HC Deb 07 March 1883 vol 276 cc1692-706

Order for Second Reading read.


in rising to move that the Bill be now read a second time, said, he would not detain the House at any length, and, were it not for the Amendment which had been placed on the Paper by the hon. Member for Downpatrick (Mr. Mulholland), he need hardly have gone into the matter at all. The principle of equalization of the franchise had long been admitted by statesmen; and, therefore, he would apply himself, not to the Bill, but to the Amendment. The hon. Member's was the only Amendment which had been put down in opposition to the Bill, and he presumed that the Amendment expressed the only tangible objection felt against it. That Amendment said that this was not an opportune time in the history of Ireland for carrying such a Bill. He said, in reply, that this was the most opportune time; and that the circumstances to which the hon. Member himself referred in that Amendment proved the urgency and necessity of the measure. It would be vain, perhaps, to refer the hen. Member to the speech delivered recently by the hon. Member for Leeds (Mr. Herbert Gladstone), who spoke of the necessity for equalizing the laws for England and Ireland. His own position in the House, as one always favourable to law and order, prompted him to put forward the advice of Sydney Smith—"If you want to eradicate a vice setup a virtue in its place." No doubt, Ireland was unsettled, and no doubt un-Constitutional proceedings had taken place, which had earned his earnest disapproval; but the way to prevent such proceedings in future was to remove all causes of dissatisfaction and discontent from the Irish people by giving them a legal and Constitutional share in the Government and politics of the country. Perhaps the hon. Member would take to heart the words of Mr. Disraeli, in 1866, when, in reference to the Reform Bill, he strongly condemned the restriction of the franchise to the monied classes, and asked, were those who had not a money qualification to be left to fall into the hands of the very lowest agitators? He thought if the hon. Member had no other reason to give against his Bill than the one which he had put in his Amendment he ought to give way to it and allow the Bill to pass. He would not detain the House with an enumeration of the miserable causes which prevented the people from exercising the franchise. In the City of Dublin, with a population of 300,000 persons, there were but 8,000 who were occupiers entitled to the franchise. In Leeds, on the other hand, with a population of 300,000, instead of 8,000, there were no less than 49,000 voters on the register. Again, in Newcastle, where there was an election the other day, 145,000 people had 24,200 votes, while a population twice as great in Dublin had only 8,000 rated voters. If they went to Limerick, in a population of 49,000 people, there were only 1,900 voters; while in Gloucester, with a population of only 36,000 persons, there were 5,600 voters. He need not go further into the question, but would leave it to the good sense of the House. The Government were committed on the matter. The Bill had been a Government measure, and had been promoted by the Government, and therefore he had no reason to dilate upon it. He could do no better in closing than to quote the words of Lord John Russell in moving the Reform BillWhen I propose the reform of Parliament, when I propose that the people shall send into the House real Representatives to deliberate on their wants and consult their interests and consider their grievances, I do it under the conviction that I am laying the foundation of the greatest improvement in the comfort and well-being of the people. He appealed to both the Government and the Opposition to support the measure in the interests of law and order, and, by passing the Bill, to secure the peace and prosperity of Ireland.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Mr. Dawson.)


