§ Lord Eliot
Mr. Speaker, I rise for the purpose of asking leave to introduce a Bill to Alter and Amend the Laws which Regulate the Registration, Qualification, and Polling of Parliamentary Electors in Ireland. The subject to which I am about to call your attention having been so often discussed in this House, I do not think it will be necessary for me to preface the explanation of this measure which it will be incumbent on me to give by any lengthened exposition of the evils of the existing law. The existence of defects in the present law, such as the difficulty of establishing the right to vote, the unsatisfactory way in which the Franchise is defined, the number of voters that are improperly placed upon the registry, and the fraudulent personation of voters, are acknowledged by all who have taken an 1693 interest in this question to furnish grounds for special legislation. Various proposals have been made to apply a remedy to these evils. These have given rise to discussions rather of an acrimonious character. It is, however, my wish that this subject should be discussed in reference to its own merits, and with a view solely of applying a satisfactory remedy to the serious evils with which the present state of the Registration in Ireland is marked. I trust I shall not then refer to any topic connected with the subject in a tone that will be calculated to revive any such angry feeling. When the Bill relating to the franchise in England was under discussion in this House, various proposals were made to extend the system of registration to Ireland. These proposals, however, were resisted on the ground that it would be inexpedient then to introduce a new system of registration into Ireland. Lord Althorp at that time, and my noble Friend (Lord Stanley) who was then a colleague of Lord Althorp's, said that if time and experience should show that the system of registration which they had then proposed for England proved efficient, it would be right and necessary to extend its operation to Ireland. I think it cannot be doubted that the present system of Registration in England does give great and general satisfaction, and those defects which experience had pointed out in the course of its operation during the last ten years, have been altogether removed in the last Session of Parliament. Her Majesty's Ministers consider that the present system of Registration in England has been found adequate to its purpose; and that it would be advisable to apply its provisions mutatis mutandis to Ireland. There are certain modifications which it is my duty, however, to point out, not of a very important character. It is proposed to give to the Lord Lieutenant in Council the power of dividing each county into different baronies, each barony to have several polling districts, and in such polling places a revising barrister, to hold annually a revision and a registration court. It is proposed to reserve to the assistant barrister appointed to preside in the Court of Quarter Sessions, and who at present also preside in the Registration Courts, the duty of the revising barrister. They are in general men perfectly competent to perform their duties in a manner satisfactory to the counties in which they are stationed, and there are no grounds for creating any new officers to preside in the Registration Courts. 1694 My next point refers to the right of appeal. An appeal is allowed in England as to the law, though not as to the facts of the case, and the duty of hearing the appeal belongs to the Court of Common Pleas. We do not propose to give this appeal in Ireland to the Court of Common Pleas, but to the Court of Exchequer Chamber. And it is also proposed that the majority of the Judges, namely, seven, shall constitute a Court. The duties of Judges are multifarious, and it is, therefore, not easy to get together nine of them, which is the number required to constitute a Court, and we consider that seven will be sufficient. I do not wish to go into the reasons which make it advisable not to give an appeal to the Court of Common Pleas or to any one Court, and shall only say, that a reference to the whole body of Judges in Ireland will, I think, be, generally speaking, considered more satisfactory. There are only one or two other minor differences to which I think it necessary to refer. The preparation of the lists of claimants to the Franchise in counties in England is left to the Overseers of the Poor, while in the counties in Ireland they are to be prepared by the Baronial Collectors. In boroughs in England the lists are prepared by the Churchwardens, in boroughs in Ireland they are to be prepared by the Town Clerks. In England the Town Clerks exercising the duties of Clerks of the Peace have the custody of the lists. In Ireland we propose that the Clerk of the Peace shall have the custody of them. These constitute the differences between the English and the Irish proposed systems. With regard to the duration of polling, there will be no material difference. It is proposed to limit the poll in Ireland to one day for boroughs, and to two days for counties. That arrangement will probably meet with general assent, as it will prevent the great abuses which at present exist in reference to the duration of elections in Ireland, and will have the effect also of curtailing considerably the expenses which attend a protracted contested election. By the proposed arrangement no man will have to travel more than a few miles to answer objections to his claim, or to give his vote. I will now state what it is proposed to do with the existing registers. I propose that all persons now in the register should be replaced on the new register, and shall not be liable to challenge during the remainder of the term for which the present register would have lasted, except where he has parted with any portion of his pro- 1695 perty. I am aware that there may be some objections made to that. It may be said, that there are improper votes upon the register, and that the revising barristers ought to be enabled to purge the register of such votes as have been, I will not say fraudulently, but improperly placed there. I think, however, it is better that a few improper votes should remain on the register than that persons having a bona fide claim, and whose right has been recognised by a competent tribunal, should be exposed to a vexatious process of challenge, and I therefore now propose that those parties should not be liable to challenge for the remainder of the term of eight years which the law now allows them to remain on the register. At the end of that time they will have a right to be entered in the register, under the same rules as other claimants, and liable to any ground of objection which may he urged against them. I also propose by this Bill to give costs in cases of frivolous objections and unsupported claims, which costs are not to exceed 20s. in amount. These are the principal provisions of the Bill with respect to Registration and polling, and if there are any provisions of this part of the Bill to which I have not adverted, I am ready to give an answer to any Gentleman who may seek further information upon it. I will next proceed to the most important and most difficult branch of this subject—I mean the qualification of voters. The House is well aware that the question of the Franchise is in a most unsatisfactory state. In the year 1829, when by the 10th of George IV. the right of voting was taken from the 40s. freeholders, there were in Ireland, if I am not mistaken, 216,000 electors. I certainly do not propose at this moment to enter into the merits of that question, but I believe that, with a few exceptions, the abuses of that system were generally recognised, and the propriety of its abolition generally concurred in. I think the effect of the measure has been somewhat exaggerated. In the year 1829, as I have already stated, there were in Ireland 216,000 electors, but it is worthy of observation, that out of those there were 102,000 registered for seven counties. There were 32,000 for Galway, 24,000 for the county of Mayo, 12,000 for the county of Monaghan—in fact, there were 102,000 of these 40s. freeholders registered for seven counties. At the present moment the actual constituency for the county of Kildare is nearly as large as 1696 in the year 1829, and in the county of Wicklow I think the constituency is rather larger than at the former period, whilst in some other counties the numbers are nearly the same at the present time as they were in 1829. I merely mention this because I think the effect of the Act of 1829 has been a good deal exaggerated. The registered electors in 1829 were about 210,000. These were, reduced the following year by the 10th George IV., to 39,700. In 1831 they were increased to about 52,000, and the Reform Bill again increased them to about 60,000. The number was 64,000 in 1835, 76,000 in 1837, 57,000 in 1841, and 63,000 in 1842. From the time of the Reform Bill down to the present period 11,000 have been added to the constituency of Ireland. I will now advert shortly to the cause of the difficulty which exists with respect to the definition of the franchise. In the English Reform Bill the words "to him" after those of "clear yearly value" were originally inserted, but they were expunged in the House of Lords. They were therefore not inserted in the Irish Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the present Chancellor of Ireland objected to the omission of these words, and said that considerable doubt and uncertainty would arise in consequence of it. I believe that the learned Gentleman, Mr. Lefroy, proposed as a means of obviating the difficulty the insertion of the words "beneficial interest." Those words were introduced, certainly with no intention on the part of the proposer of them in any way to lower the qualification; and I have not been able to discover that Her Majesty's then Government entertained any such design. It was clearly and explicitly stated by a noble Duke in the other House (the Duke of Richmond), that it was not the intention of the Government to lower the qualification; and I believe that no such intention ever existed. It is perfectly true that the Act, the 10th of Geo. IV., did impose an oath commonly called "the solvent tenant oath," which it was required that the occupier should take, declaring that he could let the land to a solvent tenant for 10l. above the rent he himself