§ MR. MELDON,
in rising to call attention to the restricted nature of the Borough Franchise in Ireland; and to move—That the restricted nature of the Borough Franchise of Ireland, as compared with that existing in England and Scotland, is a subject deserving the immediate attention of Parliament, with a view of establishing a fair and just equality of the Franchise in the three Countries,said: I rise to ask this House to assent to a principle neither new nor revolutionary. The proposal I shall ask this House to adopt embraces a principle not originating with myself or my Colleagues, but, on the contrary, I ask the affirmance of a principle put forward with peculiar force, and often repeated by those Members who, if past expe- 1883 rience is not delusive, will be found in the front ranks, and most vigorous in their opposition to the Resolution I am about to submit. What is this principle, and what is the simple, narrow, and only issue to be this night decided? The question is, whether this House fairly, honestly, and without favour, legislates for the three Countries, and whether it is true that Ireland is treated by this Imperial Parliament fairly and justly as an integral part of the United Kingdom, and given the benefit of equal laws as England? When the demand by the Irish people for a separate Parliament is discussed in this House, we are told, and by no persons more strongly or more frequently than by the Gentlemen who sit on the opposite side of the House, that the Imperial Parliament gives to Ireland the full benefit of all laws passed for the rest of the Kingdom, and that nothing is refused to Ireland that is granted to England. The Resolution I am about to propose is a practical test as to the bona fides of this statement; and upon the vote to be taken to-night depends the determination of the question which I wish plainly to place before the people of the United Kingdom—whether or not England and Ireland are treated to the benefit of equal laws on a subject of greatest consequence? My opinion has long been that the real difference between the two great English Parties in this House is on the subject of the Franchise. The one Party wish that this privilege or right should be extended to the people of this great Kingdom as widely as possible; whereas the other side think of nothing but placing restrictions on the enjoyment by the mass of the people of their political rights. For my part, I wish at all times to bring prominently before the country this great and important difference between Conservatives and Liberals; but, on the present occasion, I wish to distinctly point out that no question of extension of the franchise is raised; but the issue raised merely is whether you will grant to the people of Ireland rights which the Conservative Party, led by the present distinguished Nobleman who holds the reins of office, at the first conferred on the people of England and Scotland? I shall point out, as shortly as I can, what the law is in England and Scotland with respect to the Borough Franchise: I will prove that the Conservative 1884 Party themselves were parties to conferring the existing franchise on the inhabitants of these countries; by means of statistics I will show that a large number of the people of Ireland are disfranchised; and I will then leave it to my opponents to justify, if they can, why Ireland in this matter should be exceptionally treated. Before proceeding further, I may just as well state one or two facts that will at once prove the great injustice under which the Irish people labour. The 31 Parliamentary Boroughs of Ireland, with a population of 882,146, having 130,525 rated dwelling-houses, return 39 Representatives by the votes of only 53,953 electors; whereas the City of Glasgow, with a population of 477,732, has a constituency of no less than 60,570; and Liverpool, with a population of 493,405, has a constituency numbering 59,667; and Manchester, with a population of 379,374, returns its Representatives by the votes of 63,938 persons. Thus, each of these cities in Great Britain has a constituency far exceeding in numbers the entire number of persons registered for all the boroughs of Ireland. I will proceed now to state, as shortly as possible, the state of the law in respect of the Borough Franchise in the three Countries. The enjoyment of the franchise by the mass of the people is affected by two distinct classes of laws—first, the law regulating directly the franchise qualification; and, second, those laws which, though more directly affecting the payment of rates, still most materially affect the rights of persons to get placed on the Parliamentary Register. I must, therefore, ask the House to bear with me whilst I call their attention to the laws now in force bearing on these two distinct questions. Under the Reform Act of 1850 every occupier in a borough who was rated for the relief of the poor to the extent of £8, and who had paid such rate up to a certain date, was entitled to be registered as a voter. In order, therefore, to entitle a person to the franchise, it was necessary that he should be rated and have paid his rates. The Act of 1850, therefore, contained provisions to enable an occupier, in case he was not rated by the proper authority, to claim to be rated, but this could only be done by paying or tendering any rates due at the time of making the claim. This provision was almost prohibitive; because it threw upon the claimant the 1885 onus of paying not only rates necessary for a person thus rated to pay, but also all current rates then due. I call attention to this point, because I will show that so anxious were the framers of subsequent laws passed for the benefit of England—not extended to Ireland—to facilitate the acquisition of the franchise, that these objectionable clauses were subsequently repealed. Until 1867 the laws as to the Borough Franchise were the same in England and in Ireland, with this exception—that in the city of Dublin, owing to a provision in one of the Collection of Rates Acts, tenants paying their rents weekly or monthly were prevented from being rated; and this provision applying to but one city in the United Kingdom has practically disfranchised several hundreds of persons in the cities of Cork, Dublin, Limerick, Belfast, and Waterford; lessees were required to be rated wherever the premises were rated under £8. The result of this law has been that when the rating qualification was reduced to £4 no occupiers were rated under £8, and such occupiers were obliged to claim to be rated, subject to the almost prohibitory conditions I have above referred to. In the year 1867, the great change in the law as to the qualification for the Borough Franchise took place. In that year a Conservative Government, led by the present Prime Minister, gave the great boon of Household Suffrage to the people of Great Britain—a boon denied by the Imperial Parliament to the people of Ireland. Allow me, before I pass on, to say that the possession by the masses of the people of political power, a knowledge on their part that they return as their Representatives the persons who have the power to bind their persons and property, is one of the greatest safeguards against revolution and discontent; and the Parliament that passed Household Suffrage, and the statesmen who supported it, showed sound judgment, and conferred a lasting benefit on the country. The Reform Act of 1867 did not confer upon the country the boon that apparently was intended to be granted — I say apparently, because I feel certain that the wily statesman, who so magnificently and generously gave Household Suffrage, was well aware that, owing to the restrictive and prohibitory nature of the rating clauses, he was giving 1886 but half a loaf, when the recipients imagined they were getting full weight. I have pointed out how, under the Reform Act of 1850, the provisions as to rating and payment of rates seriously interfered with the acquisition of the franchise. These restrictive clauses were not removed by the Reform Act of 1867; but, on the contrary, were rendered—deliberately, I feel certain—more objectionable. This Act made personal payment of rates necessary, made the occupier liable thereto, and took away the right of composition for rates. The Act, however, was beneficial in this way—Household Suffrage was nominally given; occupiers were, in the first instance, to be placed on the rate books under a penalty; power was given to tenants to deduct rates in cases where the landlords were liable, but did not pay; and I it was made compulsory on the overseers to serve notices on occupiers in case of the rates remaining unpaid, in time for them to pay the same in time to preserve the franchise. These advantages were counteracted to some extent. The Act imposed the payment of rates on the poor man; it deprived the landlord of the right he theretofore had of compounding the rates, and threw difficulties in the way of obtaining the franchise. In order to show how the present state of the law excludes the great mass of the people from the enjoyment of the franchise in Ireland, I shall quote a few figures taken from Returns presented to this House, and they will prove that the state of England with respect to the Borough Franchise was the same before the Reform Act of 1867. From a Return obtained by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt), in 1874, it appears that in 1866, 56 boroughs in England had less than 500 rated occupiers on their Parliamentary rolls; there were nine with less than 300 occupiers, and in one instance—that of Calne—there were but 144. There were 45 boroughs with less than 500 electors on the rolls, and altogether there were but 500,000 electors on the Parliamentary registers of boroughs in England. The state of England, therefore, before the Act of 1867, was very much the same as the present state of Ireland, and all that my Motion asks for is, that the laws which produced the difference between England in 1866 and England in 1877 should be extended to Ireland.
