§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ The MARQUESS of LANSDOWNE
, in moving the second reading of the Bill, said, although he had reason to believe that no opposition was intended to be offered to the second reading of this Bill, because on various occasions in both Houses of Parliament, and more particularly in the other House of Parliament, the present state of the franchise in Ireland had been admitted to be most unsatisfactory, and because from recent circumstances, that state had become still more in need of improvement; yet he nevertheless felt that on a subject of so much importance he might well claim their Lordships' attention for a short time while he explained the grounds on which this Bill was proposed, and the nature of its provisions. Their Lordships were well aware that the foundation of the constituency of Ireland had been from a very early period connected with a freehold occupation. So far back as the reign of Henry VIII., the Irish franchise was declared by Act of Parliament to belong to freeholders possessed of 40s. a year. Under various changes connected with alterations in the constitution of the government of Ireland, that franchise continued to be exercised in that part of the united kingdom, until about the year 1792 or 1793, when the Irish Parliament took the subject into their consideration, and decided on admitting the Roman Catholic portion of the population to a participation in the benefits of the franchise; but still the right of voting for Members of Parliament was kept in the hands of freeholders having 40s. a year, but with this qualification, that they should claim to have their right of voting registered before being allowed to exercise the franchise. He had never ceased to lament that when the privilege of voting for Members of Parliament was extended to Roman 800 Catholics, and an enormous addition there by made to the constituency of the country, that the opportunity was not then taken advantage of for placing the franchise in a more satisfactory state by limiting it in a certain degree. However, the event was not so taken advantage of, and he grieved to say that the retention of the 40s. freehold franchise, with the enormous addition to the constituency which followed from the admission of the right of the Roman Catholics to vote, was attended, in his judgment, with consequences permanently injurious to the interests of Ireland. A temptation was held out for an enormous increase in the number of these small freeholds, and also for a vast increase of perjury and bribery, and of contrivances to obtain what was called a strong Parliamentary interest. To this source he attributed a great portion of the evils which had since afflicted Ireland. The system led to an enormous amount of perjury—to a desire to make fictitious votes—and to a general laxity of all the principles that ought to influence the electors in the choice of their representatives, operating in its results in a mode noxious above in its reference from the landlords to the Government, and noxious below in its reference from the landlords to the tenants. But after the legislative Union, and after the expiration of many years, the state of the Irish constituency came to be considered as he always thought it ought to have been considered. A most important Act—the Roman Catholic Emancipation Act—was passed under the Government of the noble Duke at the table, and it was then thought reasonable that the right of voting should be considerably restricted. Whether the precise amount fixed at that time was a proper limitation or not, was not a question for present consideration, because by changes which had since taken place in the condition of Ireland, the extent of the constituency as then fixed had been most materially and unreasonably reduced. After the changes produced by the famine in Ireland, and the altered circumstances of the population, it was impossible but that great changes in a qualification based upon property must have taken place. After the Act to which he had referred, what was called the Irish Reform Act was passed, and produced a new description of voters, the 10l. leaseholders, in Ireland. By that arrangement the right to claim the franchise was conferred on any person holding under lease, whether 801 for fourteen or for twenty years, to a certain amount of property. But that addition to the constituency had also fallen away under the circumstances of the times, and he believed it was now universally admitted that in point of numbers the county constituency was much below what it ought to be. He was not prepared to say that the number of electors in Ireland ought to bear a certain proportion to those in England and Scotland. He would not say, and he never had said, that there were not differences between Ireland and this country which should not be lost of in considering this question; but this he would say, that if they were to have a representative government for Ireland, they ought to have one that would bring into Parliament the real sense and opinions of the people of that part of the united kingdom. He need not refer to the borough constituency, because it was hardly proposed to touch it by the present Bill; but with regard to the county constituency, the necessity of revision would be apparent when he stated that it had actually sunk to a smaller amount for all the counties in Ireland than the borough constituency of the country. By the latest returns it appeared that the number of electors had actually fallen to be in the proportion of not more than 2 per cent of the population. It was, in fact, not more than 300,000 for the whole of the counties of Ireland; and during the past year even this number had been in course of rapid diminution. He had now only to state, as briefly as he could, the mode in which the Bill proposed to remedy this evil. It proposed, in the first place, to get rid of the existing system of registry—in other words, to get rid of that which had been a most fertile source of corruption and of intrigue on the part of individuals who wished to possess the right of voting, often for the worst purposes; and if the Bill had no other object in view but that alone, it would be entitled to their favourable notice. It was proposed to substitute for that system a rating to a certain amount under the poor-law. The Bill provided that the clerks of the peace should prepare lists from the ratebooks of all persons who were entitled to vote by being rated at 8l. a year and upwards; and an important condition also was, that the party should have paid his rates. With regard to the borough franchise, no change was contemplated, with the exception that those who were now entitled to vote as householders should be subject to the same test as the county 802 voters, and should not be required, as at present, to pay their municipal rates in addition to the poor-rates. There were other clauses in the Bill, but they were of less importance than the two points to which he had referred, and it was unnecessary for him to refer to them in detail at present. It might, however, be for the convenience of the House if he should say that there was one clause in this Bill, namely, the second, of which he should fairly acknowledge, if any objection were offered to it, he would be at a loss for any reasons to defend it, inasmuch as he had at all times felt it to be his duty strongly to discourage, and not to encourage, the system of joint occupancy. With these observations, and on these grounds, he begged to move the second reading of this Bill.
