§ SIR WILLIAM SOMERVILLE
moved for leave to bring in a Bill to extend the Right of Voting for Members of Parliament, and to amend the Laws relating to the Representation of the People in Ireland, and said, that the question of the Irish franchise having been so recently under the consideration of the House, the Bill he now proposed to introduce would not deal so extensively with that subject as it would have done had not the subject been so recently before Parliament. The House would remember that in the year 1850 it was his duty, in consequence of the almost extinction of the county constituencies in Ireland, to submit for their acceptance a Bill for the amendment of the representation in that country. The House would also remember that at that period the measure to which he alluded underwent very great discussion, and he believed there was scarcely a Gentleman in the House who was not fully convinced that the time had arrived when the interference of the Legislature was absolutely necessary. At that time the county re- 517 presentation for Ireland gave about 27,000 electors; that was to say, there was that number of electors on the register, though the actual number was considerably below it. He had introduced a Bill in the year 1848 to place the county franchise on a new basis, namely, that of rating; but that Bill was subsequently withdrawn. In 1850 he introduced it again, and had the satisfaction, with the concurrence of the House, of finally passing it into a law. The effect of that enactment upon the representation of Ireland might now be fairly judged of from the returns which had been laid upon the table of the House, which afforded the means of comparing the number of county electors on the register before and after the passing of that Act. [Parliamentary Papers, No. Session 1852.] Previous to the passing of that measure the number of county electors upon the register was 27,000, being, as he had already observed, a far greater number than the bonâ fide county electors really amounted to. The state of the county franchise there at the present moment was as follows: Instead of the 27,180 electors who were on the register before the Act of 1850, the effect of that measure had been to increase the number to 135,645. He believed, moreover, that the machinery of the Bill had worked satisfactorily; therefore the Bill which, with the permission of the House, he should now bring in, was not designed to interfere in any way whatever with the county franchise. But the state of things with regard to cities and boroughs in Ireland presented a widely-different aspect. Under the registration system, before the existing law was passed, the number of voters upon the register for counties of cities, and counties of towns and for boroughs in Ireland, was as follows—though, as was the case with the county constituencies, the number of bonâ fide electors was, in reality, much less. The numbers which appeared at that time on the register were—for counties of cities and counties of towns, 21,863, and for boroughs, 11,993. These numbers, he should repeat, were known to be far beyond the real bonâ fide number of voters at that period. Several severe and closely-contested elections showed that the actual number of voters was considerably less. But, taking those numbers as they stood on the register in 1850, what did the returns show to be the number on the register since the passing of the Bill of that year? It ap- 518 peared that the number on the register in the year 1851 for counties of cities or towns was 20,255, and for boroughs was 8,046; thereby showing that the constituencies had not increased, but that there had been a considerable diminution of electors, as compared with the year 1850 under the old law. Now, it was undoubtedly intended that the Act of 1850 should extend the number of voters; but, instead of doing so, a decrease had been the result. The proposal contained in the Bill, which he hoped, with the permission of the House, to introduce this evening, would therefore be to reduce the borough franchise in Ireland from an 8l. rating to a 5l. rating. It would be further observed, upon reference to the returns on the table of the House, that the number of voters in many of the boroughs in Ireland was exceedingly small; and that the number in the counties of cities and counties of towns was in every instance above 500. Therefore it was not intended to take any measures whatever, further than the reduction of the voting qualification from an 8l. to a 5l. rating, so far as regards the counties of cities and the counties of towns; but as regarded the towns where the number of voters was in many instances exceedingly small, it was proposed to apply the same principle as the Bill brought in by his noble Friend (Lord John Russell) applied to England—a principle which was recommended when the Bill of 1832 was before the House—and associate with such boroughs certain towns in their neighbourhood, situate in the same or an adjoining county, which would have the effect of greatly increasing the number of voters. He proposed, therefore, in every instance where the number of electors now upon the register did not amount to 400, to associate with the parent borough one or more towns in its vicinity in the same or the neighbouring county, and so increase the number of voters. By reference to the returns before the House, it would be seen that this provision of the Bill would affect every borough in Ireland, with the exception only of Belfast and Newry. He would not at present enter further into the details of the Bill, and the provisions it contained for registration, polling, and the rest of the necessary machinery. The Bill would not be a very long one; and he trusted that the plan it was intended to carry out would prove satisfactory to the House.