1887 To show the effects of the rating laws in interfering with the obtaining even of the present franchise, I will quote from a Parliamentary Return, No. 45, printed in the Session of 1874. In Belfast, with a population of 174,413, there are 25,708 tenements value for over £4, yet we find but 14,990 rated occupiers on the Parliamentary register; in Carlow, with a population of 7,842 and 635 tenements rated for over £4, there are but 311 rated occupiers with the franchise; in Cork, with a population of 100,518, and 7,190 tenements rated above £4, there are only 3,737 rated occupiers entitled to the franchise; in Dublin, with a population of 267,717, there are 23,247 tenements rated over £4, and only 11,004 rated occupiers on the registers; of the tenements rated in Dublin there are 21,008 cases in which the rating includes a dwelling-house. Excluding the disfranchised boroughs of Cashel and Sligo, there were, according to this Return, in the other boroughs 127,341 rated tenements with dwelling-houses, and only 44,920 rated occupiers on the Parliamentary register, and we find at the present time 37 borough Members returned to this House by 53,953 electors. In order to illustrate the great difference which exists between Great Britain and Ireland with respect to the Borough Franchise, I will call attention to the following statistics taken from the latest Returns. Dublin, with a population of 267,717, gives the franchise only to 12,310 persons; whereas Leeds, with a population of 7,000 less—namely, 259,212—has upon its Parliamentary register no less than 49,300; Wolverhampton, with a population of 156,978, has 24,341 electors; Norwich, with a population of 80,386, has a constituency of 14,921; and Edinburgh, with 196,979 inhabitants, enfranchises 26,935 persons; Belfast, with a population of 174,413, has on its register 19,633 names. It is a remarkable circumstance that Belfast, with a much smaller population than Dublin, has 7,323 more electors. This arises from the fact that persons in Dublin paying rent weekly or monthly cannot be put on the register, and the exceedingly prohibitory nature of the law in Dublin with respect to the payment of the rates. Bradford, with a population of 145,830, enfranchises 26,801; Greenwich, with 123,408, gives the franchise to 19,990 1888 occupiers; Aberdeen, with only 88,125, has on its register 13,738; Cork, with its population of 100,518, enfranchises but 4,445; whilst Greenock, with only 50,150, gives the franchise to 7,614; Limerick, with 49,853 inhabitants, has only 1,804 electors; while Gateshead, with 48,627, has 11,516 on its register. It will be seen from these figures what an enormous difference exists between boroughs in England and Ireland in the state of their Parliamentary registers. I have already called attention to the fact, that one city in Scotland has a more numerous constituency than all the boroughs of Ireland put together. Now, there is but one other statistical Return to which I will direct the attention of the House, but it certainly is a most extraordinary one. With a population of upwards of 12,000,000, English counties are represented by 187 Members returned by 850,587 electors; whereas the boroughs with a population of more than 10,500,000, are represented by 297 Members returned by 1,514,716, of whom no less than about 1,470,000 are rated occupiers. In Scotland the counties, with a population of 2,106,673, are represented by 32 Members returned by 88,594 electors, while the boroughs, with a population of about 1,200,000, are represented by 26 Members returned by 202,852 electors, of whom about 192,800 are rated occupiers. It will thus be seen that in England and Scotland the electors in boroughs far exceed the number of electors in counties. In Ireland, however, this state of affairs is entirely altered. The boroughs in Ireland, with a population of 866,356, are represented by 37 Members returned by 53,753 electors, of whom 48,000 are rated occupiers; while the counties, with a population of more than 4,500,000, are represented by 64 Members, returned by 173,919 electors. Now, these figures prove beyond doubt that the great mass of the population of Irish boroughs are excluded from the franchise, while the same class are admitted in England and Scotland. All the trades and working classes are in Ireland excluded from the franchise. This proportion of rated occupiers to rated premises and population is extraordinary small, and is altogether different from that which prevails in England, as the figures in many of the largest boroughs clearly prove. The 1889 contrast between the proportion of electors to population in the English and Scottish and in the Irish boroughs is most marked—the borough of Glasgow has, in fact, more electors than the whole of the Irish boroughs put together. This arises partly from difference in the qualification and partly from the severe and prohibitive rating laws in Ireland, which are directed to prevent persons acquiring the franchise; whilst the rating laws of England and Scotland are framed in such a way as to facilitate the acquisition of the franchise. Those laws in the former country are calculated to deprive persons who possess the franchise of it, and prevent those who have it not from acquiring it. And there is the same disproportion with reference to the county representation as exists in the borough franchise and representation in Ireland. What is the result of this legislation? It is that in England all artizans and tradespeople have the franchise, while in Ireland these parties are excluded from their fair share of political power. I can see no reason why classes enfranchised on one side of the Channel should be disfranchised on the other—every reason, indeed, is against such a course. No greater security against revolution can be imagined than this just and equitable extension of political rights; and the principle is as applicable to England as to Ireland. The effect of this wise extension of political rights in England is the fact that times of crisis in this country no longer give rise to riots such as the Riots of 1870 and the Bristol Riots of 1831. Why should the same effect not be produced in Ireland? I can see no reason. This is no sentimental grievance, but one of the greatest importance; and the Motion which I am now making is one calculated to test the sincerity of those who oppose Home Rule on the ground that all that Ireland requires is the same laws and the same legislative system as exists in England. Irish Members are told every night that the Imperial Parliament is prepared to give equal laws to Ireland. I will test the bona fides of those who make that statement by the action they will take on the present occasion. I have shown them that Parliament in its legislation on this subject has dealt with England and Scotland in a particular direction—it has afforded every facility for acquiring 1890 the franchise, and in doing so has acted wisely and well. I ask them now to do the same thing for Ireland. I dare say I shall be met by the trumpery argument about the necessity for a re-distribution of seats, but I am not afraid of that; and when the question comes on I think I shall be able to prove that Ireland is not fairly represented in this House in proportion to her population. But apart altogether from the question, Ireland has a right, in reference to the franchise, to equal laws and to the same system that exists in England. I appeal to any hon. Member of the House, whether he be an Englishman or an Irishman, by his vote to strengthen the hands of those who have the hope of doing good for their country through the Imperial Parliament. I, and those who act with me, ask the House to say that Ireland is not to be treated as a conquered country. I appeal to every man who loves his country—whether an Irishman or an Englishman—to strengthen the hands of those who bring forward this Motion, by showing that as long as the Imperial system continues, it is not only consistent with, but conducive to the establishment of the same laws in the two countries. I have brought the subject forward deeply impressed with a sense of its magnitude and importance; and I am determined to test the feeling of the House upon it. I ask the House not to dash away the hope which I entertain; but if they reject the Motion for political reasons, in the face of Europe and of Ireland, they will do more to disunite Ireland from England than anything that has been done for many years. I ask them to consider the sole issue—namely, to give equal laws to Ireland, and they will do great good; but if not, they will do infinite harm. The hon. and learned Member concluded by moving the Resolution.
