HC Deb 11 April 1850 vol 110 cc167-75

On the Motion of Sir W. SOMERVILLE, the House resolved itself into Committee on this Bill; Mr. Bernal in the chair.

On Clause 38,


stated that it was not his intention to persist in proposing the Amendment of which he had given notice, for the substitution of a 12l. for an 8l. franchise. He should not do so, as he had not received that support which he thought he had a right to expect in that House. His opinion, notwithstanding, remained unchanged.


said, the hon. Member for the county of Limerick had asked, before the Easter recess, the Government to take into consideration a plan which he suggested, for adding to the constituency of certain boroughs a number of qualified inhabitants of non-parliamentary boroughs in the neighbourhood. He had promised that the proposition should meet with consideration, and he would then state the course which had been adopted by the Government. The matter had met with very attentive consideration, and he had communicated with the Under Secretary in Ireland, and other parties who were supposed to possess some knowledge of the subject. The result was that many objections appeared to exist against entertaining the proposition in the present Bill. In the first place, there were two modes in which such a proposition could be carried into effect; both modes were very different in principle, as they probably would be in detail. The one would be the adding very large towns which had not members themselves to the existing boroughs; thus they would combine all the considerable towns in the various counties in the borough constituency of Ireland. The other plan was to add some of them to the very small boroughs, so as to give the latter a sufficient number of electors. The proposition of his hon Friend the Member for Roscommon proceeded on the former plan, and he proposed that not less then eleven boroughs, with more than 10,000 inhabitants, should receive an additional number of votes from the towns in the neighbourhood. He owned that it appeared to him that the principles was very objectionable. A great advantage, he conceived, existed in combining the inhabitants of certain towns as well as the country voters in county constituencies. If they collected all the towns, so as to make a complete separation between the county and borough representatives, he conceived that it would have a very injurious effect. He believed, by the mixing up of many electors residing in towns in the representation of counties, they gave a more popular effect to the county representation than would otherwise be the case. This was also a question which would give rise to considerable debate. The second plan confined the arrangement to those places where there was only a very small number of electors, and adding to these particular boroughs the inhabitants of other towns in the neighbourhood. Now, although that certainly would be a much more safe plan to adopt, he was afraid it would tend to lead to a considerable conflict of opinion, and would give rise to a great many local difficulties, and others of a difficult character. It would be a matter of some difficulty to decide which were small boroughs, and in the next to determine what towns should be included in them. This must give rise to very considerable discussion and difficulty; and although a scheme for the purpose had been drawn up and printed with the votes, and although it might be prepared as well as any other that could be suggested, he did not think that, without the most mature consideration, the House should be called upon to adopt it. The whole question, also, required more consideration at the hands of the Government than it had yet been able to afford it, and the Government thought that under the circumstances, it would be much better to adopt the Bill as it stood, and leave this question to be considered in a future Session. He then came to the objections to adopt the Bill as it stood. Great stress had been laid on the assertion that it would lead to a reduction in the constituency in the boroughs in Ireland; but this appeared to have arisen from a fallacy in the returns on which hon. Gentlemen relied, and he did not believe that it would lead to any reduction approaching the extent which had been supposed. Some errors had got into the former returns, and they had been taken as furnishing the actual numbers at present. He would not then go into details, but he would state that his right hon. Friend the Secretary for Ireland had obtained some information on this subject. In the Parliamentary electors return for 1849 the general returns were not specified as they were in the return of 1848, of the number of 10l. holders, and also the compound franchise for the 8l. rating. It appeared the return of the 10l. householders did not give the actual return of those who would have the right to vote. He would give a statement of the probable numbers, as contained in the return which had been prepared under the direction of his right hon. Friend:—

£10 Householders. £8 Compound Holders.
Carrickfergus 261 518
Cork 2,688 5,689
Drogheda 355 818
Galway 722 1,163
Kilkenny 276 748
Limerick 748 1,165
Waterford 696 699
Dungarvon 253 510
Mallow 261 263
Wexford 221 635
Youghal 379 518

This would show that there would not be such a reduction in the number of voters as had been alleged. He did not deny that it might appear, under the first registration under this Bill, that in some boroughs the number of electors was very small; and certainly this might lead to circumstances which might require the attention of the House. There might possibly be four, seven, or ten boroughs in this situation; but he did not anticipate more; but it would be well to defer the consideration of what should be done until a future Session of Parliament. For these reasons he was not prepared to adopt at present any plan on this subject. He, however, would at once say that he should not be prepared at any time to support any plan which would include all the boroughs in a county in the town representation, as he believed such a course would be a very mischievous proceeding. He also objected to the separation of trade and agriculture in a county constituency. Such a proposal must excite the most conflicting opinions, and the whole question deserved the most serious consideration of the House.