said, there were certain parts of the Bill to which he was prepared to give his entire concurrence, and which he thought a great improvement in the existing law. He cordially gave his assent to those provisions which altered the registration of voters in Ireland, and assimilated it in that respect to the law in England. It might be in the recollection of their Lordships that he had, in the other House of Parliament, some eleven or twelve years since, vainly endeavoured to introduce a measure for that purpose. He also concurred in the recitals of the evils that had arisen from the present system, and he believed he was justified in saying that the only reason it was not altered at the passing of the Irish Reform Bill was, that reform was looked upon as a great experiment in England and Scotland, and that there was consequently no justification under the circumstances for disturbing the existent system, which had only been brought into operation some ten or eleven years before. But his approbation of the Bill ended with the alteration in the system of registration; because he felt bound to state that so dangerous was the principle it introduced—so calculated was that principle to work the greatest injury in practice—not alone to the constituency of Ireland, but to that of the country at large—so flagrant were the consequences which he foresaw would flow from its adoption, not only to the principle of the franchise, but to the mode of exercising the franchise, that unless very large and most material alterations were made in the Bill, no advantage to be derived from an improved registration would be 803 sufficient to induce him to abstain from calling on their Lordships to reject the measure. The noble Marquess had stated that there was a great falling off in the county constituency in Ireland; he had also truly stated that by the Emancipation Act a considerable increase had been made in that constituency; and with equal truth he had admitted that there was an immense reduction in the constituency within the last two years; but that circumstance, in his (Lord Stanley's) opinion, afforded the feeblest grounds for the great constitutional change now proposed. "It could not be denied," said the noble Marquess, "that the sufferings of the people of Ireland in the last year, and the great depreciation of landed property in that country," he might have added, caused by the impolitic measures of Her Majesty's Government, "had produced a decrease in the constituency of Ireland." But we were told by Her Majesty's Government day by day that these were exceptional causes, and that if Parliament only proceeded in its present system of legislation, Ireland would rise like the phœnix from her ashes, and property be increased beyond the power of present calculation. It might be so; but if this decline was an affair of three or four years, how could the noble Marquess on that calculation lay claim to a right to alter the existing franchise by the substitution of another which not alone met the depreciation that now prevailed, but was to endure for all time and under all circumstances, when property had recovered itself? But he (Lord Stanley) believed that the decline of the county constituency in Ireland was attributable to other causes as well as distress. The noble Marquess stated the whole constituency of Ireland at something under 30,000, and something over 27,000. Immediately after the Reform Bill, if he (Lord Stanley) recollected aright, it was 59,000 and some odd hundreds. In Ireland the system of registration was octennial—the voter obtained a certificate at the registration which lasted for eight years. Every eight years there was, therefore, a general registration of the constituency, though there were opportunities of registering at quarter-sessions in the meanwhile. The first of the occasional periods was in 1832, the second in 1840, and the third in 1848. In 1832, immediately after the Irish Reform Bill, the number of electors registered for Irish counties was about 52,000. But in 1847, so far from diminishing, the county con- 804 stituency had risen to 61,000. Then came the octennial period of 1848, and the constituency of the counties suddenly fell to 34,000 in that year, and to 27,000 in 1849. This diminution arose, in 1848, from the fact of persons not registering being deprived of their vote by the efflux of time. That period succeeded to a general election; there was, therefore, no political stimulus to registration. It was also a period when the severest visitation that had ever afflicted any country fell upon Ireland, when the daily bread of the people had been destroyed, when thousands were perishing for want of food, and every one thought only of alleviating his own sufferings, without concerning himself with other subjects. Was it surprising, then, that no attention had been paid to registration, and that numbers of persons had dropped from the registry? This, however, did not entitle any one to come to the conclusion that these persons represented those who were alone entitled to claim a vote. On the contrary, from the best information he could collect, he was able to state that in counties where there were not more than 800 or 900 persons on the registry at this moment, there were 3,000, 4,000, and even 5,000 persons qualified to claim a vote. In fact, the number appearing upon the registry was no test, because it was impossible that in the short space of two years the condition of the country in respect to property could be so reduced as to cause a diminution of more than one-half in the number of the constituency, from 61,000 to 27,000. Freely as he admitted the disastrous effects of poverty in Ireland, he could not admit that this was anything else than an exaggeration very much beyond the truth. The real cause of that reduction was the fact that the Irish constituency, and especially the small farmers, had something else to do for the last two years besides political agitation; they had, moreover, had enough of it—they were sick of it—they did not desire the franchise, because they saw it brought them only evil, and they refused to register for the sake of escaping that which they did not deem a boon. They had no confidence in the men whom they were compelled to return as their representatives, and therefore they would not take the trouble to seek the franchise. If the House wanted any corroboration of this fact, he would refer to the statements of the noble Marquess himself. The noble Marquess stated that the county consti- 805 tuency had fallen from 61,000 to 27,000, but the borough constituency had increased from 9,000 to 11,000 and upwards. If poverty alone was the cause of the diminution in the former, it should equally affect the latter. But the real fact was that in the boroughs the elector was placed on the registry by others, and without any application on his own part, while in counties the same application as in England was necessary on the part of the voter. That was the cause of the increase in the borough constituency. But