§ MR. CHICHESTER FORTESCUE
rose to move a Resolution, of which he said notice had been given, owing to the surprising announcement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer shortly after the Whitsuntide recess, notwithstanding a promise to the contrary, that it was not intended to introduce a Reform Bill for Ireland this Session. The subject had excited much interest among Irish Reformers both in and out of the House. Hon. Members who took special interest in the question of Reform in Ireland were filled with astonishment and indignation when, after assurance had been given that Ireland would not be excluded from the general plan of Reform for the United Kingdom, the right hon. Gentleman informed the House that the Government had changed their minds, and that their promises were to come to nothing.
§ Notice taken that forty Members were not present; House counted, and forty Members being found present—
MR. CHICHESTER PORTESCUE
proceeded to state that, under the circumstances 704 he had narrated, the Irish Members took counsel, formally and informally, and, after a time, they held a meeting of those who expected and desired a Reform Bill for Ireland; and it was that meeting which called upon him to take charge of the Resolution. There was no desire to seek an opportunity for making a party attack on the Government. Irish Members only sought to fulfil a bounden duty, which they could not neglect without disgrace, without loss of self respect, and without betrayal of trust. He would briefly detail the occurrences of the present Session with regard to the question of Irish Parliamentary Reform. At the commencement of the Session everybody naturally took it for granted, both from the nature of the subject and from invariable precedent, that the Government would deal simultaneously with the three kingdoms in the matter of Reform. It had invariably happened that before an English Bill had made progress the Bills for Scotland and Ireland had been laid on the table and discussed. Last year the then Government professed at first to deal only with the English franchise; but when, in compliance with the wish of the House, they had undertaken to deal with the whole question, they framed and laid on the table on the same night the Bills for Scotland and Ireland, and that was before the House had gone into Committee on the English Bill. A Scotch Baronet, the Member for Ayrshire (Sir James Fergusson), had specially called upon the Government to take care that a Bill for Scotland should be introduced, because it would be impossible that justice could be done unless the Bills for England, Scotland, and Ireland proceeded pari passû. Everybody expected that that view would be acted upon this Session. On the 21st of March in the present Session, following the hon. Member for Edinburgh, he (Mr. C. Fortescue) asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he intended to introduce a Reform Bill for Ireland; and the reply was in the affirmative. A few days afterwards the hon. Member for the county of Waterford (Mr. Esmonde) asked another question upon the subject, and the answer was that the Government intended to introduce the Irish Bill immediately after the Easter recess. The Easter holydays passed, however, and the Scotch Bill was introduced, but not the Irish one. He therefore thought it his duty when the Whitsuntide recess was approaching to 705 make a statement to the House respecting the delay, and to ask what were the intentions of the Government. That was on the 24th of May, more than two months after the first promise of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The right hon. Gentleman, in reply, said that the Government had given every attention to the subject, but that the pressure of the English Bill had made it impossible for them to introduce the Irish Bill sooner, and the right hon. Gentleman added—Though there will be some further delay, it will not be a very great delay. Hon. Gentlemen may rely on it that I shall not hurry them to a decision on the second reading. They shall have ample time to consider the Bill, and I think they will have no cause to complain that they have been badly treated. I hope the provisions of the Bill will be such as to be satisfactory to the Irish Members; but I must confess that the criticisms which we have just heard are not encouraging. One hon. Gentleman expresses a hope that the three Reform Bills will be all alike; another, referring to a particular provision in the English Bill, says that should it be contained in the Irish Bill he should prefer to have no Bill at all. I do not want the House to come to any decision now as to the merits of voting papers; but, as papers have been proposed for England and Scotland, I am afraid that if they were not in the Irish Bill some hon. Gentleman might rise and state that we were not disposed to treat Ireland with a fairness equal to that shown to England and Scotland, though I can assure them that we are anxious to do so. I throw myself on the indulgence of hon Gentlemen, and promise them that the Irish Bill will be brought in immediately after Whitsuntide. Before any hon. Gentleman from Ireland decides that this is a case of hardship, I would observe that I do not think anyone would like to spend the short vacation we are to have at Whitsuntide in the consideration of the suffrage. Irish Members may rely upon it that I shall endeavour to make up for the delay. I alone am responsible for it, and I hope they will extend their indulgence to me till immediately after Whitsuntide."—[3 Hansard, clxxxvii. 1091.]Before the Whitsuntide recess arrived the question was again asked by the hon. Member for Cashel (Mr. O'Beirne), and the Chancellor of the Exchequer then replied—Ardently as I long for the day when the English Bill shall be read a third time, I shall gladly defer it in order to introduce the Irish Bill.Soon after the re-assembling of the House the hon. Member for Ennis (Captain Stacpoole) asked the Government when the Bill was to be introduced, and the reply to that question had given rise to the present Motion. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said—There is no subject which has caused the Government more anxiety than the Reform Bill for Ireland. I can Bay this for the Government collectively, and I can say it for myself and ray noble 706 Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland, that we have at all times been anxious to deal with that question in a spirit of the utmost confidence, and we have prepared the details of the measure entirely in that spirit. But it is impossible to conceal from ourselves that the circumstances of the time are exceedingly unpropitious. There is no doubt that, owing to a foreign and external agency acting upon sentiments of a morbid character in a portion of the population, there is in Ireland at the present moment a very general feeling of distrust, and—I cannot conceal it from myself—a considerable sense of danger. It is very difficult to deal with questions involving the re-distribution of electoral rights among a people under circumstances of that description, although I am glad to think that whatever discontent or distrust may exist in Ireland does not arise from the present state of their electoral privileges. Under these circumstances we feel that it is not possible for us to deal with the question of Parliamentary Reform in Ireland in the spirit in which we could have wished to deal with it, and, therefore, it is the determination of Her Majesty's Government to postpone until a more favourable opportunity any legislation on this question."—[3 Hansard, clxxxvii. 