HC Deb 19 March 1868 vol 190 cc1940-52

Sir, in rising to move for leave to bring in a Bill for the Amendment of the Representation of the People in Ireland, I shall endeavour, as briefly as possible, to explain to the House the provisions of the measure which it is proposed to introduce. In the year 1850 an Act was passed which very materially affected the representation of the people in Ireland. The immediate effect of that Act was to add to all the former franchises which existed in respect to the counties in Ireland an occupation franchise based on the value of £12; that is to say, every person who was rated to the relief of the poor at the sum of £12 and upwards should have a vote. In addition to the franchises already existing in the boroughs, an occupation franchise at the value of £8 was likewise created. The effect of the Bill was to make a very large addition to the number of electors in Ireland. The entire number of electors before the Act of 1850 passed amounted to about 72,000; there having been 31,000 in counties, and about 40,000 in boroughs. In 1866—the last year for which we have any authentic information—the total number of electors in the counties and boroughs of Ireland was 204,000; of whom 174,000 were found in the counties, and 30,700 in the boroughs. Well, I propose to dismiss at once the consideration of the county franchise in Ireland by announcing to the House that it is not the intention of the Government to make any alteration in that respect. The county franchise in Ireland stands now at precisely the same point at which it is fixed in England by the operation of the Bill which was passed last year, and therefore the Government do not intend to effect any change in it. With regard to the borough franchise we do propose to make a considerable alteration. The House is probably aware that poor rates in Ireland, as a rule, are levied in this way:—The occupier pays the whole of the poor rate in the first instance; but, as a general rule, he is enabled by law to deduct from his rent one-half of the poor rate which he has paid. Therefore, in fact, the poor rate is divided substantially between the landlord and the tenant; but with this exception, that in respect of all hereditaments valued at and below £4 the immediate lessor is liable for the whole rate, and in fact the rate is paid by him. This state of the law exists, I may say generally, over the whole country, both in the town and in the agricultural districts, with the exception of the five following towns:—Dublin, Cork, Waterford, Limerick, and Belfast, in which towns the immediate lessor is liable to the payment of all the poor rate at and below £8. Well, we have proposed, in the first instance, to assimilate the law in that respect, and to place those five towns on the same footing as the rest of the country,—that is to say, that the poor rate above £4 should be paid in equal shares between the landlord and the tenant, and that below £4 the immediate lessor shall be liable for the whole rate. That being the case, then, and keeping in view the principle of the payment of rates as a basis of the franchise, we propose to fix the borough franchise at £4. We believe that is a proposal which is likely to be lasting, and to prove satisfactory. The effect of it will be that every male occupier in Ireland, who is now liable to pay any portion of the poor-rates, will have a vote for the borough in which he resides. It is proposed to attach to this franchise precisely the same conditions, with regard to residence, registration, and all other matters connected with the suffrage, as now attach to the borough franchise. No alteration will be made in that respect. Further than this I do not think that it is at all desirable to go, and, in fact, it would be impossible to do so. The payment of the rates by the immediate lessor for all tenements below £4 is accepted as, and has become for many years, the law of the country; and I believe there is no class, no body of persons in Ireland who wish to see any alteration whatever made in the law in this particular. Therefore, we propose, as I have said, to fix the borough franchise at £4. We are able to inform the House of the precise effect which this extension of the franchise will have in in- creasing the constituency. The present number of borough electors in Ireland is altogether somewhere about 30,700. I have not the Returns for 1867, which have not yet been made up; but I have ascertained that there is no substantial difference between the Returns for 1867 and those for 1866, which were quoted by my right hon. Friend opposite (Mr. C. Fortescue) when he introduced his Reform Bill in that year. Well, the addition to those 30,700 borough electors in Ireland, which will be made by our proposal, will be about 9,313. We also propose to extend to Ireland the same provisions with regard to the lodger franchise as are contained in the Act of last year. There are likewise some alterations necessary which will effect a great improvement in the mode of registration in the City of Dublin, whereby the duties now