§ MR. MELDON,
in rising to move the Resolution of which he had given Notice, said: Sir, in again calling the attention of this House to the subject of the Irish Borough Franchise, I am not certain but that I should best discharge my duty by merely formally moving the Resolution, instead of adducing facts and arguments which must be familiar to every hon. Member of the House. The present occasion, however, is so opportune for a settlement of the question, that I have come to the conclusion it is better to go into some little detail on the subject. The Amendment, of which the hon. Member^ for Londonderry (Mr. Charles Lewis) has given Notice, seeks to pledge Parliament to the proposition that it is inexpedient to deal with the question of lowering the Borough Franchise in Ireland; or, in other words, he wishes to pledge this Imperial Parliament to a policy denying to the people of Ireland equal rights under the Constitution to those enjoyed by the other inhabitants of the United Kingdom. I sincerely trust that now, on the eve of a General Election, in the present critical state of Ireland, after denying for 12 years to the Irish people the same measure of justice as was granted by a Conservative Government to England and Scotland, this House will no longer, at 812 the bidding of a Government influenced by solely Party considerations, withhold the claim so persistently put forward by the vast majority of the Irish Representatives, that on this question of the franchise Ireland will be treated as an integral part of the Empire. I am not altogether without hope that the result of my Motion will be favourable, for this House, I am bound to say, has on previous occasions shown itself not disinclined to act justly to Ireland in this matter. In 1876, a Resolution similar in terms to that now brought forward was rejected by a majority of only 13 votes, and in 1878 the same Resolution was lost by a majority of only 8. What the object of the Government—upon whom lies responsibility in this matter—can be in steadily refusing to grant this simple measure of political equality, unless it is the ignoble one of a fear to lose two or three seats in Parliament, I am at a loss to understand. On each occasion when this subject was discussed, the Government, for merely Party motives, used all their influence to bring about a decision which, I must say, was as unjust as it was mischievous. The result of this action of Her Majesty's Government has been to convince the masses of the Irish people that justice is not to be had from the Imperial Parliament, and that the assertion so frequently made during the past few years in this House that equal rights are granted to all Her Majesty' s subjects throughout the United Kingdom is merely an idle boast. What is the issue which has to be decided tonight? Is it the question of the expediency of lowering the franchise or conferring household suffrage? Not at all. The question to be decided is, whether this House is prepared to carry out the contract made on the part of the British nation at the time of the Union, that the Irish people should have equal representation with the rest of the United Kingdom. I do not ask the affirmance or adoption of any new principle, nor do I desire to go outside the doctrines proposed by the Party opposite and adopted by this House to sustain my proposals. Let us see what it is that Irish Representatives claim to have decided by this House. In the boroughs of England and Scotland, household suffrage has been in existence for 12 years—that is to say, in the English and Scotch boroughs every male inhabitant 813 of full age occupying for 12 months as tenant or owner a dwelling-house rated to the relief of the poor, having paid a certain part of the poor rate, is absolutely entitled to be registered as a voter. In Ireland, where it is said we have equal rights, no man is entitled to the franchise in boroughs by right of occupation unless he has been in occupation as owner or tenant for 12 months of premises rated at an annual value of more than £4, and has paid certain rates; but this is not all, because, although the rateable value of the premises is nominally over £4, in reality the value must be at least over £6, because in Ireland the valuation is not made on actual letting value, but is in every case one-third and usually one-half lower; so that in Ireland the value of the premises must be over £6, though nominally only £4. In Ireland, too, owing to the difference in the rating laws, large numbers of persons are disfranchised who would not be so if legislation was similar for the two countries. I do not propose going into these questions as to rating which will be raised on the discussion of the Bill introduced by the hon. and learned Member for the City of Limerick (Mr. O'Shaughnessy); but will content myself by quoting by-and-bye some figures on the point of a very startling nature. At present, I will dismiss the subject with one remark—namely, that whereas in England legislation has taken place on the principle of facilitating the acquisition of the franchise by persons entitled, in Ireland legislation seems to have been based on the principle of throwing impediments and obstacles in the way of those acquiring the much more limited franchise there conferred. Is this state of affairs just or reasonable? Ireland, being the poorer country, should, in all fairness and equality, have the lower franchise. This principle is one which has been acknowledged by Parliament. Up to 1867, the qualification for the borough franchise was lower in Ireland than in England, being £10 in England and £8 in Ireland. The position of the two countries was changed in 1867. Why, in Ireland, must the value of a man's house be over £4, whereas in England and in Scotland the value of a man's house does not in any way regulate his right to the franchise? I will refer, by-and-bye, to some few statistics which will prove incontestably the injustice which is done to 814 Ireland by the dissimilarity of the franchises; but, before passing to that question, I must glance at the principle upon which the borough franchise is based in England and Scotland, and point out that a different principle is the basis of the Irish borough franchise. Under the Reform Act of 1850 it was necessary, to entitle a man to be registered as a Parliamentary voter in any borough in Ireland, that he should occupy a house of the rateable value of £8, and the borough occupation franchise was based on the principle that a man was not entitled to exercise the political right of voting for a Parliamentary Representative unless he was a man of sufficient substance to occupy a house of a certain value. In fact, the test as to the right of a man to political power was a property one. In England the same principle was acted on; but, inasmuch as Ireland was the poorer country, the franchise in England was higher, being a £10 occupation qualification. In 1867 a great change of front took place. The old qualification of property, as entitling a man to share in political power by giving him a vote in boroughs, was swept away, and a new basis for the franchise was adopted, so far as England and Scotland were concerned. And by whom was this great change brought about? Who were the persons responsible for this new departure? Why, the Party who now, under the guidance of the same Leader, refuse to Ireland the boon they conferred on the rest of the United Kingdom, and who now insist that the old property qualification in 1867, decided to be unsuitable as the test to be applied as entitling Englishmen and Scotchmen to the franchise, is the proper one to be applied to the people of Ireland. On this point I ask the House to accept the statement of the Leader of the Conservative Party when introducing the Reform Bill of 1867. The Prime Minister, on that occasion, stated—That the basis of household suffrage and the principle upon which the provisions of the Bill creating the borough franchise was founded was that if a man pays his rates and has resided a certain time, that isprima facieevidence that he is a man of regular, methodical, and dutiful course of life, and, on the whole, in a borough, is a very good test of the right to the franchise.Over and over again the Earl of Beaconsfield, then Mr. Disraeli, during the progress of the Reform Bill of 815 1867, impressed on the House of Commons in his speeches this principle, and asserted that residence and payment of rates in boroughs was the test of the right to the franchise, and not the value of the house occupied. I put it to the hon. Members opposite, if this is not a noble, grand, and lofty principle, that in boroughs a man's right to participate in the management of the State is to be judged by his stake in the country, not ascertained by the test of his ability to live in a valuable house, but by his ability to keep a roof constantly over himself, his wife and family, and by the punctual payment of his contribution towards the funds necessary for the support and maintenance of his poorer brethren? This is the principle upon which the borough franchise in England and Scotland is based; this is the groundwork of the great edifice of household suffrage raised by the Conservative Party in these countries, and I am at a loss to know why this great principle is not extended to Ireland, and why the property qualification for the franchise, abolished for England and Scotland in 1867, is still retained in Ireland, against the protestations of the very large majority of the Irish people and their Representatives. Has an Irishman, supporting and maintaining his family under his roof, and contributing to the support of the poor, a less stake in his country, is he less entitled to vote for a Member of Parliament who has power to bind his person and his property, than an Englishman under similar conditions? Why should the test of the right to the franchise in boroughs be payment of rates and residence in one part of the United Kingdom, and the ability to live in a valuable house be the test in another? What reason exists why an Irishman, so long as he resides in a house in England, should be entrusted with political power, and be considered unfit if he changes his residence to a house in Ireland of equal value? Why should a man occupying a house, say in Liverpool, of the annual value of £4, be thought unfit for the franchise if he goes to Dublin and resides in a house of equal value? There is no justification for such a state of law. What, therefore, is the reason this grievance is not remedied? Why is it that whereas up to 1867 Ireland had a lower franchise than England 816 she now has a franchise, not only higher than the rest of the United Kingdom, but based on a different principle? Surely the Government cannot be criminal enough to seek to deprive those persons, who, taking an active part in political matters, ask the Irish people to trust in the utility of "constitutional agitation," of the stringent argument they have against the use of unconstitutional means for the redress of their grievances. Does this House, by refusing so reasonable a request as is now made, wish to convince the Irish nation of the hollowness and unreality of the assertions so often made in debates and by responsible persons in Parliament that equal rights are given to the inhabitants of the three countries comprising this so-called United Kingdom? I wish hon. Members sitting on the opposite side of this House before they proceed, in obedience to the dictation of the Government, to vote against this Resolution, would calmly consider the effect on the Irish people of their vote, and for a moment think of the responsibility they undertake when, by their acts, they repudiate the Act of Union, which purports to secure to Ireland equality of representation and equal rights with England and Scotland. What do hon. and right hon. Gentlemen mean, when they tell us that the Imperial Parliament is willing to give equal rights to all the inhabitants of the Three Kingdoms? In no matter is this of more importance than in the case of political rights. Is not the Union based on equality of representation? Yet, in Ireland, we have a limited franchise. Large numbers of the inhabitants of that country who, if they lived in England or Scotland would enjoy political power, are excluded from voting for Members of Parliament, and we are told that the Irish nation have the full benefit of the Union. What have the Irish people done to be thus deprived of their rights? Is this House willing to deal with Ireland as an integral part of the Kingdom as they would with Lancashire or the poorest part of Scotland? Here is a test. Sweep away the differences existing between the franchise in Ireland and that existing in England and in Scotland—assimilate the rating laws, admit the people of Ireland to representation in this House as fully as the English and Scotch—assimilate our municipal franchise to your own. 817 I will now proceed to prove, by quoting a few statistics, the great differences which exist between the representation of the boroughs in Ireland and the boroughs of Scotland and England. The city of Glasgow, with a population of 477,732, returns three Members to this House by the votes of 61,069 electors. All the boroughs in Ireland, with a population of about 900,000, return 31 Members by the votes of 55,257 electors; Manchester, with a population of 379,374, has a constituency of 60,463; Birmingham, with a population of 343,787, has 65,506 electors; Liverpool, with a population of 493,400, numbers 61,026 on its Parliamentary register. It is an astonishing fact, and demonstrates the justice of the claim now brought forward, that one city in Scotland has a constituency larger in number by 5,812 than the total number of electors in all the boroughs of Ireland put together. But, wherever we look for facts connected with the representation of the Irish boroughs, the same startling state of affairs exists. Scotland, with a population of less than 3,500,000, has in her boroughs more than 200,000 voters; whereas in Ireland, with a population of more than 4,500,000, there are only 55,257 electors. England, with a population of 22,500,000, has considerably more than 1,500,000 of electors in the boroughs. If the comparison between the numbers of electors in English and Scotch boroughs and Irish boroughs is made, the same startling results will be found. Dublin, with a population of 267,610, has only 12,607 voters; whilst Leeds, with a population of 259,212, has 49,074 electors; Sheffield, with a population of 239,946—several thousands less of population than Dublin—has a Parliamentary register three times in excess of that city, and numbering 39,270; and Edinburgh, with 196,979 inhabitants, has 28,340 electors, as against the 12,607 of Dublin. To take another Irish town. Cork, with a population of 100,000, returns its Members by the votes of 4,626; whereas in Nottingham, with a population of only 86,600, there are 18,292 voters. In Limerick, with a population of 49,853, there are 1,930 electors; and in Gateshead, with 48,627 of a population, there are 12,096 voters. In Belfast, where the population is 174,413, and where the number of persons rated for tenements over £4—sufficient to entitle 818 them to the franchise—is 25,708, the constituency is 14,990. I admit that a certain allowance must be made for double occupation, for female occupants, vacant premises, and for cases where the rates are unpaid, but I contend that the figures quoted fully substantiate my case. But, then, it is said the result of a change in Ireland similar to that which took place in England and Scotland in 1867 would be essentially different. It is said by hon. Members opposite that in Ireland the number of persons who would be enfranchised if the same franchise existed as in England would have such a disproportion to the persons at present with the franchise as entirely to change the representation, and it is said that this was not the operation of the Reform Act of 1867 in England and Scotland. This is a repetition of