1936.]In the whole of that answer there was but one topic of consolation, and that was that the details had been discussed, and that the measure, if not in a perfect form, was in a very advanced state of preparation. In every other respect the answer was most unsatisfactory and most unfortunate. The reasons assigned did not in themselves, without further explanation, furnish any ground for the sudden abandonment of the expectations and the pledges held out to the Irish Members and the Irish people. The alleged reason for postponement was that there was danger, in the present condition of Ireland, in mooting the question of Irish Parliamentary Reform. But what now circumstances had arisen? The promise of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was first given in March, immediately after the important Fenian rising in the South of Ireland. What circumstance had arisen during the Whitsuntide recess to make it the duty of the Government to refuse to Ireland that which they themselves had previously pronounced necessary? As at present informed, his belief was that no such circumstances had occurred. There was, indeed, one occurrence which he could not overlook. During the recess the Government had been waited upon by a deputation of influential Irish supporters of the Government, who made certain representations on the subject of Reform in Ireland, and, unless he was totally wrong in his conjecture, such statements were made with regard to the condition of the 707 country as to change completely the view of the Cabinet, and induce them to refuse that which they had shortly before informed the House that it was their intention to do. His opinion was that they were totally misinformed; and he should like to know what proof there was that the Irish constituencies were disposed either to reject with scorn, or to make a bad use of the privileges which Parliament might confer upon them? Take the most recent elections which had occurred in Ireland; in the course of the autumn, elections occurred in the two important, constituencies of Tipperary and Waterford, and, no doubt, those elections were marked by a certain amount of excitement on the one side, occasioned by the excessive and unreasonable exercise of landlord power. On the other side, they were characterized by popular excitement, which he regretted to say, occasionally degenerated into violence. But no hon. Gentleman could say that the results of those elections were not in accordance with the genuine feelings of the constituencies. For his own part, he felt convinced that the two Gentlemen who were returned, one of them a Protestant and the other a Catholic, were the real choice of the electors, and that they were both well worthy to occupy seats in that House. To him these events were matters of great consolation and satisfaction; because they proved that in those large constituencies, deeply imbued with the most intense Irish feelings, it was possible for the great mass of the humble electors to exert themselves for the purpose of returning popular representatives to Parliament, rather than exhibit an indifference to Imperial legislation—rather than turn their thoughts in another direction. The House might depend upon it that the people who were capable of acting in that way had not wholly given themselves up to lawless and Utopian schemes. It was the duty of the House to take care the feelings and hopes of such a people were not disappointed by Parliament. As to their being danger from extending the franchise in Ireland, or even discussing the subject, he totally denied that any danger could arise in that direction. On the contrary, his opinion was that the danger was all the other way. By not discussing a measure of Reform for Ireland they ran the risk of lessening the confidence the Irish people had in the favourable disposition of Parliament, and in its inclination to treat their country in a spirit of fairness and equality. Perhaps he might be told that the Fenians did not care 708 about Parliamentary Reform. He never heard in that House, nor read in the papers—as one did too often—statements of that kind, without feeling how dangerous it was to govern Ireland under such a feeling. Those who were acquainted with Ireland knew that the Fenians did not care about a Reform Bill, or about the Church and the land questions; but it should be remembered that for one Fenian in Ireland there were ten discontented and suspicious spirits not Fenians. It was no answer to them to say that the Fenians did not care for Reform; but it was dangerous that a sensitive, and, at present, suspicious people should be led to believe that Parliament treated them with something like a slight, and not with that confidence and equality which would conciliate them and make them good and loyal subjects. His Motion consisted of two parts. The first was—That this House considers it essential to the satisfactory settlement of the Question of Parliamentary Reform that there should be an amendment of the Law relating to the Representation of the People in Ireland as well as in the other portions of the United Kingdom.At first sight it would not seem necessary to ask the House to affirm that; but, considering the tone taken by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, his reference to "the most favourable opportunity"—which was the right hon. Gentleman's only definition of the time at which the Irish Members might hope for a Reform Bill—and his reply to the hon. Member for Devizes, who had thought it necessary to try and extract something more from him, he had thought it necessary to put that Notice on the Paper. He was bound at present to take it for granted that the Government had adjourned the question of Parliamentary Reform for Ireland sine die. He hoped, however, that a further explanation might show him that he was wrong. At all events, he trusted that the House would not sanction such a determination on the part of the Government. The conclusion of his Motion stated that the HouseConsiders it desirable that, in accordance with the promise of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Government should introduce their Bill upon that subject during the present Session.What he asked appeared to him to be most reasonable. He did not prejudge the question whether it would be practicable to carry out Reform legislation for Ireland during the present Session. He asked the Government merely to say what their intentions as regarded the matter were by placing their Bill on the table. The hon. 709 Member for Ayrshire last Session required that the Scotch Bill should proceed pari passû with the English Bill. The Irish Members were more moderate their demands. They only asked that the Irish Bill should proceed pari passû with the Scotch Bill. As no Reformers in that House had been more faithful to the Reform cause than the Irish Reformers had been, he now asked the Reformers of the other parts of the United Kingdom—and he made the same appeal to hon. Members on both sides of the House—to join in protesting against Ireland being treated with neglect and with what he could not help calling some thing like indignity.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House considers it essential to the satisfactory settlement of the Question of Parliamentary Reform that there should be an amendment of the Law relating to the Representation of the People in Ireland as well as in the other portions of the United Kingdom; and considers it desirable that, in accordance with the promise of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Government should introduce their Bill upon that subject during the present Session,"—(Mr. Chichester Fortescue,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ COLONEL FRENCH
seconded the Motion. He complimented his right hon. Friend the Member for Louth on the temperate and judicious manner in which he had introduced his Motion, He was very glad his right hon. Friend had abandoned a part of the Motion as it was originally framed; because, under no circumstances could he have considered himself justified in opposing the third reading of the English Reform Bill on the ground that Ireland had not been fairly treated. He felt it difficult to add anything to the arguments of his right hon. Friend; but he must remind the House that, from time to time, he had postponed proceeding with his own scheme of Reform out of deference to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who had promised a Government Reform Bill for Ireland. Knowing that both the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his noble Friend the Secretary for Ireland had devoted a great deal of attention to the subject, he heard without any suspicion of the frequent postponements of the Irish Reform Bill; and he was sure that no single Member, and no individual in Ireland 710 who had followed the proceedings in Parliament, hesitated to believe that immediately after the expiration of the Whitsuntide recess the Bill would be laid on the table. They had been disappointed in this expectation, and in a manner which gave them ground of complaint. Every promise made to Scotland had been fulfilled, and there was no reason to suppose that a different course would be pursued towards the two countries. As far as actual legislation was concerned, there was no more chance of the Irish Reform Bill becoming law this Session than there was of the Scotch Bill being adopted. But Irish Members had a right to know the Ministerial intentions towards them, so that they might consult their fellow-countrymen during the recess. No cause ought to be given to any portion of the Irish people to suppose that they were slighted or lightly esteemed, or that they were treated differently from people in other parts of the United Kingdom. He trusted the Ministry would re-consider their decision.