what was the course intended to be pursued by the Government? They took two propositions, each of which was highly objectionable and fraught with danger. One was to compel men to be voters, whether they wished it or not; the other was to adopt a form of franchise varying from that in use in England and Scotland at this moment. They excluded all considerations of property whatsoever, and made the mere fact of occupation—no more permanent tenure—on a rack rent of property rated to a small amount, a test of the franchise. Although it was not, as he had stated, his intention to oppose the second reading of the Bill, he felt the danger of the measure to be so great, and its effects likely to be so injurious, that he considered himself bound to state his objections to its fundamental principles as regarded the franchise at that stage of its progress. The county franchise in Ireland was fixed at too low a rate in the Bill. In boroughs 8l. might practically represent 10l.; but it was not so in counties. The noble Marquess regretted that the 40s. franchise had not been abolished at an earlier period; and he (Lord Stanley) agreed with him in that regret. If it had been, the social and moral condition of Ireland would have been improved, and the country and its people greatly benefited. The noble Marquess did not, however, propose to go back to the 40s. franchise certainly; but he proposed to introduce a class of freeholds in fee of the value of 5l. a year as conferring a claim to the franchise. Before last year, such an alteration would have had but little effect; but the Act of last Session enabling leases of lives renewable for ever to be converted into fee simple, would no doubt bring this clause into practical operation. But whether the amount was 40s., or 5l., or 10l., as in England, it had been at all times required heretofore that a certain amount of property should be possessed by the voter. With respect to leaseholders, 806 was Ireland unjustly treated as compared with England and Scotland? In England the franchise required either a 50l. profit over and above the rent-charge on a 20 years' lease, or a 10l. profit on a 60 years' lease. In Ireland they were satisfied with a 10l. profit on a 20 years' lease, or of a 20l. profit on a 14 years' lease, but with these two kinds of franchise was combined the necessity of occupation. There was a very extensive franchise in England, to the application of which, under fair conditions to Ireland, he did not object—he meant that under the Chandos clause, under which a tenant at will paying 50l. a year was entitled to the right of voting. But that proceeded in England on the assumption that the tenant had a certain profit over and above the rent, and he was taxed according to the profit he derived. A tenant paying 50l. a year rent would be assumed by the law to have a profit or beneficial interest of 25l. in his holding. The profit required in Ireland was in all cases infinitely lower than it was in England. But they were now about to introduce a new system with respect to the whole of the Irish constituency, namely, permanency of lease, and a profit over and above rent and charges, which was absolutely nought and of no account. But to whom were they about to give that, and what was the nature of the constituency they were about to introduce into Ireland? He thought it very desirable, as the noble Marquess had remarked, that in a representative system they should have a large constituency. But in a limited population they had only a certain number of persons in a situation to give a prospect of a really good independent, solvent, and substantial constituency; then he said that by such a measure as the present they were about to give up all the elements of substantiality, and to sacrifice everything to mere numbers. He could not think that a wholesome or safe principle. The question was not one which merely affected Ireland alone. The proposed system would affect one-sixth of the representation of the united kingdom, which must have an immediate effect also upon the constitution of the House of Commons, and through that upon the constitution of the country, upon that of their Lordships' House, and of the Monarchy itself. If they should have an unsafe and low constituency in Ireland—a class of persons subject to undue influences, not capable of exercising their franchise independently, or of forming 807 anything like a judgment, but subject to all manner of sinister influences; and if they introduced into the House of Commons a body of representatives one hundred in number, elected by such a constituency, it would not be long before they commended the poisoned chalice to their own lips. Let them infuse those materials into the composition of the House of Commons, and those materials so infused, would not be satisfied until they had extended still further that same principle with respect to the English portion of that House; and the continued force of the democratic element in the constitution of the House of Commons would gradually and surely undermine the constitution of the country. He entreated, therefore, their Lordships by all means to consider what was the nature of the constituency they were about to introduce into Ireland. Let them not for the sake of numbers sacrifice respectability and substance—throwing in any rubbish to make up the amount. He was told that in the large and populous county of Mayo there were not a thousand persons who were above the condition of paupers. That was an exaggeration. But grant that it was not an exaggeration. Was that a reason why they should be entrusted to vote for the return of the representatives of the county to the House of Commons? It came to this then—that they abandoned the element of property in the qualification of voters altogether. But again, it was most important to consider what was the true proportion which the different classes of constituents they were about to introduce would bear to each other. A tenancy at will, with an 8l. rating, was to be the test of the county constituency, so that a man occupying a cabin in a small town, and renting a couple of cows' grass in the country district immediately adjoining it, because he possessed that right, of which he might be deprived at any moment, was to be placed, by no act of his own, upon the county register. Was that an independent or good class of voters? Were their Lordships prepared to extend to that class of voters the right of voting for a county in England? and if not so, how were they, in the point of principle, to draw a distinction between the two countries? So, whilst they abolished the test of property and tenure in Ireland, they would still retain that test for England. How could they object to the application of the same principle to England, which they were 808 about to establish in Ireland. A man who held four or fives acre of land, for which he paid 9l. or 10l. rent, but for which he was rated at 8l., although he was a tenant at will, rackrented, and paying a greater amount of rate