HC Deb 07 May 1866 vol 183 cc529-42

Sir, I have to make some explanation, which need not be very long, to the House concerning the Bill which I have now to introduce on the part of Her Majesty's Government, for the amendment of the representation of the people in Ireland. The House will not be surprised when I say that, in the opinion of Her Majesty's Government, the condition of the representation of the people in Ireland is such as not to call for any very large or very extensive change. The fact is, as is well known to hon. Members, that in the year 1850 a most important and extensive Bill for the amendment and extension of the franchise, totally unconnected with any measure for the re-distribution of seats, was introduced by Lord Russell and by my then predecessor, Sir William Somerville. That Bill effected a very great alteration in the Irish franchise; and, as is well known, it placed the county franchise upon the footing of a £12 rating occupation, and the borough franchise upon the footing of an £8 rating occupation, coupled with a most important provision which formed what I may call a self-acting system of registration. In very few words I will tell the House the circumstances and the effect of that measure. I will first take the counties into consideration. Just before the Reform Act of 1832 was passed, and in consequence of the abolition of the 40s. freehold franchise in Ireland, the Irish county constituency had been reduced to the number of 95,000 electors. The effect of the Reform Act creating a new constituency, consisting mainly of £10 householders, was that, in the next few years, the number of voters increased very considerably. Then, however, came a time of great suffering and calamity to Ireland—the years of the famine and the depression caused by those calamitous years. The consequence was that the absence of claims on the part of voters to have their names placed upon the register, combined with the expiration of leases, and the unwillingness of landlords to grant new ones, had so great an effect upon the franchise as to reduce the number of county electors in Ireland in the year 1849 to the small and preposterous number of 27,000 electors. Under those circumstances the Bill of 1860 was produced. The immediate effect of the measure was to raise the number of county electors from 27,000 to 135,000, and the number has gone on steadily increasing from that time to the present until it now exceeds 172,000. But the best way to give the House some idea of the extensive changes made by the Act of 1850, is to take the case of one or two counties. I find, for instance, that in the year 1850, immediately before the Act of Lord Russell, the population of the county of Kilkenny was 183,000, and the number of voters 481. At the present time the population has fallen to 124,000, while the number of voters has increased to upwards of 5,000. I find the same thing in the county of Waterford, where the population in 1850 was 172,000, and the number of voters 306; while the present population of the county is 134,000, and the number of voters 3,500. One more instance—I find in the Queen's county where the population in 1850 was 153,000, and there were 456 voters, at the present time, I grieve to say the population has fallen to 90,000, but the number of voters has risen to 3,438. Under these circumstances, considering that the Act of 1850 has been entirely successful, and that it has created so largely and so satisfactorily the county constituency in Ireland, Her Majesty's Government do not propose any addition to the measure so far as the counties are concerned. I now come to the boroughs, and here I must say that the calculations made at the time of passing the Act of 1850, and which were so fully realized in the case of the counties, has been by no means borne out in the case of the boroughs in Ireland. The fact is that the present borough constituencies of Ireland are smaller than they were before the Act of 1850, which is undoubtedly a remarkable circumstance. Before the Act was passed the borough constituencies of Ireland numbered about 33,000 electors, and the present number is only 30,758. Under these circumstances the Government propose to reduce the rating occupation franchise in boroughs from £8 to £6. The effect of that will not, after all, be very considerable. I find that the number of tenants living in houses rated above £6 and under £8 amounts to 7,741; but after making allowance for unoccupied tenements and for tenements occupied by women, for double entries and so on, there is no reason to believe that the addition to the borough constituencies by the alteration we propose will be much more than about 5,500 electors. There are some other clauses affecting the borough constituencies which will be found in the Bill I have the honour to introduce. These clauses follow the example of the English Bill, in creating a lodger franchise and a savings bank franchise for Ireland. The Bill will also follow the example of the Bill for this country with respect to the way in which it deals with the ratepaying conditions which now exist in Ireland; but I find upon inquiry that the alteration on this point will not produce the effect in Ireland which you will find, in all probability, produced in this country. On the contrary, the addition made to the Irish borough constituencies by the repeal of these conditions will be but small. It appears that last year the number of voters excluded from the register on account of non-payment of rates was, in the Irish counties, only 1,278, and in the Irish boroughs, only 1,053. This, no doubt, arises from the fact that the poor rates are collected in Ireland with very great care and completeness under the orders of the Poor Law Commissioners. The only exception to this rule is found in the city of Dublin, where the collection is not under the control of the Poor Law Board, and consequently, out of the 1,053 voters excluded, 876 are excluded from Dublin alone. Following the example of the