in rising to move, as an Amendment— That it is inexpedient, in the present unsettled condition of Ireland, to introduce any measure malting largo changes in the present Irish Parliamentary Franchise, agreed with the hon. Member for Carlow Borough that everything should be done which would conduce to the cause of law and order in Ireland; but he regretted he could not agree with the hon. Member that this Bill would have that effect. The Amendment expressed a truth which, to his own mind, appeared very obvious, and he trusted would appear equally obvious to the majority of the House, and he must insist upon pressing it. The speech of the hon. Member who moved the second reading had not been so much a defence of the Bill as an attack upon the Amendment. Considering the lateness of the hour, instead of going in detail through the provisions of the Bill he would confine his remarks to a defence of the terms of the Amendment. If they were to go into the whole question of the franchise—whether it was a right inherent to every individual, or a trust confided by the community in persons after they had proved their fitness to hold it—the debate might be spun out to great length. He had no desire to go into that or kindred questions. Turning, then, to the terms of his Amendment, it would be admitted, he believed, after the debate with which the Session opened, that Ireland was now unsettled. If so, he did not think there would be very much difference of opinion as to the second part of the Amendment—that it would be unwise to add fuel to the smouldering fire by introducing any large question of Constitutional change at this moment. It would not be a slight change in the political condition of Ireland which this Bill would effect. The number of electors which would be added through the change proposed by the hon. Member would be, if they excepted Dublin and Belfast, considerably more than the total number now entitled to the franchise in Ireland. In other words, it would effect a complete transfer of political power from the class which at present held it—[Cheers from the Irish Party]—he was glad to see that hon. Members admitted his accuracy—to another class whose fitness for the trust must certainly, under present circumstances, be considered doubtful. If Ireland were at present unsettled, the class to whom this Bill proposed to transfer the whole political power was the most unsettled class; and, if so, would any sane man propose, where such a state of things existed, to make that transfer? The unsettled class would then outnumber the class that at present held the franchise. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright) said on a former occasion that similar results had been predicted from the English Reform Bill, and did not come to pass; but he thought it would be admitted that the conditions existing in Ireland were quite dissimilar, and indeed the very opposite, to those which existed in England. In England, there was a great middle class—in Ireland, unfortunately, there was scarcely any middle class. In England, the social strata were not unequal. In Ireland, the lowest stratum, outnumbered all the others put together. He considered that it would be most illogical to look for the same results following from the application of similar principles in England and Ireland. Many hon. Members seem to hold the idea that the state of representation now in Ireland was that which existed previous to the last change in the franchise of England; that the change which took place in England in 1867 was never extended to Ireland; and that it was that change which was now proposed for Ireland. That was entirely erroneous. The pre sent position of the Irish franchise was fixed in 1868, the year after the change in England. The principles of the two Bills were understood to be identical. The differences in detail were caused merely by differences in the conditions of the two countries. In Ireland the occupier of a house rated below £4 was not merely not rated to the poor, but his landlord was absolutely precluded from recovering any portion of the rates from him, and the franchise in the two countries was understood to be based on the payment of rates. Either the occupier paid rates and had a vote, or he had as a substantial advantage for not possessing the franchise that he escaped the payment of rates. This was settled between the two Parties in the House at the time the Bill was before the House, and Lord Carlingford then ex pressed himself as perfectly satisfied with the principle. In the Return for 1880, the last submitted to the House, it would be found that the total number of houses in all the Irish boroughs, excluding Dublin and Belfast, rated over £4 was 4,500 less than the number rated below £4, which proved his former statement, that the class to whom this Bill proposed to give the franchise out numbered the class which was entitled to it. In Drogheda he found there were twice as many houses rated under £4 as above it, and in many other towns the proportions closely approximated to the same ratio. The figures adduced a few nights ago in the discussion on education by the right hon. Member for the University of Edinburgh (Mr. Lyon Play fair), though unpleasant to him as an Irishman, bore out his present argument. The hon. Member was proceeding to quote these figures, when—


rose to Order. He wished to know whether it was regular for the hon. Member to quote a speech delivered in that House during the present Session?


If the hon. Member is only referring to a speech he is not out of Order.


But the hon. Member is quoting passages from a speech delivered by the right hon. Member for the University of Edinburgh in the course of the present Session.


If the hon. Member is quoting passages from a speech delivered in the House in the present Session he is out of Order.