than the poor-law valuation requires, that man they placed upon the county constituency. What proportion would the lowest class of constituents bear to the better class? The number of qualifying tenements for counties in Ireland, exclusive of the boroughs, was about 334,000, giving an average of 11,000 for each of the 32 counties. The number of voters for each county in England averaged between 5,000 and 6,000, and for each county in Scotland between 1,000 and 2,000. In Ireland above one-half of those 334,000 holders were persons who occupied land of the value of less than 15l. a year. Thus the number of holders below 15l. would more than counterbalance the number and influence of those rated above that sum on any question affecting the rights of property. Most of them were tenants at will, occupying eight or ten acres. Could that be considered an independent constituency? Would they regard it as an independent constituency in England? Why, a great deal was said about the dependence of the 50l. tenant at will. But the class of voters now proposed to be created in Ireland was composed of mere cottiers. But it was not even a popular representation, it was a nominal representation, like the old 40s. freeholders—very large in numbers, and in which the voters were driven up like a flock of sheep to the poll. In England, the landlord exercised this influence, but in Ireland he would not: the influence would be exercised by the Roman Catholic clergy, and in the north by the Presbyterian clergy. Was it wise, was it safe, to compel those unhappy persons to place themselves in that position in which the influence of the landlord was drawing them one way, and that of the priest, or of the Presbyterian clergyman, another? How was it possible they could exercise an independent judgment against such influences and dictation? One of the great causes of the diminished number of the Irish constituency, was the apathy of the people with regard to the registration of the franchise. The franchise, in fact, was not a boon to them, but an infliction; and although there might be an unwillingness on the part of Irish landlords to grant leases, there was no less anxiety on the part of the small holders there to escape the obligations per- 809 taining to a lease, for this, amongst other reasons—that by not having a lease they could not be called on to vote. But now they were going to give them a vote whether they desired it or not. The most respectable constituency consisted of the substantial class of farmers, who were tenants at will; and he believed the addition of that body would be an improvement to the constituency. But let them not compel them to register. If a person chose to go upon the register, let him do so; but let them not force him to exercise an invidious privilege—a privilege exercised not upon his own judgment, but at the dictation of the landlord or the priest. Much of the good feeling which existed in many places in Ireland between the landlord and tenant, arose from the fact of the political element not having entered into the relations subsisting between them—because there was not a voter on the property, there was harmony between landlord and tenant—compel the tenants to become voters, and exercise the franchise exposed to the influences of the landlord or the priest, and immediately heartburning and dissatisfaction would be introduced between tenant, priest, and landlord, in a way and to an extent which the Government did not contemplate. To so much, then, of the principle of the measure he greatly objected—he objected to the abrogation of all property as a test of qualification, and to the low amount at which it fixed the franchise. He objected to the introduction of the principle that the possession of property should be no element in the right to vote, and also to compelling the voter to be placed on the register, whether it was his own act or not. They compelled all the lowest class of voters to be placed on the register; but with regard to the higher class—to the non-occupation franchise—the freeholders—they left it to them to make application to be put on the register; and supposing the game apathy with regard to the political franchise to pervade all classes, high and low, the result would be that the higher class not making application would not be registered, and their constituents would consist entirely of the lowest class of voters. He objected also to taking, as the single test of qualification, the amount of rating, but to that objection the amount of rent would be equally liable. But there were other considerations—the amount of rent taken up on the same principle as in England or Scotland, would be a better test of the condition of the tenant at will 810 than any amount of rating. In the local taxation, for the purposes of the poor-law, it was immaterial whether the amount of rating was fixed at 10l., 15l., or 20l., provided all a man's neighbours were rated upon the same scale; but in consequence of the different proportions of the rating, and the valuation of property throughout Ireland, it formed a very material consideration when it was made the test of the qualification for the franchise. The valuator, by taking a fictitiously high price of valuation, could exclude, or by taking a fictitiously low scale could include, in the register persons that would be otherwise not affected. They would thus introduce into the administration of the poor-law abuses arising out of the connexion of political elements; and certainly there was little need for the introduction of any greater difficulty on that subject. He was told that an Act might be passed, adopting Mr. Griffith's principle as a basis, which would give more equal valuation. But that did not profess to be more than a proximate valuation, founded upon an imaginary scale of prices, corresponding with the official and the declared value of goods exported. Mr. Griffith's valuation was founded on the assumption that the price of corn was 50s., whereas it was now but 30s. Having said so much on the principle of this Bill, he would not now offer any opposition to its present stage. He foresaw much danger from it to the social condition of Ireland, to the political representation of Ireland—danger to the constitution of the House of Commons, where the dangerous elements it would introduce would be always working for their own extension, and thereby undermining its constitution step by step. He felt so strongly the impolicy, injustice, and imminent danger of the measure, that it was only in deference to the opinions of those who were more sanguine than himself, and that he might not give their Lordships any unnecessary trouble, that he waived his own anxious desire to ask their Lordships to reject the second reading of the Bill; but unless the dangers he foresaw from it were removed by material alterations in Committee, he should object at the last moment, and call upon their Lordships to pause before, by passing the Bill, they inflicted irreparable injury upon the British constitution.
