§ MR. MELDON,
in rising to call attention to the restricted nature of the Borough Franchise in Ireland, and to move— 1926That 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, he would take that opportunity of expressing his regret at Ireland having lost the services of the late excellent Chief Secretary (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach), who had pledged himself on entering Office four years ago to give fair and candid consideration to all well-founded Irish grievances. He (Mr. Mel-don) believed it had been established over and over again that the borough franchise question, as it affected Ireland, was a substantial grievance; and if the late Chief Secretary had not been able to carry out his pledge so far as that question was concerned, it was, he believed, because the watchword of the Tory Party was the restriction of the franchise. Well, they were at present in the midst of a great crisis, and he would appeal to the House whether this was not a fitting opportunity for conciliating Ireland by extending to her the same political rights and privileges as were now enjoyed by England. His (Mr. Meldon's) Motion involved no new principles of any kind, and he was quite satisfied to take his stand upon them, for they were admitted and adopted by hon. Gentlemen who sat on the opposite side of the House. It only proposed to establish in Ireland the same principle as obtained in England and Scotland in the matter of the borough franchise. To entitle a person to the borough franchise in England and Scotland, it was necessary he should be a male inhabitant, a householder, that his poor rate should be paid, and that he should reside for a certain specified period in the house; but in Ireland a man was not entitled to the franchise unless he were a householder—tenant of a house of certain value—namely, £6. Apart from this limited franchise, the law in Ireland threw every difficulty in the way of the people obtaining it, and there was a material difference in this respect between the two countries. In certain parts of Ireland it was absolutely prohibitory—actually preventing occupiers who paid by the week or the month from being put upon the register at all, because the landlords, and not they, were rated. Was that just, fair, and 1927 reasonable? If there was to be any difference, surely it ought to be the poorer country that ought to have the lower franchise and not the richer one, whereas the reverse was the case. Although in Ireland they presumably had the same county franchise, still in reality it was a £15 franchise and not a £12 franchise, while in the boroughs it was really a £6 franchise, as compared with the £4 franchise in England and Scotland. Why should not the same principle be adopted in Ireland, and the same principles applied to both countries? The same principles which carried the Reform Bill of 1867 were equally applicable to Ireland, and they were put forward by the Conservative Party themselves. Had an Irishman less stake in the country than an Englishman under similar circumstances? Why should an Irishman living in a £4 house at Liverpool be disfranchised if he went to live in such a house at Dublin? The only excuse must be that the Irishman was unfit to exercise the franchise. The statement frequently put forward was that the Irish people received equal rights with the people of England; but that was not true. This Parliament, they were told, looked upon Ireland as an integral part of the Kingdom; but he maintained that the country did not enjoy the same political rights—consequently, he would press upon the House the necessity of adopting his Motion. They had not equality of representation, nor had they equal rights. While in England and Scotland there was an extended franchise, in Ireland there was a limited constituency. Therefore, even assuming that union was to be maintained as it at present existed, he would appeal to the House to carry out their part of the contract, and to give them what they now asked—equal political rights in this matter. They had no such political rights, and were not on terms of equality. No union existed between the two countries. Parliament gave them what it pleased, and between the two countries there was the same position as that which existed between master and servant. The Irish people were ground down by the iron heel of their conquerors. What had Ireland done that she should not be properly represented in that House? Why was she to have a limited constituency while the people of England and Scotland had a large 1928 franchise? What was to prevent them being treated on equal terms? If the Imperial Parliament chose to carry out the Union, he trusted that it would be maintained by honour, good faith, and fair dealing between the two countries, and not in the way it had hitherto been. The existence of inequality was too patent and too strong to be denied, and he would now quote a few figures in order to show how the matter stood. It was an astonishing fact, which demonstrated the justice of the cause he was advocating, that one city in Scotland—Glasgow— had a larger number of electors than all the boroughs of Ireland. Glasgow, with a population of 477,732, had 60,570 electors; Birmingham, with a population of 343,787, had a constituency of 61,756; Liverpool, with a population of 493,400, had a constituency of 59,667; and Manchester, with a population of 379,374, had a constituency of 63,938; In Ireland, however, the 31 boroughs, with a population of 882,146, had only 53,953 voters. Wherever we looked for facts, they all tended to show that Ireland was represented in that House in an entirely different manner from the rest of the United Kingdom. Scotland, with a population of less than 3,500,000, had in her boroughs no fewer than 202,852 electors; whereas Ireland, with a population of more than 4,500,000, had only 53,953 electors. England, with a population of 22,500,000, had 1,514,716 names on the registers of her boroughs. In England the number of borough voters had been more than trebled since the Reform Act of 1867, whereas in Ireland only about 20,000 had been added to the total number of voters. Dublin, with a population of 267,617, had only 12,310 electors; while Leeds, with a population of 259,212, had 49,300; Sheffield, with a population of 239,946, had 40,543; and Edinburgh, with a population of 196,979, had 26,934 electors. In Cork, with a population of about 100,000, there were only 4,445 electors; while in Nottingham, with a population of 86,600, there were 17,632. In Limerick, with a population of 49,853, there were only 1,804; while in Gateshead, with a population of 48,627, there were 11,516. In Water-ford, with a population of 29,988, there were 1,414 electors; while in Great Grimsby, with a population of 26,892, there were 5,285. In England, as he 1929 had said, they had the borough constituencies about trebled since 1863; and if they assimilated the franchise in Ireland to that which existed in England, the number of electors would be increased from 53,000 to 97,890. He had shown that the borough franchise in Ireland was based upon a totally different principle from that of England; and he now asked the House to affirm that in this matter there was no difference whatever in the circumstances of the two countries, and Irishmen were as much entitled to the franchise as though they were living in England. It was a breach of union between the two countries. In conclusion, he hoped he was not over sanguine in trusting that the House would adopt the Motion he had laid before it, and which he now begged to move.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
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."—(Mr. Meldon.)
§ MR. CHARLES LEWIS,
who had the following Notice upon the Paper:— As an Amendment to Mr. Meldon's Motion on Borough Franchise (Ireland), to move—That, in the opinion of this House, there is no substantial ground for believing that in the present state of the Irish Borough Representation the opinions of the inhabitants of the borough constituencies are not really represented: That it appears that certain of the borough constituencies returning thirty Members have a population of less than one-sixteenth of the whole of Ireland: That under these circumstances the reform which is really required in the Representation of Ireland is a re-distribution of seats,said, the intense interest felt in that question by Irish Members—if not by all Irish Members, by Irish borough Members; and if not by all Irishborough Members, by all Irish Liberal borough Members—was shown by the fact that, during the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kildare (Mr. Meldon), there was but one Irish Liberal borough Member in the House, or at most there were but two, and if all the Irish Liberal Members were included, only six were present. It had, doubt- 1930 less, in various forms been brought before the notice of the House; but no interest in it had been manifested by the Liberal electors of Ireland, and many debates had taken place with regard to it from time to time. Now, what was the nature of the settlement which it was proposed to disturb by the Resolution, and the Bill which would be the result of it if passed? It was a settlement made almost without division, by the concurrence of both sides of the House, 10 years ago. No doubt, it was made under a Conservative Government, but a Government which had to carry its Reform Bills under the pressure and check of the great Liberal Party. If he recollected aright, there was only one division taken—namely, as to whether the line should be drawn at £4 and under or at £4, and Mr. Chichester Fortescue expressed his approval of the franchise proposed by the Bill. The root of the difference between different persons on this subject lay in this—that some considered the franchise a right, and others considered it a trust; some believed it a means, others that it was an end in itself. He confessed he belonged to the unpopular side. He did not believe that the franchise existed as a right inherent in any class or set of men, and legislation had never in this country proceeded on any such principle. If so, the question arose, was this change expedient in itself in reference to the country into which it was to be introduced; was it asked by the people; was it in itself a practical measure; and could it be looked at irrespective of other electoral measures before the House? If this were a measure popular in Ireland, they would not have seen such a state of the benches opposite while the hon. and learned Gentleman was making his able speech. How else were they to test whether the measure was popular? By Petitions to that House and public meetings. But during the present Parliament, he had searched and had not been able to discover that a single Petition had been presented to the House from any constituency or person in Ireland asking for that or any similar change. Had there been any public meetings on the subject? Not one. The hon. and learned Gentleman said, assimilate the law of Ireland to that of England. That was put forward as an act of dilatory 1931 justice in order to restore the equilibrium of good feeling and concord between the two countries. But was Ireland really entitled to make any objection or put forward any claim on this score? The treatment of the Irish nation in past time, as regarded the franchise, had rather been in favour of Ireland; and the Legislature, not by accident, but by design, had been more liberal to her than to England. In 1860, or 16 years before the county franchise was reduced to £12 in England, it was reduced to £12 in Ireland. At that present time, there was a lower leasehold, qualification for counties in Ireland than in England. They had another specimen of the course of legislation with reference to the borough franchise. In 1860 the English qualification was £10, whilst the Irish was only £8. It so happened now that the difference between the borough franchise in England and Ireland was, so to say, to the disadvantage of the Irish; but, as he had said, they had to deal with a state of circumstances based upon a settlement made 10 years ago, practically with the consent of both sides of the House; and before any change was effected, they must ask themselves, did the present representation in the boroughs fairly represent popular feeling? He was bound to admit that the representation did accurately represent the population, for he was sorry to say that, out of 37 borough Members, 21 described themselves as Home Rulers, and seven others were Liberal Members, so that 28 out of the 37 sat on the Liberal side of the House. Did the hon. and learned Member believe that, even if his nostrum were adopted, there would be any considerable change in the colour of the representation? The hon. and learned Gentleman had not ventured to say that the feelings of constituents were not now represented, and it was in vain he (Mr. Lewis) looked for an argument to support the proposition. No one could believe that in the town of Belfast any different result would occur from drawing the line of representation much lower. The same might be said of the boroughs of Lisburn, Armagh, and Enniskillen. With a very few other exceptions, the Liberal Party had a monopoly of the whole Irish borough representation. The next question was a most serious one—What was the 1932 class which would be introduced into the borough constituency in Ireland by the proposed change, and what amount of electoral power would be conferred on that class? He (Mr. Lewis) hoped he should not be called a slanderer of the lower class in Ireland if he said that the class raised into power would consist of the worst educated, the poorest, the most dependent, the least able to resist influences