§ MR. CONOLLY
said, that he and those who felt with him, had reason to express their complete satisfaction with the announcement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the occasion when he last addressed himself to the question of the Irish Reform Bill. That decision afforded the greatest gratification to all right thinking men in Ireland, and to a large portion of those in Great Britain as well, for it was in accordance with the principles of prudence and common sense. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Louth (Mr. C. Fortescue) declared that there was an acknowledged want of Reform in Ireland, the non-recognition of which by the Government was most displeasing to the Irish Members—meaning, he presumed, those sitting near the right hon. Gentleman, who always arrogated to themselves the title of "Irish Members." [Mr. CHICHESTER FORTESCUE: Irish Reformers.] The right hon. Gentleman represented those gentlemen as highly indignant, and he spoke with authority and influence on that and most other subjects. But when, last year, he was called upon officially to deal with the subject himself, be brought forward a measure which was utterly insignificant as regards the changes which it would have accomplished. The condition of the counties, the right hon. Gentleman stated, was perfectly satisfactory, and he did not propose to alter those; in the boroughs the principal alterations proposed was the introduction 711 of an extraordinary conjunction called "grouping," which was received with little favour on either side of the House. The right hon. Gentleman, therefore, had no right to arrogate to himself the character of the only benefactor of Ireland in the House. Certainly the conduct of the Chancellor of the Exchequer with regard to England had given the right hon. Gentleman no right to suppose that in dealing with Ireland he would act in any niggard spirit, On the contrary the probabilities were that when he did come forward with the measure it would be much ampler, and applicable in ten thousand times a greater degree to the condition of Ireland than the measure of the right hon. Gentleman; a more contemptible measure than was offered last year it would be difficult to conceive. The new grown zeal of the right hon. Gentleman for Reform was very marked now, but his own Bill last year was conceived in the narrowest and most prejudiced spirit of the old Tories. It was not because he objected to Reform that he opposed the right hon. Gentleman's Motion. Indeed, be had given his cordial support to the Chancellor of the Exchequer's magnificent measure for England. He was quite willing to give the Irish people any extension of the suffrage that might be deemed wise and necessary. The very instance of Tipperary which the right hon. Gentleman had advanced told against him. The late contest at Tipperary was of a very peculiar nature; it was between a Roman Catholic gentleman, a resident in the county—["No, no!"]—who had before gained a majority for the county on the one side, and on the other a gentleman of very considerable abilities, but a total stranger to the constituency, who would certainly not have been elected had it not been for the very exceptional circumstances prevailing at the time. Tipperary was on that occasion violently and even dangerously excited by the Fenians; and had it not been so the hon. and gallant Member would have had no more chance of being returned for the county than an Alderman of the City of London. If Tipperary should be divided into two ridings, he believed that the much derided landlord influonce would in one at laast prevail. But this gentleman who was boasted of as the choice ef the people, was threatened with a contest under the Reform Act. Mr. Butt, the distinguished Fenian advocate, had been invited to turn him out, and the published grounds for offering Tipperary to Mr. Butt 712 were that he had defended the Fenians so admirably. Yet, notwithstanding this, the right hon. Gentleman had protested that the Government was not justified in postponing the Irish Reform Bill in consequence of the state of the country. Had Fenianism subsided in the South of Ireland? What had happened in Waterford but the other day, when life and property was in imminent peril for the best part of a day? It was easy for the right hon. Gentleman, in an exuberant feeling of irresponsibility, to lay down precepts for the guidance of the Government; but he contended that it was not only the duty of Ministers to abstain from giving Reform to Ireland, but that for them to do so would be positively unjustifiable. Consider the anomalous position the right hon. Gentleman would place the House in. Throughout the Session Parliament had from stern necessity been almost unanimous in curtailing the liberties of the people of Ireland, for the sake of their own peace and security, by suspending the Habeas Corpus Act; and now the right hon. Gentleman proposed, with all the solemnity imaginable, to offer those identical people fresh privileges and a more extensive influence over the Government of the country. He begged the House to be consistent and support the Government in its wise resolve by rejecting the Motion of the right hon. Member for Louth.
