HC Deb 01 July 1844 vol 76 cc141-52

On the Order of the Day for the second reading of the Irish Registration Bill being read,

Mr. T. Duncombe

said, as an English Member, he rose to protest against this most enormous waste of time; more especially as they were about to establish a precedent which was unknown in the proceedings of that House. He was not going to discuss the merits of this Bill. What he complained of was, that after the right hon. Baronet had withdrawn three or four importants Bills, he asked them to proceed with a discussion upon a Bill which could not pass through its stages in the present Session. He had looked over the Journals of the House, and could not find any other instance of a Minister of the Crown thus dragging his supporters through the mire, for the purpose of having a Bill read a second time, and then saying to those supporters, "You may now go about your business; I do not want your votes or your aid any longer, as we do not mean to proceed any further with the measure." To insist upon this discussion, under these circumstances, would be only dragging the supporters of Government through the mire, as they had done before, in order to cast an additional insult upon the people of Ireland. He had received a letter on Friday from a gentleman connected with Ireland, and who was now the head of the Repeal Association, intreating him to use all his influence with English Members to prevent the people of Ireland from being insulted by the second reading of this Bill. He was asked not to allow the Bill to be discussed in the absence of the hon. Member for Kilkenny and the hon. Member for Cork, the latter of whom represented a constituency consisting of about 700,000 inhabitants. They had just heard that a magistrate had been reinstated in the Commission of the Peace, in compliance with the requisition of 22,545 inhabitants of Cork. Why, then, did they wish to proceed with the Bill, which was an insult to the people of Ireland? The right hon. Baronet said the other evening that he wanted to ascertain what were the opinions and feelings of the Irish Members with respect to this Bill. Why, did he not know them at that moment? If they wanted to know the opinion of the Irish people, let them read their petitions, asking the House to reject the Bill. Although they had an immense amount of business to transact, yet they proposed wasting another evening in discussing the obnoxious clauses of a Bill that was not to be carried on. He would be no party to such a discussion, and he would take the sense of the House, as to whether its time was to be wasted in a discussion that could have no practical result. He should not ask the House to give any opinion, one way or another, on the merits or demerits of the Bill; the only question he should submit was, whether they could allow the public time to be wasted in a futile discussion on the Motion for the second reading. He therefore moved as an Amendment that the House do proceed with the other Orders of the Day.

Sir R. Peel

said, with respect to the period of the Session at which the Bill was proposed, he begged to observe that the second reading of the Bill was fixed, at a period when it would have been competent for the hon. Member for Cork to be in his place, and that he postponed the second reading at the express wish of the Gentlemen at the other side connected with Ireland. He believed the second reading was fixed for an early day in April. That Bill provided the same general system of Registration for Ireland that prevailed in England, and it was important that Her Majesty's Government should know whether the House approved the principle. The Bill also provided for a new franchise—in some cases a considerable extension of franchise—for Ireland, and he felt bound, therefore, to persevere in asking the House to pronounce an opinion on the principle, reserving to themselves the right at a future opportunity of discussing and altering, if necessary, the details. Friday the 19th of April was the day, he believed, for which the second reading had been originally fixed, and it had been postponed, not for the convenience of the Government, but at the express request of hon. Gentlemen opposite connected with Ireland. And seeing the importance of ascertaining the opinion of the House as to its principle, he could not see how it could be looked upon as any insult to Ireland to ask the House to go into the discussion. The hon. Gentleman had told them that the Municipal Corporations Bill was also an insult to Ireland; but seeing that by that measure it was proposed to give an extension of the Municipal Franchise to Ireland, and to place that franchise upon the same footing as it existed in England (and that at the earliest period at which it could be done)—viz., that it should depend upon the occupation of a house and the payment of rates, he could not understand in what way any insult was conveyed by this measure. Under all the circumstances he trusted the House would not refuse to express an opinion upon the second reading of the Bill.