§ MR. GRAY
, in seconding the Resolution, said, his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kildare (Mr. Mellon) had gone completely into the subject, and had left very little for him to say. He thought that it would be admitted, even by hon. Members who would vote against the Bill, that a primâ facie case had been made out; and unless the facts and figures which had been given by the hon. and learned Member could be disposed of, it would be shown that there were good reasons for not applying the 1891 same reasoning to Ireland that was applied to England. Then, in consistency, the Resolution should be supported. He should therefore devote himself to dealing with the arguments which had been introduced against giving the same franchise to Ireland that was given to England. One of the arguments against it was that the Reform Act of 1867 was a settlement of the question, and they were told they should not disturb that settlement; that they should not pluck the tree that was bearing such magnificent fruit; that they should wait with patience, and not destroy the fruits of the Reform Act by now attempting any other Act. Now, he thought that the Reform Act of 1867 was not a settlement at all. It was a shame that at that time there was no Irish Party and no interest taken in the matter in Ireland. The voice of the popular Party was devoted to another and a far more important question—the settlement of the Irish Church; and, therefore, that really urgent and important question did not come before the House at all. In 1866 they were on the eve of a General Election, and men were, perhaps, not anxious to take a leap in the dark. The borough constituencies of England at that time numbered some 450,000 odd, but by the English Reform Act of 1867, and by the subsequent legislation of 1869, that had been increased to a constituency of 1,500,000—that was to say, in England the constituencies had been trebled, and in Scotland increased by two-thirds. That had been the English settlement. Then, in 1866, the Irish borough constituencies numbered 40,000, and they now numbered only 50,000—that was to say, the settlement added one-fourth to the then existing constituency, while in England they trebled it. It was utterly impossible to compare the two things, and say that it was the same settlement. One of the other arguments brought against this change was, that whereas in England, it was the mere introducing of a desirable class into the constituencies—an infusion of new blood, so to speak, in Ireland, it was a revolutionary change; that while in England they introduced some desirable elements, in Ireland they swamped the old constituencies and degraded them, and that it would be practically a disfranchisement, and not an enfranchisement Act. That was an utter fallacy, and it was 1892 the assertion to which the Act of 1867 was the answer. According to a Return granted on the Motion of the late Member for the City of Dublin (Mr. Pim), there were in Ireland altogether in the boroughs 130,000 tenements. Putting aside such minor questions as the number which might be occupied by women and other persons who would be disfranchised, and taking the figures, they would have 130,000 enfranchised; but of these, there would be already entitled to the franchise, although not on the franchise, 73,000; and these valued at per annum, all that could be added would be 50,000. Therefore, instead of trebling the constituencies, as in England, without doing any harm or introducing any revolutionary elements, which they were told would be let loose if the franchise was extended in Ireland, they could not double them in Ireland. It had been said over and over again that the change in Ireland would be a more serious one, and more dangerous elements would be introduced, and it would be a greater leap in the dark than was the change in England in the Act of 1867. But this was not only fallacious, but the reverse of the fact to a very considerable extent. At present they had 73,000—not counting women necessarily franchised—tenements which would entitle their owners to the franchise, and they had only 52,000 absolutely on the register. That was five-sevenths of the constituents. He wanted to impress upon the House that in England the number of the constituents had been trebled without danger and with advantage, and when they asked for similar laws to be applied to Ireland, they were told that in Ireland it would be a revolutionary change—it would swamp the constituencies, and introduce Communism. The fact was, by no possibility could they effect in Ireland such a change as was effected by the Reform Act of 1867 for England. There were really only two arguments against the proposal that was before them. It had been said that they must provide for the re-distribution of seats. That was the business of the Government, not the business of private Members. If a re-distribution of seats were necessary, let the Government take it up. It was an enormous question, but there were Members of the Government with ability equal to it. If it were 1893 merely a question of equal justice and not of how Party politics would be affected by the results, he submitted that there would not be the slightest difficulty. In England the Reform Act of 1867 was accompanied by the redistribution of 45 seats. That same proportion, if applied to Ireland, would give some 10 or 12 seats at the outside. Was that a thing to affect one of the strongest Governments? If that were the insuperable impediment which was to stand in the way of a concession —the giving of a right to Ireland which they could not resist—such an argument as that was unworthy of a great Legislative Body dealing with a serious subject. There was one argument adduced. It was said that the numbers of poor householders in Ireland bore a much larger proportion to the whole than England, and that consequently if they granted household franchise they would introduce a large class which they did not introduce in England. That was a specious argument, and fallacious, because it was based on the want of knowledge of the places dealt with. With the exception of the large towns, such as Dublin and Belfast, the population of all the boroughs in Ireland had, for a series of years, been declining, though it was not so now, the tide having turned in the last few years. The consequence was, that in those places where a diminution had taken place, the rents had been vastly lowered, and the same class of people would live in a house of £2 or £3 rental in Ireland as would occupy a £10 or £12 house in England. That might possibly be the case in Belfast, Tralee, and Kilkenny, but not in most boroughs. The policy in England with regard to the franchise had been to extend the facilities for its exercise; but the reverse had been done in Ireland. The representation in Ireland was in a totally anomalous position. The counties of England returned a small proportion—half the number; the counties in Scotland less than half; and the counties in Ireland more than half. Irish Members had brought forward various proposals for the amelioration of Ireland, and they had been told that they were revolutionary, and could not be tolerated at all. They were anxious to unite with England in the bend of friendship, and to form an integral portion of the United Kingdom; and if 1894 Englishmen were anxious to sweep away all differences and treat them as under one Constitution, and with equal rights and equal privileges, that was an opportunity of showing their sincerity. If they did not, then Irishmen would believe that there was good ground for the belief that it was utterly useless to come to Parliament to ask even for the commonest meet of justice, or ask for the redemption of pledges which were given, to extend equal laws to Ireland.
Amendment proposed,To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "the restricted nature of the Borough Franchise of Ireland, as compared with that existing in England and Scotland, is a subject deserving the immediate attention of Parliament, with a view of establishing a fair and just equality of the Franchise in the three Countries,"—(Mr. Meldon,)—instead thereof.
Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. W. JOHNSTON
, in supporting the Resolution, said hon. Members opposite had often come to that House asking for equal laws; and on every occasion that a revolutionary measure was proposed, he had raised his voice against it, but he considered that this was a moderate request—a fair demand —and it ought to be conceded by the Conservative Party. The hon. and learned Member for Kildare (Mr. Meldon) had supported his Motion in a very temperate and able speech, and he (Mr. Johnston) trusted Her Majesty's Government would gracefully yield to the demand. He was supposed to represent the Tory opinions in the North of Ireland, and he had been always anxious to have fair and equal rights; and an equal franchise for both countries was certainly what was wanted in Ireland. He had no doubt that he should meet with some condemnation on his own side of the House for the course that he was taking; but putting that aside, he hoped that the House would concede that moderate proposal. He trusted that Her Majesty's Government, the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, who had given his extreme attention to all Irish matters, and had treated hon. Members in a most fair and conciliatory manner, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney 1895 General for Ireland, would approve of this Motion. He (Mr. Johnston) represented the largest constituency in Ireland, and on the part of the Protestant population of that borough, he had to say that they had no fear of their fellow-countrymen in other parts of Ireland. He asked from the Imperial Parliament equal and fair justice for all portions of the United Kingdom, and he therefore supported the measure most cordially.
§ MR. STACPOOLE
suggested that whatever measure the Government might bring in, they should bear in mind the rights of property in boroughs as well as in counties, and that they should also take into consideration the desirability of establishing a class of freeholds similar to voters in all the boroughs, as at present in cities and counties of towns. He hoped they would grant this small concession, as it would be received as a boon by the people of Ireland. If the borough franchise of both countries had been assimilated in the last Reform Act, there might have been a larger Conservative majority than there now was.
