§ MR. MELDON
, in rising to call attention to the restricted nature of the Borough Franchise in Ireland; and to move—That the restricted nature of the Borough Franchise in Ireland as compared with that existing in England and Scotland is a subject deserving the immediate attention of Parliament, with the view of establishing a fair and just equality of the Franchise in the three Countries,said, that this was the sixth time, during the present Parliament, he had risen to ask the House to do a simple act of justice to Ireland. He appealed to Her Majesty's Government to extend to Ireland a privilege which had been extended to England and Scotland in 1867. Was it consistent with truth and honour for them to deny this privilege to Ireland, and yet, at the same time, to lay it down as one of their principles that they extended to Ireland the same rights that were possessed by England and Scotland? When Irish questions were brought forward they were usually met by the reply that claims were being made for Ireland which had not been granted to the people of England; but, in this case, the facts he desired to lay before the House would show that it was totally inconsistent with those declarations to maintain the present law of borough franchise. The present time was very opportune for a settlement of this question. When the matter was brought forward at the commencement of the present Parliament, its supporters were told that its settlement would necessarily lead to a Disso- 1200 lution. This objection was at that time not without force; but it was one that was no longer valid, because at present they were on the eve of a General Election. It was not a Party question, for it had been introduced by the Conservative Party themselves, under the leadership of the present Prime Minister in 1867. The issue before the House was this, whether Ireland was or was not to be governed by equal laws with England? Since the Resolution was last before the House there had been an expression of opinion throughout this country in the Conservative Press that the Government had not the slightest excuse for further delaying a settlement, and up to the present moment the Conservative Press in England had advocated the assimilation of the borough franchise of the three countries, and hopes had been held out to the Irish people, either through the Press or otherwise, that the Government would take the question up. They had very recently heard it stated that the people of Ireland were not inclined to look with favour upon the action of the Government with respect to this matter. But this was not the case. There had been a very strong feeling in Ireland that the intentions of the Government on this question were honourable. It was only now that they learned to their great disappointment that, instead of the policy of conciliation which was introduced last Session, they were to have a policy of exasperation. It had been stated to him by hon. Gentlemen that whilst they thoroughly approved of his Motion, they should abstain from voting for it, because of the pressure put upon them by the Government. He, however, appealed to the independent Members of the House not to allow themselves to be influenced on this question by the opinion of one Cabinet Minister, but to determine the case on its merits. Last Session they thought themselves entitled, from the tone of the hon. Member's gracious speech, to conclude that a policy of conciliation would then be adopted when the Intermediate Education Bill was indicated. But a change took place in the councils of the Ministry, and it was only under great pressure, and under exceptional circumstances, that the Bill was introduced after all. In the present Session, however, they found that 1201 nothing was being done for Ireland, and under those circumstances he was justified in saying that a policy of exasperation had been adopted, and that the principle of conciliation had been thrown to the winds. The present Prime Minister, when introducing the borough franchise for England, laid it down that the franchise was the political right of every citizen who was able to keep a house above his head and to assist in the support of his poorer brethren? What was there in that principle which did not apply equally to Ireland? He challenged anyone to find anything in the circumstances of the two countries that could justify the difference in the application of the principle. The qualification for the borough franchise in Ireland was the occupation of a house rated at not less than £4; but, owing to the mode of valuation, a house rated at £4 in Ireland would be worth £6 in England, so that there was even a greater difference between the two systems than at first appeared. The difference between the electoral condition of England and Scotland and Ireland was very striking. Thus the 31 boroughs in Ireland, having a population of 866,356, had only 54,218 electors, between them returning 39 Members; while Glasgow, with a population of 470,456, had 60,582 electors; Liverpool, with a population of 493,405, had 61,143 electors; and Manchester, with a population of 379,374, had 62,813 voters. The boroughs of England, having a population of 10,600,000, returned 297 Members by 1,539,000 votes; and those of Scotland, with a population of 479,391, returned 26 Members by 203,364 votes. Further, though the number of electors had been trebled in England between 1868 and the present time, the entire increase in Ireland during the same period was something less than 20,000. All this spoke volumes in favour of the claim which he put before the House, and made the strength of his case overwhelming. What distinction was there between the three countries to justify this difference between the proportion of electors to population? The Irish people were quite—and, indeed, in matters of politics, even more intelligent than similar classes in this country. What reason, then, was there that the citizen in one portion of the United 1202 Kingdom should be deprived of the political rights held by citizens in other portions? Again, by what process of reasoning could it be made just that an Irishman enjoying a vote at Liverpool should be disfranchised by the simple act of removing to the other side of the Channel? The number of county and borough electors in England and Scotland bore an entirely different proportion to that of Ireland. In England and Scotland the large majority of the electors were in the boroughs, while in Ireland the number of borough electors was insignificant as compared with those in the counties. He did not know any reason why this should be so. It had been said that to introduce household suffrage into the Irish boroughs would bring about a change in that country which might become dangerous; but no danger had resulted in this country from the change effected by the Reform Act of 1867, under which the number of the borough electors had been tripled. He was at a loss to conceive what there was to be said on the other side of that question. The question had been discussed five times in that House; but he could not discover any arguments which he had to answer. It might be urged that his proposal would necessitate a re-distribution of seats. Well, he was not terrified by that suggestion. He was perfectly prepared to meet a re-distribution of seats. He was for giving political power to the great mass of the people irrespective of whether they would support Members on one side of the House or on the other. The present Conservative Government said they were returned by the votes of the English working classes. If so, the extension of the franchise in England had operated for their advantage. He did not, however, agree in the necessity of a re-distribution of seats, because at present they had appointed a Commission for extending the boundaries of boroughs in Ireland. It might be said that they should delay the extension of the franchise until the boundaries of boroughs had been extended; but he maintained that the two things were quite distinct from, and independent of, each other. Let them extend the boundaries of boroughs as much as they pleased; but that was no reason for putting off the extension of the franchise. In England they did not wait 1203 for the extension of the boundaries of boroughs before extending the franchise, and he now said they should assimilate the law of the two countries. It had been stated that the people of Ireland had no great feeling on that subject; but he asserted that it had been much discussed throughout Ireland by public bodies, who had shown great interest in the proposal, and were uniformly in favour of it. Petitions had been sent in, but the question was too serious to be decided by Petitions. The feelings of the people of Ireland on the question would have been perfectly well known if not a single Petition had been presented. The rejection of his Motion would, he was convinced, produce great disappointment, and even exasperation, among the Irish people. In addition to the restricted nature of the franchise in Ireland, the enjoyment of that privilege was further circumscribed through the operation of the rating laws. He would appeal to the independent Members of the great Conservative Party not to allow the influence of the Government on that occasion to deprive Ireland of the redress which she now sought. In the interest of the Constitutional Party in Ireland, as represented in that House, he appealed to them as Englishmen desirous of maintaining the union between the two countries to do what was fair, just, and honourable in that matter, and not to throw out his Motion. If that union was to be continued, he asked them not to permit Party considerations to interfere with the vote they were about to give. Early in the present Parliament the House had refused to yield to the great pressure of the Government, and had virtually affirmed that the borough franchise of Ireland ought to be extended, because the Motion was defeated only by a majority of 13, which he regarded as a practical expression of the opinion of the House that the advocates of the proposal had reason and justice on their side. Last Session, again, there was only a majority of 8 against them; and he thought the time had now come when that question ought to be settled. The hon. and learned Gentleman concluded by moving the Resolution of which he had given Notice.
§ MR. GRAY
said, he rose to second the Motion for the third time since he had been a Member of the House. He 1204 did so with very little hope of the Motion leading to a successful result, for he understood that a more than usually urgent summons had been issued by the Government to their supporters to attend in force and crush this demand of the Irish Representatives. He was informed, moreover, that individual Members of the Government had exercised personal pressure on hon. Members opposite, who were really in favour of the Motion, to induce them to vote against it on this occasion. Yet when they considered that the Government usually commanded a majority of 60, and that this measure, proposed by a private Member on the Liberal side, had only been defeated by majorities of 5, 13, and 8, it must be admitted that they had virtually gained the victory. There had not been a shred of argument against the proposition. It was said that an assimilation of the Irish borough franchise with the English would swamp the existing constituencies and revolutionize the representation. Had the change made in England in 1867, and completed in 1869, had any such effect? Why should that be bad in Ireland which was thought good in England? By the legislation of 1867 and 1869 the English borough constituencies were trebled, and the Government deemed the change beneficial because it had brought them into power. The present proposal, on the other hand, would not even double the Irish borough constituencies, and yet it was held up as a revolutionary measure, which would destroy property by the force of numbers. That argument exemplified the saying that any stick was good enough to beat a dog with. What had puzzled him most in considering the attitude which Ministers had taken on this question was—what was the real motive which was actuating them? This Session had no doubt been initiated by a policy of exasperation towards Irish Members; but there must be some motive underlying that. A desire to irritate and insult could not account for it. There must be some motive underlying the determination of the Government to delay this measure, which must be granted sooner or later. Could it be that Ireland had been so tranquil that, as the Coercion Act was about to expire by lapse of time, the Government hoped, by exasperating the people, to drive them to some act which would furnish an excuse 1205 for the continuance of the Coercion Act? [A laugh.] The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. J. Lowther) smiled; but the idea was not so far-fetched. When the English people desired a reform of the franchise they took determined measures, in order to show that their wishes should not be resisted, and hon. Members had not yet forgotten the disturbances in Hyde Park. If, however, similar riots occurred in the Phœnix Park at Dublin, the Government, instead of appointing one of the promoters of the movement to a Judgeship, would probably violate the law, as they had done on previous occasions, and instead of granting to the Irish people a Reform Act, which was their right, would give them a Coercion Act. Every expression of public opinion in Ireland was treated as sedition. As to the allegation that the Irish people had not sent up Petitions in favour of reform, he might remark that they might naturally feel disinclined to petition Parliament, inasmuch as their opinion, when expressed constitutionally through their Representatives, was not received in the House of Commons with the slightest regard or respect. The action of the Government had taught the Irish people that they were regarded as being outside the Constitution, and that any concession that was given to them was given for the policy and convenience of the Government, not for the benefit of the people, and it was never given in the manner nor at the time that the people required it. In point of fact, however, there had not been during the Recess a single public meeting in Ireland at which a Resolution was not passed in favour of assimilating the Irish to the English franchise. The popular Press of Ireland was also unanimous on the question, and had written warmly in support of the Motion. What further expression of public opinion could they have? If the motive he had suggested with respect to the Coercion Act was not the real spring of the action of the Government, he could suggest one even more ignoble though perhaps less criminal. They might, perhaps, have thought it desirable to exasperate some of the Irish Representatives in that House, and thereby to obtain an excuse for applying to them some exceptional measure. So many Irishmen had been enfranchised in England that in Manchester alone 1206 there were more Irish voters than in Dublin. These men had commenced to make their power felt by means of organization. Now, if by the refusal of the present demand and of other claims, the Government could obtain an excuse for applying to the Irish Party exceptional legislation, they might be able to excite such a prejudice against the Irish in England that the fact of the Irish vote being cast in favour of a candidate would rather injure than serve him. Or it might be that they had a still more pettifogging motive. It might be that they were merely postponing a settlement until after the General Election, in the hope of keeping a seat or two for a few years longer. These motives might be natural enough; but were they such as ought to actuate statesmen? He seconded the Motion without the slightest hope of its being carried. But in spite of the present majority of the Government, in spite of the Whips, in spite of the pressure on individual Members, who, if left free, would vote for the Motion, the time must come when this question would be settled; and all that the Government would gain by their attitude in exasperating the Irish people would be to make them feel that what otherwise they might be grateful for as a measure of peace, conciliation, and justice to the country, had been obtained in spite of them and not by their help.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "the restricted nature of the Borough Franchise in 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,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. CHARLES LEWIS
