacting such severe scrutiny that the dishonest voters cannot pass muster, but that such a law will keep out many honest voters. Sir, it is the severest trial of legislation to deal with such cases. When there is only a single object, the case is comparatively easy; but when there is a double object, both cannot be secured in perfection. Now, if the bill of my noble Friend be superior in any respect to that of the noble Lord opposite, it consists iii giving facilities to the registration of voters. Hon. Gentlemen opposite say, that the danger is greater from an undue extension of the franchise, but I think the danger is greater from an improper restriction of the franchise. Argument upon that subject is almost unnecessary; but it is clear to me that in both respects the bill of my noble Friend is superior to the bill of the noble Lord, and more efficient for keeping out bad, and letting in good, voters. Take the machinery provided for keeping out dishonest voters. My noble Friend's machinery is this: he employs a test to ascertain the franchise, which is inseparably connected with a check, acting without any object to put it in motion, and without any summons, subpoena, assistant barristers, or judges of assize. He strikes at motives—he attacks principles—he dives into the nature of things, into the heart of man for his remedy; at the same time my noble Friend's check operates without in the smallest degree impeding the honest voter, or without dragging him from his 929 home, without causing him the slightest anxiety, or levying on him any pecuniary charge. Now I say that such a test as that approaches as nearly as possible to that at which we should aim. Sir, when I turn to the noble Lord's bill, what is the check to keep out dishonest voters. I have looked through the bill, and I find absolutely only this one against the intrusion of fraudulent voters—eternally trying over and over again at the same question ad infinitum. Now if the object be to reduce the constituency—if the object be to leave it only the mere name and shadow of a constituency—then I say that this plan has been well concerted for its aim, and it is worthy of the abilities which no man can deny to the noble Lord. If, however, I look at it as a measure presented in good faith to prevent fraud and perjury, then I can designate it by no other name than childish—as childish, for it is a system of preventing fraudulent registration, but making the registration of good voters in the highest degree impracticable. No doubt it will keep some impostors out of the registry, and so if we were to select every tenth man in London there is no doubt that some rogues would be sent to the tread-mill, but that I call a childish system of legislation. Sir, I do not call that a preventive of fraudulent registration, but a childish system, which is not directed against the fraud, but which is directed against all voters, the long and short, the blue-eyed and black-eyed, honest and dishonest. Sir, the noble Lord's test is one which has no reference either to honesty or dishonesty. It will disfranchise all alike. I speak in the presence of many eminent lawyers, in the presence of many men well acquainted with the law of this country and of Scotland, with our civil law and our Oriental dependencies, and I ask them what they think of this system of eternal revision? I ask the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down, and I should be glad to have his opinion upon the point, what does he think of this as the only check upon fraud? What does he think of a system, in which, every year, objections may be brought before the Assistant Barrister, and if the Assistant Barrister approves of the vote, an appeal may be had to the Judge of Assize; next year, precisely the same objection may be taken in the very same words, he may be again compelled to go before the Judge of the Assize, and so on for ever and ever. In order to keep his franchise during one 930 Parliament, in order to give one vote the elector is exposed to this vexation that he may be seven times compelled to go before the Assistant Barrister, and seven times before the Court of Appeal, and if a man acquires the franchise when he comes to the years of discretion, and lives to the age of seventy, he may have 100 law-suits to keep his name on the register; he may spend 1,000l., and not less than six months of his time in pursuit of his vote. [Cheers.] Unless Gentlemen can by interruption remove the words from the bill of the noble Lord, or distort those words out of their plain meaning, I conceive they may as well give up the subject. These are the words—that is their meaning. If it be said, that the right or power which the noble Lord gives the objectors—if it be said, that it will not be abused, I answer that I believe it will, and I say it is the business of a wise and virtuous legislature not to establish such a power, trusting that some undefined feelings should prevent men from abusing it. I again ask men of both sides of the House—men of eminent legal knowledge—such men as the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down; I ask him what he thinks of such a principle as this, and what he thinks of those arguments, by which the noble Lord has attempted to vindicate his measure, and which he repeated whenever the subject has been discussed, and which he repeated last night? The noble Lord said, I will never agree to part with this portion of my bill, for if I do, then the person who has once established himself upon the register, by fraud