of an undue character, the least able to resist the demands of religion; and occupation, and labour, the least able to give an independent vote, the least educated, and the least able to give an intelligent vote. Then, when he came to examine the power proposed to be conferred upon this residuum of constituents, he found that in the large majority of boroughs in Ireland the number of occupiers rated at and under £4 exceeded the entire number rated at upwards of £4. Taking out for a moment the towns of Belfast, Cork, and Dublin, the remaining boroughs showed of occupiers rated at £4 and under, 34,806; while the number above £4 was 24,463. So that they would be conferring a voting power upon a far larger number of persons whose rating was at and under £4 than the entire number of present electors. But taking in the whole borough constituencies of Ireland, including Belfast, Cork, and Dublin, the scale was turned slightly, but not very much, the other way, being as follows:—Above the £4 valuation, 74,623; at and under, 56,902. In the whole borough constituencies in Ireland the valuation on which rates were assessed above the £4 line was £1,226,000, while under £4 it was not one-tenth of that amount, being only £116,000, so that the alteration proposed would in 28 boroughs give an entire preponderance to those rated at and under £4, although their rating was only one-tenth of the other. These figures were of the greatest importance with reference to the social life and the vari6us organizations of parties in Ireland, as well as in relation to the collateral measures which the Liberal Party were supposed to have in view for that country. But, going yet a little lower in the scale, he would take four borough constituencies—Drogheda,Galway,Lime-rick, and Waterford—where there were houses, tenements, huts, hovels rated so low as 5s., on which it was proposed to 1933 confer the franchise. In Drogheda, out of the entire number of 3,564 tenements, huts, hovels, or what-not rated under 20s., 1,275 would be admitted to the franchise; and if they went to 40s., 2,173 would be admitted, or 60 per cent of the entire number of houses of Drogheda under 40s. valuation. In Galway, out of the entire number of householders—3,554—there were 1,426 persons holding tenements rated at and under 20s., while under 40s. there were 1,896. In Limerick, out of a total of 7,274, 1,767 were under 20s., and 3,187 under 40s. The House would have to consider seriously whether that was the sort of constituency which it was desirable to build up instead of the existing one. Those who were satisfied with quantity rather than quality might be content with the proposed change; but he thought the House should pause and ponder before they committed themselves to such a state of things. Lastly, he came to Waterford, where 1,878 were rated under 40s. in a total of 4,544. He would not detain the House too long with statistics, but would give some figures relating to England as a contrast. It was the only outward test he could bring to bear as to the state of the same class in the two Kingdoms. Out of 50 English boroughs the number of male persons rated at and under £4 was 69,406, as against 301,080 above £4; or less than a quarter as many under as above the £4 line. The hon. and learned Gentleman, in reviewing the state of things in England and Ireland, had spoken of Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool, and some of the richest cities of England and Scotland in a somewhat inapt comparison between them and the weak, decaying towns in the South of Ireland, where there was never any sign of prosperity. He (Mr. Lewis) had himself extracted the proportion of voters to the populations of the English boroughs, and had found it to be in Marylebone, 1 in 15; in Fins-bury, 1 in 12; in Chelsea, 1 in 11; in Dover, 1 in 13; in Greenwich, 1 in 10; in Plymouth, 1 in 16; in Southwark, 1 in 11; in the Tower Hamlets, 1 in 13; and in Westminster, 1 in 15. He admitted thatin Manchester and other towns the proportions were higher. As for Irish boroughs, taking Belfast, he found that, with all the restrictions upon the franchise, there was a larger proportion 1934 of voters than in Westminster; in Derry it was the same; in Enniskillen, Newry, and Dungannon, 1 in 15; in Antrim, 1 in 16; in Downpatrick, 1 in 17; in Lisburn, 1 in 10; and in Coleraine, 1 in 17; and these were the worst specimens he could find. The scale, however, was weighted when they came to the fading towns in the South, from which trade and population had both gone; the proportion was, in Carlow, 1 in 26; in Drogheda and Ennis, 1 in 32; in Galway and Kilkenny, 1 in 22; in Tralee and Dublin, 1 in 30; in Waterford, 1 in 29; and in Limerick, 1 in 25. The difference between these two groups was considerable; but if they went to any town in the North of Ireland, they would find it not only able to hold its own against England, but even, in some cases, to show a better result as regarded the proportion of electors to population. When he heard Manchester and Liverpool mentioned, he felt that the comparison was rather dangerous in the hands of the hon. and learned Gentleman; for Manchester and Liverpool, with a population exceeding that of the Irish boroughs, returned six Members as against 37 by the latter. He know that the question opened up a very much larger one. The House was probably aware that, with a most trifling exception, there had been no re-distribution of seats in Ireland since the Union, so that the state of the borough representation could only be described as monstrous. It was not only that the boroughs had too many Members, but also that, as regarded their relative size, they were badly distributed, no just proportion of representation being maintained. He would just re-count the figures. The entire population of the boroughs in Ireland was only 866,000 persons, and they had 37 Representatives, or 39, including the two vacant seats; the county population was 4,548,713, with only 64 Members. In other words, the counties had five times the population, and not twice the representation of the boroughs, which, if justice were done, would return no more than 17 Members. The injustice, moreover, was not only between boroughs and counties, but also between the boroughs themselves. Nine of the smallest borough constituencies—Youghal, Port-arlington, Ennis, Athlone, Dungarvan, Dungannon, Kinsale, Mallow, and 1935 Tralee—had a valuation not exceeding £66,430, and they returned nine Members. The valuation of Derry was £64,913, and it returned only one Member to Parliament. The entire population of the nine towns was not more than 49,725, which was not double that of Derry. There were also two very remarkable constituencies that had been fading away Census after Census, with the exception of Galway at the last Census—namely, the cities of Galway and Waterford; though, by the favour and forbearance of Parliament, each returned two Members. The population of Galway was under 20,000, and its valuation £32,469, or one-half that of Derry. Its—Galway's— electors, including a large number of freemen, numbered 1,354. Waterford was not quite so bad. Its population was under 30,000, and its valuation was £53,000, the number of electors being 1,400. He had quoted enough figures to show that the House could not deal with the question as if it involved no difficulty. The question of Irish Reform was a far more searching and far more reaching question than Irish Members seemed to contemplate; and when it was undertaken in connection with a new Reform Bill, it must be carried out root-and-branch—especially with regard to the county constituencies, in justice to whom not half the boroughs now sending Members to Parliament were entitled to return Members at all. There were 10 Irish boroughs the population of which was under 7,000, although the increasing prosperity of the North gave Ireland some flourishing towns of from 10,000 to 13,000; and in the South there were Kingstown and other places that were deserving of consideration. He did not mean to suggest that it was the duty of the Government to set to work at once to introduce an Irish Reform Bill; but he did suggest that so far from its being the duty of the House to deal with the question in a fragmentary manner, it ought, under no circumstances, to deal with the subject until it was brought forward by a responsible Minister of the Crown with a majority behind him. That Motion constituted one of the great gala or festival days of the House, for it was about the only occasion he knew of when the Liberal Party was seen in union. The front Opposition Bench, according to their own supporters, were 1936 in the habit of running away after moving Resolutions and not stopping for the division; but, with one or two remarkable exceptions, the franchise was a question on which hon. Gentlemen opposite were generally unanimous in their voting, though certain right hon. Gentlemen did not confine themselves, on this question, to opposing their Party in the House, but opposed it out of the House, writing articles against their Colleagues for the purpose of illustrating that there was not, after all, complete union of the Liberal Party even on the question of the franchise. But, looking at it altogether, there was no doubt that the Liberal Party was more or less united on the question of the franchise, and they would be more or less united on Friday next. Only two right hon. Gentlemen would dissever themselves from their Colleagues. The Conservative Party might congratulate themselves that upon that question, on which they would be calleduponto vote on Friday—household suffrage in counties—they were in the right and the Liberal Party in the wrong. ["No, no!"] He would ask anyone likely to be led away by the plausible nature of the Motion this day proposed to consider what would be the result in Ireland if the Resolutions of today and of Friday were passed and embodied in a Bill? It could only be followed out to its logical conclusion by giving the same county franchise to Ireland as existed in the other parts of the United Kingdom; and when they had the evil political example of a borough franchise debased to the man who paid upon a 5s. rental, the same rule would have to be applied to the counties; and, though he did not wish to say anything to excite religious feeling, he would assert that the effect of such a step would be to sweep out of existence the entire Protestant constituency. Belfast, and, perhaps, through the popularity of their present Members, Lisburn, might escape from such a flood; but with those exceptions, the result of carrying out the proposed measure of household franchise in Ireland as regarded boroughs, based on no test, and no limitation at all, and then applying the same principle—as the Liberal Party desired, to the counties—would be that one-fifth of the population of Ireland, containing far more than 1937 one-fifth, of its wealth, influence, respectability, and loyalty, would be entirely destroyed, and would have no representation. He bad not ventured to speak on the subject before; but he hoped to find many Members on the other side who would pause long before committing themselves to a step of that character, the result of which they could not thoroughly appreciate, unless they considered the points he had ventured to put before the House.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
said, he was sure the House, in common with himself, must thank the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Charles Lewis) for having put the opposition of the Party to which he belonged upon grounds that were thoroughly intelligible. Last year the Opposition were placed in considerable difficulty by the speech of the right hon. Baronet (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach), then Chief Secretary, now Secretary for the Colonies, from which it was impossible to draw a conclusion as to the grounds on which the opposition of the Government were based; but there was no mistake at all about the grounds taken by the hon. Member for Londonderry. He adopted the well-known language of Lord Eldon—the argument in favour of rotten boroughs—the argument that representation should depend upon property alone; that the man who had £100 ought to have a vote, and the man who had only £5 ought not; that the numerical preponderance of representation ought always to be in the hands of the rich, and that if a system would give equal or more than equal representation to men who were not rich, that would be a conclusive argument against the enfranchisement of the people. Those might be arguments which commended themselves to the other side of the House, but they were not arguments upon which the Liberal Party ever had or would proceed. Of course, they would vote together against the principles which the hon. Gentleman had enunciated, which were those to which the Liberal Party always had been, and always would be, opposed to a man, and of which he hoped, in process of time, the Conservative Party would be ashamed. 1938 He had taunted the Liberal Party with dissension on the subject of the franchise; but a recollection of the history of the Reform Bill of 1867 might have led the hon. Member to spare his taunts, for the Conservatives, after opposing for years the proposals of the Liberal Party for extending the franchise in England in just such speeches as he had delivered, when they found their account in it, suddenly turned round and carried a much more sweeping measure than any they had before opposed. He trusted that the language of the hon. Member for Londonderry was not to be repeated from the Treasury Bench; for his most conclusive argument had been that the enfranchisement of the people of Ireland would endanger Protestant ascendancy.