said, he was not quoting the speech of the right hon. Member for the University of Edinburgh. He was only referring to certain figures made use of by the right hon. Gentleman which were already in the possession of the House. It appeared from those figures that the average educational standard in Ireland was, unhappily, very much lower than that of England or Scotland, and this amount of ignorance was predominant in the class which it was now proposed to enfranchise. There were 32 per cent of the population who could not write, and in parts of the West 80 per cent. They might presume that there was some connection between their ignorance and their love of peace and order. He need not refer the House to the voting at the Dublin Election on the day when the candidate was elected who pledged himself to support law and order. Some philosophic Liberals had told them that it was better even anarchy should occur in Ireland than that any principle of their creed should be infringed. Universal suffrage was part of this creed, and they would extend it to Ireland, whether she was fitted to receive it or not. He most certainly objected to the country in which he lived and had his property being sacrificed by such means to Liberal principles. If hon. Members would put theory aside and look practically at the real position of the Irish representation he did not think they would find any practical grievance. The Nationalist Party, which had been founded on ignorance, and built up by agitation, was not it adequately represented in that House? The class best fitted for public life, which had education and property—was that class over-represented? This was more than an Irish question; and he thought hon. Members sitting below the Gangway would say that the despatch of Public Business was not likely to be facilitated by an increase to the strength of the Party which admitted that their object was to obstruct all legislation. He believed there were some Irish Members on the Government side of the House who were not in favour of this Bill. They were afraid they were too moderate for their constituents. Let the House and the Government remember that they had had no lack of warning of the effect to them of passing such a Bill as this, even from the Party who had now introduced it, and he thought they would support the Amendment which he now proposed.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "it is inexpedient, in the present unsettled condition of Ireland, to introduce any measure making large changes in the present Irish Parliamentary Franchise,"—(Mr. Mulholland,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, that at another time of the day he might have spoken at some length on the subject. That he should support the main object of the Bill would appear to be only consistent with his former votes and speeches; but, looking critically at the construction of the Bill, he found in it certain things about which he had suggestions to make. There was no doubt whatever that the Bill was an extremely effective and effectual Bill, and that it was for the purpose of doing for the Irish boroughs what was done for the English and Scottish boroughs by the legislation of 1867 and 1868. But he was afraid, for certain reasons which might almost be called historical, the machinery of the Bill was in some respects rather clumsy. The late Lord Beaconsfield found it necessary to abolish compound house holding in England, and yet the very first thing the succeeding Government found themselves bound to do was to set it up again. It was rather singular, and in some respects almost grotesque, that this Bill should imitate the beginning of this remarkable proceeding, which in Ireland was completely unnecessary. The occupier under this Bill who was not rated now was to be rated; but the landlord was to pay. He thought it would have been better for the hon. Gentleman who introduced it to have brought in a simpler measure, enacting that every householder, with rateable premises, should have the franchise, provided that he or the landlord paid the rates. He listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Downpatrick (Mr. Mulholland), although it failed to carry conviction with it. He used the old, and, at the time it was first used, the potent argument against the extension of the franchise that a man who was content to live in a house below a certain rental or rating proved himself not entitled to the vote, and that by thrift he ought to be able to get a house at a figure that would qualify him. That was the famous argument that Lord Sherbrooke carried still further. He actually went so far as to calculate the number of pots of beer the man would have to deny himself in order to raise his qualification from £6 or £7 to £10. But a man should select his house for no other reason than because it was the house which seemed best for him to live in, and, once they admitted that argument, it carried them very far indeed. If once they were to allow the consideration of obtaining a vote to outer into their choice of one sort of property or another, they really opened the road to faggot voting, for faggot voting consisted of obtaining property for the purpose of obtaining the franchise. In Scotland, immediately after the Reform Bill was passed, and just prior to the first Election after it, there were very great doubts, indeed, whether or not occupiers under £4 had a vote. In a constituency he knew very well the doubt was thrown on their privilege at a very late period, and therefore one saw very clearly the difference of class between the man below £4 and the man above £4. There was very great distress among this class, as to whether they could put in their claim in time for the Registration Court, and he remembered seeing 600 or 700 of them in one hall, writing out their claims at the same time; and it would have been quite impossible for anyone to choose between that class and the class of their own rank and occupation, who lived in working men's houses above £4, and to say which of them was more to be trusted to exercise the franchise. The hon. Member for Downpatrick said this was not a practical grievance, and argued against excluding any class from representation. The question of the representation of the classes was very interesting and important, and there had been many methods put forward for representing classes; but, in his opinion, the very worst was that which proposed to restrict the franchise over a whole country. What they did in that way ought to be done directly, not indirectly; and as to this not being a practical grievance, lie thought it was the very greatest grievance that existed. He could conceive no greater grievance than that of depriving a man of the privilege of a citizen—those privileges which were considered to be the privileges of a citizen in the ordinary public opinion of the country at the time. He was not a theorist in political matters, and was very willing to hold by the general opinion of his countrymen at the time. The general opinion of the country was that a householder in a borough ought to have a vote, and that was the reason why the Government supported this Bill, and why the Government intended to introduce a Registration Bill. The general opinion of the country at large, as indicated by statute, was in this direction—that every means should be taken for carrying out that wish in every particular. Some slight allusions had been made to the general policy of the Irish Government. That policy he did not wish to reiterate at this moment. It was a policy which was not very palatable to a good many Members of the House; but it had been carefully considered, and the Government were determined to stand by it. But the very keynote of that policy was equality between England and Ireland, and the desire, as far as possible, to amalgamate the two countries. If he were in Office for a year or two more he should probably show some means by which the Government would try to carry out that policy, which would not be much in favour with hon. Gentlemen who supported this Bill. But they were not going to blow hot and cold with the same mouth; and in this case the Government were quite persuaded that if this measure was being considered for the first time, it would be their duty, in consequence of the declarations which had been made by Members of the Government inside and outside the House, to support the Bill. But the Government did not approach this question for the first time. Four times in the course of last Parliament the Liberal Party, which was then in Opposition, supported the Bill as a whole; and, if he recollected right, they supported it before the Liberal Party, as a whole, had been convinced of the propriety of extending household suffrage to the counties. They took up the question heartily, and he could not conceive any more demoralizing spectacle than their abandoning it now. They would have either to confess that between 1874 and 1878 they had completely and thoroughly mistaken the methods by which Ireland ought to be governed, or they would have to make the still more demoralizing and unfortunate confession that a Party had a right to ignore in Office those pledges it had made in Opposition. But to that confession the Government could never consent. They were quite convinced that the evils which existed in Ireland would in no sense be increased, but, as he thought, would in the long run be minimised by this extension of the franchise, and, above all, as expressing the desire of this country to give to Ireland the same rights as were enjoyed by England and Scotland; and on these considerations the Government would support the Bill.


