HC Deb 01 March 1860 vol 156 cc2073-85

rose to move for leave to bring in a Bill further to amend the laws relating to the Representation of the People of Ireland, and said: Sir, in moving for leave to introduce the proposals of the Government with respect to Ireland, I shall not enter into any topic which would be likely to give rise to any protracted discussion, and I shall content myself with stating as briefly and as clearly as I can the effect which the change in the existing: laws I have to announce on the part of the Government would be likely to have on the constituencies of Ireland; and I shall leave all questions of argument to be dealt with on a future occasion. We propose to adopt the same general rules for the amendment of the representation of the people in that country which my noble Friend has laid down for the attainment of the same object in England; but the House will easily understand that, as the law which regulates the qualification of electors in Ireland is framed on a different model from that which has been adopted in Great Britain, the two schemes must necessarily vary in some of their details. An Act was passed for Ireland in the year 1850, on the subject of the Parliamentary Franchise, which has put an end to many controversies of long standing, and has, I believe, given general satisfaction in its working. Ireland also enjoys the benefit of one uniform, clear, and intelligible system of valuation, which is now rapidly approaching completion, and that valuation we propose shall form the test of the qualification under the new Irish Reform Bill. Ireland has in this respect a great advantage over England which has no such uniform system of valuation. What we propose to do in Ireland is this:—We propose that the present £12 qualification for a vote in the counties in Ireland shall be reduced to £10, and that the £8 Irish borough qualification shall be reduced to £6. The House will naturally be desirous to know what effect that change will produce on those two classes of constituencies. According to the returns of the last registration—returns which will be immediately laid before the House—the county returns in Ireland give a collective constituency of 174,000; and if we add to that number all those persons who are rated at from £10 to £12 the total addition to the county constituency would be 40,126. But if you apply to that list the correction which I believe is right and necessary, and if you make a due allowance for females, minors, double occupations, and absences, the total increase under the proposed change may be calculated at 30,000; making on the whole a county constituency of 204,000. The borough voters at present amount to 30,700, and the addition which the proposed change would make to that number would, at first sight, appear to be 7557; but, making a correction corresponding with that which I have made for the counties, the real addition would amount to only 6655. The total number of the constituent body at present in the counties and boroughs of Ireland is 204,000 and the Bill would raise that number to about 240,000. That is the way in which the franchises of £10 and £6 will operate in extending the county and borough constituencies in Ireland. I now come to a change, perhaps of no great magnitude, which we propose to make with respect to the qualification of freemen in Ireland. At the time of the Reform Bill a different qualification with regard to freemen was adopted in England and Ireland. But we propose that for the future, in the case of freemen qualifying after the passing of this Bill, the English law upon that subject shall operate in Ireland. I will now proceed to state the changes which we intend to introduce in the distribution of the Irish representation. Ireland is a country the population of which is not generally located in large towns; its inhabitants do not, as a general rule, congregate in large towns to anything like the same extent as the people of England and of Scotland. At present 32 Irish counties have 64 seats in this House; 33 Irish boroughs have 39 seats; and I Irish university has two seats—making a total of 105 seats. There is not a single borough in Ireland to which the principle of partial disfranchisement will apply under the rule which it is proposed to adopt in England, that no town with a population of less than 7,000 should return two Members. No town in Ireland returning that number of Members has a population much short of 30,000. Wexford, which is the smallest town on the list, has a population, according to the last census, of 29,000. We cannot, therefore, obtain an additional seat in Ireland for populous places by applying to that country the rule we have adopted with respect to England. Neither, on the other hand, do we find in Ireland unrepresented towns of the size of Birkenhead, Staley bridge, and other English towns, which at present return no Members to Parliament. But there are two constituencies in Ireland—one a county and the other a city constituency—which in population, in the value of their property, and in the number of their electors, stand entirely apart from all the other counties and boroughs in that kingdom. These are the constituencies of the great county of Cork, and of the city of Dublin, and we propose that henceforward the county of Cork and the city of Dublin shall each have three Members, the two new seats thus assigned being taken out of the four formerly belonging to boroughs in England, whose right to return Members has recently been abolished by Act of Parliament. The claim of the Queen's University to return a represent- ative naturally arose for consideration when the claim of the London University to such a privilege was allowed; and I should be extremely glad if it had been in my power to ask the House to express its approbation of the Queen's University in Ireland by assigning to it a Representative in this House. I hope the day may come, and that many years will not elapse before it does come, when Parliament will think it right to grant to the Queen's University in Ireland the privilege of returning a Representative to this House. But at present, looking at the small number of years during which that University has been established, and—what is the governing consideration in such a matter—the number of its members, and the probable weight of opinion which its representative would bring with him into this House, I am afraid it would not be considered right that we should make any such proposal as yet. The total number of the graduates now amounts to only 260, some of whom are not residing in Ireland; and, under those circumstances, I think it would be impossible at the present moment that we should seek to give the right of representation to the Queen's University. There is another subject connected with Ireland on which we propose to legislate upon the present occasion. I had the honour of presenting this evening a petition signed by a large proportion of the Peers of Ireland, who complain of the anomalous condition in which they stand under that clause of the Act of Union which defines their legal and constitutional status. They ask why, if it is thought right that it should be open to them to represent constituencies in Great Britain, with whom it cannot be expected they should have any great community of sympathy or interest, they should be prevented by express enactment, from representing their Friends and neighbours with whom their interests are specially associated, and whose confidence they are most likely to enjoy? We propose to remove that disqualification. We propose that they shall be enabled to stand towards their friends and neighbours, the constituencies of Ireland, in that relation in which they now stand to the constituencies of England. With regard to matters of a purely administrative character—such as the time occupied in county elections, the number of polling places, and all arrangements for diminishing the expense or the excitement of contested elections—the House is aware that those subjects are regulated by a special Act of Parliament, and not by that which determines the qualifications of electors; and I do not, therefore, mean to deal with them in this measure. What we now propose with regard to Ireland is shortly this: to make the county franchise in that country a £10 franchise, to make the borough franchise a £6 franchise, to give an additional Representative to the great county of Cork, and another to the city of Dublin, out of the seats which have been suppressed in England, and to remove the disqualification which at present renders Irish Peers ineligible as the representatives of Irish constituencies. I trust that by such a measure we shall give satisfaction to the people of Ireland and increase the value and the efficiency of the representation of the people in that part of the United Kingdom.


