HL Deb 02 April 1860 vol 157 cc1711-5

THE MARQUESS OF CLANRICARDE moved an address for— Return of all Towns in Ireland, exclusive of Parliamentary Boroughs, containing a population of 3,000 or upwards, specifying the County in which each such Town is situated, and showing the Number of Occupiers rated at above £4 and under £6, and at £6 and upwards but under £8, and at £8; And also, Returns showing the Area, Population, Income Tax, Number of Occupiers rated at various Amounts, Number of Parliamentary Voters, &c. in each County in Ireland, and showing the Area, Population, Income Tax, the Number of Tenemenuated at various Amounts under £10, Number Voters, &c. in each Parliamentary Borou Ireland. The noble Marquess said that the Irish Reform Bill which had been introduced into the other House of Parliament was, in his opinion, so complete a mockery that he could not understand why the Government had taken the trouble to bring it forward. So strongly did he entertain that view with respect to it, that if it should ever come up to their Lordships' House, which he hoped would not be the case, he should deem it to be his duty to oppose its passing into a law. For his own part he had not heard that any desire for Parliamentary Reform had been exhibited in Ireland, or that the question was one which had taken the slightest hold of the minds of the Irish people. But if it were deemed necessary that some alteration in the electoral system in that country should be made, he thought due consideration should be shown for those large constituencies which were not adequately represented. He might also observe that there were in Ireland boroughs so poor and having constituencies so small that they were to a great extent naturally subject either to proprietary or to other corrupt influences; while on the other hand there were populous places in Ireland that were at present either wholly unrepresented or very inadequately represented. It was most expedient in any measure of Reform which might be passed that such cases should be placed upon some more satisfactory footing than that upon which they at present stood. He held, for example, in his hand a Return of no less than sixteen boroughs not one of which had a constituency exceeding 300 registered electors, and that number, it must be borne in mind, was considerably larger than the number who voted at the last election. He might add that of the sixteen boroughs to which he had alluded six had a constituency of less than 200, so that they afforded a good ground for the hand of the Reformer to work upon. And how, let him ask, was it proposed to deal with these cases in the Government measure? According to certain returns which had been laid before the House, the result of the change which that measure proposed to effect would be that not one of those boroughs would have a constituency of 400; that twelve would still have a constituency of less than 300, and four a constituency of less than 200. That being the proposed operation of the measure, he could not, as he had said before, look upon it otherwise than a perfect mockery of Reform, to disturb the existing system for the attainment of such a result as that. Now he would not completely abolish the representative system in all such small places; what he should propose in most cases would be to group those boroughs in such a way as that they might have a constituency somewhat respectable in point of numbers—in such a way, for instance, as that no constituency should number below 500, while the population which it represented should not be less than 12,000. He had said that the large constituencies in Ireland were inadequately represented, and he might, in support of that opinion, mention the county of Cork, which, with a population of 563,000 and 15,700 electors, had altogether only six Members; the county of Down, which, with a population of 328,000 and a constituency exceeding 11,000, had only three Members; Tipperary, which, with a population of 331,600 and 9,467 electors, had only four Members; and Galway, which, with a population of 297,000 and a number of electors exceeding 5,000, had only two Members. There was also the county of Dublin, which, although the number of its inhabitants wag not more than 143,000, yet was of greater importance, and which, with a constituency of 6,200, returned only two Members. Those were, in his opinion, points well worthy the attention of the Government in dealing with the subject of Irish Parliamentary Reform.


said, the noble Marquess had not merely anticipated the discussion of that Reform Bill which he had expressed a hope would not come up to their Lordships' House from the House of Commons, but had, to a certain extent, sketched out a counter-measure of his own. Now, while his wishes with respect to the fate of the Government Bill were quite different from those which his noble Friend entertained, he must decline following him into a discussion of the details of that or any other measure which might be introduced on the subject. The Government Bill involved, he was prepared to admit, no proposals of immense magnitude. It was not, for instance, of a character "to take away one's breath," if he might be allowed the use of an expression which he had of late on one or two occasions seen in print. He might, however, observe that the Irish people would not, in all probability, be disposed to think that equal justice had been dealt out to them if the small boroughs in that country were, as the noble Marquess suggested, to be disfranchised, while no such course was to be adopted with regard to boroughs of the same description in England. The noble Marquess seemed to be of opinion that it would be advisable that a certain number of those boroughs should be grouped together, but in order to effect that object it would be necessary to alter the proportion of the borough to the county representation, inasmuch as no substitute could otherwise be found for those boroughs he wished to see disfranchised. He might add that the population in boroughs and that in counties in Ireland stood to one another in proportions different from that which was the case in England or Scotland. The county population in Scotland, for instance, was 2,000,000, of which the town population exceeded one-half; while in Ireland, with a population of 6,000,000, the town population did not exceed 1,000,000. Under these circumstances, the noble Marquess would see that there would be considerable difficulty in adopting in Ireland the changes which he recommended. There could, of course, be no objection to the Returns re- quired by the noble Marquess, on the understanding that the population should be taken according to the last Census.


said, he did not think the Irish Reform Bill was a measure in itself of very great importance; indeed all reference to Ireland might very well have been omitted in the present legislation, were it not that if that had been the case the Irish people might have thought they were treated with neglect. But whatever might be the character of the Reform Bill for Ireland, in other respects it would not be denied that it contained some very great anomalies. Some of its provisions were of a very extraordinary character, and he could not help calling attention to one which had attracted considerable notice—he meant that clause which provided that Irish Peers should in future be enabled to sit as representing Irish constituencies in the House of Commons. On that clause there was undoubtedly an extraordinary unanimity of opinion as well on this side of the water as on the other. How it was possible to conceive that such a power should be granted to Irish Peers he could not imagine. Irish Peers had already the privilege of representing their own body in the House of Lords, and now it was proposed that they should enjoy another franchise,—namely, that of representing their own counties and boroughs in the other House of Parliament. How could that clause recommend itself to the House of Commons? It was too much to suppose that the present Irish Members would commit political suicide by supporting a clause the effect of which must be to create the most formidable competition against themselves in every constituency throughout the country.


said, he did not now propose that any disfranchisement should take place in Ireland, except to the extent which was contemplated in England, by depriving constituencies of one Member when the population was below a certain amount. The boroughs of Athlone and Portarlington each returned a Member to Parliament. He found that under the Government Reform Bill four additional voters would be added to the constituency of Athlone, which would thus amount to 258; the increased roll of voters for Portarlington would number 140. He did not believe that by grouping these boroughs together, and allotting one of their Members to some large constituency, any injustice would be done to the 398 voters of whom the joint constituency would then be composed.

Motion agreed to.