§ MR. WHITESIDE
thought that a more 519 unnecessary Bill had never been introduced; but he did not wish to oppose the introduction of a measure the principle of which the House had affirmed in the case of England, and he was willing to look at it as a measure which the Government proposed for the solution of the problem how to remedy the evils of Ireland. It required the genius of a statesman to discover the necessity for altering, at the present moment, the franchise in Ireland. He must, however, congratulate the right hon. Baronet on being himself the individual to discern the necessity of reforming his own Reform Bill, which, be it remembered, was yet scarcely twelve months old. It escaped all common understanding why the Ministry should be so anxious to pass the present measure. Supposing that the Government had been compelled by some great outburst of public feeling to introduce this Bill, he had turned back to the Reports of the Committee on Public Petitions; and on looking to the petition that had been presented to the House, in favour of Parliamentary Reform in Ireland, he found that in 1850 there was one petition, signed by 49 persons, for, and one petition, signed by 39 persons, against, that measure—majority in favour of the Bill, 10. He found that in 1851, the return as to the petitions from Ireland respecting Parliamentary reform was "nil." And, indeed, he firmly believed that it would be impossible to find, in Ireland, any body of individuals, in a respectable position of life, to set their hands and signatures to any petition praying the House to extend the franchise, in the present condition of that country, to 5l. householders. He did not believe that it would be possible to find such petitioners; because he knew it was a general conviction that such an extension would be a measure to transfer political power from those best fitted by their education and position to possess it, to those who were least qualified to enjoy it. The noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) grounded his proposal of Parliamentary reform in respect to England upon the great increase of late years of newspaper circulation and newspaper knowledge among the people. But the same reasons could not be adduced in regard to Ireland. The Government of the noble Lord had been very unceremonious in its treatment of newspaper editors in Ireland, inasmuch as the noble Lord had felt it his duty to transport a good many of them; and as to those who 520 lad escaped prosecutions, the noble Lord it the head of Government in Ireland had utterly regretted their escape, alleging as reason that the instructors of the public and of the popular mind in Ireland were in the habit of inculcating lessons which were opposed to all order, and to the peace and well-being of the country. The grounds of the Government measure failed, therefore, in reference to his (Mr. Whiteside's) unfortunate country. He would admit, however, most readily with the noble Lord, that there had been an increase of knowledge in Ireland; for it had been recently remarked by the police that the Ribbon notices were written in a much better style than was formerly the case—the handwriting was better, and the orthography more correct; and if the noble Lord would inquire, he would find that the reason of this was that some of the school-masters who were paid out of the national funds were the writing preceptors of these Ribbonmen. What was the case now? That very gentleman whose case had recently been before the world, and who was now lingering in torture and upon the point of death, had been shot because he had signed as a magistrate the commitment of a schoolmaster who had been de-detected in the act of writing a Ribbon notice. Well, that confederacy was in most active and formidable existence in several towns; and the first result of a measure of this description, decreasing the suffrage test, would be greatly to extend the power of that body. The description given by the right hon. Baronet of the Reform Bill of 1850—that Bill which they were now again to reform—was, that it ought to be received as a wise, just, and liberal measure. But the condemnation of this Bill was to be found in the reasons offered for the first Bill. The registration under the Reform Bill of 1850 had only just been completed; 110,000 persons had been added to the constituency, but they had never had an opportunity of exercising their new power, and they had never had a general election in Ireland since they had obtained those advantages, under a measure described as