, in opposing the Motion, said, that if he had to trouble the House with arguments and figures that had been previously used there, it arose from the necessity of the case in the Mover of the Motion not having given the House a scintilla of fact, and only laying before them one part of the case. He had carefully confined his remarks to considering popula- 1207 tion only, and a reference to what he called a policy of exasperation. Such a policy was not inaugurated on the Government Benches, but by those below the Gangway on his own side of the House. It had commenced in that House, and had been reiterated over and over again, with every sort of extravagant threats, out of the House, both with regard to the Ministry and hon. Members; but they would certainly have no effect on the Ministerial side of the House. For if he knew anything of the spirit or sense of honour which inspired hon. Members on the Government side of the House, it would certainly not be by threats such as had been used that their conduct on that or upon any other question would be influenced. The Mover of this Resolution had said that the whole of the Conservative Press of England were in favour of this measure; but he (Mr. Charles Lewis) ventured to doubt that statement. The hon. and learned Member had evidently been misled on that point. The subject of the extension of the Irish borough franchise, no doubt, appeared to many to be an easy one; but until people took the trouble to study it, they were misled by the fine phrase "assimilation of the franchise in England and Ireland." The House was told that all his hon. and learned Friend modestly asked for was that a Conservative Government should do now for Ireland what they did for England in 1867. But there was one thing which they did not do, and that was to hand over the electoral power in one part of the United Kingdom to persons rated below £4, and that was what was now proposed. So long as they excluded women from the franchise and required a man to pay rent and occupy a house, and so long as there were endless barriers to the introduction of that which he hoped he should never see in England—universal manhood suffrage—they would have to fall back on the principle from which the Legislature of England had never departed—that the franchise was not a mere right without conditions. One of the conditions necessary to annex to any lowering of the franchise in Ireland beyond the present point would be to show that the class which came in was qualified to exercise, as a body, the franchise conferred on them—that by doing so the House would not be enfranchising ignorance, bigotry, 1208 and superstition, and a class subject to those particular faults; and, above all, would not be handing over that electoral power to persons utterly unable to hold the status of citizens in any ordinary sense. The Seconder of the Amendment had said that the House and the Government never showed any respect to Irish opinion or Irish Petitions. Well, he knew something about the Sunday Closing Bill, and he believed that the House and the Government had submitted to it against their will in deference to Irish opinion. Again, was the Irish Church Act and the Irish Land Act passed by Parliament because they liked those measures? He believed he was correct in saying that there was not even a division on the second reading of the Irish Land Act, though many in the House thought it an infringement of one of the great safeguards of property—the right of free contract. With regard to the Resoultion, he observed that it did not deal with the question of re-distribution; because the worst thing for the borough Members would be to touch the representation of boroughs in Ireland. ["No, no!"] How was it that the eager exponents of Irish opinion were found, not in borough, but in county Members, and that, on every such occasion as this, the curricle was harnessed with the hon. and learned Member for the county Kildare and the hon. Member for the county of Tipperary? And then the settlement the House was asked to deal with had been made in a Liberal House of Commons. No division was taken on the question of going below £4. The Liberal Party agreed to it because it was a far more liberal proposition than that which had been made by Lord Carlingford the year before, when he proposed £6. It was said they ought to assimilate the law between England and Ireland; but that argument proved too much, because, in that case, they ought not to have disturbed the balance between the two countries in the case of the Land and the Church. The fact was, the House of Commons had frequently treated Ireland more favourably than England in the matter of the franchise. Ireland had a £12 county franchise for some years; while, in the English counties, the franchise was £50. It was said that this Government would give Ireland nothing but Coercion Acts; but the fact was it 1209 cut down by two-thirds the Coercion Acts it had found in existence—it had made them a humane instead of an inhumane code. It had done away with the midnight searchings and other parts of the law which had been found harsh in operation. He often wondered why his hon. Friends opposite were so fretful about the borough franchise. Surely they had got a pretty good share of borough Members! There were 37 borough Members. Twenty of them rejoiced in the name of Home Rulers. What that meant they had not yet settled. They had had recent congresses and conferences and leagues; but, as far as the result was concerned, they had only squabbled over £300, and had not yet decided whether they should go on with three or two Leaders or with none at all. That was the condition of the Home Rulers; but they were strong in Parliament. He admitted that there wore 10 Conservative Members out of the 37 borough Members; they were not particularly strong, and several of them were threatened with extinction. What was the class that was proposed to be introduced by this measure? Were they intelligent shopkeepers, or the best part of the working class—artizans, artificers, mechanics, &c, occupying a respectable position? No; they were men who lived in hovels, with members of the animal creation mixing with them. They were men who were rated at 10s. per annum; men who did not occupy among the working class that position of solidity and respectability which was the ordinary character of the working class in all our great towns, and which they would find, no doubt, in the great towns in Ireland. They used to hear great speeches about what was intended and what would be done by every series of reform measures; that they would enfranchise intelligence; that they would enfranchise those who had been educated, those who were educating themselves, and who were a credit to the country to which they belonged. He had no right to lay too great a stress on rent; but it was one test. Living in a respectable tenement was a great social test. The vast majority of the persons who were proposed to be brought in were rated below £2. To extend the franchise to such people would be to degrade it. Would the class proposed to be brought in be men who read newspapers, who 1210 gave attention to the discussion of great public events, home and foreign? Would they be free from improper influence, or, on the other hand, would they be amenable to clerical influence? Would they go to the poll to express their own convictions, or the wishes of the Church to which they belonged? He did not wish to say anything against any particular religious community, but when the whole of Europe was trying to resist priestly influence—when it was being resisted in England, whether on the part of one Church or another, he asked the House not to do anything to extend the priestly influence of any Church. In all the boroughs of Ireland, except the large boroughs of Belfast, Cork, and Dublin, there were only 24,463 male occupiers rated over £4. There were in those boroughs no less than 34,806 male occupiers rated at £4 and under. So that this proposal would bring in 10,000 more than the total number of existing voters. The English Reform Act of 1867 did nothing approaching that. He would include the three large boroughs of Belfast, Cork, and Dublin. In the whole borough constituency of Ireland there were 73,623 occupiers rated above £4; at and under £4 there were 56,902, or about 45 per cent of the whole were rated at and under £4. Now, he asked the House to consider whether they ought not to give a little weight to property and valuation. What was the valuation of the property of the two classes? The valuation of those rated above £4 was £1,226,000, while that of the class rated at and under £4 was £116,000, or an average valuation of £2 per head. In Galway, out of 3,554 houses, 1,896 were rated at and under £2. Galway returned two Members. There were 2,173 out of the 3,564 houses in Drogheda that were rated under 40s. In Waterford, out of 4,544 houses, there were 1,878 rated under 40s. In 1866 there were in the whole of the Parliamentary boroughs of England only 130,256 male occupiers under £4, while there were 1,222,300 above that amount; or, in words, one-tenth under and nine-tenths above it. Let the House compare these figures with those which he had given with respect to Ireland, which showed that more than one-half the male occupiers were under £4. The Government was threatened with all sorts of pains and pe- 1211 nalties if they did not do for Irish borough constituencies what they did for the English constituencies in 1867; but he denied that the Government had done in 1867 what they were called upon to do now for Ireland. They gave a wide and liberal extension of the borough franchise; but they did not do for England what they were asked to do for Ireland by its so-called friends, but real enemies—namely, to transfer the electoral power to the lowest, the most ignorant, and the most debased of the population. One of the great arguments in favour of the Reform. Act of 1866 was that the people demanded it, and that demand, was backed up by the intelligence of the country. But had there been any demand by the Irish people for this measure? He did not allude to professional agitators, whether they were found upon the Benches of the House of Commons, in Town Councils, or other public bodies in Ireland. He asked what public opinion in Ireland had been manifested in favour of this Motion? He had again investigated the Report on Public Petitions for 1876, 1877, and 1878, to see if he could discover a scintilla of evidence that the people of Ireland, even under the tutelage of professional agitators, clerical and lay, had presented a single Petition; and the result was not a single Petition from any one of those Parliamentary boroughs that were so ill-treated, because they had not a more popular franchise. It was said, however, that the proposal was supported by the Town Councils of both the North and South of Ireland. Well, in reply to that assertion, he would merely observe that in the Town Council of Derry, whose members were equally divided so far as politics were concerned, not a single resolution on the subject of the borough franchise had been brought forward for the last three or four years, and that it was only at some Home Rule meeting that it had been discussed. But, at the same time, he was prepared to admit that the state of the representation of the boroughs of Ireland was simply scandalous. The whole of the constituencies of Manchester and Liverpool contained a population larger than the entire borough population of Ireland, and the former returned only six, while the latter returned 37 Members. There were no less than 10 boroughs in Ireland with a population of only 7,000; and how were 1212 large constituencies, he would ask, to be formed out of the materials which hon. Gentlemen opposite had at their disposal? The fact was that they seemed to be prepared to endow four-footed constituencies, if they could not get any other; and if they could not do that, they would, as the next best thing, endow those who lived with four-footed constituents. But to compare the position of the Irish boroughs and counties together, he would just point out that, while the former, with a population of 866,000, had 39 Members, including two which had been disfranchised, the counties, with a population of 4,548,713, had only 64 Members. The counties, therefore, had twice the population, but not twice the representation, of the boroughs. The adoption of the change proposed would be no real remedy for the existing scandalous state of the borough representation. No more serious question in connection with Ireland could be submitted to the judgment of the House. They would soon have before them that hardy annual, the Motion of the hon. Member for the Border Boroughs (Mr. Trevelyan) for the assimilation of the county and borough franchise, and, of course, it would be argued that what was good for England was good also for Ireland, so that the practical result of a departure from the settlement of 1867 would be recklessly to enfranchise every miserable cotter and but owner from the Giant's Causeway to Cape Clear; and among its further results, though he was unwilling to say anything against any denomination, he was bound to mention the effect that the measure would have in sweeping away from the field of electoral power many of the most loyal and most respectable of the electors. Moreover, it would, in the end, wholly exclude from Parliament all the representatives of the Protestant religion. ["No, no!"] He was not speaking without his book, as he held in his hand a quotation from a Liberal Irish newspaper, published in his own city, in which, at a Liberal registration meeting held two months ago, the chairman of the meeting had said—The equalization of the county and borough franchise will place in the hands of the Catholics of the cities, and probably also in the hands of the Catholics of the counties, the whole burden of political power, or, at least, by far the most important proportion of it.1213 He entirely concurred in the belief that such would be the effect of the proposed change, and that if the whole electoral power were placed in the hands of persons whose rating was under £4, the best and most respectable class of electors would be obliterated. There were stronger reasons even than those connected with religion—reasons in reference to good order and public tranquillity—for keeping political power in the hands of those who would exercise it wisely, and would not make it an instrument for insulting and degrading the country. "Within the last four-and-twenty hours a public meeting was held at Mitchelstown in connection with the approaching Election for the county of Cork. There was a great disturbance, and the only one who could get a hearing was a man known as the "Galtee Boy." This person was loudly cheered when he applied the most cruel and insulting epithets to Mr. Bridge. ["Hear, hear!"] Would anyone say "Hear, hear!" to the next passage he would read? "His (the Galtee Boy's) admirers further displayed their feelings by giving cheers for the Zulus." [Laughter.] Was it a matter to be laughed at by Members of that House that at a time when they were mourning the loss of many brave men who had died in the service of their country, there could be found one in the form of a man to lift up his voice and cry—"Three cheers for the Zulus!" He envied not the man who could cheer even ironically such a sentiment as that. The incident to which he had referred gave point and force to his objection to extend the franchise to classes amongst whom such things were possible; and when the Liberal Members were appealed to on this subject, he asked them to look at what had been done by men who were the prey of agitators and demagogues, and to refuse their assent to a measure which would have the effect of swamping the wealth, the intelligence, and the respectability of the country.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he should detain the House only a very short time. The question had been so often debated that it was not necessary to go at any great length over the arguments which had been urged for and against the proposal. His hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kildare (Mr. Meldon) had brought forward the Motion with the same moderation and 1214 ability which characterized his speech of last year. Taking an interest in the question, he desired to refresh his memory as to the arguments which would probably be used against the Motion on the present occasion. With that view, he had read the speech of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Charles Lewis) delivered last year, and he found that though it was not quite as impassioned as that which he had just made, it yet contained very much the same arguments. The only fresh arguments adduced were that the results of the measure would be the loss of 10 Conservative Members, and that very few Town Councils had petitioned in favour of it. He should be surprised if they had, seeing that the municipal franchise in Ireland was very high indeed. The question was a very narrow one to his mind. It was simply this —whether household suffrage, which already existed in English and Scotch boroughs, should not also be established in Ireland? The burden of proof lay with their opponents, as the treatment of Ireland was exceptional and needed explanation. For his part, he would be equally ready to apply the same argument to the case of the county franchise, if they were dealing with that question, and to show that an uniform suffrage should exist throughout the Kingdom. The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Charles Lewis) had maintained that there were totally different conditions in England and in Ireland. The hon. Member took his artificial line of £4, and said that there was a vastly larger number of householders below that rental in Ireland than in England. But was that the principle of the English Reform Bill? The hon. and learned Member for Kildare had dwelt on the fact that a £4 rent was higher in Ireland than the same rent would be in England, and it was true that the whole of the circumstances in regard to the payment of rent was different in the two countries. It happened that rents were considerably cheaper in Ireland than in England; but surely that furnished no reason why a man should be enfranchised in the one case and not in the other! When household suffrage was granted to England, it was granted in order to get rid of the money qualification for the franchise, and to substitute for it the quali- 1215 fication of being the head of a household. That was household suffrage. Every man occupying the position of a householder was to get a vote. If the hon. Member for Londonderry could show that the Irishmen to whom he had given all these bad names had not the hearthstones for which the qualification was given, then he would have a strong argument. The hon. Member had also repeated an argument they had heard over and over again 10 years ago—that the large number of fresh voters that would be introduced were not fit to have the franchise. But in England they had encountered this danger with their eyes open, and it had not come to much. Then, again, there would not be a greater increase in the Irish constituencies than there had been in the English; but he recollected that when the last Reform Bill was passed it was contended that the boroughs would be swamped. Well, his constituency, under that Bill, increased from a little over 5,000 to 26,000; yet he had not been swamped. He was in just the same position now as before; and what was more—and from this hon. Members should take heart of courage—there was the same respect to integrity, education, and ability, and the same legitimate influence of property as there was before the franchise was lowered. He was greatly surprised at the language used by the hon. Member for Londonderry, coming, as it did, from the Member for an Irish constituency. If such words had been