§ MR. CHARLES LEWIS
said, he had said nothing of the sort; he said that it would sweep away the Protestant representation.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
said, in his opinion Protestant representation and ascendancy were almost one and the same thing; but if the hon. Member thought it worth while to draw that distinction, he would take it as Protestant representation, and he would ask hon. Gentlemen opposite if in the present day they were going to stand up before the people of Ireland, and say—"We refuse you your rights, which otherwise we could not dispute, rights which we have given to England and Scotland, because to give you them would endanger the Protestant representation?" Was that a position the hon. and learned Attorney General could support? To such principles the Liberal Party always had been and always must be opposed; and if anything were wanting to justify their votes, it was furnished by the speech of the hon. Member. He spoke of the residuum being large; and it was large in England before the Reform Bill of 1832. It was large because the franchise was so small, and the very arguments he used and the very figures he quoted were the answer to the conclusion to which he would bring them. The numbers excluded were so great, simply because the franchise was so narrow; but the statistics were worthless to the Party that granted household suffrage, who could not now estimate the right of a man to vote by the value of the house in which he lived. He (Sir William Harcourt) did not think, 1939 therefore, that any responsible Minister would use the language or employ the arguments of the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman was a brave man, who had a contempt for Gentlemen who proposed Amendments and then ran away; but the hon. Member himself had put an Amendment down on the Paper, and had run away from it, before he had even proposed it. He was, however, quite right in so doing, for the Amendment was absurd. It was like saying to a man who demanded food—"I cannot give you food, what you really want is drink." It was perfectly true that a re-distribution of seats might be a very good thing in Ireland; but the argument about such a re-distribution had been used before, and would be again and again, as a convenient mode of getting rid of some proposal to which no good objection could be raised. The same remark applied to the fragmentary and the sumptuary arguments of the hon. Gentleman, which were simply worn-out obstructions to a claim to which no reasonable objection could be advanced. He (Sir William Harcourt) was very curious to learn what answer could be given from the Treasury Bench to that Motion. In the last speech it was impossible to discover any argument; and, in reference to the question, he could not sufficiently congratulate his right hon. Friend the new Chief Secretary for Ireland—of whose promotion he had been glad to hear—on his absence from the House that evening. It would, perhaps, not have been very agreeable for his right hon. Friend (Mr. J. Lowther) to have inaugurated his appointment by resisting the present Motion, and therefore he was happy in having escaped that debate by the opportuneness of his re-election. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland would, no doubt, say everything that ingenuity could suggest, and as well as it possibly could be said, and he was very curious to know what that would be. Upon what grounds were they going to say to the Irish people that they were not to be entitled, in respect to representation, to the same rights, and upon the same footing as the people of England? If the ground were not that, the proposal would disarrange the present Conservative Protestant representation of Ireland, which he took to be the real objection of the hon. Member for Londonderry.
§ MR. CHARLES LEWIS
denied having spoken of "Conservative" Members; he had simply spoken of the Protestant population.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
Well, but the hon. Member seemed to suppose that many of them might be Conservatives; and, if that were not so, they would not have had an opposition of exactly that character to this Motion. The hon. Gentleman had enumerated various places where he thought the Protestant representation would be swept away; but he had mentioned, as probable exceptions to that, Belfast and Lisburn. He (Sir William Harcourt), however, fancied he had not heard him add the name of Londonderry. But if that was not the ground for resisting this proposal, and if there was no reasonable ground for resisting it, he would ask both sides of the House whether, in the present state of Irish opinion, it was a wise thing, because hon. Gentlemen who entertained opinions which they did not share, showed that a real grievance existed, to reject that Motion? On the opening night of the Session, he had pointed to this very question as one of the just grievances which Irish Members had brought forward, which it ought to be the duty and the interest both of the Conservative as well as of the Liberal Party to settle and remove. When Ireland could point, as in the present instance, to exceptional legislation and to a just grievance, and say that there was exceptional legislation by which they denied to the great body of the Irish people rights which the Imperial Parliament had granted freely to the people of England and Scotland, they armed them with a just grievance in refusing redress, and they inflicted on the country a real danger. It was, therefore, a matter of supreme political importance that they should endeavour to reconcile the Irish people by showing a disposition on both sides of the House to remove every grievance which appeared to be a real one, not by small calculations of Party advantage, nor by setting Protestant against Catholic representation, but by proving to Irishmen that they were willing to extend to them the same equal justice as they gave to the rest of the United Kingdom.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. GIBSON)
observed, that the hon. and learned Member who had 1941 just sat down (Sir William Harcourt) had endeavoured to infuse into that debate, which had begun very quietly, some amount of excitement; but it did not appear to him (Mr. Gibson) that he had quite done justice to the, in many respects, powerful argument of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Charles Lewis); who had endeavoured, by the figures he had quoted, to show that there was something more to be considered in dealing with this question than had been suggested by the hon. and learnedMember for Kildare(Mr.Meldon) in submitting his Resolution to the House. Any Motion which purported, even in its terms, to demand an assimilation between the laws of different parts of the Empire, naturally commanded a certain amount of ready assent from every part of the House; because no one sitting on either side, could desire that there should be the semblance of a difference between the treatment given to Ireland and that given to the rest of the Kingdom. In suggesting, as he had fairly done, a consideration of the consequences which would result from the adoption of that Motion, it was not fair to conclude that the hon. Member for Londonderry had wished to discuss that question from a Party point of view. The hon. and learned Member's proposition was that by giving household suffrage to the Irish boroughs a great act of justice would be done to Ireland, and an anomaly would be swept away which was altogether indefensible. In the few observations he (Mr. Gibson) should address to the House, he should suggest that whilst the hon. Member had made a temperate and interesting speech, he had omitted from his statement some considerations which might induce the House to arrive at the conclusion that that question was not one requiring immediate or very speedy legislation. The hon. and learned Member's whole argument amounted to this—"Give us household suffrage in the Irish boroughs, because there is something in the English boroughs which is household suffrage." But there was a considerable difference between the boroughs of England and Ireland, which weakened that argument; for at the time of the latest He-form Bill in England many manufacturing towns, and great centres of industry had sprung up, where a numerous class of artizans and skilled labourers existed, who were receiving large 1942 wages, enjoying very considerable comfort, and living in respectable houses. When Parliament, therefore, in 1867, had to consider whether household suffrage should be conceded to a population so circumstanced, it might have very reasonably decided to do so, having due regard to what would be the probable results of such a measure. As he gathered from his hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry, all he ventured to do with the figures he submitted to the House, was to point out what might be some of the results which would follow in Ireland the adoption of this Motion. What were the results that were accomplished in England by the adoption of household suffrage in 1867? By that Act in no borough was the absolute power of returning Members handed over to the lowest class of householders; and if they would take the Returns laid before Parliament for the last couple of years, it would be found that the number of householders in the boroughs of England who were rated above £4 was greater by many thousands than the number of householders rated below £4. Of course, that was a circumstance which must be largely taken into account; and when it was found that in Ireland the vast majority of houses were rated below £4, and that the minority were over £4, that was a circumstance which also should fairly be taken into account when this matter was under consideration. In 29 Irish boroughs out of 33, if household suffrage were at once adopted, the absolute power of returning Representatives of those places would be given to householders rated below £4, to the exclusion of any power whatever in those who at present had the franchise. That was also a circumstance entitled to its due weight. He also believed that the test of valuation was referred to by his hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry, not at all as being decisive, but as an element suggesting caution in a case when, by a Motion of that kind, they were asked, to say that this subject required the immediate attention of Parliament. In the vast majority of boroughs in Ireland, voters rated under £4 would preponderate, and voters rated about £4 would practically have no voice at all. He (Mr. Gibson) found that the persons occupying houses in the vast majority of boroughs in Ireland rated under £4 occupied tenements, 1943 the value of which was £116,000; while those who occupied premises rated over £4, and who would be the minority of voters, if household suffrage were granted, occupied tenements the value of which was £1,200,000. If they took the condition of these boroughs in detail, it would be found that the matters to which he referred came out in the greater prominence, and would attract even greater attention. It was a startling fact to find that in four or five of the boroughs in Ireland, if household suffrage were granted, the absolute preponderance of electoral power would be handed over to persons rated under £2. That suggested the necessity for considering this question from every point of view. Even in Limerick, an important historical town, there was a large number of houses rated under 20s. Galway and some other towns contained a considerable number of houses rated under 5s. [An hon. MEMBER: What is the rent?] They would generally find that the rent was a third higher than the valuation, and, if that rule was applied to such cases when a house was valued at 5s., the rent might be only about 7s. But, however this might be, he said that 5s. did not represent a very high residential standard, for it was scarcely possible for anyone acquainted only with English boroughs to imagine a house valued at 5s. Of course, it must be borne in mind—he did not want to exaggerate one way or the other—that Ireland was mainly an agricultural country and England a manufacturing country, and a great number of the houses in some of the small Irish boroughs were occupied not by artizans, but by agricultural labourers. If a measure like that suggested by the hon. and learned Member for Kildare were at once carried, it might have the effect of depriving to a very large degree the existing electors of the right virtually of having any voice in the election of Members of Parliament. That was a matter of very great difficulty, and required attention, and it ought to be dealt with cautiously and with great care; and, moreover, he did not think it was of such extreme moment at the present as to demand the immediate attention of Parliament. For himself, he had seen nothing in the state of opinion in Ireland showing that it had attracted very much attention. The hon. and learned Member for Kildare had referred 1944 to the law of rating. That was a very complicated question, and he (the Attorney General for Ireland) did not intend to trouble the House by entering on it on that occasion. He believed, however, that every person entitled to be an elector had every facility to be rated, if he was so desirous, and took the slightest amount of trouble in the matter. His hon. and learned Friend seemed, though not with a desire of acting unfairly, to have rather over stated that part of his case. His hon. and learned Friend also stated that there were anomalies on this question as to the system of representation. That was true; and, unless equal electoral districts were established, there would, to a certain extent, be anomalies in the representation of Ireland, as there were also in that of England and Scotland, and as there would be, to some extent, in every system. The hon. and learned Member for Oxford was rather severe on the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Lewis) with reference to what he stated about a re-distribution of seats. When, however, they found a great many boroughs in Ireland—the vast majority of them with a small population— many, in fact, decreasing in population, with a very moderate number of electors, and not much chance of increasing—when they found the majority of them without manufactures, he (the Attorney General for Ireland) ventured to think re-distribution of seats was a matter which lay at the root of the whole question, and which would require a great deal of consideration. If any change were to be made, many of these towns would, he supposed, have to be disfranchised, and some towns which at present returned two Members might have their right to do so challenged. He did not say the hon. and learned Member for Kildare evaded that point. He did not think any Member who discussed the question would seek to evade it. Under the circumstances, he hardly thought the hon. and learned Member for Kildare had made out his case, that this was a matter of such urgency as to require the immediate attention of Parliament. Surely there was a fair opportunity for laying every Irish grievance before that House? He had never heard it said in Ireland, nor seen it stated in the Irish Press, that there was any section of the people of Ireland that was not represented in that House. The question was one of great 1945 importance, and it was quite reasonable that the hon. and learned Member for Kildare should have brought it forward as he had done in his fair and temperate speech. He thought, however, that the hon. and learned Gentleman had failed to show that the subject was one of such urgency that the attention of Parliament should be directed to it for the purpose of legislation at the present moment. For this reason, he was sorry to say that he should be unable to give his assent to the hon. and learned Gentleman's Motion.