the same argument as was brought forward by the opponents of reform in England, but it not prevent a Conservative Ministry from passing the Reform Act of 1867. Let us see how this is. In England, the result of the Reform Act was to treble the borough constituencies. I take the dates of 1866 and 1877 to prove this statement. In 1866 there were 500,000 persons in the boroughs with this franchise. In 1877 there were 1,514,716 borough electors. In 1866 there were 45 boroughs with less than 500 electors; in 1877 there was not one. The constituencies in England were, therefore, trebled by the change, whereas the result of the Irish Reform Act was to add but 20,000 throughout the entire of Ireland. If the franchise was lowered in Ireland, as is sought, the borough constituencies would not be doubled; in fact, it would only add 56,902 to the present electoral roll, and so bring the whole borough constituencies of Ireland to something like 100,000 voters. In conclusion, I must thank the House for the great kindness which has, on this as on previous occasions, been shown to me. No matter what the result may be, I have no cause of complaint of want of opportunity to bring forward my case. I regret my inability to advocate the great cause of the enfranchisement of the Irish people more forcibly; but, amongst my Colleagues, there are those who will make up for my serious shortcomings, and to them and the righteousness and inherent strength of my case I now leave it. I have 819 pointed out that the borough franchise in Ireland was based on a different principle in Ireland from that in the rest of the United Kingdom. I have shown what the result of such a difference is, and I now appeal to the House to remove a slur which has been put upon the people of Ireland, and to affirm the proposition that Irishmen are entitled to equal rights as Englishmen and Scotchmen, and I trust that in this matter of the franchise the appeal now made to the Imperial Parliament will be acceded to. As long as household suffrage exists in England and Scotland, Ireland, entitled to equal rights under the Act of Union, which the House ought not to treat as waste paper, is entitled to household suffrage also. When we legislated on the subject of the borough franchise for this country in 1867, we adopted a principle and applied a test—namely, ability to maintain and pay rates for a house. Why should not that principle and that test be applied to all parts of the United Kingdom? In the interest of peace and order, and with a view to promote the welfare of Ireland, I appeal to the House to say that she is not to be dealt with as a conquered country, and that she is not to be denied the rights which England has engaged by the Act of Union to give her. I beg, Mr. Speaker to move—That the restricted nature of the Borough Franchise in Ireland as compared with that existing in England and in 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. GRAY
said, he rose to second the Motion which had just been made by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kildare (Mr. Meldon). Fortunately for him (Mr. Gray) his hon. and learned Friend had dealt so completely with the subject that he had left him very little to say upon it. That was the fourth occasion, he thought, upon which he had had the honour of seconding the Motion, and he confessed that it was with some lack of spirit that he did so on the present occasion, for there was something, it appeared to him, a little flat, stale, and unprofitable in having to go over the well-worn arguments again, and in having to impress those who seemed not to wish to be impressed with what to Irish Members was so obvious 820 a truism as the Resolution propounded. That was the sixth time that the Motion had been brought forward in the present Parliament. When it was first brought forward, one of the arguments used by the then Chief Secretary for Ireland was, that it was an inconvenient time to discuss it, inasmuch as a change of the franchise might be held to involve a reelection as a matter of principle. That argument had recently been abandoned in view of the approach of a General Election, and he would seek to impress upon the House the fact, that except the change was made now the argument would be revived in the new Parliament, and a reform, which all Parties in the House were agreed must sooner or later be granted, would again be postponed for a series of years. He would not endeavour to follow his hon. and learned Friend in the figures and statistics which he had so clearly and ably placed before the House. They were well known to every hon. Member who had paid attention to the subject. He had, however, endeavoured in the course of the past year to ascertain what were the arguments, or attempts at arguments, advanced, against what appeared to him so small a matter as that involved in the equalization of the franchise in the two Kingdoms. He certainly thought that in the past speeches of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Charles Lewis) was to be found all that was to be said on the subject. He quite granted that it was natural that the hon. Gentleman should take a strong interest in the subject. One of the most formidable arguments which he had advanced against the proposed change was that it might deprive that House of the services of some Conservative borough Members. Well, he (Mr. Gray) recognized the force of that argument; but he scarcely felt that it was one which should weigh in the estimation of hon. Gentlemen generally against all the arguments that could be advanced by the other side. But they had had advanced by every speaker who had opposed the Motion of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kildare, an argument which he (Mr. Gray) was sure would be very familiar to the older Members of the House—the swamping argument! His hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Meldon) had, he thought, dealt with tolerable completeness with 821 that argument. Parliament had disposed of any such objection when it settled the principle of the Reform Act of 1868. They were not then afraid of swamping the old constituencies with new voters, and there was, therefore, no force whatever in the argument that they would swamp the Irish constituencies with new voters, when it was shown that they would not double them in Ireland, and when they had doubled them without any injury, and, as he believed the majority of Members in that House would say, with the greatest possible benefit in England. He really could not see what force there could be in the swamping argument at all, after it had been proved that the change would not be nearly so great in Ireland as it had been in England; and in England the "leap in the dark" had no such dreadful results as some hon. Members opposite then anticipated. But another assertion which had been made in connection with this matter was, that in Ireland there was no demand for the change. The hon. Member for Londonderry brought forward, as a proof of that, the fact that this Motion had been advocated year after year by two county Members. But he (Mr. Gray) could not forget also that, although by accident it so happened to have been placed in their hands for some years, the Irish borough Members had spoken very strongly in its favour. "But," said the hon. Member for Londonderry, "there are no Petitions and no public meetings in its favour. If we except a few professional agitators "—that, he (Mr. Gray) thought, was the expression used—"in and out of the House "—including, he supposed, all the Irish Members who were in favour of the change—"if we except a few professional agitators in and out of the House, and in and out of town councils, there is no indication of public opinion in favour of the change." He (Mr. Gray) quite granted that there were no Petitions—or, at least, very few—but the wonder would be if there were Petitions in favour of it, because what did Petitions to that House indicate? They indicated on the part of the Petitioners that their representations would have some effect in swaying the opinion and the action of those to whom the Petitions were presented. Now, he would ask on what occasion the Petitions of the 822 Irish people, no matter how numerous or influential they might have been, had the slightest effect on the decision of the House? He was not aware of any occasion upon which they had had any such effect; and, as a consequence, the Irish people had totally abandoned Petitions as a means of impressing their views upon the Legislature. He himself had had to do lately with Petitions in reference, not alone to this question, but to others also, and he was always met by this answer, that it was nonsense, and utterly useless to Petition the House of Commons on any subject whatsoever. The House was overwhelmed with Potions on the Irish University Education Question, which were treated with contempt; but when no Petitions were presented, the House dealt with the subject. Take, again, the question of the Irish Land—would the House deny that the Irish people took an interest in the Land Question? But how many Petitions had been presented on the Land Question both during the present Session and last? The House must deal with the facts of the case, and it must remember that its treatment of Irish Petitions, and of Irish opinion, both as represented inside the House, and as represented by what the hon. Gentleman was pleased to call professional agitators outside, had been one of uniform and studied contempt. ["No, no!"] He repeated that the attitude of the House towards Irish opinion had been one of uniform and studied contempt. He thought that the number of Divisions in which the majority of Irish Members had been defeated by a majority of English Members voting against them in the House now approached to nearly 200, and if that were not evidence of deliberate and studied contempt, he did not know what evidence was. Therefore, it came to this, that really the Irish people were to a considerable degree commencing to despair of anything in the shape of constitutional agitation or of constitutional representation of their opinions in that House. Another of the arguments which had been brought forward against the proposal was, that it would suddenly increase the power of the Catholic Church, and swamp Protestant votes by Catholic votes in Ireland. He thought that at this time of day that was rather an ignoble sort of argument to advance in that House, but he granted that the 823 lower they went down in the franchise in Ireland, the more they would increase the power of Catholic votes. But what the hon. Member for Londonderry deduced from that was, that they would expel from the House of Commons Protestant Representatives. Was there any evidence for that assertion? Did they not find that, with the present restricted franchise, some of the most popular constituencies, which were almost altogether Catholic, returned Protestant Members? What sort of ground, therefore, was there for saying that the lowering of the franchise would shut out Protestant Representatives?
§ MR. GRAY
observed, that later on he should take the opportunity of quoting the exact words used. At present, he understood the hon. Member's argument, and even his words, to be that they would expel from the House Protestant Representatives, and he quoted some declaration made in Ulster, that if this reform was carried out, the entire power would be vested in Catholic electors.
§ MR. CHARLES LEWIS
I said Protestants would be so outvoted that they would practically be unrepresented in this House. I did not say that there would not be Protestant Members.
§ MR. GRAY
If there was any controversy as to the words, he was bound to accept the hon. Gentleman's assertion, and if the hon. Gentleman had been misrepresented, it was byHansard.If, however, the idea had existed in the minds of any hon. Members, that because the power of Roman Catholics in a constituency would be increased, the effect would be to exclude from the House Protestant Representatives, then he would say that the large number of Protestants who at that moment represented Catholic constituencies should dispel any such idea. The conduct pursued in Catholic constituencies in that respect compared favourably with the fact that there was not, be believed, any Catholic Representative of a Protestant constituency in England. The hon. Member admitted that the condition of the borough representation in Ireland was scandalous; but he had not, so far as he (Mr. Gray) could gather, propounded any method of reform, beyond propos- 824 ing that the representation of the counties should be increased at the expense of the boroughs. The fact was, that at that moment the county representation in Ireland was larger in proportion than the county representation in England, and the borough representation was proportionately smaller. Therefore, instead of equalizing matters, he would increase the anomaly that at present existed. When they remembered the difference of the rating laws of the two countries, and remembered also that rental in Ireland must be estimated in practice at 50 per cent lower than in England, they would find that, by the present law, they were excluding a class of intelligent men who were not at all of the character described by opponents of this measure. Even the inhabitants of the very poor habitations in the Irish towns were an intelligent class, who took an active interest in public affairs, and there was no reason, except the political reason that it might effect the balance of Parties, for resisting this change. He believed all Parties would agree that the change must eventually come, and the only result of resistance was, that the concession would come from that House too late to give any satisfaction, but early enough to leave a feeling of soreness, whereas if the demand were granted at the outset, no such feeling would exist. The hon. Member for Londonderry had disputed his (Mr. Gray's) account of what be (Mr. Charles Lewis) said in opposing this Resolution last year; but he (Mr. Gray) was now in a position to quote the actual words fromHansard.The hon. Member was therein reported to have said—Moreover, it would, in the end, wholly exclude from Parliament all the Representatives of the Protestant religion."—[3Hansard,ccxliii. 1212.]He appealed to the House, therefore, whether his rendering of the hon. Member's argument had not been correct? He would further ask hon. Members whether this was not a peculiarly appropriate time to throw aside small prejudices which prevented the House from passing this reform, and to concede it with some grace? They were on the eve of a General Election, and it was, therefore, a convenient period. Ireland was very much disturbed and discontented. This was a measure in which no political principle was involved. If they passed 825 it, it would create a general feeling of satisfaction and allay much discontent. It would introduce into the Constitution from outside, and therefore teach the ways of constitutional agitation, to men who were now deliberately shut out, and who therefore felt they had no hope, except by violent means, of attaining their end. It would be truly Conservative action on the part of that House to pass the measure. He believed the majority of hon. Members, if left to their own inclinations, would agree to the Motion; and he repeated the appeal which his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kildare made to those on whose private convictions political pressure was being brought to bear, to pause before giving a vote injurious to the peace and best interests of the United Kingdom, which would reject a measure calculated to promote both that peace and those interests.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the restricted nature of the Borough Franchise in Ireland as compared with that existing in England and in Scotland is a subject deserving the immediate attention of Parliament, with a view of establishing a fair and just equality of the franchise in the three countries."—(Mr. Meldon.)