paid. That oath was omitted in the Reform Bill. In the 19th Geo. II., the same oath was imposed upon freeholders; by the 13th of Geo. III., that oath was omitted, but I believe that it was never contended that a clear beneficial value—that is, a surplus after the payment of rent and other ex- 1697 penses—was not necessary. It was clearly defined that clear yearly value meant the value for which the estate might be let to a solvent tenant. In the Middlesex Election Committee in 1785 this was the definition that was given to the Clause. That was the interpretation that was recognized by our legal tribunals, and I believe that no doubts existed upon the point in English Courts of Law. The Bedfordshire Committee confirmed this decision. But the insertion of the words "beneficial interest" and the omission of the oath gave rise to a different interpretation of the law in Ireland. Many of the Assistant Barristers and some of the Judges held that the proper interpretation to be put on the Clause was, what the estate might be worth to the occupant. The question was argued in the Court of Exchequer Chamber in 1837, in a case that was tried before Lord Chief Justice Bushe, in which it was not only laid down that the solvent test was the proper interpretation, but that the solvent tenant oath was the oath to be administered to the jury. Two of the Judges held that the solvent tenant test was no longer applicable, and three of them held it was applicable, but that no oath was to be administered, and the remainder of the Judges decided that the oath was properly administered, and that the solvent tenant test should remain in force. The minority of the Judges and several of the Assistant Barristers declined to be bound by the opinion of the majority, and this was one great cause of uncertainty. It is therefore right that Parliament should put an end to the doubt, and that the question of value should be defined by legislation. Looking, then, at the intention of the Legislature—looking at the decision of the majority of the Irish Judges, and to the practice in England and Scotland, and holding it to be a sound constitutional principle that the county franchise should depend on a bonâ fide property arising out of land, we are determined to render the Irish law conformable in this respect to the law of England and Scotland, and to require that there should be a clear yearly value of 10l. over and above all rent and charges. It may be said that this object could be attained in a more simple manner. In 1841 the noble Lord the Member for Sunderland made a proposition on the subject, in the principle of which the Members of Her Majesty's present Government, then in opposition, concurred. That proposition recognised the principle of property arising out of 1698 land. The noble Lord proposed to take the surplus of a certain rating above the rent as the test of qualification; but from the Reports which have been laid on the table of the House, and from the inquiries which have been made, I am convinced that the effect of such a Measure would be more stringent than that of the solvent tenant test. The House is aware that by the mode in which the late valuation in Ireland has been made, a certain amount of profit is allowed to the occupying tenant. It is something below the rents of land belonging to large proprietors in Ireland, and considerably lower than those of the occupying tenants of sub-lessees and middlemen in Ireland. I have the rent-roll of certain estates in Ireland belonging to gentlemen of the highest character, in which I place the greatest confidence. I am not permitted to state the particulars and names of these cases. I have no right to ask any gentleman to furnish me with a copy of his rental for the purpose of making public his name and the particulars relating to it, and he would not be bound to give me any information for such a purpose. I have, however, seen calculations made in every part of Ireland, with very few exceptions, so that I feel I should be correct in stating that any surplus, even below the amount specified by the noble Lord the Member for Sunderland, though the sum were only 5l. above the rent, would have the effect of virtually disfranchising a vast number of the present electors, and would expunge from the registry-book a larger portion of the existing constituency than would have been effected by the introduction of the solvent tenant test. All the communications which I have received from every part of Ireland—north, south, east and west—satisfy me on this point. Besides, I do not think it would be right to depart from the ancient principles of the Franchise in Ireland and Scotland, unless some large and practical good were to follow. I now admit, without the least hesitation or reserve, that the effect of the application of the test now proposed, would be to deprive of their votes a considerable number of the present constituency—I mean of the 10l. occupants. It is impossible for me to say precisely what the effect would be; but, wishing to overstate rather than to understate its possible effect, I will admit it may he to strike from the registry two-thirds of the existing 10l. leaseholders 1699 and freeholders. I believe that class of occupants amounts to about 40,000, and it is obvious that one-third of the number would not be adequate to express the opinions and feelings of an electoral body. It was declared by my right hon. Friend, at the beginning of the Session, in the Debate upon the State of Ireland, that it was expedient to give in Ireland, if not an identical, at least a substantially equal Franchise with that possessed by the people of this country. In making, then, a large reduction of the constituency, it is necessary to seek for some compensation, for it must be admitted that the restricted number would be inadequate to express the wants and wishes of the community for whose behalf the Franchise is entrusted to them. Her Majesty's Ministers think it desirable that there should be a community of interests and feelings between the constituent body and those for whose interest the Franchise is entrusted to them. Her Majesty's Ministers, therefore, think it expedient to seek for a constituency amongst a class of persons who, by their independent position, will be enabled to give unbiassed and unprejudiced votes, but who are not too far removed in circumstances from the body of the inhabitants of the district in which they reside. They conceive that to place the new Franchise upon the amount of rent to be paid would be a measure liable to many and to great objections; that it would be the means, in the first place, perhaps, of inducing landlords to raise a larger amount of rent than they would otherwise demand; that it would be the means of leading to fraud and collusion between landlord and tenant; and they conceive that in adopting a simple test, they may effect, in a better manner, the purpose which they have in view. They propose, therefore, that all occupiers, whatever be their tenure, who are rated—all persons who are in the occupation of tenements, and are rated to the poor to a certain amount, shall have the Elective Franchise. The question, then, to be considered was, what the amount should be which would secure a sufficient constituency sufficiently low to connect the voter with the people, and sufficiently high to secure his independence? The inquiries which Her Majesty's Government have made have led them to believe that a man rated to the relief of the poor to the amount of 30l. a year would be possessed of sufficient capital, of sufficient stock, to make him an independent person; and they have, on the 1700 other hand, arrived at the conclusion that the addition so made to the constituency would infuse into it a sufficient proportion of the popular feeling to prevent a separation of it from the body of the people. There are in the counties of Ireland 76,000 persons rated to the poor to the amount of 30l. Of course, a certain deduction must be made from that calculation, for widows, minors, and so forth; and a further deduction must be made for persons who would appear on the register under other qualifications, as 50l. and 20l. electors. We have reason to believe that, of the existing constituency, 30,000 of present 30l. rate-payers are at this moment on the registry, and, therefore, taking one-seventh for the one class, and one-seventh for the other, we may assume 55,000 to be the addition to be made under the proposed new qualification. Deducting, therefore, rather more than 25,000 for the number to be struck off the registry, in consequence of the application of a more stringent test, and assuming 55,000 as the number to be placed on it by the operation of the new Franchise, the addition to be made by the joint operation of these two causes will be an addition of 30,000 to the county constituency of Ireland. But Her Majesty's Government, feeling that one of the links in the social chain of Ireland is wanting, that there is an almost entire absence of persons who answer to the small class of yeomen in this country, are willing to encourage as far as they can the creation of such a class of voters, by holding out the additional inducements of the Elective Franchise. Her Majesty's Government, therefore, propose that all persons in Ireland who shall possess a freehold of inheritance of 5l. clear yearly value above quitrent, and persons possessed of leases for lives renewable for ever to the same amount, which is tantamount to freehold of inheritance, should hereafter vote. Her Majesty's Government think this proposition will have the effect of inducing many small capitalists in Ireland to vest their capital in the purchase of small portions of land; and I cannot conceive a more independent class of voters, or a class to whom it is more just and politic to give the Elective Franchise. That the immediate effect of this portion of the Measure will be considerable I am not prepared to say. I do not believe the fee simple of inheritance of land in Ireland is very common, but I believe that in many parts of Ireland 1701 leases renewable for ever are not very uncommon; and I believe this will, at any rate, hereafter have the effect of adding a considerable number of independent and respectable voters to the Irish constituency. There is no other alteration in the law which Her Majesty's Government propose to make. I should observe that it is not intended these