Mr. V. Smith

observed, that the question raised by his hon. Friend (Mr. T. Duncombe) was not as to the principle of the Bill, but whether it was fair at that period of the Session, with so large an arrear of business before them, to take up the time of the House for one or perhaps two nights upon a Bill which the right hon. Gentleman admitted, it was not his intention to proceed further with during the present Session. As to reading the Bill a second time, with the view of ascertaining what was the state of public opinion with regard to it, the right hon. Gentleman must remember that already had the measure been before the House and the country for a considerable period, that it had been printed and circulated through the country, and had been generally denounced. He could not, therefore understand on what grounds the right hon. Baronet could call upon the House to pledge itself to the principle of the Bill by affirming its second reading. Why did not the right hon. Baronet leave the House as free as himself in the matter? There were no public grounds for the course the right hon. Gentleman proposed; and if he persisted in it; the advice he (Mr. V. Smith) would offer to his Irish Friends round him, was to avoid saying a word upon the subject until the right hon. Baronet should bring in a Bill which he intended to pass into a law. When a right hon. Baronet was prepared with such a measure, let him bring it in at a proper period of the Session, and take the discussion on its various stages in the usual course; but he for one, must object to the attempt to "Hansard" hon. Gentlemen out of their opinions next year, by telling them they were pledged to any views they might have expressed upon the second reading of a Bill with which it was not intended to proceed. He repeated, considering the state of public business—the Poor Law Bill, and other important measures, which it was understood, would be proceeded with, and which detained hon. Gentlemen from their magisterial duties—it was too much to ask the House to lose two nights in debating a Bill which was to be withdrawn.

Lord Eliot

Though the course proposed by the hon. Gentleman might be the more convenient—it was not the most straightforward. The measure had been denounced as an insult to Ireland, and an attempt to deprive Ireland of the franchise. Now, the Government by whom that measure had been introduced, were anxious that those hon. Gentlemen who had made these charges should have an opportunity of substantiating them, and of showing what were the Clauses of the Bill that would have such an effect. He and his right hon. Friends were convinced, that if a discussion were taken, they could show that so far from the Bill destroying or limiting the franchise, it would extend the franchise in Ireland. ["No, no."] It was most unfair to refuse to express an opinion upon the principle of the Bill.

Mr. M. J. O'Connell

observed, that between friends and foes, he was in a somewhat difficult position. He and some of his hon. Friends who were opposed to the measure, had held a meeting on Saturday last to arrange the course of proceeding, and it was then arranged that he (Mr. M. J. O'Connell) should commence the opposition by moving the second reading that day three months, and in the course of the observations he had intended to offer, he had proposed to go into the details of his objections to the measure. What had been said out of doors might be answered out of doors. The noble Lord asked them to go into a discussion of the grounds upon which the Bill had been denounced out of doors; but he had not come there to defend general denunciations, or to repeat what had been said here or there, but to state fairly his objections to the Bill as a measure of legislation. The right hon. Baronet had stated, that he was anxious to take a discussion upon the second reading, in order to ascertain what were the objections of Irish Members to the Bill, in order that those objections might be duly considered, and a more perfect measure introduced in another Session, but if that were the object, he thought the wiser course would be for the right hon. Baronet or the noble Lord to summon a meeting of the Irish Members at the Irish office, for the purpose of ascertaining their views on the subject. Under all the circumstances—seeing the little advantage that could result from the House being called upon to bestow one or two days on the discussion of a Bill, which it was not intended to pass during the present Session, and the hope he should have to suppress a speech which he had been at some inconvenience to prepare—he thought it right to vote for the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury.

Mr. V. Stuart

was disposed to think that it would not be wise to adopt the course suggested by the hon. Member for Finsbury, as unless the Government were made acquainted with the objections to the measure, they might expect the same Bill to be re-introduced next Session.