performed by the clerk of the Union will hereafter be performed by the collector general of the rates. Very great convenience will arise from these alterations. We also propose to make the same provision with respect to inquiries into the boundaries of boroughs as was made in the English Reform Bill. We propose that, as soon as possible, a Boundary Commission for Ireland shall be constituted in the same way as the English Boundary Commission was constituted. These are the simple proposals I have to make to the House with respect to the borough franchise. I think that the House will easily understand them, and from what I have heard of the general expression of opinion in Ireland, I believe that, on the whole, they are likely to give satisfaction to that country. I now come to the next portion of the Bill, which, perhaps, will be more interesting to the House than the question of the franchise, and that is the portion having reference to the mode in which we propose to make an alteration in the distribution of seats. I hope the House will allow me to make a short comparative statement in respect to the representation of the boroughs and counties in Ireland. There are 33 boroughs in Ireland, returning 39 Members. Their population amounts to 797,467 persons, and their valuation to £1,592,365. The number of electors is 30,758. With respect to these 33 boroughs, it is remarkable that the three cities of Dublin, Cork, and Belfast absorb more than half the borough population of the country; they absorb two-thirds of the valuation, and more than half the number of electors, leaving only for the remaining 30 boroughs 352,846 of population, £482,013 of the valuation, and 13,214 electors. The population of Ireland, I need not remind the House, is in round numbers 5,500,000, and the valuation £13,000,000. It will be seen, therefore, how small a portion of the wealth and the population of the country these 30 boroughs represent. I would also point out to the House that there are really no unrepresented towns in Ireland which have any strong claim for representation. The four largest unrepresented towns are Kingstown, with a population of 11,584, which is composed very much of the suburban population of the city of Dublin; Queenstown, with a population of 8,653; Newtownards, with a population of 9,521; and Ballymena, with a population of 6,739. I should like the House to observe, also, how the counties stand as compared with the boroughs with regard to population, electors, and valuation. There are 32 counties in Ireland with 64 Members, and a population in 1861 of 5,001,097. Their valuation is £11,327,397, and the number of electors in 1866 was 174,183; so that compared with the state of things in the boroughs, there is an enormous difference, as the House will see, between the counties and the boroughs in regard to all those points which materially affect the question of representation. If you take the case of four of the largest counties in Ireland—Cork, Tyrone, Down, and Tipperary; and I do not allude to Antrim, because it is already represented by six Members, and therefore it is not necessary to interfere with its representation—what do you observe? In those four counties there is only one Member for 5,625 electors. In the other 28 there is a Member for 2,320 electors. In these four counties there is one Member only for 156,243 of the population. In the other 28 counties there is one Member for 66,970 of the population. In the four counties I have named there is one Member for £360,379 of valuation. In the other 28 counties there is one Member for £150,792 of valuation. I state this to show how strong a claim these four counties have for increased representation; and we propose in this Bill to submit a plan for the purpose of giving to them that increased representation. The question is, How is this to be done? There are six towns in Ireland which return two Members each—namely, Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Belfast, and Galway. Of these Galway is the smallest, and has a popula- tion of 25,000. Therefore it would be most unjust, and, indeed, impossible, to withdraw from any of those towns returning two Members one of its representatives. So there are no means of getting additional county representation from that source. It has often been suggested, and, indeed, proposed in many Bills that have been introduced into this House, that some of the towns in Ireland should be grouped for the purposes of representation. That would be a system altogether new in Ireland, and we have come to the conclusion that there are no materials in Ireland whereby a satisfactory system of grouping could be established. I have shown that there are no new towns which deserve representation; and in all the schemes, which have exhausted the ingenuity both of my right hon. Friend the late Secretary for Ireland, of my right hon. Friend the Member for Roscommon (Colonel French), and of several other Gentlemen, I think no system of grouping was proposed for Ireland which appeared to give the slightest satisfaction to any party. The