freeholds of inheritance, and leaseholds renewable for ever, should require actual occupation to secure the Franchise. Therefore, if any small capitalist or freeholder chooses to acquire the right of voting in any county, without the necessity of occupation, he will be enabled to do so. There is one other point to which I wish to call attention. The House is probably aware that in England a person possessed of freehold to the amount of 10l. and upwards is not required to reside on his property. It is proposed, in this respect, to assimilate the law of England and Ireland, and hereafter to dispense with the necessity of occupation in cases of all freehold property exceeding the amount of 10l. The law in the three countries will be, in this respect, similar. The House is aware that, until the passing of the Reform Bill, occupation was not required in the case of 40s. freeholders in England. By the operation of that Act 40s. freeholders for lives are required to occupy, but not those who hold in fee simple. We place the Irish bonâ fide freeholder on the same footing. These, I believe, are the principal, if not the only provisions with respect to the qualification of county voters to which it will be necessary for me to call the attention of the House. I now proceed to consider the case of the qualification of voters in towns. The House is aware that under the Reform Act in England the payment of two taxes only is required—viz., the poor-rates and assessed taxes. But the House must, at the same time, bear in mind, that under the comprehensive words "poor-rate" in England a great portion of what is called in Ireland county cess is paid, and, therefore, what a voter in England is called on to pay is not only the actual rate for the relief of the poor, but likewise a large portion of the county cess. The consequence is, that in England it is necessary for a man to have paid a much larger sum under the name of poor-rate than he will be liable to pay on that account in Ireland. From the Returns I have obtained, it appears that the amount payable for a 10l. house in the large towns 1702 and a considerable number of the boroughs in England, amounts to 1s. 9d. in the pound, 6d. being the average payable in the towns in Ireland. In addition, as I have said, to the poor-rate, the payment of the assessed taxes is also required in England. It is certainly possible that a man may inhabit a 10l. house in England having only seven windows, and consequently not be liable to the window tax; but I believe these cases are very rare, and it will be generally found that a voter in large towns is subject to the window-tax, and assuming he is liable for the poor-rate, that makes the payment for the 10l. house 3s. in the pound. In Ireland, by the Reform Act, it was provided, that a man should pay all the county and municipal rates and cesses. The consequence is, that in Ireland it is necessary for a voter to have paid a considerable number of taxes, some of some magnitude, and others merely annoying from their multiplicity. Her Majesty's Government propose to simplify this, not to introduce precise similarity, there being no assessed taxes in Ireland, but to substitute for the assessed taxes those which appear to correspond. It is proposed to take what is commonly called the town-rate—viz., the rate for the purpose of paving, lighting, and watching—the payment of the poor-rate, the payment of the borough-rate, if one exists, and the payment of the police-rate. This is in accordance with the principle to which Government propose to adhere—viz., to make the payment in Ireland correspond as nearly as may be in amount with the payment in England. I believe, as far as the calculation I have made, enables me to judge, that the borough voter in Ireland will, under the proposal which I shall submit to the House—viz., that he should pay the poor-rate, the borough-rate, the paving, lighting, and watching-rate, and any police tax which there may be—pay about the same amount as the corresponding class of voters in English towns. Being anxious to save the time of the House I have not referred to a number of documents to establish the facts which I Lave very shortly endeavoured to state to the House. Of course if my statements are called in question I shall be prepared to verify them, by reference to those documents; but I am unwilling to trespass longer than may be necessary on the time of the House. One of the great objects of this plan would be, to relieve the voter in Irish boroughs from the multiplicity of 1703 payments to which he is now liable. I believe that the multiplicity of taxes is a greater grievance than their actual amount. If the payment of any one tax is omitted, the voter is disfranchised. This does appear to be a considerable hardship, and I think it cannot be the intention of the House to deprive any man of the franchise who is properly qualified. I believe, that the taxes we leave will be a sufficient evidence of the solvency of the tenant. A departure from that principle would be extremely dangerous; we merely propose to diminish the number of the taxes, and to substitute others more easy of collection. In making this statement, I have endeavoured calmly to discharge my duty, without exciting the feelings of the House. I think, that the plan I propose, will place the Elective Franchise in Ireland on a wider and more extended basis. Although founded on the same principle as the Franchise in England, still I believe, that the basis is wider and more extended than it is either in England or Scotland. Sir, I do earnestly hope that the great body of the Irish people will see, in the proposal of this Measure by Her Majesty's Government, a redemption of the pledge which was given by my right hon. Friend at the head of the Government in the speech to which I have referred; that they will see, in the adoption of it by the Imperial Parliament, their earnest desire to give to the people of Ireland the enjoyment of equal rights and equal franchises with the people of this country; and I trust that those to whom these powers are now entrusted for the first time will bear in mind that these powers are entrusted, not for the advantage of themselves alone—not for the advantage of the district in which they reside—not for the advantage even of the country in which they live; but that they are given to them for the good of the whole of this great, and, still United Empire. It is my purpose to lay the Bill on the Table to-morrow, then to move that it be printed and distributed, that Gentlemen may have ample time to consider it. I will now explain shortly the nature of the alterations I propose in the Municipal Corporations Bill, as the two matters are so closely connected. The House is aware that when the Municipal Corporations Bill passed, the assimilation of the Municipal Franchise in Ireland to that of England was impossible. The Municipal Franchise in England is based on the occupation of a house for a given time, 1704 and on the payment of rates for the same period. The Poor Law valuation not having been a sufficient time in force when the Municipal Corporation Act became the law, it was impossible to base upon that the Municipal Franchise. It is now proposed to remove any cause of complaint which may arise out of the difference which exists between the Municipal Franchise in Ireland and in England, by assimilating them as far as possible. In all the larger boroughs in Schedule A in Ireland, except perhaps Wexford, the Poor Law has been in operation a sufficient time to operate as a test similar to that which is required in England; and it is, therefore, proposed to extend to Ireland the provisions of the Municipal Corporation Bill of England in that respect, and to give the right of voting to every inhabitant householder who shall have occupied for the space of three years, or who shall during that time have been rated to the relief of the poor, and who shall have paid his rates and taxes up to that time. I do not wish now to revert to the discussions on the Municipal Corporation Bill. No man can regret more than I do what I must describe as a perversion of the powers which Parliament had given them—that they should have become normal schools of agitation. I think it would have been much better if they had confined themselves more strictly to their own peculiar duties; but still, regretting this, I cannot divest myself of the conviction that every man in a town who contributes by the payment of rates and taxes to the maintenance of that town, is entitled to a vote in the administration of its local affairs, and I do trust, that after the temporary effervescence now existing in Ireland shall have subsided, all parties connected with Municipal Corporations will rather turn their attention to the due administration of their own local affairs, and reserve the expression of political opinions for more fitting opportunities. The House is aware that now the whole of the Grand Jury, Municipal Rates and Taxes, and Poor Rates are payable as a condition of the Municipal Franchise. In Dublin there are no less than twenty-one or twenty-two of these local taxes. I do not mean to say that every one is liable to pay twenty-one or twenty-two taxes, but there is that number of taxes to which the inhabitants of certain districts are liable, and I know that in Dublin some individuals are liable, in order to acquire the Franchise, to no less than fourteen, fifteen, or sixteen local 1705 taxes. This is a very great annoyance, because the non-payment of any of these taxes deprives the voter of his right of voting at Municipal elections. It is proposed to require the payment of the same taxes and to the same amount as those which are required to entitle the voter to the Parliamentary Franchise. I am not aware that there is any other point to which it is necessary to call the attention of the House. That is the only provision of any importance which this Bill will contain. The noble Lord concluded by moving for leave to bring in a Bill to alter and amend the laws which regulate the Registration, Qualification, and Polling of Parliamentary Electors in Ireland. [He afterwards said, there was one point of some importance which he had omitted, and perhaps the House would allow him to supply the omission.] It was proposed to introduce into the Irish Law a provision with regard to joint occupation, which would place it on the same footing there as in this country.
