HC Deb 11 May 1860 vol 158 cc1117-25

said, he rose to ask the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Whether Her Majesty's Government will agree to introduce provisions applicable to Ireland into the Representation of the People Bill for England and Wales? He said the noble Lord ought to feel indebted to the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone for giving him an opportunity of disavowing the charge of insincerity which was made, not only against the noble Lord, but generally against the House of Commons. The hon. and learned Member for Marylebone had made one of the most damaging speeches against the Reform Bill which had yet been delivered. He had done a great service by culling attention to facts and figures, and he had also given notice of his intention to move the insertion of a clause which would confer the franchise upon lodgers, and the omission of the provision which made the payment of poor-rates a condition precedent to the exercise of the franchise. It was said that nobody wanted this Bill, and that if a vote by Ballot were taken upon it, only two Members would be found to support it—the noble Lord and his backer, the hon. Member for Birmingham. He wanted to know how they were sure that if it were put to the Ballot there would be two votes in favour of it at all. They were all accused of being insincere, and be confessed himself guilty of that very soft impeachment. But if there were no sincerity about passing the English Reform Bill, there was no insincerity about the Irish Re- form Bill. The Chief Secretary for Ireland, in reply to a question, had stated that he would not take up the Irish Reform Bill until the English Reform Bill was passed through Committee. He, therefore, asked the noble Lord last night, whether he would postpone going into Committee on the English Reform Bill until after the second reading of the Irish Bill; or, if he would not do that, whether he would incorporate the Irish in the English Bill. The noble Lord took no notice of the second branch of this question, and as he could obtain no answer to a question put in a very quiet and modest form, he thought he was justified in using the privilege of a Friday night to draw the distinct attention of the noble Lord to it. It was not a new idea, I because so long since as December last he had written to the Chief Secretary suggesting uniform legislation for the two countries, and the omission of the provision which required payment of poor-rates as a condition precedent to the enjoyment of the franchise. He knew how injuriously that provision operated in Ireland, and he believed it was found even more injurious in England. He bad long been of opinion that it was better to have a bad law for Ireland incorporated in the same Bill for England than to have it exclusively applicable to Ireland, because a bad law which affected England would soon be changed, but if it only affected Ireland there was not the same certainty of a speedy alteration. The country imputed insincerity to the House of Commons, but what was the sincerity on the part of the country itself? The whole of the petitions for and against and about reform did not bear 90,000 signatures, and only 9,711 signatures were in favour of the Representation of the People Bill. The signatures in favour of the Representation of the People Bills were only two—that was to say, in favour of all the three Bills of the Government. There were only 23,670 signatures to petitions in favour of Reform from England, while there were 27,620 signatures to petitions from Ireland. He saw a right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Whiteside) shaking his very learned head at that statement, and he knew that the right hon. Gentleman meant to say that the people of Ireland cared nothing at all about Reform. Well, he was inclined to agree with the right hon. Gentleman, for he had lately visited his own constituents, and found they were very well satisfied with their present representatives; but still it appeared from their petitions that the people of Ireland cared more about Reform than the people of England. The noble Lord said yesterday that until he had consulted the Cabinet he could not tell whether there would be any Scotch or Irish Reform Bill at all, and there seemed so much uncertainty that they might perhaps safely make up their minds there would be no Irish or Scotch Bill. He did not deny that a Reform Bill was wanted; but, if there was to be legislation for England, for the reason he had given, he thought Ireland ought to be included. There were important principles in the English Bill which Irish Members had a right to discuss. The Irish Members had taken very little part in the discussions hitherto, lest it should be said, "Why do you intrude? There will be time enough for you when we come to the Irish Bill." But if the Bill was to be deferred to the Greek calends there would be no opportunity to discuss the important principle of the franchise being based on population alone, which was acknowledged in the English Bill, and was of vital interest to the Irish people. The English Bill also conferred the elective franchise upon the principle of clear yearly value or rent, whilst the Irish Bill was based upon poor law rating. Where there was a will there was always a way; and the noble Lord, if so inclined, could easily have clauses applicable to Ireland introduced into the English Bill. An hon. Member who had supplied the House with some statistics had informed them that the English Reform Bill had already occupied them seven tiresome nights, upon which about eighty speeches had been delivered, so that it might be truly said of it:— Seven nights, nine times nine, Did it dwindle, peak, and pine; and very small it had shrunk. He might continue the quotation— Though the Bill may not be lost, Yet it shall be tempest tost. All kinds of complimentary epithets had been applied to the measure. It had been compared to a bread-pill, which would do neither good nor harm; and the hon. Member for Birmingham had expressed a hope that it would not prove to be like a Spanish repast, at which there was very little of meat, but a great deal of table cloth. It appeared to him (Mr. Scully) that that exactly described the character of the noble Lord's scheme. In the meantime it had stopped the way of a great deal of useful legislation. More important measures, such as the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Bill and the Transfer of Land Bill, which the Attorney General had fifteen times placed on the paper without finding an opportunity to proceed with it, ought not to be delayed for a Bill which no one believed would he passed in the end. India and China, too, were waiting for them, and as yet nothing had been done for Ireland. He should recommend the noble Lord to withdraw his Reform Bill, and re-introduce it in a better form next Session. Some people said that if the Bill were thrown over, then they would see what sort of a measure would be demanded. For his own part, he should like to have the country roused to demand a good Bill. He did not wish to see a repetition of the old scenes at Nottingham and Bristol, but he should be glad to see a more earnest feeling excited in the minds of the people upon this subject. The Reform Bill was started as an express train, and all the other traffic had been shunted to let it pass; but, after all, it had turned out to be a mere Parliamentary train, going at the slowest possible pace; and, therefore, the best thing that could be done would be to shunt the express and get on the useful trains, in the progress of which the country was interested. Let the noble Lord throw the blame upon that House, upon him, if he pleased; but let him cease to obstruct legislation with this measure, which no one expected would be passed.