used by an English Member, he would not soon have heard the end of it. The hon. Member said if the greatly increased number of voters were brought in, "ignorance, bigotry, and superstition would have influence over them;" and he designated this portion of the population as the "lowest, most ignorant, and the most debased." That was the strongest charge he (Mr. W. E. Forster) had ever heard made by a Member of Parliament against his fellow-citizens. It was not for him to vindicate the Irish people, but he would say this—that he did not believe the new voters in Ireland would be less fitted for the franchise than the new voters in England after the passing of the Bill in 1867. It was only necessary to show that there was no such difference between English and Irish voters as to warrant an 1216 exceptional treatment. He feared that an analysis of crime in the two countries would show nothing in favour of the class that was enfranchised by the Act of 1867 in England as compared with the class that would be enfranchised in Ireland. Then, again, let them look at the question of extravagance. The hon. Member had been exceedingly emphatic about the position of the Irishman in his hovel. He seemed to think that no man ought to be allowed to vote who had an animal living in his house. For his (Mr. W. E. Forster's) part, though he was sorry there should be so low a standard of home comfort in Ireland, he thought much of it arose from a saving economy, a care for the provision of the family, and a desire to keep clear of the poor rates. Again, as to the question of drunkenness, he did not believe the working classes yielded to that temptation more in Ireland than in England. Whatever might be thought of the Sunday Closing Bill, he was of opinion that the way in which it had been received at least proved this—that in Ireland the vice of drinking was less intertwined with all the social habits of the people than it was in England. He was led to this conclusion by what he had seen himself in Galway when the Sunday Closing Bill came into operation. His hon. Friend had also urged that the lowering of the franchise in Ireland would subject the new constituencies to bigotry and superstition, and the influence of the priests. Well, there might be difficulties in ruling Ireland; but Ireland would be not less difficult to rule if the priests had no influence. In his belief, however, the extent of the influence of the Irish Roman Catholic priesthood in elections had been greatly exaggerated, as many of its members had acknowledged with mortification. That influence, however, whatever its extent might be, was generally used in favour of good order, of morality, and of self-denial—three things which went far to make a man a good citizen. In considering this question, the House must not be too much impressed by the notion that if this Resolution were carried the seats of the 10 Irish Conservative Members would be endangered. Upon the whole, would the Irish constituencies be rendered worse if the borough franchise were lowered? 1217 He thought not. After all, the duty of an elector was somewhat analogous to that of the head of a family, and in no part of the United Kingdom were family ties more respected than in Ireland. Without instituting invidious comparisons, he might say that all classes in this country might learn much from the self-denial and self-sacrifice which the head of a poor Irish family showed in bearing great privation. The great thing that made a man a good citizen was his domestic affection, and that feeling was as strong in the breasts of the Irish labourers and artizans as in those of Englishmen. What a number of arguments had been adduced 10 years ago against giving the poor English householder a vote! He advocated giving the Irish householder in boroughs a vote in the hope that those in counties would also receive it in due course. One of the strongest reasons why he had been so earnest in advocating household suffrage in this country was that he had believed that when it was granted people would see the tremendous necessity there was for educating themselves in order to avoid the national danger that would arise from leaving the right of voting to be exercised by ignorant men; and he hoped that by giving the suffrage to the boroughs of Ireland the same necessity would be felt in that country. There would be no great difficulty in persuading the Irish people to avail themselves of means of education—for instance, it was very noteworthy how the very children who came out of hovels to run by the side of the cars carried their books and slates under their arms. He could not understand why they should not act with the same generosity towards their Irish fellow-subjects as they had to-wards themselves. He could not help thinking that some hon. Members opposite entertained the idea that Ireland was not fit for representative institutions; but that was an argument in favour rather of taking away all right to be represented from that country than for refusing to extend the franchise. Then it was urged that the whole system of the distribution of seats in Ireland was a bad one, and that they should remove that blot upon Irish representation before they attempted to meddle with the franchise. But in England, when the same cry had been raised, they had refused to be led away by it; and he now said—"Let us have household suffrage 1218 in Ireland first, and then let us demand a re-distribution of seats afterwards." There were several strong arguments in favour of granting this extension of suffrage to the Irish boroughs. In the first place, what had happened, in 1H68 in reference to this question afforded just ground for disappointment and complaint to the Irish people. Lord Mayo—whose name he could never mention without feeling the loss that the House and the country had sustained in losing him—had at the time expressed a hope that the House would, with regard to the borough franchise of Ireland, adopt the same principle that had been followed in respect of that franchise in this country. That hope, however, was not fulfilled, inasmuch as the English compound householder whose rates were paid by his landlord obtained the franchise which was withheld from his brother Irishman. Without following the hon. and learned Member for Kildare (Mr. Meldon) in his figures, he might remark that it appeared that the percentage of voters to population in England and Wales was 14 per cent, while it was little more than 6 per cent in Ireland. Another argument in favour of this Resolution was to be found in the strong opinion which Irishmen themselves entertained on the subject. It was extremely difficult to understand how Her Majesty's Government, in the face of the divisions on this question in that House, could refuse to accept the principle of this Resolution; although, of course, they might not be prepared to introduce a Bill on the subject during the present Session. There was one other ground —the strongest of all, on which he would support this Motion—he believed that in itself, in its meaning, and it might be also in its consequences on the Government, the equality of treatment of Irishmen and Irish voters with Englishmen and English voters would do much to promote real union and to stay and silence the cry for disunion. There were three modes in which they might treat the Irish. The old mode, which left much bitterness behind, was to treat Ireland as a conquered country, a subject dependency, making laws for her people with no great consideration for their interests, but a very strict and careful consideration of our own. Then there was the comparatively new mode, although he had heard of it from his boyhood—the plan of separating as 1219 much as possible Ireland and Irish legislation from the English Parliament—saying to the Irish people—"Govern yourselves as much as you possibly can; at any rate, let us in England have as little to do with it as possible—as little as Austria has with Hungary." That view was held by some of his hon. Friends; but the majority of the House did not entertain it. They advocated another view, and that was perfect union and agreement between the two countries; that they sitting there should provide for the interests of both Islands; that England, Scotland, and Ireland should consult together to protect the rights and promote the interests of Ireland in every part as much as the rights and interests of Scotland and England. That was the idea generally believed and adopted in that House; it was founded on the strong opinion and conviction of the English and Scotch people, and it had more supporters in Ireland than some of his Friends supposed. No one, he thought, would be anxious to adopt the first or conquest theory. To carry out the second theory in practice would do harm to both countries, and he honestly believed more harm to Ireland than to Great Britain. But he presumed the great majority did believe in union. If they did, they must accept its conditions. And first and foremost, unless the Irish people were treated in the same manner as the English and Scotch people, there could not be a real union between the two nations; and it was because he believed that this Motion would do much to make that union complete that he ventured urgently to press on the House its acceptance. He believed if hon. Members could get rid of every trace and remnant of the old ascendancy theory, there would be an unanimous vote in favour of his hon. and learned Friend's Amendment.
§ SIR JOHN LESLIE
said, the.right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down was a great traveller; but, judging from his speech to-night, it appeared there was one country at least which he had not visited, and that was Ireland, or he could not have been so ignorant as he had shown himself in dealing with this subject. His proposal was called one for the assimilation of the franchise of the two countries; but that was a fallacy. There could be no such thing as an assimilation between the classes whom the right hon. Gentleman would introduce 1220 to the franchise in Ireland and the same class in England. There was no middle class in Ireland such as existed in England. There were some people—and he was one of them—who thought to entitle any man to the franchise he ought at least to be able to write his name; but were such a qualification required in this case, it would wipe out the whole of this great constituency the right hon. Gentleman wished to foist upon Ireland. He regarded the speech of the right hon. Gentleman as another attempt to catch the fish that had so often been angled for by Liberal statesmen—the Irish vote. The fact was, as was well known to those who resided in Ireland, that this was not a real demand from the people of the country. Petitions had been spoken of; but they were non-existent, because the people who wanted the franchise had not got the power to write their names. The hon. Member for Tipperary (Mr. Gray) had spoken of exasperating Ireland, and that reminded him that great patriots inherited proud titles. O'Connell was baptised by the nation "The Liberator;" but it had required time for one of his successors—the hon. Member for Meath (Mr. Par-nell)—to be called "The Exasperator" by a grateful Irish people, in recognition of his patriotic acts. His principal claim to the title consisted in his having opposed and rejected the wise counsels of his great natural Leader, and having brought into the ranks of his own Party the quality of exasperation. He was happy to see that the "Exasperator" was not present at the moment. In conclusion, he begged to say that he was glad that this subject was to-night to be met with more interest than it had been in previous Sessions. To-night the real feeling of the Government side of the House would be shown; because there had been occasions, such as that of last year, when little interest was manifested, and a wrong impression resulted from the vote.
§ MR. BLENNERHASSETT
said, it was the old story of "No case, abuse the plaintiff's attorney," with the hon. Baronet and his Friends, as the question was one above Party politics. The question before the House was a very plain and simple one, and it seemed to him almost a waste of time to go over the same ground again; but they were driven to do so once more in order to make it clear why they asked that the 1221 principles which had been applied to the English borough franchise should be applied to the Irish borough franchise, and that there should be equal treatment between the two countries on that matter. Nobody could look upon the present state of the borough constituencies of Ireland with any feeling of satisfaction. They had been told to-night, and they had often heard it before, that in the whole of Ireland there were little more than 50,000 borough electors, of whom about 28,000 were in Dublin and Belfast; the remainder, or only about 22,000, being distributed in all the other towns and cities of that country. That was not a state of things which cither the House ought, or the Irish people could, look upon with anything like satisfaction. It was, at all events, desirable that those who sat in that House as Members for Ireland should represent some actual political force or electoral strength behind them; but it could hardly be supposed that the Gentlemen returned by the 22,000 voters scattered over all the towns and cities in Ireland except Dublin and Belfast were entitled to speak on behalf of the whole urban population of that country. The injustice to Ireland was made still graver when they remembered that in England and Scotland the great majority of Members were returned by borough electors, while in Ireland the great majority were elected on the more restricted county franchise. Down to the time of the Union there was no substantial difference between the electoral privileges of the two countries. In 1867 a great change was made in the English representative system. The constituencies were then re-invigorated; they took what was called "a leap in the dark," yet a leap after which they found themselves landed perfectly safe. But for Ireland they adopted a much narrower and more restricted suffrage. Their reason for doing that might have been that Ireland at the time was very much disturbed. If so, that reason no longer existed, and they could not fairly or wisely now refuse to bring a greater number of the householders in Irish boroughs within the pale of the Constitution. By maintaining the present restricted franchise in Ireland they maintained, without any sufficient justification, a humiliating difference between the people of that country and their English fellow-subjects. The red herring of re 1222 distribution of seats had been drawn across their path; but the present question had no more connection with re-distribution than with any other matter pertaining to the representative system. The question of the franchise stood by itself; it had been and might be dealt with entirely by itself. The real issue now before them was whether they were prepared, at the General Election which must soon arrive, to say that the inhabitants of Irish boroughs should exercise in proportion the same amount of political power as the inhabitants of English boroughs? In 1867 the English borough constituency was increased from 500,000 to something like 1,500,000; while, by the present proposal, the Irish borough constituency would only be increased from something like 50,000 to 100,000. It was impossible in any representative system that the poorer class should not be the most numerous; and no doubt it was desirable that every class, opinion, and party in the country should be represented. They needed all the elements of national life. But the present proposal would not create an exclusion, as the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Charles Lewis) seemed to suppose. The exclusion existed already, and the hon. Member ought to devise some method of securing the representation of minorities, instead of endeavouring to maintain an illogical and unreasonable restriction. There was no principle in a rental of £4, or of any other amount. Such a line was purely arbitrary, whereas household suffrage rested on a broad and intelligible principle. He did not know what effect this measure would have on Party interests; but on general considerations of public policy nothing could be more unfortunate, nothing a greater cause of regret and sorrow to every person who wished to see peace and tranquillity in the country than that the Irish people should be allowed to think for a moment that the question of their electoral privileges was decided by considerations of Party interest in the House. If this impression were allowed to prevail it would undo a great deal of the good work in recent years, and do more harm in destroying the good-feeling that ought to exist between the two countries than could be remedied by any measure the Government might devise. Another objection to the opposition to this measure was that it evinced a distrust of Ireland; 1223 and as long as the Government showed that they had no confidence in the Irish people it would be a hopeless task to attempt to conciliate them. There was only one valid ground on which the Motion might be resisted, and that was if the Government could see in it a danger to the security of public order. How could anyone imagine that the establishment of household suffrage in the boroughs of Ireland could be a danger to the security of public order? By admitting these men to the franchise they would admit them to the Constitution, ask them to take part in public life, make them feel they were citizens and not outcasts. The day could not be far distant when this measure must be carried; then why disturb public feeling and cause dissatisfaction by refusing it? Later on it must pass into law. It would be granted by Parliament in a reluctant manner, and they would get no thanks for it. A General Election was not far away. When it came, and stirred up feelings of interest in public life in the country, let it find the Irish towns in possession of their privileges of citizenship. He would, then, ask the House to remove this odious distinction, and do what they said they had so often wished to do—show equal and impartial justice to every portion of the United Kingdom.