fact is, that grouping in Ireland would bind together in each group a constituency having no common interest, and which, therefore, instead of adding to, would rather detract from the independence and influence of the borough representation. Therefore we do not conceive it to be our duty to submit to the House any plan for grouping boroughs. That being the case, and there being a great demand for increased representation in the four counties I have referred to, it seems to me that there is only one way in which a result so much to be desired can be obtained, and that is by requesting a certain number of boroughs to make a sacrifice in favour of those large constituencies that I think deserve additional representation. In framing this Bill we have turned our attention altogether to the circumstances of Ireland, and I do not believe there is any force in the argument that in dealing with the representation of Ireland we are bound to follow implicitly either the rule adopted for England or the rule adopted for Scotland. I believe that the plan I have to submit to the House for a re-distribution of seats for Ireland is a plan eminently suited to the circumstances of that country and, considering all things, the best that can be adopted. We propose, then to deal with the question on the principle that in no case, excepting one, shall existing representation be removed from the locality in which it now is, and we shall be able without the removal of representation from its locality to create healthy, good, and influential constituencies. We propose that Downpatrick shall yield its seat to a division of the county of Down, to be called East Down, which shall include the baronies of Ards Lower, Ards Upper, Castlereagh Lower, Dufferin, Lecale Lower, and Lecale Upper. This division will contain a population of 97,659, have a valuation of £286,716, and 4,110 electors. We propose going to another Northern borough. We propose that Dungannon should relinquish its Member in favour of the East division of the county of Tyrone, in which the borough of Dungannon is situated. That will represent a population of 96,827, a rateable valuation of £174,542, and 3,373 electors. The division of the county of Tyrone that will then return one Member will comprise three baronies, namely—those of Lower, Middle, and Upper Dungannon. Then we come to the South, and we propose that the two boroughs of Bandon and Kinsale should relinquish their seats, and that they should be given to the West Riding of the county of Cork. That will create a constituency of 178,296, with a rateable valuation of £296,634, and 6,196 electors. We then propose to go to Tipperary, and that the borough of Cashel shall relinquish its seat in favour of the Northern division of the county of Tipperary, which will have a population of 71,690, a rateable valuation of £188,037, and 2,675 electors. That division will comprise the baronies of Ikerrin, Lower Ormond, Owney, and Arra, and Upper Ormond. That is the way in which we propose to give additional representation to those four counties. We think that proposal just; that the boroughs in the district should relinguish their seats in order to create a large county constituency in the immediate locality. We only propose to make one exception to that rule, and that is in the case of Portarlington. We make it stand by itself, and we propose that it should make a greater sacrifice than the other boroughs. We propose that the seat now enjoyed by Portarlington should be transferred to the City of Dublin with its 260,000 constituents. These are the propositions which will be found in this Bill. I believe they will be found to be propositions most likely to improve the representation of the people of Ireland. We have endeavoured to devise the measure on a plan by which great improvements will be effected with the least possible derangement. There can be no uncertainty as to the effect it will produce. It is perfectly apparent from the statement I have made to the House what the exact number of persons will be to be added to the constituency. That is accurately known. No one can say that any party object is sought to be accomplished, because it so happens, by the merest chance, no doubt, but it is still true, that the six boroughs affected are represented by hon. Gentlemen of whom three sit on one side, and three on the other. As I said before, except in one instance, the representation is not moved from its present locality, and the seats are transferred to large and important constituencies with as little change as possible. Perhaps I may look with a somewhat too favourable eye on this proposal. It varies from the proposals adopted with regard to England and those made with regard to Scotland; but I confidently submit it to the consideration of the House, and feel certain it will bear criticism as well as any scheme ever submitted in regard to Ireland, as well as that adopted in regard to England, or that proposed in regard to Scotland. I beg to move for leave to bring in a Bill to amend the Representation of the People in Ireland.