rejoiced very much that this question had been raised that evening, and more especially that it had been raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Louth, whose speech had created more hopeful anticipations of the future Parliamentary representation of Ireland than any speech that had been delivered during a long period. From some personal knowledge of the county of Tipperary, he could assure the hon. Member who had just sat down that he was greatly mistaken in supposing that there was the slightest danger of the hon. Member who sat for that county losing his seat at the next election. Not the slightest reason could be urged in justification of no progress being made this Session with the Irish Reform Bill. It might be that, owing to causes with the nature of which they were all well acquainted, Her Majesty's Government were unable to adhere to their original determination to introduce an Irish Reform Bill this Session; but the majority of the House were in favour of some progress being made at once with the Irish Reform Bill. Personally, he had no apprehension 713 whatever as to the future of Irish Reform, because he knew that Her Majesty's Government had not the power, whatever their inclination might be, to withhold an Irish Reform Bill, or even to postpone its introduction for any length of time; and because he felt confident that the Liberal party, which constituted a majority in the House, and an overwhelming majority in the country, would unite with those who really represented the Irish people in securing for Ireland before the dissolution of the present Parliament a measure of Reform, the same in principle, and in every respect as comprehensive as the measures adopted in the case of England and Scotland. But although the condnct of Her Majesty's Government furnished no just ground for any apprehension as to the future of Irish Reform, still it did very plainly indicate what the Government would do if it were able—as all other Governments hitherto had been able—to give effect to its wishes, and carry out the principles which were in accordance with its political convictions. The Chancellor of the Exchequer knew as well as he did that he could not hope to withhold from the people of Ireland the electoral rights and privileges which had been accorded to the people of England and Scotland. But the position of the right hon. Gentleman was one of extraordinary difficulty, and he was obliged to have recourse to every land of expedient in order to preserve even the semblance of unanimity among his party. Among the supporters of the right hon. Gentleman were, he regretted to say, a number of Irish Members who were the bitterest enemies of Reform. As long as the English and Scotch Bills were before the House these Gentlemen followed silently and obsequiously at the heels of the Chancellor of the Exchequer; but when they felt that their own time was approaching—and come it undoubtedly very soon would—they could no longer be kept within bounds. These Gentlemen gathered round the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and after reminding him of what they bad done and suffered, in order to keep him in his place, succeeded in extorting from him a promise that he would postpone the Irish Reform Bill. Although he was certain that the progress of Irish Reform would not be practically retarded by the concession which the Government had made to the Irish Tory Members, that concession enabled the Chancellor of the Exchequer to show his Irish friends what his feelings 714 really were, and to prove his gratitude to them for a sacrifice of opinion and principle without parallel in Parliamentary history. It would enable the Chancellor of the Exchequer, at no very distant day, to say to the Irish Tory Members—If I could, I would have permitted you to govern Ireland as in times past, and have upheld your monopoly of power and patronage by the assistance of the armies of Great Britain, but times have altogether changed. Your opinions and principles are as odious to the people of England and Scotland as they long have been to the Irish people; and, disagreeable as it, may be, you must make up your minds not only to forego every kind of ascendancy, but to depend on the future for your influence and power upon the proofs which you give of your devotion to the interests of your countrymen.The anomalies in the Irish representative system were so outrageously glaring that it was almost an insult to the understanding of the House to descant upon them at all; and it was almost impossible to do so at that moment, without exposing oneself to the charge of having borrowed from an admirable letter which appeared in the Morning Star of yesterday. It was a system by which apparently the popular sanction was obtained to a most exclusive form of class Government. In the counties the electors were almost exclusively at the disposal of one class of landlords or another; while the borough constituencies were, for the most part, so small that the only thing that could be said in their favour was that they had been smaller previous to the Reform Bill of 1832. The present political state of Ireland be attributed greatly to the fact that the Irish people thought that it was useless to expect justice from the Imperial parliament. It rarely happened in a borough or a county that the candidate returned could be said to represent the free choice of the electors. The popular notion of the functions of a Member of Parliament was that he was selected for the purpose of providing appointments for the sons, relatives, and friends of those who returned him, and that his next object was to procure an appointment for himself. If there had been no past history at all to appeal to, the present state of the Irish constituencies would be a perfect justification for the want of faith in the Imperial Parliament which undoubtedly did exist in Ireland. There were about 170,000 country electors, almost every one of whom was obliged to do exactly as his landlord told him; and there were 30,000 electors, 8,000 of whom returned twenty-seven Members to that 715 House, while the remaining 22,000 returned only twelve Members. Notwithstanding this anomaly, however, the borough electors of Ireland returned a majority of Members in favour of Reform, and, in refusing to lay upon the table the Irish Reform Bill, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was acting in opposition to the wishes of the majority of the Irish Members. He would only add that he had no apprehension whatever for the future of Irish Reform. The Irish Liberal Members had unflinchingly and invariably supported the measure of Parliamentary reform for England; and he was perfectly certain that under no circumstances would they be abandoned by the party of Reform who constituted a majority in that House and the country.