§ MR. SMOLLETT
said, he had listened during the last three or four years with great attention to the annual Motion on the subject of the Irish franchise made by the hon. and learned Member for Kildare (Mr. Meldon). The Resolutions he had moved implied a desire for a new Reform Bill for Ireland, and the hon. and learned Member himself brought forward a very small Reform Bill last year. The contention of the hon. and learned Member was that the inhabitants of the Parliamentary boroughs in Ireland lived under a sense of great degradation in consequence of the present extent of the franchise in that country. The miseries from which they suffered were inflicted by a Bill passed in 1868—the Irish Reform Bill—and the system then introduced, they had been told, had been continued solely for the purpose of placing a stamp of inferiority on the Celtic race, in order that the brutal Saxon should trample on the rights of the Irish people. [Major O'GORMAN: Hear, hear!] That was a sample of Irish rhodomontade which was employed in 1224 describing one of the smallest possible grievances—a grievance, in fact, which consisted of the simple circumstance that the inhabitants of borough towns in Ireland who did not pay the Poor Law rates were not entitled to enjoy the franchise. He admitted most freely that when the Reform Bills for Great Britain were under consideration in 1867 and 1868 the franchise was conferred upon occupiers in borough towns on the conditions only that they lived in the tenements a certain number of months, and were subject to the payment of the poor rate; whereas, in Ireland, in 1868, a hard-and-fast line was drawn at a £4 rating—a valuation which excluded a considerable number of men who would otherwise be admitted to the franchise. But the reasons which induced the Government at the time to draw this hard-and-fast line were declared, announced, and fully discussed, and the reasons then given were recognized by the Leaders of the great Parties in the House to be perfectly valid. Nevertheless, he was ready to admit that the Irish Reform Bill of 1868 was very incomplete and very unacceptable; and if the hon. and learned Member for Kildare would alter the terms of his Resolution and bring forward a Motion declaring that the entire representation of Ireland—which, in his (Mr. Smollett's) opinion, was as bad as well could be—required consideration and amendment, he would certainly vote for it. For the discussions of the last two or three years in that House had abundantly shown that in the small Irish towns, and in the county towns of Ireland, there was not the smallest vitality, nor any political life whatever. In very many of them, even under a very low valuation and a low rate of rating, the constituency was lamentably small. In eight borough towns—Down-patrick, Dungannon, Ennis, Kinsale, New Ross, Mallow, Portarlington, and Youghal, the aggregate population slightly exceeded 40,000, souls, and the average number of the constituency did not amount to more than 230 voters in each borough. It had been asserted that in many Irish boroughs one-half of the rated houses were valued at 40s. of yearly rent and under. It was admitted that there were some 17,000 tenements in Irish towns rated at 20s. of annual value and under that. That was a state of things which hon. Mem- 1225 bers of that House were practically unacquainted with. The towns that he had indicated ought to be at once swept out of the electoral map as centres of direct Parliamentary representation. If Irish reform were taken in hand, the question must be treated boldly. The incidence of the Poor Law rating would possibly require alteration; but certainly, so long as electoral right largely depended on rating and upon valuation, common sense suggested that a real and not a sham valuation should be enforced both in boroughs and in counties throughout Ireland. He had said that the Irish Reform Act of 1868 was a very insufficient and defective Bill. It was so. When first introduced, the Bill professed to deal with three distinct matters—it proposed to reduce the borough franchise; next, it dealt with the disfranchisement of some small towns; and, lastly, it dealt with the distribution of these seats taken from these towns. These two latter proposals were, in the end, abandoned—most politicians admitted that these small towns were nuisances; but, strange to say, nuisances were always dear to Irishmen. In this instance Protestants and Catholics, Orangemen and Liberals, Conservatives and men with Fenian proclivities, united in declaring that the Representatives of these borough towns were the best Members Ireland possessed—and that no diminution in their numbers would be tolerated. The Cabinet in 1868, living from hand to mouth, unable to withstand this combination and anxious to make an appeal to the country, early in the autumn gave way, and struck the most valuable portion of the Bill out of it. The Ministry proceeded with the franchise clauses only, because they were practically unopposed. Lord Mayo had charge of the Bill. The second reading came off upon the 7th May, 1868, and I shall read a few sentences spoken by Lord Mayo, extracted from Hansard's Debates. He said—The Act wag based on principles which were identical with those of the English Act. The county franchise was put at precisely the same figure, and the borough franchise was also the same, being given to every tenant who paid poor rates. It was quite true that circumstances had arisen in Ireland that, at an early period, would render an alteration in the principle of valuation necessary, but that was a question of valuation, not of the franchise. There was no substantial reason why the county franchise should be lower in Ireland than in England. With regard to the borough franchise, the 1226 point at which an occupier became liable to pay rates was £4, below that amount the occupier was exempt from the payment of rates; therefore adopting residence, and personal payment of rates as the qualification, they could not take any other amount."—[3 Hansard, cxci. 1960.]MR. Chichester Fortescue, then Member for Louth, sitting upon the front Opposition Bench, for himself and Party at once gave his adhesion to this proposal, lie admitted there was much to be said in favour of the course which the Government had adopted in availing themselves of the line drawn by the existing law of rating under the Irish Poor Law system, and fixing the electoral franchise at a £4 rating. Mr. Reardon, who represented Athlone, demanded manhood suffrage and 169 Members as the Irish contingent to Parliament; but this proposal was unnoticed, and the Bill was read without a division. The franchise, it would be observed, was fixed at its present limits in Ireland, on the assurance that it was based, as in England, upon occupation and rating. Now, the right of voting was proposed to be given promiscuously to all occupiers, although these were by law exempt from the payment of rates. That was certainly not proceeding to an assimilation of the law. If the system was changed, it ought to proceed upon a change in the laws of rating by enforcing the personal payment of rates, and by excluding the occupiers in default of payment. The lion, and learned Member for Kildare (Mr. Meldon) had often spoken of the injustice felt by Irishmen through the present state of the franchise. An Irishman who, when employed at Liverpool or Glasgow, was an occupier and a voter, when he returned to Ireland and lived in Belfast or Dublin, though occupying a house of value equal to that in Glasgow, found himself degraded and no longer a freeman. It was not unlikely that such cases did occasionally occur; but if they were common, the disfranchisement was occasioned by the mischief of the present system of Irish valuation, and by nothing else. That must be so, for practically the borough franchise in Scotland was a franchise based upon a £4 rating. That was more particularly the case in the West of Scotland, where Irish workmen mostly congregated. The hon. and learned Member for Kildare had often alluded to the vast constituencies found in Edinburgh and in Glasgow, in contrast with 1227 those in populous Irish towns. He seemed to think that the large Scotch constituencies were swelled because every occupier was placed upon the register, and that thousands of them lived in houses of small value. That was not the case. He had in his hand a pamphlet showing the social and vital statistics of Glasgow, compiled by Mr. West Watson, the Chamberlain of the city. The great number of voters was caused by the vast number of houses rated, and rated at their true rental. Mr. Watson showed that, in round numbers, the tenements within the Parliamentary boundary amounted to 112,000—the annual value being £1,223,000. Of these, 40,000 houses were valued at £10 and upwards, 67,000 at from £4 to £10; and thus there were 107,000 tenements, with a valued rental of £4 and upwards in the city of Glasgow. The occupiers of these composed 49 out of 50 of all the registered electors of the city. There were about 5,500 occupied tenements in Glasgow, valued at an annual rental of £l8,000. But in that section of the population not more than one in four of the tenements gave a qualification, because the population of the rookeries was migratory, and because many men did not occupy their dwellings for a year, and because many did not personally pay their rates. Possibly there might be 1,250 registered electors on the list of voters occupying houses under £4 valuation. But, practically, the voting power in Glasgow was vested in male occupiers of £4 valuation and upwards—the franchise which in Ireland was held to be a degradation to the Celtic race. The same observations applied to the city of Edinburgh, with a population of 170,000 inhabitants, and with 26,000 electors. It was needless to go into the statistics of that city in detail; but last year the senior Member for Edinburgh told him (Mr. Smollett) that virtually that great constituency was composed of occupiers in the city at a £4 rating and upwards. It might be asked—What was the state of affairs in provincial towns? Well, he lived in the vicinity of a borough town—namely, Dumbarton; and during the present winter he had inquired into the electoral position of that town. Dumbarton had a resident population of 11,000 or 12,000 souls. On the electoral roll there were about 1,800 names, 1228 mostly workmen, and some hundreds were Irishmen. There were only 37 tenements in Dumbarton rated at less than £4 of annual rental, and not one in four of those conferred the right of voting on the occupier. Many of those Irish workmen lived in houses rated at £6 annually, and every one of them would be entitled to a vote if they occupied a similar dwelling-house in Belfast or in Dublin. If they were disfranchised, their exclusion must arise from the mischievous working of the Irish Valuation Act, which called for immediate amendment and reform. In the principal cities of Ireland, he believed that one-third of the occupiers were excluded from the franchise because their tenements were improperly valued. How was the valuation in Scotland made? The machinery was very simple. In every borough there was a functionary called an assessor. That official was appointed by the municipality. There was no restriction in the choice of the man, but 19 times out of 20 the choice fell upon the Government surveyor of taxes in the locality. That gentleman was selected because he understood his work, and because the valuation being needed for Imperial uses, if the Government official was appointed by the municipality, the work was done without a charge upon the town. The assessor was invested with large powers. It was his duty to make a rigid inquiry into the annual value of the town. He required from every proprietor a schedule, showing the particulars of his holding, the name of the occupier, the amount of rent paid, and the nature of the tenure. Any person making a false return was subject to a fine of £50. When parties owned and occupied their own tenements, the rent was fixed by the assessor, on his own judgment. An appeal was permitted to the magistrates of the town. In that way a perfectly correct account was got at of the real rental of the borough. The rate was levied on the rental, and from the valuation based on rent no abatement was made to the occupier. The Valuation Roll, framed each year, was the basis of the electoral roll which was compiled by the assessor. If any errors were committed, the matters were subject to revision in the registration courts. In that way, and under that system, it was seen that, in Scotland, household franchise subject to the payment of rates resolved itself into 1229 a £4 rental and rating, and that satisfied the ambition of Scotland. But how did they manage things in Ireland? Why, there was no system in that country at all. In Ireland there was a valuation made by a central authority some 40 years ago, and known as "Griffiths's Valuation." That valuation was purposely made in town and country upon very insufficient data, and upon the lowest possible estimate when there was depression in the land. At the present time, and after such a lapse of years, that valuation was obsolete and worthless. Yet it had never been revised, and he was credibly informed no alteration of the valuation in hereditaments could be made without the sanction of an Act of Parliament. Yet no efforts were ever made to get that Irish nuisance abated, although the electoral rights and electoral privileges of the people depended largely on an honest valuation. In Ireland that valuation was no test of value or of rent, which any honest valuation ought to be. The fact was universally confessed. Last year, when the present question was discussed, the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Charles Lewis) stated that one-half of the people of Limerick lived in dwellings rated agreeably to this Irish valuation of 40s. of annual rent, and a great number of them in dwellings valued at 20s. a-year. On that, the junior Member for the city asserted that the lowest tenements in Limerick were let at not less than £2 12s. of annual rent. That was possibly quite true, and that was, no doubt, the reason why many hundreds of the citizens of Limerick were excluded from the franchise, to which, under a £4 valuation, they were entitled. They lived under a rascally and abominable Valuation Act. Well, he would not detain the House longer. He would not support the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Kildare, which involved a small change in a matter which ought to be dealt with in a broad and comprehensive manner. If they were to believe what they read in public journals, a Dissolution was not far off. They were told a Liberal Ministry would soon be in Office, and they knew the Party opposite was pledged to huge measures of electoral change. They knew the Liberal Party would propose household suffrage throughout the Empire, coupled with, to a great extent, equal electoral districts. With these 1230 happy prospects looming in the immediate future, he would advise the hon. and learned Member for Kildare not to divide upon this small matter of the Irish borough franchise; for the whole subject would be dealt with in a bold, although, perhaps, in a revolutionary, fashion by the next Parliament.
