HC Deb 18 March 1850 vol 109 cc1069-81

The House resolved itself into Committee on the above Bill,

On Clause 7,


said, he did not moan to object to the clause, but he wished to call the attention of the House and the Government to the position in which many of the borough constituencies of Ireland would be left if this Bill were passed. In England there were 187 cities and boroughs, of which there were only 11 having constituencies fewer in number than 300. In Ireland there were 33 cities and boroughs, and by this Bill 10 of those constituencies would be under 300. This state of things, he thought, the House would agree with him in thinking deplorable, and open to the most serious objections, as being sure to lead to bribery, corruption, and every vice which, even in the best representative system, it was difficult to avoid. In Scotland and Wales there were no constituencies under 300, because the system of having different boroughs represented by one Member had been carried out there. He was aware there were objections to that system; but upon a balance be thought the less evil was the joining these boroughs, and he wished to impress upon the Government the absolute necessity of applying the same principle to Ireland—a course he could see no reasonable objection to. As the House had rejected the proposal of the right hon. the Lord Mayor of Dublin to reduce the qualification from 8l. to 5l., the case was now stronger than it otherwise might have been, and he hoped the Government would state that during the Easter recess they would consider the question with a view of deciding whether these Irish boroughs could not be consolidated upon the system which had worked so well in Scotland and Wales, and thus avoiding the evil of leaving them open to corruption.


said, that if he was to understand that the hon. Gentleman wished that certain boroughs might be combined, for the purpose of reducing the number of Members to Parliament, he would have serious objections to such a course; but if he meant that each of the present representative boroughs should form the head or centre of other contributory boroughs, so as to make an increase in the constituencies, it would be well worthy of consideration. With regard to the proposition of the hon. Gentleman, there would be many difficulties, both in principle and detail; but he did not see that there could be any prominent objection to it. He would not be justified in saying that he would oppose it when it may be brought forward; and he would observe that during the recess the question would be considered, and he would endeavour to collect every information on the matter to lay before the Government before they should take any decisive steps with regard to it.


said, that he objected to the proposition which had been made by the hon. Member for Limerick, as he thought that it would have the effect of depriving the counties of the intelligence of many of the towns. He was afraid that the hon.' Member who suggested the plan was personally interested in the matter.


said, in the county he represented there was no borough, therefore it could have no effect upon his constituency. On the other hand the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had considerable influence in the borough of Mal-low, so that his opinion perhaps was not quite so impartial as his (Mr. Monsell's).


approved of the proposal of the hon. Member for Limerick. He had gone carefully through the list of boroughs, and he found that there would be no difficulty whatever in adding towns to such of them as required it, in order to bring up the population to nearly 20,000, and the constituency to a respectable figure.


said, seeing that the franchise was not to be extended in towns, the proposition of the hon. Gentleman opposite was well worthy of consideration. At the same time, it must be remembered that the only antagonistic influence in the counties against landlord power would come from the towns.


said, whatever was proposed by the hon. Member for Limerick was always intended for the benefit of Ireland, and he thought that the hon. Gentleman was deserving of public thanks for having made this suggestion. For himself, he thought it would be well if the Government would consider this point, not only with reference to Ireland, but England also, for he had a strong idea that, by uniting boroughs, they would do more for the purity of elections than by any other system. Let them take for example the borough of New Ross. At this moment that borough, so ably represented at present, had just a constituency of 80, and, with this 8l. rating, it would degenerate to 50, whilst, by adding to it Enniscorthy, or any similar town, they might secure a respectable and comparative numerous constituency.


thought the noble Lord at the head of the Government had now had the opportunity of ascertaining the opinions of private Members on both sides, and it appeared that there was great unanimity among them on the point. He did not understand the noble Lord to say that the Government would consider the subject with a view of introducing any measure; but he hoped the noble Lord would have leisure and opportunity during the recess to do so.


said, that at no period had there been sufficiently large constituencies in Irish boroughs, and the result had been the grossest corruption. The noble Lord at the head of the Government would find very little practical difficulty in ascertaining what would be the actual constituencies of the Irish boroughs, if he adhered to the provisions of the present Bill. The constituency of the borough he represented was now reduced from 470 down to 210. Under the proposed Bill he apprehended it would be much decreased.