§ EARL GREY
said, as the noble Lord did not mean to object to the second reading of the Bill, and there would be ample 811 opportunity for discussing the details in Committee, it would be unnecessary for him to address their Lordships at any length. Some of the observations made by the noble Lord, however, seemed calculated to create so unjust a prejudice against the measure, that he could not allow them to remain without some notice. The noble Lord had not denied the necessity of taking some measures to correct the great diminution in the number of voters in the Irish counties. The noble Lord, however, appeared to have misunderstood the noble President of the Council (the Marquess of Lansdowne) in supposing him to have attributed that diminution merely to the distress which had existed in Ireland for the last three or four years. What the noble Marquess had stated was, that that diminution had been in progress from other causes, but had been increased by the effects of the famine. The noble Lord, in his opinion, had fallen into a much greater mistake in attributing the great diminution of the Irish constituency almost exclusively to the indisposition of those who were entitled to vote to place their names upon the register. The noble Lord said it was impossible to suppose that the number of persons possessing the requisite property qualification had diminished to the same extent as the number of voters; and he accounted for the diminution on the ground that the lower class of Irish voters found themselves in so painful a position, between their priests on the one hand, and their landlords on the other, that they purposely neglected to renew their registration. There was, however, another cause to which the noble Lord did not advert, but which he believed had a still more extensive operation—he meant the great indisposition which existed on various grounds among the landlords of Ireland to renew leases. Under the existing law the franchise was dependent on the fact of the voter possessing a lease; and the indisposition to create votes had led to the refusal to grant leases. He considered this a strong objection to the existing state of the law. He thought it of the greatest possible importance that land in Ireland should be held upon a secure tenure; and if, by the mode in which the franchise was given, they created an indisposition on the part of the landowners to grant long leases, they established what he regarded as no slight obstacle to the improvement of that country. The noble Lord had proceeded to find great fault with the principle of this Bill, 812 and had said that in England the county franchise was mainly dependent upon the possession of property—in fact entirely so—because the 50l. tenants at will, he argued, had the right of voting conferred upon them, on the assumption that they derived certain profits. The noble Lord objected to the principle of making the right of voting depend upon the mere occupation of property to a certain amount. He (Earl Grey) was not prepared to deny that it was desirable, if possible, that the county franchise should be to a great extent connected with property. He was as anxious as the noble Lord to create a body of voters in Ireland possessing property, analogous to the smaller voters in England; but they must not forget this most important consideration—that it was absolutely necessary, if they wished representative government to work properly and fairly, by some means or other to confer the right of voting upon such a proportion of the population that it might be a really popular institution. It had been truly and justly said, that a nominally representative government, resting upon too narrow a basis, was, of all governments, the worst and the most dangerous. He thought the experience they had had in Ireland during the last few years was enough to convince them of the extreme importance of leading the Irish people to look up to their representatives as persons who really and truly expressed the feelings of the great bulk of the population. In England, as their Lordships knew, that was the case; for even those who were most clamorous for further changes could not deny that the English representation, as a whole, was identified in sentiment, in feeling, and in opinion with the great body of the people. In Ireland, however, even more than in this country, it was important that the people should look to their representatives in Parliament to explain their grievances, and to bring their feelings and wishes under the notice of the Legislature, instead of endeavouring to gain their objects by out-of-door agitation. The great misfortune of Ireland for many years had been the habit of the people to endeavour to carry out their views by a system of outdoor agitation, instead of trusting to their representatives; and if Parliament wished to transfer the allegiance of the people from self-constituted agitators and redressers of imaginary wrongs to their representatives in Parliament, they must create a body of constituents so numerous, that the Irish people 813 might fairly look up to those chosen by them as their real representatives. But, if this was admitted to be necessary, it might also be necessary to depart in some degree from the principles upon which the English franchise was constructed. It was not a fair comparison to say, that in England a 20l. interest was required for a certain length of time, while in Ireland a 10l. interest was to give the right of voting. With regard to the state of society and the general diffusion of wealth, this country differed widely from Ireland, and they must vary their system accordingly; but it did not follow that they were supplying a deficiency of numbers by what the noble Lord called throwing in rubbish to make it up. They found that in Ireland there was not that middle class of proprietors which formed so important an element in the body politic of England; and in the absence of such an element they must take the best course in their power. He was persuaded that if their Lordships looked upon the matter in this light, they would find that it was absolutely necessary to give a franchise resting upon occupation. If they did not, upon some principle or other, adopt an alteration in the franchise, they certainly would not secure the requisite number of voters for the due representation of the country. What the amount of the franchise ought to be was a question for subsequent consideration; but he trusted that when their Lordships came to consider the Bill in Committee, he would be able to show no insufficient reasons for the provisions of the measure as it stood. All that he now wished to advert to was the absolute necessity, in some shape or other, of adopting the principle of a qualification founded upon occupation, if they wished to retain that number of electors which was absolutely necessary to make representation anything more than a delusion and a farce. If, then, they took occupation, was it possible to adopt a better test of the value of that occupation than rating to the poor-rate, coupled with actual payment of the rates? The noble Lord was desirous of substituting the test of rent; but he (Earl Grey) thought it would be impossible to make a more injudicious alteration; for it was notorious that it had been too much the habit in Ireland to let land at rents screwed up by competition to nominal amounts far beyond what was actually paid. Tenants had learned the habit of promising rents, of which, except in the 814 best years, they never paid, though they paid as much as they could. If, therefore, they made the franchise depend upon the amount of rent, they gave a direct bonus to this system of charging nominal rents; and by its means persons who wished to establish political influence might detain the voters in a state of absolute dependence; but, on the other hand, by taking rating coupled with the actual payment of rates as the test, they had a far better security for the establishment of a bonâ fide franchise. He grounded his defence of the principle of an occupation franchise upon these two simple considerations: first, that they must make the representation a reality by giving the franchise to a certain number of voters; and, secondly, that in the actual state of things with regard to the occupation of land in Ireland, if they wished to constitute such a body of constituents they had no other resource than an occupation franchise.