Mr. Sheil

said, it was to be regretted that the Bill had not been brought forward for discussion at an earlier period of the Session. When the right hon. Baronet (Sir Robert Peel) was in opposition a Bill had been brought forward by his noble Friend, the then Secretary for the Colonies (Lord John Russell) upon the subject of the registration of voters in Ireland, and he well remembered that the Government were then taunted, Session after Session, for not proceeding with that measure. It was then urged by those who were in opposition, that some such measure was matter of necessity, and it was generally expected, when the present Government came in, that they would immediately proceed to legislate upon the subject. They had, however, allowed three years to pass over, without legislation, and when last year the Government were called upon for a Bill for the registration of voters, they were answered by a Bill for the registration of arms, as the more important and pressing of the two. It was, nevertheless, admitted by the Government, that a Registration Bill was indispensable, and at the commencement of the present Session, it had been announced in the Speech from the Throne, that legislation was imperative. Then why had not the Bill been brought forward before. The Government waited until after Easter before they introduced it, and then, it was true, his hon. Friend, the Member for Waterford, had asked for a few days delay, not more, in proceeding further with the measure; but why had it been deferred to this period of the Session? He thought, however, if the object of Government was to ascertain what were the opinions and objections of that (the Opposition) side of the House, in regard to the measure, and what were the alterations they were anxious should be made in it, and the reasons why they thought the whole principle of the Bill was objectionable, if that was the only object of the Government, he saw no reason why they should not go into the discussion on the second reading, and he trusted that the result of such a discussion would be, to induce the right hon. Baronet to change his opinion as to the advantages of the Bill which had been previously brought in by his noble Friend, the Member for London, and to abandon that which was now before the House. He hoped when the Government came to hear the arguments against the applica- tion of the Chandos Clause to Ireland, that they would be induced, in the Bill they would introduce next Session, to abandon it; and he was, therefore, disposed to think that the proposed discussion upon the second reading, might be of some advantage, with a view to the introduction of a better measure next Session.

Mr. Bernal

thought his right hon. and learned Friend had forgotten what they were now called on to do was to pronounce an opinion, by a direct vote, in favour of the principle of the Bill before them. They were, as it appeared to him, placed in an odd and somewhat ludicrous position. It was, he believed, an unheard-of thing to call for a discussion on the second reading of a Bill which it was not intended to carry further, and to launch forth into all the objections that might be entertained to the several details on the second reading, as though they were in Committee, when they had none of the advantages of a Committee, no hon. Member being allowed to speak more than once. He would put it to the right hon. Baronet, what practical advantage could result from such a discussion. What information could he hope to obtain from it as to the opinions of the opponents of the Bill, the more especially when he found that many of those hon. Gentlemen intended to absent themselves, and to abstain from taking any part in the discussion? The right hon. Baronet, if he pressed the second reading under such circumstances would only elicit the opinions of a very small number of the Irish Members, and that only by the irregularity of going into the details of the Bill on the discussion of its principle. He trusted, therefore, that the right hon. Baronet would be induced to postpone the measure altogether until another Session of Parliament.

Mr. Shaw

felt himself placed in some difficulty by the Motion of the hon. Member; for though he did not approve of every part of the Irish Registration Bill, yet he meant to give his vote to the Government in support of the second reading. At the same time he must confess, that after the avowal of his right hon. Friend (Sir R. Peel), that the Bill was to be abandoned for the present Session, he saw little advantage that could arise from a debate upon it, and much inconvenience, if not more serious evil. His noble Friend (Lord Eliot), seemed to think that the great agitation and violence to which the discussions on the subject had given occasion in Ireland made it desirable that the question should be debated in that House. He owned that he thought differently — he feared that hon. Gentlemen opposite, in order to satisfy the feelings of their constituents, might be induced to commit themselves to strong opinions and angry language concerning the Bill, which they might afterwards regret. Then, though at that moment his persuasion was that he would not offer an observation upon the second reading, should the discussion go on, still he could not answer for himself if provoked by exaggerated statements, and abusive attacks on the other side of the House; and then, although no practical result was to follow, bitterness and animosity might remain behind. Under these circumstances, while he could sympathize with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kerry (Mr. M. J. O'Connell), and still more with the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Sheil), for having to submit to that painful operation of the suppression of speeches which were ready for delivery, he thought it would be much the wiser course for his right hon. Friend not to press the discussion.