Sir, I have heard very many arguments during the progress of this debate about the franchise—its increase and its diminution; but as I differ in some points from hon. Members, I will beg to make a few remarks. I do not pretend to much knowledge of the county franchise, though convinced of the necessity for its increase; but I confess my impression is, that an 8l. rating is greatly too low; for I should prefer giving this privilege to a more substantial class of persons—to a class of well-judging men who would vote according to the dictates of their conscience, and neither be guided by their landlords or their clergy. I think, however, I may lay claim to some knowledge of the franchise of cities and boroughs from that never-to-be-forgotten experience of four contested elections. I cannot agree with hon. Members who imagine the supposed diminution of the franchise, or paucity of the registry, can be attributed to persons waiting for this newly-expected Bill. I really think such a reason is both puerile and absurd. For what advantage could they expect from the new Bill which they did not enjoy under the old? In my mind the diminution arises from the decided apathy and carelessness of all ranks in society to register. They positively set little or no value upon this boasted privilege of voting. I think the diminution of the franchise is in a great measure attributable to the difficulty of registering; the uncertainty of the opening of the sessions; the uncertainty of the arrival of the law officer; the uncertainty of his decisions; and the very great annoyance from waiting hour after hour in crowded courts; and from employed agents squabbling about points of law, and endeavouring to discover some legal flaw in the elector's evidence or paper, although well aware of his being fully entitled to the franchise he seeks. Now, to prove what I have said, I will instance the last registry at Cork. The opening of the sessions was appointed for a Friday. A great number of persons anxious to register attended in defiance of most inclement weather The court was crowded to excess, but no law officer arrived. He sent word he was unwell, consequently many were obliged to leave town to attend their parochial duties—many to their weekly markets; thus a vast number were disfranchised for twelve months. The court was opened on Saturday. The second name on the list was a most respectable gentleman—a 50l. freeholder—who had two christian names, only one of which was written in full upon the registry paper, although there was no doubt of his identity, he having frequently before voted upon a similar return: he was refused; and this decision disfranchised for a year about 200 gentlemen who were similarly situated. The assistant barrister afterwards confirmed the decision of his locum tenens, although a similar objection had not been raised for fifteen or twenty years, and by this new decision reversed what he had ruled before, and what he had been acting upon since his appointment. I must beg to observe, I do not cast the least imputation upon the assistant barrister at Cork, for I firmly believe all his decisions are guided by strict impartiality and justice in his important situation. To prove the apathy I have spoken of, I will only quote one example—Ex uno disce omnes. Upon my late election, in the city of Cork, 3,244 names appeared on the registry: only 1,277 voted—793 for me, 584 for my hon. opponent, giving a majority of 209 for protection; and I believe the usual exertions on both sides at contested elections were not wanting. A registration sessions occurred in a few days afterwards, before the excited feelings of the one party, elated by victory, or the other, angered by defeat, had subsided. Notices to the amount of 1,489 were served; only 295 came to register: a few days after, 110 notices were served; 23 came forward. After these facts, can any hon. Member doubt that apathy alone causes the diminution of voters? Generally speaking, I object to this Bill. I object to it, for I do not think any change is required in boroughs or cities—I object to it from the qualification being too low—I object to its being carried into effect at present, until we can obtain a more just and equitable rating, or until Mr. Griffith's valuation is completed—I object to it for not making residence a qualification of voting—of the subdivision of votes. In short, the only good clause I see in the Bill, which is a mass of mystification and confusion, is the necessity of an annual revision, and I think we are greatly indebted to the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for Ireland for this clause, making the name appearing upon the list of the clerk of the peace the test of voting. This will, I trust, do away with the great evils at elections in Ireland—personation, intimidation, and perjury. Considering this as much an English as an Irish question, and considering it only as the prelude for another Reform Bill for England—for how can it be refused to England if granted for reland?—considering it as a measure fraught with great danger, and of a democratic and revolutionary character—considering it as the first step towards shaking, and perhaps at no distant period subverting, the Royal authority in these kingdoms—I give my decided opposition to the Bill.