MR. PEEL DAWSON
concurred with the hon. Member for Donegal (Mr. Conolly) in thinking that the manner of the right hon. Member for Louth, in dealing with Irish Reform, was not so successful as to entitle him to find fault with the Government scheme, or to dictate to Her Majesty's Government the precise terms or the exact mode in which they should discharge their duty of legislating upon this important question. In his opinion Her Majesty's Ministers had judged very wisely in postponing for the present the introduction of a measure of Reform for Ireland. It would be better to allow the political atmosphere of that country to become calm before introducing a measure which would be certain to cause considerable excitement and turmoil, but which it would be impossible to pass during the short remainder of the Session. He could see no reason why there should be any untimely haste in the settlement of this question. At the end of June, in the present state of public opinion, and having regard to the necessity of completing the English measure, it was not probable that they would get beyond the introduction of the measure. What had occurred with reference to the Bill for Scotland? Why even in that cautious and temperate country there had been complaints about incomplete justice and unsatisfactory arrangements, notwithstanding that a complete addition to the representation of Scotland formed a part of the Government proposition. What would be likely to be the result in Ireland at the present time if opportunities were constantly occurring for bringing up every imaginary grievance for inquiry and discussion? Could they safely discuss now how 716 much the franchise should to be lowered and how many persons should be admitted? Was this a time for admitting a number of new electors within the pale of the constitution, when the palladium of liberty was suppressed by the concurrence and desire of all friends of the British Constitution? He trusted that the Government would still pause in pressing forward a very comprehensive change, though, when the time came, he should be glad to see a proper extension of rights to those who had maintained their loyalty. He regarded the measure of last year as very unsatisfactory. At the Census of 1861 the whole population of Ireland was 5,790,000, and the population of Ulster was 1,915,000, or about one-third of the whole; but of 105 Members for Ireland, Ulster returned only 29, while its population and wealth would entitle it to one-third; Munster, with a population of 1,500,000, had 27 Members; and Leinster, with a population of 1,457,000, had 34 Members. He might compare the province of Ulster, again, with Scotland. The latter had a population of 3,062,000, and 53 Members, while Ulster with a population of 1,915,000, had only 29 Members. This being so, the representation of Ulster should amount to 40 Members; and there were several growing towns there of from 7,000 to 10,000 inhabitants, which were now wholly unrepresented. In England they were taking Members from the South and transferring them to the North, and the same thing should be done in Ireland. The opinion in the North of Ireland was in favour of any measure being a well-considered one; and he believed that the proposition of the Government would afford the best opportunity for full investigation and for the framing of an impartial measure. The hon. Member for Tralee said the Irish Reform Bill must be passed before a dissolution took place; but that might easily be done, seeing that the hon. Member for Nottingham had stated that there need not be a dissolution for the next two years.
§ MR. COGAN
wished to know whether the reasons assigned by the hon. Member who last spoke were those which had actuated the Government. If the postponement of the Bill was consequent on the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, it was strange that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should, up to Whitsuntide, have repeatedly promised to introduce the measure, and should only have woke up during the short recess, like a political 717 Rip Van Winkle, to the consciousness that exceptional circumstances existed in Ireland. On the very night before the recess the right hon. Gentleman stated his readiness even to postpone the third reading of the English Reform Bill in order to secure the introduction of the Irish measure. Was the promise thus solemnly made to be kept or not? The character of our Statesmen was part of the inheritance of the country, and the public would expect the fulfilment of this engagement. It might be found, too, that it would have been wiser to allow the measure to be introduced and dealt with in the present Parliament, than by one elected under what the hon. Member for Donegal (Mr. Conolly) styled this magnificent measure, for such an assembly was likely to be a good deal more democratic in its character and feeling, and consequently the policy it formed would probably be more Radical. He trusted that re-consideration might induce the Government to place their measure on the table, and by so doing show that they were not afraid to develope their Irish policy. It was clear that the postponment of the measure was not ascribable to the lateness of the period at which the Session had arrived, because the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Darby Griffith) with one of those searching and inconvenient questions which his ingenuity devises, asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if the postponement were on account of the lateness of the Session, and the answer was that there was no intention of introducing a Reform Bill relating to Ireland. He appealed to all the true Reformers in the House to say whether they were prepared to acquiesce in the postponement of the measure, and to accept what, in fact, would be a slight and insult to one third of the United Kingdom.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
The right hon. Gentleman who brought forward this Motion to-night appeared to consider that there were two causes for the postponement of the Irish Reform Bill by the Government, and the first is the occurrence of some elections that took place last autumn in Ireland, in the county of Tipperary particularly, where the election was, I believe, such as elections in the county of Tipperary generally are, and which I certainly think could not be alleged as any valid reason for the administration postponing a measure of Reform for the sister isle. [Mr. CHICHESTER FORTESCUE: I said nothing of that kind.] There was, I believe, another election for 718 another county, and that occurred in the last autumn. It is certainly remarkable that we should be influenced by these occurrence; and that I should have, on the part of the Government, made a declaration as to our policy with regard to Ireland and Parliamentary Reform at a subsequent day, and that I should afterwards, and much more recently, have repeated it. I think that the House will agree, upon candid consideration, that whatever were the motives for our conduct, we certainly could not have adopted the course which we have done with regard to the Irish Bill in consequence of the elections of last autumn. Hardly anybody, I should think, except the right hon. Gentleman who made that the chief foundation of his argument, can seriously think that that is the reason for the course we have pursued.
