HC Deb 02 February 1844 vol 72 cc204-7
Mr. T. S. Duncombe

rose, in pursuance of the notice which he had given the night before, to call the attention of the House to the paragraph in the Address, in which allusion was made to the law of Registration of Voters in Ireland. The point to which he wished to call especial attention, was the latter part of the paragraph in question. It began— To thank Her Majesty for recommending that we should take into our early consideration, the enactments at present in force in Ireland, concerning the registration of voters for Members of Parliament. So far there was no objection; but he had an objection to the next sentence, which was as follows;— And for your Majesty's gracious intimation that we may probably find that a revision of the law of registration, taken in conjunction with other causes at present in operation would produce a material diminution of the number of county voters, and that it may be advisable on that account to consider the state of the law with a view to an extension of the county franchise in Ireland. Now, he proposed to leave out the latter part of the sentence, and to substitute an assurance— That Her Majesty's gracious recommendation shall receive our immediate attention, with a view to the amendment of the representation in Ireland. The object of this amendment, the House would perceive, was to make the consideration which they promised to give to the state of the franchise general, and to extend it alike to boroughs, cities, and counties. He knew not why the recommendation confined their attention to the county franchise exclusively. When the noble Lord opposite introduced his bill in the year 1841, for the improvement, as he called it, of Irish registration—when he expressed so much virtuous indignation at the corrupt state of the exercise of the franchise—the noble Lord's Registration Bill was not confined to counties, it extended to the franchise generally in Ireland, and he (Mr. Duncombe) wished to know why they should now limit their consideration to counties. He found it stated in the paragraph in question, that a revision of the law of registration would "probably" produce a great diminution in the number of county voters. "Probably"! Why, it was notorious—the fact had been ascertained already. It was known to all in the House and out of it, that from some cause or other, a gradual diminution of the voters had been going on for many years; and he found that it had been stated to the House last Session by the hon. Gentleman, the Member for the county of Limerick, that between 1837 and 1843, the constituency of Ireland had been reduced from 109,000 to 84,000. It was almost a mockery to talk of "probably" finding a diminution in the franchise of Ireland. It was notorious to the House; and in the address issued by the Repeal Association, next to the national Church, the state of the franchise was represented as one of the monster grievances of the country. The hon. Gentleman proceeded to read the passage alluded to, which stated that from the technical and complicated condition of the law relating to the acquisition and tenure of the franchise, it had been daily becoming more limited, until it was almost useless for any practical purpose. The hon. Gentleman continued—Government was certainly deserving of praise for bringing forward the subject of Irish registration: but he did not see, he repeated, why they were to be limited to the condition of county voters. He was glad to see that the Ministry appeared to have thrown overboard the finality principle; he congratulated them, he congratulated the House and the country, upon the advance which they had made in so doing. They had proposed to bring in a new Reform Bill for Ireland. It was very necessary that this should be done, but do not confine it to county voters. The hon. Gentleman concluded by proposing his amendment.

Sir R. Peel

trusted that the House would not go into any discussion upon the question of the reform of the Irish representation. The proposed bill was not at present before the House, and nothing could be more inconvenient than to approach its discussion, the House being necessarily ignorant of the provisions of the measure in question. He thought he could give a complete and satisfactory answer to the observations of the hon. Gentleman opposite. There was nothing in the Address, acquiescence in which would pledge hon. Gentlemen to any opinion upon the subject of Irish representation. There was nothing in the Address to prevent any Gentleman who might think that the Irish franchise ought to be extended from afterwards submitting any proposition upon the subject unprejudiced by his concurrence in the paragraph in question. They proposed to amend the registration in Ireland. It was impossible to accomplish tins without considering the state of the registration in the counties. There were other causes in action independent of the registration, tending to reduce the number of county voters. The provisions of the bill, which they proposed to introduce, would affect the county, not the borough and city voters. As there were causes which affected county, but not borough voters, and as they were about to propose a system affecting these causes, they accompanied the announcement with a pledge that Government would call the attention of the House to the county franchise. Such was the pledge on the part of Government, and a concurrence in the assurance to that effect contained in the Address would not have the effect of binding the opinions of any hon. Gentleman as to the general question of the Irish franchise. He hoped that the hon. Gentleman opposite would see that there was no necessity for pressing his amendment, and that the pledge followed logically from the opinion which the Government had expressed upon the subject. All that they undertook to do was, that as the registration affected county voters, they would introduce ample provision to pre vent the diminution in the number of voters caused by the system of revision in the bill which they would submit to the House.

Sir H. W. Barron

did not think it was necessary to press the amendment to a division. The paragraph pledged the Government to an increase of the franchise as regarded counties. He did not wish to go into the full question of Irish registration, but he would say, that if the right hon. Baronet opposite would look into the matter, he would find that in Ireland, in the cities, and towns, and boroughs, there was quite as much reason for increasing the franchise as in the counties. The right hon. Baronet would also find, that in a poorer country the same qualifications for the franchise were demanded as those exacted in a much richer country.

Mr. T. Duncombe

said, that upon the understanding that they were to be in no way pledged in respect to the general question of the franchise in Ireland, by acquiescing in the paragraph in question, he would have no objection to withdraw his amendment.

Amendment withdrawn.

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