wise, liberal, and just. There had been no instances of corruption at isolated elections, because there had been no Coppock. The last Reform Bill had never yet been tried, and yet it was under such circumstances that the right hon. Baronet came forward to condemn his own Reform Bill, and to declare that 521 it was necessary to the peace of Ireland that we should have another Reform Bill; and the probability was that they were to have a reformed Reform Bill every year they lived. Concurrently, however, with this vast increase of the Irish constituency, there had been a vast diminution of population. The reason alleged by the hon. Member for Athlone (Mr. Keogh), in 1850, as necessitating the Bill of that year, was, that the population was 8,105,000. But what was it now? Let the right hon. Baronet look to the emigration returns, and he would find that in 1851 alone the emigration from Ireland amounted to 279,000—the diminution of the population was immense. What possible necessity then, could there be for a Bill like this? Who had called for it? Who had asked for it? Who had expected it? Why, not one man in Ireland. Therefore the Government was without any justification for this proposal, and in particular was without justification in contemplating a system of patching the representation by the association of the small boroughs with the small towns essentially of the counties—a system which had never existed in Ireland during the five centuries in which they had had Parliamentary representation. The Bill was entirely a mistake, and it was only to be described as a Bill for handing political power to those who were disqualified to exercise it. On one point in connexion with this measure he could congratulate the right hon. Baronet. It appeared to him (Mr. Whiteside) that the separation of the Irish and English Bill was judicious; for whatever might be the fate of the English Bill, he thought he might rely upon the good sense and discretion of Parliament to reject the Irish Bill. On another point he had to ask the right hon. Baronet a question; or he would put the question to his right hon. and learned Friend whom he saw opposite (Mr. Hatchell), and who had probably just returned from the Monaghan Commission. He had asked the right hon. Baronet the other evening whether it was the intention of the Government to introduce a Bill to reform the jurors' lists of Ireland? and the answer of the right hon. Baronet was, that no reply could be given until the return of the right hon. and learned Attorney General for Ireland. On seeing his right hon. and learned Friend, he (Mr. Whiteside) had repeated the inquiry, and he was then informed that it was his intention to bring in such a Bill. 522 By the last Reform Bill—or, to speak more distinctly, by the last but two or three—it was intimated that there must be a concurrent alteration in the jurors' lists, and a Jurors' Bill followed the Reform Bill—the principle being that a 10l. voter ought to be also a juror; and the noble Lord, in introducing his Reform Bill for England, (Lord J. Russell) had said with truth the other evening, that it was a very reasonable thing that a man qualified to serve on a jury should not be disqualified to vote for a Member of Parliament. He (Mr. Whiteside) now wanted to know from his right hon. and learned Friend, or from the right hon. Baronet, whether the Government intended to look the country in the face and to propose that the precedent established in connexion with the first Reform Bill should be preserved in the Bill which had been promised, though probably hastily, by his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General for Ireland. In certain districts in Ireland the effect of creating 5l. jurors would be just this, to transfer the Ribbonman from the dock to the jury box, and the execution of criminal justice in that country would no longer be difficult, but would become impossible. It was therefore of great importance that the House should know whether this phantom, this Reform Bill, was likewise to be accompanied by a new Jurors' Bill. If that indeed were to be announced by the Government of this country, nothing would remain for the weak and innocent in Ireland but to prepare for death, and for the strong men but to take up arms and prepare to defend themselves against a confederacy which it appeared was already so strong and united as to have defied at the Monaghan Commission all the abilities of his right hon. and learned Friend, backed by a corps of Queen's Counsel to procure even a single conviction.