§ MR. CHICHESTER FORTESCUE
I beg to assure the right hon. Gentleman that I made no use of that argument. I referred to those elections for a totally different purpose.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Then I will come to the next, which I will, in courtesy, call the stronger argument. It may not have been the autumnal elections, which, though we have heard a great deal of, seem not to have been attended by any extraordinary circumstances. It was the deputation of Irish Members that I had the honour of seeing. [Sir COLMAN O'LOGHLEN: Hear, hear!] I am glad to hear that cheer from the hon. and learned Baronet, who has been more constant in his cheering to-night than any other Member of the House; but whose cheers have not, except in this single instance, been given to any remark from this side of the House. I gather from this cheer that the deputation is the recognized cause of the policy of Her Majesty's Government. Well, Sir, it is quite true that I had the honour of receiving a deputation of various Members for Ireland, who wished to confer with me on the subject of the Irish Reform Bill, In the first place, however, may be allowed to say that that deputation, if I recollect right, was received by me before I made that last statement to the House with respect to the intentions of the Government, which has been so often referred to in the course of this discussion; and I hardly think that the most implacable foes of the Government would think that they could be so absurd and short-sighted as to make a statement of that kind after receiving the 719 deputation, if the representations of that deputation were the real cause of our policy. Well, I had the honour of receiving that deputation, composed of a considerable number of Gentlemen connected with the representation of Ireland—I receive a great many deputations, and I can assure the House that, as a general rule, I prefer Irish deputations to any other. There is something so genial about Irish Gentlemen, their conversation is so agreeable to those who have the anxieties of public life, there is something so inspiriting in their presence, that an Irish deputation is the exception to all other deputations, and I look forward to it with pleasurable anticipations which are seldom disappointed. My recollection of this deputation is peculiarly genial. The interview, though short, was most agreeable and animated; but when the deputation had left me, my mind recurred to the alleged principal cause of our most agreeable meeting, and then I remembered it was probably my own fault that we had never touched upon the real subject of the interview. Therefore I assure hon. Members on both sides that there is no foundation whatever for that principal alleged cause of the policy of Her Majesty's Government, which has been the principal theme of this evening's discussion. Our policy has not been caused either by the elections of the autumn, or by the representations of the deputation to me. Then what has caused it? I will very frankly and distinctly state how the case really stands. We were very anxious to deal with the question of the Irish representation in the same spirit generally as we have dealt with that of England and Scotland. We made no promise of passing the Irish Bill this year; but it would have been satisfactory to us to have introduced the Bill, and, perhaps, to have been enabled to read it a second time. I need not inform the House that we have had to deal with circumstances in Ireland very different from those with which our predecessors have had to deal in treating the same subject. Everyone will acknowledge that the circumstances of Ireland, since we have been in office, have been of peculiar difficulty and anxiety; but I think that no one can accuse the present Government of being alarmists on the subject. We have not come down to the House of Commons unnecessarily to preach terror at the state of public affairs. If we can be charged with justice of any default of conduct in that respect I think, it may be by 720 those who are not so intimately acquainted with all the details of business as ourselves. We may be charged by such persons, and with apparent justice, with taking too sanguine a view of the state, and temper, and general condition of the affairs of Ireland. When Parliament met, the House will recollect that, in Her Majesty's Speech from the Throne, under our advice Her Majesty did not ask for a renewal of those extraordinary powers intrusted to us, and which none of our greatest opponents can for a moment pretend to have been used in a spirit unworthy of us. I hope we may say for our ourselves that we have, so far as we could in our general system of Irish Government, evinced a spirit not distinguished by illiberality or by a spirit of tyranny. We had to deal with circumstances of great public perplexity, and involving great responsibility and no slight danger to the state; but they have been encountered in a spirit, I hope, of firmness and moderation, and on no occasion have we come down to this House and endeavoured to excite the feeling of exaggerated alarm. And although the Cabinet were unanimous in desiring that a measure of Parliamentary Reform for Ireland should be placed upon the table this year, and that a general outline of their policy should be made known, yet circumstances have occurred, to which I need not more particularly allude, because they must be fresh in the minds and memories of all, which would have retarded and affected the general character of the measure if we, at that moment, persisted in introducing it. Notwithstanding the grave occurrences which took place, we had reason to believe that, on the whole, we might have pursued with safety the policy we originally indicated. One speaks of such subjects with great reserve, and one ought to do so; but the Government of this country, so far as Ireland is concerned, have had to deal with external influences, so that the freedom of the Government to act in anything affecting the rights and liberties of the people of Ireland ought not to be decided on by a judgment drawn from a careful observation of the mere internal circumstances of the country, which may be deceptive; but that judgment may be modified, changed, and arrested in a moment by information of an external character, which must exercise considerable influence on the course of the Government. Until Whitsuntide there were moments when I certainly looked with some anxiety 721 on this question of Parliamentary Reform. The Cabinet, although sharing this anxiety, were still constant in their policy to bring forward a measure for the reform of the Irish representation, characterized by that spirit of confidence in which they wished originally the measure to be distinguished. The right hon. Gentleman who has just addressed us has said that until Whitsuntide we felt ourselves justified in holding this language, and that something must have happened very suddenly, because when Parliament met again we changed our course. Well, something did happen, and it was necessary for the Cabinet to re-consider its course. I may be permitted to say that the first question before we met Parliament again which engaged the attention of the Cabinet was this question of Parliamentary Reform for Ireland. It was then the unanimous opinion of the Cabinet that it was not the duty of the Cabinet to bring forward the measure of Parliamentary Reform that was due to Ireland and due to themselves; for they could not, with the information they then possessed, and with the general views and conditions of what I may call the impending circumstances at that time—they could not bring forward such a measure as they had originally intended. Let us look, irrespective of those circumstances, to after Whitsuntide—what was the position of the Government in respect to this measure of Parliamentary Reform, so far as being able to proceed with it and make any great progress this year? That was quite impossible. Everyone knows that if the state of Ireland had been as serene as the state of Scotland; and if none of those circumstances to which I have been enabled only darkly to allude did exist, it was still quite impossible, with the immense labour then entailed upon the Government by the measure of Parliamentary Reform for England, and the time it required in this House, to suppose that we could make any progress with the Irish Reform Bill in this House. All that we