English Bill, however, we propose to make these ratepaying conditions no longer a part of the law in Ireland. I now come to the question as to what can be done towards removing or mitigating that which is undoubtedly a great fault in the Irish system of representation—namely, the small size and importance, both with respect to population and electors, of many of our boroughs. About that fact there is, of course, no doubt; but in one respect our borough system compares favourably with that of this country. We have no boroughs in Ireland with very small populations sending their two Members to this House. The two smallest towns in Ireland which possess a double representation are Waterford and Galway, each of which has a population of considerably over 25,000 inhabitants, and contains over 1,000 elec- tors—a very different state of things from the small English boroughs having two Members, as has been shown by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. With regard to the small boroughs spoken of to-night by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, we shall have nothing to do; but, on the other hand, our very small boroughs are much more numerous in proportion to the whole number of boroughs than is the case in England; and the number of electors produced by the same amount of population is inferior to that which is to be found in England. Upon a contrast between the two countries, there appear to be very few places in Ireland which have such large and decided claims for increased representation to be taken into account to preserve the balance between urban and rural constituencies, as to justify Her Majesty's Government in proposing any extensive transfer of seats to other places; the transfer being only possible by the withdrawal of seats from boroughs already represented, which would make such a revolution in the Irish representation as Her Majesty's Government think would not be justified by the facts, and such as, they think, it would not be their duty to propose to Parliament. After careful consideration, Her Majesty's Government are of opinion that there are only three cases in Ireland which require, and. which are so exceptional as to justify, a transfer of seats. Those cases are Dublin city, Cork county, and the Queen's University. The case of Dublin city is a very simple one, which commends itself at once to men's minds. The population of Dublin within the Parliamentary boundaries amounts to 263,000, and it has been thought reasonable to give them a third representative. Cork county, again, is facile princeps, in extent of population, among the counties of Ireland, and has, I think, a strong and indefeasible claim for increased representation. With respect to the Queen's University, the House knows from what has passed here in former debates, and from a document placed on the table by Her Majesty's Government, that we propose to throw open the University to all students applying there for degrees, irrespective of their place of education. By so doing we shall be fulfilling a pledge which we are bound to the utmost of our power to fulfil, and which was given by Her Majesty's Government last year to my hon. Friend the Member for Tralee (The O'Donoghue); we shall be removing what is felt as a great grievance; and we shall, I apprehend, be incalculably increasing the usefulness and importance of the Queen's University in Ireland. For this propose it will be necessary to pass a supplemental charter which will go some way towards meeting the object; and also to propose legislation to this House to supply deficiencies which, under the present charter of the University, the Crown alone is not able to remedy. Her Majesty's Government intend, with the sanction of Parliament, and which they confidently hope and believe they shall obtain, to put the Queen's University in Ireland upon a similar footing to that of the London University, and they therefore propose to Parliament that a similar privilege to that which they propose to give to the London University should be conferred upon the Queen's University—namely, the privilege of returning a Member to this House. We propose to obtain these three seats in the following manner:—We propose, in the first instance, to combine together six of the small boroughs of Ireland, taking those which will admit most easily of combination from their situation and facility of communication. We propose to join Bandon and Kinsale, Portarlington and Athlone, and Dungannon and Enniskillen. Dungannon is one of the smallest boroughs in Ireland. After that operation is performed there will remain seven other boroughs below the line of 8,000 population, and those boroughs we propose to deal with as follows:—We propose to augment them, so as to produce a considerable population and good constituencies, following to a great extent the plan of the Bill of 1852, proposed by Lord Russell. These seven boroughs are:—New Boss, to which we propose to add Enniscorthy; Ennis, adding Kilrush and Ennistimon; Youghal, adding Queenstown; Coleraine, adding Ballymena; Cashel, adding Thurles and Tipperary; Mallow, adding Fermoy and Charleville; and Downpatrick, adding Newtownards. The effect of this arrangement will be to create a certain number of district boroughs similar to those which exist in Scotland and Wales, and producing in every respect important constituencies. It would be easy to carry that principle further; but we have limited ourselves to the population selected in the case of England. We believe that we shall thus succeed in removing the worst evils which could be laid to the charge of the Irish system, and in raising to a sufficient amount the number of voters in the smaller boroughs of Ireland. These are the proposals with respect to the Reform of the representation in Ireland which I have to lay before the House; and my belief is that if they be adopted by this House they will improve to a very considerable extent the representative system which has hitherto existed in that country.