put the Question in the usual form, and declared "The ayes have it;" whereupon


, who rose amid cries of "Order, order!" said, he would move that the House do now adjourn, in order to give him the opportunity of saying a few words in regard to the Bill of the noble Lord, although he did not wish to occupy much of the attention of the House. The noble Lord spoke of the addition that would be made to the constituency, but he forgot the disfranchisement which had taken place. The addition to the borough franchise would be only about 9,000 electors; whereas the addition in England and Scotland would be by hundreds of thousands. With regard to the franchise there was no real reduction.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Colonel French.)


wished to ask two questions—first, he wished the noble Lord to inform the House when it was intended to appoint the Boundary Commission to revise the boundaries of the Irish boroughs. It was of the greatest importance that the Commission should set to work at once. He should like to know when the noble Lord would be prepared to lay the names of the Commission before the House. His second question was this, how the noble Lord proposed to give the additional Member to Dublin; did he intend to divide the constituency or to give the additional Member as a minority representative?


It is proposed to add the third Member to the City of Dublin in the same way as had been done in the larger boroughs in England—by a representation of the minority. In regard to the Boundary Commission we cannot insert the names of the Commissioners in the Bill until its second reading, which it is intended to fix for as early a day as possible. I, of course, shall give due notice of the day. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is desirable this Bill, if it pass at all, should pass through its stages as quickly as possible. It would be a great public advantage to pass it as early as possible this year, in order to afford time and opportunity for the registration under it to be effected. If, however, it should be considered necessary, we should make special provision in regard to the registration, so as to enable the measure to come into full operation with the English Act.


expressed his strong objection to the principle of the Bill. He should like to know what would be the feeling of the people of Scotland, if such a measure had been introduced for their country? Its principles were different from those laid down by the English and Scotch Bills. He could not comprehend why, in the 19th century, the Government should continue to legislate for Ireland in a manner totally different from that in which they legislated for the other portions of the British Empire. It was true that the county franchise for Ireland was to be the same as that for England; but £12 in Ireland was equal to £20 in England. ["Oh!"] He believed that the Bill would not only not satisfy the people of Ireland; but would show them that there was no intention on the part of the Government to do them justice, and that they were sought to be placed in a degraded position. Considering the persecutions which the tenantry of Ireland had to undergo at elections, he believed that they could never be effectually protected in the exercise of the franchise, except by the ballot. ["Oh!"] In one county alone he knew of 1,500 notices to quit having been served on the tenants as a kind of blister to keep them in subjection, and the expenses of those notices had been cast upon the poor people themselves.


said, he was unwilling, at this stage of the Bill, to intrude upon the House by any prolonged discussion; but as he represented one of the boroughs which the noble Lord stated it to be his intention to disfranchise, they would, no doubt, permit him to express his dissent to the measure just intrusted to them. He was not one of those who would unreasonably object to a just measure of re-distribution of seats, even although it might affect him personally, if he could discover any approach to a principle in the arrangement of such a re-distribution. But in the very meagre and unsatisfactory statement just made by the noble Lord, he could not see any principle whatever, except that of altering the representation for the purpose of increasing the dominant influence of the Conservative party. What was the plan of the noble Lord based upon? He (Mr. O'Beirne) could not find any answer to the question. The noble Lord seemed to be governed by a standard of valuation; yet if his (Mr. O'Beirne's) recollection served him, no such standard had been adopted or even alluded to in the English or Scotch Bills. In the case of these measures population was taken as the basis, and yet, in this Bill, boroughs were disfranchised which were greater in population than eleven of the English boroughs which were still entitled, under the English Bill, to send Members to Parliament. This seemed to him (Mr. O'Beirne) to be a singular and most unjust mode of proceeding, and one which he would feel it to be his duty strenuously to oppose. The disfranchisement of small boroughs should not be precipitately resolved upon. In the case of the borough he had the honour—perhaps very inefficiently—to represent, he thought he might remind the House that there was a very exceptional circumstance which entitled it to their consideration when treating this part of the question, and that was that it had special claim to the favourable recollection of the House from the fact that it had sent as its Representative one of the greatest statesmen of the many whose names were enrolled on its records. He meant the late Sir Robert Peel, who first entered Parliament as Member for Cashel. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen might laugh at that statement of his; but he would remind them that at a moment such as this, when great changes in the representative system were about to take place, when the character of that House might largely alter, it was well worth remembering whence their greatest statesmen came; and it could not be otherwise than useful, both now and in the future, to bear in mind the distinguished names by which they had been preceded. If anything could surprise him which came from the Treasury Bench, he admitted the outline of the Bill now laid before them would have done so; but as he had little faith in the professions of the present Ministry he was not quite unprepared even for this. The right hon. Gentleman who now held the high office of First Minister of the Crown should not forget the doctrines he recently expressed in Edinburgh. If his position at present is still more exalted and responsible than when he uttered those words, it gave him (Mr. O'Beirne) a much stronger right to claim from him, in dealing with Ireland, the observance of those doctrines. However, the right hon. Gentleman had very lately deliberately repeated them in the public Press, and had declared that he was against any abrogation of existing representation, and why, therefore, should he, in dealing with Ireland, overlook that pledge? It was difficult to him (Mr. O'Beirne) to understand the course contemplated to be adopted, unless, indeed, it was read by the light of those who desired, at any and every risk, and any and every means, to increase the dominant power of the Tory party, and to relinquish boroughs and cut up counties in such a manner as they considered best suited their most unconstitutional and unjustifiable purpose. However, for his part he had only to repeat that he would resist the progress of the Bill so far as he could, unless its objectionable features were altered; and he then gave notice that he would move as an Amendment on the second reading of the Bill, that all that part of it which provided for the disfranchising of boroughs should be omitted, and upon that discussion the noble Lord would have an opportunity of more fully explaining and defending the principles of his measure, if indeed he had any principles to sustain in it.