could have done would have been to have had the satisfaction of putting on the table a Bill. And in quiet times, if we could have put that Bill upon the table, as we had hoped to be able to do, it would have been a great satisfaction to the Government, and, perhaps, a source of strength to us. But circumstances occurring which did not authorize us to put the Bill on the table, was it not better to wait six or eight months, that must have elapsed without any progress being made in that 722 Bill, and then, when Parliament met again, and when, perhaps, the cloud was dispelled, to come forward with a Bill such as we originally contemplated, for the improvement of the representation of Ireland? ["Oh, oh!" from the Irish Members.] Well, in such a case, we must decide on our own judgment. It was no slight responsibility, and we did not shrink from it. What should we have done—what progress could we have made if we had forced on some scheme of Irish Parliamentary Reform which would not have represented our original intentions, and which must have been modified and changed by the state of affairs in Ireland, or which might occur in Ireland? There are other exceptional circumstances in regard to this country which ought not to be forgotten, and which, allow me to impress upon you, had not been experienced by our predecessors. No Government have had to deal of late years with the circumstances which we have lately had to encounter, and which had mainly influenced our conduct. Let us look to the position of Ireland with regard to this question of Reform. No one will contend that the claims of Ireland for Parliamentary Reform are greater than those of Scotland. No Irishman even will pretend that they are so great. The wants and requirements of Ireland in respect to Parliamentary representation have, since 1832, once or twice occupied the attention of Parliament. Ireland has for a long time been in the enjoyment of that very county franchise which it is now only projected that England should enjoy. The claims of Scotland to our attention, we must acknowledge, are much greater than those of Ireland. The claims of Scotland were not, perhaps, sufficiently considered in 1832; but certainly nothing since then has been done to improve the representation of Scotland, Something, however, has been done to improve the representation of England. We have disfranchised more than one corrupt borough in England, and transferred the seats to other communities; but, so far as I know, nothing has been done to improve the representation of Scotland, either by the extension of the franchise or the increase of her representatives. Every one knows, although we have introduced a Reform Bill for Scotland, that our chance of passing it this Session is very slight. Many of those Scotch Members, even though they be our political opponents, will do us the justice of believing that we are acting with sincerity, and doing our duty in 723 that respect. I wish I could induce the Irish Members to extend to us their indulgence and confidence in their own case. Whatever the faults of the Government may be, we can assure those Members that they are not influenced by the elections that have occurred in Ireland, nor by the representations of deputations of Irish gentlemen. The Government have had from the very first a desire to introduce a Bill for the representation of Ireland that would do justice to that country and give general satisfaction. Under any circumstances it was not possible this Session to have made any advance on that question. The Government could only have placed on the table of the House a general indication of their policy. I have now expressed, frankly and truly, the reasons which influenced us in the course we have taken, and which ultimately led us to think that it was not consistent with our duty to our Sovereign, our country, and ourselves, to place any measure for the improvement of the representation of Ireland on the table of the House this year. We know that by the course we have taken no substantial injury has been done to Ireland, because no real delay has taken place; and we look forward with confidence and hope—if we occupy these seats next year—that when Parliament meets, one of our first and one of our most agreeable duties will be to bring forward a Bill to improve the representation of Ireland.
Sir, I hope that this debate will not continue to be a debate divided exclusively between the official Members of the House and the Irish Members. I certainly, for one, feel the force of the appeal made by my hon. Friend the Member for Tralee (The O'Donoghue). He spoke, and spoke with truth, of the loyal support which a large number of the Members from Ireland have yielded, under circumstances not the most favourable, to the cause of Parliamentary Reform; and, so far as I may presume to give an answer to that appeal, I should say it must be a primary duty on the part of those who are interested in the question of Reform on behalf of England, and also on behalf of Scotland, to prosecute their work until the just claims of Ireland have also been satisfied. Now, the speech of the right hon. Gentleman in some respects, I think, throws light upon this subject. I think we are justified in inferring from that speech that Her Majesty's Government intend at the commencement of the 724 next Session to prosecute a measure of Parliamentary Reform for Ireland. And so far I have no doubt his declaration will have given satisfaction, in comparison with the far more vague and general terms which on at least one former occasion, possibly without intending it, he appeared to use; and therefore, Sir, I hope that my right hon. Friend (Mr. Chichester Fortescue), having the prospect of a measure of Parliamentary Reform for Ireland at the commencement of the next Session, will not deem it necessary to challenge the judgment of the House on the Motion which he has now made. It would, I think, be passing beyond that line of duty which he has so carefully observed, were he to attempt to force Her Majesty's Government on a point such as that which now alone remains for discussion. But, having said that, I cannot but still adhere to the opinion that Her Majesty's Government have judged and have acted unwisely in not producing a measure of Parliamentary Reform for Ireland. I do not care to inquire minutely whether the necessity for such a reform was precisely the same in the three countries. It is quite enough to say that in each of the three countries it was necessary; and the Bill which was passed for Ireland some sixteen years ago was a Bill not so much intended to advance Ireland to a position more advantageous than that of England and Scotland, as to remove the special disadvantages under which, up to that moment, the Irish people had laboured. Undoubtedly the operation of that Bill has not been to place Ireland in a greatly better position with regard to popular representation than either of those two countries. But it is quite enough—perhaps I might even say it is more than enough—to say that for all the three countries Reform is necessary, and being for all three a subject necessary to be entertertained, it was the duty of Her Majesty's Government to produce, during the discussions on the English Bill, their plans for Ireland. It was due, I venture to say, to Ireland in point of feeling that she should be convinced that she was to receive equality of treatment. It was due to England, and to those who were engaged in considering the English Bill, that they should know the views of the Government in regard to Scotland and Ireland; and I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman, and those who sit behind him, what they think would have been said in the 725 year 1866, when we were in office, had we endeavoured to escape from the obligation to produce an Irish Bill at the same time that we were dealing with the question for Scotland and England? It is true that an hon. Member has declared that my right hon. Friend was not entitled to arbitrate on this matter because his Bill was so bad a measure. But if it was so bad a measure for Ireland, that was an additional reason why the present Government should produce a good measure on the subject. If my right hon. Friend introduced a bad measure, Ireland was wronged by it, and the redress of that wrong ought to have been an additional motive with the present Government to bring forward their measure. Sir, the promise of