said, he wished to know what the right hon. Gentleman proposed to do with respect to the question of boundaries in Ireland?


said, he was not aware that the boundary question arose in Ireland to any considerable extent. In all those cases in which it was proposed that additions should be made to boroughs—with the single exception of Kilrush—the boundaries were already settled for municipal purposes.


said, he did not think it advisable to enter at that moment into a discussion upon this extraordinary measure; but he would observe that the right hon. Gentleman did not seem to be aware that the Parliamentary boundaries of Belfast did not include more than half of the municipal boundaries.


The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer has, by his surprising eloquence, involved this question in a state of confusion which the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down (Mr. Chichester Fortescue) has not succeeded in dispelling. The proposals of the Government, as far as I understand them, present themselves in this remarkable light—that England loses, Scotland gains, and Ireland gets nothing. The Scottish Members have declared that the grievances of their country are intolerable, and the Lord Advocate complained that by the present change they had only seven seats at their disposal. But I would remind the hon. and learned Gentleman that they have not yet those seven seats at their disposal; although he has, like a gallant Scot, taken it for granted that they have already passed into the possession of his countrymen. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh (Mr. M'Laren) says that Scotland ought to have twenty more Members; and he (Mr. Whiteside) had little doubt that the representatives of his country had only to follow up the policy which they had hitherto so perseveringly adopted of always supporting the Ministry to have a good chance of obtaining those twenty additional Members. But we shall have another very serious question to consider—namely, what are the relations between England and Scotland and between England and Ireland under their respective Acts of Union. May I be allowed further to ask the right hon. Gentleman who are the persons connected with Ireland that asked for such a Bill as this? That is a question which the right hon. Gentleman would, I believe, find it very difficult to answer. I should be greatly astonished to learn that there was a single Irishman possessed of reason who wishes for such a measure; and I believe I may confidently state that no petition in its favour has been presented from Ireland. The people of Ireland, indeed, are now occupied with other matters than the reform of their representation, and I can only set down the Bill as the invention of the right hon. Gentleman himself. It seems as if Scotland was desirous of inflicting on England and Ireland its own system of grouping. Some years ago Sir John Young proposed a scheme for carrying out this principle of grouping boroughs; but that proposal met with little favour from the House, and it was very soon abandoned. What is the meaning of the proposal? It is that you should add one melancholy little place to another melancholy little place, and then their union is still more melancholy than the existence of either of them separately. I quite understand a man saying, as O'Connell said, that the seven largest Irish counties ought to get seven additional representatives; and I assume that he meant those seven seats should be taken from the smaller boroughs. We have had Parliamentary representation in Ireland, in one way or another, for about 500 years; and I believe the people of that country never asked for a change of this description. I find that among the towns to be thus grouped is one called Ennistimon. I have travelled in the county of Clare in which this place is supposed to be situated, but I never heard of it. But might not Newtownards, in the North of Ireland, which has 10,000 inhabitants, be allowed to have a representative of its own? Perhaps hon. Members could guess "the reason why." Then I will remind the right hon. Gentleman that Portadown and Lurgan are larger places than Ballymena. I must observe, too, that I think Cashel might have been finally disposed of. It has lived its time, and it has done its work, and produced many eminent men no doubt; but I believe that unless something has been done to it since I last saw it, there is great danger of its speedily tumbling down altogether. The Irish representatives will, of course, have to consider whether they would wish to have this grouping system. I very much doubt whether an extension of the number of districts can tend to decrease the number of