Viscount Palmerston

also thought it would be more expedient for the Government not to press for any discussion on the second reading of the Bill at the present time. He was inclined to agree with the right hon. Gentleman who had just spoken, that a Bill so interesting to Ireland in general, and in respect to which such strong opinions were entertained must, when discussed, necessarily create a great deal of warmth. He would go no further on both sides which, unless some practical result were expected, it might be well to avoid. It appeared to him too, that the course proposed by the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) was a most unusual one. It was no doubt proper and useful on some occasions that bills should be brought in and read a first time without any intention to carry them through any further steps during that Session, but that they should be allowed to lie over in order that an opportunity for the expression of public opinion out of doors in respect to them might be afforded. That was a usual, and, in many instances, a very proper course of proceeding. Another course was to bring in a Bill with the avowed and understood intention of endeavouring to carry it into a law, but in that case, the discussion taken upon the second reading was of the principle not the details of the measure. And the principle being affirmed, they then went into Com- mittee on the Clauses. Other Bills being altered and conformed in Committee to the general opinion of the House, and the views of the hon. Gentleman being ascertained, it was not unusual at a late period of the Session to allow the measure to stand over with the view of re-introducing it, in its altered and improved shape, in the next Session; but he could not understand why the House should be called upon to waste one or two evenings irregularly upon the details of a Bill while they were discussing the principle on the second reading, and when no practical result could follow. If the Government were really anxious to adopt the suggestions of hon. Gentlemen on that (the Opposition) side of the House, and to obtain information, there might be some advantage in entering upon the discussion, but, judging from his own Parliamentary experience, he could not imagine that any such result would be likely to proceed from an angry discussion such as was likely to take place upon this measure, he was therefore disposed to concur with his hon. Friend the Member for Clonmel, that if the Government desired to ascertain the opinions and objections of the Irish Members as to this Bill, the better course would be to hold a meeting at the Irish Office and invite them to attend. That would commit neither party, and would be a more satisfactory mode of obtaining the views of those hon. Gentlemen than by provoking a discussion in that House. Looking at the advanced period of the Session, the Government having been compelled to postpone till another year many measures which they considered important, on the ground that there was not sufficient time for their discussion—seeing that although they often heard that the reason for the delay of other important business was the time occupied in the discussion of Irish affairs, that they were now called upon to enter upon a debate of one or two nights, which must be fruitless as to any practical result, he should certainly vote for the Motion of the hon. Member for Finsbury. The Government could not urge that their object in provoking the discussion was to obtain information as to the opinions of the people of Ireland; for the noble Lord (Lord Eliot) had himself alluded to some very violent statements made by the Irish press against the measure. He should say, therefore, that the better course was to withdraw the Bill altogether, and re-introduce it next Session.

Mr. Collett

should support the Amend- ment of the hon. Member for Finsbury, and should that be lost, it was then his intention to walk out of the House, and to take no part in the discussion upon the second reading of the Bill.

Mr. Curteis

thought, if the right hon. Baronet (Sir Robert Peel) were given to superstition, the war now raging in the elements should deter him from proceeding with the Bill. [At this moment the House was in a state of darkness from dense clouds illuminated now and then by flashes of lightning.] He should vote for the Motion of the hon. Member for Finsbury.