§ SIR. JOSEPH M'KENNA
said, that his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kildare (Mr. Meldon) had so fully set out the arguments in favour of the Resolution that he would not reenter upon them, but would confine himself to replying to the opponents of the Resoultion, and would not detain the House long. He was of opinion that a glaring anomaly had been clearly established, which imperatively demanded a remedy. The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Charles Lewis) would deny them any remedy, and had stated that the now Irish constituency would be wholly dissimilar to that which was created by the English Reform Bill of 1867; and, further, that the contemplated measure would not be acceptable to Irish borough Members. Well, his answer was that he, as a borough Member, was prepared to support it. The hon. Member had, as usual, called up the hobgoblin of re-distribution of seats; and, indeed, appeared to apprehend that he would himself be got rid of if the measure were carried out. But the hon. Member appeared to forget that when the Liberal Government fell with their Reform Bill of 1866, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire, then, and now Premier, introduced and passed a Reform Bill going to a lower level than Lord Russell's Bill, and that he and his Party had reaped, and were reaping, the reward of it. The hon. Member for Londonderry need not, therefore, he thought, if he helped to pass this measure, shake in his shoes in respect of his fate in the time-honoured city he represented. Another hobgoblin the hon. Gentleman conjured up was priestly influence. The hon. Gentleman asked, was Parliament now to set up priestly influence in Ireland when every other country in Europe was setting it at nought? Well, he did not himself admire priestly influence as a predominant feature in politics, nor the undue influence of clergymen of any denomination; but they should remember 1 that the clergy were an educated class, 1231 and that even in politics they had a right to more or less influence, and it was, in his mind, an influence of which they had no reason to be afraid. This hobgoblin was a penny-farthing rush light in a scooped out turnip with which the hon. Member wished to frighten the House. And now, he would ask, had things gone on so well in Europe since priestly influence was set at naught, in North Germany, in Spain, and in other countries? Was there ever a more unfortunate time to refer to the priestly influence in Ireland on politics? It would not be too great; it was too little. In respect to the observations of the last speaker (Mr. Smollett) with regard to the valuation of Ireland, that question was simply trotted out, and in his views with regard to it he was altogether wrong. It was true the valuation was not based—as he should like it to be—upon rental; but the valuation was not open to all the objections which had been taken to it. It had been approached on purely scientific principles; and if it were carried out in detail upon the principle on which it was framed, very little fault, he believed, could be found with the result. As there were many other speakers to follow he would not detain the House longer.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
said, as it was possible that was the last occasion on which the question before the House would be discussed in the present Parliament, he was not willing to give a silent vote on the Motion. There were, he thought, several points of view from which the question might be considered. Was it right or just that the Irish should possess the same privileges as their English and Scotch brothers? Was it desirable that distinctions and differences, so far as political rights were concerned, should exist between them? It seemed to him that many of the arguments of hon. Members on his side of the House were inapplicable to the question, because they appeared to him to be directed against all reform and against all popular extension of the franchise as a general principle. Coming to the argument ad hominem, he thought it was possible to discuss this question by considerations of whether the lower class of the Irish were as intelligent, as well educated, and as fully entitled to the franchise as the same class in England. He did not think these were comparisons which that 1232 House ought to draw in discussing such a question as the present. He should not go into the question as to whether the class in Ireland who possessed the franchise were practically the same as the class who possessed it in England; or whether the same class who in Ireland were deprived of the right to vote would, under similar circumstances, be deprived of it in England. He admitted that if the House were to go into the consideration of the abstract questions he had mentioned it would be difficult to refuse assent to the Resolution of the hon. and learned Member. Turning, however, to the practical point of view of the subject two questions appeared to him to arise—first, whether it was expedient to effect, at the present moment, an extensive measure of electoral reform with regard to Ireland; and, secondly, whether such a step, if adopted, would prove to be beneficial to the country? Having voted in favour of the principle of this Resolution on a former occasion, he was anxious now to state the reasons that had induced him to change his opinion on the subject. He was very doubtful as to whether it was the province of the State to force the franchise upon a population which did not manifest any desire for it. A residence of three years in Ireland had satisfied him that there was not any popular demand such as would warrant the House in passing the Resolution, unless it was, at the same time, convinced that the change proposed was for the benefit of Ireland, and that the exercise of the rights so granted would be for the general good of the community. He did not think anyone who had a knowledge of Ireland could say there was such a demand for the extension of the borough franchise. Where were the signs that one generally looked for as the indication of popular opinion? Where were the Petitions in favour of this Resolution? Where were the mass meetings? and to go further, he would ask, where were the popular tumults in favour of this measure? He might remind hon. Members opposite that it was not very difficult to get up a little popular excitement in Ireland on any subject of general interest. Hon. Members, however, might go to any town in that country, and, putting aside the Land Question, they would find it extremely difficult to get up any excitement in favour of pure electoral reform. There was so utter an 1233 absence of popular feeling on this subject that the House would not be justified in accepting the Resolution now before it, unless it had evidence that it would be for the benefit of Ireland. Would it be for the benefit of that country? There was a marked difference between the class in England which was enfranchised by the last Reform Bill and the class which it was now proposed to enfranchise in Ireland. In the case of the former, they were not under the conviction that they were a conquered and persecuted race, who had been held in subjection for centuries by masters who were alien in origin and religion, and who had wrongfully possessed themselves of the land which ought to belong to the people; and there was scarcely any appreciable danger that ideas or objects subversive of the Constitution or of the laws of the Realm would make any headway amongst the new constituencies. Such ideas were not prevalent in Ireland at the present time—certainly not amongst the classes who enjoyed the franchise. The abolition of a hated Established Church, the alteration in the Land Laws, the more liberal and friendly spirit which existed on the subject of education, had entirely banished such ideas from their minds. But if they descended amongst the masses of the Irish people they would come upon distinct traces of such a feeling, upon an inborn suspicion, which governed and accounted for many of their actions, that the Saxon was an hereditary foe, and that the connection with England was the ruin of Ireland. Traces of these ideas did remain and were sedulously fostered by The Nation, and other organs of the so-called national Press. A danger, therefore, did exist with regard to this measure which did not exist in England or Scotland. The first instinct of the newly-enfranchised classes, with their defective means of information, would be to attempt to pay off old scores, and to return men to Parliament pledged to the Repeal of the Union, the disintegration of the Empire, the arrest and confusion of Public Business, and the most revolutionary ideas as to the possession of the land. Hon. Members were aware that there had been a serious difference of opinion in the Home Rule Party as to the manner in which its Members should act. The hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt) had the almost unanimous support of 1234 those voters in Ireland who were neither Liberal nor Conservative; while the hon. Member for Meath and his Friends drew what support they got from the unenfranchised classes. He did not wish to say anything to annoy the hon. Member for Meath; but he must say that he drew his support from the mob. ["Oh, oh!"] He would put it in another way. The hon. and learned Member for Limerick, in the policy which he was seeking to establish, had the support of the educated, the industrious, and the loyal classes who had the franchise; while the enthusiastic audience that they were constantly reading of in the Irish newspapers rallied round that interesting quartet, the Members for Meath, Cavan, Mayo, and Dungarvan, and were composed, as every impartial Irishman would admit, almost entirely of the ignorant, idle, and drunken. ["Oh!"] He would put it in this way, then—that the most mad and scatter-brained policy which had ever been conceived by any man or party of men found its sole adherents, not in the Irish who had votes, but in those who had no votes, and to whom it was now proposed to give votes. ["No!"] Hon. Gentlemen were interrupting one who had the fortune to reside a good deal in Ireland, and who knew what he was saying. There had been two Elections in Ireland lately, and he would ask why was not Mr. George Delaney returned for the borough of New Ross? [Major NOLAN: Because the franchise has not been lowered.] It was because the hon. Member for Meath went down and spoke for him.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
said, he was endeavouring to establish the incapacity of the unenfranchised classes for deciding political problems; but he would not pursue that point. If the House carried this Motion, it would give to the hon. Member for Meath that superiority to the hon. and learned Member for Limerick which up to now he had striven fruitlessly to obtain; and the hon. and learned Member for Kildare (Mr. Meldon) did not shake his head at that. What would be the consequence if the hon. Member for Meath found himself at the head of a considerable following obliged to support him, he having arrived at the conclusion that no concessions were to be obtained by conciliating 1235 any English Ministry? Would it not I be likely to exasperate English feeling, and to prejudice the fair consideration of Irish measures, if the hon. Member and his Friends were to find a numerous and enthusiastic support among the newly-enfranchised classes? The hon. and learned Member for Kildare and his Friends advocated this measure because they were honestly convinced that it remedied an Irish grievance; but the hon. Member for Meath and his supporters, knowing that Home Rule was dead amongst the existing constituencies, advocated it on different grounds, and in order to obtain popular support amongst the classes whom it was proposed to enfranchise. He (Lord Randolph Churchill) hoped the House would not make itself the accomplice and the victim of the scheme. In Ireland they had to deal with a phenomenon which did not exist in this country; there were secret societies, the traces of whose influence was constantly seen in vacant farms that nobody would take, in assaults, and in murders of men of a certain class, like the murder of Lord Leitrim. They could not convince a peasant that if he voted against the bidding of a secret society the fact would not be ascertained and retribution fall upon him. The peasant did not want the vote, because it would be to him a fresh source of anxiety and vexation. [Major NOLAN: Not under the Ballot.] He would be pulled different ways by the landlord, the employer, the priest, and the secret society; and he had not yet learnt the value of the Ballot. The absence of any popularity or enthusiasm in support of this demand, the extreme doubtfulness as to the benefit that would result from granting it, and the want of capacity on the part of the lower classes to decide political questions ought to make the House pause before it assented to the Motion. A knowledge of Ireland, of its history, of its circumstances, and of the aspirations of some of its people, ought to convince Members of the Opposition that there were forces in existence that should modify the extension of the franchise in that country. The most influential and, perhaps, the best written paper of Ireland—The Freeman's Journal—admitted that if the franchise were extended a "clean sweep" would be made not only of the avowed enemies, but of the insincere friends of the popular 1236 cause, and the Irish Party in Parliament—which meant that of the hon. Member for Meath—would be greatly augmented. If the House rejected the Motion, it would act in accordance with the views of many intelligent Irish people and with the secret wishes of the most influential and wisest of the Catholic clergy—not bad judges—and not against the wishes of the great majority of those whom it was proposed to enfranchise. He should be asked—"Must these distinctions always prevail, and shall the time never come when there may be perfect political equality?" He believed the time was not far distant; if he thought otherwise, he should despair of Ireland and be alarmed for the permanence of peaceful union. But he believed there was a most favourable change in the feelings of the population—a change which it was in the power of Her Majesty's Government to assist and accelerate if they would be more anxious to legislate on certain subjects than they seemed to be. When a wider diffusion of knowledge and experience should have taught the Irish peasant to take a more reasonable view of the past and a wiser hope of the future; when a different spirit should pervade the popular Press and animate the utterances of the priest; when agrarian crime and secret societies should disappear, and assassins should not only be arrested but convicted; then, but not till then, would be the time when it would be safe to extend the borough franchise in Ireland. He should give his vote to-night from no leaning to obstinate prejudice, from no desire to perpetuate distinctions which he admitted were, to a certain extent, anomalous and invidious; but after a most careful consideration of the question he had come to the conclusion that, under present circumstances, the extension of the borough franchise in Ireland would be productive of most mischievous and deplorable results; not so much to England as to Ireland itself, and, therefore, he felt bound to vote against the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Kildare.
§ Mr. LAW
said, he had listened with great attention to the speech of the noble Lord so as, if possible, to learn the reasons which had induced him to change the views he had formerly expressed on this subject; but all he could discover was that the noble Lord ascribed every insurrectionary and disloyal person in 1237 Ireland to the class that would be enfranchised by this proposal, and that he dreaded lest the hon. Member for Meath (Mr. Parnell) should, in some mysterious way, be magnified as against the hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt) by the adoption of such a measure as the Resolution indicated. He (Mr. Law), however, submitted that these could not be gravely alleged as sufficient grounds for withholding from Ireland a right which the noble Lord had frankly admitted on former occasions by his vote in that House. And yet be must say no better reasons had yet been given for this policy of resistance. Of course, all the venerable arguments urged by Sir Charles Wetherell and the old Tories of some 50 years ago against any extension of the constituencies had been reproduced now once more, as they were in 1867, when the present Prime Minister proposed a household suffrage for the English boroughs. Lord Beaconsfield then truly said it was impossible that the franchise could ever be finally based on any mere money value; there being no principle or reason in a £4, or £5, or £6 franchise. He gave figures to show that the result of the extension proposed would be ultimately to double the borough voters in England. This calculation, indeed, fell far short of the reality. As already stated in the present debate, many of the English borough constituencies had been not merely doubled, but increased three, four, five, and sixfold, and even more—and that without any evil results—nay, on the contrary, with advantage to the country. Yet, what did those who there acted the part of Cassandra prophesy? Did not the present Foreign Minister angrily exclaim that all the capital, wealth, and intelligence of the country would be submerged under a flood of numbers? Well, then, as all such gloomy prophecies had been falsified in England, what rational fears could be entertained as to the consequences of a much lesser extension of the borough franchise in Ireland? The principle he (Mr. Law) contended for was that the headship of a family was the best security that could be given by a voter for the faithful discharge of his duty to the State. To use Lord Beaconsfield's words, "All the State had a right to ask was that a voter should not be a migratory pauper." And as household suffrage pure and simple was established, 1238 and, like all previous extensions of the franchise, had done immense good in England, why should they not deal with Ireland in the same way? It was, he (Mr. Law) ventured earnestly to say, unworthy of the House to consider the question whether the equalization of the English and Irish borough franchise would have a favourable effect on Catholics or Protestants. Some of the figures quoted by his right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) were very significant. The percentage of voting power in England and Scotland was, it appeared, 14 per cent. In Ireland it was only 6 per cent. In England, according to other authorities, at the lowest, one man in 15 had a vote; whereas, in Ireland, only one man in 30 had a vote. And yet there was nothing to justify that difference. But, again, hon. Members should bear in mind that in Ireland a £4 rating, under the General Tenement Valuation Acts, was, in reality, a £6 rental; and, having regard to the date at which the valuation of tenements was made—namely, just after the Famine—it was not far from representing what was now an £8 rental in most of the towns. But, further, considering the difference in the demand for houses in Ireland and in England, a house rented in Ireland at £6 would probably bring double that amount in an English town; and, therefore, hon. Members, whilst they insisted on having the Irish borough franchise based on the possession of a house rated at £4, were really requiring for the Irish voter a qualification equal to what would be a £10 or £12 rental qualification in England. One argument against this Resolution was that the present was an improper time for the reform it proposed. But they never knew any measure of reform that was not met with an argument of that kind. There never could be a proper time for a measure of reform which hon. Gentlemen did not like. Again, it was objected that this was a fragmentary measure, inasmuch as it was not accompanied by a proposal for a re-distribution of seats. But how would this Resolution bind the House against a re-distribution of seats? The Resolution merely affirmed that the franchise in England and Ireland should be assimilated. If this involved re-distribution of seats, let it be so. Those at his (Mr. Law's) side of the House were quite prepared to accept it. The 1239 only other argument he (Mr. Law) had heard was that of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Charles Lewis), who opposed the Resolution on the ground that the assimilation of the Irish to the English borough franchise would endanger some Conservative seats in Ulster. It was, however, he (Mr. Law) submitted, somewhat unpatriotic to oppose an extension of the franchise for any such narrow Party reasons, or because the change might give a preponderating amount of electoral influence to voters of one religious persuasion or another. Indeed, the argument seemed to answer itself, for it involved the admission that the existing constituencies did not fairly represent the real opinion of the Irish boroughs. These opinions he (Mr. Law) assumed it was the object of our Parliamentary system to ascertain and provide with proper means of expression in that House. If, then, that was the principle, he would say, let the just rights of the Irish people be conceded, and no fear need be entertained as the result. A great deal had been said about the franchise being a privilege, a trust, for the benefit of all, and so forth. Well, be it so. Those on his (Mr. Law's) side of the House thought it was an advantage to the country to enlist the greatest possible number of men in Constitutional action;—to bring, as many as safely might be, within the pale of the Constitution. Why should Ireland what it had given to the people of England? It was idle to expect the Irish people to be contented unless you conceded that equality of political rights which they were fairly entitled to demand. It seemed to him that the only way of bringing about that harmony, which was so much desired by all, that real consolidation and union of the Kingdom, was by doing precisely to Ireland what they did to England; and he hoped the time would yet come when, in such matters as they were now discussing, there would be no separate Act for England, Ireland, or Scotland, but one measure for all parts of a really United Kingdom. The urgent Whip issued on this occasion by the Government was, he (Mr. Law) feared, the most unwise thing they could have done, for it showed they were determined roughly to override the wishes of the Irish people by the strongest majority they could get. In conclusion, he gave a hearty support to the Resolution, and would rejoice if 1240 he could believe that Her Majesty's Government would even, at the last moment, assent to the principle, and hold out some hopes that, if not this Session, at least in the next, they would introduce a measure to give effect to it.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