§ Mr. More O'Ferrall
said, that the noble Lord, though he had conceded all the principles against which his party had once contended, had yet fallen far short in his propositions to carry them out. The noble Lord had proved by his Bill that all the complaint, and all the agitation which existed on this subject in Ireland for several years past, had been fully justified. All the complaints made against the Reform Act of 1832—all those made against the Municipal Corporations Amendment Act, had been fully justified by the Measure of the noble Lord. In carrying out the details, it appeared to him that the noble Lord had fallen into all those errors which might have been expected from him, considering the advice under which he had acted. He fully admitted that the noble Lord was inspired by the best and most honest intentions; but he believed the views of the noble Lord himself were not carried out in this Bill. The principle of the Bill, no doubt, was the main thing; but in a Bill of this kind the mode of carrying out the principle was of very great importance. The noble Lord had stated that he meant to continue the present Franchise of 10l., clearing up the difficulties attendant on the interpretation of the law, and making it what the noble Lord said it was intended to make it in 1832, 10l. payable by a solvent tenant. The question raised at that time was whe- 1706 ther a man, having a 10l. beneficial interest accruable to him, did not thereby obtain the Franchise. The decision of the judges was, that it required 10l. over and above the rent, that was, that a solvent tenant could afford to pay 10l. more rent than a tenant by occupation. That was the interpretation put on the law by a majority of the judges, and that he understood to be the interpretation which the noble Lord intended to confirm by this Bill. The noble Lord admitted that this would diminish the present number of voters in the registers by about one-fourth, and in compensation for that he proposed to give a Franchise to persons rated under the Poor Law at 30l. a-year, which would give at least 50l. rent. He contended that taking the rate at 30l. from the solvent tenant, he would he able to qualify in the Quarter Session Courts, under the interpretation which the noble Lord now gave to the former qualification. Thus the number which the noble Lord proposed to add to the constituency of this Franchise of a 30l. rating, was no addition at all. The noble Lord had omitted a very important point—he did not state whether this 30l. Franchise was to be attached to tenancy at will or not. He understood the noble Lord to state that it was to be an occupation of 30l. To that be (Mr. M. O'Ferrall) entertained the strongest objection, inasmuch as a person holding a farm rated at 30l. was generally one of such station and character as to be infinitely more under the influence of his landlord than even the man who possessed the qualification under the present interpretation of the law. The persons who had the 10l. qualification were protected by the lease. If they paid the rent when it was called for, the landlord could not turn them out; but a tenant-at-will, holding from year to year, was immediately under the power of the landlord; be might be served with notice to quit, as the law now stood, on the 1st of May, and six months afterwards he was ejected instantly. With the political opinions of the majority of the landlords, they must know perfectly well that this was placing the best and most industrious class in the country entirely under the power of the landlords. For his part he conceived that a Franchise of this kind was one of the greatest misfortunes and curses with which the country could be visited. It would be better a thousand times to declare at once that persons in 1707 occupation of land should not have any Franchise at all; and when a particular landlord had on his estates a certain number of persons who were qualified by a 30l. valuation to the Poor Rate, to allow him so many votes for his property. That would be fair, clear, and intelligible; but he could conceive nothing more unjust, nothing more impolitic, nothing more dangerous to property even, than to give by an Act of Parliament passed solemnly by the Legislature the right to individuals to exercise a certain privilege for their own protection, and in accordance with constitutional usage, and then to permit it to be violated by the influence of the landlord, and the holder, if he insisted on maintaining effectually the rights which the House had given him, to be made a victim. He was satisfied that the outcry which existed against property at that moment in Ireland, the importance of which no man could exaggerate, was increased by the landed proprietor violating the rights which the law gave to the voter, who was his tenant, and then expecting that man to respect the rights of property in the person of his landlord. The next point to which he would wish to call the attention of the House, and which the noble Lord had entirely omitted, was the right of voting out of rent-charges to the amount of 50l. and 20l. The noble Lord the Member for Lancashire also, in descanting, as; he had done two years ago, on the iniquities which marked the system of registration and voting in Ireland, had entirely omitted to dwell on this grand bead of abuses, the granting of rent-charges. Nothing was more common than for a proprietor to grant a rent-charge to an individual: proof of this might be brought in a court of law, and the vote would be registered by the judge, and sent to the Clerk of the Peace. The claimant would then be a freehold voter, without appearing before the Quarter Sessions, or undergoing any examination, it not being ascertained that the man received or intended to receive the qualification granted to him by the rent-charge. In that way an immense number of voters was put on the register in Ireland. The same abuse existed in Scotland, where it was carried to an enormous extent. In Scotland, however, about as many of these faggot votes were created by one party as the other, and thus the evil was balanced. There property was pretty equally divided between Whigs and Tories, but in Ireland it was almost en- 1708 tirely confined to one side of politics, and thus the advantage given to that party by this creation of fraudulent votes was not compensated by any advantage on the other. If it were really wished to amend gross and wicked abuses in the Franchise, certainly this was one of the abuses which ought to be abolished. If it was the object of the framers of the Bill to continue the Franchise only to those who were properly qualified, it ought to provide that those voting out of rent-charges should have been in the receipt of the 20l. or 50l. for twelve months previously, and there should be a power of putting them to the proof that they had actually received it when the votes came to be revised. The noble Lord stated, most truly, with respect to the 40s. Franchise, which was destroyed by the Act of 1829, that in some counties there was a great number of such voters, and in others scarcely any, instancing that which he had the honour to represent. In that county, it was true, there were hardly any; it had not been contested for many years, and, therefore, they were not registered. In that county, however, there was a great increase of 40s. freeholders in fee—persons as well qualified to hold the Franchise as any that could be expected under the 5l. qualification. With respect to the proposed Franchise from a 5l. qualification in fee, it was one which he thought of all others most desirable to exist, but it was one which he feared, under present circumstances, there was no chance of creating. As to the number of voters the noble Lord expected to add by allowing the votes from rent-charges, he was sorry to tell him that he did not think it would amount to 1,000 throughout all the counties of Ireland. With respect to the Franchise in towns, the noble Lord did not state the whole of the amendments he intended to introduce in it. It admitted of many beneficial changes to which he scarcely thought the noble Lord would object. Under the present law there was a very singular anomaly. A man was allowed to vote if he held a piece of land which, jointly with his premises, made up the value of 10l., provided it were rented from the same landlord, but not if his holdings were rented from two or three different landlords. He could see no valid reason for this restriction; the object must be not to limit the Franchise, but to seek out the man who was qualified to vote, and the man who held of three landlords was as 1709 well entitled to vote as the man who held from one. He conceived that in all the Legislature had done, they had admitted the principle that the Franchise was not sufficiently extended, but he must protest most strongly against giving the Franchise to tenants-at-will.