§ MR. HATCHELL
said, the hon. and learned Gentleman's observations were made with a double view: first, to call the attention of the House to the necessity of amending the Reform Bill; and, next, to bring under discussion some intended Bill with respect to the formation of juries in Ireland. As to the latter, he thought it would be most unreasonable to expect him to enter upon the discussion of a measure which was not now before the House. As to the former point, the amendment of the Reform Bill, the hon. and learned Member seemed to intimate that the right hon. Baronet (Sir W. Somerville) had discovered 523 some great neglect or inaccuracy in the former Bill, which made it necessary to come again to the House before that Act had obtained a trial; but he (Mr. Hatchell) could only account for his learned Friend's ignorance of the question on the ground that he was not a Member of the House when that measure was under discussion; because there was at that time a strong desire expressed by several hon. Members that there should be engrafted on the Bill some such provisions as the right hon. Baronet now asked them to adopt; and, under a promise that the state of the franchise of the small boroughs and the question of connecting them with adjacent towns would be considered at a future period, the Bill passed without the Amendments which had been proposed. It would, therefore, be seen that the hon. and learned Gentleman had been treating the House to some of that declamation to which the people of Ireland were so well accustomed, without paying any very particular attention to facts. The hon. and learned Gentleman had likewise introduced the subject of the recent outrages in Ireland, and appeared to attribute them to the increase of education amongst the people of that country. Because, said the hon. and learned Gentleman, you have educated the people, they are enabled to dictate and write better English in their threatening notices to landlords. Such are the hon. and learned Gentleman's sentiments touching the education of the Irish people; and the hon. and learned Gentleman went further, and made use of expressions with regard to a great national institution which he (Mr. Hatchell) thought ought not to have been used in that House. The hon. and learned Gentleman told them the magistrate on whom a murderous outrage had been committed was attacked as he was returning from having signed the committal of a master of a national school for writing a threatening notice. The fact followed the committal certainly; but it was well known that that worthy and exemplary magistrate had, from time to time, been warned of his danger long before, and that the assassins who fired at him had been lying in wait for some time before, and at a distance of some miles from the town in which he signed the committal, and therefore the attack on him arose, not from the fact stated, but from circumstances connected with the agrarian outrages of that district. He had called attention to this because the hon. and learned Gentleman had endea- 524 voured to draw a false conclusion by begging premises which he was not justified in assuming.
§ MR. GROGAN
said, he had the advantage over his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Whiteside) in possessing a seat in that House in 1850, and he could assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Hatchell) that he remembered no such promise or understanding as that now mentioned in connection with the measure of that date. What he did remember was utterly inconsistent with any such understanding; for on a specific and positive Motion being made by his hon. colleague (Mr. Reynolds) to reduce the proposition of the Government from an 8l. to a 5l. rating clause, a division took place, and the whole weight of the Government was thrown into the scale against that Amendment. He would not oppose the introduction of this Bill; but he must protest at the outset against the wanton agitation into which the Government had plunged Ireland in introducing these different Reform Bills. But for the present Government, nothing whatever would have been heard of an Irish Reform Bill; and he could consider these successive measures as neither more nor less than traps to catch the wavering support of certain unattached parties, without whose occasional assistance Her Majesty's present Ministers would be utterly unable to keep their places.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
Sir, I think that the hon. and learned Attorney General for Ireland was perfectly justified in what he said in reference to the observations of the hon. and learned Member for Enniskillen. The hon. and learned Attorney General did not allude to any statement which was made during the progress of the last Reform Bill for Ireland as to reducing the borough franchise from 8l. to 5l., but what he did allude to was the very general wish which was expressed, on the part of Irish Members, that a plan should be considered, and should be introduced into that Bill, for embracing other towns and boroughs in Ireland than those which already possessed the franchise, and in which the body of electors was then too small, and would still continue to be too small under the measure then proposed to be passed. In answer to that call, I said I thought there were many objections to such a proposition, but at all events, it ought not to be adopted hastily; I did promise, however, that it should receive the future con- 525 sideration of the Government. To these facts my hon. and learned Friend alluded, and he is perfectly right in his recollection that such was the view taken by the Government. Well now, Sir, when we had, in accordance with all that was said in 1848, and, indeed, from 1837 to the present time, introduced a Bill to amend the laws relating to the representation of England, we Wad to consider whether there was anything in the Act of 1850 which required further amendment. It will be recollected that at the time some Irish Members said that, instead of