§ MR. O'SHAUGHNESSY
observed that the hon. Member for Derry (Mr. Charles Lewis) had said a great deal about the settlement of 1867; but it should be remembered that the settlement was arrived at not upon Constitutional principles, but to satisfy the officials of Dublin Castle. The fact, however, was that the influence of Dublin Castle was diminishing, and it was now extremely difficult to return Irish officials in certain constituencies of Ireland; and it was on account of that, and not from any wish arising from motives of Constitutional policy, that the basis established in 1867 was adopted. The representation of Ireland had been wrenched out of the bounds of that clique, and Dublin Castle had ceased to be predominant in Irish affairs. It had further been said that there were no Petitions in favour of a wider franchise; but the Irish people had not got used to Petition as an instrument of Constitutional warfare. The hon. Member for Londonderry expended a great deal of skill in combating an argument on which the hon. and learned Member for Kildare had never rested his claim. His hon. and learned Friend had rested his claim not on any theory as to the right of every man to a vote, but on the ground that Ireland would be better governed, the real feelings of the people better expressed, and Constitutional action encouraged by this extension of the franchise. The hon. Member for Derry said that spiritual influences would be brought to bear on the Roman Catholics, whom it was proposed to enfranchise.
§ MR. CHARLES LEWIS
said, he had never used the word "Catholic" in reference to spiritual influence.
§ MR. O'SHAUGHNESSY
The hon. Member said that the class of voters 1946 who would be introduced by this measure would on religious grounds be open to spiritual influence, and as the vast majority of those who would be enfranchised were Roman Catholics, he could only have been alluding to them. He (Mr. O'Shaughnessy) denied that any such influence would be used with an evil result; and, as a matter of fact, his own experience told him that the profession of Protestantism did not stand in the way of a candidate in the South of Ireland. Then, in the regard to the question of education, he had no doubt that the electors of Ireland would compare favourably with those of England and Scotland. He denied that in Ireland the Government valuations were any test of value, or that they in any way represented the rents derived from the houses. In the Committee on Irish Valuation last year, a responsible witness stated that in the city of Limerick there was not a single house the rent of which was under Is. a-week, or £2 12s. a-year, and yet Limerick was one of the cities in which there were many houses valued at 5s. The Southern towns were rapidly increasing in prosperity, and had ceased to fall off in numbers; and he was glad to have an opportunity of stating, on behalf of Limerick, which was frequently represented in that House as a decaying city, that within the last few years houses had gone up 25 per cent in value, and that it was impossible to find in the business part of the city sufficient accommodation for its increasing commerce. If they declined to grant that request now, he would much regret it, as the Irish people could receive no greater benefit from the hands of their Conservative countrymen. But, at any rate, they would carry a measure of this kind in time. He believed that the franchise would be granted to Ireland; but when that was done, instead of its being a bond of union between the two countries, it might become the means of increasing the differences and that antagonism between the different classes of the Irish people which now existed.
§ SIR EARDLEY WILMOT
said, he was glad of an opportunity of explaining the vote he was about to give. On every occasion, when the proposal to extend the household borough franchise to Ireland had been made, he had given it his support, and should cordially do so now. He could entirely confirm the 1947 statement made by the hon. and learned Member for Kildare (Mr. Meldon)— namely, that, during the discussion respecting Home Rule, which took place during the first Session of the present Parliament, the right hon. Baronet (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach), then Chief Secretary for Ireland, said, addressing the Irish Members, if they would introduce measures of real practical utility and tending to redress what they considered Irish grievances existing in their own country, Her Majesty's Government would not withhold from them its encouragement and support. Well, this was the fifth Session of the Parliament, and no such encouragment had been given. He (Sir Eardley Wilmot) had himself, on that very occasion, appealed to the noble Earl at the head of the Ministry, then sitting on those front benches, to utilize that powerful majority which he possessed, and the great strength of the Conservative Party, in order to enter upon a policy of conciliation towards Ireland, and to remove some of those inequalities in its Constitutional Government which were a source of irritation to Irishmen, and prevented the complete harmony of the two countries. He could conscientiously say, that one of his principal objects in seeking the honour of a seat in Parliament at a late period in life, was, that he might assist in promoting measures which would advance the prosperity and social condition of Ireland and raise her to the same level as England, which could only be done by granting her the same rights and privileges, and the same laws, of which we had the full advantage on this side of the Channel. Now, as regarded the measure proposed by the hon. and learned Member for Kildare, it would be recollected, that originally the household franchise existed by law or by custom in all our English boroughs, the electors of which consisted of freemen, scot-and-lot voters, and pot-wallopers—the last representing the possession of a domicile or dwelling—and these formed the great majority of the borough voters. This continued till 1832, when the Reform Bill of that year introduced into the boroughs, as it did into the counties, a new qualification— namely, occupation of a tenement for value; and this qualification continued till 1867, when the Conservative Government, headed by the present Pre- 1948 mier, restored the borough franchise to its original tenure—household suffrage as it had existed in the earlier periods of our history. At that time, if he (Sir Eardley Wilmot) was not incorrect, the Prime Minister distinctly intimated that the question of an extension of the household franchise to the boroughs of Ireland would undergo attentive consideration at no distant period. He had certainly felt considerable disappointment, that from this as well as from other social and political improvements proposed for Ireland, the Government had turned away; and they could not be surprised if Irishmen felt annoyed and irritated, when one proposal after another, which they made for the amelioration of their country, was rejected. As regarded the hon. Member for Derry (Mr. Charles Lewis), who had an Amendment on the Paper which he had not moved, nothing could be more inconsistent and illogical than his course of action. One great point in his argument was, that the Act of 1867 had entirely settled the question of electoral matters and the subject of Parliamentary Representation, when at the same moment, by the Paper he held in his hand, he was advocating—and part of his argument went in that direction—the urgent necessity of a redistribution of seats for Ireland. No wonder that such inconsistency had roused the wrathful eloquence of the hon. and learned Member for Oxford (Sir William Harcourt). The hon. Member for Derry had also declaimed on the decay of prosperity in the South of Ireland as a reason why the borough franchise should not be lowered; but the fact of that decay had been ably combated and contradicted by the hon. Member who had spoken last (Mr. O'Shaughnessy); and, even allowing the fact to be true, that was an additional reason why the Government should exert itself to arrest that downward progress by the promotion and encouragement of measures calculated to increase or restore the material progress of those districts—either by the development of their fisheries, the reclamation of their waste lands, by the improvement of their harbours and inland navigation, or by fostering trade and commerce in every possible way. At all events, there could be no ground whatever for withholding from the South of Ireland that Constitutional freedom which was the 1949 basis of wealth, and contentment wherever it was to be found. For these reasons, he cordially supported the Resolution of the hon. and learned Member for Kil-dare, and did so with the greatest confidence, that in doing so, he was doing what was just and right.