§ Mr. Shaw
said, with reference to an observation which had fallen from his right hon. Friend opposite, he might state that, as far as he had been able to learn, he did not know any Irish Member who had been aware of the intentions of the Government on this subject until to-night. It was impossible to say, until they had had some experience of the working of a 30l. Franchise in Ireland, what the practical effects of such a measure might be. The real difficulty in the case was, he conceived, with respect to the pressure upon tenants at will by their landlords in Ireland, and the power the landlords possessed over them. Let the Franchise be regulated as it might, by a tenancy from year to year, lay lease, or by any other mode of holding, he believed that, so long as Ireland continued in its present state, there would be a strong objection on the part of the tenantry to register their votes. His conviction was, that, until the system of agitation was abandoned in Ireland, and until that country was placed in a state of repose, the number of registered voters would gradually decline. Hon. Members on both sides were well aware that the common feeling of the Irish tenantry was this—"If I register my vote a pressure will be put upon me. I may wish to vote with my landlord, but I may be unable to do so;" and the consequence was, that many of the respectable tenants were rather disposed to busy themselves about their farms and their families, than to interfere in political matters. Even if they extended the Franchise, they would be unable, under present circumstances, to remove from the minds of a great portion of the qualified tenantry a strong unwillingness to register their votes. His right hon. Friend, alluding to the qualification by rent-charges, had complained that persons who claimed on such qualification were registered without an opportunity being given of testing the validity of their claims; but he had never heard that then was a large number of this class of voter in Ireland. It often happened that per sons gave rent-charges to their near relatives in order to enable them to vote; 1710 but he did not think this was done unless the parties to whom the grants were made derived some benefit. At all events, he was certain that the system alluded to by the right hon. Gentleman did not prevail generally in Ireland. He would not now enter into the merits of the noble Lord's proposal, for he was unwilling to give any opinion on the subject until an opportunity had been afforded him of seeing the Bill. He would say, however, with reference to one suggestion of the noble Lord, that if extending the Franchise to 5l. freeholders had the effect of encouraging in Ireland the spread of a class of small landed proprietors, he would be roost ready and willing to see such an extension. He would, however, reserve any observations upon the merits of the Measure until a more fitting opportunity.
Lord J. Russell
willingly admitted, with his right hon. Friend near him, that the noble Lord had had the best intentions in proposing the Measure he had laid before the House. He admitted, moreover, that the subject the noble Lord had to deal with was a most difficult one. The first proposition of the noble Lord was to make the definition of the Franchise in the counties of Ireland the same as the definition generally applied to the 40s. freeholders in that country, to make it agree with the real value, and, therefore, as the noble Lord admitted, considerably to diminish the number of county voters. The noble Lord thought the effect of this would be to take away no less than 5,000 voters: of course, respecting the diminution, as the augmentation, the noble Lord could only speak from general calculation. How was that deficiency to be supplied? By tenants holding by occupation from year to year, and who therefore might fairly he described as so far tenants at will, that on notice from their landlords, they might be obliged to quit their holdings if they gave a vote adverse to his wishes. Be it remembered, this Franchise did not exist in England till the time of the Reform Act, and then not by the proposal of the Ministers who brought forward the Bill, but on that of a noble Duke (the Duke of Buckingham), then a Member of that House. Such was its origin. The consequence had been, that, as was now generally acknowledged, the elections for the counties of England were in the hands of the landed proprietors. This effect had been described very shortly, but, he be- 1711 lieved, very truly, by the noble Lord opposite (Lord Stanley), when he said, that as regarded the counties of England, if some six or seven landed proprietors met and agreed on the candidate, the election was at once determined, and there was no further question of the result. But this machinery, though he (Lord John Russell) might think it a bad one, at least worked in England without friction; for it was observable that generally with some exceptions, the landlords of England, whether Tory or Whig, found tenants exceedingly willing to give their votes in accordance with their views. It produced only in some cases, which were exceptions to the general rule, any feeling of irritation or discontent on the part of the tenant, that he had given his vote in the same way as his landlord. But the case in Ireland was very different. It was, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that generally speaking tenants were anxious to escape from the difficulty of having a vote—that they wished not to be registered in order that they might not have to oppose the wishes of their landlord on the one hand, by yielding to other influences, as the right hon. Gentleman the Recorder for Dublin would say, or, as he (Lord John Russell) would say, by following their own inclinations, and the general bent of popular feeling. But be that as it might, with respect to the point of opposing wishes and interests the right hon. Gentleman and himself were agreed. There was the interest of the landlord on the one hand, and the wish on the part of the tenant to act differently from his landlord on the other. He thought it impossible that they could expect the effect on this point to be exactly the same in Ireland as in England without producing very great discontent. If you effected the object which had already been obtained in England, of making the counties the mere channels through which the landed proprietors sent persons to that House, you could not do that without producing great discontent among the electors in Ireland; and, as he thought, the general result would be, that those who came from the counties of Ireland hereafter would not represent the general wishes and feelings of the people. He considered, therefore, that the introduction of a Franchise from 30l. tenantcies at will was very objectionable. It had been suggested that occupation alone might form a good Franchise, but that 1712 the amount was too low. He would not say whether that was the case or not, but he thought the only way in which the people could generally follow out their own wishes would be, that they should be in such numbers that the landlord, finding that 1,400 or 1,500 persons had given their votes in a particular way, would never attempt to eject them. He was afraid, however, that the body of voters created by the Bill would be sufficiently limited for the landlord to have great power, if not complete power over them: while, on the other hand, they would be very unwilling to admit that power. The noble Lord had proposed a 5l. Franchise; so far as that went, he thought it would produce nothing but good. He was willing to accept it, because, though they could not expect that there would be an immediate and present addition to the number of county voters in Ireland, it might hereafter produce a considerable addition. But if the noble Lord was trying to carry into effect the pledge given by the right hon. Gentleman, that there should be something like substantial equality in practice between the two countries, he could not see why they should refuse to grant a 40s. Franchise. He could well enough see why they should not admit 40s. as the amount for those who held only a life-interest, or an interest in the life of another, because that was a Franchise which, as they all knew, had led to great abuses in former times; but the number of 40s. freeholders in fee, like that of the 5l. freeholders, being very small, he did not see why they should not give exactly the same Franchise in Ireland as the English enjoyed, rather than have a too narrow Franchise in that country. With respect to the present Bill, he should wait for the explanation given of it by the right hon. Baronet; but he could not at present see how it carried into effect the declaration that there was to be a substantial identity of Franchise, which was attainable only by complete equality. The noble Lord proposed some simplifications with respect to the right of voting in towns, which were considerable improvements. As to corporations, he proposed to make the Franchise, in voting for municipal officers, the same as in England; he supposed the right of voting would be also continued as laid down in the Act of last year. By one provision of that law, no person who was 1713 not rated at the sum of 8l. was liable to pay the rate; it was made payable by the landlord. He did not know whether there was to be any provision in this Bill by which a person could take on himself the payment of the rates, and thereby become entitled to vote for officers or magistrates of municipal corporations. He could have wished that a Bill on the great subject of the right of voting had been framed in a larger and more liberal spirit than this appeared to have been.
§ Mr. Bellew
expressed his regret that a 40s. instead of a 5l. freehold Franchise had not been proposed. He was not prepared at present to give any opinion with respect to the tenancy at will, but concurred with the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite that the chief difficulty was to induce voters to register. In that respect the present Bill appeared to leave matters where they now were. He should be disposed to view a Measure proceeding from the Government with respect, if the right hon. Baronet really intended that the Irish Franchise should be extended in accordance with the principles of the Reform Bill.
