HC Deb 11 August 1843 vol 71 cc553-6
Mr. Sheil

said, that he had given notice of a question regarding the Irish Registration Bill, and that it would be necessary for him to refer to some documents, relating to it. The Longford Committee, on the 10th of April, 1842, reported, That the Committee desire to call the instant and serious attention of the House to the state of the law, as it materially affects a very considerable portion of the parliamentary franchise in Ireland. They allude especially to the conflicting decisions which are so frequently given by Committees of this House, in respect to the issue technically termed, the opening of the registry, and to the impracticability of affirming, with the contradictory opinions of learned judges before them, the right meaning and application of the words 'beneficial interest,' with the terms 4 'clear yearly value.' That the Committee are unanimously of opinion, that without some declaratory act, it will be impossible for any future Committees to arrive at any consistent or satisfactory conclusion. The report was made on the 10th April, 1842. The Government not having brought in a Bill, the noble Lord, the Member for London, on June 17, 1842, asked whether it were intended to introduce any measure this Session as to Irish registration. The right hon. Baronet, at the head of the Government, said, it would be much better to determine the principle of English registration before they proceeded to that of Ireland. During the entire Session nothing was done. On the 9th February, 1843, the hon. Member for Limerick (Mr. Smith O'Brien) asked whether the Government intended to bring in a Bill for regulating the elective franchise in Ireland. The right hon. Secretary of State (Sir James Graham) said, he had already announced that it was the intention of the Government to introduce a Bill respecting the registration of voters in England. In that Bill the Government would deal with the franchise as they might deem expedient. February 10, 1843, the hon. Member for Kildare, (Mr. O'Ferrall) asked when the Irish Registration Bill would be brought forward. Sir James Graham said, it was not his intention to introduce the Irish Registration Bill until the English Registration Bill should pass through all its stages. On the 10th of April, 1843, the English Registration Bill passed, yet nothing whatever was done in respect to the Irish Registration Bill. He asked the Government what course they meant to take, and the Secretary for the Home Department stated, that the Irish Arms Bill must have precedence. Afterwards, it was stated, that the Poor-law must also have prece- dence. The hon. Member for Kildare (Mr. O'Ferrall) observed on the 27th of July, that the valuation under the Poor-law was to be discretionary and mutable, and that the franchise, if intended to be fixed and stable, could not be erected upon it. He justly observed, that the Poor-law afforded no justification for the delay of the Registration Bill. The Secretary for the Home Department then declared that he would not bind himself to adopt the resolution under the Poor-law, as the basis of the franchise. Under these cirumstances, it was most strange that no Retration Bill had been introduced. He, therefore, begged to inquire, first, whether a Registration Bill was to be brought forward this Session; next, whether the right hon. Baronet would state the outlines of the measure; thirdly, whether the Bill was to be brought forward early next Session?

Sir J. Graham

said, he did not propose to lay on the Table a Registration Bill for Ireland during the present Session. Early next Session it was his intention to submit the question to the consideration of Parliament. The Right hon. Gentleman had referred to a declaration made last Session, with respect to this measure, and he was prepared to state to the right hon. Gentleman and to the House, that during the last recess, the attention of Government was directed to this subject, more particularly to increasing the county constituency, which would be inevitably narrowed by the direct rule of beneficial interests, according to the legal construction which had been put upon them. The effect of that construction, combined with a more rigid scheme of registration, would inevitably be productive of a diminution of the county voters; and that being the case, her Majesty's Government found it necessary to apply their minds to some scheme of compensation. The Government had directed their attention to the Poor-law valuation, and the result of that consideration, led them to the conviction, that it was impossible to found any uniform scheme of franchise on the valuation as it existed at present, since, under circumstances perfectly identical, they found the valuation to vary frequently as much as twenty-five per cent. The right hon. Gentleman asked, what was the intention of her Majesty's Government as to any future measure; and whether the Government would give any general outline of the mea- sure. He was prepared to state, that a general Registration Bill was contemplated for Ireland, and that all its main provisions were analogous to those of the measure relating to England, which had now received the sanction of the Legislature. With regard to the franchise, he repeated what he had stated, that the enforcement of a rigid scheme of registration would greatly narrow the county franchise. Her Majesty's Government thought that was not desirable. The Bill, therefore, would define the franchise in respect to the beneficial interest, and there was no definition which the Government could propose, but an adherence to the strict law as laid down by competent authority, in conformity with the law of England, which he believed to be the only sound one. The Government then thought that some compensation was necessary, and an enlargement of the county constituency in Ireland desirable. The right hon. Gentleman had referred to what had passed before the Committee on the Irish Poor-law. Fearing the prevalence of any party motive, he had entreated that Committee to separate the valuation for Poor-law purposes, as contradistinguished from valuation for Poor-law franchise; but he by no means pledged the Government to adopt that valuation, neither did he preclude himself or the Government from bringing forward a measure founded upon it, nor did he now pledge himself either way. The right hon. Gentleman, then, would understand that the Registration Bill, quoad registration, would be founded on the model of the English Bill; it would contain a declaration of franchise, founded on a beneficial interest, according to the strict definition of that term; and as the effect of this would be to narrow the constituency without compensation, it was the intention of Government to advise some mode of compensation to meet that deficiency. He did not consider it consistent with his duty to say more at present.

Subject at an end.