the franchise being extended, it would be considerably restricted in the boroughs of Ireland. It was stated that the 8l. franchise would diminish the number of electors. My right hon. Friend near me, the Chief Secretary for Ireland, had a contrary impression; but when we come to the facts, it appears that while by the former return there were in the boroughs of Ireland, exclusive of the counties of cities and towns, 11,993 electors, there are by the last returns only 8,046. There is, therefore, a reduction of upwards of 3,000 (nearly 4,000) in that small number; and when we come to the particular instances, we are still more startled by the results. We find that in some cases the numbers stand as follows:—in Armagh, 318; Athlone, 181; Bandon, 209; Carlow, 237; Cashel, 111; Clonmel, 379; Coleraine, 222; Downpatrick, 236; Dundalk, 267; Dungannon, 158; Dungarvon, 314; Ennis, 143; Enniskillen, 172; Kinsale, 139; Lisburn, 188; Mallow, 143; New Ross, 171; Portarlington, 71; Sligo, 336; Tralee, 228; Wexford, 348; and Youghal, 261. So that, whether we looked to the general numbers, or whether we looked to the numbers of each particular borough, we did consider it reasonable further to extend the franchise, and to endeavour to ensure a larger number of electors in these small boroughs. It does appear to me, that with such facts before us, there were good primâ facie grounds for introducing this further measure. Now, Sir, I will not say anything further on that point. I must say, however, that I think the occasion upon which the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite the Member for Enniskillen (Mr. Whiteside) has chosen to introduce a sneer at my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General for Ireland, with the view of producing some laughter in the House, is hardly an occasion which is decent and proper. It is certainly true, 526 that the law officers of the Crown wont down to Monaghan to prosecute persons who were believed, in consequence of statements and of evidence laid before those learned Gentlemen, to have been guilty of secret atrocious murders. It has certainly also happened, that no person was convicted before that Commission. There has therefore been in that case, I apprehend, a failure of justice, and to my mind that is to be regarded as a most lamentable matter. It is one which ought to be a subject of deep concern to all Members of this House, if life and property are rendered less secure in these parts of Ireland; it is a subject which I am sure can afford no pleasure to any one; and I do not think it is an occasion for a lively sneer at the expense of a political opponent.
§ MR. REYNOLDS
remembered that when an Irish Reform Bill was last before the House, the debate had been conducted without any heat. It was also to be remarked that the discussion on the Scotch Reform Bill, introduced that night, had been in perfect good temper. He therefore regretted that, on this occasion, on the bringing forward of a new Irish Reform Bill, gall and bitterness should have been instilled into the debate by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Enniskillen. It appeared to him (Mr. Reynolds) that the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman that evening was most injudicious. The hon. and learned Gentleman might have taken a better opportunity of bearing his angry testimony against his own countrymen. It appeared to him, that on an occasion like this, the people of Ireland ought not to be described by an Irishman to the British senate as perjurers and assassins, and, as such, unworthy to be possessed of civil rights. [Mr. WHITESIDE: I most distinctly deny the fact.] He was happy that the hon. and learned Gentleman was ready to deny the fact. But what had the hon. and learned Gentleman said? He said, "If you confer a 5l. franchise, you will not be able to execute the laws, because you will have your juries composed of Ribondmen to try their confederates." It was impossible to give utterance to a more infamous libel on the Irish people. He (Mr. Reynolds) must remind the hon. and learned Gentleman that at the late special commission at Monaghan the juries were all Protestants. They were not at all composed of the peasant or of the farmer class; they were taken from the gentry of the country. And yet, in spite 527 of this, and although the accused had to contend with all the talent of the law officers of the Crown, a Protestant jury of that country could not agree in convicting the very Ribbonmen to whom the hon. and learned Gentleman alluded. But what right had the hon. and learned Gentleman to mix this question with the question of the franchise? The hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to gloat on the expectation that this Bill, though passed by the House of Commons, would be strangled elsewhere. He (Mr. Reynolds) would take the hint; and he begged to ask the noble Lord why he had not incorporated this miserable Bill—for it was only a miserable instalment of justice—with the English Bill? He could understand why the Scotch Bill should be made a separate Bill, seeing that the law of Scotland differed so widely from the law of England. But the same remark did not apply to the law of Ireland; and it appeared to him that there was no reason whatever why there should not be an incorporation of the English and Irish Bills. He had some fears on this subject. He remembered how Ireland was treated when the Municipal Reform Bill was passed; and he was under an apprehension that there was some thought in some quarters of playing the same game over again now. Were the Irish Members to be called upon to vote for the English Bill, and then to be left in the lurch in respect to the Bill for their own country? The advice of the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Whiteside) was to leave matters as they were. The hon. and learned Gentleman meant to say, "we are very well off in Enniskillen." But in glancing over the returns respecting the Parliamentary cities and boroughs in