Sir R. Peel

had not expected to hear an hon. Gentleman connected with the agricultural districts express fear at a flash of lightning, accompanied by the prospect of rain. Government had proposed to proceed with the second reading, in order to remove unjust and erroneous impressions reapecting the measure. The House would remember that when the Motion for leave was made the discussion had been brief, and it had appeared to him that it was in accordance with the general sense of the House that a discussion should be taken, and that the Government should have an opportunity of stating their views fully, and of endeavouring to remove hostile and erroneous impressions on the second reading. Now if, under such circumstances, he had voluntarily and immediately postponed the discussion of the principle of the measure, he should have been told he had insulted Ireland. See what had taken place. There had been a meeting of Irish members; they had considered and arranged the objections to the measure, and were prepared to argue them on the second reading, and the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. M. J. O'Connell) had avowed that he was to have led the opposition. The views of hon. Gentlemen opposite connected with Ireland were in accordance with those of the Government, that an opportunity should be given of considering, upon the second reading, whether those objections to the Bill were well founded or not; and he thought if he had announced at once that it was not intended by the Government to ask the House to read the Bill a second time, hon. Gentlemen opposite would, he little doubted, have accused the Government of having acted most unfairly towards the Irish Members, by preventing them stating their objections to the measure. If, however, he now understood that hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House connected with Ireland, were against going into discussion upon the second reading of the Bill during the present Session, if that were the prevailing opinion, he should feel bound, in a matter of this kind, to defer to it; he always wished in regard to Irish measures, to consult the convenience of gentlemen connected with Ireland as to the time of bringing them forward, and he should not, on this occasion, press against the reluctant body of Irish Members the second reading of a measure which the Government had avowed they had not intended to proceed further with during the present Session. If there was no other reason—if he thought by postponing the second reading he could avoid the expression of any irritation of feeling, that of itself would be an inducement sufficient to agree to the hon. Gentleman's Motion. Therefore, if he correctly understood that the general wish of the House was to postpone the discussion, he should not, against that expressed wish, call for an opinion on a question that could not end in any practical legislation during the present Session. He was, however, most anxious to understand that in doing this he was acting in conformity with the general feelings of Irish Members.

Mr. M. O'Ferrall

remarked that, as far as he himself was concerned, he had not intended to go into any discussion of the details of the Bill, but merely to contend as against its principle that it went to repeal an important part of the Irish Reform Bill, by taking away the franchise which that Bill gave, and establishing a franchise which that measure had not provided. He had not known until within the last hour that his hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury intended to move the Amendment against the second reading: but being compelled to admit that every opportunity had been given for the full and fair discussion of Irish questions during the present Session, he for one should be most unwilling to press a discussion extending over one or two nights upon an Irish question that could not result in any practical legislation at that period of the Session, in opposition to the wish of English Members. If, therefore, the question went to a division, he should vote with the hon. Member for Finsbury.

Sir R. Peel

thought he was entitled to infer that it was the predominant wish of hon. Members on both sides of the House connected with Ireland that this Bill should not now be discussed—and that he (Sir Robert Peel) should not be considered as offering an insult to Ireland if he disappointed some hon. Gentlemen in the expectation they had formed of having an opportunity of stating their objections to the measure. If he was fortified in that impression he should yield most willingly to what appeared to him to be the general feeling, and not further press upon the House to enter into a discussion upon a question they desired to postpone. He should, however, state that in moving the second reading, he had not intended to ask the House to pledge themselves to the details, but merely to consider and affirm the principle of the Bill. After getting through the other Orders of the Day, he would move that the Orders for the Bills he had mentioned be discharged.

Mr. Shaw

was happy that his right hon. Friend (Sir R. Peel) had intimated his intention of postponing the Irish Corporations Amendment Bill, along with the Registration Bill, for the present Session. He had given notice of various Amendments to the Municipal Bill, and in its present form he did not think the Government could have passed it. He, however, then understood that that Bill, as well as the Registration Bill, was to be withdrawn, and he was glad of it.

The Motion for proceeding to the other Orders of the Day agreed to.