HL Deb 10 July 1837 vol 38 cc1849-53

Viscount Duncannon moved the second reading of the Reform of Parliament (Ireland) Act Amendment Bill.

Lord Redesdale

could not help admiring the cool manner in which the noble Viscount had moved the second reading of this Bill. In his (Lord Redesdale's) opinion, it was one of the most monstrous Bills that had ever been presented to either House of Parliament. It was ordered to be printed seven days after the Queen's message was communicated to the House, and it was determined that no important business should be proceeded with in the present Session. It was a Bill to affect the manner of polling at elections in Ireland; and it was brought forward on the eve of a general election. It bore the title of the Reform in Parliament Bill; but it ought to be denominated the Dublin and Cork Election Bill. It was a decided and disgraceful job, and he therefore called upon the House to stop its further progress. Its real object was to disfranchise a number of voters in Dublin and Cork; and it was a mere electioneering manœuvre on the eve of a general election. He trusted that their Lordships would not allow such a Bill to pass. And by whom had it been introduced into the other House? By the hon. Member for the city of Cork! It was a monstrous thing that a Member for a city should come down to Parliament on the eve of a general election, to propose a measure, the effect of which would be to disfranchise the very persons whose interests he was sent to Parliament to protect. And by whom was that hon. Gentleman assisted? Most strangely, by the Attorney-General for Ireland; so there was the spectacle of the highest law officer of the Crown in the sister country lending his aid to one of the most disgraceful jobs which had ever been heard of. Nothing could be more deserving of reprobation than this attempt at tampering with the rights of voters on the very eve of an election. It gave a power to the majority of the day, in the House of Commons, at the close of one Parliament, to secure a majority for the next Parliament. There was no tyrant so dreadful as a tyrant majority. [Cheers.] He understood that cheer, but he must observe that it appeared that the only use of a majority in one House was to watch the jobs in the other and to correct them. On constitutional grounds, and for the sake of the liberties of the people, he trusted that this Bill had gone as far as their Lordships would permit it to go, and that it would now meet with its proper fate—rejection.

Viscount Duncannon

observed, that the noble Lord did not seem to be aware that early in the evening a message had been brought from the House of Commons stating that the second and third clauses of the Bill had been left in it by mistake, and requesting that their Lordships would strike them out.

The Marquess of Lansdowne

thought that, under the circumstances of the case, the words "tyrant majority," used by the noble Lord, might well have been spared. The Bill was simply a measure to enable the returning officers in large towns in Ireland to increase the number of polling places; and was not at all liable to the imputations cast upon it by the noble Lord. If the noble Lord would inquire into the subject, he would find many cases in which bills had been sent to that from the other House of Parliament, with clauses which the other House afterwards requested might be withdrawn. Their Lordships had only to do with Bills as they came before them; and the present Bill must be considered with the clauses objected to by the noble Lord struck out. So considered, the Bill certainly did not justify the strong expressions applied to it by the noble Lord.

The Duke of Wellington

was of the opinion which had been expressed by his noble Friend, that the introduction of a measure like the present, after her Majesty's message, and after her Majesty's Ministers had declared that they would not introduce any new measures, was extremely reprehensible. He thought his noble Friend was perfectly justified in characterising the Bill as he had done; and, under all the circumstances of the case, he could not help joining with his noble Friend in the hope that their Lordships would not read the Bill a second time.

The Earl of Wicklow

was surprised that, if the present Bill were considered necessary, her Majesty's Government had not thought it necessary to introduce a similar Bill with reference to Carlow. In that case, a number of voters who had been struck off by a Committee of the House of Commons, had been reinstated by the assistant barrister. As to the first clause of the Bill under their Lordships' consideration, he allowed that some measure remedying the inefficiency of the existing polling places might be expedient. But he agreed with his noble Friend, that a more inopportune moment for the introduction of a Bill like the present could not by possibility have been selected. It threw suspicion on the whole proceeding. In a few days, a dissolution might take place; and as it was impossible that, before that period, the contents of the Bill could be generally promulgated, he thought that more confusion would be created by passing the Bill than by rejecting it. He should, therefore, vote against the second reading of the Bill.

The Lord Chancellor

said, that if he understood the object of the Bill, it was simply to provide the means for enabling persons who had a right to vote at elections in Ireland to exercise that right. Those who opposed the Bill, therefore, wished to prevent persons who had the right to vote at elections in Ireland from exercising that right. Of the Bill, in its original form, their Lordships could know nothing. They knew it only as it came from the House of Commons, qualified by the message which had been sent by that House, intimating that two clauses of the Bill had been left in it by mistake, and requesting that their Lordships would strike them out. It was in that shape, and in that shape alone, that their Lordships should look at the Bill.

Lord Wharncliffe

confessed, that he looked at the Bill with suspicion; the more so, recollecting the proceedings the other night in a Bill for altering the Reform Act, which was supported by no one, except the noble Lord who moved the second reading. It was said, that great inconvenience resulted from the existing state of the law. If so, it was the duty of the Attorney-General for Ireland to have brought in a Bill to remedy the evil at an early period of the Session.

Lord Dacre

supported the Bill, which, in the form in which alone it could be considered by their Lordships, was solely a Bill to enable the returning officers in Ireland to provide a sufficient number of polling booths; thereby preventing the rejection of the surplus of 600 electors, the number which alone could be admitted to vote at one booth. The single object of the Bill was to find means for those who had the elective franchise to exercise it. How could that be called a job? It was true, that a general election was at hand. But what suspicion could that excite, seeing that the only object of the Bill was to provide for those who possessed the elective franchise, and the means of exercising it?

Lord Brougham

observed, with respect to the remark of the noble Lord opposite, relating to the silence of noble Lords on the motion the other evening for the second reading of a Bill respecting Parliamentary Reform, that it was too much for that noble Lord to infer that that silence of those noble Lords who took no share in the debate, were therefore unfavourable to the Bill in question. The clauses which the House of Commons had desired to be expunged having been expunged, he had no objection to the present measure. It had been stated, that it was introduced after her Majesty's message, and after the understanding that no new measure of any importance should be brought in, in the present Session. But really the present Bill was as much a matter of course as it was possible for any measure to be. There existed a difficulty in taking votes at the polling booths, a difficulty which amounted to the actual disfranchisement of those who were entitled to vote, and the object of this Bill was to remedy the evil. Now, instead of the approach of a general election being an objection to such a measure, it was a recommendation of it. A noble Lord had talked of the evils of "a tyrant majority." If, by a majority so reasonable a measure as this were rejected, the epithet "tyrant," would be justly applicable to it.

The Duke of Richmond

said, if he understood the Bill properly, it had nothing to do with the franchise. The fact was, if their Lordships refused to agree to the Bill, they would be telling the people of Ireland to fight to get up to the poll. He regretted that any opposition should be made to the Bill, and he was the more surprised at it, because it was the unanimous opinion of that House, that one great good produced by the Reform Bill was the increase of the number of polling places. That was the object of the present Bill, and he, therefore, hoped his noble Friend would withdraw his opposition to it.

The House divided on the second reading:—Contents 36; Not-Contents 74: Majority 38.

Bill thrown out.