Ireland, he (Mr. Reynolds) saw reasons for thinking that no man, however in the abstract opposed to suffrage extension, would be disposed to leave the existing state of things in Ireland unaltered. He would call attention, in the first place, to the state of things in Enniskillen. That place, which had the honour (and he spoke without affectation when he said the honour) of sending the hon. and learned Gentleman to Parliament, possessed only 172 electors. The hon. and learned Gentleman did not even represent the 172; he represented only a majority of the 172; and that majority could not be very imposing. Why, if the hon. and learned Gentleman would consent to let those of the people of Enniskillen who were rated at 5l. be included 528 in the Parliamentary franchise, he would only be creating 87 electors more; and no one would pretend to say, that even this constituency would be sufficiently large. Was the hon. and learned Gentleman prepared to contend that the city of Cashel, with its population of 8,000, ought only to have 111 Parliamentary voters? Take the case of Portarlington. Portarlington had only 71 voters. The majority of 71 was 36; and was a Member returned by 36 men a representative of the people? The right hon. Baronet the Secretary for Ireland had given the total number of electors in Ireland as 28,282. But the total had to be still further modified. Out of the 28,000 they had to deduct 6,000 freemen, who voted in virtue of no property qualifications whatever. In the city of Dublin he found 3,783 freemen entitled to vote, but not compelled to show a property qualification, although, no doubt, many of them could show such a qualification, and, in fact, possessed a double qualification. Now, how was it that in the Bill the freemen were to be passed over? According to the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) the basis of all these Bills—English, Scotch, and Irish—was the principle that taxation shall accompany representation. If this was so, were the four thousand freemen in the city of Dublin to continue to possess the right of voting irrespective of a property test? The noble Lord was not proposing a real Reform Bill while he was leaving this blotch on the Parliamentary roll. For his (Mr. Reynolds's) own part he had no confidence in this Bill. But, because he said this, let not hon. Gentlemen run away with the supposition that he was going to join in a vote with a man who had described his countrymen as a nation of perjurers and assassins. He acknowledged the urgent necessity of a Reform Bill for Ireland. He looked to these returns, and he could not get over the facts. He would remind the House that there were 33 cities and boroughs in Ireland which returned Members; and of these 33 cities and boroughs, he found four cities and boroughs—Dublin, Limerick, Belfast, and Cork—with a population in round numbers of 500,000, returning eight Members. He took the remaining 29 boroughs, with an aggregate population of 300,000, and he found that these returned 31 Members. With such a state of things as this existing, the horn and learned Member for Enniskillen could yet say that we required no reform at all. 529 He (Mr. Reynolds) could not coincide in opinion with the hon. Gentleman, and, though he did not pledge himself to the course he should take on this or any other Bill, he could not help expressing his belief that, at all events, imperfect and contracted as the measure of the Government was, it was a step in the right direction.
§ MR. CHISHOLM ANSTEY
hoped that no attempt would be made to obstruct this Bill. The hon. Member for Dublin blamed the noble Lord for not having engrafted this Bill on the English Reform Bill, and said, that the law of the two countries was the same. But there was not a Gentleman in the House besides the hon. Member for Dublin who did not know that though the common law might be the same in the two countries, the statute law had disturbed this uniformity of the law. The mode of registration was different in Ireland, and there was a difference in a variety of other respects. It was, therefore, more convenient that there should be a separate Bill. After what had been said, he need say but little on the bad taste of the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite in turning the impunity from law in Ireland into a joke. It was a sneer unworthy of any one, and especially of the hon. and learned Gentleman. When the last Bill was before the House, he proposed that it should be made to meet the exigencies of the country, and that the suffrage should be household. But the House of Lords raised the franchise higher than what had been agreed to by that House, which was considered already too high. When it came back, the noble Lord at the head of the Government said the House of Lords had made a mistake, and that the form in which the Bill had passed this House was a compromise. The Irish Members, almost to a man, called upon the noble Lord to reject the Lords' Amendments. However, they were agreed to, and the Bill passed; but, if there was one thing better understood than another in the country, it was this—that no Irish Member who had voted for it in any stage, considered it as a settlement of the question, and that Her Majesty's Government were bound to consider how soon they could bring in another Bill. After this it was monstrous to hear, not the hon. Member for Enniskillen, because he was not in the House at the time, but the hon. Member for Dublin (Mr. Grogan) who was, say that that was a settlement of the question. There would be ample 530 opportunities hereafter for considering the measure in detail, and of endeavouring to make it more effectual as a measure of reform. He should do his best to make suggestions of that kind, and to unite with those who agreed with him in the necessary measures for carrying those suggestions out. He considered the Bill a large concession, and one which would go far to carry out the promises of reform made to them by Her Majesty's Ministers in 1851.