§ Viscount Howick
thought it was well worthy the consideration of the Government whether they could not get rid of the evil, both in England and Ireland, arising out of the conflicts in the Registration Courts, by making a class of electors who would have the right of voting by virtue of their names having been once put upon the register. Let the mere fact of being rated in such and such a manner be sufficient to establish the claim to the Franchise. That would do much to meet the difficulty adverted to by the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, namely, the indisposition of voters to register. He hoped that Gentlemen upon that (the Opposition) side of the House would not too hastily condemn a proposal to establish a right of voting founded upon mere occupation. He was prepared to admit that the protection of a lease would be better, if thereby a sufficient constituency could be obtained, than a constituency grounded upon occupancy only; but the result of the inquiry which, two or three years ago, he had made into the subject, had led him to the conviction that, if the Franchise were trusted entirely to a dependency upon leases, by no contrivance could a sufficiently-numerous body be obtained. The right hon. Member for Kildare had ad- 1714 verted to the unfortunate difference of opinion which, taken as a body, existed between the owners of land and the occupiers in Ireland. If that were so, it was undoubtedly a great evil, but if the granting of a lease were rendered absolutely necessary, power would be given to the owners of the soil to disfranchise a large portion of the population. All the evidence he had seen tended to show that the practice of granting leases in Ireland was unhappily very fast going out; therefore, if the Franchise were made to depend wholly upon leases, whatever might be the amount of qualification required, it was to be feared that far too scanty a number of voters would be obtained to answer the purpose. It was to be considered that Franchise arising from a lease was liable to abuses. A lease might be granted at a nominal rent—one not in fact to be paid, for the purpose of creating not only a vote, but a dependent vote. Suppose a lease granted at 10l. or 20l. or whatever might be the amount of qualification required, with the understanding that a smaller sum was really to be paid upon certain conditions. Such means might be taken to bring the vote under the management of the granter of the lease. With regard to England, he thought that hon. Gentlemen were mistaken as to the practical difference in point of dependence between a 50l. tenant at will and a leaseholder. He had had experience in county contests, and been actively concerned in some severe ones, and he had not seen practically that difference on the score of dependence between the two classes of farmers. He did not allude to those who had very long leases, and who might be said to have an interest in the land, but to farmers really paying the full value of the land, whether upon a lease for twenty-one years, or holding from year to year. In either case the tenant had good reason to seek for good at the hands of his landlord, and as far as his observation had extended, the difference was not so great in point of dependence. In both cases, much to their credit, the tenants had often asserted their independence. He feared, then, it would be found practically impossible to get the number of the constituency in Ireland, without some occupation Franchise; but he agreed with his noble Friend, that it was a subject worthy the consideration of the House, whether, if it were necessary to adopt an occupa- 1715 tion Franchise, a lower amount should not have been fixed, so that there might be a sufficient body of voters to protect one another; because it would make a great difference to that class of voters in regard to their independence, if their number was so large that it would be difficult for the landlords to exercise an influence over them. He was disposed, then, to agree with his noble Friend, that 30l. was higher than should be required. No doubt, however, the Government would lay upon the Table further information upon the point, so as to enable the House to arrive at a correct judgment. In regard to the right of voting on account of property held in fee, he agreed with the opinion that had been expressed from both sides, that it was a most valuable addition to the Franchise in Ireland; but he must also again ex press his concurrence with his noble Friend, that if this kind of vote, arising out of property held in fee, were to be created, that was no sort of reason why it should be higher in amount in Ireland than in England. On the contrary, Ireland was the poorer country. Forty shillings of fee in Ireland, was, practically, a larger amount of property than 40s. in fee in England; and, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite stated, if one thing was more desirable than another for Ireland, it was to encourage persons to acquire small property of that kind. If, then, the right of voting could be conferred upon a small amount of property in Ireland, on the same terms (40s.) as in England, it would be a most valuable Franchise to create in Ireland. He was happy to observe that the Government entertained the same opinion as the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, in regard to the importance of encouraging the acquisition of small amounts of property in fee; but if it were really desired to encourage persons to buy land in that manner, if it were wished to create a class of voters of that description, be wished to call the attention of the House to one point, not conuected with the present Bill, indeed, but bearing materially upon this branch of the subject. He did hope that the Government would adopt some means to render more simple, easy, and cheap, the conveyances of land. He believed that what, at this moment, tended to interfere with the salutary process of breaking up property in Ireland into portions to be held in fee, was the difficulty and ex- 1716 pense of making out titles and conveyances of those portions of land. It was in the power of the Government to do much towards diminishing that expense, an expense which had been increased by the measure of equalising the stamp duties in England and Ireland two years ago, and which he feared was an erroneous one. When the point was considered, he hoped that England would not be excluded, for he was sure that the acquisition of small portions of land in fee would be as beneficial in the one country as in the other. Having made these few remarks, he should reserve all further observations until the proper stage of the Bill, and conclude by expressing his satisfaction at the tone and temper in which the discussion had been carried on.
§ Sir Robert Peel
trusted he might be permitted to express the hope, that hon. Gentlemen would not prejudge the measure, or deprive themselves of the opportunity of passing a deliberate judgment upon it, after having fully examined the details, and having had access to the information which it would be possible to supply. That was the course usually taken upon the first proposal of a Bill, and it would undoubtedly facilitate the continuance of the tone and temper by which he was happy to say the remarks hitherto made had been characterized. He was obliged to those hon. Gentlemen who had borne testimony to the spirit and intentions with which the Measure had been introduced, and he trusted they would remember that the course the Government proposed to take with regard to the municipal and county Franchise, was this, that in Ireland they had found some disqualifications which they proposed to remove. In Great Britain, occupation was not required in the case of freehold Franchise; in Ireland it was, and the Government proposed to remove that restriction, and to place the 10l. freehold Franchise on the same footing, in respect of Franchise, as in England. It was also proposed to continue every one already on the register for the period of eight years without other question than the continuance of the same qualification. But at the same time that the Government protected the existing rights of voting, they likewise proposed to increase the number of voters; and in that respect, so far as the interests of the Government were concerned, he might say that the 1717 Measure had been constructed with fairness, and not in the spirit of party. With regard to the municipal Franchise, it had been said that great disparity existed between that of England and that of Ireland, and the Government had taken the first opportunity that had occurred of placing the two on an equal footing, by making the right of voting dependent either upon the occupation of a 10l. house, or of any tenement subject to rating, coupled with the proviso that the rates had been paid. So also with respect to the restriction upon the right of voting arising out of the multitudinous taxes, payment of which was now required to be proved, and than which no subject of grievance had been represented as more prominent, the Government proposed to relieve the right of voting from that incumbrance, and to facilitate it by means which had been already explained. Those were the general principles of the Measure. The Government were aware that there was a tendency to restrict from natural causes, and that the application of any more stringent test would add legislative to the natural. The Government were desirous of fulfilling those expectations which the people of Ireland had a right to form from the double operation of the Catholic Relief Bill and of the Reform Bill. The subject was one of extreme difficulty. It had been contended that the occupancy of land should be made more permanent than tenancy-at-will, but as the noble Lord had justly stated, it was then placed in the power of the landed proprietors to restrict the Franchise to an almost indefinite extent. If it were to be said that no man should vote who had not a lease, then in a very short time the Franchise in Ireland would be, by natural causes, independent of any legislation, reduced to an extent which no one would wish to see. The Government proposed to correct that evil by taking what appeared to be the simplest means—that a person rated to the poor to a given amount should have the right of voting. If the possession of a lease were insisted upon, the evil of a government restriction of the right of voting must be incurred. The Government, however, had not merely depended upon this—they had introduced a new 5l. freehold Franchise. With respect to the proposition of a 40s. freehold Franchise, some of the worst voters used to be the squatters, as they were called upon the Commons, 1718 and who exercised the right of voting by length of occupation. Care must be taken in regard to voters of this kind that temptation was not held out to landed proprietors to constitute a property of fee simples, thus making votes for the purpose of exercising his influence upon them, and for that purpose 5l. appeared a better security than 40s. The Measure had been brought forward with a view of fulfilling the declaration made on the part of the Government; and their intention had been to introduce a safe Franchise; which should be the organ of public opinion. Having made these few remarks, he would only repeat his hope that hon. Gentlemen would take time to consider, and not prejudge the Measure by precipitate opinions expressed from either side of the House.