regarded the proposition of the hon. Member for Limerick as a very reasonable one. Perhaps the best illustration he could give of the necessity of some such arrangement was the case of Portarlington. Portarlington would have under this Bill, if it passed, 110 persons rated to the relief of the poor at 8l., or upwards. Deducting one-fifth as the proportion of those who were not likely to register, they would reduce the constituency of Portarlington to 88. The hon. and gallant Gentleman who represented that borough was of opinion, indeed, that the number would be reduced to 75. Would any hon. Member say that that was a sufficient number of electors for that borough? In his humble opinion the House ought either to adopt the proposition of his hon. Friend the Member for Limerick, or throw the representation of Portarlington into the Queen's County at large; because, to give 75 men the power of sending a representative to that House, was as absurd as to re-enfranchise Old Sarum, and the other rotten boroughs which had been blotted out of the representation of the kingdom. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Cork prided himself upon being the representative of the Protectionists of Cork, who had returned him, he said, by a majority of 209. They must, then, have voted from love of a dear loaf; but he thought the hon. and gallant Gentleman had mistaken the feelings of the people of Cork upon this subject. At all events he invited him to test the question when this Bill became law. [Colonel CHATTERTON said he was perfectly prepared to do so.] He was glad to hear the hon. and gallant Gentleman say he did not mean to show the white feather, for he had certainly never fled from his colours whenever an enemy was to be met with. The only thing he had heard urged against the proposition was by the hon. Baronet the Member for Mallow, who apprehended that if they associated towns with each other, they would weaken the popular strength of the counties. He (Mr. Reynolds) had no such apprehension. He would ask whether it would not be an improvement to give the inhabitants of Fermoy and Kanturk the power of voting for the hon. Baronet, or whoever should hereafter represent Mallow in that House? It occurred to him, also, that it would be an improvement to associate the borough of Cashel—which, under the new law, would not have been more than 130 voters—with the towns of Tipperary and Thurles. [An Hon. MEMBER: And Nenagh.] He had no objection. This arrangement would not take more than 1,000 electors from the county of Tipperary, which, he understood, would have about 16,000 under the Bill. [Cries of "No."] At least, there would be a sufficient number left to form a respectable constituency. He was reminded that the county of Tipperary had at one time returned his right hon. Friend the Master of the Mint by a majority of 1,800; but that was before the right hon. Gentleman had had imposed upon him what he would call a lucrative taciturnity. He trusted they would return the right hon. Gentleman again; for, recognising him as he did as the living leader of the Irish people, he should be exceedingly sorry that any circumstances or combination of circumstances should arise to diminish the number of his supporters in that or in any other county. It appeared to him, also, that it would not endanger the seat of the present hon. Member for Dundalk if that borough were associated with the patriotic town of Ardee. Neither did he imagine that the independence and purity of Athlone would suffer from being associated with the important towns of Roscommon and Moate. [An Hon. MEMBER: Mullingar.] He had not the least objection, except that Moate was only eight miles from Athlone, while Mullingar was twenty. With respect to Ennis, he did not suppose that the hon. Member for that borough would object to have his merits and value attested by a constituency which included Kilrush in connexion with Ennis. He was reminded that the hon. Member who had taken Kilrush under his protection might object to see that town associated with any other except for poor-law purposes; but, though Kilrush was at present in a state of great distress, he hoped that it would soon become what it once was, an important town. In conclusion, he begged to express his gratification at the manner in which the noble Lord at the head of the Government had responded to the suggestions of the hon. Member for Limerick.


believed that he could satisfactorily answer many of the objections which had been made in the course of this discussion with respect to the effect likely to be produced by the Bill; but he abstained from doing so, in the hope that the Committee would remain satisfied with the assurance given by the noble Lord at the head of the Government that the subject should receive every consideration, and that hon. Members would now allow the Committee to get on with the Bill.


hoped that sufficient time would be allowed to the people of Ireland to consider this proposition. He was very much afraid that, if adopted, the effect would be to abstract the intelligence and influence of the towns from the counties, and hence to allow the landlord influence to predominate there.


wished to impress upon the Committee the importance of approaching the consideration of this question without reference to party feelings. He was sure they must all feel it desirable to prevent the anomaly of increasing the county constituencies, and diminishing the constituences of the boroughs.


said, that one effect of the proposition would be, to semi-disfranchise the electors of the towns which they proposed to unite, by giving them one vote for a borough Member, in place of two votes for two county Members, as they had at present.