agents to be employed, or the amount of expenses to be incurred, and whether it will contribute to cheek corruption. I am not going to complain of the small boroughs in Ireland, because the Solicitor General and the Attorney General are returned by small boroughs. On the contrary, I think that in those cases we have an example of the service which small boroughs occasionally render Parliament; but I could not help remarking that some of the representatives of those small boroughs are prepared to vote for their own political extinction, and are ready, like Curtius, to leap into the gulph. I read a speech addressed to the electors of Portarlington by the Attorney General for Ireland, in which he told them that if they did not elect him they would certainly be disfranchised; and I should be glad to know what the hon. and learned Gentleman now proposes to do for his constituents. I understand we are to have an additional Member for Dublin, and one for the West Riding of the county of Cork. [Mr. CHICHESTER FORTESCUE: An additional Member for the whole county of Cork.] I think there ought to be one for the West Biding of Cork. You have divided that great county which is nearly 100 miles long and contains 500,000 inhabitants for fiscal and judicial purposes; and I do not see why you should not also divide it for Parliamentary purposes as you have divided Yorkshire in England. I think, too, that something might be done for the county of Down and the county of Antrim, and for that great and busy population, amounting to not less than 160,000 persons, around Belfast. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the number of £6 voters in the Irish boroughs, and I wish to ask him whether any figures will be presented to the House on the subject? [Mr. CHICHESTER FORTESCUE said, That Returns upon the subject will be produced.]"We have, of late, had Special Commissions for the trial of offenders in Ireland; the gaols are now full, the Habeas Corpus Act has been suspended, and I understand that many more arrests are at present being effected. Under these circumstances it may be desirable that we should have a Bill introduced for the amendment of the representation of the people; but the first condition of such a measure is that it should be intelligible.


said, he must apologize for an accidental omission from his statement. There was a clause in the Bill which would make the Parliamentary boroughs in Ireland coterminous with municipal boroughs; and that provision would meet the case of Belfast, to which the hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir Hugh Cairns) had alluded.


suggested that the Government, if they had not finally settled the details of their plan, should so far alter it as to give a Member to the Queen's University in Ireland by grouping it with the University of Dublin.


expressed his surprise that the thriving province of Ulster—which at present returned twenty-nine Members, twenty-seven of whom sat on the Opposition side of the House—had not its claims to increased representation more fairly dealt with in the Bill.


was of opinion that in the transfer of seats Scotland had been much better treated than Ireland, especially when they considered the growth of taxation in Ireland. The measure before the House was ill-advised and badly considered—in fact, it was a mere dodge with a view to secure to the Government as much political influence as possible. He did not at all see why the county of Cork should not be divided, and Members given to each as in similar cases in England. Whether the boroughs of Ireland which had Members could be grouped would be a question in reference to the Act of Union to be considered. He thought there was a great injustice in giving additional Members to Scotland, while none were given to Ireland—this would work injustice to the latter country, for in his opinion the radicals of Scotland were more opposed to Ireland than the radicals of any other country.


regretted that in this moderate measure of Reform for Ireland there had not been introduced a clause for the disfranchisement of the freemen of that country. No measure could be complete that did not do that. In Dublin the freemen were exceedingly corrupt and quite neutralized the popular votes. He would also suggest that instead of giving to Dublin three Members the Government should erect Rathmines and Kingstown into a borough with one Member, and it would comprise a constituency which for intelligence and respectability would be second to none in Ireland. The present county franchise in Ireland worked well, and should not be reduced, if it were made lower it might introduce persons who would be subservient to the landlords.