§ MR. BRUEN
said, he was of opinion that the House ought to reject the Resolution now before it. The legitimate consequence of adopting it would be that the Government should drop all their business, bring in a new Reform Bill without delay, and dissolve Parliament. ["No, no!"] He held no system of representation could fully and fairly express the intelligence and genuine wish of the nation that did not recognize a diversity of interests and classes, or that vested the control of the representation in a single class. A very erroneous argument had been advanced upon the idea that, in Ireland, people were actually disfranchised, because the rates were not compounded. He entirely denied the accuracy of that statement. He did not think the time had come when household suffrage could be extended to Ireland with advantage, either to the electors, or the country at large. The effect of extending household suffrage to Ireland, as this Resolution proposed to do, would be to vest the control of the representation in a single class in the great majority of the constituencies. While the total number of houses in the Parliamentary boroughs in Ireland was 130,000, the total number exceeding £4 was 73,000. But in this 1896 matter the large towns of Dublin, Belfast, and Cork occupied an entirely different position from that of the boroughs in the rest of Ireland. Of 28 boroughs with 31 seats in that House, the total number of houses exceeding £4 was only 21,277, while the total number not exceeding £4 was 29,809, so that by extending to these 28 boroughs household suffrage, they would more than double the constituency, and have the new electors all of one class—a class the most liable to be acted upon by designing persons, because they had not sufficient education to enable them to weigh the arguments of those who would lead them astray. He denied the cogency of the argument that the franchise ought to be given to a number of persons not qualified to exercise it, in order to educate them in political duties. The franchise ought to be given only to those who proved themselves entitled to it. They had already some experience of the effect of reducing the qualification. A few years ago a Bill was passed which reduced very much the qualification for jurors, and which it was said would have the very best effect. But what were the results? In the interest of the administration of justice it was found absolutely necessary that the qualification which had been lowered should be raised again. That was a warning which they ought not to overlook. He admitted, with pleasure, that the class of his countrymen to which he referred was making great progress. Within the last few years they had advanced in intelligence and independence, in their social habits, their domestic life, and in every other respect, and he believed that progress would before long make them fit for the franchise. But if they were to confer it prematurely and without consideration, they should delay that day. As long as he sat in that House he had a right to state his honest opinion, and for the reasons he had given he could not agree to the Resolution.
§ CAPTAIN NOLAN
remarked that the hon. Member for Carlow (Mr. Bruen) had told the House that if they assented to the Resolution they would be raising up an homogeneous class of voters, who would be arrayed against the present voters. The hon. Member for Tipperary (Mr. Gray) had shown them that the addition which would be made to the voters in Ireland by this proposal would 1897 be only as two to one compared with the number of existing voters; whereas, by the Reform Bill, the number of voters in England were increased three-fold. But what would be the result, even if this proposed addition were made to the number of the Irish voters? In the last Parliament the Liberal Party had received the idea of the Conservative working man with laughter, but he must confess that during the last Election the Conservative working man had come out very strongly, otherwise hon. Members opposite would not be sitting on that side of the House. But he would ask how long would the new electors form a homogeneous body? As long as their grievances remained unredressed, they might possibly remain banded together; but the moment they had obtained relief the same distinctions would arise among them that existed among the English voters. It was no wonder that the Irish people, finding themselves left outside the pale of the Constitution, should resort to unconstitutional means of obtaining redress. The working classes of England had large concessions made to them in the extension of the franchise; and on principles of justice, the franchise ought to be extended to the working classes of Ireland in the manner proposed by the Resolution.
§ MR. FORSYTH
said, the question had hitherto been discussed by the Irish Members alone, but he saw no reason why it should be confined to the other side of the Channel. He was sorry to see so few Irish Members, not more than a dozen of them being present when a question that should be of the gravest importance to them was being discussed. [Captain NOLAN: There are 52 present.] He repeated that he believed that not more than a dozen were in attendance at the time. He had always thought that in dealing with Irish subjects the House should consult the opinions and the wishes of Irishmen as far as possible. The Resolution which asked the Government to consent to the franchise in Ireland being lowered was called revolutionary; but the same was said of the English Reform Bill of 1832 when it was proposed, and yet it proved not to be so. He had always opposed, and always would oppose, Home Rule, because he believed it would lead to the dismemberment of the United Kingdom; but seeing how satisfactory the result of 1898 lowering the franchise in this country had been, he thought that a primâ facie case, at all events, had been made out in favour of the Resolution; but he should wait to hear what arguments could be adduced against it by Her Majesty's Government before he made up his mind which way he should vote. He did not profess to know Ireland as intimately as many hon. Members who sat in that House; but he had some acquaintance with the country and its people, and he knew that they deserved conduct towards them on the part of the Imperial Parliament which should have the effect of rendering them contented and happy.
§ MR. M'CULLAGH TORRENS
said, that as a Member of the House who had sat for both Irish and English constituencies, he was competent to speak on the question, and he was of opinion that the Motion should be adopted. Parliament had too long delayed an assimilation of the electoral franchise in the two countries. If there was anything certain in history, if there was any use in study, or anything learned from political experience, it could with certainty be said that if the spirit of Mr. Pitt, the great author of the Union, could find utterance, he would not stop to listen to those who would seek to undermine the great fabric he reared, by making the Union one only in name. That distinguished statesman would not approve the long continuance of the inequality that had occurred.
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT
admired the straightforwardness of the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just spoken, but could not look with equal favour upon the indecision of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Marylebone (Mr. Forsyth), who seemed to be waiting for indications as to the way in which the majority of his co-Members would vote before deciding as to the Lobby into which he himself would go.
§ MR. FORSYTH
said, he simply intended, in the speech he made, to intimate that he was open to argument before deciding upon the vote which he should give.
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT
There was one argument which the hon. and learned Member for Kildare (Mr. Meldon) did not touch. He talked about a £4 franchise for Ireland, and of household franchise in England; but he did not 1899 say a word as to the fact that the rates in all cases in Ireland below a £4 rating were paid by the landlords, nor did he say a word as to the fact that an Irish Valuation Bill being before the House, in which, if he wished to put the two countries on the same footing, he could propose the introduction of a clause with that view. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that the rating and rental of houses in Irish boroughs were not so low as many persons thought, but could it be denied that many houses were rated at 5s. and 10s.? The hon. Member for Tipperary (Mr. Gray) said that in many Irish towns—and he mentioned Galway, Limerick, Kilkenny, and others—the population had decreased, but the consequence of that must be to bring down the rental of the houses. His belief was that if the borough franchise in Ireland were lowered, the logical sequence would be that it should be followed by a large re-distribution of seats and an increase of the county Representatives. Again, if they went into the facts and figures, and remembering that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich took some seats from England and gave them to Scotland, they would find that Ireland should lose at least 20 seats. Eighty would be nearer the proper number of her Representatives than her present number. It should also be remembered that no house in any borough in this country was rated at less than £3 a-year, whereas, as he had said, many houses in Ireland were to be found which were rated at 5s. and 10s., and what class of persons occupied those houses? It had been stated that the proposal of the hon. and learned Gentleman would add 56,000 to the number now on the register. Why, that number would swamp the present constituencies; and with what class? Why, the very lowest—those who were most open to influences he would not stop to mention—those who were least able to take care of themselves—those who were most likely to be influenced by others. It had been most detrimental to Ireland that all classes in that country were not fairly and honestly represented, and the happiness and prosperity of a country depended upon all classes being fairly and honestly represented. He opposed the crude and ill-considered Resolution of the hon. and learned Member, and 1900 thought it would be unwise and imprudent to adopt it. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich had advocated an extension of the household suffrage to counties; but no one knew better than the right hon. Gentleman that a great measure of that kind could not be carried in a hurry—that it required that the voice and feeling of the country should be in its favour. It had not been attempted to be shown that Ireland would be benefited in proportion to the difficulty of dealing with the question, and believing that she would not be benefited, and that on the other hand the change would be detrimental to her interests, he would heartily oppose the Resolution.