Clause agreed to.

On Clause 8,


proposed to add a proviso to retain those electors who had been registered within eight years previous to the 1st of December next, so long as they continued to possess the qualification in respect to which they were registered.

Amendment proposed, at the end of the Clause, to add the following proviso:— Provided always, that nothing herein contained shall deprive those who may be registered under the said recited Act within eight years previous to the first day of December next ensuing, of the same right of voting at any election of a Member or Members to serve in Parliament for any city, town, or borough, as if this had not passed.


said, that the effect of this proviso would be to retain the old qualification which the Bill proposed to abolish.


had not anticipated any objection to his Amendment, which he thought exceedingly reasonable. There were many cases in which persons occupying 10l. houses were rated to the poor at less than 8l.; and it was to prevent that class being disfranchised that he made his present proposition. Why were the freemen retained if these were objected to?


said, that his hon. Friend proposed to extend to the borough constituencies the privilege which the House had already decided should not be extended to the counties. If his hon. Friend would read the Bill, he would see that what he proposed was entirely opposed to its principle. The principle of the Bill was to form one perfect register, to be revised every year. The freemen would have to come forward and register, the same as the other voters.


thought the right hon. Gentleman lost sight of one material point in the objection he raised to the Motion of his (Mr. Bright's) hon. Friend the Member for Cork city; the right hon. Baronet said that the House had decided a certain way as to counties, and his hon. Friend wished them to decide another way as to boroughs. This Bill in many boroughs was alleged to be quite certain to diminish the number of electors, and it appeared to him likely to be the case. It was a serious thing to pass a Bill to disfranchise anybody where corruption had not been proved. There was no such allegation here; the parties whom this Bill would disfranchise were those to whom the Reform Bill gave the franchise. There was no proof of their not having exorcised the franchise properly. If this were a Bill to alter the franchise in any way, there ought to be the same measure of justice dealt out to the Reform Bill electors that was always dealt out under the old system. The Reform Bill electors were at least as worthy the sympathy and protection of the House as any who voted under the class of freemen. He hoped the Secretary for Ireland would not summarily dismiss the case, as the proposition was quite reasonable.


said, the proviso was opposed to the whole principle of the measure. It was expedient to try the amended franchise for a while, at all events, with an annual registration. If this did not answer, the hon. Member for the city of Cork would have a far better case.


considered, that to deprive voters legally on the register of their franchise would be an injustice quite without precedent. If the 50l. voters were to be preserved, why were the equally legitimate voters, to whom the expense of vindicating their rights was an object, to be disfranchised?


thought it would be most unfair if men who had for years, by a compliance with the law, maintained their names on the register, were now, by a penal enactment, dispossessed.


did not understand why, if the old principle was so good, as implied by the hon. Member for the city of Cork, a new principle was requisite.


said, he should certainly vote with the hon. Member for the city of Cork, but he could wish that his proviso bad been limited to the class of 10l. leaseholders, whom he considered very hardly treated by the Bill, since it practically made them liable for local rates and taxes, from which at present they were exempt.


said, the proviso went further than hon. Gentlemen seemed to conceive, since, in point of fact, it not only continued the votes in question for the remainder of the eight years, but absolutely perpetuated them.

Question put, "That this Proviso be there added."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 38; Noes 80: Majority 42.

Clause agreed to, as were also clauses 9 to 14 inclusive, with some verbal amendments.