said, he had heard no good reason assigned for the proposal to disfranchise the borough which he represented by adding it to Enntskillen. He could only suppose that the boroughs in the group were to be disfranchised because they returned Conservative Members. It was a fact that nearly the whole grouped boroughs were represented by Conservatives. They proposed to disfranchise the town which he represented, though the county of Sutherland, which had about the same number of electors, was to be let alone. The county of Tyrone, of which Dungannon was the chief town, had a population of 302,000. He had understood the Chancellor of the Exchequer to say that in counties in England there ought to be a representative to every 150,000 inhabitants. Ireland, therefore, had not had justice done to her, though Scotland had been fairly treated. He should give his strenuous opposition to these Bills, and should enrol himself under the banner of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Huntingdon (General Peel).


was pleased to find that the Government did not intend I to lower the county franchise in Ireland. He must add that while he was not at that moment prepared to enter fully into the merits of the Bill, some of its provisions in reference to the re-distribution of seats seemed to him rather strange. He thought, for instance, that Athlone and Portarlington, even when united, would form but an extremely small constituency, and that it would be well if some of the neighbouring towns were grouped with them in order to bring them up to the proper electoral strength. As to Dungannon, with its 185 electors and its population of 3,800, he saw no good reason why it should not be added to the town of Enniskillen; and he would remind the hon. and gallant Gentleman who had just sat down (Major Stuart Knox) that its case was entirely different from that of Sutherlandshire, which was a county, and which contained 25,000 inhabitants.


contended that the Government had acted with respect to Dungannon on a different principle from that they had laid down for England. In England the boroughs were to be grouped geographically; but they paid no regard to this principle in Ireland, for they proposed to take from the county Tyrone the representative it now had. The county of Tyrone had a population of 300,000, and the barony of Dungannon had upwards of 80,000 inhabitants. The Government having proceeded with respect to Ireland on a totally different principle from that which they had adopted for England, he was entitled to protest against a measure so exceptional and capricious in character. Scotland had been highly favoured, but he might be allowed to remind the right hon. Gentleman that a vast number of the people of Ulster were of Scotch origin. If they did not obtain additional Members they ought not to be deprived of those they had.


said, that so long as the elections were not by ballot no change in the constituencies would be of any avail. He agreed with the hon. Member for Kildare (Mr. Cogan) the question of the freemen required to be dealt, with, and that the conduct of the freemen of Dublin would bring disgrace on any constituency. In fact, the representation of that city was in a most unsatisfactory state. In Ireland a £6 rating was equivalent to a £9 rental, and if that were established there would be no equality with England when the £7 rental was established. If they wished to reform the borough franchise in Ireland they ought to reduce the franchise to a £6 or £5 rating, but no system of election would work well till vote by ballot was established.


inquired of the Secretary for Ireland whether he intended to make any alteration as regarded the boundaries of boroughs? He approved the suggestion of grouping small boroughs or districts in Ireland, and asked whether it would not be well to join Rathmines and Kingstown together and make them into a new borough?


thought it unjust that Tyrone, which in population, wealth, and size, was entitled to have three Members, should lose half a Member owing to the union of Portadown and Enniskillen. Those boroughs were not in the same county. It was not fair that Ulster, which was prospering in wealth, and steady in its loyalty, should lose a Member for the gratification of Cork county, Dublin city, or even the Queen's University. He felt confident that the House would not entertain the proposal to deprive the province of Ulster of a Member.