, in explanation, said, that he had before stated, that although he objected to excluding the consideration of property altogether from the question of extending the Irish constituency, he did not object to an addition to that constituency by a plan similar to that established in England by what was commonly known as the "Chandos clause," which formed an occupation franchise, based on the payment of rent to a certain amount.
§ EARL GREY
observed that that admission at once swept away three-fourths of the noble Lord's arguments; for he had contended at great length that this Bill would introduce an entirely new kind of franchise, and that the 8l rating principle was altogether wrong. It appeared, however, that the question between the noble Lord and himself was merely whether 8l. was or was not too low an amount at which to fix the franchise. The noble Lord had asked whether, if there were not more than 1,000 voters in the county of Mayo who were not paupers, the pauper constituency ought to have the power of returning Members for that county, thus implying that the principle of the Bill was that paupers should have a part in returning representatives to Parliament. He (Earl Grey) thought, however, that a measure which provided that a voter should not only be rated to the relief of the poor, but should also be required to pay the rate for the relief of others, was hardly open to the imputation of creating a pauper constituency. Those who relieved paupers 815 could scarcely be considered paupers themselves. The noble Lord had expressed strong objection to the Bill, because, he said, it would place upon the list of voters persons holding a certain amount of property whether they desired it or not, and without any agency or interference of their own. He (Earl Grey) must say, from his own experience, being the representative of a county which had been frequently contested, that he considered this the most valuable part of the Bill; for, if there was one point in respect of which the English Reform Act was clearly defective, it was with regard to the system of annual registration. The principle of annual registration required that each individual voter should take certain trouble in claiming and maintaining his vote, and power of objecing to the vote was given; so that unless a voter belonged to one or other of the parties into which a county was divided, the probability was that he would never have a vote at all. The effect of this system, as he had himself seen, was to keep up in the interval between elections no small excitement, to lead to considerable disturbance of the public peace, and to great annoyance and expense. He considered that if they wished to improve the English Reform Bill, the first thing they should do was to get rid of the whole machinery of revising barristers and annual registrations, and to introduce a system of self-working registration analogous to that proposed by this Bill. He had contested a county before the Reform Bill, and he remembered how great was the inconvenience of the system of voting required from being entered upon the land-tax schedule. If the ratebook came to supply the place of the registry, the system would, in point of fact, be brought to that which the land-tax schedule would have been in the old time, before the Reform Bill, supposing no land tax had been redeemed. A list, framed for the purpose of taxation, upon which no man would voluntarily place himself if he could avoid it, would be the best test of the right to vote; and when he considered the great advantage of getting rid of the chicanery, expense, and disturbance of the public peace which must arise from any system of contested registration for merely electioneering purposes, he held it would be cheaply purchased by giving a man the right of voting whether he was desirous of it or not. He regarded the right of voting in a free country as part of the duty of 816 every person who possessed the franchise. In the ancient republics, the exercise of the political franchise was made, as he thought wisely, not a matter of choice, but of duty. He looked upon it as a duty, and he thought that the Legislature ought not to encourage the cowardly feeling which made men shirk the performance of such an important public obligation, and to deprive that moderate and impartial class of voters who were not committed to any political faction, but who felt a real interest in the welfare of the country, and gave such power to the extreme partisans on the one side or the other. Having offered these observations upon the principle of the measure, he should reserve any discussion of its details until the House went into Committee.
The EARL of DESART
deprecated the introduction of such a measure at the present moment, and said that had there been a wish to check the growing desire in Ireland for improvement and tranquillity, no better means could have been found for that purpose than the agitation of questions of political right. He attributed the comparative smallness of the constituency to the dislike among Irish farmers to avail themselves of the franchise, because it was a privilege which they felt must draw them into collision with the priest or the landlord. He objected to the Bill because it fixed an inadequate franchise; and he warned the House that the first aim of all revolutionists was to separate the representation from property, and confer it upon numbers. Political agitation and excitement were the real causes which prevented the resources of Ireland from being developed; and he must be permitted to say that these evils should have been struck at. They might be remedied, no doubt, in time; but the remedy should not be tried at the risk of forcing all classes into the danger of electioneering tumults. But there was a great imperial question at stake in this Bill. It was a measure which would affect one-sixth of the representation in the Imperial Parliament; and Englishmen were not altogether so passive as to submit to what they would consider an injustice when they found a great advance in privilege made in Ireland. For instance, under the Chandos clause, an Englishman who paid 49l. a year rent had not a vote; and he would naturally consider himself unequally treated if he discovered that, upon the other side of the Channel, Irishmen rated at 8l. only—half of which only pro- 817 bably was paid—had the franchise. Would he not ask, "has the Irishman proved himself so capable of being entrusted with great political rights that he should be considered six times my superior?" The very magnitude of the difference was a strong argument against the Bill. He admitted there was a difference in the relation of property; but, on the other hand, the Irish occupier really paid only 4l. rates, for the landlord paid the other 4l. But he was opposed to the Bill, because its introduction at the present moment would tend to inflict great evils upon the country by turning the attention of farmers from the pursuits of industry and improvement, to which they were now devoting themselves, to political chimeras held up by interested agitators. Societies, under the title of Tenant Protection Societies, were directing energetic efforts against all property in Ireland; and he regretted to say that in his part of the country the Roman Catholic clergy had been taking a most active part in the movement. It was right, however, that he should state that he met among that body, and among others, with persons who had taken a very different course, and who had given him cordial and able assistance in supporting the cause of order. But he was sorry to say that the efforts of right-minded Roman Catholic clergymen were counterbalanced by the many Roman Catholic priests who were seeking to lead the people on to the destruction of order. He denied that there was any necessity for urging so dangerous a change. Did justice require it? Where was the justice of forcing men, now devoting themselves to industry and improvement, to come into collision with intimidators? Where was the justice of swamping those who possessed property, by establishing a semipauperised constituency of 8l. voters? Surely this was not justice. In going into Committee upon the Bill, he should mistrust everything; but he hoped that at that stage such Amendments would be made in the measure as would secure some advantage being derived from it.