§ MR. BLENNERHASSETT
It is, I think, Sir, much to be regretted that, year after year, it should be necessary to bring this Motion before the House. It is deplorable that the Government and the Party opposite should appear so unwilling to extend to the cities and towns of Ireland the popular privileges which they have themselves bestowed upon England and Scotland. I cannot see the wisdom or the justice of saying—"If you live in Manchester or in Liverpool you shall have a vote and enjoy all the rights of citizenship; but if you cross the Irish Sea, and make your home in Dublin or in Belfast, you shall be disfranchised." It seems to me repugnant to the plainest sense of justice that such a distinction should be permitted to exist between the different portions of the Kingdom. Apart from the injustice it inflicts on many persons in Ireland, I regret the course the Government have pursued in this matter. I regret that course, because I believe the effect of it on public opinion in Ireland will be most mischievous. Here is a simple demand made year after year, and supported by a great majority of the Irish Members—a demand for nothing exceptional, for nothing novel or dangerous; but simply that the householders in Irish towns shall have the same privileges, shall be permitted to hold the same position in the Constitution, as the householders of England and Scotland. If you persist in refusing this just and reasonable request, you will weaken the hands of every man in Ireland who is trying to infuse a moderate and loyal spirit—a spirit of respect for Parliamentary institutions and regard for Constitutional action—into the minds of the people of that country; you will give strength and encouragement to those— and they are not a few—who are ready to seize every opportunity of pointing the moral that there is no willingness in this House to do fair and equal justice to the people of Ireland. This is a serious responsibility for any Government to undertake, and I hope hon. Members opposite will weigh well and 1950 wisely this matter. I feel sure that if they could understand the sense of irritation that is provoked—the feeling that they are not confided in, or treated as equals, which the continued rejection of this Motion produces in the minds of the Irish people, they would see this matter in a different light. They would ask themselves, is it worth while to refuse this moderate and reasonable request? Is it worthy of a great Party and a strong Government to decline to carry out their own principles? Is it desirable to maintain in the Irish mind this rankling sense of inferiority and injustice? And I think they would come to the conclusion that it would be wiser to take the more generous course, and to pass this Motion to-night without a division. What reason has been shown for the maintenance of this distinction between the franchises of the two countries? Primâ facie, it is an evil. Every unnecessary distinction in political privileges between the various parts of the United Kingdom is an evil. It has not, I believe, been suggested that any danger is involved in this proposal. Whatever danger or trouble there may be in the affairs of Ireland will not be increased by the admission of the borough householder within the pale of the Constitution. If any spirit of violence or disaffection still exists in that country, does not all history teach that in no way can you disarm that spirit so effectually as by giving it the regular and safe outlet of free representative institutions? The exceedingly restrictive character of the Irish borough franchise has been pointed out in this debate. A £4 rating may sound very low in English ears; but the enormous disproportion between the number of householders and the number of electors in Irish boroughs shows how exclusive it is in operation. Valuation for rating purposes is said to be 25 per cent lower in Ireland than in England. The rating is always considerably below the rental, so that a £4 rating represents at least a £6 or £7 rental. It should be remembered, also, that a £6 or £7 rental in most Irish towns means a very different thing from an equal rental in England. England is a rich country, with a rapidly increasing population; Ireland is a poor country, with a population stationary or decreasing. A low rental, therefore, in Ireland, does not represent 1951 the same sort of dwelling, or by any means the same status on the part of the occupier, that a rental of a similar amount would indicate in England. Then, it should not he forgotten, that while a majority of the English and Scotch Members are elected by household suffrage, only 36 of the 103 Irish Members are elected on the conparatively low franchise of the boroughs. We are told that this matter cannot be dealt with without a re-distribution of seats; yet you dealt with the Irish franchise in 1868, and you did not re-distribute seats. It is quite true, no doubt, that a re-distribution of seats is desirable; and I have myself drawn attention to the anomalous condition of political power in Ireland on more than one occasion in this House; but I did not notice any eagerness on the part of the Government, or of Members opposite, to take it up. I imagine if I were to bring forward a Motion on the subject, I should be met by the objection that it was impossible to deal with the distribution of seats without at the same time determining the question of the borough franchise, which was a matter that required grave and serious consideration. The necessity for redistribution exists, whether you alter the franchise or you do not. Indeed, so far as it would affect it at all, the extension of the borough farachise would not increase, but would diminish the existing anomalies in distribution; because the most glaring of them proceed from the disproportion between the number of voters in the small towns and the great county constituencies. But the two questions are quite distinct. Re-distribution of seats will have, no doubt, to be considered; but it will have to be considered for the whole Kingdom as well as for Ireland. Assimilation of the county and borough franchise will, in like manner, have to be considered for the whole Kingdom. I should myself, also, at the same time, like to see a well-considered provision made for the due representation and protection of minorities. But all these questions are quite distinct from the simple issue now before us, which is not whether we are prepared to adopt these great changes in the representative system of the Kingdom, but whether we will not extend to Ireland the principles of the measure which in 1867 we applied to England? When we have done this, we shall be in a position, in 1952 case further change should be considered necessary, to deal fairly and equally with all parts of the United Kingdom at the same time and in the same measure. In treating such a subject as the representation of the people, there are many reasons why this is the most desirable course to pursue. But to say that you cannot pass this simple measure to remove the inequality under which you have placed the Irish urban population by your legislation of 1867 and 1868, because the distribution of seats is unsatisfactory, is mere trifling with the Constitutional claims of those on whose behalf this demand is made. I cannot see the object of constantly introducing this cry of re-distribution in these debates, except it be to hinder the equalization of the franchise. It is a very old move on the part of those who oppose Parliamentary Reform, and is supposed, I believe, to strike terror into the hearts of the Representatives of those small boroughs, whose existence might not be preserved if a struggle were to take place for the survival of the fittest. I am happy to say that in this instance, at all events, it does not appear to have any effect on their minds; and I have reason to think that the Members for many of the smallest, as well as for many of the largest constituencies in Ireland, will be found supporting the Motion to-night, as they have supported it in previous Sessions. Then, we are told, that we must not adopt this Motion, because it would let in a disproportionate number of the poorer class of voters—that class being far more numerous in Irish than in English towns. But it has been pointed out, I believe with accuracy, that the effect of the change we propose in Ireland would not be nearly so great, relatively, as the effect that was produced in England by the Act of 1867. The reduction in England from the £10 household qualification to household suffrage had the effect of increasing the number of borough electors from 500,000 to something like 1,500,000. The alteration now proposed in the Irish franchise would only change the number of borough electors from about 50,000 to 100,000. No doubt there are many more poorly-built houses in Irish towns than there are in England. The whole country is poorer; and the standard of comfort is lower in food, in dress, in houses, 1953 and in every other respect where the expenditure of money is involved; but I do not know that the people who live in those shabby houses are less intelligent, or that they take less interest in public affairs, than the corresponding class in England. I do not know that they have less concern in being well governed. The question of the borough franchise in England has been raised far above this miserable contention about the value of houses. You do not ask, now, what rent a man pays, how thick are his walls, or how high his roof? But you have said to every man who is the head of a household—"You are a citizen of this country; you do your share of the work, you bear your share of the burdens, and you shall have a voice in the Government under which you live." There is no principle in rating value, by which you can divide men into classes, and give the franchise to one and refuse it to another. There is a broad and intelligible principle in giving the franchise to every man who is the owner of a house and the head of a family. We ask you to extend this principle to Ireland; and we ask you do so before the concession shall have lost all grace and value through long denial and delay. You do not pretend that you can always withhold it; you only profess to delay it. You are a Government of caution and consideration; and the result of your caution and consideration will be, that you will do nothing until it is too late to do anything useful. Last year the right hon. Baronet, who was then Chief Secretary for Ireland (Sir Michael Hicks - Beach), said that he fully admitted it would be necessary some day to give to the people of Ireland a wider extension of the franchise than they at present enjoyed; and I suppose we shall have the same story told to us to-night. This is a feeble policy; there is nothing strong or robust about it. It certainly is not a policy that will command the respect of the people of Ireland. A great historian and orator once gave you this advice from these benches—"When you give, give frankly; when you withhold, withhold resolutely. But there is a way of so withholding as merely to excite desire, and of so giving as merely to excite contempt." Confidence in Parliamentary Institutions is a plant of slow growth in Ireland. It has been shaken by many a storm, and 1954 bruised by many a blow. Of late, there have been signs of fresh and tender leaves upon its branches; if they are withered and destroyed by the untimely frost of your refusal to do this act of simple justice, I am glad at least to feel that the responsibility of so great a misfortune will not rest on the Irish Members who sit here, or on any section of the Liberal Party.
§ DR. WARD
thought that the denial by the Government of a demand for Constitutional rights would not tend to foster Constitutional principles in Ireland. This was the fifth time it had been made, and on each occasion that was denied which long since had been granted to the people of England and Scotland. For years the Government was occupied in keeping down with strong hands unconstitutional expressions of feeling on the part of a large proportion of the Irish people; but when they asked for what was strictly within their Constitutional right, the message they received through official sources amounted to an absolute denial of what they had every reason to expect should be granted them. One ground of objection to the proposition before the House was that it must be considered in conjunction with the question of the re-distribution of seats; but whatever objection might be alleged, the people of Ireland were convinced that the House was refusing them their Constitutional rights, and he hoped, after what had fallen from the hon. and learned Baronet the Member for South Warwickshire (Sir Eardley Wilmot), to find a fair following on the other side of the House in support of the Motion. He (Dr. Ward) represented one of the boroughs which had been distinctly threatened with disfranchisement by the Government. It was true the population of the town of Galway was small compared with that of boroughs in England; but it was not small compared with other boroughs in Ireland. They were threatened with re-distribution; but did the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland mean by that the number of Irish Members was to be lessened? He (Dr. Ward) doubted whether that would be so; but, at any rate, he and those who thought with him did not shrink from the issue, as they were of opinion such a contingency would never stand in the face of the relative statistics of the three 1955 countries. He was astonished to hear the money argument resorted to by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, which he (Dr. Ward) had thought was abandoned by the right hon. and learned Gentleman's Chief when he educated his Party up to the last Reform Act. In England, by that Act, the relative value of the houses was got rid of—to be a householder was sufficient; but if they crossed over to Ireland £ s. d. was to remain the ruling qualification. Was that the message the House would send to Ireland? The Government, it would seem, wanted to keep up in Ireland a plutocracy that had been given up in England. The House was told that there was no agitation on the subject in Ireland; but if they did agitate, they were told that they were merely agitators, and on that ground their claim was refused. As to the latter argument, he knew that in all the constituencies this question was brought to the front, and had formed a very prominent topic in the addresses of candidates. If the people were to be told that they were not to have the privilege they asked for, because they were in the habit of resorting to unconstitutional means to get what they wanted, he doubted whether such a message would diminish the tendency to resort to such means. They were told that the adoption of the principle advocated in the present Motion would swamp existing constituencies; but what was the answer that had been given to a similar argument against the extension of the English franchise? A single example would show that what would take place in Ireland would only parallel that which took place by the last Reform Act in England. In Galway there were now 1,300 electors; if this Motion was acted upon there would be 3,400. There were before the Reform Act in Tynemouth 1,200, which were increased by that Act to 4,000; but had any harm resulted from such cases of swamping? He protested against the threat that re-distribution would be in favour of the counties.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. GIBSON)
said, he did not assert what the effect of re-distribution would be.
