HC Deb 04 March 1859 vol 152 cc1285-7

said, he wished to ask what were the intentions of the Government with respect to the Bill to amend the Representation of the People of Ireland. He did not think that the Government had treated the Irish Members or the Irish people fairly with respect to the question of Parliamentary Reform. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer introduced, the other night, his Bill for amending the representation of the people of England, though he made a long, able, and elaborate speech, he made no allusion whatever to the intended Bill for Ireland; and when a question was addressed to him upon that subject by the hon. Member for the King's County (Mr. O'Brien), he contented himself with saying, that after the English Bill had been read a second time, and after a great many other things had been done, he would submit the Irish measure to the House. The way in which the Government were dealing with this matter was opposed to all precedent, and was unreasonable not to say unfair in its character. When the noble Lord the Member for London introduced his plan of Parliamentary Reform in 1831, he gave the House a full statement of the principles and provisions of the intended Bills for Ireland and Scotland; and on every other occasion, although the English Bill was taken singly, the main provisions of the other measures were laid before the House. In June, 1832, when the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) again introduced his Bill, he unintentionally omitted alluding to Ireland, on which Sir Robert Peel remarked that the Government ought to make known their intentions respecting Ireland and Scotland, inasmuch as it was impossible fully to judge of the English Bill without knowing in what way the representation of those countries was to be adjusted. Upon that, Lord Stanley, who was then Secretary for Ireland, rose and promised an early introduction of the Irish and accordingly it was introduced and read a first time some days before the English Bill was read a second time. In 1852, when the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) introduced his Bill, it was almost immediately followed by the Irish and Scotch Bills, and all three I measures were before the House together; and it the same course was not pursued in 1854, it was only because the English Bill had no sooner been laid on the table than it became evident no progress could be made with it on account of the impending war. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his reply to the hon. Member for the King's County, stated that Ireland had recently got a Reform Bill of her own, and he seemed to imply that there was no occasion for doing much more, the Irish Members being satisfied with things as they were. It was true that an important and beneficial measure was passed by the Government of the noble Lord the Member for London; but when the noble Lord introduced his English Bill in 1852, although the Irish Franchise Act was then only two years old, he announced his intention to propose further changes in the representation of the people of Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman had told them that he had no prejudices whatever about Irish Reform. But, if not predjudices, the Government were bound to have opinions and intentions on such a subject, and, if so, he could see no reason why they should not communicate them at once to the House. The knowledge of what they intended to do in Ireland and Scotland might throw light upon their English measure, and he hoped, therefore, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would still favour the House with, not a detailed, but a general statement of the intentions of Government with regard to the Irish representation.


said, that as representing one of the largest constituencies in Ireland, he was anxious to observe that the circumstances of England and Ireland, as regarded Parliamentary Reform, were entirely different. For example, England had had but one Reform Bill, whilst there had been several for Ireland. Thus, they had the Act of Union, when all the close boroughs were swept away, and only the most considerable towns left to return Members. Then they had the Reform Bill of 1832, and subsequently the Bill creating the county occupation franchise. Ireland was in possession of a county occupation franchise of £12; he had heard no complaints with regard to the present state of things, and he thought that all the interests of Ireland were pretty well represented in this House—the Protestant interest, the Roman Catholic interest, and the commercial interest. He agreed with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, therefore, that there was no hurry to embarrass the House with another Reform Bill for Ireland until the measure upon the table had been disposed of.


said, he must complain that no answer had been given to the question of his hon. Friend (Mr. C. Fortescue). He thought it was essential that some answer should be given upon one or two short points as regards the Irish franchise. He must also give a flat denial to the statement of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin (Mr. Vance), that the people of Ireland were indifferent on the subject of Reform—they were anxious now, but what would they be by-and-by when they found that a Reform Bill was about to be passed for this country and that no notice was taken of Ireland? If he understood the proposition of the Government it was intended that in England there should be a £10 occupation franchise in counties. In Ireland there was a £12 occupation franchise, and that too by rating, which was in reallity a £15 or £16 franchise—being at least 25 per cent more than an occupation value. Surely taking into account the state of the two countries, this would be eminently unsatisfactory. Surely it ought to be placed upon the same footing as in England. He also wanted to know something as to what would be the state of the Irish boroughs. Would the Government extend to the Irish boroughs the same religious protection as they were prepared to throw round the borough of Arundel?


observed that, no doubt all these were very interesting questions, but Irish Members might restrain their impatience till the Irish Reform Bill was brought forward.


said, he did not know whether he had understood the Chancellor of the Exchequer rightly, but he gathered from the right hon. Gentleman's statement that there was to be no Reform Bill at all for Ireland.


said, that until the House sanctioned the principles laid down in the Bill already presented to the House it would be inconvenient to discuss whether they should be applied in other instances. It was desirable before dealing with the latter that the principles of the Bill now on the table of the House should be affirmed.