§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. SEXTON
, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, its object was expressed in the title. It was to restore to the borough of Sligo the Parliamentary representation of which it was deprived 13 years ago on the Report of an Election Judge. He should hope the Motion was one which would not receive opposition. The town of Sligo, although not equal to Galway in population, was in trade and position even superior; and every hon. Member would recognize the importance of giving a fair share of urban representation to the Province of Connaught. It was proved 13 years ago that corruption existed only among a small group of needy voters, who received bribes from unscrupulous election agents. For the future, the Ballot Act had precluded the possibility of any such agencies of corruption being successfully exercised in the borough; and he might refer to his own return for the county, which cost only slightly over £200, or 3s. per voter, as a strong proof of the political purity 1783 which now prevailed. There was considerable commercial activity at Sligo, and he thought the time had now come when the place ought to be again represented in that House. With those few remarks—the time remaining for Business being very short—he would respectfully, but confidently, move the second reading of the Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Sexton.)
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
said, it was impossible for the Government to agree to the second reading. Whatever might have been the cause of the original disfranchisement of Sligo, it was thought sufficient by the Legislature to justify the imposition of disfranchisement upon it, and an Act was passed, in consequence of corrupt practices, to disfranchise it. There, were several other boroughs which were in the same condition, and which would very likely be disposed to urge their claims to be allowed again to exercise the franchise. Therefore, if anything was to be said on behalf of Sligo, it must be said when the question arose as a whole as to what was to be done for the re-distribution of the vacant seats. It might be that a case might then be made out for the return to Sligo of its privileges; but he could say nothing on that point now, seeing that it was impossible to take up the case of that one borough in the way now proposed.
§ MR. LEWIS
said, of course, he could not support the Bill; but he rose to draw attention to the very extraordinary way in which the people of Ireland had been treated with regard to their representation in the last two or three Parliaments. Under the Act of Union they were entitled to a certain number of Representatives; but this was the third Parliament in which the principle had not been kept up. The attention of Parlialiament had been frequently drawn to the omission to fill up the vacant seats, and Motions and suggestions had been made from time to time to the Government in power; but nothing had been done, and they began to fear that nothing ever would be done. It was perfectly well known that he (Mr. Lewis) took no part with the Irish Members below the Gangway, and he had no sympathy with the proposal of the Bill as 1784 to this particular seat; but he thought there was a slight upon the Irish people and the Irish representation which ought not to be allowed to go on so long. Successive Governments had entirely given the "go by" to the right of the Irish people either to be represented according to the Act of Union, or to the necessity to have the borough representation reformed, re-modelled, and placed upon a complete and proper basis. On behalf of his own constituency he objected to that slighting way of treating a great question as though it were of no importance. Not only the present Government, but the last Government, and its two Predecessors, seemed to attach no importance whatever to the question whether this matter should or should not be dealt with. He spoke on behalf of a constituency that, in the event of a re-distribution of the Irish representation, whereby it might be placed on a better footing, might probably ask for another Representative. [Laughter.] That seemed to shock the consciences of some hon. Members opposite; but he could not understand any Irish Member ridiculing the rights of the country, although they had been so long in abeyance. As to the borough representation generally, nothing could be more scandalous than it was at present in Ireland. [Major NOLAN: Divide, divide'.] He wondered whether the hon. and gallant Gentleman thought he was the only person having a right to speak, as he did almost every day. There was hardly a day in the week but the House was favoured with the hon. and gallant Gentleman's views, and yet it seemed the hon. and gallant Member thought he had the right to call upon him (Mr. Lewis) to "shut up," who spoke only about once a month.
§ MR. LEWIS
said, that the hon. and gallant Gentleman, although he was one of the paid servants of Her Majesty, seemed to prefer spending his time in the House to doing his duty elsewhere. [Oh, oh!" and "Order!"] He thought it right to protest that the hon. and gallant Gentleman should not interrupt him in that way; for, when he ventured to touch a subject of such importance, he thought he ought to be protected from interference. Reverting to the Question before the House, he would 1785 merely say that he objected to the Bill for the re-enfranchisement of Sligo, as it would simply add to the number of anomalies that existed in Irish representation already. He preferred to call the attention of the Government to the impropriety of allowing the representation of Ireland to remain in the incomplete state in which it had been for many years past.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 30; Noes 180: Majority 150.—(Div. List, No. 168.)