HC Deb 24 May 1867 vol 187 cc1087-92

said, he wished to take this opportunity of directing the attention of the Government and the House to the inexpediency of delaying the introduction of the Irish Reform Bill until after Whitsuntide. He thought the Irish Members had shown considerable long-suffering on the subject. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave notice of the intention of the Government so to delay the measure, it was time to address a remonstrance to the Government to induce them to re-consider their intentions. They were now arrived within a week of the month of June, having been for many weeks engaged in the consideration of the English Reform Bill. The Irish Members were now called upon to come to a final decision on the most important part of the Bill relating to England, before they knew anything of the intentions of the Government on the Bill relating to Ireland, or whether the same plans and principles were to be applied to Ireland or not. The Scotch Bill had been introduced, and the people of Scotland were at this time engaged in discussing and considering the provisions of the Scotch Bill. The people of Ireland ought at this moment to be engaged in the same task, or, at the least, they ought to have an opportunity of considering it during the Whitsuntide recess. Having been himself responsible for the introduction of a Reform Bill last year, he might remind the House that the late Government had not given any room for a complaint of this kind. The Lord Advocate and he himself last year introduced the Scotch and Irish Reform Bills before the 1st of May, some time before the House had gone into Committee on the English Bill. There were certain peculiarities in Irish law and practice which made it particularly interesting to Irish Members, and also to English and Scotch Members, to know how the Government proposed to deal with the peculiarities of the Irish question. In Ireland, he rejoiced to say, they were entirely free from the presence of the compound-householder, that formidable enemy of the repose of Parliament whom the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Hodgkinson) had succeeded in burying, but who threatened to rise again. They possessed in Ireland an admirable system of public valuation, and therefore were free from any difficulties on that head. Again, with respect to the payment of rates, the collection by the Poor Law authorities in Ireland was so perfect that the number of voters struck out from the list in respect of non-payment of rates might be said to amount to nothing, the whole number being exceedingly small, and nearly all due to the single city of Dublin, which had a special local collection. There was a point at which the liability of the occupier ceased and that of the owner commenced. At and under the £4 rating in Ireland, the owner alone was liable for the rates of a tenant, and that not by local arrangement, but by the law of the land. They were therefore entirely free from any of those difficulties and abuses which would arise in England and Scotland, now that for the first time the question as to exemption from the payment of rates was to come into contact with the question of the possession of votes. They would be glad to know how the Government proposed to deal with that state of facts in Ireland. Take, again, the question of the grouping of small towns or boroughs, which they already knew was exciting the greatest possible interest in Scotland, and which might possibly excite equal interest in Ireland. Then there was the question of voting papers, as to which the Chancellor of the Exchequer said it was peculiarly applicable to Ireland. If they would produce great mischief and abuse in England, they would be open to ten times as much mischief and abuse in Ireland. There was no middle course between publicity and secresy, between open voting and vote by ballot. The Irish Members were very anxious to see the intentions of the Government on all these points embodied in the Bill for Ireland. They did not wish the transaction of any business that would interfere with the progress of the English Bill; but he did not suppose that the Chancellor of the Exchequer meant that the Irish Bill was not to be introduced until the English Bill had gone through Committee. They only asked to see the Bill, and would be ready to discuss it on the second reading in the course of time. He thought this was a reasonable appeal to make, and that they were entitled to press it strongly and earnestly on the attention of the Government.


said, he quite concurred with the observations of the right hon. Gentleman, and must insist that the people of Ireland had a right to see the measure. Unless it were of the same comprehensive character as that introduced for Scotland, Reform in Ireland would be an idle delusion. The people of Ireland objected to voting papers most justly, and he believed if that scheme were carried out they might as well be deprived of the franchise altogether. If these papers were left at the houses of the electors in the counties, the result would be that bailiffs and agents would follow, and see that they were filled up in favour of the candidates supported by the landlords. In England he could suppose that such a scheme might be carried out, there being an equality between Conservative and Liberal landlords, but the reverse was the case in Ireland. A scheme which might work fairly in the one country would be productive of the most grievous injustice in the other. It was absolutely necessary that the Bill should be laid on the table, and Government would only be doing themselves justice by doing this as soon as possible.


was surprised that the noble Lord the Secretary for Ireland thought it consistent with Parliamentary courtesy or expediency to retain in his office a Bill which so deeply concerned the interests of a large portion of the population of the United Kingdom. He (Mr. O'Beirne) could not understand where the difficulty lay. It was manifestly unjust to insist upon passing the English Bill, and obliging Members to affirm principles in it, which they might find to be also contained in the Irish Bill and not at all applicable to Ireland. Last year, the English Reform Bill was introduced on the 13th of March, and the Irish Bill on the 7th of May. This year the English Bill was introduced on the 18th of March, and the Scotch Bill on the 13th of May. They were now arrived at the 24th of May, and were told they were not to have an opportunity of considering the Bill till some indefinite time after the Whitsuntide holy-days. Was that fair? Was it convenient? Was it common Parliamentary courtesy?


I will answer the question which has been put by the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member who has last spoken. If the Government be in fault, it is not my noble Friend (Lord Naas) who is to blame. I am the culprit. My noble Friend, animated by my appeals, made every exertion to overcome the difficulties which present themselves in all similar tasks. But in such matters much depends upon the labours of one's Colleagues. I confess, for myself, that I have been remiss, though I have not been negligent, the pressure of affairs having drawn off my attention in other quarters. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members have as much cause for complaint as they would endeavour to make the House believe. After all, the Irish Bill of last year—and the Government of last year had not to contend with the difficulties which stare us in the face—was brought in in May, and this is still the month of May. 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 they 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 any one 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.


said, he thought the right hon. Gentleman had again, as he had on several former occasions, treated them with a good deal of chaff. The right hon. Gentleman had with great adroitness gone off, not after the hunted hare, but after the hare started by the hon. Member (Mr. Brady), who had touched upon the provisions of an imaginary Bill. On all former occasions the Irish Reform Bill had been brought in with, or immediately after, the English and Scotch Bills. The Irish Members were, of course, helpless in the matter. They had not acted upon any obstructive policy with reference to the English Bill. The Irish Members had been long-suffering, and were still suffering, and they were now asked to vote on the most vital and important clause of a Bill before they knew what their own fate was to be. They had, in fact, been treated with contempt ["Oh!"]—he repeated, with contempt and derision.


said, that he could not agree with the hon. Gentleman that Irish matters had been neglected during the present Session. Even topics that ought never to have been introduced had been listened to with the greatest patience. The hon. Gentleman had stated that Irish Members were long-suffering; but he did not know any grievance under which the hon. Gentleman was suffering, except exclusion from the office he had enjoyed under the late Government. With regard to the Irish Reform Bill, he thought the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had given sufficient reasons to show why it could not be introduced at an earlier period, and he thought it unreasonable to make any complaint with respect to the delay of a few days.


said, he was glad the discussion had elicited the fact that there was to be an Irish Reform Bill. There were rumours to the contrary. He did not see any necessity for the Bill being brought in immediately, nor was he at all anxious to anticipate the discussion upon its details. There was one point on which he thought they were entitled to an explanation, and which the noble Lord (Lord Naas) could at once clear up, and that was whether the Irish Reform Bill was to be based on the same principle as the English and Scotch Reform Bills.


regretted that the Irish Bill had not been introduced at the same time as the English and Scotch Bills. Irish Members might then have discussed the provisions of the Irish Bill without being embarrassed by the provisions in the English Bill.