§ MR. ROCHE
was glad that he had given way to his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General, because they had heard from his hon. and learned Friend a clear vindication of himself and his colleagues. The hon. and learned Member for Enniskillen (Mr. Whiteside) had said it would require the genius of a statesman to discover the necessity for this Reform Bill. Now, if that were the case, every man in Ireland was a statesman, for there was hardly a man in it who did not think that it ought to be enlarged. Nothing in his view could be more unjust than that Enniskillen, for example, with its 172 electors, should have half as much weight and voice in that house as the county of Cork, which had 13,000 electors. Such a state of things ought not to be continued. He was glad that a measure substantially identical with the English Reform Bill was to be proposed for Ireland. It was true that while the limit was taken of 500 electors in England, no alteration was to be made in the Irish boroughs having 400 electors. This, however, was merely a difference in figures, and practically it would be no difference at all, because there would be the same number grouped together as having under 400 electors as there would have been if 500 had been taken. He trusted the Bill for Ireland would be carried through by the Government pari passu with the English Reform Bill. Members opposite spoke in favour of the English Bill; but when the Irish Bill was brought in, he was sorry to see a different spirit come over them. He heard with great pleasure the speech of the hon. Member for Inverness-shire (Mr. Baillie). He was rejoiced to hear such a speech from that side of the House. He thought they were going to rival the noble Lord in their desire for reform, but he was sorry to see the change that had come over the party. From the speeches of the hon. and learned Member for Enniskillen and of the hon. Member for Dublin, he feared that for 531 the sake of a party triumph they were about to strangle the Reform Bill for Ireland. He hoped the party opposite would hesitate before they made Ireland once again the battle-field of party. Heaven knew they had had enough of that. He applied that observation to all parties in that House. He believed that much of the sufferings of Ireland, and especially that of the landlords, might be traced to Ireland having been made the battle-field of party in that House, and he warned them not to repeat that game. He guarded himself against an unqualified approval of the Bill. They had not it yet before them in detail, nor had they the English Bill, and therefore it was impossible that he could commit himself on either the one or the other. It might be said there was something anomalous in bringing in a Reform Bill every year; and no doubt there was some truth in that. But the Bill of last Session was very unsatisfactory. The electoral machinery in Ireland was in such a state that it was impossible to work it much longer without some alteration and improvement. One of its defects was, that it was based on the rating to the Poor Law, which, in turn, was based upon a valuation in which there was no uniformity. In one union, a man paying 12l. a year rent had a vote, because he was rated at the rent he paid; while, in another union, a man paying a rent of 20l. had no vote because he was assessed at a 10l. rating. The Government ought, long ago, to have brought in a Bill to make the valuation uniform, and to take it out of the hands of the Poor Law Guardians. The present franchise was too high, and he begged to express the satisfaction with which he had listened to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman who had brought in the Bill.