§ DR. WARD
said, at any rate the argument of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Charles Lewis) had gone in that direction. He (Dr. Ward) denied that 1956 there was any truth in the theory that was made one of the bases of the present system, that the poor householders in Irish boroughs were inferior in intellect and capacity to the poor householders in English boroughs. Yet that entirely gratuitous assumption had underlain the whole speech of the right hon. and learned Attorney General for Ireland. Comparing the population of Dublin and Leeds, he showed that in the former case there were only 12,000 electors with a population of 250,000, while in the latter there was a population of about the same number and 50,000 electors. What was really feared, however, was that they would lose Conservative seats in Ireland; and it was said that it would hand over the representation to the Catholics and crush out the Protestant element; but that he utterly denied. What was the present state of the case in the county of Kerry, where 99 out of every 100 of the population were Catholics? Two Members of the Protestant Disestablished Church were returned. Why a Conservative Government should be afraid of giving this Constitutional right to the boroughs of Ireland he could not conceive. With regard to reform in England, they took the bread out of the mouth of the right hon. Member for Greenwich, and went far beyond his proposals. Had they suffered for it? Did they not sit at this moment in office because of it? They had found out that by extending Constitutional rights they had increased in the people the love of the Constitution; and they would find it equally true of the people of Ireland if they passed this Resolution. Should, however, they reject it, he would deeply regret the distrust of the Irish people such a rejection would imply, because it would most certainly engender a corresponding distrust of the Legislature on the part of the Irish people.
§ MR. BIGGAR
doubted the expediency of forcing the Irish Representatives year after year to prefer a claim which had already been ceded to England. The real cause of the want of prosperity in the South of Ireland was not that the people lacked intelligence; but simply because the rural parts of the country had been depopulated owing to emigration and other causes. That was no reason, however, why the people who remained behind should not have the 1957 advantage of giving a vote for Parliamentary representation. He had gone a good deal amongst the people of the South of Ireland; and he could unhesitatingly say that they were quite as capable of giving an electoral vote as any citizen, though he might live in a more expensive house. The Government of this country had acted towards Ireland in a manner which could not be defended, and there were substantial reasons for being dissatisfied with English rule, and to say that they were disloyal to the English system of government. They would be loyal to good laws and good government for Ireland; but upon particular questions they did not get fair play, and consequently they were dissatisfied with things as they were. The Government were not doing their duty towards Ireland, and it was not fair that an unfair law should be enforced. He did not see why Ireland should be governed on a different principle from England. If the question was decided on principle, he felt sure that it would be entirely favourable to the Motion now before the House. With regard to rents, they knew that they were very much lower in Ireland than in the manufacturing towns of England, where wages were higher; but the people were of the same intelligence in Ireland. He thought the Government would have acted wisely if they had thrown on one side the question of Party in this matter, and decided it on the grounds of justice and common sense. There had been no great display of public feeling in favour of the Motion, it was true; but the reason was that the people of Ireland did not find public meetings or Petitions of much use. The Government did not listen to them, but regulated the affairs of Ireland according to Party exigencies. If the question were to be decided by the votes of Irish Members alone, the Motion would be carried by a large majority. He, for one at least, was prepared to give it his support on every principle of justice.
§ MAJOR NOLAN
said, that the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Charles Lewis) went largely into statistics to prove that the supporters of the Resolution had no case, and he attempted to show that there were many borough constituencies in England in which the proportion of electors to inhabitants was less than in many of the boroughs in Ireland. The hon. Gentleman said that 1958 in Westminster, for example, there was only one elector to 15 inhabitants. But it should be remembered that in Westminster there were many large establishments, and where that was the case the proportion of voters was always less. Westminster, therefore, was not a fair instance. He did not know upon what principle of selection the hon. Member had proceeded; but if he took his cases indifferently, the result would have been very different. He would himself take the alphabetical principle in making the comparison. Taking Abingdon, the first in order of the English boroughs, there were seven inhabitants to one elector, while in Armagh there were 13 to one. In Andover there were seven inhabitants to one elector, in Athlone the proportion was 19 to one. In Ashton-under-Lyne there were again seven inhabitants to one voter, in Bandon 13 to one. In Aylesbury there were still seven inhabitants to one voter, in Belfast eight or nine to one. Going to the end of the list, and taking York, the place where the last election had been held—and here he might be allowed to say that he was glad that the hon. Gentleman (Mr. J. Lowther) had been returned, for he was always courteous to the Irish Members—in York there were five inhabitants to one voter, while in Youghal the proportion was 22 to one. The peculiar point on which they rested their case was, that Ireland was worse off than England, and that their case was peculiarly strong, inasmuch as they only wished to adapt the law of Ireland to that of England, and should, at any rate, run on all fours with the latter country. The hon. Member for Londonderry threatened them, if they persevered with the principle, with a re-distribution of seats, and said before they allowed voters in Ireland to vote on the same conditions as in England, it would be necessary to have a re-distribution of seats in Ireland, and then asked how hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House would like that? He (Major Nolan) considered the hon. Member had destroyed his own argument by saying that the Irish Members would be swept away. Irish Liberal Members did not fear a re-distribution of seats. They were quite willing to take the consequences of the proposed course, and would vote in favour of any principle which gave extended power to the 1959 people, and gave also to the people a fair share in the government of the country, and allowed additional classes as a "right," and not as a "privilege," to vote for the Members who were to take part in the Constitutional government of their country. Looking upon it as a Party question, he thought it would take a very clever Party Leader to be able to judge which. Party would gain by a re-distribution of seats. He was himself of opinion that in the case of a re-distribution of seats they stood as fair a chance as hon. Members opposite. He did not know on what principle such a measure would be based; but if population was taken as the basis, there were places in Ireland which were entitled to more Members than they had at present. The system of coupling redistribution at one time with registration, and at another with the franchise, was not a fair one. According to the hon. Member for Londonderry they were not to have a fair franchise until a redistribution scheme was brought forward; and as no one in the fifth Session of Parliament was likely to bring forward such a scheme, the question of the equalization of the franchise was to be indefinitely postponed. The hon. Member said that no Petitions from Ireland had been presented on the subject; but the fact was, unless a question was prominently before the public mind the Irish people thought very little of Petitions. Besides, public opinion could not be gauged by the number of Petitions presented in favour of any particular measure—as many being presented for as against it. The Protestant representation, it had been said, would be swept away; but he (Major Nolan) still believed that the Protestants would be able to hold their own. But he denied that there was any such class feeling as that argument would seem to imply. If any man had the vote the Resolution would give, even supposing there might be one or two more Catholic Members returned, what was the case in England, and what representation had the 2,000,000 Catholics? Yet that was not felt as a disadvantage. Attempts had been made to prove that the extension of the franchise in Ireland would cause a lower type of Representatives to be returned by the constituencies. He did not admit this for a moment; but even if there actually were some grounds for fearing such a 1960 result, the fact would not deprive the Irish people of their right to be put on an equality as far as voting power was concerned with persons of the same social status in England and Scotland. The hon. Member for Londonderry denied that the franchise was a right; but this was a proposition he (Major Nolan) could deny. The larger part of the taxation was borne by the poorer classes, and he could not regard the representation of this class as a privilege merely. The vote was the only means a man had of protecting his interests in legislation, and wherever he saw a class left out he wished to see that class represented. The Protestant labourer in England would never be fairly treated until he had his vote. He hoped that this would come to be acknowledged in legislation, and that the English householder would remember that he, too, was weakened so long as the vote was denied to the poor householder in Ireland.
§ Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,
§ MR. STACPOOLE
resumed: He strongly deprecated the introduction of the question of creeds into the discussion. He would vote for the Motion, and, as a Protestant, had no fear of meeting his constituents under an enlarged franchise. He thought, however, that the areas of the small boroughs should be enlarged rather than the boroughs disfranchised.
§ MR. KIRK
entered his protest against the way in which this and similar measures, having for their object the assimilation of the Irish to the English law, had been treated. The attempt to close the discussion by a count-out was one of the methods of getting rid of what was regarded as an ugly Irish question. He only claimed for Ireland the same law on that subject as now existed in England.