§ SIR JOSEPH M'KENNA
altogether denied that the change proposed by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kildare (Mr. Meldon), if taken with regard to the existing population, would have the effect of lessening the number of Irish Representatives, as had been asserted by the hon. and gallant Baronet who had just spoken (Sir Walter Barttelot). On the contrary, Ireland would receive a considerable accession of Members. On the principle of population, Ireland was at the present moment inadequately represented. England and Wales, with a population of 22,500,000, returned 484; whereas Ireland, with a population of 5,500,000, returned only 103 Members—a number considerably smaller than that which she was entitled to, if they were to be guided by the rule of proportion. He thought the argument of the hon. and gallant Baronet appeared to be equally as fallacious as his figures.
§ MR. GOLDNEY
opposed the Motion. There were in the Irish borough constituencies only 50,000 voters, and they returned 35 Members to the House of Commons. If those seats were fairly distributed, a great number of them would go to the counties. In 1867 and 1868 the question was discussed, and it was contended that there ought to be a considerable re-distribution of seats in Ireland, if any alteration were made in the borough franchise, some eight or 10 ought to be taken from boroughs and given to counties. On that ground he objected to the Resolution as dealing with the franchise only; and he objected to it further because it pointed to assimilation, which would involve the intro- 1901 duction into Ireland of livery and freemen franchises. The real difficulty in the way of reducing the franchise formerly, was, that for houses under £4 the rates were paid by the landlords; and if we were to alter the rating principle which existed in Ireland for the purpose of bringing down the franchise, it would be necessary to institute an inquiry which would extend over a very considerable period of time.
§ SIR HENRY JAMES
said, he was encouraged to take part in this debate by the statement he had heard the other night—that the Conservative Party had no wish to restrict the franchise in Ireland, and therefore he hoped, if he should be able to show a good case for the extension of the Irish franchise, they would be induced not to vote against the Motion of his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Meldon). If the House had listened to the hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for West Sussex (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) alone, they would have supposed that the question was, whether the representation of Ireland bore a fair proportion in relation to its population as compared with England. He (Sir Henry James) should have thought that by increasing the number of electors there would have been a decrease in such comparison. In the present system there was an absolute injustice towards the Irish elector. The question might be divided into two parts — first, whether the House was not disposed to think that absolute justice should be done to the Irish elector, by giving him the same franchise which the English elector now had; and, secondly, whether it would not be wise and well that the same step should be taken with regard to Ireland as was taken in 1867 with regard to England. He thought there were special reasons why they should endeavour, if they could, to make their laws equal as between England and Ireland, especially in relation to the Parliamentary franchise. Was the complaint made of the inequality of the franchise substantial and well-founded? He would call the attention of the House to one great difference in the power of expression of English and Irish opinion, and the difference between the franchise established by the two Reform Bills of 1867. In England the suffrage was household suffrage; while, in Ireland, the qualification was an occupation of a 1902 house rated at £4. The effect of that change in England from the £10 household qualification to household suffrage, speaking in round numbers, was to increase the number of electors from 500,000 to 1,500,000 voters, or nearly treble the number; whereas the change which it was calculated would be effected by the proposed alteration in the Irish franchise, taking the number of Irish voters at 52,000, would not be more than 105,000. What had been the effect of this restriction of the franchise in Ireland as compared with England and Scotland? Dublin, with a population of 267,000, had 12,300 ejectors, while Leeds, with a population of 259,000, had 49,000 electors; and Edinburgh, with a population of 196,000, had 27,000 electors. Cork, with a population of 100,000, had only 4,445 electors, while Greenock, with a population of 50,000, had 7,614 electors. Limerick, with a population of 49,000, had 1,800 electors; while Gateshead, with about the same population, had 11,500 electors. The whole of the 31 Irish boroughs, with a population of 881,000, had only 53,000 electors, while Glasgow, with a population of 477,000, had 60,000 electors, more than all the Irish boroughs put together. Liverpool, with a population of 493,000, had 59,000 electors; and Manchester, with a population of 379,000, had 63,000 electors. These were inequalities which must be justified. Primâ facie there was a wrong; and those who supported the inequality had to show why one part of the Empire should not have the same electoral rights as the other parts, England and Scotland. The only practical argument against the proposal was that brought forward by the hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for West Sussex, who said that as the landlord in Ireland paid the rate on all houses under a rental of £4, the occupier of such a house ought not to be entitled to have a vote. But that was no reason why the occupiers should be deprived of their franchise. When the dispute about the compound householder was settled in 1869, the landlord received an allowance of 25 per cent as an encouragement to bear the burden of the rates of his tenants who compounded, and Parliament gave the franchise to all occupiers, whether rated below £4 or not. Another argument had been used as to the value of the houses below £4 rental; but it had been 1903 shown that, in consequence of emigration, there were houses in Ireland for which a landlord was glad to receive any rent whatever. But the value of the house or the rental paid was no criterion. It was abolished by the Act of 1869, which conferred household suffrage, and he knew no reason why it should not be extended to Ireland. It should be recollected that when household franchise was accepted by the Conservative Party in 1867, we had got rid of the notion that a man's fitness to exercise the franchise was evidenced by his occupying a house the value of which was at least of a certain amount. The principle on which the Prime Minister then suggested the franchise had better be discussed, was not whether a man was entitled to the franchise because he occupied a house the rent of which was £10, or £6, or £5; but whether, as the head of a family, irrespective of the rent he paid, he did his duty as a citizen of this country. But was that which was good for England not good also for Ireland? They had been discussing whether £4 in Ireland represented the same value as in England. They were told that houses might be obtained in Ireland at a rental of only 25s. or 30s., and that persons who obtained houses so cheaply were not fit to exercise the franchise. According to that argument, the franchise should be conferred on the house. When we were endeavouring to give an Irishman the idea that he had equal laws with ourselves, what must be his feeling when he was told that, although he fulfilled his duty as a citizen in his own country, he could not have a vote because his rental was below £4; and yet if he came to England a mere wanderer, and became the occupier of a house of less value than £4, in whatever town in England, he would have the franchise? He asked hon. Members opposite to consider well what would be the effect of their rejecting this Motion. In every borough in Ireland, excepting in the Northern Province, a strong feeling existed against English rule, and against the application of the laws of the Imperial Parliament to Ireland. Did hon. Members opposite expect they would remove that feeling, which he believed to be an erroneous one on the part of the Irish electors, if they refused to give equal laws to Irishmen? What could be more absurd than to tell an Irishman that the 1904 laws were good and wise, but that he should have no voice in electing the Representatives by whom those laws were made? If the inequality existed, as the figures cited in the course of the debate amply proved, then there was but one argument—a conclusive one, if true, against giving Ireland the same laws as England. It was that the Irishman was not fit to exercise the franchise. That argument, however, had not even been urged by the opponents of the Motion, and it could not be sustained. But it was the old argument on the one side, to say that men were not fit for the franchise, and it was an equally old reply on the other side, to say that if they kept the franchise from men and banished them from the area of political thought, they gave them no means of fitting themselves for the discharge of a high political duty. Believing that it had not been shown that Irishmen were not as fit to exercise the franchise as Englishmen, and that they ought not to be denied equal rights with ourselves, he should give that Motion his hearty support.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. GIBSON)