said, he had listened to the speech of the Chief Secretary not only with regret, but with some feelings of surprise. He could quite understand the force of the considerations upon which the right hon. Gentleman chiefly relied at the close of his speech had this measure been brought forward at another time and under different circumstances. The right hon. Gentleman was speaking in reply to an Amendment which did not go directly to the repudiation of the principle of this Bill, but which advised the House that, under the present circumstances, it would not be wise to pass its second reading; yet the right hon. Gentleman referred to declarations which he and his Party made under wholly different circumstances, and on those declarations alone he founded his reason for supporting the present Bill. The right hon. Gentleman might also have recalled some of these expressions which he and his Friends had more recently uttered as to the seriousness of the present condition of Ireland, and the desirability of avoiding, as much as possible, the introduction of any matters calculated to create further disturbance in that country. He (Mr. Plunket) protested altogether against pressing such a measure as this on the House of Commons in the circumstances in which it was brought forward. How had it been brought forward? The hon. Member for Carlow (Mr. Dawson) had posed himself as the immediate successor of Lord John Russell in making a great Constitutional change in the country. But it was brought forward when there was only an hour and a-half left on a Wednesday to discuss the whole matter, and at a time when the Chief Secretary told them it was impossible to enter into a discussion of the principles of the Bill, and far less of its provisions. It was brought forward at a time when, if a division were taken, it could not be said to represent in any serious manner the opinion of the House or the country. In his judgment, it was unwise to deal with such a matter in this fragmentary manner. As regarded the general question of reform, indeed, this was only a small measure; but, nevertheless, as had been shown by his hon. Friend the Member for Downpatrick (Mr. Mulholland), it would have the effect of utterly overwhelming the present representation of boroughs in Ireland. It was well known that in Ireland there was a very large class of the population who did not agree with the views of those who called themselves the Nationalist Party, and yet the effect of such a fragmentary measure as this would be wholly to absorb their interests in those of that Party. He was not arguing that there ought to be no change in the representative system; but what he maintained was that such an important matter ought to be dealt with in a wide view, and on a broad and reliable basis, and in such a way as not to disfranchise some of the most important classes of the people in Ireland. If this Bill were brought forward as part of a scheme which treated also of the question of representation in the counties combined with a measure for the re-distribution of seats, a plan might be devised which would preserve some substantial representation in that House, of the large and important class who possessed wealth and education, and who, he thought, the Chief Secretary himself had in view when he spoke of a greater as well as a lesser Ireland. Indeed, he could not help thinking during the time the Chief Secretary was speaking that he was saying internally—"Save me from my friends." What was the duty of the Government with regard to the alteration of the borough franchise in Ireland? If the Bill were now carried they would have the principle laid down for the first time that a Bill should be read the second time on a Wednesday, when there was no time to debate its principles, and it was a monstrous and preposterous thing that such an attempt should be made. It was true that the Government had supported the Bill in Opposition, and they had done many other things, when in Opposition, which he believed they since found had left them an unenviable inheritance; but the matter in question was considered so important that it was the one Irish Bill they considered sufficient to bring forward in the Queen's Speech at the beginning of 1880. He would like to know whether the Government were now prepared themselves to introduce such a measure? If not, were they justified in supporting private Members who brought forward a Bill which they had formerly thought of such importance? Did the Government imagine the Bill was going through without opposition? Again, it was perfectly certain that if it were passed in the present state of the country it would tend to increase the influence and advance the purposes of Members below the Gangway; and, for that reason also, he agreed with his hon. Friend who had proposed the Amendment, and he felt that the Government in their hearts must be sensible that it was not wise to carry such a Bill in the present circumstances of Ireland. The noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War, speaking lately on a kindred subject, said it would be madness for them to volunteer to Ireland the gift of more extended local self-government unless they received from the Representatives of the Irish people some assurance that it would not be used for the purposes of agitation and of weakening the power and