Her Majesty's Government was a promise on which we bad implicitly relied. No disposition was shown to force them forward with undue haste; but, undoubtedly, had we been aware that, at a late period of the Session, the Government would announce their intention not to produce a Bill, I think much earlier notice would have been taken of the matter in a distinct and substantive form, and the principle would have been asserted that on every ground the views of the Executive with regard to Reform in Ireland were essential to be known, in order to place this House in a position of due advantage with reference to the settlement of this great question for England and Scotland. But while I think the determination of the Government was greatly to be regretted, much more do I regret the reason on which the right hon. Gentleman founded that determination. The right hon. Gentleman says he has had to deal with Ireland under circumstances very different from those encountered by his predecessors. I do not care to enter into the amount of that difference. The Government may perhaps be in a condition fairly to urge that they feel their tongues are tied, and it is not in their power consistently with public duty to explain it, But undoubtedly, as far as the public are aware, they will not recognize the difference which the right hon. Gentleman supposes to exist, We have had to bring forward the subject of Reform at the moment when we were proposing for the first time the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act in Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman has had to bring it forward at the moment when he was proposing to continue that suspension. If he says, "Yes; but there have been partial outbreaks in Ireland this year which did 726 not occur last year," the answer is obvious; that it was during those partial outbreaks that he assured us he would bring in a measure of Reform for Ireland. But I wish frankly to grapple with this question in a broader shape, and I say at once that, in my opinion, the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, and the consequence of those unhappy though slight outbreaks in Ireland, and the indications of disaffection among the people there, were not a reason why a measure of Reform should not have been produced, but were the very strongest reason why it should. For how is it to be supposed that we are to deal with Ireland? Are we to trust to holding Ireland by an external force and pressure, or to trust to holding it by the free conviction and the warm affection of the people? If it is by the conviction and the affection of the people that we are to hold Ireland, then I say that to propose for Ireland an improvement in its system of popular representation was of itself a means of assisting the Government in maintaining order in that country. One hon. Gentleman has, I think, said that it would have been most imprudent to offer a measure which would have been regarded by discontented persons as a theme of new dissatisfaction. But what does it matter, Sir, what views persons who are obstinately discontented may take? What we wish to do is to offer satisfaction to those who are reasonable and loyal. We admit that the representation of Ireland is in an unsatisfactory condition; and surely it is the strangest of all anomalies and paradoxes to say, when the people of Ireland generally have cause to complain if we show Blackness in regard to applying a remedy to a state of things confessedly defective, that on account of the discontent of those persons against whom your measure of repression has been directed the reasonable expectations of good and loyal citizens are to be frustrated, or their fulfilment postponed. I confess I am quite at a loss to know what reasoning can be urged in answer to this. Undoubtedly the right hon. Gentleman has urged no reesoning whatever in answer to it. He appears to have assumed that the very fact that there has been discontent among a portion of the people was a reason for the withdrawal or the postponement of his Bill. If there was a meaning in the declations of the right hon. Gentleman, it seems to me that that was their meaning. I admit to him at once that we cannot suppose 727 that during the present Session he would have been able to make progress with that Bill. That is an admission which I think fairness and justice demand. But I think, independently of the other reasons that have been pointed out, the production of a measure of Reform for Ireland would have been an engagement on the part of the Government towards that country, which would not only have been a fulfilment of the just expectations of the people, but would have actually tended to strengthen the hands of the Government in what I acknowledge to have been the arduous task of administering the affairs of Ireland in the present year. I cannot but think, therefore, that Her Majesty's Ministers have misjudged both the true exigencies of the case and also their duties under these circumstances. But, at any rate, the question having been reduced within narrow bounds, it ought not to be exaggerated; avid least of all at a time like this should any step be taken that would appear to have the slightest tendency to connect it with our ordinary distinctions of party in this House. Therefore, passing on from that which relates to past times, I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the assurance he has given us with respect to the future. I hope that this measure of Reform for Ireland, when it appears, will be found to have been conceived in a just and liberal spirit. We must look not to this part of the country or to that. I think there might be some reason to question the expression of one hon. Member opposite, who said he did not think there was any great anxiety for Reform in Ireland, but trusted that when the Reform Bill for Ireland did appear it would be satisfactory to the loyal and contented portion of that country—a portion, as I understood him, rather geographically defined. Sir, I know of no geographical distinctions in Ireland whatever having reference to the loyalty and contentment of the people. I think we must decline to accept any such geographical distinction. I trust the measure of Her Majesty's Government, when it is presented to us, will be found to have been framed on broader and more impartial views, and to aim at giving a full and fair development to popular influences in the representation of Ireland, and, above all, will be free from that most odious of all imputations of favour to this or that interest or class or sect in a country whose unhappy divisions can never be cured except by the firm 728 and impartial application of considerations of liberality and justice.
§ SIR FREDERICK HEYGATE
thought the speech of the right hon. Gentleman furnished a most remarkable instance of misapprehension of the state of Ireland. For his own part he could see no reason to suppose that the disloyalty or the want of prosperity which prevailed in that country were in any way to be attributed to the absence of a Reform Bill. Indeed, the greater portion of the speech which the late Chief Secretary for Ireland had made last year on the subject went to show that, whatever might be the case with regard to England and Scotland, Ireland hardly stood in need of a measure of Reform at all; and when the right hon. Member for South Lancashire contended that she required additional popular representation, he should like to know whether he referred to the counties or the boroughs. As to the borough franchise, he could not for a moment suppose that so small an alteration as that which had been proposed in it last year would make much difference in the happiness and prosperity of Ireland; while, in the South, the reduction of the county franchise would only tend to throw additional power into the hands of the landlords. The allocation of seats, he might add, was a question of much less importance in Ireland than in England, because there there was no large town unrepresented, and when it was borne in mind that the habeas corpus was suspended in Ireland, he could not help thinking that it would be admitted no more improper time than the present for the introduction of an Irish Reform Bill could be selected. No blame was therefore, he maintained, to be attributed to the Government for not having brought in such a measure this Session.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.