remarked that the hon. and learned Member for Taunton (Sir Henry James) appeared to have forgotten that he was a Member of a strong Government, which though it was in office for some five or six years, had never dreamt of introducing a measure on that subject, which the hon. and learned Member now treated as one of the gravest importance, and one which he would lead the House to believe had always been present to his mind. The Motion had been very skilfully and speciously framed, but the House ought to look beneath its mere phraseology, and to inquire what was its real substance. He maintained, and would endeavour in a few observations to show, that there was more diversity in words than in reality—that the franchise was not so very different in the two countries. The House was asked to affirm that a broad and radical change in the balance of electoral power in Ireland was not only desirable, but that it demanded the immediate attention of Parliament. But had it been shown that the people of Ireland generally now took a vital and active interest in that question? Any one who had the slightest acquaintance with Ireland and with the newspapers, and any one who read those papers must 1905 be familiar with this question, and know well that it was one of those in which there was the utmost indifference in Ireland. ["No, no!"] That was his opinion, and he was entitled to express it. He spoke from his knowledge of Ireland and from what appeared in the newspapers of that country, which discussed nearly every topic which interested the people. Moreover, at the very last Election in Ireland—namely, at Tipperary, where there existed one of the largest constituencies in that country, comprising nearly 9,000 electors—although it was said that the contest commanded the greatest possible interest, only a fraction over 5,000 of the electors went to the poll. Surely, that showed that a considerable degree of apathy prevailed in the public mind as to that question. Was there no test inside the House? The hon. Member for Cavan (Mr. Biggar), who had taken so active a part with reference to other Bills, had obtained the First Order of the Day about three weeks ago for his Franchise Extension Bill for Ireland; but he had to postpone it, because he had not taken the trouble to have it printed. That was a fair test inside the House, and, therefore, on the plea of substance, he considered that there was not such a strong interest in Ireland as to demand the immediate attention of Parliament to the subject. This was, no doubt, an important question. It would be idle to deny that, but it was only part of an important question, and was, in fact, part and parcel of the question of the re-distribution of seats. That topic had been urged before, and the House could not take one part of the question without the others. The re-distribution of seats was even in some respects the more urgent question of the two. He hoped, as an Irishman, that when they came to deal with the question of re-distribution of seats, it would be found that Ireland had not more than her fair share of Representatives; but it might be considered that she had more in proportion to population than Scotland and England, and in that case it would be discussed whether Galway and Waterford were entitled to two Members each. Viewed in that light, certainly, the question was most important to Ireland. A constituency like Waterford would be in a terrible dilemma, when they had to consider by which of their distin- 1906 guished Members they should be represented. [Major O'GORMAN: Not at all.] Again, anyone who looked at the list of boroughs would see that many of them were very small. They would have to compare those in the South with those in the North of Ireland, and they would hear that some were decaying and some were flourishing. That might make some very considerable transfer of electoral power necessary. It was urged that the Bill of 1868 was not a final settlement of the question; but what could be a final settlement? Still, as the whole matter had been considered so recently as 1868, when a very large measure of Parliamentary reform was granted, he could not think that it was as yet very urgent. ["Hear, hear!"] That was a fair observation to make. ["No, no!"] Well, that Reform Bill reduced the franchise qualification to one-half, and the measure added to the electoral lists, a very considerable number of voters. A good deal had been said about rating in Ireland, which it had been stated was not at present satisfactory, because in Dublin and elsewhere there were a great many more people entitled to be rated than were actually rated. Was not that a necessary ingredient of any system of rating? In England, where the system was said to be nearly perfect, did the number of people who were entitled to be rated anything like correspond with the number actually rated? Be would point to Norwich, where the number rated was 3,000 or 4,000 under the number entitled to be rated, and to Salford, where the difference was 6,000 or 7,000. It would be easy to show that the argument which had been applied to Ireland as evidence of an imperfect system might just as well be applied to England. This, however, was only a small part of the question, and he would not go further into it. The substantial question raised was, whether the present limit—that of the franchise—should be taken away and household suffrage introduced. Before household suffrage was adopted in England, there was a very careful inquiry, which was quite wanting in the present case; and the result of the inquiry was to show that the number of male occupiers of houses paying rent under £4 was only about one-ninth of the number occupying houses at higher rentals. That was a 1907 broad ingredient which must have entered the mind of Parliament when the change was made. A fair voice was given to every class, without a preponderating voice being given to any. It ought also to be considered that England was a manufacturing country, and that the great proportion of the people who dwelt in great boroughs consisted of artizans and skilled labourers. He should like to know in how many towns in Ireland that was the case. A Parliamentary Return presented last year showed that in 50 boroughs there were something under 70,000 male occupiers whose rental was under £4, while there were 300,000 who paid a higher rental, the poorer class being, therefore, in a decided minority. Ireland, on the other hand, was an agricultural country, and many of the inhabitants of the smaller boroughs were, in reality, agricultural labourers. In Limerick there were as many as 1,700 houses rated at £1 and under, and in a town in Galway there were 342 houses rated at 5s. a-year. Was there a single borough in England where there was a house rated so low as 5s.? And yet it was suggested that they would be introducing practical equality by giving a vote to a person occupying a house rated at 5s. In Belfast, on the other hand, which more nearly resembled an English town than any other town in Ireland, out of over 30,000 houses, considerably under 100 were rated under £1. The effect, therefore, of adopting household suffrage in Ireland would be that you would at once and immediately in 29 out of 31 boroughs give the whole representation to those who occupied houses under £4. That would introduce a change absolutely different from any which had been made in England. There was a Bill at present among the Orders— he meant the Valuation Bill—the effect of which, when passed, would be, among other things, to operate as a moderate Reform Bill, and thus to add many thousands to the electoral roll of both counties and boroughs in Ireland. It was obvious, as he had already said, no matter what might be the condition at present of the boroughs in Ireland, that the question could not be considered by itself, but must be considered in conjunction with a re-distribution of seats. It was a part of a great question which must be dealt with as a whole, and when the matter 1908 was ripe, it would be so dealt with. The Resolution said that this was a question which deserved "the immediate attention of Parliament." Applying the test of opinion either in-doors or out-of-doors, he could see no symptom of any such urgency. The hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt) had taken great interest in this subject, and had kept it before the country, but had not succeeded in attracting so much attention to it as to other questions. For these reasons it would not be possible for him (the Attorney General for Ireland) to assent to a Motion which declared that this was a question which deserved "the immediate attention of Parliament."