§ MR. CHARLES LEWIS,
in moving, as an Amendment—"That it is inexpedient to deal with the question of lowering the franchise in Ireland," said, he regretted he must trouble the House on this question for the fourth or fifth time in this Parliament. It was not easy to find anything new to urge in opposing a measure which he had resisted for several years past. He proposed, however, to mention some matters which should induce the House to give greater weight rather than less to the objections usually urged against this proposal. When the hon. and learned Member for Kildare (Mr. Mel-don) talked of majorities of only 8 or 13 against his Motion, he would remind him that only last year, Parliament rejected it by a majority of 69, which showed that there was less disposition than in the beginning of the Parliament to look on it with favour. The hon. and learned Member had endeavoured to invoke the Act of Union in favour of his cause, and said it entitled them to equality of representation; but if his (Mr. Charles Lewis's) memory served him rightly, all it did was to give them the right to 100 Members in the Im- 826 perial Parliament. It was totally silent in respect to franchise, that being an entirely open question for the Imperial Parliament to settle. Then the hon. and learned Member said that the House would not be dealing out equal justice unless they placed the franchise of the two Kingdoms on an equality; but he (Mr. Charles Lewis) would remind him that for a long time Ireland was treated better in regard to the franchise than England. Up to 1867, the borough franchise and the county franchise were less in Ireland than in England. It had been urged that unless they gave the same franchise, as well as the same laws, to Ireland as to England, they would not be carrying out in spirit or in letter the Act of Union. In fact, they had far more than equal laws and advantages conceded. Well, he believed there was such a thing as National Education in Ireland. Ireland, for nearly 30 years, was in a position of great advantage over England and Scotland by reason of the grants it received from the Imperial Exchequer for National Education. With reference to the Land Question, Ireland was so far from being placed at a disadvantage and inequality, that the House had made a serious inroad in the law of contracts to give concessions to Ireland. And yet, in the recent agitation, it had been stated that that was one of the questions which they looked upon with contempt. What did the Act of Union say in reference to the Irish Church? That Act was upheld as a substantial ground for asking for an extension of the borough franchise, but it had nothing whatever to do with it. It gave a sacred Charter to the Church of Ireland, which had been broken by the deliberate action of the House for the purpose of promoting a feeling of goodwill and order amongst the people of Ireland. The whole history of that country, the whole history of legislation in our lifetime, all went to show that it was unjust to the last degree to say that it was useless to send Petitions to that House. The statement that the Conservative Party was responsible for the disparity which existed between the borough franchises of Ireland and England required a material explanation, for it was only in part true. The line was drawn at £4, with the deliberate acquiescence of both sides of the House, without a Division except on the question 827 raised whether it should be at£4, or over£4; and this arrangement was assented to by the then Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. Chichester Fortescue), the Conservative Ministry being at the time in a minority, and living on from day to day on the forbearance of the Opposition. In past Sessions the opposition to this Motion had devolved chiefly upon himself; and he did not hesitate, as a borough Member, to express his views, whatever might be the consequences. It was remarkable that this question was brought forward by county Members, and that the borough Members who supported it consented to play second fiddle. The first great point—a plausible one—they had heard of in the debate was equality of the franchise with that of England and Scotland. That was a term which must not be accepted at the first sound which it conveyed to the ear. But the House should understand what it implied and what it meant. What he argued was, that, considering the quality and character of the franchised and unfranchised classes, the franchise in the three countries was equivalent; and to give electoral power to that poor, miserable, ignorant residuum of the people of Ireland, which even the right hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) had said we did not in England wish to enfranchise, would be going beyond what really existed in England. It was impossible to compare the franchise of the two countries in that way, and he should ask the House to say, by the largest majority that had yet been given against the proposal, that they rejected the Motion on the highest possible grounds and for the gravest reasons. It was a favourite illustration to talk of the Irish occupier coming over to Liverpool and obtaining a vote; but he would not find a £4 house in Liverpool, and would have to pay a rental of£7, £8, or £9. It was impossible to compare things which differed so essentially. In England, according to the last statistics, nine-tenths of the occupiers were rated over £4;but in Ireland not one-half. In other words, only one-tenth of the rated occupiers in boroughs in England were rated under £4, while in Ireland they were more than one-half. It was true there had been a liberal addition to the borough franchise in England, and suffrage was given to a class that was low relatively to the highest; but still it was not given to the very 828 lowest class in the community. Further, in Ireland, one-half of those under £4 were rated under£2, and, of course, these were the most dependent and the most ignorant of the people. That was the class to whom they proposed to hand over the representation of Ireland. In England and Scotland they did not give it to the lowest class; yet the effect of the hon. and learned Gentleman's proposal here would be to hand it over to the poorest, most dependent, and most ignorant portion of the community, and the class most likely to be led by agitators and demagogues. The singular fact that this Motion was not strenuously supported by the borough Members of Ireland was accounted for by the state of the borough representation in Ireland. It would be impossible to deal at all with that subject without effecting an entire reformation in the whole system of the representation of Ireland. With an aggregate population of 900,000, the boroughs had 37 Members, excluding the disfranchised boroughs of Cashel and Sligo. The counties, with a population of 4,500,000, had only 64 Members. Therefore, the counties had five times the population, with nothing like twice the number of Members. That exhibited a state of things which did not recommend an extension of the borough franchise, and it was the reason why such strenuous efforts were made, not by the constituencies, but by Irish Members, by hook or by crook, to endow a small number of Irish Members with constituencies which they could not obtain under any reasonable extension of the franchise. Fifteen small boroughs with a population of 91,000, and with 4,500 electors, had one-seventh of the entire representation of Ireland, though only one-sixtieth of its population. That was the reason why the House could not consent to touch the question of borough or county representation, except for the purpose of making an entire re-distribution, which he hoped would be accompanied with a large representation of minorities. It was said that a population of 900,000 had only 53,000 electors, and that something must be wrong because the same population in England would have double the number of electors; but the anomaly arose from the fact that there were in the South and West of Ireland a number of wretched little boroughs where poverty was so rife that people lived in hovels 829 and huts rated at from 5s.to 15s.per year. The proportion of electors to population was, in Tralee 1 in 30, in Dungarvan 1 in 27, in Wexford 1 in 27, in Carlow 1 in 26, and in 21 boroughs in three of the Provinces—Ulster being excluded—the average was in 21½. There were in these places streets of mud huts destitute of the commonest conveniences, the occupiers of which had no social status, and ought not to have the franchise. He now came to the despised Province of Ulster, which gave occasion the other evening to the pleasant sneer of the Home Rule Leader on the other side. In Belfast in every 9 of the population was an elector—almost as high as in England; for while in the whole of the English borough constituencies 1 in 8 was the proportion of electors to population, in Belfast—of which every Ulster man should be proud—the proportion was 1 in 9. What was it in Carrickfergus? It was 1 in 7. What in Derry? One in 12. The average of the whole of the boroughs in Ulster was 1 in 12 of the population, no unfavourable comparison to the state of things in England. In Devonport, the proportion was only 1 in 17; in Marylebone, 1 in 14; in Finsbury, 1 in 11; in Chelsea, 1 in 10; so that if they were to have this kind of comparison between population and electors, these prosperous little towns in Ulster would bear advantageous comparison with some of the foremost constituencies in the United Kingdom. The real cause of this destitution—if he might so describe it—of electors in Ireland was that, if they took the line of £4, those below it were of the poorest, most ignorant, and most dependent condition, whose enfranchisement would drag down the constituency to the low level of Tralee, Carlow, and other such places. The hon. Member for Tipperary (Mr. Gray) knew very well he could not account in any legitimate way for the entire absence of evidence that the electoral class in Ireland was in favour of the proposed change, and he elicited a cheer from the hon. and learned Member for Oxford (Sir William Harcourt) and the right hon. Member for Birmingham, when he said that the House had treated with contempt the Petitions of the Irish people. Had the feeling of the people of Ireland in favour of the Sunday Closing Bill been treated with contempt? Had any 830 other evidence been given of popular feeling in favour of this Motion; had any meeting been held in Dublin, in Phœnix Park, in Belfast, Cork, Limerick, or Galway; had there even been a meeting of any little conclave in the back room of a public-house in favour of the Bill? Why, last year, although stimulated by the taunts which he (Mr. Charles Lewis) had thrown across the House year after year, they could only present 26 Petitions, and how many of those were from boroughs? Just four of the smallest of them had been induced to send up Petitions. He represented a constituency where Parties were very evenly divided. The Liberal paper in that city had published a list of his delinquencies; but, although he had been the most prominent and most abused opponent of the measure, it did not venture to say one word of the offence he had committed in that respect. The city of Derry contained a wealthy, intelligent, highly-educated, and most respectable Liberal Party, and if they had felt that the interests of the State, of Party, or good government required such a change, they would undoubtedly have sent a Petition in support of the the Motion. The Bill was not wanted. Let the hon. Members for Queen's County and other places, who were to be opposed at the next Election by the supporters and followers of the hon. Member for Meath, now in America, tell what it meant. It meant that, bad as was the influence to which on many questions the constituencies of Ireland in some counties and boroughs were amenable, it would be ten times worse if they enfranchised that residuum which they were invited to take to their arms. They could not deal with this question alone. The hon. Member for the Border Burghs (Mr. Trevelyan) had his hardy annual Motion on the Paper for household franchise in the counties, and they must remember the noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Hartington) had surrendered what he had held so long—his resistance to that Motion, which had now become a part of the programme of the Liberal Party. No doubt, two Members of the late Cabinet—the right hon. Member for the City of London (Mr. Goschen) and the right hon. Member for the University of London (Mr. Lowe)—refused to surrender their convictions upon that question; but the Liberal 831 Party were committed to it. The question was not one to be dealt with piecemeal. It was necessary the House should hold its hand, for if they agreed to the present proposal they would find themselves face to face with a proposal to give to the counties of Ireland household suffrage. So they would enfranchise the cottier on the Donegal mountains, of whom the newspapers had recently given such dismal pictures. He would now go to another point. Could it be said that the people of Ireland were not represented? It was said the Home Rulers expected to come back from the next Election 80 strong. Would not hon. Gentlemen opposite be satisfied that the people of Ireland were sufficiently represented if they returned 80 Home Rule Members to that House? No, the fact was, they wanted to make a clean sweep of the Conservative Members, and himself as one of them, who might be one of the very few who would be found, even under the present franchise, on those benches after the next General Election. Not only was there a lack of evidence, however, that there was any demand for an extension of the franchise, but it was clear that there was not the slightest interest felt in the proposal by the unenfranchised classes; the interest was made for them—Hereditary bondsmen, know ye notWho would be free themselves must strike the blow.But the hereditary bondsmen in this case would not strike the blow. And here there was a far more serious question. What was the evidence on which the House could act, as to the quality of the constituency whom it was asked to enfranchise? If it were proved that the people to be enfranchised were sufficiently educated, that they were intelligent, that they were free, as much as men could be, from obnoxious influence—the influence of revolutionary agitators, mere demagogues, men who traded in politics, and loved revolution because it led to disorder, in the midst of which they might be elevated upon a pinnacle, where they might be admired by some—something might be said for the proposal. But take the condition of Ireland during the last six months, and what would be the class enfranchised under this Motion and the County Franchise Bill which the hon. Member for the Border Burghs (Mr. Trevelyan) intended 832 to bring forward? A poor widow dared to pay her rent. She was taken out of her house and half beaten to death. Two brothers had the daring to take a vacant farm. In the middle of the night they were half murdered. A process server was performing his duties. He was surrounded by a mob of 300 or 400, and had to escape with his life. It was necessary in certain districts to defy the Court of Sessions. The people had been advised that if they could prevent processes from being served by a certain day the Court would not have jurisdiction. Well, the law was set at defiance, and the people succeeded in preventing a single process being served. In other words, in the South and West of Ireland the law of the land was set aside and mob law substituted. Well, were persons who thus showed themselves unworthy of the franchise to be put on the same level as those who obeyed the law? If he was asked what disclosed the tendencies of a people, he would say go to its literature. There were, at least, five or six newspapers in Ireland which had the greatest circulation and popularity among the lowest orders. One of them would not be entirely unknown to the hon. and learned Member opposite (Mr. Sullivan), who knew something about it now, and more a few years ago—he meantThe Nation.What could be the loyalty of a people to whom such a ballad as this was submitted as legitimate food for meditation day and night? This was the refrain—Hurrah for our Zulu foe.And that at a time when English and Irish soldiers were fighting together the battles of old England in South Africa. This was the sort of meat on which the Irish people to be enfranchised were fed—Hurrah for our Zulu foe,For their solid and deep array,For their whelming crescent's close,And the whizzing assegai.This was the literary garbage upon which the uneducated constituency was to feed. He would now read a verse, the impiety of which was only equalled by its audacity and ferocity—May the God they do not knowBe still their steadfast aid,Direct each nervous blowAnd point each gleaming blade.And when they come forth again,833The robbers' raid to withstand,Be a sword and shield to the menWho fight for their native land.But come what must or may,They have done their manly part.Now let the House mark what followed—And Isandula's fray Hath warmed each true man's heart.What a flood of light did that wretched production, circulated far and wide in thousands among the people, throw on the degraded condition to which these agitators were trying to lead the Irish people. He would read the last refrain—Then hurrah for the Zulu King, Hurrah for his warriors brave,(Nothing for the poor Irishmen or Englishmen who were fighting)—And soon may their shouts of victory ring Over Tugela's turbid wave.The Nationalso of last Saturday contained an article headed "A Murderous Policy," from which he would read three sentences. They were as follows:—The senior Member for Louth gave expression to the feeling of the mass of the people of Ireland, when he spoke of the 'murderous policy' of the Government. That policy remains one of a murderous character. It has so far tended to the killing by starvation of hundreds of thousands of Irish men, women, and children; and as to the future, it is calculated simply to enrich the landlords at the cost of the impoverished tenants.Now, what was the responsibility of men who wrote such language as that? What was the responsibility of this House, if—in the face of such evidence of the revolutionary feeling, the traitorous suggestion, the spirit of deep-laid sedition which was preached from the pulpits of the Press from week to week—it were to go forward in the direction indicated in the Motion? This language was actually written at a time when the House had under its consideration a measure for the relief of Irish distress, to hasten forward which the progress of several other necessary steps were delayed, but which was impeded by the very men who fathered such stuff. He was sorry to have such things to bring forward; but when the House was asked to grant such a measure as hon. Gentlemen opposite demanded, he would say that they would be madmen if they were to enfranchise hundreds and thousands of men subject to such influences. What he ventured to 834 say was this—that there was a responsibility which rested upon that House and the Government; but it was a responsibility of a totally different character from that alleged on the other side. The responsibility which rested upon the House, and more especially upon the Government, was, after they had relieved the distress, to render impossible for the future such offences as had been perpetrated under the auspices of the hon. Member for Meath during the last few months. When they considered what Parliament had had to suffer from some few of the Members of the Irish Party, and how the authority both of the House and of the Speaker had been defied, they might ask themselves what sort of degeneracy in the representation of Ireland would be the result if they extended the suffrage to classes of men who were amenable to such influences as they had submitted to for some months past? What they had to fear might be gathered from a speech that had come to them from the other side of the Atlantic, in which the whole Home Rule organization had been pronounced a humbug, and the orator had promised to set things right on his return. Foreign nations had been wont to envy the dignity of the House, and had admired its constitution, its history, its antiquity, its oratory, and the certainty at any period of finding competent statesmen among its Members; but now for the last year or two they had looked on amazed at the course of operations both in and out of the House. For his own part, he would join any Party that would restore the shattered dignity of Parliament, and replace the House on its old pinnacle of fame. With regard to another matter, to which he might be permitted to allude for a moment, it would be remembered that the wish of Job was that his enemy had written a book. His own desire was even more moderate, and he only wished that his adversary would continue to write letters. The noble Marquess (the Marquess of Hartington) during the Liverpool Election had written one, on which, had he (Mr. Charles Lewis) wanted a motto, he would have inscribed "Letting I dare not wait upon I would." The conclusion he had formed respecting that letter was that the noble Marquess had been an unwilling operator, and that he had probably been prompted to write it by one of the chief advisers of his Party, and that in 835 it were to be detected marks of the handiwork of the hon. and learned Member for Oxford (Sir William Harcourt). The voice, in fact, was the voice of Jacob, but the hand was the hand of Esau. It was written, and the noble Marquess got into difficulty about it, and in order to get himself out of it the hon. and learned Member for Oxford went down to Liverpool post-haste and addressed the Liverpool Reform Club. It was whispered in the Lobby that he came back jubilant with hopes of victory, with what result really they all knew. The noble Marquess, the other night, had very vigorously defended himself against attacks based upon that letter by atu quoqueargument as to the appointment of the hon. and gallant Member for Sligo (Colonel King-Harman). That was all very well; but what was Home Rule a year or two ago, and what was it now? A year or two ago Home Rule was a comparatively harmless and respectable thing under the management of a very great favourite of the House (Mr. Butt), who imparted to it his own respectability. But now, under its present leadership, it was a thing which had almost paralyzed the action of Parliament. The Home Rule Party had taken such steps under the leadership of the hon. Member for Meath as had agitated whole counties, endeavouring to delude the unfortunate people, and inciting them by speeches to break the law and riseen masse.
asked if the hon. Member was in Order in accusing an hon. Member of inciting the people to break the law?