rose to appeal to the Government not to go into Committee on the English Reform Bill until the Irish and Scotch Reform Bills had been considered. He ventured to ask some Member of the Government the course they meant to take with reference to each of the Reform Bills.


The hon. and learned Member for Launceston (Mr. Haliburton) on a former occasion called my attention to the question of the fortifications at St. Pierre, and I am very sorry that the answer which I then gave was not satisfactory to him, because I can now do little more than repeat what was the substance of that answer. In the year 1856—I think in the month of January—an order was sent to the Governor of Newfoundland, directing him to inquire what were the fortifications which the French were erecting upon the island of St. Pierre. In the month of April following the Governor replied, and stated that there were fortifications commanding the entrance to the harbour—namely, a battery, mounting four 84-pound guns and two 42-pound guns, commanding the roadstead, and another battery at the entrance, commanding the south-east passage and mounting eight 42-pounders; that there was also a third battery, and a barrack capable of holding between 300 and 400 men. The whole of this Report was submitted to the law officers of the Crown, who were asked, not as to any particular fortification, but whether that state of things was conformable to the treaty or was at variance with it. The hon. and learned Gentleman has stated very truly that from 1713 to 1814, with respect to fortifications at St. Pierre, the answer of the law officers of the Crown was, that the fortifications mentioned by the Governor of Newfoundland did not amount to an infraction of those various treaties. The hon. and learned Gentleman asks me to produce the question submitted to the law officers and their answer; but to do so would be quite contrary to the rule which has always been acted upon in these cases. It is not considered right to produce the opinions given by the law officers of the Crown. I believe that practice to be founded upon very good reasons, and, therefore, I cannot comply with the request of the hon. and learned Gentleman. The subject of the fisheries is an entirely different one. The hon. and learned Gentleman states, and, I dare say, very truly, that there are 30,000 Frenchmen engaged in these fisheries. It is, as he says, the practice of France, and he might have added also of the United States of America, to give large bounties to promote their fisheries; and that is done, I believe, rather with a view to the training of a large number of seamen, than to any commercial profits which arise from the prosecution of those fisheries. That is a matter of policy with regard to trade, not relating to treaties at all, with respect to which it would not, at this moment, be convenient to enter into a discussion. Of course, the hon. and learned Gentleman can, if be thinks fit, upon some future occasion find fault with the policy according to which, some years ago, the giving of bounties was discontinued by the Government of this country.

The noble Lord opposite (Lord Lovaine) asked me a question with respect to the convention concerning the fishery off Newfoundland. That is a matter of very great importance. The negotiations have lasted considerable time; but I hope that they are now approaching a termination. Cap- tain Dunlop, who was sent to Paris to assist in conducting them, has returned to England, and has had an interview with my noble Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies. I am told that the explanations which he gave were satisfactory to the noble Duke, and that he is about to return to Paris with the hope of bringing the negotiations to a satisfactory conclusion. The opinion of the Commissioners has been that it was not necessary to have any new treaty upon the subject, but that the treaties at present existing, with proper interpretations and proper measures for carrying them into effect, would suffice for the regulation of the fisheries of the two countries. I need not, therefore, enter any further into that matter; but I hope that we shall soon be able to announce the conclusion of these negotiations.

The question of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield will be answered by the Secretary of the Treasury, to which department the subject properly belongs.