§ MR. BUTT
said, that if the House would favour him with a hearing at that late hour, he would endeavour to give a few reasons for the adoption of the Resolution now before the House. When his right hon. and learned Friend opposite (the Attorney General for Ireland) talked of his (Mr. Butt's) having failed to interest, either the country or Parliament in this question, he must have forgotten that last year the Government defeated a Motion on this question only by the narrow majority of 13. Was that evidence that Parliament took no interest in the question? And in what position did that place the House of Commons? In that division 55 Irish Members recorded their votes for extending the franchise, and only 14 were found hardy enough to vote against it—a clear proof that those in Ireland who desired to share political power with their countrymen, who did not possess it, were overruled by a majority of English Members. If, then, the House of Commons had any regard for the opinions of Irish Members, would they place themselves in the invidious position of refusing to allow them to share political power with their fellow-countrymen? He could not help thinking that the right hon. and learned Gentleman might have spared his allusion to the late Government. He (Mr. Butt) was not a defender of that Government; but he could not forget what the Government of the right hon. Member for Greenwich had done for Ireland. It had established religious equality and laid the foundation of full justice to the tenant. Were not the Irish Church Bill and the Land Bill occupation enough for a Govern- 1909 ment? The right hon. and learned Gentleman also attempted to settle the University education question, and carried the Ballot; and was it any wonder that he was not able to attend to the franchise? He would now briefly allude to the history of the Irish franchise from the days of King John. From that period, when the English obtained their power over Ireland, the franchise and the electoral law in Ireland had been the same as it was in England down to the time of the Union. Still the 40s. freehold franchise was retained until the time of the Emancipation Bill, when it was abolished. Here he would say that there was never a concession made to the Irish people that was not accompanied by an unfair diminution of their electoral privileges. What they now wanted was the restoration of those privileges—that they might be placed in a position of equality with the people of England. Were they, he would ask, entitled to the same privileges, or were they not? [Cries of" "No!" from the back Ministerial benches.] Was that their answer? Was that their regard for the engagements into which they entered at the time of the Union? If the people of Ireland were not entitled to these franchises, then the people of England were not fit to govern them. He would now come to the question of household suffrage, which was a far higher and a far grander thing than these petty objections about houses, whether rated at 5s. or at £500. ["Oh, oh!"] What, had they come to hate household suffrage? What did it mean? It meant that every father of a family who was able to keep a house over his head for one year, should be entitled to the franchise; and when Lord Beaconsfield granted it to the people of England, he was able to go down to the Mansion House, and tell the country that it was to that he attributed the contented and peaceful attitude of the English people when the inhabitants of other countries were in a condition of disaffection and revolt. Why should they not try the same experiment with the people of Ireland? But after all there was no real force in what had been said about the low rating of the houses in the Irish boroughs, for, naturally, in a poor country, the rents, and consequently the rating, must be always low. In Ireland the franchise was given to occupiers of 1910 houses rated, not at £4, but at more than £4. The franchise would have been much more extended if it had been given to houses rated at £4. In the city which he represented (Limerick) the number of electors under the new system was less than under the old one, and the general increase of electors in Ireland in consequence of the last Reform Act was very slight. In Youghal the number had been increased from 240 to 270, and this might be taken as a fair illustration of the increase of the constituencies of Ireland. Well, was it intended by that Act to increase the number of electors? Because, if so, it had failed. He contended that there was not a single town in Ireland in which, tested by the numbers entrusted with the franchise, there was a fair representation of the people. The lowness of the rental had been alluded to, and it was said there were houses let at rents from £5 to £1. He confessed he had often inquired for these low - rented houses of £1; but had never been able to find them. If, however, the houses were let at a low rental, that was a reason why Ireland ought to have a lower franchise. The statement that the lowering of the rating qualification would add thousands to the electoral roll was a condemnation of the present state of things. The rent of a house was not the only test of a man's position. If a ship carpenter in Limerick could live in as good a house at 5s. a-year as one at Liverpool could get for £10, that did not lower the social status of the former. If the value of a house was to be evidence of a man's status, the standard must be lower in the poor country than in the rich. If there was to be a concession at all, it ought certainly to be made in favour of the poorer country; besides which, the fusion of the whole body of householders with the present electors would do away with undesirable anomalies like that which existed in Portarlington, where the constituency returning a Member was scarcely 100. He admitted that Her Majesty's Government had every disposition to treat his country fairly, but, unfortunately, their good intentions were all expressed in the paulo post futuro tense. Their promises were always prospective and indefinite. Household franchise in England meant something higher, better, greater than giving a man a vote be- 1911 cause he lived in a house of a certain rent; and when it was given in England, why should it be refused in Ireland? How could we talk of being a united Empire, when the bases of Parliamentary representation were different in the two countries? There was no re-distribution of seats based upon enfranchisement in England. Could they not rectify this monstrous injustice until they had prepared some elaborate scheme for the readjustment of the representation? Who was to prepare that scheme? Who was to bring it forward? Was this not an excuse for indefinite postponement? Were they, or were they not, prepared to give them household franchise in Ireland, as they had given it with the happiest results to England? If they refused this concession, it would tend still further to alienate the affections of the Irish people from that House. He should regret it; but that would be the effect. On the other hand, he held that the adoption of the Resolution would be a pledge to the people of Ireland that they had abandoned the theory of treating Ireland as a conquered country, and Irishmen as an inferior race, and were about to enter upon a course of conciliation to Ireland; and if they did that, bitter memories would pass away, and under one Constitution and by the enjoyment of common privileges, a union would be effected between England and Ireland which would not be broken or disturbed by either internal disturbances, or external influences.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS - BEACH
said, he was anxious to call the attention of the House to the importance of the issues which appeared to him to be involved in the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Kildare. This was no mere question of the increase of a few thousand votes—no technical point of rating or registration. It was practically a proposal to adopt household franchise in Irish boroughs. It was in itself a greater change with regard, at any rate, to 29 out of the 31 Irish boroughs, than was inaugurated in England by the English Reform Bill in 1867. He did not say that it was a greater change in the actual number of persons on whom it would confer votes; but it was a greater change in the actual distribution of political power, if any regard were to be paid to the position of the persons who would be enfranchised by 1912 it. Although the English Reform Act of 1867 enfranchised many persons below £10, a very considerable proportion of them belonged to the lower middle and artizan classes; but this proposal would make an infinitely greater change, for those whom it would introduce would almost entirely consist of the very poorest of the labouring classes. On what arguments was this proposition supported? First, they were told, because the law in England should be the law in Ireland; but that really was no argument at all. It was notorious that in abolishing the Church Establishment and in passing the Land Act—questions not less important than Parliamentary representation—that House saw fit to deal with Ireland in a way in which it never would adopt for England. It was even more notorious that Irish Members had during the present Session pressed Parliament to deal with Ireland in other important points as England would never wish to be dealt with. The only subject with regard to which the argument for identical laws could be used were those in which the circumstances of the two countries were identical. That this question was not among those subject might, he thought, be inferred from the general practice of Parliament as to Reform during the present century. The 40s. franchise had been abolished in Ireland; it had not been abolished in England. The county franchise in Ireland was at one time fixed at one figure, when in England it was fixed at another. Up to, and including the Acts of 1867 and 1868, the practice of Parliament had been to deal with the representation of the people in a different way in England and in Ireland. And when they looked into the circumstances of the two countries, it was not difficult to find the reason. It was clear that the valuation of the houses occupied by the great mass of the persons whom it was that evening proposed to enfranchise, was very different from the valuation of the houses occupied by the persons who had been enfranchised in England. He did not wish to press this question of valuation too far. He did not mean to say that because a man happened to live in a house of the value of £1, he ought never to have the franchise. He admitted there was force in the argument of the hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt), that in a poor 1913 country a lower valuation might