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, he did not understand that the hon. Member was alluding to any particular Member of the House. [Cries of."Yes, he did."]
§ MR. CHARLES LEWIS
replied, that he was quite ready to bow to the Chair; but the House and country would well know what he meant. He was referring to Home Rule, and he had remarked that a year or two ago it was a harmless snake; but now it had become a poisonous serpent. The hiss and rattle which heralded its approach, and the slimy 836 trail it left behind, made it odious and hateful in the sight of everyone who had the welfare of the country at heart. He did not see the right hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) in his place; but he would have liked to ask him what he thought the American people would say to a Motion to inquire into the maintenance of the Union between the North and the South? If in the American Senate any man suggested any such thing he would be regarded as seditious. He imagined that they would not allow such a subject to be debated. It was surely a most serious thing—he cared not which Party was affected by the remark—to play with the Home Rule agitation under its present aspect. What Ireland wanted was not a Borough Franchise Bill, but something wholly different—peace from agitation, contentment for the people, an orderly disposition to obey the law, encouragement for capital to settle in the country, and for landlords to reside there. It wanted a tonic which could be administered by a wise and skilful physician who desired to remedy the evils of the body politic, which, however severe they might be, were not past relief. The last thing it required in a crisis like that through which it had recently gone was an instrument like that which this Motion would place in the hands of reckless agitators for the purpose of doing an injury to the best interests of the State.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "it is inexpedient to deal with the question of lowering the franchise in Ireland,"—(Mr. Charles Lewis,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. JUSTIN M'CARTHY
said, that he entirely agreed with the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Charles Lewis) in the concluding sentence of his speech, that Ireland did want peace from agitation—that she wanted sound legislation, and measures which would foster the employment of capital. But she never would have peace until a better system of legislation was introduced for the government of her people. The hon. Member for Londonderry seemed 837 to want to play the same part as that enacted by the right hon. Member for the University of London (Mr. Lowe) in the Reform debates of 1866; but some of the necessary qualities were absent. With regard to the verses that the hon. Member had quoted from a Dublin newspaper, some allowance was to be made for poetic licence, though there undoubtedly existed a certain amount of discontent in Ireland that found vent in strong language, prose as well as poetry. It was to be remembered, too, that when England was engaged in her great struggle with France there were Englishmen, Lord Byron among the number, who openly expressed their sympathy with the enemy of their country. The hon. Member for Londonderry, at the beginning of his speech, assumed an heroic and almost a sublime attitude as the opponent of this proposal. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman might be conscious of an early close awaiting his political career. Allusion had been made to the indifference with which the Irish borough franchise was rushed through Parliament in the year after the passing of the English Reform Act. That, he was afraid, was perfectly true; but whatever arrangement the present Lord Carlingford might have entered into with the other side of the House, he believed the people of Ireland were ignorant of any movement his Lordship might have made. The Irish Reform Bill had the misfortune to come after the great wave of excitement which passed the Reform Bill for England. It was now well known that the Government had prepared two Bills for England ready for the occasion. One was a Reform Bill of the first class, and the other an inferior and a cheaper article of the second class. The Government originally intended to bring forward the first-class Bill in the first instance; but some of their Colleagues objected to so comprehensive a measure, and, consequently, a famous meeting was held, at which, when it became known that some Members of the Cabinet had resolved to resign rather than accept this comprehensive Bill, the question arose, "What ought to be done next?" Only 10 minutes remained to come to a resolution, and then the Prime Minister produced the second-class cheap Reform Bill, as if that alone had been the result of all the labours of the Government. 838 When, however, this measure was introduced, the House received it so coldly that, after throwing over two of his Colleagues, the present Prime Minister brought forward the first-class Reform Bill, and even that was altered in every one of its principal points as the discussion proceeded. The Government ended by adopting the system of household suffrage pure and simple in the boroughs; and at last the present Prime Minister turned round, and proclaimed that he had all along been in favour of that, and of nothing else, and that in his previous struggles against Parliamentary Reform he had only been educating his Party. If the Irish Members had been assisted by the English Liberals, they would, doubtless, have been able to force on the Government a thorough measure of Reform for Ireland. But the English people had become weary of the subject of Reform, and something hardly worthy of the name of a Reform Bill for Ireland was shuffled somehow through Parliament, and that country was informed—"You have your measure of Reform; go and be happy." The hon. Member for Londonderry failed to adduce any valid reason why there should be a difference between England and Ireland in regard to the borough franchise. Many hon. Members were strongly in favour of the English Bill, because it was based on the sure and firm ground of household suffrage; and that was said to be an intelligible and a constitutional English measure. Such being the case, what was the reason why the same trust should not be reposed in Ireland, and why there should not be the same system for the boroughs there as for the boroughs here? One reason given by the hon. Member for Londonderry was that the lowering of the borough franchise to household suffrage would admit so many of the Irish people that it would be highly improper for the House of Commons to assent to such a proposal. The hon. Member had spoken of "social status," and talked of certain "wretched little boroughs" in Ireland as an argument against extending the franchise. "Social status" was a very elastic expression—a matter of comparison altogether. There had been a time, not many generations ago, when Reform Bills in this country were objected to on precisely the same grounds. The persons deprived of social status were then 839 the great English middle classes, who now made up the bulk alike of the voters and the Members of Parliament. In 1867 and 1868 the persons deprived of social status came to mean the artizan classes in the great English towns. There had been at that time the same effort to associate crime with poverty. One would have thought the result of the reforms of that time would have been to break down this idea, and to show that a man might live in a very humble house and pay a very small rent, and yet be a respectable person, who could fairly be intrusted to do his duty in the electoral system. This was the principle which they invoked for Ireland. Ireland was a much poorer country than England, and a low rent there represented something much more considerable, both absolutely and in proportion to the means of the occupier, than it did in England. The hon. Member seemed to think that hon. Members on that side of the House had a great contempt for the Northern Provinces of Ireland. He spoke of "despised Belfast," and in some mysterious way appeared to make that an argument against lowering the borough franchise. For his own part, he (Mr. Justin M'Carthy) had never heard any Irish Member who spoke contemptuously of Belfast or who was not very proud of its great commercial success and its backbone of manly ability. He would go further and say, such was his affection for the North of Ireland, that even after to-night's performance he did not despise Londonderry. The hon. Member had gone on to speak of demagogues and anarchy in a way which recalled to his mind the Reform agitation of 1860 and of 1867–8. He well remembered hearing the same argument put with much greater force and eloquence by the late Lord Lytton, who affirmed that poverty and passion went together and made a man open to the influence of demagogues. The results of the measures of that date had hardly justified the predictions which had been made. There was but one way of disarming the demagogue, and that was to get the respectable, intelligent, and educated masses of the people on your side and draw them away from the demagogue. There could not be a greater or more injurious fallacy than to suppose that the more you oppressed a population and kept them from what they 840 thought their rights the more you excluded demagogues. It had been eon-tended in favour of Reform in England that the one safe and certain basis for the suffrage in boroughs was the limit of the household; that the possession of any kind of roof-tree made a man really a citizen, and not an outcast. They waited to hear any reason to show that the same system should not be allowed to prevail in Ireland. They had heard a great deal to-night about the influence of one particular hon. Member who had had the good fortune to be mentioned very often in Parliament this Session. The House of Commons always had its pet aversions. There was always some particular so-called demagogue who was pointed to as a reason why popular reform should be denied. The late Daniel O'Connell had held that position in one generation in the English House of Commons. He could remember well that at another time the pet aversion of the Party opposite was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright). It was said at one time that if a Conservative nurse wanted to frighten a disobedient child she threatened to give him to the right hon. Member for Birmingham. At the present moment they seemed to have selected the hon. Member for Meath (Mr. Parnell) as this type of demagogue. Every word he had ever said, and a great number of words he had never said, were brought up again and again and given as an unanswerable reason why reform should be allowed to go no further in Ireland. But if Ireland really were in such a condition of terrible social convulsion and thirst for revolution and anarchy as the hon. Member for Londonderry supposed, would it be kept quiet by the mere exclusion of a few men below the £4 limit? They had heard a great deal to-night about the happy days when the Home Rule Party was a respectable Party. Its respectability had ceased, it seemed, about a year ago, and since that time the terrible game of obstruction had been played by the hon. Member for Meath. But this game of obstruction began a great deal more than a year ago. Several years ago, when the Home Rule Party was still respectable, some such disturbances had occurred. Nor was this portentous device the invention of the hon. Member for Meath. Long ago, 841 before the hon. Member for Meath was born, it was recognized as a legitimate means of opposing legislation by very leading statesmen. For example, in discussing the possibility of a stringent law being passed against Ireland, a very eminent person—a statesman not without authority even for the Conservative Party—had said—The experience the Conservative Party had about the Irish Arms Bill last year must have shown them that a compact body of opponents, though few in number, may, by debating every sentence and word of a Bill, and by dividing after every debate, so obstruct the progress of a Bill through Parliament, that a whole Session may be scarcely long enough for carrying through one measure. Of course," continued this eminent statesman, "the Irish Members on our side, and all the English and Scotch Radicals, would sit from morn till eve and from eve till dewy morn to prevent any more stringent law being enacted.Those were the words of Lord Palmerston in 1844, as given in his "Life" by Mr. Evelyn Ashley. But the English Constitution and the Parliamentary system of England succeeded in holding their way even despite the obstruction referred to by Lord Palmerston; and he (Mr. Justin M'Carthy) had no doubt they would survive even what might take place at the present time. But the extract he had cited showed that the practice of obstructing obnoxious measures had always existed, more or less, and its existence now formed no conceivable argument for refusing the franchise to a people. He hoped that House would not be led away by the figures, by the invectives, or by the eloquence of the hon. Member for Londonderry, but that it would remove a manifest inequality and injustice by making the law of England and the law of Ireland the same.
§ MR. M. BROOKS,
said, that the subject brought forward by the hon. and learned Member for Kildare (Mr. Meldon) was one of those inequalities existing in the law which imperatively demanded a remedy.
Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present. House counted, and 40 Members being found present,
§ MR. M. BROOKS,
resuming, said, the question raised by the hon. and learned Member referred to the inequality of the law in relation to the borough franchise in the Three Kingdoms. He did 842 not propose to refer to any of the figures which had been mentioned previously in the House in connection with the debates on the subject; but he would address himself to what appeared to him to be the results in Ireland of that inequality, and of the feeling of injustice from which the people suffered in consequence of its existence. It seemed to him that the Imperial Parliament, in dealing with the Irish people, acted contrary to the injuction, "Do unto others as ye would that they should do unto you," and any such neglect of that injunction invariably, in public affairs as in private affairs, led to disaffection, and eventually to disaster. In Ireland the inequality of the law on this subject bad produced an amount of discontent which they all deplored. No one in the House regretted more than he did the unhappiness which prevailed amongst Irish people, and which was a consequence of the sense of injustice from which they had suffered. It was believed by the great majority of that people that the English and Scotch Members—that Members of the dominant class who sat on either side of the Gangway, proceeded uponThe good old rule, the simple plan,That they should take who have the power, And they should keep who can.There could be no doubt that so long as the present inequality in this matter of the franchise existed, so long would there be the agitation which now prevailed upon the subject. The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Charles Lewis), among the many other bold things he had told them, said that there was no feeling or desire on the part of the Irish people on this question. He (Mr. M. Brooks) did not know anyone who ought to be better acquainted with the feelings on the matter of those who were sent forward by Local Governing Bodies than he himself, and he could state with confidence that there was a very general call for remedying the grievance complained of. It was perfectly true that those Local Bodies did not petition. There was a belief that Petitions coming up to the House were simply committed to the waste-paper basket, and were never exhumed for any practical purpose; and, therefore, it was not to be considered a neglect on the part of the ratepayers or on the part of the persons whom they asked to serve them 843 in the Local Governing Bodies that Petitions had not been more generally presented. The hon. Member for Londonderry had been good enough to say that the laws existing in the Three Kingdoms were equal, and, amongst other things, the hon. Gentleman instanced the system of education which had prevailed in Ireland for so many years. That allegation on the part of the hon. Member displayed a courage, a boldness, and a want of information which was very remarkable. In every district, town, village, and hamlet in England there was a public school, where the teaching was in accord with the feelings of the people, where the regulating board was sent forward by the ratepayers, and where the consciences and feelings of the people were respected. In Ireland a completely different state of things existed. The consciences of the people might not be violated; but they were strained to an extent which was inconsistent with happiness and contentment. To declare in the House, at that time of day, that the Irish people were governed according to Irish ideas in the matter of education was, at all events, an oversight, which no one, perhaps, but the hon. Member for Londonderry would have ventured to indicate. The hon. Gentleman had also spoken of the miserable cottiers on the mountain side of Donegal who were endeavouring to obtain a scanty subsistence, and had said that were the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Kildare to become law, and be carried into effect, those poor people would not do credit to the electoral roll. How was it, he (Mr. M. Brooks) asked, that they were dissatisfied? It was simply because they had not that which the hon. Member for Londonderry would deny them. He had a sincere conviction that if the franchise were largely extended in Ireland it would be accompanied by better citizenship than now prevailed, that great happiness would ensue, that the present sense of serfdom would disappear, and that there would be much less cause for complaint on the part of those who now lamented the unhappy condition of the country. The rentals in Ireland of all kinds were cheaper than in England; but the Government valuation of a dwelling-house was not a fair test of the value of the house. It was system rather promoted 844 by the Government that land should be valued at two-thirds, and tenements at about half of the letting value. Therefore, the argument of the hon. Member for Londonderry, based on the existence of equality as between England and Ireland, was fallacious—much of the discontent prevailing in Ireland was owing to the inequality of the law. He was a supporter of law and order, and as good a subject to the Queen as anyone in that House; and, therefore, he felt it to be incumbent on him to do the utmost in his power to remedy the inequality of the law, and thus to promote the progress of the Irish people.