§ The EARL of ST. GERMANS
said, that his views of the measure differed in some respects from those of the Government, and still more from those of the noble Lord (Lord Stanley). It appeared to him that the noble Lords opposite, in pointing out the evils of the existing state of the law, too much overlooked the defects of the present Bill, while, on the other hand, the noble Lord and noble Earl 818 who had preceded him, in objecting to the defects of the Bill, altogether overlooked the evils which the Bill proposed to remedy. The principle of the measure was to enlarge the county constituency of Ireland by a simple and easily ascertained qualification, and to extend to that country the system of registration which had worked so satisfactorily in England. Now, the system of registration in England had worked well; it had given great satisfaction; and to this part of the measure he apprehended little or no opposition would be offered. As to the county constituency of Ireland, in 1829, before the disqualification of the 40s. freeholders, that constituency numbered about 116,000 voters; by the disqualification of the 40s. freeholders, this number was reduced to 35,000 voters; that number had been raised by the Reform Bill to about 90,000, but had since been gradually and steadily decreasing. In 1842 it numbered only 60,000, and at the present moment it did not exceed 27,000 voters for the whole of the Irish counties. He would ask their Lordships whether this was not a mere mockery of representation? he would ask whether it was safe to base a representative government upon such a limited constituency? Let him give a few particular examples: the county of Kilkenny, with a population of 183,349, had but 481 voters; King's County, with a population of 146,857, but 1,130; Mayo, with a population of 388,837, but 1,118; Queen's County, with a population of 153,930, but 456; Waterford, with a population of 172,971, but 306. It was clearly impossible that such a state of things could safely continue. He was very far from saying that the constituency of any country should bear a fixed or definite proportion to its population; he should think this a most dangerous principle to lay down; but, on the other hand, he quite agreed with the noble Earl opposite, that nothing could be more dangerous than a constituency so small that it practically effected a mere nominal representation of the people; so small as to be quite incapable of resisting those undue influences the apprehension of which so weighed with the objectors to this Bill. It seemed to him that the apprehension thus expressed of the effect of undue influence was precisely the strongest possible reason for a measure which, by enlarging the constituency, tended to raise it above those influences which told with so much greater effect upon a small consti- 819 tuency. It appeared to him, then, that it was absolutely essential to enlarge the county constituency of Ireland; and he could not at all admit that because by a particular qualification adapted to the circumstances of this country the constituency of Ireland was increased, the people of England would therefore set up a claim for the extension of the same qualification to themselves. Having said thus much in support of the principle and main provisions of the Bill, he had to state that he was not at all satisfied with the amount of rating proposed. He believed it would be found that the 8l. ratepayers in Ireland were not, as a body, in those solvent and independent circumstances which made it safe to entrust them with the franchise. It was his opinion that if you retained the 8l. qualification you should make it an 8l. qualification upon the value of the house, apart from land; but if you combined the value of the land with the tenement in the qualification, that you should make that qualification not 8l., but 12l. From a careful consideration of the report of the Census Commissioners of 1841, he was satisfied that the adoption of the former principle would give a very sufficient constituency, a constituency, making the requisite deductions for unpaid rates, double holdings, and widows, not fewer in number than 200,000, a number quite adequate to countervail the undue influences apprehended by noble Lords near him. The second clause having been happily thrown over by the noble Marquess, it was unnecessary for him to make any observations respecting it. The proposition to confer votes upon 5l. tenements for life appeared to him a dangerous principle, as being calculated to lead to the creation of fictitious voters. The noble Earl near him had assigned the absence of petitions, of excitement on this subject, as a reason against the Bill; now, that very circumstance struck him as a strong argument why their Lordships, thus exempt from any pressure from without, should seize the favourable occasion for settling this long-vexed question, and he trusted that all parties in Parliament, by waiving respectively any extreme views, and consenting to some moderate compromise, would gratify the reasonable expectations and just hopes of the Irish people. Most happily, the conduct of this country towards Ireland under her recent afflictions had created a far kinder sentiment in her people towards us, and he ear- 820 nestly hoped that Parliament would not chill the nascent affection by refusing to settle a question which, if not settled now, would remain a source of heartburning and discontent, and a stumbling-block in the way of improvement.