§ Mr. French
was glad to hear the indignant tone in which his right hon. Friend, the Recorder of Dublin, alluded to the contemptuous disregard of the opinions of his Irish supporters shown by the right hon. Baronet at the head of Her Majesty's Government. It appeared not one of them had been considered worthy of being consulted on this Measure, and they in common with others this day for the first time heard its provisions. He (Mr. French) thought that his hon. Friend ought not to be surprised that a cabinet, one member of which lately designated a vote of the majority of the House of Commons as "Jack Cade legislation," and another described the agricultural interest, to whom they are indebted for place and power, as "fidgetty and fussy," that such a body as this should undervalue the opinions and assistance of their Irish supporters was not to be wondered at. The speech of the noble Lord, the Secretary for Ireland, was, for the principles it laid down, valuable, though the attempt to carry these principles into effect was feeble indeed; as a measure of concession his Bill, stripped of its tinsel, was absolutely nothing; by it the privilege of registering on the beneficial interest the foundation of the franchise of the greater portion of the Liberal voters, was to be abolished and the solvent tenant test to be enacted. In future it would be necessary for the tenant claiming to vote to have at least a 20l. interest in the premises. Under this provision three-fourths of the present 10l. voters would be swept away to be replaced, according to the statement of the noble Lord, by 30,000 tenants-at-will 1719 voters rated at 30l.—a Chandos clause—to place the representation of Ireland in the hands of the landlords as completely as the 50l. rent-clause had done in this country. Was it possible the noble Lord could anticipate legislation like this proving acceptable to the Irish people. The 5l. in fee qualification would bring no addition to the constituencies. It was but an ideal franchise, the result of which was limited to the noble Lord's imagination, and he (Mr. French) anticipated much mischief from the insidious attempt to prop up the tottering Poor law, by rendering the borough payment of that rate necessary for registry [Sir Robert Peel made some remark across the table.] He should, however, attend to the suggestion of the right hon. Baronet, and postpone entering into the details of the measure until it was more fully before the House, and no longer trespass on them at the present time.
§ Mr. Hume
was pleased at the introduction of the measure, because it broke through a notion which appeared to have been formed on both sides of the House, that the Reform Bill was final. He wished to know if the right hon. Baronet thought that this measure would satisfy the people of Ireland, or would stifle the cry for repeal. There were 60,000 county voters in Ireland, and supposing that the present Bill did add 30,000, the total would be only 90,000; and he would ask, could that be called a healthy measure for that country? There were 31,000 borough voters, and the noble Lord had not said that he expected any addition to that number by the present Bill. There were some points in the Bill that might be advantageous, but in respect to the number of voters, it was impossible that the Irish, as reasoning men, could be satisfied with the measure. By reason of there being no settled guiding principle, the Bill would only introduce fresh anomalies into the franchise. He was sorry that some measure had not been introduced to give the mass of the people their fair share of the franchise; for his opinion was, that every person contributing to the taxes ought to have a vote. The measure was a pretence at assimilation, without being really so in the smallest degree, and it would be held up as an additional insult to the people of Ireland. If the right hon. Baronet would put himself in the position of an Irishman, he would acknowledge that this measure 1720 was not equality. He was no enemy to small improvements; much might be effected by little and little, and he was glad to get what he could, but that was no reason he should express satisfaction at receiving much less than he had a right to expect. Let not the right hon. Baronet suppose that this measure would remove any of the difficulties of his present position. The measure neither was nor ought to be satisfactory, and were he an Irishman, he should complain of it as an additional insult to his country. The Government had promised an ample measure of franchise, and he was greatly disappointed to find so little was at last to be obtained.
§ Mr. Montague Gore
perfectly agreed with the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) that observations upon the details of the Bill would be misplaced on the present occasion; but as an English Member of that House he wished to express the great satisfaction he experienced at the introduction of this Measure. He referred not to its details, but to its principle, because he thought the principle upon which it was based was one which ought and would give the greatest satisfaction to Ireland, and tend more closely to unite the two countries. For, coinciding most sincerely in all the opinions which had been expressed with regard to upholding the Church in that country, and maintaining the Union, he felt that it was their duty, as legislating for the United Empire, to take every means they could safely adopt to make that Union a union in fact, and a union that was really beneficial to Ireland. Therefore he hailed with the greatest delight the introduction of this Measure; and, without entering into the minutiæ of the subject, he trusted that it would go forth to the people of Ireland as a proof that the Government and Parliament of this country did sympathise with their feelings and condition. And more especially did he cordially agree with some remarks which had been made in the course of the evening with respect to the very great advantage of causing a class of independent yeomen and small holders of land to be created in that country; because he thought there was nothing that would tend more to promote its social and political welfare than such a circumstance. It was true the Measure might not go to the extent which some hon. Gentlemen opposite thought desirable. This, how- 1721 ever, was a matter of detail which might be entered into on subsequent occasions, and it would, perhaps, be somewhat premature to allude to it further now. Though in no way connected with Ireland personally, yet, feeling that sympathy and regard for her which it was his duty to do as a Member of the united Parliament, bound to legislate for Ireland as much as for Great Britain, and bound to regard her interests equally with those of England, he could not sit silent to-night without expressing his thanks to Her Majesty's Government for introducing the present Measure, and his firm conviction that it must ultimately be in the highest degree beneficial to Ireland, and therefore beneficial to the United Empire, with which he believed the interests of Ireland ever must be, and he trusted ever would be, inseparably and indissolubly connected.
§ Mr. Morgan John O'Connell
joined with the right hon. Member for Kildare in protesting against the new principle introduced by the Government. He (Mr. O'Connell) had never heard any good of the Chandos Clause during the nine years he had sat in Parliament, nor any Member attempt to defend that enactment, which it was now sought to extend to Ireland. The Clause, too, as proposed for Ireland, would be more restrictive, in proportion, than the same Clause was in England. He objected to the Clause, because, while it greatly increased the influence of the landlord it made a very small addition to the number of county voters. The noble Lord said, that the Bill would add 30,000 to the county constituency, which, after all, was just about the number of the constituency of the West Riding of Yorkshire. He feared the Bill would not be well received in Ireland, especially the Chandos Clause part of it. He anticipated great danger from the operation of that Clause to the effectual carrying out of the Landlord and Tenant Commission. The object of that commission was to remedy the present uncertain tenure on which lands were held in Ireland. This Bill instead of inducing the landlords to co-operate with the Commission to alter the law of tenure in that country, would afford them a greater motive for continuing that uncertainty. It was therefore by no means at this moment a safe experiment to try. The class of voters it was proposed to increase in the counties were intelligent and solvent, but just in proportion to their solvency was the 1722 amount of their dependence upon the landlord. The system of polling at elections in Ireland was different from that which existed in England. As many votes might be taken in England in an hour as could be taken in Ireland in a day. [Sir R. Peel. How is that?] It was a long story to tell. But one great cause of delay in polling in Ireland arose from the manner in which the oath was administered to the voter. In England the oath was administered in the second person, and only read once. In Ireland the oath was administered in the first person, it being read over to the voter, and repeated by him, word for word; and when, as it often happened, the voter did not understand English, the oath had to be translated into Irish, and thus full a quarter of an hour was occupied in administering one oath. He would not oppose the introduction of the Bill, and he hoped its merits would be discussed temperately, but he should be flattering the noble Lord if he were to say that the Bill would give satisfaction to the people of Ireland.