To go on with foreign affairs, the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Darby Griffith) asked me whether we had any assurance that no French troops should be inarched into the districts of Chablais and Faucigny. I think I have, upon former occasions, stated to this House that the French Government entirely refuse to enter into any engagement upon that point. They have stated that they should not send any troops into the neutralized districts of Savoy until the Vote of the Parliament of Sardinia had completed the Treaty of the 24th of March, and entitled them, as they conceive, to the possession of Savoy; but after that time they would enter into no engagement whatever. I think the hon. Gentleman is so far right that any prospect of making a difference in the arrangements after the French troops should have occupied the provinces would be very much governed by that event. I did not understand at first what it was the hon. Gentleman proposed that we should do. I did not give any assurance to the House that has not been fulfilled. I stated to the House the arrangement which the Government wished to see carried into effect; but I did not state that we felt sure of attaining our object. The hon. Member thinks we ought to withdraw from all further negotiation in the circumstances to which he refers. That is certainly a matter for very grave consideration, and I will not at present give any engagement to the House on the sub- ject. The hon. and learned Member for Marylebone has asked me a question with regard to the Reform Bill. That hon. and learned Gentleman has shown great candour in admitting that the Government have given some ground for the charge of insincerity which has been made against them. I will be equally candid with respect to his conduct. I think the hon. and learned Gentleman has given considerable ground for the impression that he is neither favourable to this Reform Bill nor willing to give it a fair consideration. The 1st of March was not a very late period of the Session for bringing forward such a measure. But the hon. and learned Member supposes we have postponed it to the Highways Bill, the London Corporation Bill, and other measures. That is a total misapprehension on his part, arising, I think, from his want of experience as to the proceedings of this House. If I had said that, instead of the Highways Bill coming on, we propose to go into Committee on the Reform Bill this evening, being a notice evening, I think the Members of this House generally, and with reason, would have said that the measure was far too important to be left to the chance of being taking at 9 or 10 o'clock at night, and that it ought to stand as the first thing for some clay on which Orders of the Day have the precedence. Many measures of great importance and likewise of great urgency have been introduced into this House by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in connection with the financial arrangements of the year; and everybody knows that nothing can be more inconvenient than to have fiscal questions and matters touching duties of Customs or Excise postponed till a late day, thereby keeping all the trade of the country in suspense. Therefore it appeared to me that there was good reason for not bringing on the Reform Bill till the decision of the House had been taken on the principal portions of the Budget. To enable my right hon. Friend to proceed with those measures—one of which certainly did not progress at a very rapid rate in Committee last night—I fixed the Committee on the Reform Bill for the 4th of June. It is our intention then to bring it on. Of course, with regard to days we must be a good deal dependent on what may be the pleasure of the House, because on Notice nights, as the hon. and learned Gentleman must be aware, we cannot take the Committee on a Government Bill without the consent of those hon. Members who properly have the pre- cedence. But we certainly wish to have as much time as the House may be willing to give us for proceeding with this measure. The hon. and learned Member for the county of Cork asked me whether I would introduce a clause making the Bill applicable to Ireland. I thought, when I said we should postpone the second reading of the Irish Reform Bill, he would have understood that we could not adopt the course he recommended, because if we were to do so it would almost be necessary to discharge this Bill and bring in another. The Chairman of the Committee would naturally say that provisions relating to Ireland could not find a fit place in a measure to "amend the representation in England and Wales." It is impossible, then, for us to propose such a clause as the hon. and learned Member suggests. We mean, as I stated the other night, to proceed with the Reform Bill for England; and, the question respecting the franchise having been decided in this Bill, that would make the discussion of the Irish Bill much more easy than if we had to debate the same point over and over again. The hon. and learned Gentleman does not seem very friendly to this Bill; but he has only to take the course which is the direct one, however much hon. Gentlemen who dislike the Bill may be averse to pursue it—namely, to vote against the measure altogether. What we have done is to bring forward a Bill which we believe will be useful. If other Members of this House think it a useful measure, let them support it. If they think it mischievous and dangerous, let them throw it out and take upon themselves the responsibility of such a step. But at one time to say it is a very small Bill, which does nothing at all, which is totally ineffectual and futile because it attempts so little, and at another moment to say it is a most dangerous and revolutionary Bill, calculated to overthrow the whole constitution of the country—surely there is a striking inconsistency in such double criticism. I shall propose that we go on again with the consideration of this measure, and then the House can, in Committee, discuss what is the best franchise and what the best distribution of seats to adopt. The hon. and learned Member for Marylebone proposes to introduce a lodger franchise. That is a very fair proposal; and I can assure him, on the part of the Government, that it shall be discussed, like all other Amendments—with a due consideration of all the reasons which may be advanced for or against it; and then let the House decide whether or not it shall be adopted.


said, he had never thought and he had never stated that the noble Lord was insincere in that matter. What he had said was, that there was an impression in the country that the Government were not sincere in their mode of dealing with the question.


said, he protested against the term inconsistency being-applied to his conduct. He had never charged the Bill with being revolutionary.


had not said that the hon. and learned Gentleman had made such a charge. He by no means intended to refer to the hon. and learned Gentleman.