§ MR. PLUNKET
said, that although the dinner-hour was not a very exciting time in which to speak, it was not, in his opinion, either the most favourable moment for taking this division. And as so many speakers had followed each other from the other side, he should be sorry if hon. Members should suppose that on his side of the House there 1961 had been want of attention to their arguments or unwillingness to reply to them when the proper time arrived. He might not indeed be able to add much to what he had himself said on former occasions; for this question had been often debated at great length during the last four years, and divisions had been taken upon proposals almost identical to the one now before the House. Another circumstance, however, which deprived the present debate of not a little of its interest was that the subject they were now considering would come up for discussion again next Friday, when a Motion was to be brought forward dealing with the whole question of a general Reform Bill for the three Kingdoms. The scope of the Resolution to be moved on Friday would be to extend household suffrage not only to the Irish boroughs, but also to the counties of England, Scotland, and Ireland; and he believed that the Members who were supporting the Resolution of the hon. Member for Kildare (Mr. Meldon) that night, would be found one and all supporting the much more sweeping proposal by which it was to be followed three days hence. Under these circumstances, he felt more reluctance than he otherwise would have done to accede to the smaller and more modified proposal now before the House. They had heard that the Motion of the hon. Member for Kildare, if carried, would produce a great gain to the Liberal Party and a great loss to the Conservative Party in that House. For himself, he was not at all clear what might be its effect in that sense on the one side or the other. His main objection to it was that even this more modest proposal would be most injurious, under existing circumstances, to the character of the whole House, and to the whole machinery of legislation for the three Kingdoms, even in its modified shape; and that certainly in the larger form, which it would assume under the Resolution to be moved on Friday, it would bring about a state of the Irish representation such as probably the minds of few hon. Members could now realize or anticipate. He did not treat the particular proposal before them that night as a Party proposal. He believed that they could not, under the existing circumstances of the two countries, undertake, coute qu'il coute, to apply the same conditions to the franchise in Ireland as they might 1962 apply, and had applied, to the franchise in England. That was not altogether a question of Protestant and Catholic, or of Whig and Tory; but it was a question of extending political power to a vast democracy—to an unmitigated democratic force which they would by no means be able to control. As had been well said, it was the great advantage of the social system of this country that the social edifice was evenly and gradually shaped; that there was a harmonious blending of the different ranks and orders of men; that there was no great conflict between one class and another; and that there was no sharp line drawn across any portion of the social structure, dividing it into hostile and uncongenial sections. He did not wish to reflect upon any class of his own countrymen, however much he might differ from them in politics; but he did say that the lowest and by far the largest class of the Irish population was not in such a state that it would be right to give it an overwhelming preponderance in the Parliamentary system of Ireland. In England they had Whig and Tory in all the ranks of life; but the overwhelming preponderance of the Irish people were pledged to certain extreme views, and all the reasoning, all the practical arguments, all the influence they might bring to bear in opposition to their views would be mere waste of time. They would vote en bloc in favour of these views. He knew that that condition of things did not exist to the same extent as it did in former times. He believed it was diminishing every day, and he longed for the hour when it would have entirely passed away; but in the meantime they could not apply the same principles of representation in Ireland as they applied in England. In England they had different classes in the counties and in the boroughs); the political parties in England fairly balanced one another. Sometimes one party drew to its side a majority of those electors not usually pledged as partizans to one side or the other, especially when there was a change of Government. But that, unfortunately, was not the case in Ireland. In this respect, the social circumstances of the two countries were widely different;—for instance, in English boroughs, when the Reform Bill of 1867 was passed, the number of persons inhabiting houses of a valuation of less than£4 was, he believed, about one-eighth 1963 of the whole body of electors; but if the qualification for the franchise in Ireland was reduced below £4, they would not only bring in a number equal to those who at present possessed the franchise in boroughs, but would introduce such a number as would completely swamp the existing constituencies; and therefore it was not a conclusive argument by any means to say—"In 1867 you trusted the masses in England—you did away with all restrictions which were found unnecessary, and you should adopt a similar course with regard to Ireland." If they established, as he supposed perhaps they might before long, household suffrage for counties as well as for boroughs in England—he confessed he was not at all in favour of such an extension— what would be the effect if they applied that to Ireland? Some years ago he (Mr. Plunket) made a prediction which was treated with a good deal of surprise and some ridicule. When there was only one Home Ruler—the late Mr. John Martin—in the House, he predicted that at least 60 Members would be returned at the next General Election adhering to that Gentleman's views. The noble Lord who now led Her Majesty's Opposition, he thought it was, had very frankly said —"Let them come; we shall be delighted to see them all here." He was quite sure the noble Lord was not more glad than himself to see them there, so far as many of those hon. Members were personally concerned. But that was a different question. He was speaking on a matter of policy. The noble Lord said he should be delighted to see them. The noble Lord had since had some experience in con-ducting the Opposition there, and he thought the Home Rulers had not made his task a very easy one. But suppose it had been the fate of the noble Lord to lead in that House a Liberal Administration, dependent to a great extent on the votes of Home Rulers, would it have been possible for him to carry on the Government of the country in the way in which it had up to the present been ordinarily conducted? Seeing, then, that the social conditions of Ireland were altogether different from those of England, they should hesitate long before they adopted such changes in the representation of the former country founded upon some abstract principle which would have an unknown 1964 effect upon both that House and upon Ireland itself. In his own mind, he really entertained the opinion that household suffrage in Ireland would bring about results which they must all deplore. If the proposed change were brought about, he believed that all the most moderate Irish politicians, and possibly the large majority of the best of the present Representatives of Irish constituencies, would disappear from that House; and he ventured to predict that their places would be taken by extreme Nationalists. He should not perhaps so much regret that circumstance if he could look at it merely from a Party point of view, because the difficulties of a Conservative Government might not be increased by the presence opposite of a large body of Irish Nationalists; but he should regret that result as being contrary to the interests of his country. He was sorry to be compelled to take the part of Cassandra on this occasion; but he thought that hon. Members opposite in supporting this proposal scarcely realized the difficulties they were proposing to prepare for themselves. Doubtless they would get up and would say heroically that, whatever might be the consequence, "let right and justice be done." No one was more anxious than himself that right and justice should be done; but he denied that this was a question involving right and justice. In dealing with a question of this kind they must look beyond mere abstract propositions connected with the rights of man, and such doctrinaire proposals were, in his opinion, contrary to the principle and settled practice of our Constitution. We had hitherto had regard, and in his opinion must continue to have regard, to its probable consequences when any such change was proposed. He looked forward earnestly and longingly to the time when the social conditions of his country would correspond more nearly than they did at present with those which existed in this happy and fortunate Island, and when it would be safe and wise to apply the same principle of representation to them both; but until that time, and until the beneficial effects of prosperity and education were more felt, and until old animosities and traditional feuds which had so long disturbed and divided Ireland subsided, they must weigh well such measures as that now proposed; 1965 or if they did not, and introduced ill-considered changes, the consequences might be most mischievous. He must for these reasons, and under the existing circumstances of the two countries, give the most strenuous opposition to the Resolution.
§ MR. JOHN BRIGHT
Sir, if I had heard the prophetic language of the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite for the first time in this House it would, perhaps, have made me extremely unhappy. Taking his speech from the beginning to the end, it seems to me that Ireland, if what he has said be true, is at the present time in a deplorable and hopeless condition. The proposition before the House is to admit the householders of boroughs in Ireland to the franchise in the same way as the householders in England now exercise it. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that the result of the adoption of that proposal would be something fearful, and that the democracy would make its appearance in this House in such a character that it would be not only mischievous, but uncontrollable. The hon. and learned Gentleman told us that in Ireland there is no middle class that can take charge with any material effect of the political opinions and actions of his countrymen—that there is no middle class from which any help can be derived, or in which any hope can be placed; and he did not tell us much of the upper class, except to say that they were few in number. But there was a time when almost the whole of the representation was in the hands of that upper class, and no one could say that it was very creditable to this House or useful to the country. The upper class, as we accept it in general conversation, is composed chiefly of landlords, and they are very few as compared with the tenantry; and landlord opinion, powerful as it might be in that House, was not the opinion which found much support among the great bulk of the population of Ireland. Now, we had had landlord opinion representation, and we did not wish to go back to it, and yet if we admit a new class of voters, it is said we shall have this uncontrolled democracy. If the present representation of Ireland does not meet the views of the hon. and learned Gentleman, as I believe it does not, then I know no remedy whatever for Ireland, except 1966 that representation should be withdrawn from it, and that the country should be governed upon a mode which is wholly irreconcilable with the Government and Constitution of this country. I would like to ask the hon. and learned Gentleman whether he thinks it likely, judging from what has been seen during the present Parliament, that things would be worse if this Resolution were adopted than they are now? I think the hon. and learned Gentleman will himself admit that if we were to run over all the boroughs in Ireland— I leave out Dublin and Belfast, which he has excluded from his argument— and over most of the counties, the extension of the suffrage to householders, both in boroughs and counties, would produce at present very much the same kind of representation which we have now from the majority of the boroughs and counties in that country. [Mr. PLUNKET: No, no!] I am rather surprised at that objection; because, in my conversation with Irish gentlemen, some of them holding the opinions of the hon. and learned Gentleman, they admitted to me that they thought the extension of the franchise would make no great difference in the representation of Ireland. There may be some districts in the North of Ireland in which a change in the representation might be made; but I learn from both sides of the House that there is a great probability that that change will be made at the next General Election, even if there be no extension of the franchise now. I am willing to admit that in one sense the language attributed to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich is correct when he said that the representation of Ireland is deplorable—not deplorable as regards the relation between the Members from Ireland and their constituencies—that was not his meaning, nor is it mine—but deplorable because there has been for some time past a severance of sympathy between the hon. Members for Irish constituencies who sit on this side of the House, and hon. Members also on this side from England and Scotland. It is a want of sympathy probably caused by accidental circumstances; but it is greatly to be lamented, and not likely, I hope, to be continued. Now, I think it is possible for the Irish people to learn that it would be an advantage to Ireland to have a 1967 large and solid representation in this House. We all know that after the Union with Scotland the animosity of the Scotch to the Union with England was greater and keener, was more passionate than any animosity that has been exhibited of late in Ireland to the Union with England; and I think a good many years after the Union with Scotland an attempt to repeal that Union only failed in the other House of Parliament by a few votes—I am not sure whether it was not by only one vote. But at this moment the Scotch people would be much more opposed to a repeal of the Union with England probably than the English themselves would. I never yet met with a single Scotchman, after visiting that country nearly every year for 20 years, who entertained the idea that it would be to the advantage of Scotland to have a representation of its own in Edinburgh, and to be separate from the Imperial Parliament; and when I have sometimes told them that they seemed very much more sensible as politicians and Members of Parliament than many of our English Members, and that I thought they were the only people who really had to complain of the Union, and that if they had a Parliament at Edinburgh they might do better for themselves, I have always found that they rejected the