agreed with the noble Lord in objecting to their excluding all the town electors in Ireland from the county constituencies. That was not his suggestion, and he had disclaimed any participation in it when the hon. Member for Roscommon brought the matter under notice. What he suggested was, that in ease of a borough constituency being less than 300, the franchise should be conferred on some adjoining towns to be added to it. The number of boroughs in Ireland which would have less than 300 voters would be 27, while in England there were only 11 boroughs possessing constituencies of less than that number. He was sorry that such a large proportion of the boroughs in Ireland should be left with such small constituencies as would be the case under this Bill. He therefore regretted the noble Lord had not adopted his suggestion. He had reason to believe that the borough of Portarlington, which now had a constituency of 150, would, under the new Bill, only have one of 86. He spoke with some confidence on this point, as the return which gave him this information had been prepared by the poor-law board at Portarlington. Was it just or reasonable that a constituency of 86 should return a Member to that House?


wished to correct an error of his hon. Friend as to the constituency of Portarlington. The number of electors under the Bill as it stood, would be, not 86, but 131. Since the subject was last before the House, he had been over to that place, and he found that the constituency would be greatly increased by a clause which he understood was to be introduced into the Bill.

Clause agreed to, as were also clauses up to 56 inclusive.

On Clause 57,


objected to the words "if he thinks it reasonable and proper that such appeal should be entertained," which left it to the discretion of the barrister whether there should be an appeal or no. There might as well be no power of appeal; for these words made the barrister judge in his own cause. He moved that the words be struck out.

Amendment proposed, p. 31, 1. 26, to leave out these words, "if he thinks it reasonable and proper that such appeal should be entertained."


said, the words were copied from the English Act.


thought the objection of the hon. and gallant Member to those words was extremely well grounded; for it was clear that any one having strong opinions might be extremely desirous that his judgment should not be questioned, and might say there was no reasonable cause for an appeal. If his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General had no better argument for retaining the words than that they were copied from the English Act, he should support the Amendment; for there was no reason for servilely copying the English Bill, and he did not think the words ought to remain in the Irish Bill.


had intended to say, not only that the provision was in the English Act, but that it had worked well in England, and that he thought it would work as well in Ireland.


must repeat his objections to the clause as it stood, and urged that, as a matter of policy, it would be better to give an absolute rather than a conditional right of appeal.


said, that whilst it was intended to assimilate the English and the Irish practice, a very important difference was preserved. In England the revising barrister was appointed from time to time, but in Ireland the assistant barrister was appointed for life, and was therefore beyond the influence of control.


Twenty shillings costs was no check to vexatious objections, and as the system of double appeal had been successfully tried in England, he hoped it would be extended to Ireland. Let Ireland have the same protection against irrational and vexatious objections as England. If there was a risk that the revising barrister might abuse his trust, there was also the danger that advantage would be taken of the unrestricted right of appeal to oppress and break down an opposing party, by persisting in vexatious objections. An increase of the costs would not save them, because it would check proper appeals. He thought the assistant barrister might be safely trusted with the discretion of allowing appeals where he thought proper.


said, that the assistant barristers did not hold their office for life, as stated by his noble Friend, but at the pleasure of the Executive Government. In the case of the municipal franchise, a power of appeal to the Queen's Bench was given; but it had not been much used, for he believed there had been only ten cases, a proof that it was not used for vexatious purposes; but the great advantage of an appeal was in the check it held over the inferior judge, of his decisions being liable to be reviewed by the superior courts. He felt the observations of the hon. and learned Member for Abingdon upon this question to be so forcible, that if the hon. and gallant Member for Portarlington did not divide the Committee upon the Amendment, he (Mr. Napier) unquestionably would.


said, it was certainly his intention to divide the Committee upon the omission of the words.


said, that if hon. Members would look at the 58th clause, they would see that it was impossible the power of appeal could be made an engine of oppression, because by that clause it was provided that in case of the party in whose favour the decision should have been given, declining to support the decision appealed against as respondent, the assistant barrister should name a respondent.