§ MR. O'CLERY
supported the Motion on the ground mainly that it would, if passed, put the voting power of the Irish people somewhat on a level with that of the voters in England and Scotland. In a former speech of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Charles Lewis) on the subject, the hon. Member then said the demand ought not to be granted, because there was no interest felt in it in Ireland, and that the efforts of the Home Rule Party to excite the people on the matter had utterly failed. Now, he had changed his tactics, and he said that because of the agitation in Ireland the question ought not to be discussed. It was in this inconsistent way that Irish questions had been time after time dealt with in the House. But in every case the result was the same—the wishes of the Irish people must not be gratified. If the Resolution were given effect to, the voting power of fully 29 boroughs in Ireland would be practically doubled. In face of the household suffrage which England herself enjoyed, it could not be said that Ireland was fairly represented, so long as 29 boroughs were compelled to lose half their voting power. The hon. Member for Londonderry feared that a larger number of Members would be sent to the House to put forward the reasonable demand for the restoration of the Irish Parliament. Now, one of two things must be faced. Either Ireland was content with her present position under the English Parliament, or she was absolutely discontented with it, and would, if the franchise were enlarged, make her voice heard more loudly, and would show that she was in earnest in her demand for the restoration of her ancient Parliament. If the 845 House would make the admission that its 80 years of rule over Ireland had been 80 years of failure, he could understand the opposition to the present Resolution. He denied that the demand now made was a revolutionary one, because, although it had been made and persisted in ever since the Union, it had no connection with any proposal made for the purpose of procuring a dissolution of the Union between Great Britain and Ireland; and all who had observed the patience of the Irish people under their sufferings must allow that they were worthy of the franchise. The English would not have behaved so patiently, for an Englishman would fight for his belly. The attention of the Continent was now directed to Irish affairs, and English views with respect to the Government of Ireland would no longer be accepted on the Continent.
§ MR. K. T. DIGBY
said, if he could believe the dismal picture of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Charles Lewis), he would support the Motion; but he thought that if they trusted the people with the responsibility of a vote, those people, guided very much by the influence of the clergy, would exercise their rights in no revolutionary way, but quite the contrary. No doubt, their spirit was thoroughly and entirely national; but he did not think the people would be led away by wild theories. The most dangerous men in Ireland were those with little education, who emancipated themselves from religious influence, not those who had a religious hope and faith. Therefore it was that he supported the Motion, without any feeling of distrust whatever, hoping that his country might be saved from revolution and agitation, and that the hands of the moderate Party might be strengthened. The arguments against the He-solution were the same as those which were used against the extension of the English franchise, and they were thrashed out when they were brought forward on that occasion. He thought the House ought to be guided by the voice of the Irish Members, who almost universally declared that the passing of this Resolution would be no blow to the Empire, and that nobody who voted for it would afterwards regret having done so.
§ MR. GILES
denied that there was any question of justice to Ireland which re- 846 quired the House to agree to the Motion. The householders to whom it was proposed to give the suffrage were by no means equal in status and education to the householders of this country. They were, in fact, the residuum whom few would desire to intrust with votes. He denied that Ireland was treated with any unfairness in respect of her representation. According to the population in England and Wales, there was one Member to every 47,000 persons, in Ireland one to every 53,000, and in Scotland one to every 56,000. Those figures showed that Ireland was not in this respect suffering from any essential injustice. But they were told that the country was anxious to get rid of a Conservative Government; and the hon. and learned Member for Oxford (Sir William Harcourt) concluded one of his numerous speeches in the Recess by saying that "the first day of the new Parliament would be the last day of the present Government," which was equivalent to saying that the present House of Commons did not represent the electors of the United Kingdom. The election for Liverpool, and more closely recent that for Southwark, was the answer to that allegation. If, however, the present House of Commons did not represent the general body of electors, much less did the Home Rulers represent the general body of electors of Ireland. He found, it was true, that of 103 Irish Members there were 58 who were Home Rulers; but when the votes were scrutinized it appeared that out of 234,000 voters, 66,000 voted for Home Rulers, and 6,000 against Conservative and Liberal Members, making a total of only 72,000 Home Rule voters; so that less than one-third of the electoral power of Ireland represented Home Rule. Were the other two-thirds to be silenced? Were they to be set aside altogether by this minority of one-third? He would suggest to the Home Rulers in the House to moderate their language. The House was always ready to listen to any proposition to do justice to Ireland; but it would not submit to be intimidated or threatened.
§ MR. WADDY
remarked, that he considered there was an anxious desire in the House to do justice to Ireland; but, unfortunately, many of its Members had mixed up "Home Rule" and other irrelevant questions with the debate on 847 franchise. The majority of hon. Members in that House represented those who had to legislate for the Sister Country, which appeared to think it was unequally represented in Parliament in regard to numbers, and that it was not sufficiently represented by those who enjoyed the franchise. But the Irish Members who had supported the Motion did not say, "Give us a larger share in the representation." They said, "Mate our share in the representation the same as your own." He (Mr. Waddy) thought it desirable that those who did not believe in Home Rule should distinctly understand the position they took up in this matter. The House had heard the opinions and views that night of several Members from the Sister Isle, who were credited with faith in the system of Home Rule. He did not wish to define what that system was; but because he believed, in common with a large majority of the House, that Home Rule would be a profound misfortune for the Sister Country, he would earnestly entreat the House to listen with consideration and care to the claim which was being now made for Ireland. It was because he believed the mere fact that the House deemed Home Rule to Ireland to be unnecessary, and that it would be illogical to grant what was now claimed, that he appealed to the House that night to consider the position. He was not a bit in love with Home Rule. The manner of its birth had not recommended it to his judgment. If they were dealing with the case of a Colony the arguments which had been used would be exceedingly different; but they were dealing with Ireland, which was called the Sister Country, and as such it was supposed to be judged, and governed, and managed on the principle of equality. If it was a Sister Country, he could not understand in what respect there was to be a distinction. Not one single argument, so far as he knew, had been based upon principle, but a great many had been based upon passion. The whole of the speech of the ton. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Charles Lewis) appeared to him to be a diatribe against Home Rule; but in this debate they had nothing whatever to do with Home Rule. They should discuss this matter of the franchise on its own merits. The speech of the hon. Member for Londonderry was vigorous, but it was not logical. It was also remarkable for 848 want of good taste. Was it true that in Ireland the more they multiplied the number of their voters the worse they got in the character of the Representatives they sent? It also appeared that the people were getting more Conservative, and from remarks made by the hon. Member for Londonderry it would appear that the halcyon days were coming when Home Rule would die out, and nearly all the Representatives sent to Parliament would be Conservatives. It had been said there was no fixity of tenure in Ireland, and that people did not live long enough in one place. The same was said respecting this country years ago, and he was not surprised that it was said of Ireland, for unless things greatly improved in that country in regard to the Land Question, he should not consider it a very desirable place to live in for any length of time, especially in one place. Hon. Members opposite often taunted the Irish Members below the Gangway with being disloyal and traitorous. Was it not fair, then, to ask, "If the present constituencies have such evil results, could their action really be worse?" There was no one, he thought, in the House who would deny that in times gone by our rule of Ireland had been of a character which it would be very difficult for us to justify, and they were not now likely to promote peace, and happiness, and harmony, by using the kind of language which had been heard that night. One hon. Gentleman had characterized the policy which had been pursued as that of the serpent, and other strong words had been used. Such speeches were printed and published in Ireland, and he wished to know whether such language was the language which should be used in discussing a matter which should especially be robbed of anything like passion and anger? If it was true, as he believed it was, that there had been too much room for agitation in days gone by, then he would urge those who were now trying to stir up the people to be cautious, and also to remember that they could not do much mischief, unless there was wrong to be redressed, for fire would not burn without fuel. If there were legislative grievances, and the Irish people had a right to claim equality with the English, Scotch, and "Welsh in this matter of the franchise, he would say—did it not occur to their friends that they would do more good by 849 calling hon. Members who were opposed to them fewer hard names? Let them give equality in this as in other respects, and if they did so, the cause for the wrath which had been exhibited that night would die away.
§ MR. O'SHAUGHNESSY
said, that the first ground on which the Motion was advocated was that of equality, and when one used that word it was almost unnecessary to follow it up with argument. Ireland was united to England by the Act of Union, and was supposed to enjoy a common Constitution. Why, then, should not the people of Ireland enjoy the same means of expressing their views under that Constitution that the people of England and Scotland enjoyed? He appealed to hon. Gentlemen opposite to look back at the past history of Ireland, think of all that Ireland had undergone in past centuries, of rights refused for generations—even unto the time in which they lived, and finally conceded, and now admitted to have been most reasonably conceded. Was it fair dealing with people on whom the refusal of these rights had left such painful memories to refuse them their present demand for perfect equality in the franchise? He endeavoured never to refer to these past events in that House intones of bitterness and exasperation, but for the purpose of inducing English Members, moved by their painful memories, to come forward and try to displace the recollection of them by introducing perfect equality. Its concession, he maintained, would be an earnest of goodwill on the part of this country to Ireland. It was said that Ireland was not loyal. He did not like extreme confessions of loyalty, and he had an equal dislike to expressions of disloyalty, which meant nothing practical, and which could only create exasperation; but the feeling of loyalty in Ireland was like the mercury in a thermometer, it went up and down according as a spirit of sympathy and kindness was displayed by the people of England towards the people of Ireland. If the House made this concession of equality in the matter of franchise, undoubtedly loyalty would go up, for it had always gone up when a concession was made in a fair spirit. If they refused it, loyalty would not grow by their refusal, and a tendency to disloyalty would be promoted. Something had been said about cheers for the Zulus 850 having been given at public meetings in Ireland. Well, no one could hear them without regret; but what had occurred on these occasions was that some silly boy, or thoughtless man, who perhaps had taken too much drink, raised that cry. He had never heard a cheer in response to it. No one who thought seriously on the subject would think of raising that as an argument against granting this concession of equality of the franchise. A great deal had been said on the subject of Home Rule. The question of the franchise, as brought before the House, had no bearing whatever on the question of Home Rule. If it had any relation to Home Rule, it was this—that it would prepare the people for the acceptance of a wise and just measure of self-government, such as, on consideration, very few practical men in that House would object to. There was another bearing which it might be fairly said Home Rule had on the subject. Irish Members came to that House in 1874 demanding Home Rule. They were told that they would not get it; but that any fair demands that could be made for the concession of equal rights with Englishmen and Scotchmen within the Constitution as it was at present framed would be conceded. Well, here was one of the demands, and no man could say that it transcended the limits of equality. Surely if hon. Gentlemen on the one side of the House or the other wanted to strengthen their arguments against Home Rule, whatever the value of those arguments might ultimately prove to be, they must make those concessions of equality demanded within the limits of the Constitution as at present formed. Then it was said that if the franchise were enlarged the people would not return a good class of men. He confessed his experience of the lower classes in Irish towns led him to the conclusion that, while thoroughly national, they were strongly Conservative in their views as to the selection of the men by whom they wished to be represented; that their choice generally fell upon men who were well known to them, or who possessed local claims upon their notice. Compare broadly, and in a generous spirit, the classes in the two countries, those who were admitted to the franchise in England, and those on whom it was sought to confer the franchise in Ireland. Were the Irish people less educated? Nothing of the kind. 851 Then Ireland was much more free from ordinary crime than England, and there was no doubt that property was as much respected in Irish towns as it was in the towns of England. Some hon. Member said that if the humble Irishman was given the franchise he would be a Communist; while almost in the next breath it was said he would be the slave of his priest or Bishop. The two things were not consistent, and those who had recourse to such arguments were really at their wits' end to find arguments against the proposition before the House. It was said, however, that the Irish people had nothing to complain of, inasmuch as some of the Irish towns in proportion to their population had the same electoral advantages as towns similarly situated in this country, and the town of Belfast was generally referred to in support of that argument. The fact, however, seemed to be lost sight of that Belfast was a large manufacturing town, in which there were a great number of houses inhabited by the working classes valued over £4. But that surely was no reason why houses valued under £4 in other towns should be excluded from the right to confer a vote. When household suffrage was demanded for England it was never contended that because the agricultural districts did not contain as large a number of comfortable houses as the manufacturing towns the people living in them should be refused the franchise. Yet the argument drawn from the case of Belfast was urged as a reason for not acceding to such a proposal as that now before the House. It was further stated that if that proposal were agreed to some Irish towns would be deprived of their Representatives, while others, such as Waterford and Galway, would each lose one Member. Now, the population of Waterford was 26,000, and it should not be forgotten that there were English towns, such as Barnstaple with a population of 11,813, and Grantham with a population of 13,000, which returned two Members. Why, then, should Galway and Waterford lose one Member? Because it was said, although more thickly populated, they had not half the number of electors which places like Barnstaple and Grantham possessed. But how did that come to pass? It was due to the fact that the law precluded the people in the towns in Ireland from having their 852 names placed on the electoral roll. But be that as it might, if it were rejected now, the day would come, for it was not far distant, when the Motion of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kildare (Mr. Meldon) would be carried; and he called upon the House, without waiting longer, generously to accord to the Sister Island that equality which was claimed for her, and to which she was entitled.