notion as one that offended their common sense and could not be received or accepted for a moment. But if this is true with regard to Scotland, it is not absolutely proved to be false with regard to Ireland; and I shall never believe that the Irish themselves will not at some day or other—at no remote period, notwithstanding the demonstration to the contrary which we have lately had—be of opinion that it is of no disadvantage to them to be united in representation with the people of England, and Scotland. They are united to us in every other way; they are united to us in our commerce—and they have at this moment an advantage that almost no other country has, for they buy everything in the world—everything of the manufactures of Great Britain in the cheapest market in the world; and all the excess of their produce which they have to export they sell at the highest prices to the richest customers in the world. Therefore, as far as our commercial interest is concerned, nothing can be more 1968 complete or more advantageous to both countries than the Union which now exists. If the commercial interests of the two countries are so united, I do not see that it is impossible that by a little moderation—a little condescension and kindness on the part of Great Britain, and a little more thought on the part of the people of Ireland—at some not distant day we may have as complete a union between Great Britain and Ireland as we have now between England and Scotland. I said that we have this commercial union—how can we take any steps to bring about a political Union? Notwithstanding the feelings that have been expressed by the new Association that was formed in Ireland some few years ago, with regard to the severance of the legislation of the two countries, I think that we may probably show—the House may show—by a fair consideration of Irish questions, that we are perfectly willing to do to the Irish people a full measure of justice; and it is not necessary that every measure that the Irish people ask for should recommend itself to us as absolutely the best; but if they think it the best—if the great majority of their Representatives think it the best—I think we ought, as Members for England and Scotland, upon some occasions even to strain a point, and to do that for them, with their own free will and at their own request, which perhaps we should not recommend to be done for either England or Scotland. And thus it may be—I think it will be, but I am sure it may be if we act like sensible men—that the people of Ireland will come to see that if they had a Parliament of their own, the measures to which it could turn its attention would be so few in number—so few that were not of an Imperial character—that it would be an absolute absurdity to establish a Parliament of Lords and Commons in Dublin for the purpose of dealing only with questions which are more suitable for a Corporation or a Vestry than for the Parliament of a Kingdom. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin in his —what shall I call it?—his melancholy speech—fornothingcould be more melancholy than the prospect before us, according to his statement—said that in Ireland there are so many people in the different boroughs below the level of the franchise 1969 that if you were to extend the franchise to householders, you would immediately bring in so many of the poorest and, in the social scale, the lowest, that you might overwhelm those who are already in possession of the franchise. That is exactly what was said in 1832. Sir Charles Wetherell, and Mr. Croker, and others at that time, said it—only they said it with a vast deal more earnestness and a great deal more passion than the hon. and learned Gentleman has said it; and, then, if we come down to 1867, exactly the same thing was said by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who sit on that Treasury Bench. Everybody knows who was in the House then, that the present Prime Minister and his Friends used exactly the same argument, and it was perfectly true to a certain extent. If I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham (Mr. Hibbert), he can tell us that his constituency is three or four times as numerous as it was before the Bill of 1867—[Mr. HIBBERT: Six times as numerous.] He says it is six times as numerous. What was said against that Bill was, that this three or four or six times more numerous body brought in would entirely swamp those who already were electors. But the old constituency of Oldham has not been swamped. At present, my hon. Friend is here to represent them on this side of the House, and an hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Serjeant Spinks) represents a portion of them on the other side of the House; and what could be more proper if the constituency be equally divided? But the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Plunket) thinks that in Ireland there is no such division; and I suppose he thinks also that the ballot —which he did not speak of as if he were much of a friend to it—has in a certain sense worked a revolution in Ireland, because, on the one hand, it has liberated the electors from the landowners; and, on the other, as in the case of the hon. Member for the county of Limerick, has liberated them from the priests. Well, but it is a great and good process to go through in coming from the state of political serfdom in which the Irish were—it was a natural process—that they should on the one hand get rid of the landlord, and on the other get rid of the priest; and that must be done before a constituency comes, as it were, to stand upon its own 1970 feet, to act upon its own convictions and principles, and to speak with its own voice in this Parliament of the United Kingdom. The results of the Act of 1832 disappointed the prophets of evil; the results in 1867, and since then, have disappointed the prophets of evil. I believe the results of this measure, if it were passed, would disappoint the hon. and learned Gentleman. I do not say that the result of the measure would not be probably to supplant certain Gentlemen —-some who are sitting in this House. The hon. and learned Gentleman, I believe, would have none of these new constituents in his constituency. He, at least, would be safe, and therefore he speaks from a disinterested position; but my own impression is that the general result as regards the class of men—the personal representation in this House—would not be sensibly changed by the proposition that is now before us; and that the step that the House would take by granting this measure would be one which would say to all the people of Ireland—"We have no wish that you should come to the Imperial Parliament inferior to us in any privilege, in any right, in any freedom." I say, if we were to adopt that principle—admitting that the hon. and learned Gentleman may to some extent be right as to certain inconveniences which might result; yet I think this inconvenience would be trivial and small, and not worthy to be considered in comparison with the enormous gain that would come to us as a Parliament, if we could once persuade the people of Ireland that we are as willing to be just to them as a Parliament sitting in Dublin, though composed in all its branches of men of their own blood, of men of their own religion, and born and nurtured in their own country. That is what I would wish to do for Ireland; and I would submit to certain small risks and certain inconveniences, if I could bring about such a great result as that. I am sorry to say that the hon. and learned Gentleman's Party in all past times, in the views they have held, have endeavoured to direct the course of the Imperial Parliament in direct opposition to the views I hold. I say all their policy and all their measures have failed, all their fore-tellings, all their prophecies have been false, and have led only to prove that they did not understand what was the 1971 true interest of their country; and I hope now that the House will not take the advice of the hon. and learned Gentleman, but will consent to the proposition which has been submitted to it.
§ SIR JOSEPH M'KENNA
ventured to think that the carrying of the measure would not make any serious alteration on either side of the House. He could not agree with what had been said concerning the position of the Irish representation; but the system of registration was nearly as unsatisfactory as it could be at the present time. The adoption of the proposal would show that there was a disposition on the part of Parliament in some way to do justice to Ireland, and to equalize laws for the country and put them on the same basis as they stood for England. It would give a number of inhabitants of small boroughs, at present without any link with the Constitution, the consciousness that they had some position in the State. It was for that reason he advocated the measure. They were told, at the opening of the present Parliament, when Home Rule was first brought forward, that all they had to do was to bring forward in the House any Irish grievance, and their complaints would receive attention; but now they were told by the hon. and learned Gentleman that this question must await the decision of Parliament on the Education Question. This question was, therefore, not to be dealt with, but to be kept waiting on another. The Education Question was waiting, and for what? For the will of the Government. The Government delayed the decision of that question because they attempted to do that which was impossible—namely, to reconcile the opinion of Ireland, on denominational teaching, with that of certain classes in England who preferred the secular system. With respect to the course that his hon. Friends who sat near him might take on the Motion which was to come forward on Friday—the Motion of the hon. Member for the Border Boroughs (Mr. Trevelyan)—he thought that it would be out of taste to indicate the line that they were likely to take; but, for himself, he would say that he would on this occasion, and he hoped also in the future, vote for the extension of the franchise.
§ MR. GRAY
said, there was no man for whom the Irish people cherished greater reverence and deeper regard, he 1972 might even say, affection, than for the right hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright); and his speech to-night —one of the many generous speeches which he had delivered with reference to Ireland—would be received there with thankfulness, and would not be without its effect. He thought, however, the right hon. Gentleman was sanguine in assuming that the Irish people would so soon turn from the resolve to which they had come. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would think him (Mr. Gray) more sanguine in hoping that gentlemen like him, who did honestly desire the fullest measure of justice to Ireland, and who had proved their earnestness, would come to see that the views which were put forward by the majority of Irishmen were not incompatible with the principles which they professed; and that what they desired might be as safely conceded as those extensions of the franchise which the right hon. Gentleman and those who went with him now conceded, but which their Predecessors for long refused. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Dublin University (Mr. Plunket) took occasion three or four times very pointedly to disclaim any intention of reflecting upon his fellow-countrymen. He (Mr. Gray) thought that disclaimer was more than necessary, when they remembered that he described the debate in which nearly every Irish Member in the House had taken part as a "tame rehearsal." He remembered that the same hon. and learned Gentleman described the debate on the adjournment of the Address as a masquerade. He did not know whether the hon. and learned Gentleman considered these reflections upon his brother Members. He hoped it was not because he was not very earnest in the views he put forward himself, that he imagined they had only equal earnestness, and were masquerading in a tame rehearsal. He assured him that they were more earnest than he thought in the views they took; that they meant to press this question to an issue, and they hoped, in a very short time, to a successful issue. Not very long ago, he (Mr. Gray) had the honour of making his first speech in that House, and he remembered that it was on this question. He listened to every argument then put forward; and he certainly failed to hear one which 1973 convinced him that there was a shadow of a reason for refusing this very moderate request. The right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach), who was then the Chief Secretary for Ireland, stated in effect the only argument which remained in his mind, and that was that this proposal would destroy the Whig Party in Ireland. Why that should be such a stumbling-block in the way of hon. Members opposite, whose only aim seemed to be to destroy the" Whig Party in England, he could not conceive. He could understand their putting forward any other argument—of their having spoken of the Land Question, or the Education Question, of using almost any other argument—but how they could put this forward passed his comprehension. He had heard all the arguments; but none of them supplied to his mind any reason for the refusal to which he supposed they would have to submit to adopt this Resolution.
§ MR. BRUEN
joined in the hope which had been expressed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright), that the time would come when the Irish people would feel no disinclination to be united with England. Irish Members who sat on the same side of the House as himself formed the party which had always supported the Union. But when the right hon. Gentleman went on to say that that Union should be brought about by doing for Ireland what would not be done for either England or Scotland, merely because of the desire on the part of the people of Ireland, he must offer his strenuous opposition to that proposition. He should offer his strenuous opposition to the Motion before the House; and he ventured to assert that the borough franchise in Ireland, as compared with England and Scotland, was not restricted, and a fair and just equality between the two already existed. The question in this case was whether the franchise was to be considered as a right or a privilege. He regarded it a privilege, and submitted that those who claimed the exercise of that privilege ought to show that they were fitted for it. He maintained that it was untrue to say that the test of value was discarded by the Act of 1867. The quality of value was still retained in relation to the lodger 1974 franchise and the property franchise. The principle of government recognized by the Constitution was that of government by an aristocracy—that was, government by those persons best fitted to govern; and it was because the Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman struck at that principle that he should vote against it. Until they came more nearly in Ireland to the independence of the householders of the English boroughs, it would be dangerous to admit this new class of voters in overwhelming numbers to the franchise in Ireland without some counterbalancing provisions.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided: —Ayes 126; Noes 134: Majority 8.—(Div. List, No. 18.)