authority of the Government of the Empire. Every word of that declaration applied with equal force to the proposal now before the House. He would ask whether the Government thought the result of the late election at Mallow tended to strengthen their position or to support their authority in Ireland? At that election the Law Officer sent to represent the Govern- ment even under the present franchise—such was the state of the country—had been rejected, and there was a total reversal of the verdict which that constituency had given a few years previously. Was it desirable to turn every borough in Ireland into a constituency, not only as liable, but much more liable, to the influences which had been at work in Mallow? The grounds upon which he intended to support the Amendment wore, in the first place, because the present was not a time when it would be well to introduce into Irish politics a fresh element of excitement. In the second place, its immediate effect would be to strengthen, as far as possible, the influence and power of that political Party in Ireland with which the present Government had had so much difficulty in dealing lately. The Leaders of that Party in the House did not attempt any concealment of the use they would make of every opportunity given them. They said distinctly that if they got local self-government, or anything of the kind, they would use it as a leverage to consolidate their power and advance the movement in which they were engaged. That was a very natural desire on the part of those Gentlemen, because it would be a personal benefit to them, and because they felt it would greatly increase their power. They must decide the matter on the reasons which commended themselves to their common sense, and which were used by the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War in the speech to which he had referred; and it must be plain to all that whether a measure of local self-government be good or bad in itself, or the extension of the franchise be good or bad, the present was a time when it was not wise, either for the interests of Ireland or for the safety of the State, to push it forward. What were the ultimate purposes for which such a measure as this would be used? It would be used for the purpose of advancing the cause of Home Rule, which was described by many persons as an innocent and Constitutional movement. It had been described in various ways by the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell); but he would venture to remind the House that on a recent occasion the hon. Member was challenged to deny the accuracy of the words he was reported to have used in a speech delivered in America, in which he pointed out that the ultimate object of the movement would not be obtained until the entire separation of Ireland from England was obtained. [Mr. PARNELL: No, no!] It was easy to say "No, no!" The hon. Member had never answered that challenge. The noble Marquess the Secretary of State for "War, a few months ago, referring to the topic of Home Rule, said that the ingenious theories of the late Mr. Butt had now faded away, and the real aim of the Home Rule Party appeared to be the establishment of a separate, and, perhaps, a hostile Government in Ireland. He founded himself on that view expressed seriously and authoritatively by the noble Marquess, and appealed to the House, under the existing circumstances, not to assent to the pressing forward of the measure. The agitation of it could have no other effect than to introduce an element of disturbance into Irish politics, and it was inadequate for the purposes for which it professed to be proposed. It would do a great injustice to most important classes in Ireland—those loyal classes on whom they had to depend—and could have no other effect than to increase the power of those who were aiming at the disastrous objects which the Secretary of State for War himself had so well described.


said, the lesson he had learnt from the past two months in Ireland had been that there was a decided feeling among the larger portion of the people that it was expedient to return to law and order. The constituency of the Metropolitan County of Ireland had sent him to Parliament only the other day with this one message—that law and order in that country were to be maintained at any cost. The paramount wish of the great majority of the Irish people now was—"Give us rest." They desired rest from misrule, rest from the disorders brought about by concession to unscrupulous agitation. The Government knew that rest was necessary, if peace and order were to be restored in Ireland; and the Chief Secretary, in his speech at Hawick, had promised that they should be sustained in security and peace. It was, therefore, with great. surprise and regret that he had heard from the right hon. Gentleman's speech that day that the Government were about to countenance a renewal of unrest and agitation. They knew for whom the extension of the franchise in the boroughs of Ireland was sought, and they knew they were not the friends of law and order. But the Chief Secretary did not touch the Amendment of the hon. Member for Downpatrick (Mr. Mulholland).

It being a quarter of an hour before Six of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned till To-morrow.

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