§ Mr. T. DICKSON
said, that according to the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Charles Lewis), the only bright spot in Ireland was Derry, and there was nothing new in his speech but an increase of hatred and contempt for Ireland. The hon. Member had opposed every measure that promised to be beneficial to Ireland, and had regarded as a blunder not only the University Bill, but all the other attempts to redress Irish grievances. As for the immediate question before the House, the Irish boroughs had a population of 900,000 people, with less than 50,000 electors, while the same population in this country had 128,000 electors. Manchester alone had 10,000 more voters than all the Irish towns put together. Such a law could not be perpetuated. It was bad in principle, and wholly indefensible as a practical arrangement in places where the valuation was such that very respectable holdings conferred no vote. Then the hon. Member sneered at the occupiers of the thatched houses in Ireland. But from his (Mr. Dickson's) experience of Ireland, the occupiers of those houses were far better than the inhabitants of the back slums and alleys of Liverpool and Manchester, degraded by misery and vice. The hon. Member spoke of the poor miserable constituents of the South of Ireland; but he forgot to say anything about Londonderry. It was easy to understand why Derry was to be a close borough; because, if that constituency was extended, the hon. Member would have very little chance of being again returned to that House. Reference had been made to the necessity of denying the suffrage to the dangerous classes; but if there existed any elements of social danger he would rather bring them to the front than keep them in the background. He was inclined, however, either to dispute their existence, or to believe that they would disappear under the influence of better legislation. The hon. 853 Member for Londonderry triumphantly pointed to the Resolution of the hon. and learned Member for Kildare, which was defeated by 69 votes last Session; but in the division the Irish Members voted 3 to 1 in favour of it. The hon. Member said that Ireland wanted contentment and peace; but there would be no peace or contentment in Ireland so long as the laws continued as they were. There was plenty of capital in Ireland; but it would, never be spent in Ireland on the land until they had a reform of the Land Laws. He (Mr. Dickson), supported the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Kildare, and believed that before long a Bill framed upon it would pass through Parliament.
§ Mr. BLENNERHASSETT
said, that the course of this debate must have removed the effect of the speech of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Charles Lewis). On this question the Irish Members seemed to be met by the Government with what he might call a conspiracy of silence. The subject, however, was one which must come to the front and be settled. The borough Members were as eager for reform as the country Representatives; and he would point to the unanimity with which the Irish Members had year by year supported the Resolution. It had been fully discussed by the House at one time or another, and had at length been stripped of the fallacies that had originally attached to it, especially the idea that Ireland had an undue share of representation. It had been shown that if population were taken as the basis of representation Ireland should have 110 or 111 Members. The same inequalities of representation might be found in the boroughs of England and Scotland, and the argument that they would be intensified by the granting of this request of Ireland went for nothing. There were 60 English boroughs represented by a Member in the House with a population of less than 10,000 each, and the entire population of these boroughs was less than that of the county of Cork, which was represented in the House by two Members only. They could not look at this question in the light of the isolated instances which had been quoted by the hon. Member for Londonderry; but they must look at it as a whole. They had the great fact that while in England and Scotland 14 per cent of the urban popu- 854 lation had the franchise, in Ireland the proportion was only 6 per cent. The grievance in the case of Ireland was all the stronger because only 37 out of the 103 Irish Members were returned by the boroughs, the others being elected on the high franchise of the counties. When the Irish people asked them to remedy this state of things they did not ask for any sweeping change; it was, in fact, a very much less sweeping measure than that which was introduced by the Reform Bill of 1867. That measure had increased the number of borough electors in England from 500,000 to 1,500,000. The present proposal would only increase the urban electors of Ireland from 50,000 to 100,000. The principle of the franchise was not to give it to a house, but to a man; and there was nothing intelligible in fixing the limit at a £2, £3, or £4 rating, while there was something which everyone could understand in giving it to the head of every household. The red-herring of re-distribution had again been trailed over the path of this Motion; but there was no reason whatever why the franchise question could not be dealt with without re-distribution. It had been done before, and however much he should like to see both questions dealt with together, there was no reason whatever why they should not be dealt with separately. They who demanded this change contended for the great principle of household suffrage, and that there should be no difference in the civil rights of people in different parts of the Kingdom; and the question to be considered really was whether they were willing that in the coming General Election the Irish people should have the same rights and liberties as the people of England. It was only a question of time, and of a little time, and it would be better to deal with it at once, for the House should not trifle with the excited people of Ireland.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
Sir, it seems to me a very remarkable feature of this debate that we have now been discussing, I think for five hours, the question before the House, and that not a single Irishman has expressed his views against the Resolution. We have had, it is true, a speech from an Irish Member; but I do not believe there will be found, in or out of this House, any Irishman who will use the language with respect to the Irish people which has been employed to-night by the hon. 855 Member for Londonderry (Mr. Charles Lewis). I am speaking in the presence of Irishmen belonging to a different political Party from myself. I see opposite me the noble Lord the Member for Waterford (Lord Charles Beresford), the hon. Baronet the Member for Lisburn (Sir Richard Wallace), the hon. Member for Carlow, and the noble Lord the Member for Down (Viscount Castlereagh), who, we are happy to hear, is not a Member of the Home Rule Party, and I see the hon. Member for Roscommon, who, we are sorry to see, is a Home Ruler; but not one of these Conservative Irishmen will endorse the language of denunciation of a whole nation which we have heard from the hon. Member for Londonderry. The hon. Member for Londonderry ended his speech by saying that what Ireland wanted was tranquillity and peace; but the men who are the enemies of the tranquillity and peace of Ireland are the men who hold such language as has been held to-night from the Benches opposite. What is the argument against the Motion of the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Meldon)? It is this—that the great majority of the Irish nation are unfit for the enjoyment of the political privileges which the English and Scotch people enjoy; but I want to see the Irishmen in this House who will get up and say so. What is the argument in support of the Resolution? Against it we have heard none. We have heard vituperation enough to-night, but not a single argument. The argument in favour of this Resolution is contained in the single sentence that the same rights and privileges should be given to Ireland as are possessed by England and Scotland. In my opinion, that is the principle of the Union between England and Ireland; and when I am convinced that that is not the principle on which that Union reposes, I myself shall be opposed to that Union. How did the hon. Member for Londonderry meet that argument? He said, "Oh, the Union guaranteed 105 Members for Ireland, and if you give Ireland 105 Members you fulfil all that the Union requires you to do; and if you pass a Bill saying that 105 Members shall be nominated by the Lord Lieutenant the conditions of the Union would be fulfilled." Was there ever such a paltry—if it is Parliamentary language—I will say, was there ever such a 856 pettifogging argument as that used on so serious a subject? The principle of the Union is very different from that; it is that the English Parliament shall deal with Ireland in the same spirit as that in which the English and Scotch people are dealt with. Anything else but that is nothing but the odious tyranny of the majority. The hon. and learned Member for Kildare (Mr. Meldon) says that you have refused to the inhabitants of the Irish boroughs the same rights that you give to the inhabitants of the English boroughs. Is that true, or is it not? If you come to examine the figures you will find there is nothing more extraordinary than the violence of the language of the hon. Member for Londonderry, except his figures. He talked, in language which I had hoped had died out even in Ulster, of the wretched people in the South of Ireland. He said—"Oh, yes, these things may happen; but come to the North of Ireland and you will see that the people are on the same footing, or nearly the same footing, as in England." I called across the House to him—"How about Londonderry?" and he went off to Belfast. But let us see how the figures stand as to Londonderry. Londonderry has a population of 25,000, and the electors number 2,500; and the hon. Member said—"We are on the same footing with England." I shall quote one or two towns with a similar population in England. There is Carmarthen, with 25,000 inhabitants, and the electors number 4,386; Canterbury, with a population of 20,000, and 3,000 electors; Scarborough, with the same population as Londonderry, but the registered electors are 4,267; Maidstone, with a population of 26,000, and 4,000 registered electors; and Perth, with the same population as Londonderry, and 4,000 registered electors. Now, if Londonderry had the same political advantages as Maidstone, or any other town I have mentioned, there would be more than double the number of voters in it. And what is the argument in favour of that condition of things? It is that the people even in the North of Ireland are unfit for the franchise. The position, in fact, which the hon. Member for Londonderry occupies on this occasion is this—that a moiety of the householders of the city he represents are not worthy to be intrusted with the electoral franchise 857 —it is a class, the hon. Member intimates, of which more than one-half may be termed the residuum. That is the position taken up in reference to this question, not, I am happy to say, by an Irishman, but by an Englishman. I want to hear some Irishman get up and endorse the statement that the greater part of the Irish people are unfit for the franchise and the political privileges which are given to the English people. Then the hon. Member said—"They live in such wretched houses; they live in £4 houses, and there are no such houses as that in England." Well, thank God, there are not in England; but if they are so poor, that is all the more reason why they should enjoy the privileges given to their richer brethren in England and Scotland. A more unworthy argument than that I do not think I have ever heard. But the strongest argument was reserved by the hon. Member for the last. "Oh," said he, "there exists sedition," and the hon. Gentleman read a ballad; and I do not think I ever heard anything calculated to do more mischief in Ireland except the speech of the hon. Member for Londonderry himself, and if I had to choose between them I would say that speech was the more mischievous of the two. Have we never had sedition in England? Ten years before the Reform Bill you had Peterloo, and all the melancholy history of sedition in this country—aye, and you held the same language then. You said—"We will refuse the extension of the franchise; there is sedition abroad;" but that has never been the language of the Party to which I belong. The way to cure sedition is not repression, but the giving to the people that which is just and due to them; and I ask you to compare the generation before the enfranchisement of the people by the Reform Bill with the generation which followed the Reform Bill, and say if the policy of the Tory Party before the Reform Bill was more successful than that pursued by the Liberal Party after 1832. The hon. Member then dragged in Home Rule by the shoulders, and was good enough to refer to a letter written by my noble Friend (the Marquess of Hartington) in reference to the Liverpool Election, and, with the extraordinary sagacity which distinguishes him, he discovered that I was the author. That is 858 about as accurate as most of his statements. It happens that I never saw that letter until it reached its destination, and when I saw it I thought it a very sensible letter. There is no one more opposed to the doctrine of Home Rule than I am. [Ministerial cheers.] I am opposed to the doctrine of Home Rule, and why hon. Gentlemen opposite should applaud that sentiment I do not know. I was afraid I had said something wrong. I have always been surprised that the Irish people—who are a proud and sensitive people—should strain their position in the Imperial Legislature in order to acquire the position of a Colony; but though I am opposed to that principle, and shall on all occasions resist it, I am not going into extravagant denunciations of everyone who holds this extravagant principle, which I cannot agree in, and must condemn. The hon. Member has ventilated a new theory with respect to Home Rule; a new theory is put forward almost every night by Conservative speakers to explain their former and present connection with it. The reason why Home Rule was "harmless and respectable" under the Leadership of Mr. Butt was, no doubt, because it found its way in large part into the Conservative Lobby; but when it got into the desperate hands of the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Shaw) it became "a slimy and venomous viper." Why, I should as soon think of applying such language to the Chancellor of the Exchequer as to the hon. Member for Cork. The hon. Member's language here is what I would call the Home Rulers'vade mecum,which is full of the most splendid eloquence, and couched in language which only Irish orators can command. I am not aware of a more splendid or more determined statement against the connection between England and Ireland than is to be found in the book I hold in my hand. It is edited by the Hon. David Plunket, and it contains the speeches of the late Lord Plunket, who says—Remove your Parliament and you abandon your country. You want to preserve the peace of Ireland. Where is the place to do it but in Ireland?Lord Plunket lived to see how mistaken he was in the views he then expressed. Another argument which the hon. Member for Londonderry introduces is this—"If you really were to extend equal fran- 859 chise to Ireland as to England, you would extinguish every Conservative Member in Ireland—you would extinguish the Protestant representation in Ireland." So really it comes to this—that we are to refuse equal political representation to Ireland in order to maintain the old Protestant ascendancy and keep in Parliament 20 or 30 Conservatives. That is the argument of the hon. Member for Londonderry. Hon. Members below the Gangway ought to be pleased with the speech of the hon. Member, because he predicts the Home Rulers will number 80 in the next Parliament. That is to say, that the death warrant of 20 Conservative Members has been signed. Whether the hon. Gentleman happens to be one of them is not mentioned; but it does seem as if the hon. Member displays something of the death flurry of the whale. The hon. Member for Londonderry chooses to introduce this subject of Home Rule; but what is the real danger of the Home Rule cry? Of course, we all know that there has been connected with the Home Rule cry demands of a character which cannot be too strongly condemned; but the real danger of the cry for Home Rule is that fair and just demands will be refused. Now, I want to know what is the ground on which Her Majesty's Government are going to refuse this demand of an equal franchise on the part of Ireland? I have heard the arguments of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and I was sorry to see the Chief Secretary for Ireland cheering the denunciations of the Irish people by the hon. Member for Londonderry. I think that, whatever his own personal views may be, officially the Chief Secretary for Ireland ought to have abstained from cheering the remarks of the hon. Member for Londonderry.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
I beg pardon. I only cheered the sentiment, in which I perfectly concurred, with regard to the agitators.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
I thought it was a very general approbation of the speech of the hon. Member for Londonderry. I am glad, however, that he confined it to a very small part of that speech. There was not a single part of the speech of the hon. Member for Londonderry which, if I were an Irishman, I should not have regarded as a personal insult. No argument has been advanced against this Motion; 860 and those who refuse a just and reasonable demand on the part of the great majority of the Irish people, and who invoke a Tory majority to resist that demand, are the real promoters and the true patrons of Home Rule.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. GIBSON)