said, he was not disposed to complain either of the general provisions of the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman, or of the manner in which he had brought it under the consideration of the House. All he doubted was that there was the necessity for the introduction of any such measure at all. This would be the fifth Reform Bill they had had for Ire land. When the Union was carried 200 seats were abolished and some boroughs bought up. In 1827, Sir Robert Peel thought it right to change the whole country franchise into a £10 freehold franchise. They then had the Reform Bill of 1832, and then the Bill proposed by the Friends of the right hon. Gentleman, which gave a £12 occupation franchise for counties and £8 for boroughs. He thought the right hon. Gentleman had given no reason why that law should be changed now. One thing, he thought, had escaped the attention of the right hon. Gentleman. The county of Cork was divided; there was a west and an east riding each of which had a separate electoral system. He thought the right hon. Member fell into an error in giving a third Member for the whole county, and he supposed that he meant to give the additional Member to the west riding.


wanted to know, whether, by the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman, there was to be any disfranchisement of freemen in Ireland? He was certainly surprised at one part of the project—which on the first blush he regarded with some apprehension—namely, the admission of Irish Peers to that House as representatives of Irish constituencies. That class of the community had already the right of sending representatives to the other House of Parliament, and he believed the proposition to which he had referred would have the effect of increasing a power which at present certainly operated very much to the prejudice of the popular party, and in favour of the great territorial proprietors. He wished to ask a question as to the probable time when the Bill would come into operation. There would be a registry of voters under the Bill, and he presumed it would be effected at the time mentioned by the noble Lord with reference to England—probably about the month of November. What he wanted to know was, how long the voter would require to be on the roll before he could exercise the franchise—six months or a longer period?