or perjury, can never be removed. Does the noble Lord say, that that argument will hold good in all cases? What says the law of England? "If a man is once tried for a crime and acquitted, then, although he be acquitted by an alibi supported by perjury or any fraudulent cause—although you may have evidence by which you can bring the matter home to him—you cannot again put him in jeopardy for the same case." What says the law of England in civil cases? "If a man bring an action for debt or damage—if in that action judgment goes against him from any such cause as that a witness breaks his leg, and is, therefore, unavoidably absent, he shall not be again suffered to bring an action in the same case." If that be the law of England in criminal matters—if that be the law of England in civil matters, on what principle ought we to depart from it in the elective franchise? 931 The noble Lord is bound to make out distinctly such a case, and tell us why we should not proceed the same way in the one instance as in the other. When we do not go on in this manner, hearing and re-hearing in the case of the fraudulent debtor, who has obtained an estate to which he has no title, why should we go on hearing and re-hearing for ever in the elective franchise? If I am asked why the law of England is framed in a different manner from that in which the noble Lord proposes in his bill for the registration, I answer, that the law was framed in that respect by men who took broad general views of the subject on which they legislated—who did not fix their eyes pertinaciously upon individual cases that might happen at times to arise in the course of events. They say, it may be an evil that the assassin should go about the streets bearding the family and friends of his victim with impunity; but it would be a vastly greater evil that all the families in the community could not live in peace and security. It may be a great evil, that the fraudulent debtor should keep possession of the estate which he has unjustly acquired, but it would be by far a greater evil, that all honest men should be insecure in their property, and that all society should be kept in a ferment of litigation. As you bear with the felon and the debtor, who are dishonest and successful in the courts of law, and who resist just claims, even so ought you to bear with the fraudulent voter, who is falsely put on the register, rather than go on eternally trying and trying the same objection. Contrary to the whole system of English jurisprudence, the voter who has got on the list of voters by perjury or fraud, is to be tried again and again. The noble Lord says his object is to prevent perjury, but the noble Lord must know, that litigation is a fertile source of crime—a fertile source of perjury. This litigation would produce more perjury and inconvenience in a single year, than all the wrong decisions pronounced according to law would produce in a century. Thus stands the case. I conceive my noble Friend has proposed a remedy for existing abuses, which will certainly keep out those who have not a right to vote, and let in without trouble or inconvenience those who have the right. I conceive, that the noble Lord (Lord Stanley) has proposed a system, which will not only have the effect of keeping out those who 932 have not a right to vote; but will keep out everybody without distinction who dislikes vexation, and expence, and trouble, and anxiety; who dislikes feeing counsel; who dislikes incurring the risk of having to pay costs; these persons the noble Lord's bill will disfranchise. That the noble Lord's bill will disfranchise wholesale, men who have a right to vote, I do not at all doubt. One reason why I believe his system will disfranchise many who have a right to vote, is this, that I am certain it would disfranchise myself. I possess a vote for the University of Cambridge; now, the vote of an elector of an Irish county, is not, I think, as important as that of an elector of the University of Cambridge. His vote is given for two Members of Parliament, He also votes for dignities and situations which are objects of importance to great men, and even to Princes of the Blood. A vote, then, in an university is surely a more valuable possession than a similar one in any Irish county. The member of the senate of a university is generally more able to assert his right than an Irish voter. Yet, I declare, that if a system like the noble Lord's were established to register my vote in Cambridge—if I were liable by any Master of Arts, who differed from me in politics, to be compelled to go down to Cambridge and dance attendance on the senate house for two days, how long think you should I retain that vote? Indignation might support me under such an insult for some time. I might go down once or so for the purpose, not indeed of lending much assistance to the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Goulburn)—I might go down on some pressing occasion, but disgust would soon weary me out. And now, what will the Irish farmer do, who is much more helpless than I am, when he finds himself exposed to these great vexations and obstacles, which the noble Lord's bill throws in the way of his acquiring the franchise. I think, Sir, however imperfectly I have explained myself, that it is my duty to give a reason for my belief that the great object of a Registration Bill is the keeping out of voters that ought to be kept out, and the letting in of voters who ought to be let in. The bill of my noble Friend is decidedly superior to the bill of