said, that, as one of the Representatives of a very large English borough, he desired to express his cordial sympathy with the Resolution—sympathy which he believed was shared by almost the whole of his constituents. They were not alarmed by the terrible prediction of evil which had been made that night and on previous occasions. They had had experience of the result of a very great extension of the franchise in England, and they had not yet found that their institutions had been at all endangered, or that their lives and property had been jeopardized—on the contrary, they believed that it had been established that, just in proportion as they brought within the pale of the Constitution the great bulk of the people, so did they secure their loyalty, and they found that the people endeavoured to secure their ends only by Constitutional means. He was surprised at some of the arguments which had been advanced from the other side of the House, and he recollected that similar arguments were used in reference to late extensions of the franchise in this country. Then it was declared that many of the artizans who were claiming their share in the representation were disaffected Republicans and Chartists, and that to hand over to them the power which they desired would be very seriously to endanger life and property. It appeared to him that the best way of securing the loyalty of the Irish people was to yield with a good grace to their legitimate demands, and not to wait until there was a popular tumult, in consequence of which they would have to yield to their fears what they refused to the justice of the case. The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Charles Lewis) used most extraordinary arguments. He gave as one reason why they should not now concede this last claim of the Irish people that in times past another Government had conceded to their wishes in respect to the Irish Church and the Irish Land, by which they abolished what seemed to many of them monstrous injustices which ought not to have continued so long. These concessions were only made after one of 1241 the Fenian risings, which caused so much anxiety and trouble at the time. It was a much easier and more Conservative course for the Government to take, having recognized the justice of the case, to yield to it, and not wait for such pressure as the noble Lord opposite suggested would be put forth. It was said the Irish people were apathetic on this question. In what way was the popular opinion of Ireland to be expressed? He remembered that exactly the same thing was said in reference to the English people. When his right hon. Friend and Colleague was addressing large public meetings in different parts of the country, it was said he was flogging a dead horse; and it was only when the Government found the irritation of the country taking a practical form, in the shape of pulling down Hyde Park railings that it was convinced of its error, and that there was a real desire for reform. In regard to Ireland, they had this proof—that two-thirds of the Irish Members supported their claim. Even if the Irish people were apathetic—which he denied—on this question, it was the duty of the English people to concede to them the rights which Englishmen now enjoyed. At the present time, when the hon. Member for Dungarvan (Mr. O'Donnell) said that he represented the people of Ireland, he did not personally doubt him; but it would be more satisfactory if the hon. Gentleman were returned by a larger constituency than the 200 or 300 who voted for him at the last Election. The last Reform Bill had increased the constituency of Belfast from 4,000 to 20,000; but nobody said that Belfast voters were less respectable since the change. Why suppose a further change in the same direction would do greater harm? What their opponents had to prove was that there was such a marked difference between England and Ireland as would justify them in refusing to grant to Ireland what was enjoyed by England and Scotland. The measure would enfranchise the same class of voters as in England, though in Ireland they lived in a different class of houses. In Ireland the people were undoubtedly poorer; but after all that had been done of late years it was not to be said that a man was to be deprived of the franchise because of his poverty. The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Charles Lewis) said the people were afflicted with igno- 1242 rance, bigotry, and superstition, and the noble Lord (Lord Randolph Churchill) that they were debased, drunken, and disloyal. Those were very extraordinary charges, considering against whom they were brought. There were 900,000 persons in the existing boroughs in Ireland, of whom 150,000 were heads of families. Only one-third of these had the franchise, and the remaining two-thirds were the persons of whom the hon. Member for Londonderry and the noble Lord spoke. The hon. Member for Londonderry did not content himself even here. He said the people mixed with the animal creation. A good many people did that. A Conservative member of the Birmingham Town Council once declared that the pig was "a particularly companionable animal," and his views were supported by the Conservative Press in the town. Bye-laws were required in all the big towns to prevent the people keeping pigs in close proximity to their dwellings; but he had never heard that the tens of thousands of people in England and Scotland who committed breaches of those bye-laws should be struck off the voters' register. He was struck with the argument used by the hon. Member for Tipperary (Mr. Gray), and he would give a practical illustration of that argument. In Birmingham there were 2,000 Irish voters. They lived in houses none of which were rated at anything lower than £5. But if these men went over to Ireland and lived in houses below £4 they were deprived of the vote. Would not some of those men feel the injustice of such a state of things, which seemed to put a disqualification on Irish soil? He thought it was incumbent on those who sat on both sides of the House, who could not see their way to vote for Home Rule, or for an inquiry whether the people of Ireland wanted it, to show that the English Parliament was capable of doing equal justice between the two peoples.
§ MR. O'REILLY
remarked that all the arguments which had been used against the Motion that night had been urged before, and retracted, and it was certain that they would be retracted again. The noble Lord opposite (Lord Randolph Churchill) had argued that the proposed electors had views antagonistic to his own, and that their support was largely given to the opinions of the hon. Members for Cavan (Mr. Biggar) and County Mayo (Mr. O'Connor Power). He him- 1243 self had lived for some considerable time in Ireland, and would not by any means confidently predict the political creed of the class whom it was sought to introduce to the electorate; on that point the noble Lord might or might not be correct; but he could not seriously ask the House to refuse to enfranchise a body of men simply because of his own personal dislike of their political leanings. Next came the speech of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Charles Lewis) which might be said to be the speech of the evening. There was much in that speech to which he took exception. The hon. Member had talked dramatically of his principle and independence; but that which shook his noble soul was really his fear of some change in the constituency of Londonderry. The hon. Member had spoken in unjustifiable language of the Irishmen who had sent him to Parliament. It was unworthy of him to speak of the Irish people as degraded, besotted, ignorant, corrupt, and superstitious, and as living in hovels, with, forsooth, garrets in them. It was stated that the franchise was not a right, but a privilege. There was a time in Ireland when certainly it was the privilege of a sect; but he hoped they were not going to return to the principles of those days. The glowing speech of the hon. Member for Londonderry must have come back upon the ears of many hon. Members as a faint and inadequate echo of the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lowe) against the extension of the suffrage in England. On the whole, they had had to confront old arguments and old bugbears. The difficult question of the re-distribution of seats had been mentioned as part and parcel of the controversy respecting the franchise; but the common-sense view of the matter was that the extension of the suffrage should precede schemes of re-distribution, to which, if they were moderate and reasonable, he should not be opposed. Then, again, they had been told that little or no interest was taken in the subject in Ireland. That he ventured to deny, though he could not call it a burning question. The Irish constituencies and their Representatives were not blind adherents of any Party. They were ready to accept with gratitude good measures from either side of the House; but at the next Election they would remember what the Chief Secretary told them last year, that be 1244 had not been responsible for any of the electoral reforms that had been carried; and that if they were free now at the polling places from any influence that might seek to control their votes, they owed it not to those who opposed it as long as they could, and who now in turn opposed the extension of the franchise which was demanded by the Motion before the House. The Irish Members might be beaten that night; but the cause they advocated was bound to triumph, and it would sweep away the barriers like the tide, the barriers raised against it, together with those who upheld such barriers.
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
said, there had been a sort of conspiracy of silence on the other side, which was very remarkable, the more so because there was reason to believe that a large number of hon. Gentlemen opposite had suddenly changed their opinions on this question. Some of them were going to vote against the Resolution, while others would abstain from voting. One of those Gentlemen (Lord Randolph Churchill) had had the pluck to come forward and make his public confession. It was evidently much against the grain that he did so. On the 15th of last may be voted in favour of the extension of the Irish borough franchise; so that all the alarming things he now saw in the measure must have been absent from his mind less than a year ago. The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Charles Lewis) had made a violent speech, of a character more suited to a meeting in the North of Ireland than to the House of Commons. He had, in fact, made an Orange speech, and had spoken of the Catholics of Ireland in terms which he had never before heard in that House. The best answer to the hon. Member was that the Catholics of Ireland now returned 20 Protestant Members; and it was not open to anyone to declare that the addition of any large number of voters of that class to the present constituencies would be attended with danger to the Constitution. The hon. Member was a great authority upon electoral statistics; the term "wire-puller" might almost be applied to him; but he had quoted facts and figures which might easily be turned against him. His figures were based on the number of male-rated occupiers, and he had made no allowance for the important points of length of residence, duplicates, 1245 &c. Whenever the question of the redistribution of seats had been under discussion in the House the small Irish boroughs had always been held up as what teetotal lecturers would call "dreadful examples" and "awful warnings;" but even if that were so, it made it incumbent upon them to support their Friends from Ireland when they came there, to take steps to place the representation on the footing which it should take. Hon. Members who had spoken on the other side, in dealing with figures, had picked and chosen their places. His right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) had alluded in general terms to the difference of proportion between the two countries in the matter of the franchise. He was in a position to give the figures in detail. There were not nearly twice as many people living in the Scotch boroughs as there were in the Irish boroughs; but there were more than four times as many electors. There were 2,000,000 fewer people in Scotland than in Ireland, and 70,000 more electors. In England, Scotland, and Wales about 14 per cent of the population were electors in the boroughs. In Ireland the proportion was almost exactly 6 per cent. In many English boroughs the percentage was as high as 20, and in some cases 30; while in such Irish boroughs as Clonmel, Ennis, Limerick, New Boss, Wexford, and Tralee the percentage was less than 4, and in Kinsale less than 3. This was sufficient to show that the figures which had been picked and chosen by the hon. Member for Londonderry were not worthy of the attention of the House.
§ MR. O'SHAUGHNESSY
said, that the arguments used by the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill) were unworthy of his well-known ability. The noble Lord had admitted that on abstract principles the Resolution was justified; but argued that the persons whom the proposed measure would bring within the franchise were disloyal in feeling, and would be likely to fall under the influence of secret societies. But if there were any truth in this, it afforded the strongest argument in favour of the proposal of the hon. and learned Member for Kildare (Mr. Meldon), for the best remedy against the evil would be to bring these persons within the pale of the British Constitution, and that was the platform of the Home Rule Party 1246 that evening. The same arguments that were now used against admitting the lower classes in Ireland to the franchise were used on a former occasion against the classes of highest social standing in Ireland, and by men whose intellect—like that of the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock—was corrupted by the red tape of Dublin Castle; but events had shown it to be without foundation. If the people of Ireland were driven in to forming secret societies, it would be through the action of those who would exclude them from the franchise. He regretted very much that the noble Lord had seen fit to change his opinion on this question. There were men who now being outside the Constitution were the victims of secret societies and dangerous to the State; and he asked the noble Lord if he was prepared to keep them so, rather than bring them within the pale of the Constitution. What was asked for Ireland was founded on the broadest principle of justice. It was a part of the English Constitution, and he asked that the people of Ireland should be put on the same equality. They were now at the commencement of a Session which was to be devoted to domestic questions, and here was the most domestic of domestic questions. When the Irish Members came forward with larger demands than this—such as Home Rule—they were told that it could not be granted, but that English Members were willing to place the people of the two countries on a footing of equality. When, however, they asked for a measure of equality on the subject of the franchise, their demand was refused. Their request was very small, and was founded on the broad principle of justice. Five times had they asked for that equality, and five times had that measure of justice been refused them. It was said, by way of threat, that the extension of the franchise would involve a re-distribution of seats; but the supporters of the Motion were quite prepared for that contingency, although some of them might themselves be unseated. Indeed, it was a reflection on the political morality of Irish Members representing small Irish boroughs to argue that they would alter the vote they were about to give from any such consideration. They never pretended that the distribution of seats in Ireland was final or immutable, and the Irish people would not shrink from re- 1247 distribution whenever it should become necessary. He believed that the reason why hon. Members on the other side of the House opposed the Motion was that they were afraid of the result of that re-distribution; for they knew very well that if the Irish were admitted to equal electoral rights with the English, they would lose their monopoly in the representation of Belfast, Londonderry, and other large towns in the North of Ireland. Compared with those of England, Irish constituencies were certainly small, owing to the fact that the number of voters was kept down by restricting the franchise, and further reduced by unjust rating and registration laws; and yet they were told that the constituencies were too small and must be disfranchised, in whole or in part, in certain cases. It was like the old case of knocking a man down and then kicking him for falling. But the fact remained that Irish towns did not enjoy equality with English towns of the same or even a smaller population; and when, in 1867, the franchise was extended in England, the principle of disfranchising the smaller boroughs was not carried out. Why this principle should be carried out in Ireland in connection with a similar extension of the franchise there he was at a loss to conceive. The borough of Galway had a population of 19,000, and the city of Waterford had one of 29,000. If the franchise were lowered, the constituencies of those towns would be greatly enlarged; but in England they had many towns of much smaller population who returned two Members to Parliament, and yet there were hon. Members ready to maintain that the two Irish towns he had named ought only to return one Member each. The influence of the clergy in Irish elections had, of course, been referred to; indeed, it would scarcely have been a franchise debate if such had not been the case; but the reference came from one who he rejoiced to say was not an Irishman, and who had shown himself to be completely ignorant of Irish life. The remark showed a moral courage amounting to recklessness, for there was no foundation for the theory that they had exercised it in an improper manner. They, no doubt, possessed very considerable influence over the people; but it was quite as legitimate an influence as that exorcised by other classes in political 1248 affairs, and their use of it contrasted very favourably with the manner in which the influences of the landlords and other classes was exercised before the voter obtained the protection of the Ballot. If such undue influence did exist, the best way to defeat it was to enfranchise these humbler classes of the people, and teach them to exercise their own opinions upon political matters free from the dictation of any man. Another argument that had been used against a liberal electoral law in Ireland was that the Irish people were a violent people, whom it would not be safe to trust with large political powers. He denied altogether that the Irish people were a violent people. As" a rule, they were a quiet and inoffensive people, though sometimes they had certainly yielded to the influence of agitators. It was well known that the feeling of England and of Scotland was in favour of this measure of reform, and its defeat would be mainly due to the determination of the Irish Conservative Members to oppose it. He therefore asked them whether they had anything to gain by their resistance? Was it of any use for them to defend that fortress any longer? If they gave in, the people would become more reconciled to them than they were now. If they held out, they would create a feeling of hostility towards them in the minds of the people, which would tend to their almost total exclusion from political influence when at length it was granted in spite of their opposition, for the Irish people were growing more educated and enlightened, and the time was coming when the power of the Irish Conservative gentlemen, who could do so much for their country if they chose, would become extinct. He hoped that the day was not far distant when the English and Scotch Members would join in teaching the Irish people that all races and all creeds in Ireland were equal before the Constitution with their brethren in the rest of the United Kingdom.