wished to know whether the qualification was to he a rating or an occupation one?


wished to contradict in the most unqualified terms the statement of the right hon. Gentleman that the freeman franchise had a most injurious effect upon the representation of Ireland. He was perfectly sure that the protestant freemen of Dublin, and he might say of Cork also, had always exercised the franchise for the benefit of their country. No case of corruption had been made out against them for the last three-quarters of a century. He regretted, as well as his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Whiteside), that the light hon. Gentleman should have been advised to make any change in the Irish franchise after the number of Reform Bills that they had already had for that country, and he did not despair of inducing him, after discussion, to retrace his steps. He (Mr.Vance) did not clearly apprehend what was the nature of the right hon. Gentleman's plan with regard to freemen. It was evident that he did not intend to disfranchise them, because he said that he intended to put them on the same footing as freemen in England. Now he believed that the freemen of Ireland acquired their franchise in precisely the same manner as those of England.


, following the example of the hon. Member for Middlesex, begged to return thanks for the additional Member proposed to be given to Cork, of which he (Mr. Scully) was now sole representative. He returned thanks, however, for the county and not for himself, because the additional seat would only increase his chances of having a contest at future elections. He agreed with the hon. Member for Finsbury that it was quite unjust to retain the modern principle which rendered it necessary for every voter to pay his poor rate before he could be placed upon the register. He had frequently argued the point with persons who began by holding the opposite view, but they had always ended by admitting that the law was untenable. He occupied a house in Dublin for which he had to pay a consolidated rate amounting to about £36, but of that only £6 was for the poor; and why should he be obliged to pay that any more than the other rates as a condition precedent to being registered as a voter? This was a very important point, and he therefore wished to direct attention to it before any final resolution was come to on the subject, either with regard to this or to the English Bill. The late Attorney General for Ireland (Mr. Justice Fitz-Gerald) had occupied a house in Dublin for four years; but at the last revision it was found (hat his predecessor owed 3s. or 4s. of his poor rates, which had not until lately been discovered; and the result had been that the learned Judge was for the present year disqualified. At the last Sligo revision it had been found that a collector, who happened to be a politician, had neglected to apply for the last rate to persons of the opposite party, while he had actually entered as paid persons on his own side who had not paid for several weeks after the date alleged. A gentleman had likewise told him (Mr. Scully) that out of forty persons on his estate who ought to he voters only four or five actually enjoyed the franchise, and they were all on one side; the custom being to strike a poorrate just before the time came round for revising the list. Such were a few instances illustrating the working of the present law, and he trusted that they would meet with the serious attention of the right hon. Gentleman.


should not have risen to prolong the discussion had it not been for the strong feeling which he entertained against the right hon. Gentleman's proposition with regard to Irish Peers, a proposition which would render more necessary than ever some means for protecting voters in the exercise of their privilege. It could hardly fail to increase the pressure upon the tenants of the large landed estates which belonged to many of the Irish Peers. The tenant voters had not, at present, free action at elections. Their number was to be increased, and without the ballot the evils they complained of would be increased also. The hon. Member for Dublin (Mr. Vance) had spoken of the freemen as an immaculate body; but he was authorised to say that within a quarter of a century 1,500 freemen of the city of Dublin had been bought at a particular election for the sum of £3 ahead, so that £4,500 was paid for their votes at that election, and he might state that the Gentleman who had the misfortune to pay the money was now in that House.


said, that as hon. Gentlemen from the sister country seem to object to have two additional seats which had formerly belonged to England given to Ireland, he should be happy to accept them for Scotland, which he was afraid was not going to get quite her fair share of the representation.


strongly objected to that part of the Bill which empowered Irish Peers to represent Irish constituencies. The Irish people had not asked for such a thing; and he maintained that it was not only a most improper proposal, but contrary to the Treaty of Union.


quite agreed that the proposition to which the hon. Member who had spoken last had alluded, was a most extraordinary one to find its way into a Bill to amend the Representation of the People. He wished, also, to point out that the assumed uniformity between the qualification for the franchise in Ireland and England was more specious than real, owing to the difference in the letting of property.