§ Mr. Wyse
said, it was not his intention to enter into a consideration of the details of the Bill on the present occasion. The great value of the present discussion had been to elicit from the right hon. Baronet and the noble Lord a declaration which some years ago would have been held to be a most extreme doctrine, but it was nevertheless a doctrine that fully justified all the exertions that had been made for the enlargement of the Franchise and the assimilation of the rights of Irishmen to those of Englishmen. How far these declarations, which were only in conformity with the Emancipation Act of 1829, and to the Reform Act of this country, were likely to be borne out by this Bill, would be a subject for future consideration. He admitted the extreme difficulty of the question; it was not only a Franchise question, but a landlord's question, and scarcely to be judged of by any precedent in this country. One great benefit would certainly be gained by giving a clear definition of what was called a beneficial interest, but the effect of that definition would be to diminish the constituency. This deficiency was proposed to be made up by enacting that in the case of a 5l. Franchise, it was not absolutely necessary that the party should he in actual possession. He considered an absolute proprietor, however small in amount, far more independent than a leaseholder; he re- 1723 joiced, therefore, that this principle of proprietorship was recognised, but he regretted that it had not been placed at a lower value than 5l. No conclusion could be drawn from the abuses of the 40s. freeholder system of former times. If the Government were to restore the 40s, freehold system, being an estate in fee-simple, he did not believe it would be abused as formerly. With regard to the municipal franchise, he was glad the noble Lord had recognized the necessity of assimilating- the franchise of the towns of Ireland with that of the towns of England as nearly as possible, There, however, existed still many qualifications in English towns which were not even by this Bill acknowledged as grounds for conferring the Franchise in Ireland.
§ Sir R. Peel
said, that he had been mistaken in one point upon which he was anxious there should be no misapprehension. Speaking of the Franchise in the municipal towns in Ireland, he had said that he thought there were some towns in which a right of voting existed to which it would be impossible to apply the English principle, but he had since been informed that it was possible to apply in the larger towns the same principle, and therefore it was proposed to substitute the English Franchise wherever it could be made applicable to towns in Ireland. With regard to the effect of the Stamp Act, he believed that the effect of assimilating the stamp duties on conveyances in both countries would not be to increase the charge on the conveyances of property up to 100l. value, but to diminish it. Formerly the duty in Ireland on conveyances of property to that value was 1l. but now it was reduced to 10s.
§ Lord Eliot
acknowledged the moderation with which this Bill had been discussed. With respect to the Chandos Clause, as it had been designated, he would not now discuss it at any length; but in truth the Clause in the present Bill was not exactly similar to what was called the Chandos Clause in the English Act. In England the franchise depended upon the amount of the rent paid to the landlord; whereas in Ireland the franchise would rest upon the amount of the rate paid by the occupier. He did not think the honorable Member for Kerry (M. J. O'Connell) had in any way answered the question of his (Lord Elliot's) right hon. Friend, who had asked, if you do not adopt a qualification of this descrip- 1724 tion, how will you provide a sufficient constituency for the Irish counties? The fact was, that so far from this Clause tending to strengthen the disinclination on the part of the landlords to grant leases, it would have a contrary effect. He believed that the indisposition of landlords to grant leases arose from the fear of giving tenants votes which might be used against them. But when the franchise was given to the tenants whether they held leases or not, the difficulty of granting them on this account would be done away with, and then the granting of leases would depend upon the sole merits of each case, whether it was conducive or not to the interest of the landlord in respect to the cultivation of the soil. Another improvement which this Bill would effect, would be to save much trouble to a person who claimed the right to be on the register. At present a claimant must substantiate his claim before the revising barrister; but under this Bill he would have nothing to do but send his claim to the baronial constable, who would afterwards send it to the clerk of the peace, and, if not objected to, would be allowed without any trouble, inconvenience, or expense being imposed upon the claimant; precisely, indeed, as the law existed now in England. He was speaking of country voters. In towns there could be no inconvenience from going from one street to another. The hon. Member for Montrose had asked whether this Bill would be satisfactory to the people of Ireland. He could not answer that question. Means might be taken to excite discontent with its provisions; but if the hon. Member would take pains to examine the question, he would find not indeed that the constituency in Ireland was as large, in proportion to the population, as it was in England; the principle, that the constituency should be in proportion to the population, had never been adopted. The utmost length to which the principle had been carried was to take population and property combined. That was the principle of the Reform Bill. But to take the principle of population only had never been adopted by any British statesman. But, the hon. Member would find that the franchise in Ireland was placed upon a wider and a more extended basis than in England or Scotland. The short-coming—the difference of the number—was owing to a difference of the distribution of property in the two countries. If they introduced a different proportion of votes in Ireland, they must go 1725 lower down in the scale of value to constitute the qualification for counties. In order to give the same proportion of the population the franchise in Ireland as in England, they must give every 5l. ratepayer in the county the franchise, irrespective of tenure altogether. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Waterford had adverted to the different qualifications in the municipal boroughs in England and in Ireland. If it was the fact that qualification existed in England that did not exist in Ireland, so, on the other hand, there were qualifications in towns in Ireland which did not exist in England. For instance, in the English towns there was no qualification arising out of a leasehold estate; but in Ireland there was, and the man who possessed it was not obliged to pay rates in order to complete his right to vote. The noble Lord (Lord John Russell) had asked what would be the effect of the measure in regard to the Bill of last session, which conferred the right of voting on persons occupying 8l. tenements in the larger towns, and 4l. in the smaller. The 34th section of the 3rd and 4th of Victoria enacted that an occupier might claim to be rated, whether he was liable to be rated or not; and the act of last session did not take away that right. With regard to what had been stated by the honorable Member for Kerry (Mr. M. J. O'Connell) on the subject of the administration of the oath at the poll, it was provided that only one oath should be taken by the voter, and only two questions be put to him, viz. Are you the person described in the register, and have you already voted? He (Lord Eliot) could not conceive that a quicker mode than this could be suggested. If, indeed, there was occasion to translate the oath into Irish, the polling could not very well proceed so rapidly as in England. With regard to what had been said respecting the occupative qualification, he need only refer to the speech of the noble Lord, the Member for Sunderland. He had given a complete answer to the allegations made as to the dependence on their landlords of tenants-at-will. He agreed with that noble Lord in thinking that a landlord could not more easily coerce a tenant-at-will than one with a lease. To eject, in fact, is more difficult than to distrain; and few tenants in Ireland are not more or less in arrears. He was not aware that there were any more points that required any particular reply on the present occasion.
§ Leave given to bring in the Bill; as was also leave to bring in a Bill to alter the Qualification of Burgesses in Municipal Corporations, and of Voters in the Election of Municipal Commissioners in Ireland.