the noble Lord opposite for this purpose. But is there anything in the means employed by the noble Lord which does serve the useful purpose of making a salutary registra- 933 tion bill, and which ought to be adopted? My noble Friend defines the franchise. The noble Lord proposes to leave the franchise undefined. Is it possible to doubt there is anything more important, any duty more sacred for the Legislature to perform, than to give a clear and precise definition of the Irish franchise? I will not go into the question whether the minority of the judges ought to be bound by the majority. I do not pretend to speak of it as a lawyer. I might ask some questions; I might make some distinctions which I would be glad to hear solved ingenuously by the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down. But I will not go into the question. We have the plain fact, that eight judges are for one definition, and four for another; twelve or fourteen assistant barristers take one view of the question, and eighteen or twenty take an opposite view. What was the law in 1840, is not the law in 1841; what is the law on one side of the stream, is not the law on the other side; what is the law before the Chief Justice, is not the law before the Chief Baron. Is it possible to conceive a state of things more scandalous than this? Why resist any attempt that should be made to settle these difficulties. Is there any more sacred debt from a Legislature to a people, than to give definite laws? Is there any part of the law more important than that upon which the making of all law depends? In Ireland, this part of the law is in a state utterly undefined, and you leave it in that undefined state, and then you complain of those very offences for which you yourselves are responsible. Well, under these circumstances come forward two parties of the Legislature, the noble Lord on the one side, and my noble Friend on the other. The latter ascertains the franchise—he fixes the law. The law of procedure becomes simple and efficient—there is no vexation caused to the rightful claimant—the wrongful claimant is at once removed. My noble Friend guards against perjury by abolishing the taking of oaths. Fraud and personation, to quote the phrase of the hon. Member for Coleraine, vanish at once. But what does the noble Lord? He comes forward with his bill, and he leaves the substantive law in the state of perplexity in which he finds it. He then sets to work on the law of procedure, and makes it ten times more embarrassing than it was before, and the effect is what we might suppose—it produces phenomena so 934 strange, restriction so extravagant as hardly to be paralleled in all legislation. One of these phenomena was alluded to by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, the Attorney-general, and it is even more extravagant than it was represented by him. In the county of Dublin, for instance, if there is an objection established against a vote tried before the assistant-barrister, there lies an appeal from him to any one of three courts which the rejected claimant may choose, each of which courts takes different views of the subject. The fact is, the Court of Exchequer always decides in favour of the beneficial interest class of claimants, and the Court of Queen's Bench in favour of the solvent tenant test. The effect of this system is, that whoever is objected to in the court below is sure of victory in the court above. The decisions of the assistant-barrister for Dublin are certain of being carried out by the rule of contrary. It would be a curious and strange case of casuistry to point out how the assistant barrister for Dublin is bound to decide on this question. If he decide according to his opinions and the dictates of his conscience—his decision is sure to be reversed in the courts above—should he decide contrary to his opinions in order to have that decision reversed, and the effect produced, that he felt it his duty to bring about? Is this a mere oversight? No. This is one of the effects of the attempt to proceed with the substantive law undefined. All the objections of the noble Lord to my noble Friend's bill resolve themselves into one—the principle of finality. The question is, will you disturb the Reform Bill? I will not at present go into that subject generally. I will not go into that subject generally, I say, because I propose to reason on this question upon those principles which are held by all those Conservative Gentlemen that I have the happiness of knowing. I propose to reason on Conservative principles, and if on those principles I cannot command the assent of Gentlemen opposite, I will not appeal to the principles of popular rights and popular liberties. I will admit, that the Reform Bill ought to be continued inviolate, that it ought to be in full force in Ireland. Is it in force in Ireland? Certainly not. If the meaning of the Reform Bill be that the beneficial interest test be applied, then the Reform Bill is not in force, for there are counties where the solvent tenant test is applied. Is the meaning of the Reform 935 Bill that the solvent tenant test be applied? Then, also, is the Reform Bill not in force, for there are counties where the beneficial interest test is applied. These things are changing backwards and forwards, and the counties in which the beneficial interest test was applied last year are different from the counties in which it is applied this year. Now, if any person would define such a principle, is it by leaving all things as they are? Such