not unfairly correspond with a higher valuation in a richer country; but, in this case, the valuation statistics proved that the voters who would be added, if the Resolution were carried, were almost entirely composed of the poorest class of day-labourers. They had been told in this debate that it was wise to endeavour to wean these people from revolutionary agitation, to which some of them in past times had been too ready to resort, and by including them, as it was said, "within the pale of the Constitution," to lead them to seek for the redress of their grievances by constitutional means. He admitted the force of that argument also; but it ought not to outweigh this proposition, which should be foremost in their minds in dealing with any question of Parliamentary franchise—namely, that their duty in such a matter as this was to endeavour to obtain a real representation of all classes and of all interests in the country. Would anyone say that the interests of those persons whom it was proposed to enfranchise were the least represented at this moment? He thought it might fairly be argued that these poor householders had their wants and their wishes often more fully stated to the House, and perhaps defended by a greater number of Irish Representatives than the Irish landlords, the Irish merchants, or the learned or professional classes in Ireland. The Ballot was adopted as a remedy against undue influence. He was far from wishing to preserve any undue influence which might have been exercised in former times by landlords in Ireland. But was it entirely for the good of the country that the advice and opinion of an educated, active, energetic landlord, living among his tenantry and devoting himself to their welfare, should be, as now constantly happened, entirely disregarded by that tenantry when the day for the election of a Member of Parliament came. ["No, no!"] The hon. Member for Galway, who said " No," was one of those fortunate Irish landlords whose feelings happened to be in unison with those of the class to which he had referred; and it would be but fair in that hon. Member to remember that the opinions which he held were entertained only by an infinitesimal minority of the owners of land. Then, as to the merchants and those engaged in commerce 1914 in Ireland, who in many things were, after all, the mainstay of the country, had they, as a class, the same opportunities for entering that House which were afforded to persons holding the same position in England and Scotland? He had seen in The Freeman's Journal, which had been writing very strongly lately in support of that measure, that even a man so known and esteemed by all parties as the hon. Baronet who represented Dublin (Sir Arthur Guinness) would be rejected as a matter of course if that proposal became law. [Laughter.] Would those who laughed remember that a few years ago a Gentleman occupying almost as high a position, but a Liberal in politics (Mr. Pim), was rejected in the City of Dublin, simply because he was unable to adopt that view of Irish politics which commended itself to hardly one in a hundred persons of wealth, position, or education, but which had been adopted by a majority of Irish voters? Again, were the professional and educated classes in Ireland adequately represented in that House? He did not argue the question as a Party one; for was it not notorious that one result of the Ballot in Ireland had been the practical ostracism from political life of what used to be an important and influential Party—the Whigs, which comprised within itself, though few in actual numbers, no little of the learning and the science of that country. It was said before the passing of the English Reform Act of 1868, that the result of admitting so large a preponderance of the poorer labourers to the franchise would be that the class above would be swamped, and that the new electors would practically control the representation. That had not been found to be the case, because there was no such division of opinions and interests between classes in England as had been supposed. Hon. Members who represented English constituencies, on whichever side of the House they sat, numbered among their supporters both the rich and educated and the poor and ignorant. Persons of all grades were found voting together. On the other hand, they might regret the fact, but it was nevertheless true, that in Ireland, unhappily, there was still a broad and deep line of religious and political distinction between the different classes of the population. And although that was known to be the case, it was 1915 proposed—not to deal with the constituencies in such a way as to secure a better representation of all, but to add to them on one side only—to add a body of the poorest and most ignorant of the Irish labourers in such numbers as would control the whole representation, and to do this where, as had been truly pointed out by the hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for West Sussex (Sir Walter Barttelot), there was practically no middle class, and but few of those intelligent artizans or tradesmen who formed so large a proportion of the borough constituencies of Great Britain. He did not doubt that at some time Parliament would deem it right to lower the Parliamentary borough franchise in Ireland; but he ventured to say that in lowering that franchise, the other points to which he had alluded ought not to be neglected. Such a proposal as that now before the House would be a reform of Irish representation—if it could be called a reform — in the direction in which it was least of all needed, and would ignore the most pressing wants of the case. The hon. and learned Member made light of the arguments used with reference to a redistribution of seats; but it ought not to be forgotten that in 1866, Parliament distinctly laid down the principle that a large extension of the franchise must be accompanied by a re-distribution of seats. The franchise in Ireland had often been considered since the Union—perhaps, if considered less often, it might have been more satisfactorily dealt with —but he believed that no re-distribution of seats had even taken place, although in many points the circumstances of the constituencies had materially changed; and if, as was admitted by hon. Gentlemen opposite, there was any force in the argument, that the wealth as well as the population of a district was entitled to representation, then certainly there were parts of Ireland which required more representation than they had at present. Well, if that was so, if the borough franchise could not properly be dealt with alone, what was it that the House was asked to do this evening? It was asked to record the opinion—That the restricted nature of the Borough franchise of Ireland, as compared with that existing in England and Scotland, is a subject deserving the immediate attention of Parliament1916 What did that imply? If it be taken to imply what he had stated; if there was any agreement, as he thought there was, that other questions besides the borough franchise required to be dealt with, it was quite clear that the adoption of that Resolution would pledge its supporters to an Irish. Reform Bill. He asked hon. Members to consider what that meant. A Reform Bill must necessarily take precedence of every other subject that could engage the attention of Parliament. English and Scotch measures must be put in the background; Imperial questions must be for the moment shelved; such Irish Business as the Government might have desired to proceed with—though they had never pretended to occupy the attention of Parliament excessively with Irish Business—must be dropped, and their first work next year must be an Irish Reform Bill. Well, they had had this Session some experience of the time that might be spent by the exertions of two or three Irish Members on an English Prisons Bill.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, hon. Members were not permitted by the Rules of the House to refer to former debates in the current Session on the same subject; but they might refer to former debates by way of illustration. The right hon. Gentleman had done so, and therefore he was perfectly in Order.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
That was all he wished to do—to illustrate the time likely to be consumed. They had had during former discussions some experience of the time that might be spent upon an English Prison Bill by two or three Irish Members. Now, he feared that any Reform Bill for Ireland that might be proposed by the present Government would not be likely, at any rate, in all its details, to commend itself to hon. Members opposite, and judging from past experience, it could scarcely be doubted that an Irish Reform Bill would, at least, be sufficient work for a Session. Well, it was possible that such a cessation of the ordinary Business of the House might be required; but did the facts of the case warrant any such opinion? His right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General for Ireland had already alluded to the singular mis- 1917 fortune which attended the Franchise Extension Bill that was introduced and withdrawn in the present Session by the hon. Member for Cavan. But in the last three Sessions Bills relating to the borough franchise had been introduced by the hon. and learned Member for Limerick, or some of his Supporters, which had never been pressed to a second reading. Carefully prepared measures on University Education and the Tenure of Land in Ireland had, instead, been pressed on their notice as the particular subjects to which the attention of Ireland was most devoted, and on which legislation was most urgently required. He knew of nothing which would warrant Parliament in throwing over all its other Business for some time to come in order to devote its attention solely to the question of an Irish Reform Bill. The time might come, and he hoped it would come, when this might be possible and advisable, for he thought an Irish Reform Bill, properly conceived and carried out, would be a great boon to the country; but he did not think that the House was at present prepared to adopt such a course. He therefore proposed to support the original Motion that the Speaker do now leave the Chair, as tantamount to the Previous Question; and he trusted that the House would not, by adopting one of those abstract Resolutions which were never conclusive and generally mischievous, commit itself to a precipitate approval of this partial and unsatisfactory mode of dealing with a great and important question.
The House divided:—Ayes 239; Noes 165: Majority 74.—(Div. List, No. 181.)
Main Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
Original Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
Committee deferred till Monday next.