said, he understood his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Dungannon (Major Stuart Knox) to infer that the Conservative boroughs of Ireland were to be deprived of their Members for party purposes. [Major STUART KNOX: That is what I meant.] He would then remind his hon. Friend that Portarlington was represented by a right hon. Gentleman who was certainly not a Conservative; Kinsale, too, could assuredly not be called a Conservative borough; it had always returned a Whig, and was now represented by a most consistent Whig. That made two cases. Bandon was to be grouped with Kinsale. A third Whig borough—Mallow, was to be grouped. That could not be called going out of the way to disfranchise Conservative boroughs. Again, instead of disfranchising Dungannon by the arrangement that was proposed, there would merely be the putting of two Conservative boroughs together. He did not quarrel with hon. Members for standing up for their boroughs; but when they came fairly to argue the matter it was totally impossible to defend the existing representation of Dungannon, Portarlington, or Kinsale on principle. Whether they were Whigs, Tories, or Radicals, people in Ireland would say that it was impossible to touch the question of Reform at all without changing the position of those places. Under ordinary circumstances those boroughs would have been disfranchised; but a new principle had been started, and there was no desire to deprive any constituency, however small, of a share in the representation. If the principle of grouping had worked well in Scotland and in Wales, Ireland could not stand out against its adoption. With regard to the freemen, they could not deal with them on a different principle in Ireland from that on which they had been dealt with in England. They had not disfranchised the freemen in England. The freemen in Ireland were dying out by degrees; and, therefore, without holding them up as model electors, he would say, "Let time continue to do its work upon them, as it was now doing it." He was exceedingly grateful to the Government for not touching the Irish county franchise, which was quite low enough, A reduction of the borough franchise was a necessity, and he thought the proposal on that subject would work very well. A £6 householder in Ireland was about equal to the £9 or £10 occupier in England. The Government had, therefore, not gone too low, but had taken a judicious step, and it would be received with gratitude by the people of Ireland.


agreed with the hon. Member for Leitrim (Mr. Brady) in thinking it signified little what representation was given to the people if the electors had not the power of exercising their privileges in a free and constitutional manner. The law relating to bribery and intimidation was the same for England and Ireland, but the position of the electors in the two countries was quite different. The elector in England was a free man; but in Ireland he was a serf, liable to be turned out at six months' notice after voting for the man of his choice, and liable to be distrained, as often happened, within a few weeks after he had recorded his vote. Protection to the county voter in the exercise of his franchise was the primary requisite, and no Reform Bill which omitted to grant it could be regarded as a substantial measure in Ireland.


said, he should certainly oppose the grouping together of Athlone and Portarlington, towns which were at least twenty miles apart; and he maintained that no extension of the franchise in Ireland would be satisfactory unless it were accompanied by the protection of the ballot.


said, he regarded the present representation of the city of Dublin as a perfect farce, because the owners and occupiers of property were overridden by the freemen, the "ruck" of whom were about the most disreputable of any class of voters. It was really a serious question whether, if the freemen were to remain in their present position, it would not be very improper to give another Member, as now proposed, to the city of Dublin. He would also suggest whether it might not be expedient to require some qualification even for freemen. A £4 franchise would, he believed, exclude one-half of the present freemen. These men came out in a body just towards the close of an election like a swarm of flies in summer, and carried all before them, and great corruption and abuse existed among them. It had been said that all the rising towns of Ireland were in Ulster. He was glad to hear that, for it would give some justification to the present proportion which the representation of Ulster bore to that of the rest of Ireland. While all Ireland had only 105 Members, including two for the University, Ulster alone had twenty-nine, whereas the proper share due to that province was only 26 1.5.


would only say that Ulster contained about one-third of the entire population of Ireland, and one-half of its wealth. If, therefore, wealth and population constituted a claim to representation, Ulster had as much reason to complain of the with drawment of a Member as any other division of the country. His chief object in rising was to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland the amount of the lodger franchise, which he understood was to be introduced in the Bill?


I thought I stated that it was proposed that the lodger franchise should be the same as that to be provided for England,

Motion agreed to.

Bill to amend the Representation of the People in Ireland, ordered to be brought in by Mr. CHICHESTER FORTESCUE, Mr. CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER, Mr. ATTORNEY GENERAL for IRELAND, and Mr. SOLICITOR GENERAL for IRELAND.

Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 140.]