asked the reason why two seats had been filched from England to be bestowed on Ireland? Was it that Ireland was more populous and wealthy, or because Irish Members were so much more useful in the House than English Members? The claim advanced by the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck) for an additional Member for that town, had not been answered; and until the claim of that and other large towns in England had been satisfied, the Government had no right to dispose of the four vacant seats in other ways.


said, that the proposition with regard to the Irish Peers struck him as most extraordinary, and he believed it would give great dissatisfaction in Ireland. An Irish Peer was neither fish nor flesh in his own country; but to give him the power of representing the people when he was represented himself in the House of Peers, was a most absurd proposition, and one which he imagined would not be accepted in that House. He agreed with his hon. Friend near him, that the proposed franchise for Ireland would not establish anything like nominal uniformity between the two countries. The people in Ireland lived so much lower than in England, that the class which in England was rated at £6, would probably not be rated at more than £4 in Ireland.


cordially joined in the opposition to the proposal with regard to Irish Peers. The reason of that proposal was hard to guess at, though he had some dim notion of it. He had seen visions of Gentlemen called Irish Peers, who had failed, with all their Irish persuasiveness, to secure the confidence of English constituencies, dismally haunting the precincts of the House like ghosts. It was in obedience to the application of gentlemen of this kind, not to the demands of the nation, that the right hon. Gentleman was ready to interfere with the solemn compact made by the Act of Union. If the right hon. Gentleman was so ready to meddle with the Act of Union, he would point out to him a way in which he could provide for these gentlemen. Why did he not send them to what was called, in the cant phrase of the House, "another place"?—to use an argument applied sometimes in favour of purgatory, they "might go further and fare worse." According to the British Constitution Peers had no right to interfere in elections, and he hoped the Government would not proceed with this monstrous and revolutionary proposal. With regard to the county franchise, there was no substantial equality between a £10 franchise in England and a £10 franchise in Ireland. It ought to be reduced in Ireland to £8 or £7 to bring about a complete uniformity. It was unjust to complain of two additional Members being given to Ireland; for even that addition would not do them justice. 105 Members was not a fair proportion for Ireland, taking into account the relative population and wealth of England and Ireland.


said, that on the mere introduction of the Bill it was not his intention to enter upon a discussion of the proposition for enabling Irish Peers to sit for Irish counties or boroughs, which the hon. Member for Dungarvan (Mr. Maguire) described as a revolutionary measure. But he wished to explain to the House the reasons why the Government made that proposition, leaving the House to judge whether these reasons were not sufficient, and whether the Conservative susceptibilities of the hon. Member for Dungarvan were not prematurely awakened. The Act of Union in the 4th Article contained a provision which declared that any person holding a Peerage in Ireland should not be disqualified from representing any county, city, or borough in Great Britain; but that as long as he so continued a Member of the House of Commons he should not be entitled to the privilege of peerage nor to serve as a Representative Peer for Ireland, nor to vote at the elections of Representative Peers for Ireland. Such were the securities which the Act of Union provided against the privilege of the peerage being abused in the case of Irish Peers having seats in that House for English or Scotch counties or boroughs. That House was led for many years by the son of an Irish Peer (Lord Castlereagh) who sat for the county of Down. After the death of his father he succeeded to the Irish peerage, and thus became ineligible to sit for an Irish county; but he sat for an English borough. That was a remarkable instance of an Irish Peer possessing the right to sit and vote in the English House of Commons. During the time he so sat there, neither he nor any other Irish Peer, in a similar position, was entitled to sit as a Representative Peer, nor to vote at their election. The objection therefore as to a confusion of rights was not well founded. By the provision which they proposed to introduce, the Government were merely extending the rule, which now existed with respect to England and Scotland, to Ireland. They deprived no person of his rights. All they did was to say that the disqualification which now attached to Irish voters, of not being allowed, if they thought fit, to elect an Irish Peer as their representative, should be abolished. That was in fact the whole extent of the proposal.