a state of things amounts to finality. From an exceeding aversion to change, you uphold a system with a principle which is ever changing. I speak to reasonable advocates of finality—to Gentlemen who use the word only in the sense in which any man, Conservative or Whig, ever used it. When they talk of finality, is it not that a certain act should stand unrepealed in the volume of the statute book? This then is the course pursued, to give to fluctuation such as was never known among a civilized people, the name of stability—and then if the friends of finality come forward to close this eternal whirl of revolution, to cry out, that we are unsettling the stability of our institutions. Stability! When there was one law in September and another in May; one in Cork, and another in Mayo; one system upheld in the Court of Queen's Bench, and another in the Court of Exchequer! Stability! When the constituency of a county may be 2,000 or 4,000, as Mr. Baron This, or Mr. Justice That, shall have a fit of the gout before the next assizes! The question is not between change and no change—the question is between unchange and eternal succession of changes—between one change made by the Legislature, and a succession of changes made by the courts of law. Now, I conceive all reasonable Conservatives will acknowledge one change to be better than a hundred. I conceive we all agree, that changes in the Constitution ought to be made in the Legislature, and not in the courts of law. Consider in what a situation you place the courts of law. Is it possible to imagine anything more shocking to any person of just feeling, than that when the judges meet to settle what circuit they shall take, they determine which counties shall have a democratic franchise, and which a restricted one? It is impossible but that it must deprive the judicial body of the respect of society. [Mr. Shaw: Hear!] I am glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman cheer me, but I fear I shall find him op- 936 posing the only efficacious remedy. I do say I can conceive no system more pernicious than that a Government should depend on the feelings of individual judges, and that when a new judge is appointed, it should be said, "We have got a new judge. We have lost Kerry, but shall have a change in Sligo." Is it possible to conceive a system so opposite to morality and to all good feeling? Vote for my noble Friend's bill, and you will be out of this situation in three months. I say the necessary effect of such a system is this, that our free constitution and the administration of justice are alike in danger. You have, on the one hand, the Constitution quibbled away by the subtlety of the bar, and, on the other hand, you have the judicial tribunal agitated with all the violence of the hustings. The greatness of this evil is not disputed, and how does the noble Lord deal with it? My noble Friend furnishes a measure which will at once put an end to it. It is impossible after my noble Friend's bill passes, that the question can divide the bench of Ireland longer. The noble Lord leaves the question unsettled. He only plunges the judges deeper and deeper into the mire, and gives them a greater number of questions to try, in which the precise difficulty arises. Of all the persons who can complain of the noble Lord's bill, there are none who ought to complain so much as the judges. The noble Lord, Sir, can feel for your situation. He addressed you in words to the feeling of which every Gentleman of both sides of the House will respond, and which I would attempt to repeat, could I give them with the same grace and propriety; but in thinking of your situation, Sir, he forgot the situation of the judges. Consider how different the cases. The noble Lord, who scruples to give to a person who ought to be impartial, the nomination of the persons who are to decide questions of registration, has no scruple to give the power of deciding political cases to persons whose reputation, of all others, should be the least sullied with the taint of partizanship, and the least subject to suspicion. To me, it seems beyond ail doubt, that if the noble Lord's bill passes, there will not be, in a short time, a judge in Ireland, however pure his intentions, or however great his sagacity, who will not be called an oppressor or a demagogue by the one party or the other. Now, to sum up, it appears to me, that the bill of my noble Friend will 937 exclude those, who under the new system, will not have a right to vote, while it will admit the greatest facility to those who will have that right; that it will substitute certainty instead of doubt, and rescue the judges from the most calamitous position in which they are placed. The bill of the noble Lord will not do this. It provides no security against the intrusion of wrong claimants, and throws every imaginable difficulty in the way of the rightful claimant, and it leaves doubt, and change, and revolution, where it found them, instead of telling the judges what is the meaning of the law, it leaves it unsettled, and gives them another set of questions to decide. I think, whatever parts of the evil system the noble Lord has touched, he has only aggravated them. He has left it uncertain, that it may be more oppressive; he has degraded the judges, that he may disfranchise the people; he has provided a machinery which, where it detects one perjury, will introduce twenty. I hardly know on what principle the noble Lord can vindicate his bill. This is the bill which the noble Lord places side by side