expressed surprise that the hon. and learned Member for Oxford (Sir William Harcourt) had been able to restrain his feelings so long that evening, and wondered what would have been the consequence to the House if the hon. Gentleman had delivered his denunciation immediately after the speech of the hon. Member for Londonderry. The performance of the hon. Member (Mr. Charles Lewis) seemed to operate upon the hon. and learned Member (Sir William Harcourt) in a way in which the red rag operated on a certain animal. That might possibly account for the conspicuous vehemence which the House had just witnessed. For his part, he (Mr. Gibson) did not understand the hon. Member for Londonderry to denounce the nation to which it was his own pride to belong, but simply understood the hon. Member to mention, with courage and boldness, some circumstances which he thought might induce the House to look at the question in a different point of view from that presented by those Members who supported the Motion. He understood the hon. Member to wish to show that a certain class of persons in Ireland, amongst whom a particular class of literature circulated, required a substantial change in their education before they could be trusted with any enlarged political powers. The proposal under consideration had become a kind of annual Motion, and there could be no doubt that the great ability with which the hon. and learned Member for Kildare (Mr. Meldon) introduced it deserved their admiration. He hoped that admiration would go on increasing from year to year. The hon. and learned Member had never presented the case in exactly the same form, for he always managed somehow to produce, by way of change, three or four slightly different figures. Instead, however, of producing this annual Motion in what might be supposed to be almost the last Session of the present Parliament, if the hon. and learned Gentleman had given way in order to allow progress to be made with an urgent Bill for the relief of 861 the urgent necessities of the people of Ireland, he would have done more good for his country than he could do by bringing forward this proposal. That was a practical question, whereas this concerned abstract arguments. All the speeches of Irish Members on the other side had been particularly tame. They did not speak like men who were backed by the force of public opinion. As a matter of fact, public opinion in Ireland on this question was in a state of profound apathy. ["Oh, oh!"] He lived in Ireland a great deal more than hon. Gentlemen who cried "Oh!"—["No, no!"]—and he maintained there was great apathy from one end of Ireland to the other on this question. The argument of the hon. and learned Member for Kildare was to the effect that because 12 years ago household suffrage was granted in England it should have been granted in Ireland. In all the arguments adduced in favour of the Resolution, there were more showing the difference in a verbal sense than a difference in substance. If they made a superficial examination, and said there was a household franchise in England, but in Ireland the franchise was not called household franchise, they had not the difference in substance. They must look deeper and with more caution; and it would appear not so simple a matter asitseemed to be at first sight. Before the passing of the Reform Bill for England inquiries were made, and it was considered how many voters would be added to the electoral roll, and how the already existing constituency would be affected. The only fair way of comparing England and Ireland was to consider how many occupiers in England were rated under £4. As they were only one-ninth of the whole number, they were vastly outnumbered by those who were rated above £4; and, therefore, all classes were enabled to have a legitimate and reasonable voice in the representation. In Ireland, however, in 29 out of 31 boroughs, the male occupiers rated over £4 numbered 30,000, while 42,000 were rated under £4; so that the class who in England contributed one-ninth to the electoral roll in Ireland outnumbered all the other householders. These figures showed the necessity of looking at the question with caution, and considering it in all its bearings. Then the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Meldon) referred to the in- 862 equalities in places he selected; but these figures must also be looked at with regard to Irish figures. Take such places as Dungannon, Drogheda, Ennis, and Galway, what would be found? The main occupier there would be found rated, not merely under £4, but under £2, a class of house nowhere to be found among English boroughs; but in these four towns they would form the great majority of electors. So, if the Resolution were carried, they would hand over the entire electoral power to the very lowest householders in those towns. This of itself might not be decisive; but it showed that this was not a simple question, but one which required to be looked at from many points of view, and to be treated with caution. Then, look at Limerick City, where, out of 7,000 householders, nearly 2,000 were rated not only under £2, but under £1. Here was a question to be considered. He had spoken on this subject already as often as the hon. and learned Gentleman who introduced the Resolution; but there was one figure he had always ventured to give. He referred to Galway. In that borough were houses actually rated under 5s.,and here was a state of things having no counterpart in an English borough; and surely the facts entitled him to ask—where would, the assimilation be? In the English boroughs the majority of the electors occupied houses rated at over £4; and in the Irish boroughs—in 29 out of 31—the majority occupied houses rated under £4. It was impossible to conceive a wider change. A good deal of capital had been made out of the array of figures; but he would refer to the case of Belfast, because it was the only large borough which in condition and circumstances resembled large English boroughs. There he found that the conditions and circumstances being the same, the growth of the Parliamentary constituency had been exactly on the lines of the great English boroughs, showing how little was the substantial difference between the two franchises—that which was called household franchise, and that which was called in Ireland the £4 rated franchise, working, when the conditions were equal, with much the same result. Before the last Reform Bill its constituency was under 4,000; and now, without any great increase of population, and under the ordinary working of the franchise, the 863 constituency numbered 22,000. If these results had been attained in Belfast, the inference was that the condition of other Irish boroughs was radically and entirely different from that of English boroughs, and that to this difference must be traced the disparity which was to be found in the electoral rolls of English and Irish boroughs. The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Charles Lewis) had been alluded to with severity, because he referred to the county with which he was connected; but it was a fact, standing out in strong relief, that many, if not all, of the boroughs in the North were thriving boroughs, while in the South they were the reverse. As many anomalies would be found to exist as those alluded to by the hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir William Harcourt). Armagh, with a population of 8,900, had over 600 electors; while Drogheda, with a population of 16,000, had a less number of electors. That, perhaps, would go to show that there must be some difference in the growth of the two towns, and in the conditions and circumstances of the people. In the South, or rather about the centre of Ireland, were eight boroughs with a smaller number of electors than in 1868. That would go to show that those boroughs were not advancing. They had no manufactures on which they could rely, and were merely places where agricultural labourers resided. They could not attempt to contrast them with any existing boroughs in England. The hon. and learned Member for Oxford quoted from a volume he brought down of theLife and Speeches of the late Lord Plunket,edited by his grandson, his hon. and learned Friend the senior Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Plunket); but he forgot to point out that the eloquent speech he quoted was delivered in the old Irish Parliament, and under conditions entirely different from the present. The hon. and learned Member for Kildare (Mr. Meldon) had not always been consistent in his attempts to reduce the borough franchise in Ireland, as on one occasion he had sought to reduce it, not to the household, but to the £1 rating level. He had read with attention the terms of the Motion of his hon. and learned Friend. He did not, from beginning to end, refer to the question of distribution. Was it not almost ab- 864 surd to ask the House to affirm any Resolution in reference to the franchise of Irish boroughs—dealing with such a large question, leaving altogether out of consideration the question of redistribution? It must be obvious to every man of sense that it was impossible for the question of the franchise of Irish boroughs to be dealt with without considering the question of re-distribution. It would be impossible to deal with the question of re-distribution without disfranchising many of the small boroughs, or grouping them in a way in which their identity would be entirely destroyed. That was a matter that deserved to be considered. Ulster would probably gain in re-distribution, and the South probably lose. He did not say that that was a consideration which should be decisive; but it should have been referred to by those who proposed to the House that the question of the franchise should be dealt with. There was not, he thought, in Ireland any very urgent demand for this Motion. Very few Petitions had been presented for it. He thought he was entitled to ask the House whether there was any great urgency in this Session, and at the present moment, in the midst of their discussions on the relief of distress in Ireland, for the adoption of such a measure? Did anyone believe that any single Irish grievance existed which was not brought forward in that House in every conceivable variety of form? He did not in the slightest degree deny the gravity of the question, or the right, and propriety, and fairness of his hon. and learned Friend in bringing it forward, and desiring that a fair and ample discussion of it should take place. It might be expedient some day to consider the advisability of having a wider extension of the franchise than at present prevailed in Ireland; but the subject could only be dealt with as part of a wide measure of reform, and taken in connection with the large subject of re-distribution of seats. Such a measure could only be arrived at after thorough consideration of all the difficulties which surrounded it. In supporting the Amendment of the hon. Member for Londonderry, he merely expressed his opinion that it would not be expedient now to affirm a Resolution which, dealt incompletely and inopportunely with a most important and difficult question.
§ MR. JOHN BRIGHT
Sir, the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman who has just addressed the House (Mr. Gibson) has been confined almost entirely to objections to the proposition that is offered to the House by the hon. and learned Member for Kildare (Mr. Meldon). With regard to the suffrage, he makes many comparisons between the people of Ireland and the people of England, and he comes to this one distinction between the two—that, judging from the quality of the houses, and from the rent of houses in Ireland, the people of Ireland are very much poorer than the people of England. From that he jumps, or slides, or gets very rapidly to another conclusion—that poor people like these cannot be trusted with the franchise, and that a refusal ought to be given to the demand which they make for an extension of the suffrage. Now, that is the sort of argument with which we are all familiar. Hon. Gentlemen opposite constantly made use of it when we proposed—not we, but when the Government of the day proposed—to reduce the franchise in England to a £7 rental. It was declared on that side of the House by more than 200 votes, and by a great many voices, that to reduce the franchise to £7, and so increase the number of what they called the working men votes, all the classes above them would lose their just political influence. But to show how little they believed their own arguments, in the very next year they dropped the £7 altogether, or leapt over it, and agreed to a suffrage we did not then ask for—that a man should pay £7, £5, £4, £3, £2, or £1 rent before he should have a vote, but that it was enough that there were four walls about him and a roof over him, although his house might be no better than a wigwam, and they gave him a vote. And what has followed? Hon. Gentlemen opposite very commonly boast in their speeches in the country that they gave the franchise to the working man, and they speak of it as one of the great efforts of the statesmanship of their Party. I think, if that be so, the right hon. and learned Gentleman who last spoke ought to have very little influence with the House when he asks you to look at the great poverty of the Irish people, and to insist upon it because they are less wealthy, less well-employed, and less well-paid 866 than the people of England, that therefore the franchise should be denied to them. The Irish who come over to this country are very like the Irish who remain in Ireland. I do not know whether they are more enterprizing, probably they have had more suffering who come here; they live in our towns, they have the franchise. I have found no considerable—perhaps no—harm whatsoever from their having the franchise like their English neighbours. There was another argument advanced by the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, which I think ought to have no influence in our consideration of this matter, and that is that you cannot deal with this question without dealing with the question of re-distribution, and that was also an argument which was used by the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Charles Lewis). Everybody knows that in Ireland the question of re-distribution is one that ought not to be long postponed. The right hon. and learned Gentleman says there has been no redistribution there since the time of the Union. Some towns have grown larger, others have decayed; but all that would remain a question to be dealt with two years hence. If a Bill founded on this Resolution passed this Session or next Session, it would not make it more difficult to deal with the question of redistribution, because you add a certain percentage to the constituencies of Ireland. That argument was just one of those things which were sometimes thrown in to make it appear that there is a special difficulty in this matter. We find the same difficulty in regard to the English representation. In 1867, when the last Reform Bill passed, a great deal was said about the question of re-distribution. There was a little alteration in the boroughs, and the question of redistribution in England after the granting of household suffrage remains now a question that before long Parliament will be obliged to deal with. But I think there is one thing we must all be pleased with to-night—at least, I am. I have never heard an Irish question discussed by Irish Members in a manner so calm, reasonable, and judicious in every way, and argumentative, in a manner that nobody has been able to overthrow. One thing is admitted on both sides. The hon. Member for Londonderry even admits that there is great 867 discontent—some call it disaffection, and some call it disloyalty—and the right hon. and learned Gentleman said that there is a great apathy with regard to the franchise; but although the Irish people are not rising in insurrection or holding great meetings on the subject, yet I will undertake to say that this question forms a part of what I may call the bundle or faggot of grievances which the Irish people have against this House, and if you would do them justice upon this matter you would find them more tractable to deal with in regard to other questions. The principal argument of the hon. Member for Londonderry was, so far as I understand, that the people of Ireland are discontented and so disloyal that if you give them a wider franchise you only give them greater power in this House to insist upon measures which this House is resolved it will never grant. His argument is that the Protestants will pretty nearly vanish from the scene, and Conservative Members from Ireland will henceforth be only a tradition. There are people who think that that would not be any great calamity; but if there be a good many Protestants in Ireland and a good many Conservatives I hope they will always find a sufficient representation in this House. But if, on the other hand, the population is Catholic and the constituencies are what you call Liberal or Radical, I do not see that anyone has a right to say in a Constitutional country, where representative institutions are the rule, that these shall not be fairly and abundantly represented in this House. If I were to address myself to the hon. Member for Londonderry or to any other Gentleman on that side of the House, I should ask them to look back and see how entirely, in past times, the politics of their Party have been pre-eminent and supreme in the government of Ireland. The land has been almost entirely in the hands of Protestants, and, for the most part, of Conservatives. The power of the landed proprietors, checked only a little by the power of the priests, was supreme in Ireland until the Act relating to the ballot came into operation. They had an "alien Church." I take the phrase used by the present Prime Minister; and the influence of that Church everywhere was in favour of the politics and 868 policy of hon. Gentlemen opposite. They had a Lord Lieutenant, who came generally, if not always, from this country. They had a Chief Secretary who was generally an Englishman. They have one now who is imbued to the utmost extent—to my mind he is steeped—in all the prejudices and in all the dislike to freedom which I think is common upon the opposite Benches. The Chief Secretary disagrees with everything that has been done for Ireland, as far as I know, for the last I know not how many years. I say he is so steeped in this feeling, that I call a feeling hostile to the real interests of Ireland, that I do not think it is possible for him to absorb a single drop more. You have had, at the same time, a powerful police force all over Ireland paid for out of the Imperial taxes. You have a standing Army in that country, sometimes a very powerful one; in fact, there has been nothing that power could do which you have not done for the purpose of governing Ireland in past times according to your own principles; and I must say it seems to me that every departure from the old and the bad system you have systematically and persistently opposed, and what your fathers did you do now on this very night, and the result has been that generally throughout Ireland your political Party is hated by the population. Therefore, you find it dangerous to give the suffrage to this people—not dangerous to the country, but injurious and enfeebling to your own Party and your own policy. But then, representation becoming more liberal, you judge that it is dangerous, and that, if possible, it ought to be