On Clause 15,


moved that the following words be struck out of the clause:—" Excluding nevertheless from such lists all persons registered under the said Act in respect of any qualification heretofore requiring the elector to be or to have been in the actual occupation of the premises." His object was, that the names of persons now on the register should be retained until they were objected to, such persons as might hereafter establish their claims being added to the list.


said, the proposal of the hon. Baronet would alter one of the main principles of the Bill, which proceeded upon the English borough registration system. That plan had worked more satisfactorily and less expensively than the English county registration system; and he thought the clause as it stood would establish the most simple and satisfactory mode of registration.


observed, that this Bill had been introduced professedly as a boon to the people of Ireland—as a means of extending the franchise, and giving every person possessing a qualification the right of voting for representatives in Parliament. As this clause now stood, however, the Bill would not in many cases be regarded as a boon; because, under the clause, every person possessing a qualification was to be placed upon the register, whether he wished it or not. Every one acquainted with Ireland was too familiar with the agitation and heartburnings attending elections in that country, and many persons possessing the requisite qualification as voters would prefer not being upon the register, that they might avoid the annoyance to which they were liable to be subjected at elections.


remarked, that the evil of pressure upon the elector would not be remedied by so shaping the law that he would not only be pressed for his vote, but pressed to send in his claim to be registered.


thought that, according to the view of the hon. Member for Queen's County, the House should proceed to disfranchise Ireland.


believed it would be a hardship in some cases to compel persons to be upon the register, and they might perhaps leave their rates unpaid in order to avoid this.


observed, that their not being on the register would not enable them to escape payment of their rates, and the franchise was to be viewed as a trust cast upon the persons indicated by law as the parties to whom it should be committed.


said, that the operation of the Amendment would be to produce the very effect apprehended from the clause—namely, a contest between the territorial and sacerdotal influences. His advice was to avoid registration contests altogether. There certainly would be such contests if they did not provide a self-acting registration, as the landlord would say stay at home, while the priest would exhort them to register. His (Mr. Sheil's) opinion was that both influences should be neutralised.


said, surely there was balm in Gilead without resorting to so extreme a measure as the disfranchisement of all Ireland, which one hon. Member had stated as the only cure. The point to note, was the wonderful unanimity of Members on both sides the House, in declaring that the suffrage was abhorrent to Irishmen, a thing no man would accept if he could help it, and this, as had been plainly said, through the intimidation of the landlords on the one side, and the priests upon the other. In this condition of things, the promised Motion of the Member for Tralee for the ballot in Ireland, would come like oil upon the troubled waters, and he hoped all parties would remember their unanimity for its necessity.

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

The Committee divided:—Ayes 145; Noes 42: Majority 103.


moved a proviso at the end of clause 15. His object was to strike out from clause 15 to clause 19, with a view to the substitution of the clerk of the union for the high constable, as the officer who would have to prepare the lists of persons qualified to vote, and to make out the objections indicated in clause 19, and to receive general claims and objections. He also proposed that the lists so prepared should be forwarded to the clerk of the peace, who should be the officer to cause the lists to be printed and exhibited, and likewise that the lists should be made out by parishes and townlands alphabetically. He contended that the clerk of the union was the proper officer to prepare the lists, more especially as the baronies over which the high constables presided were often divided among two or three unions.


admitted that the proposition of his hon. Friend would be an improvement on the Bill, as it would save expense and greatly facilitate the operation of the measure. He would, there-fore, agree to insert the proviso to omit the clauses as proposed; the substituted clauses could be brought up at the end of the Bill.

Clause 15, as amended, agreed to; clauses 16 to 19, inclusive, struck out.

On Clause 20,


proposed an Amendment, for the purpose of preventing the; striking off from the list a voter whose residence only might have been changed, his qualification remaining still the same.

Amendment proposed, page 11, line 12, to leave out the words "or continue in the same place of abode."


said, that the provision would not affect the franchise or the register, but merely provided for the accuracy of the high constable's list.


said, that as the clause stood, a person with a 50l. freehold in Wexford, who happened to reside in Dublin, would lose his vote if he changed his house or apartments.


said, that hon. Members seemed to disregard the operation of preceding clauses, which rendered it impossible for this provision to disfranchise a voter.


said, he did not wish to waste time. He left his Motion in the hands of the House, and if hon. Members wished to divide, let them do so.

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

The Committee divided:—Ayes 144; Noes 57: Majority 87.

Clause agreed to.

Clauses 21 to 26, inclusive, were struck out for the purpose of being brought forward in an amended form.

Clauses 27 to 37 were also agreed to.

House resumed.

Committee report progress; to sit again on Thursday, 11th April.