thought the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department had misunderstood the objection which was raised. It was not that an Irish Peer, by being elected to represent an Irish constituency, would in his own person be twice represented, but that a double representation would be thus given to the body of which he was a Member. He regarded this clause of the Bill as having a most mischievous tendency. He had never been opposed to any rational measure of reform, but it seemed to him that the present proposal amounted merely to a reduced, and not a discriminating franchise. There were other classes with qualifications higher than mere property who might be admitted with advantage. A. complaint was often made in Ireland that territorial influence was unduly exercised over the lower orders, and without discussing the justice of that complaint it was evident that the interference of the Irish nobility in elections must greatly tend to increase the power of the landlords.


said, there was one objection which applied to both the Bills which had been proposed,—namely, the provision which made the exercise of the right of voting dependent on the payment of rates. He thought that every man who was rated should be entitled to exercise the franchise. Numbers of persons were now disfranchised simply because they happened to be out of town when the rates were payable. Too much power was now placed in the hands of the collectors.


said, several Members had mentioned the proposal to reduce the Irish franchise for counties from £12 to £10. He wished to know whether the right hon. Gentleman proposed that any portion of the new Irish franchise should have reference to houses or tenements.


—In reply to the question of my hon. Friend I will state that the reduced franchise, as proposed by this Bill, will follow and be based upon that excellent statute which was introduced by my right hon. Friend himself. With regard to the freemen, as to whom I was also interrogated, the law in England limits the power of taking up their freedom to those who have acquired it by birth or servitude. The Irish law includes another element. We propose to limit that franchise to the two conditions imposed by the English Act, and to make it in all respects the same as in England. With regard to the date at which this registration will come into effect, my earnest hope and expectation is that it will receive the Royal Assent in sufficient time to come into operation before the period at which the revision of the voters' lists is made. On that point I shall make exactly the same answer that was given to my noble Friend with regard to the English Bill, I proceed to state the grounds on which the addition has been made to the number of Irish representatives. We found that Cork county, according to the last census, contained a population of 563,000, and by the income tax returns was valued at £834,000, the number of electors on the last registry being 15,895. On comparing these figures with the English counties to which a third Member has been given, I think my noble Friend will find that there was ample reason for adding a third representative to the county of Cork. The city of Dublin contains a population of 254,000, the income tax valuation is £989,000, and the body of registered electors is in number 10,660. If my noble Friend will compare the case of Dublin with that of Birmingham, he will see the reason why a third Member has been given to Dublin. The hon. Member for Dun-garvan (Mr. Maguire) complained that we had not added more largely to the number of representatives for Ireland; and the noble Lord (Lord R. Cecil) complained that I had withdrawn these two Members from England. One of these objections, I think, affords some facility in answering the other. If the hon. Gentleman will look at the speech of Lord Castlereagh in introducing the Act of Union into the Irish Parliament, he will find that the proposition was based on a comparison of the population and the returns of the revenue for the two kingdoms; and, if he will take into account the relative condition of the countries in the present day, I think he will be satisfied that in our proposals we have endeavoured to do justice to Ireland. As regards the objections taken with respect to the Irish Peers, we shall have an opportunity of discussing that question when the Bill is considered on its merits; I will only say that the proposal was made solely on public grounds and from a desire to remove what is at present an anomaly, and to place this matter on a more natural and reasonable footing. I can understand the argument of the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite (Colonel Dickson), that the Members of the Irish peerage should be represented only in the House of Lords. Extremely consoling this must be to the minority, not one of whom has his representative in the House of Peers, but if that argument be carried to its legitimate conclusion it would apply with equal force against their being allowed to sit for English or Scotch as for Irish constituencies. The intention of the proposal which I have the honour to submit is simply to enable the Irish electors to exercise their free choice in the selection of representatives, without being subject to any statutory disqualification. All I now request is permission to introduce the Bill.

Leave given.

Bill further to amend the Laws relating to the Representation of the People of Ireland, ordered to be brought in by Mr. CARDWELL, Viscount PALMERSTON, Lord JOHN RUSSELL, and Sir GEORGE LEWIS.

Bill presented, and read 1°.