checked, if not suppressed, and that is really the difficulty of the hon. Member for Londonderry. He would not care a farthing how far you extended the franchise, if it would double the number of Representatives from Ireland who would take their seats upon those Benches. I should like to ask whether he thinks things can be much worse than they are? There are 60 Gentlemen on this side of the House who do not agree with hon. Members opposite, and it is said—not only on this, but on that side of the House—that in all probability at the General Election, which the hon. Gentleman condescends to tell us is coming by-and-bye, possibly, probably, 80 Members from 869 Ireland will take their seats on this side of the House. I think things could not be very much worse in the view of the hon. Member for Londonderry. I cannot help hoping he may be spared the pain of seeing so many. What hon. Gentlemen opposite are afraid of is of a real opinion—an opinion which they regret and wish did not exist—being so largely and fairly represented in the House of Commons. That opinion to them is hostile. Therefore, they are hostile to its representation here; and that is the reason that, after having given the franchise in England to every man who has a roof over his head, and who is the master of a house and the head of a family, they hesitate to confer the same extension of the franchise upon the people of Ireland. Now, I am of opinion that it is by your policy in past times that this unfortunate state of feeling has arisen and exists in Ireland; and if I sat on that side of the House—unless sitting there I were to lose what little common sense I have—I should try whether a departure from the old policy would not be wiser; whether, if we were to deal justly with the people there, we might not change the opinion which is unfavourable to the legislation and to the power of this Parliament. I think it quite possible that we might so change the state of things in Ireland that we should no longer breed and encourage that state of opinion there which you and we on this side also regret, but which has come down from the miseries and injustice and the cruelty and savagery of two centuries. That feeling cannot be remedied by arguments such as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Londonderry used. It can only be removed by creating in the minds of the people of Ireland a conviction that there is an honest and generous disposition on the part of the Imperial Parliament to treat them at least as well as we have been accustomed to treat the people of England. For myself, having heard the arguments tonight, and having heard very similar arguments for the last four or five Sessions, I confess I cannot see the case which any man has who opposes the Resolution of the hon. and learned Member for Kildare. If the Government refuse and reject it, they will be the means of adding one more sin to the multitudinous sins of their Party in con- 870 nection with the government of Ireland. They make discontent chronic and incurable, and to them is due the difficulty which we have in the government of Ireland. You speak with disrespect, and with contempt, or with anger, of what you call agitators in Ireland. I was very much condemned at one time and denounced as an agitator; and yet from those Benches the other night you heard a long and elaborate and powerful defence of the policy of which I was then one of the advocates. I have always been of opinion that there are modes by which the Irish people may be made contented, well-affected, and loyal; but it is not by going back to or holding on to your ancient policy, but by a new policy—a policy which, as far as we have been able, we on this side of the House have for many years pursued—a policy that is liberal and generous and just, which is not looking to see whether it will return half-a-dozen more Members on this side of the House or the other—which does not point to the poverty of Ireland, and say, therefore, Ireland, should not be treated as England—which does not interpose a pretence about re-distribution of seats when the question is not of a re-distribution of seats, but of the extension of the elective franchise. Your policy is different from that; and from this side of the House there has come, for many years back, whatever measures that have been passed, which have met in any degree the just demands of the people of Ireland. And, whatever be the state of opinion there, I hope it will never be said of the Liberal Party that they shrank for a moment from the just principles they have held, or took one single step that would justify the demand of a separate Parliament in the capital of Ireland.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
said, the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. John Bright) had alluded to him as being steeped in prejudices. [Mr. JOHN BRIGHT: In regard to Ireland.] "Well, the right hon. Gentleman said that as regarded Ireland he was steeped in prejudices. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that he had an evident dislike to freedom. On the other hand, he (Mr. J. Lowther) was under the impression he had always been in favour of it, and that, from his place in Parliament, he had always defended the great principles of freedom of contract, and 871 the right of Ireland to he placed on a footing of equality with other portions of Her Majesty's Dominions in that and in all other respects. It was true that, when legislation in an opposite direction was actually passed, he, in common with all loyal subjects, deemed it his duty to express his firm opinion in favour of maintaining for all classes the privileges conferred upon them by Act of Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman asserted, however, that he disagreed with everything. If the opinions of the right hon. Gentleman were everything he certainly did disagree with them. The right hon. Gentleman having disposed of him—which was a very small matter—proceeded to deal with the Party of which he had the honour to be a Member. According to the right hon. Gentleman, the Tory Party was hated by the whole population of Ireland. For his own part, he (Mr. J. Lowther) did not say that the Irish people loved the Tories much; but he asserted, without fear of contradiction, that they hated the Whigs more. The right hon. Gentleman said that the influence of what he termed the "alien Church" was such that the Tory Party had their own way in Ireland; also that that Party had had their own way with regard to the land; and the right hon. Gentleman intimated that the result of their long sway had been simple failure, for there had not been a single measure in favour of freedom. It was not for him to say what the effect of many years of the government, not of any one Party, but of both the great Parties in the State, had been with regard to Ireland; but the right hon. Gentleman omitted to say that a Party other than the Tories had also had its sway in Ireland. Not many years ago the right hon. Gentleman himself was a deservedly influential Member of a powerful Government. Without letting out any Cabinet secrets, he must say that the right hon. Gentleman then had his way with regard to Ireland. [Mr. JOHN BRIGHT: No, no!] Well, then, the right hon. Gentleman had not his way with regard to Ireland; but, at any rate, measures bearing to all outward appearance the unanimous assent of Her Majesty's then Advisers were submitted to Parliament as embodying the deliberate opinion of the Cabinet. What had been the effect of those measures? Those who had lis- 872 tened to the debates of the present Session would be prepared to answer the question for themselves; and it would, therefore, be unnecessary for him to detain the House on the subject at so late an hour. He might say that the measures promoted, as it now appeared, without the consent of the right hon. Gentleman—[Mr. JOHN BBIGHT: No, no!]—or, at least, with regard to which the right hon. Gentleman had not his way, produced an effect which the majority of the Members for Ireland, who represented what was called the popular Party, concurred in denouncing as having introduced a state of affairs which they almost unanimously condemned. Whether they were right, or whether the right hon. Gentleman's Colleagues were right, or whether he would have been right if he had had his own way, at any rate those measures had not been approved by the persons the right hon. Gentleman said at the present moment represented the feelings of the people of Ireland. One word now concerning the proposal before the House. The question was conclusively answered and ably dealt with by his right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General for Ireland; and he (Mr. J. Lowther) would not have ventured to trouble the House had not the right hon. Gentleman made such pointed reference to him. A large majority of the House were, he believed, thoroughly convinced that it was undesirable for Parliament so soon again to undertake the task of Parliamentary Reform. He would, however, rather address a few observations to that minority who appeared to think that almost any time was suitable for raising the question of a re-distribution of political power. The hon. and learned Gentleman who introduced the Motion, and many who had followed him, had endeavoured to disassociate the two questions of the reduction of the franchise and the re-distribution of seats. Now, it was obvious to the House that if this subject was to be dealt with at all it must be dealt with in a comprehensive way. He would like to ask the House what was to be the result if the Government were to assent to the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Kildare? What was the Government asked to do? It was asked to set aside the Business of Parliament, and embark in a scheme which, to say the least, would constitute 873 a very great demand upon the time of Parliament. Now, the hon. and learned Gentleman was appealed to last night to forego his annual Motion in favour, not of the Government Estimates, or of any particular measure in which the Government or the Conservative Party were specially or selfishly interested; but he was asked to forego the pleasure of this interesting discussion—for what? Why, to enable a measure to be passed, or, at any rate, to be considered in the House, which, over and over again, had been urgently demanded, not only by the Representatives of Ireland, but by the great bulk of the people of Ireland. The hon. and learned Member appeared last night to have taken as his model that sagacious Monarch who, during the conflagration of his city, thought it proper to indulge in the practice of instrumental music. The hon. and learned Member had thought it right to occupy the whole of that evening by the consideration of that subject, while several very urgent matters demanded their attention. The Government had no intention of following the hon. and learned Gentleman in that course; and he hoped that, under the circumstances, the House would not consider the Government were in any way unwilling to consider real Irish grievances at the proper time, though they objected to the time of Parliament being unnecessarily occupied when the relief of distress in Ireland should be engaging their attention.
§ MR. SHAW
said, that he had never interposed in a debate on the question before the House, for he really believed it was not arguable—the matter was so clear that no sound argument had ever been advanced against it. Nor would he have risen on that occasion but that he thought the course which his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kildare (Mr. Meldon) had taken had been misrepresented. There was no particle of foundation for the assertion which had been made both by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland and the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, that his hon. and learned Friend stood in the way of the passing of measures for the relief of Irish distress. Nothing could be further from the thoughts of his hon. and learned Friend. The distress in Ireland was being relieved, and he would aid the 874 Government in promoting the rapid passage of the Bills to which reference had been made. With regard to the statement made by the Attorney General for Ireland, he (Mr. Shaw) could say that the valuation of houses in the South and West of Ireland was much lower than that of houses in the North; and he had heard no argument which went to show why an Irishman who occupied a house valued at under £4 a-year, and which would represent a rental of £8, should be denied the franchise. He did not hear the speech of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Charles Lewis); but he imagined, from what had transpired, that the question of Home Rule had been referred to. He did not mind how often that question was referred to. In fact, the oftener it was spoken of the better, because it was a sign that people were reasoning with themselves upon the subject. He did not deny that there was a Party in Ireland which aimed at extreme measures. It was not a large, but it was an energetic Party. There was also a large and influential Party in Ireland endeavouring to stem the torrent and to promote the prosperity of the country on the lines of the Constitution; and he had no hesitation in saying that they were encouraging the extreme Party, and discouraging those who sought to control them, by refusing to entertain such proposals as that which had been laid before the House by his hon. and learned Friend. Why, it was only the other day that he heard a Tory say that he preferred an extreme man to a moderate Home Ruler. The Irish Members might go back to Ireland and tell their constituents that it was not the slightest use to ask for reforms in that House. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland had said that the Irish Members had opposed the measures relating to Ireland which were brought forward by the late Cabinet. [Mr. J. LOWTHER: What I said was that those measures had not given satisfaction.] One measure had given satisfaction—namely, the Irish Church Bill. As to the Land Question, did the Irish Members now disapprove the Land Bill brought forward by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich? A few months ago he (Mr. Shaw) delivered a speech to his constituents, in which he pointed out very distinctly that the principles of the reforms they were 875 aiming at as land reformers were all contained in that Bill. It seemed to him that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland thought that, while man was created several thousand years ago, landlords were specially created about one thousand years ago. He thought that the language used on both sides of the House with reference to Home Rule was not creditable. The Home Rulers were spoken of as persons who were doing something that aimed at the destruction of the integrity of the Empire. That assertion was as insulting as it was untrue; and he (Mr. Shaw) stood there to repudiate it in the strongest language he could use. The Home Rulers were doing nothing of the kind. They were aiming at reform in a direction of self-government that would, he was convinced, do more to cement the Union between the two countries than anything the House could do. He had not the slightest doubt that the measure before the House to-night would meet with the same fate as it had received from their hands on previous occasions. On them was the responsibility. He believed, however, the feeling of the English nation would ultimately come round to them; and he did not, therefore, despair of their cause.
§ MR. MELDON
said, after the protracted debate, he would not have troubled the House with any remarks in reply but for one or two observations which had fallen from the Chief Secretary (Mr. J. Lowther) and the Attorney General (Mr. Gibson). With respect to the personal attack made upon himself by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, he did not intend to enter into that controversy. The position occupied by the Chief Secretary in Ireland placed himself in the enviable position of not desiring the Chief Secretary's praise; in fact, with those in Ireland whose good opinion he (Mr. Meldon) cared for, praise from the right hon. Gentleman would not by any means be esteemed as commendation; he regarded rebuke coming from such a quarter as praise rather than otherwise. The attention of the public in Ireland was principally directed to the manner in which the right hon. Gentleman discharged his duties as Chief Secretary for Ireland by the frequent announcement in the daily papers of 876 his departure from Ireland; and it had been the matter of much comment that very often accounts of the great race meetings in England speedily appeared in the Irish newspapers immediately after the announcements referred to. The terms in which the right hon. Gentleman, holding the position he did, spoke in his official capacity of former legislation by Parliament relating to Ireland, his denunciations of the national demand for a settlement of the Land Question as "undiluted Communism, and his persistent neglect of his duty, had so exasperated the Irish people that rebuke from him would certainly be appraised at its proper value. The total change which had now come over the management of Irish affairs since the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary was appointed, the way in which public questions were dealt with by him, the policy of exasperation which he followed, and the way in which deputations on important public questions were received, rendered it quite unnecessary for any reply on his part to that personal attack. The Attorney General for Ireland had complained that there was no agitation in Ireland in favour of the borough franchise. His words could have no meaning except to suggest that measures of this kind could only be carried to a successful issue by the violent exhibition of public opinion outside the House, and not by the constitutional method of Parliamentary agitation. That was a most dangerous doctrine to come from the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland. The present Chief Secretary, on a former occasion, made reference to the riots in Hyde Park, and seemed to indicate an opinion on his part that the reasonable grievances of the Irish people ought never to be redressed except under the pressure of a strong and fierce agitation. For his part, he strongly objected to any such views, and thought they were far more likely to come to a satisfactory settlement if they discussed points at issue in the quiet and reasonable manner in which this subject had been discussed that night.
§ Question put.
§ The Housedivided:—Ayes 188; Noes 242: Majority 54.—(Div. List, No. 10.)877
§ Main Question, as amended, put.
§ Resolved,That it is inexpedient to deal with the question of lowering the franchise in Ireland.