The EARL of WICKLOW
would not enter into any details, the consideration of which had better be defered to the Committee. He had heard from the noble Marquess with great pleasure the intention of the Government to remove that obnoxious clause, which he was only astonished to observe had been forced into a Bill emanating from the Government. He was surprised, nevertheless, to hear from the noble Lord opposite that such were his objections to the measure altogether, that unless great improvements were made, he should move its rejection on the third reading. He was sorry to hear that; although he (the Earl of Wicklow) had himself some amendments to propose, he could not bring himself to an entire disapproval. He purposely avoided now discussing the amount of the qualification; but when the Bill was in Committee he should give his best attention to the subject, and he was determined to vote for whatever appeared on full discussion to be the proper amount to be adopted, and which did not too much limit the numbers of the constituency. When the Bill went into Committee, he hoped that no attempt would be made to raise the registration beyond a fair and reasonable valuation; but that one should be adopted which should give a considerable increase in the number of electors in Ireland, without swamping the country with the description of constituencies such as he feared would come into existence if the Bill remained in its present condition.
§ The EARL of St. GERMANS
wished it to be understood that he considered it of great importance that the qualification should be based upon a townland and not a tenement valuation, and he hoped the Government would introduce some provision to that effect.
The EARL of GLENGALL
was understood to suggest that the franchise should be based on the townland and not on the tenement valuation; but his opinion was, and he thought he could prove it, if necessary, to the satisfaction of the House, that within the law as it stood at present there were ample means for obtaining a sufficient constituency, if the gentry and tenantry could be got to overcome their great disinclination to register. But it could 821 not be done. Notices might be served, but nobody would attend. A remarkable case had occurred in the city of Cork, where, immediately after the last election, 3,000 notices were served, but not more than 200 on each side came before the revising barrister. The cause of this was, that for eighteen years the country was agitated by the late Mr. O'Connell, and the people were told that if they abetted that agitation they would, instead of being occupiers, become the owners of the soil. "Stand fast," the words which revolutionised America, was the command which they received, and being tormented then on one side by the priests and agitators, and on the other by their landlords, and moreover finding themselves deceived by their leaders, they became thoroughly disgusted with their electoral privilege, and wished merely to be let alone by both parties. But if they passed this Bill, the old system would be revived, and a set of men such as they had recently got rid of would again be foisted upon Parliament. They would at once carry their votes to the Treasury; acting upon the free-trade principle, having bought them in the cheapest market they would endeavour to sell them in the dearest. The first movement of those who would be returned to Parliament under the present Bill, would be to attack the Irish Church. The English Church would then speedily follow. He objected to this Bill, because it vitiated the principle of the Emancipation Act, which fixed a 10l. franchise. It also vitiated the Reform Bill, which based the franchise on property and tenure. It would base the vote on an occupation without tenure, while in France a three years' residence was required. Against that principle of mere occupancy Lord J. Russell had warned Parliament in 1841, and now that noble Lord and his Colleagues had introduced it in a Government Bill. But certainly the present were times in which noble Lords changed their opinions and ate up their words with such voracity as to cause him serious alarm lest some of them should die of indigestion. He objected to two classes of rated occupiers having votes in Ireland, namely, small tenants at will and small joint tenants. They would swamp the real yeomanry in Ireland. Mr. Fox said, that was the best franchise which included the largest amount of independent electors, and excluded the greatest number of those do-pendent. In that he strongly concurred. He thought the Bill should be delayed 822 until an improved system of valuation was introduced into Ireland. To found a Bill upon the present system of valuation was absurd, inasmuch as it differed not only in every county, but in every electoral division. Let their Lordships beware lest, having introduced this principle, they would soon have to extend it to England. He was convinced that they were not prepared at one stroke to increase the Irish franchise to four times what the Reform Bill contemplated, and double what it was during the existence of the 40s. franchise; and yet that would be the result of the Bill. The reasons why the Government had brought in the present Bill were evident. Last winter the representation of the city of Cork became vacant, and to the great surprise of the Government a protectionist was returned. Subsequently Mr. J. O'Connell proposed to retire from Limerick, when it was ascertained that a similar result was likely there. Then the Member for Mayo thought of going to serve Her Majesty in the Falkland Islands, but the tendencies of the constituency induced him to retain his seat. Having received these three hints, Government set about preparing a Bill by means of which they proposed to obtain coute qui coute thirty or forty additional votes from Ireland.
The MARQUESS of WESTMEATH
did not believe in the sincerity of the motives which Government had assigned for bringing this measure forward. The noble Earl (Earl Grey) had said that one reason why the present constituency was so small was, that Irish landlords did not grant leases. Where did the noble Earl find that? It was notorious, on the contrary, that the tenants preferred not having leases. It was rather extravagant then for a Minister of the Crown to come forward and impute the want of leases to the resident proprietors, and to assign that as a reason for bringing forward this Bill, when the fact was quite the contrary. The Bill was to take effect from the 13th of November, but no dependence could be placed on any valuation which existed at present. He defied the Government to show that they could with any consistency press the measure one more stage, unless they had a uniform system of valuation with regard to the poor-rate.
§ The MARQUESS of LANSDOWNE
stated that a valuation was going on, and as soon as it was effected it should be adopted under this Bill.
The MARQUESS of WESTMEATH
said, that was a very indefinite promise, and he was satisfied they might look for years before they saw any uniform valuation.
The EARL of WICKLOW
reminded the noble Marquess that it was stated in evidence before the Committee on the Irish Poor Law last year, that a general and uniform valuation would be completed in eighteen months. If this was then the case, surely it should be done now.
The MARQUESS of WESTMEATH
conceived then that it was the bounden duty of the Government at once to bring in a Bill to effect such valuation.
§ On Question, Resolved in the Affirmative.
§ Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the whole House on Friday, June 21.
§ House adjourned till To-morrow.