, without wishing to say anything very disparaging of the assistant barristers of Ireland, could not admit that they were entitled to the unqualified praise pronounced upon them by the hon. Member for Kerry. He assured the House he had known one that was blind, and many who had never had any practice at the bar whatever; and he must say that he, for one, was not prepared to intrust them with the power of deciding whether the judicial decision of such a body should be brought under the review of a higher tribunal or not. He had no fear of the power of appeal being used as a party instrument. The hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin had referred to the 58th clause as containing one check upon that abuse, and he (Mr. Keogh) would refer to the 59th as containing another, namely, the power given to the assistant barrister to consolidate appeals upon the same points of law.


, in spite of what had been said by the hon. and learned Gentleman, believed that there was not in the community a body of men who discharged their duty either with more satisfaction or more benefit to the public, than the assistant barristers of Ireland. The hon. and learned Gentleman, although objecting to allow the assistant barristers to decide whether there should be an appeal, had apparently no scruples against giving that power to any factious person who might be at war with his neighbours, or who might desire to cripple the franchise.


had known frequent occasions of numbers of voters who had been rejected by the assistant barrister being placed upon the register on appeal by the Judge of assize. In one instance he knew as many as thirty had been thus placed upon the register. The right of appeal, therefore, did not restrict the franchise, but extended it; but he thought the appeal ought to be to the Judge of assize rather than to the Court of Exchequer in Dublin.


thought the clause ought to be passed as it stood, because it gave a double right of appeal to the claimant and to the objector.


, judging from English practice and English opinion, considered the present a wholesale provision, and, unless some reason could be advanced why the law in Ireland should be different from the law in England, he should insist upon their being made as nearly alike as possible. He believed that the Bill would be good for all parties.


said, the only ground upon which the clause was defended was that of analogy with the English Bill. If that analogy failed, there was an end to the argument by which the clause was supported; but before pointing out where it failed, he would observe that the House was gradually getting into the dangerous practice of leaving to judges the power of determining whether there should or should not be an appeal. This practice, which had only recently been introduced, should not be extended. In England the revising barrister was appointed from year to year; in Ireland the assistant barrister was appointed by the Executive Government, and could be removed at their will. The assistant barrister, being then an officer of the Executive Government, it was inexpedient that he should have the discretion of allowing or disallowing appeals from his decisions. Again, in Ireland the same barrister would revise the lists, and he would most probably give the same decisions; whereas in England a different person was selected nearly every year, so that the same legal points were submitted to a different judicial officer. The analogy did not hold in these respects; and, as the clause was objectionable with the words remaining in it, he hoped his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General would consider the propriety of not insisting upon them.


said, that as the law now stood there was no appeal except on the assistant barrister disallowing a vote, and he thought they ought to adhere to it; but where was the evil of a double appeal? It would by no means have the evil effects that some hon. Gentlemen anticipated, because it was confined to questions of law. There could be no appeal on questions of fact; and, under these circumstances, it was right the assistant barrister should have the power of deciding whether the appeal should be given or not.


also remarked that the appeal was confined to questions of law, and he observed that very few appeals could arise on questions of law if the protections were given, as proposed, that existed in the English Act. It had been said that the assistant barristers in Ireland were merely officers of the Executive Government—liable to removal. They were certainly not the fluctuating judges of a revising barrister's court; and when it was said they were removable by the Crown, he would only say that none had been removed by the Crown within his recollection. They must therefore be considered as holding their offices during good behaviour. He should support the clause.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 102; Noes 33: Majority 69.

Clauses as amended agreed to, as were Clauses 58 to 109 inclusive.

On Clause 110,


said, that the clause provided that in cases where a voter's name should be omitted from the list, he might pay or tender the rate to the poor-law guardians, and then claim to be placed upon the list. But he wanted to know what tribunal would have the right to settle any disputes that might arise between the guardians and those persons who might claim to vote, but whose claim should be rejected by the guardians?


said, that he did not precisely sec the drift of the hon. Gentleman's question. As to the amount of rate charged upon the premises, the rate book would settle that question. About it there could be no dispute. The only question that could arise would be as to the occupancy, and if the guardians should refuse to accept the money tendered by a person calling himself the occupier, and to place his name upon the list, he might tender his vote; and if the election chanced to be decided by one or two votes, the question of occupancy would be decided by a Committee of the House of Commons. There was no occasion to appoint any other tribunal.


said, that he would divide the Committee on the question that the clause be negatived.

Motion made, and Question put, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 125; Noes 42: Majority 83.

Clauses 111 to 117 agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

House resumed.

Bill reported; as amended, to be considered on Monday 22nd April.