MR. O'CONNOR POWER
thought that before the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland closed the debate, it was desirable and just that the hon. and learned Member for Kildare (Mr. Meldon) should reply to the arguments which had been put forward. It appeared to him that the opponents of the measure had already broken 1249 down in their arguments. His hon. Friend the Member for Tipperary (Mr. Gray) supplied by argument that which the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Charles Lewis) was skilful enough to evade. In fact, he evaded the whole subject, and it was to be hoped that his violent Orange speech would not pass for logic. His speech was simply a performance in fireworks; for he went up like a rocket, and came down like a stick, leaving the subject as he found it. The arguments of the hon. and learned Member for Kildare had not by any means been falsified, and it had been shown clearly that the Irish people were suffering grave injustice from the fact that a borough franchise prevailed in England and Scotland which was not existing in Ireland. The strongest reason advanced by the opponents of the Resolution was that in Ireland the mass of the people were poor. Ireland was undoubtedly a poorer country than Great Britain, and consequently there must be greater difficulty in regard to the rental value. The hon. Member for Londonderry and the noble Lord who represented Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill) represented what might be called the threatened boroughs, and therefore they shrank from the question of franchise. The Parliamentary occupation of Woodstock by the noble Lord would come to an end whenever there was a re-distribution of seats; and the hon. Member for Londonderry candidly admitted last year that if a measure based on the present Resolution were passed he should no longer represent the city of Londonderry. The latter fact explained the enthusiasm displayed by the hon. Gentleman in opposing the Resolution. It was almost like flogging a dead horse to reply to the speech of the hon. Gentleman after what had been said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster), for his harangue—it could not be called a speech—was of the most illogical kind. In the course of his observations, he said that if they passed this Resolution they would enfranchise ignorance, superstition, and bigotry. The hon. Gentleman jumped from one point to the other. If the Irish people were ignorant and not an educated people, who was to blame but the Tory Party, who had for 200 years made compulsory ignorance the law of the land? 1250 After putting a price on the head of the schoolmaster and making education penal, they now turned round and denounced the people on account of their ignorance. Of course, the House was amazed when he stated, in tones of mock solemnity, that he was not actuated in the course he had taken by prejudice or bigotry. As to the charge of superstition, was that a compliment to the religious convictions of the Irish people? Was it a fair recognition of their firm attachment to their faith, for which they had made countless sacrifices? When he spoke on this matter, was he not actuated by prejudice and bigotry? It was like "Satan reproving sin" to hear the hon. Gentleman talk in this way, and a Representative of the city of Londonderry ought to be the last to speak of it. The hon. Member for Londonderry suggested that the Irish people ought to be contented with what had been done for them, and stated that there was no necessity to call into political activity a new class of voters. Of course, from him such arguments might be expected. He also claimed credit for the Conservative Government for having mitigated the severity of the Coercion Code. No doubt that Code had been passed by a Liberal Government; but it should be remembered that it was at a time when there was insurrection in Ireland. On the other hand, if the Conservative Government had modified the Code, they had extended its duration for five years; they had tried to renew it with severe restrictions, and if those restrictions had been afterwards mitigated, it was owing to a policy they would rely upon in the future—the policy of Parliamentary opposition, which some hon. Gentlemen found it convenient to call the policy of Parliamentary obstruction. He was told they were to be beaten to-night; but to have a majority against them was a matter about which he did not care one jackstraw, because he felt they were right, and they would again return to the attack, and force the Conservative Party to surrender those positions which it now defended.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
said, notwithstanding the somewhat discursive range which the debate—especially of late—had assumed, he would try to confine himself to the four corners of the Amendment of the hon. and learned 1251 Gentleman opposite (Mr. Meldon). It was hardly a period of the evening for following the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down (Mr. O'Connor Power) into the policy of the Coercion Acts, or other hon. Gentlemen into the policy of the Education Bill, the Land Bill, and other measures which had been referred to in the course of the debate; and it might save time if he was at once to say that, according to his opinions, there was no great principle at stake between them. On former occasions, when the question of the extension of the franchise and matters affecting the representation had been under discussion, the two Parties had usually entertained very widely different views; but, on this occasion, no such difference as a matter of principle could be said to prevail. Reference had been made to the legislation of 1867–8, which settled the question of reform as far as England was concerned. The right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Law) intimated that he (Mr. Lowther) could not claim any personal share in that settlement. That was true, and he approached this subject with superior impartiality, as he was not in any way responsible for the measure. Acting from the impartial point of view, therefore, he did not say that the settlements of 1867 and 1868 could lay claim to the character of finality. He did not say those settlements could not in any shape or form at any time be departed from; but he would remind the House that in 1868 the question of the franchise in Ireland was settled, not by a Party vote, nor by a majority obtained from one side, but by the general consent of the two great Parties in the State. It was a settlement proposed by the Party now intrusted with the management of public affairs; but reference to the debates would show that the limit then fixed at a £4 rating was cordially accepted and endorsed by the Gentlemen who then sat on the Opposition Benches. It would be as well for the House to recollect that without attempting to establish any position of finality in the settlement then arrived at, it was generally understood that piecemeal legislation on the subject of Parliamentary reform was to be deprecated. They had heard a good deal at different times about single-barrelled Reform Bills. Early recollections were the most vivid, and his early 1252 Parliamentary recollections were connected with that period. He, therefore, could well remember that if one thing more than another was distinctly laid down by hon. Members on both sides, it was that any dealing with the question of reform was one which must be comprehensive in its character, and there was scarcely any refutation of the doctrine which was then laid down that these attempts of private Members to tinker the Constitution of the country did not deserve the sanction of Parliament. Hon. Members had referred to the distribution of seats. Whenever the question of reform was taken in hand, it would be the duty of the Legislature to face, not only that, but every aspect of the question. Some thought that to speak of distribution of seats involved a threat coming from that side of the House. [Sir Joseph M'KENNA: Hear, hear!] He thought he recognized in that cheer the voice of one who worthily represented, not certainly one of the largest constituencies in Ireland; and it was not for him to say whether the constituency which the hon. Gentleman so efficiently represented would long survive any effectual re-distribution of seats. But, at the same time, he would remind the House that this question was settled 10 years ago—so far as any question could be settled. But by the Amendment before the House, not only would the question of the franchise be reopened, but they would be landed in an Irish Reform Bill; and, moreover, it would be impossible any longer to defend the existing arrangements with regard to England. He would like to know with what logical consistency it could be urged, if an Irish Reform Bill should be ventured on, that the settlement arrived at for England the year before the Irish settlement should not be departed from? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford had admitted that at once, and that he looked upon this as a stepping-stone to county suffrage; and he (Mr. Lowther) had no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman would be only too glad that Parliament should once more embark in the occupation of re-casting the institutions of the country and unsettling what it had been confidently hoped all round would have lasted at any rate for a generation. The right hon. Gentleman talked of the justice of according 1253 to Ireland what had been already accorded to England, and other hon. Members had used the same language. Now, it appeared to him that the Government did propose to accord to Ireland the same privileges as had been accorded to England, and one of those was the great privilege of freedom from agitation; while the right hon. Gentleman and others proposed to inflict upon her the very doubtful blessing of a period of agitation and unrest. Now, it appeared that a system of frequent changes in the institutions of the country was neither desirable nor acceptable to the people at large, and he should probably not have had to trespass on the time of the House from the place in which he now stood had not that for some time past been the general opinion of the country. Something had been said about the absence of any sign of a real demand on the part of the Irish people for the change which was now proposed; and the hon. Gentleman who seconded the Motion before the House (Mr. Gray) asked whether it was the wish of the Government that they should follow the example of the people of England by pulling down the railings of the official residence where he (Mr. Lowther) had recently been privileged to reside, as had been done in the case of Hyde Park? and he also made some reference to the appointment of a County Court Judge. Now, he was the last person to say a word in defence of such proceedings as those to which the hon. Gentleman had referred, with respect to pulling down the railings, and especially with reference to the judicial appointments to which allusion had been made; but however much he might deprecate what had then occurred, it at all events furnished some evidence of the existence of a certain amount of popular feeling. But hon. Gentlemen who had taken pains to make themselves acquainted with the opinions of the populace in Ireland did not pretend that there prevailed among them any excitement on the subject before the House. Petitions might represent very little, but it was notorious that none had been presented to Parliament from the general public with respect to it; and he was therefore, he thought, justified in arriving at the conclusion that no real demand for a change existed, He had already referred to the 1254 undesirable nature of constant demands for alterations in the Constitution; but if it were deemed expedient, both by the country and by Parliament, that not only one, but several, Sessions should be spent in re-opening such controversies, he saw, from a Party point of view, no reason why the Government should put themselves forward as objectors to such a course of proceeding. Speaking, however, from the point of view, not of Party, but of the interests of the country, he hoped the House would discourage it.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
Sir, I have no wish or intention to reply on the whole of this debate, or to interpose between the House and those Irish Members who may still wish to answer the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland. There are, however, one or two observations which fell from the right hon. Gentleman with regard to which I desire to say a few words. The right hon. Gentleman told us that the Government were quite prepared to give Ireland the boon of freedom from agitation; but, as I understand it, that boon is to be conferred by entirely refraining from the proposal of any legislation which would be likely to cause or create any popular feeling in that country. That, however, appears to me not to be exactly the best mode of securing to Ireland freedom from agitation. If the Government, as I understand the right hon. Gentleman, will listen to no popular demand from Ireland, and will bring forward no measures which have any probability of interesting the Irish people, I think that course is far more likely to excite than to prevent popular agitation. The right, hon. Gentleman also said that not only would this measure lead to the discussion of the larger question of the extension of the franchise in counties, but that it would also re-open the question of the extension of the franchise in England. Now, I see no reason to suppose that it will have that effect. It is true that we were told in 1868 that the Irish Reform Bill would be a settlement in Ireland such as that which was made in England; but the passage which my right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) referred to, from the speech of Lord Mayo, who introduced the Bill, showed that it was brought in under an entirely mistaken 1255 conception. Lord Mayo said that it would place the Irish franchise substantially in the same position as it was in England. No doubt, it would have been in the same position if the original proposal of Mr. Disraeli had been accepted; but everyone knows that alterations were made in that Bill which greatly modified and extended the original proposals of the Conservative Government of that day. The Reform Act of Lord Mayo has not placed Ireland on the same footing, or anything approaching the same footing, as England, for the fact is that in the English boroughs every male householder substantially has a vote; while, as has been proved, a large proportion of the householders in Irish boroughs have not a vote. How, therefore, can it be said that the Irish and English franchises have been placed on the same footing? A speech, I may add, has been made in the course of this debate of which I cannot take exactly the same view as has been taken of it by the hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. O'Connor Power). He has spoken in terms of disparagement of the speech of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Charles Lewis). I thought that was a remarkable, and I must add, to some extent, a violent speech, which was calculated to produce a remarkable impression upon those who heard and might read it. The hon. Member brought forward, with great eloquence, and apparently with great satisfaction to himself, certain statements, in making which he seemed to think that he was saying something new. But there are many hon. Members in this House who remember the protracted debates which preceded the passing of the Reform Bill of 1867, and they have heard the hon. Member speak in disparaging terms of the class of voters who would be included in the electoral list if the value of the qualifications of voters was lowered. The hon. Member appeared to think he had knocked the case for assimilation completely on the head when he said the English Reform Act did not admit a large number of voters under the £4 voting. But he does not seem to know that the £4 line was not the only line that was discussed in this House in the reform debates in the last Parliament, and that even more terrible denunciations had been levelled against the class of voters who would be 1256 admitted by giving the franchise to £6 householders. It is always easy to prove that many more poor people would be admitted than rich people; and that rich people are a much more intelligent class of people, and much more qualified to govern the country than poor. It has always been proved that when large numbers of people received the franchise they would swamp existing and intelligent voters, and bring all sorts of calamities on the country at large. The hon. Gentleman spoke with great pride of the constituency which he represents; Londonderry is, I believe, a prosperous and industrious community, and I am sure that the select portion of the citizens of Londonderry, who return the hon. Member, are a very estimable body of persons; but, as he has said, they possess this fault—that they do not represent Ireland. They may, it is true, be a great deal wiser than the rest of the inhabitants of Ireland, and it may be regretted that all the constituencies of Ireland do not resemble Londonderry; but it is certainly true that they do not represent Ireland, or the feelings and wishes of the people of the whole country, and what we now want is not a voting class who shall be judged by the value of their holdings, but one which shall, in truth and fact, represent the country generally. The old idea of a select body of voters who shall elect the best possible House of Commons, which the hon. Member clings to, has been long abandoned; and what we desire, as I have said, is an elective body which shall secure a fair representation of the country as a whole. The present qualification for Irish voters in boroughs, we are told, does not secure such a representation; and it is sought to repair the defect by the means suggested by the hon. and learned Member for Kildare. There seems to be a very great fear among the opponents of the proposal that it is only a part of a much greater scheme—a stepping-stone, in fact, to some proposal of almost revolutionary tendency; but if the figures come to be examined it will be seen that the proposal is not a great one. The whole population of the boroughs of the United Kingdom is 13,000,000, producing an electorate of 1,600,000, and returning 350 Members. The population with which we are dealing in this proposal is 1257 867,000. They return 37 Members, and the electorate is 54,000; and the whole question, which has assumed, in the minds of some, such gigantic proportions, is whether we are to add to these 1,600,000 a number of voters not much over 100,000. It cannot, therefore, be said to be a very alarming proposal. The hon. Member for Londonderry says that the demand made for the extension of the franchise to the counties in England will be made in Ireland. But that demand will be made whether you agree to this measure or not, and will have to be discussed on its own merits. Though this question is not a large one, it is not a small question from a general and political point of view. Though it refers only to the enfranchisement of 100,000, it concerns the satisfaction of 5,000,000. I do not admit that by accepting the proposal before the House hon. Members would be committing themselves to the much larger questions involved in the supposed electoral rights of the dwellers in counties or even in any other of the divisions of the Three Kingdoms, because it must be generally admitted that as far as the social conditions of Great Britain and Ireland are concerned it is necessary to adopt different modes of treatment, and that each separate proposal will, when it comes to be made, be discussed on its merits. A great deal has been said about exceptional legislation, and we are asked why we should provide exceptional legislation for Ireland in some respects, and equality of treatment in others? It is necessary, no doubt, that in matters relating to the social condition of the Kingdom, the three countries should not be dealt with in precisely the same way. No one has ever contended that the same ecclesiastical regulations are suitable for Scotland, Ireland, and England. In everything relating to the religious condition of the people there must be diversity of treatment. But does the House for one moment suppose that the people of Scotland would be contented if any alteration were made in the religious rights enjoyed by them? If you could not for a moment suppose that they would be, on what ground, then, do you suppose that the Irish people can be content so long as existing differences and distinctions are observed? Reference has been made to the disaffection which pervades a certain number of the class who would be enfranchised in respect of these ques- 1258 tions. I am afraid it must be admitted that such disaffection does prevail. But what is the danger of that disaffection? It is not that it may find occasional expression in this House, but that it exists amongst the people. I believe it is far better that if disaffection does exist it should find its expression in every legitimate way, and should not be concealed and repressed, as it is at present, into channels and modes of unconstitutional action. I do not pretend for one moment to say that the passing of this measure would make Ireland a contented or well-affected country; but I believe it is one of a series of measures for the removal of obstacles which exist to the contentment and pacification of Ireland; and it is useless to hope that the country will ever be reconciled to the Constitution under which it is governed so long as this remnant of inequality and remnants of political jealousy with regard to this country are permitted to exist.