with others; and this suggests to me a topic on which I will say three or four words. The noble Lord misrepresented yesterday the whole nature of his bill, and of its relation to ours, and their relative relations to the franchise. He said his bill and ours, considered as bills of registration, were not essentially different, but then, says he, "comes the franchise as a tack;" now that I utterly and altogether deny. I say, the rule laid down, with respect to the franchise, is the essence of our bill. And I say, when the noble Lord brings forward a number of clauses of my noble Friend's bill analogous to clauses of his own, and says if there were oppressions in my bill, why place them in your own? the answer is, that having that franchise clearly ascertained in the Government bill from one end to the other, it turns that which in the noble Lord's bill would be a source of litigation and mischief into that which may be efficient and useful. As to the feeling, Sir, with which these bills are regarded in Ireland, though I may regret the warmth with which persons in that country have sometimes expressed themselves, I think it right to make the most ample allowance for this, because I am satisfied the question is—shall Ireland have the reality, or only the name of an electoral system? In the decision of that question, Sir, public order is as deeply interested as public li- 938 berty. And I was glad to observe, that the hon. Member for Cavan expressed the opinion, that any great restriction or diminution of the number possessing the elective franchise in Ireland would be a serious calamity to the country. We have lessons enough to prove it to us—lessons many of which are not forgotten. It is unnecessary to state, after the warnings we have had, that great bodies of men, that all nations, when debarred from those organs which the Constitution gives them, will certainly find other organs more formidable. It is unnecessary to look back any great length of time for the effect that would be produced, if Limerick, Cork, or Mayo, were represented in this House by chiefs of the Orange Society, or by those of the old Dublin corporation. [Oh!] Some Gentlemen, who make that cry, may remember 1829; they may remember, that when there was not a single Catholic in either House of Parliament, even the Duke of Wellington shrunk from conflict with the excited population of Ireland. They might learn the same lesson from other times. The time when the Catholic question was settled was a time of peace. There have been times different from that—times when England has been forced to struggle with formidable enemies to maintain her place among the nations of Europe. It was so during the American Revolution and the French Revolutionary war. During both we endeavoured to govern Ireland like a conquered province, and what was the result? During the American war the Irish wrung from you in your own despite an acknowledgement of the commercial independence of Ireland. During the French war, they engaged in a fatal and calamitous struggle for independence. Happily it failed, but if Lord Duncan had not fallen in with the Texel fleet—[Oh! oh!] There was such a man, and such a fleet, if a great French army had landed in Munster, in that struggle, it would have tasked to the utmost the energies of England. This calamity had, however, been arrested by an unmerited and an unrequited interposition of Providence; but, comparatively favourable as was the result, was it, he would ask, no small evil, that whilst the French nation were pushing their arms in conquest beyond the Rhine and the Alps, England not emulating the glories of Blenheim, nor anticipating the triumph of Waterloo, was bent only on making war upon her own subjects? Was it no small evil, that whilst Macdonald and Massena were extending 939 their conquests beyond the Alps and the Rhine, our Cornwallis and Abercrombie were displaying their valour and directing British arms in hostile collision with men, who under a better system they might have been leading to victory against the common foes of their country. But the retribution which ensued was just, natural, and inevitable; so true is it that a government which seeks safety and security by injustice, must seek it in vain. Let us not, therefore, fall into the same error now, but listen, while it is yet time, to the call of the people of Ireland; a generous and noble-minded people; let us listen and respond to their call, not insult them with a brand the most odious to all noble and generous natures—not press the iron of oppression into their very souls—not exasperate them with that most odious form of tyranny.—the tyranny of caste over caste, and creed over creed. Let us reject the evil councils of the oppressor, and by so doing wrest the most formidable weapons out of the hand of the agitator—in a word, let us endeavour to preserve and cement such an union of feelings between the sister island as shall give stability to the legislative union already existing, and which nothing will thereafter endanger but actual misgovernment. Let us convert that part of the empire, which has so often been the seat of weakness and disgrace, into a source of glory and strength—let us endeavour to strike terror into the hearts of all those, be they in what part of the globe they may, who either hate or envy our noble country—and let us do so by firmly uniting twenty-seven millions of devoted British hearts in irresistible array under the same equal laws, and under the same parental Crown.
§ Debate again adjourned.