said, the people of Ireland were entitled to an equal number of Members with England in proportion to the population. There were fifty-four Members in Ireland representing a popu- lation of 800,000, whilst 5,000,000 of Roman Catholics were represented by only fifty-one Members. That was a monstrous injustice. The people of England had a Member for every 40,000, and Ireland ought to be represented in the same proportion. The whole of the other House was anti-Catholic and anti-Irish. Out of 658 Members of that House, there only fifty-one Members who represented the Catholic feeling of Ireland. He was of opinion that if the people of Ireland did not demand a system of representation similar to that of Australia, which has household suffrage and the ballot, her people would deserve all the misery entailed by the injustice of the English Parment. He gave the noble Lord credit for his good intentions; but disapproved of his Bill, and should certainly move Amendments to it in Committee.


said, that the scheme of the noble Lord was to increase the county representation by five, and to take away those five from the boroughs. He also proposed to give three seats instead of two to Dublin. Assuming that these five borough seats should be transferred to the counties, the House would expect that the noble Lord would have given these seats to the counties with the largest population and the most inadequate representation. But that had not been done. There were thirty-two Irish counties, which each returned two Members, and Cork, with a population of 429,000, only returned two Members, while Carlow, with a population of only 49,000, also returned two Members. It was proposed that Carlow should still return two Members; but the noble Lord left out Galway and Mayo, which were both larger than Tyrone, and gave an additional Member to Tyrone. Was there, however, any reason why he should give that seat to a county in which a disfranchised borough was locally situated? The noble Earl gave an additional Member each to Tyrone and Down; but had he applied the principle of the three-cornered constituency to those counties or to Cork? No; he gave a Member to a particular district, and isolated a number of baronies in Tyrone and Down, leaving the rest of these counties to enjoy their two Members. The object clearly was to perpetuate the territorial influence that ruled over the representation of those counties, and to prevent the application of the representation of minorities scheme which the noble Lord had applied to Dublin. There were many other parts of the scheme which, on close examination, would be found to bear the marks of design. ["Oh, oh!"] He would not go minutely into the proposals which had been made for the reduction of the franchise; but simply make the observation that when the Bill came to be read a second time, it would deserve, as he was sure it would receive, the fullest consideration.


said, that the scheme was far more important than it appeared to be on the first blush. The proposal was to take away the urban representation for the purpose of uniting it with the counties. To give additional Members to Tyrone and Tipperary would be simply to give two additional Members to the Conservative side of the House ["No, no!"]; but if the tenantry of Ireland could freely exercise the franchise, the result would be an addition of at least a dozen Liberal Members. He hoped the Leaders of the Liberal party would not allow this Bill to pass without thorough investigation; and endeavour to prevent the representation of Ireland being entirely in the hands of territorial proprietors.


said, he should be glad to know, whether the noble Lord would lay on the table before the second reading any statement explanatory of the speech he had made, and the reasons which had guided the measures of the Government. There were two principles in the Bill worthy of remark—first, the additional Members for Irish counties; and secondly, the disfranchisement or merging of the franchise of certain small boroughs. He was not prepared to object to either of those principles in limine. At the same time, if the representation in Ireland was to be taken from the boroughs and given to counties, it was impossible not to take into consideration the state of the franchise, both in the boroughs and the counties. So far as he could learn from the statement of the noble Lord the Government had not discovered the means of making a larger addition to the Irish constituency than that represented by the moderate figure of 9,000. He quite understood the principle on which the Government had acted, and attributed no blame to them or any disposition to depart from that principle. With respect to the question of the county franchise he would not at present express any opinion, but reserve to himself perfect freedom on that point. There were two new principles in the Bill, and there was the general idea which was found in all Reform Bills of the enlargement of the basis of our institutions, with a view to strengthen them, by an addition to the constituency, though the addition proposed was certainly very small, especially when they took into consideration the proposition of the Government of Lord Russell, though it was afterwards receded from, to reduce the county franchise to £8. All that he was anxious to do now was to keep these matters open, and he hoped to discuss them in detail when he saw the plans of the noble Lord in print, together with the statement which he had promised, trusting that they would arrive at some satisfactory conclusion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn. Bill to amend the Representation of the People in Ireland, ordered to be brought in by The Earl of MAYO, Mr. DISRAELI, and Mr. ATTORNEY GENERAL for IRELAND. Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 71.]