§ MR. NAPIER
would not have interposed in the debate, only that some of the views put forward by his hon. Friends the Members for Enniskillen and Inverness, had been perverted or misunderstood. The hon. Member for Inverness had suggested that there should be a principle of consistency in this matter. If towns having small constituencies were locked together so that a certain number of electors should return a certain number of representatives, how were they to deal with such constituencies as the city of London, if it was to go through the country and give to every 400 electors the election of a representative; but it was not the suggestion of the hon. Member for Inverness to reduce the 532 franchise to 5l. and then group them together. The noble Lord had commented on the observations of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Enniskillen; but every one who knew his hon. and learned Friend knew perfectly well that he was wholly incapable of the construction put on his observations. If he (Mr. Napier) understood the argument of his hon. and learned Friend aright, he had only asked the Attorney General for Ireland whether he was prepared to follow out consistently his own principle—namely, to reduce the qualification of a juror to that of a 5l. elector, or to enable 5l. electors to sit on juries. He (Mr. Napier) cast no reflection on the conduct of the juries on the late trials in the north of Ireland, but nevertheless thought it a perfectly fair proposition to consider the question whether the man qualified to return Members to Parliament, who would have to deal with subjects involving the glory and greatness of the empire, should be disqualified for the jurybox, or vice versâ? The argument was a fair argument; and. he (Mr. Napier) was satisfied, for one, that his hon. and learned Friend in using it did not in the slightest degree seek to cast any imputation on the administration of justice in Ireland. As regarded the Bill before the House, he (Mr. Napier) felt bound to say that he did not regard it with any very pleasant anticipations, with respect to its operation in Ireland. The noble Earl who governed that country said on a recent occasion that what Ireland wanted was peace and repose—that men might sit down and pursue their several occupations calmly. This Bill would have a contrary effect to that predicated by the Lord Lieutenant as necessary for Ireland; for if year after year this question was to be brought forward, the country could not have repose. He (Mr. Napier) considered, moreover, that as the qualification for boroughs had been fixed last year at its present figure, by the consent of all parties, there was no ground now to disturb it. In respect of the small constituencies, he did not think the Bill would improve the representation; at present these boroughs did not return the worst Members.
§ MR. TORRENS M'CULLAGH
said, the hon. and learned Gentleman who last addressed them, had told them that in 1851 no exception was taken to a 8l. borough franchise. He remembered a conversation that took place between the noble Lord at the head of the Government, and 533 the humble individual who now addressed the House on that subject; and the hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. G. H. Moore) left the House rather than vote for the compromise that was come to. The truth was, that the majority of the Irish Members did distinctly protest against the 8l. franchise, and told the Government the mistake they were committing, and that they would have a miserably small borough constituency. The noble Lord, to his great credit, now attempted to repair that error; and now, when he was doing that, they were told by two hon. and learned Gentlemen—one of them was excusable, because he was not a Member of the House at the time; but the other was a Member then—that they (the Irish Members) submitted to that franchise. He found that on the 4th March, 1850—the question being that 5l. be substituted for 8l.—32 Irish Members voted in favour of that proposition, and 28 against it. They asked at that time, that the boroughs should be grouped as in Scotland, and that the franchise should be lowered to 5l. He was prepared to accept this Bill, and he believed it would be acceptable to the people of Ireland.
§ SIR JOHN YOUNG
believed it would be found that great inconvenience and expense would be occasioned by adding small country places to the small boroughs, and he questioned whether as good a constituency could be got from these small boroughs as by disfranchising them, and transferring their representation to the counties and larger towns and cities. That would be a better and much mote permanent arrangement than the one now proposed was likely to be. Some of these boroughs had increased in population concurrently with the decrease in the county population; not from any increase of industry or prosperity, but because the people who had lost their land had betaken themselves to the towns, where they swelled the population from which the future constituencies were to be drawn. He was afraid that the arrangement now proposed would not be satisfactory. He (Sir J. Young) had no fears for himself of a 5l. franchise, or even a lower franchise than 5l. He believed that permanency of residence was a more important element than the amount of the qualification. The measure proposed two or three years ago relative to the Irish counties was a very wise measure. Each party was inclined to be satisfied with it, and, seeing this, he was willing to 534 leave the legislation for the boroughs in the noble Lord's hands. The difficulty was to make such an arrangement as the noble Lord proposed a permanent one.
§ Leave given.
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Sir William Somerville, Lord John Russell, and Mr. Attorney General for Ireland.