§ DR. O'LEARY
said, he rose, with some hesitation, to reply to the observations of the Chief Secretary for Ireland. He would not have attempted to do so had he thought that the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition represented all Parties in that House; for although he was entitled to represent the Liberal Party, there was another—the Irish—Party in the House, and as one of them he (Dr. O'Leary) now claimed to be heard. Above all other questions he considered this to be a vital one. The people of Ireland looked upon this question, which had been brought before the House from 1874 up to the present time, as one of the highest importance. On each occasion when it had been brought forward, the Government had pronounced themselves unfavourable to the proposal. Personally, he felt extremely aggrieved at the course taken by the Government on this as well as on other Irish questions, especially as strong hopes were entertained, from the announcements made at the opening of the Session, as to the measures to be brought forward. With reference to the arguments that had been adduced in favour of this question, it was noticeable that the Chief Secretary for Ireland had not answered one of them. What did he state? He commenced by an assertion that he was actuated by supreme impartiality. He (Dr. O'Leary) was prepared to admit that, if an im- 1259 partial view could be taken of a whole case from a particular point of view; but he must say that he did not believe there was one word of truth in the Chief Secretary's assertion of impartiality.
§ MR. SPEAKER
trusted that the hon. Member did not intend to impute a want of truth to the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, and that he would see the necessity of withdrawing the observation.
§ DR. O'LEARY
said, he had no hesitation in doing so. He did not mean to imply that the right hon. Gentleman was untruthful, but only that his views were most fallacious. He commenced by stating his impartiality; and in his earnest desire that the House should hoar the truth endeavoured to show that other questions were involved in this. But this question was not one involving any distribution of seats; it was simply whether certain classes of people in Ireland, in towns or municipal boroughs, should enjoy the same individual privileges as the people of towns in England enjoyed. That was the question, and the only question, before the House. The people of Ireland did not ask for a re-distribution of seats—they only sought to be placed on an equality with people of a like social standing in England. It had been urged by hon. Members that the persons sought to be included in the franchise were not capable of appreciating political freedom. But were the people who were benefited by the last extension of the franchise in England capable of exercising political freedom? He had been returned for Drogheda—the honour was thrust upon him, and he undertook it as a public duty. He gave his voice to the Conservative Government upon the Slave Question; and when he went back to Drogheda and told the people that he had supported the Conservative Government upon that point they approved what he had done. It was his opinion that the more the franchise was extended the more Conservative would be found the vote given: such was his experience. The Chief Secretary for Ireland had told them that the question was one of the re-distribution of seats. If that question were involved, then it was a fair matter for discussion; and, if not, why was that topic introduced at all, except but to prejudice the views of the House? The question simply was, whether the elec- 1260 tors of Ireland were to have a like electoral privilege with those in England? The noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill) had referred to the smallness of the Irish constituencies; but he would tell him that the borough he represented contained only one-third of the number of constituents in the borough of Drogheda. The hon. Member for Galway held in his hand a paper which showed the enormous and ridiculous discrepancy that existed between the political representation of England and Ireland. The Chief Secretary for Ireland had also spoken of the advantages of freedom from agitation. What was freedom from agitation? Was it secured by preventing a man in Ireland from having political freedom, when it was allowed to a man with the same wages and an equal social position in England? What arguments had the Chief Secretary for Ireland advanced to show that freedom from agitation existed at present on this question? He gave none, nor had he advanced a single reason why one man should exercise the franchise and the other not. He paused for a reply. In all that the right hon. Gentleman had said, did he give any reason why the Liverpool artizan and Dublin artizan, who were on an equality in all other respects, were not to be put on an equality in point of political rights? Speaking more than three months ago from that Bench, he had replied to the hon. and learned Member for Louth (Mr. Sullivan), who had defended the right hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Gladstone) in an attack upon Mr. Layard. Therefore, he hoped credit would be given him for no factious opposition to the Government. There was a certain number of hon. Members in that House who had adopted, for the last few years, a policy the wisdom of which he would not attempt to decide; but this he would say—that, in his opinion, if the Government persisted in their effort to resist the passing of that Bill, the cry that had been raised in Ireland would justify those Gentlemen in an active opposition. So long as the Government refused to place Ireland and England on the same level, so long would the voice of Ireland, so long would all her sympathy and all her love follow the hon. and learned Member for Louth in his struggles to place 1261 both countries on an equality. If the people of Ireland were continually exasperated by her just demands not being granted when the most obvious arguments were brought forward and not a single reply in favour, or justification or explanation of, the existing state of things was advanced from the front Treasury Benches, in that case he proclaimed that all the opposition of Irish Members was necessary; and, for his part, he should join them, and declare open war with the English Government for their neglect and disregard of the interests of Ireland.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
The hon. Member who has just sat down, and who represents what I may call a small Irish borough, has told us that he has heard, happily not in this House, that an opinion has been expressed to the effect that no political vitality remained in the small Irish boroughs. I venture to think that the hon. Member's presence proves the contrary. I was gratified to hear from the hon. Gentleman that, although he complains that a large number of the inhabitants of Droghoda are not qualified to use the franchise, yet if that boon were conferred upon them the decision of the constituents would not deprive him of the honour of representing them. That is a matter of some congratulation, and I feel sure that we are all very glad to listen to the hon. Member when he stands up to address us. But I am bound to say that he has not, in his remarks to-night, done much to clear up a difficulty which I have felt throughout this debate. We are called upon, on this occasion, to do that which is never very convenient—not to discuss or express an opinion upon a measure presented in the form of a Bill, but to express our approval of the principle contained in an abstract Resolution. I am far from saying that that is a matter we ought never to entertain; but when that abstract Resolution is presented to us, and we are asked to affirm a principle of great importance, we ought to be told what the principle is upon which we are asked to decide. My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland said there was no difference, he thought, among us upon that point. I thought him a little too sanguine at the moment; but immediately afterwards rose the noble Lord, and after he had spoken I could not help thinking that there were 1262 three opinions wholly irreconcileable entertained upon the matter. In the first place, we had early in the evening a speech from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster), very much in accord with what has been said by the hon. Member for Drogheda. He said, with regard to the principle involved, we had simply to ask ourselves whether there is any reason why a privilege or right enjoyed by a householder in England should not be equally enjoyed by a householder in Ireland? But in that view the question naturally arises as to what is meant to be implied by the possession of the suffrage. Is the right one which belongs to every man worthy of it? If so, the subject is a difficult one, for the question of the hon. Member for Drogheda then becomes important—"Why a man in Drogheda is not to be allowed to vote when a man in a precisely similar position in Liverpool is permitted to exercise the privilege?" To that I answer, why should a man who is living in Torquay, in a more expensive house and who occupies a higher position in the social scale than a man in Liverpool, not be allowed to vote like the man in Liverpool? I was prepared to hear hon. Gentlemen opposite cheer that observation. But there we have a certain principle to be affirmed. Let us know whether that is really the principle involved in the Resolution we are asked to adopt. If that is the principle we are asked to sanction, it must be remembered that this is not a simple question of justice between England and Ireland, but a question of political representation throughout the United Kingdom. That was one question put before the House. Then the right hon. and learned Member for the county of Londonderry (Mr. Law) said—"There have been discussions this evening as to whether the franchise is a right or whether it is a trust. I give the go-by to all such refinements as these, and I put the matter on this ground—I say it is for the good of the State and the community that as many people as possible should be admitted within the pale of the Constitution—that is to say, should be admitted to the right of voting." Well, that principle the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows well is the principle of universal suffrage, qualified, of course, by the exclusion of some persons who may be personally unfit to 1263 exercise it. That principle may be offered for our confirmation. But then comes the noble Lord, who is a prime authority upon the other side of the House, and puts forward a wholly different principle from the others, and one which I am bound to say, for my own part, I entirely accept as the true principle. The noble Lord said the question is, how are we to obtain a fair representation of Ireland as a whole? That is the question which we have always on this side of the House—which I, at all events, have been in the habit of putting in all electoral discussions—namely, what is the best way of obtaining a fair representation of the whole country? That question ought, no doubt, to be approached in a fair and thoughtful spirit, and you will find that it is one that carries you very far. It carries you to the question of the distribution of power, and to the mode in which minorities are to be represented; for you cannot get a fair representation of the country as a whole, unless you have some means by -which the representation of minorities is secured. It also raises other questions, which, if you deal with the franchise, you ought to consider. The principle involved in the Resolution we are asked to pass is by no means one that has been elaborated in the way in which a proposition of reform of this kind ought to be. I say that we take a right view of our position in holding that changes in the representation—which must necessarily be a source of disturbance to the public mind—must be of such a character as to embrace a proper settlement of all parts of the question. I agree with those who have said that there are anomalies in our present system of representation, not only in Ireland, but in other parts of the United Kingdom; but I say that, upon the whole, we have a fairly working representative system. At present, it is one which enables us to obtain a very reasonable and fair expression of the opinion of the country, and I may say particularly that of Ireland. Hon. Gentlemen opposite say that the present system does not secure the return of Members who represent the feeling of the people of Ireland; but those same hon. Gentlemen always claim to speak in the name of Ireland; and I think we may fairly assume that, however imperfect the system may be in its details, yet we do contrive, by our present arrange- 1264 ments, to obtain a perfectly fair and reliable expression of the voice and opinions of their own country. No doubt the time may come when it may be desirable to review again the working of our representative system; but I do not think that we should act wisely in undertaking that review at the present time. It is not so very long since the last settlement was made, and we remember that, not only in 1867, but in the years that preceded it, and for some time before, the country was agitated, and it is not desirable to revive again that question until we can deal with it as a whole. An Act for Ireland was passed about the same time, and the noble Lord and the right hon. Member for Bradford have stated that that was passed under a misapprehension on the part of the Minister who was responsible for its introduction. I have not considered the speech of my noble Friend Lord Mayo on that occasion; but it was, I apprehend, made in 1867. [Mr. W. E. FORSTER: 1868.] Then it was made after the passing of the English Reform Bill, and therefore with a full knowledge on the part of the House of the legislation for England. But the main question we now have to consider is whether we shall pass a Resolution which really settles nothing whatever, and which will affirm a principle of which there are at least three different versions entirely inconsistent with one another. I hope, under the circumstances, that the House will vote in favour of the Motion that Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair.
§ MAJOR O'GORMAN
was not quite sure whether the Government laboured under the impression that if the franchise in Ireland were extended in the same manner as in England, none but Home Rule Members would be returned by Irish constituencies to that House. In his opinion, that impression, if it existed, was entirely erroneous. The Irish people were essentially Conservative, and the lower one descended into the social structure, the more Conservative would Irishmen be found. If hon. Members doubted his statement, he would bring illustrations in support of his argument. The noble Lord, who was now Prime Minister of this country, defeated and turned out of Office the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich because the latter introduced a £7 Franchise Bill, which was too revolutionary 1265 for the noble Lord; but the moment the noble Lord himself came into power he introduced household suffrage, apparently a much more revolutionary measure, and what had been the result? The noble Lord had found Conservatives in the lowest ranks of Englishmen. The opening of the Constitution had placed the hon. Gentlemen, whom he had now the pleasure of seeing opposite, on Conservative Benches. Let them make in Ireland a similar experiment. The £7 franchise never would have returned a Conservative majority. Household suffrage had done it. "Sir monumentum requiris circumspice."
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 256; Noes 187: Majority 69.—(Div. List, No. 4.)
§ Main Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Committee deferred till Monday next.