§ Order of the Day for the House to be put into a Committee on the said Bill read.
THE MARQUESS OF CLANRICARDE
said that, as a measure of Parliamentary Reform, this Bill was a mockery and an absurdity. What was required in Ireland was not an extension of the franchise so much as a redistribution of seats. Anomalies existed in Ireland which could not be justified on any ground; and it seemed to him that it was precisely because there was so much to be done in that direction that no attempt at re-distribution had been made. It was evident that another Irish Reform Bill would have to be introduced next year. This measure conferred the franchise on the most doubtful class to which it could be extended in Ireland. He would not detain their Lordships by going into statistics on this subject further than to refer to one or two facts which would be found in a Paper laid upon the table of the other House of Parliament, though not communicated to their Lordships' House. He alluded to a Paper showing the population and the number of the electors in the different counties and boroughs in Ireland. It was evident from this Paper that there were very striking anomalies in connection with the representation of Ireland. There were eighteen boroughs, the largest of which, Lisburn, 801 had only 302 electors; of which one, Portarlington, had only ninety-two electors; and most of which had under 200 electors: and yet each of these boroughs returned a Member; while an important county containing 1,000 electors, and having within it no boroughs, returned only two Members. Such anomalies as these showed the absolute necessity of introducing a measure which should deal with the distribution of the seats, so far as Ireland was concerned. Again, it was impossible that the populous, wealthy, and increasing district to the south-east of the city of Dublin could remain without direct representation, and the ninety-two electors of such miserable places as Portarlington continue to return a Member. He had no intention of opposing this Bill; but he protested against the notion that it was a measure which would settle the question of Reform in Ireland, because he foresaw that within a year or two it would be necessary to take up the question of the re-distribution of the representation in that country.
THE EARL OF LONGFORD
said, he had intended to say a few words on the provisions of the Bill, even if the noble Marquess had not thought it necessary to refer to the subject. It was to be remembered that this was not the Bill originally introduced by the Government for the amendment of the representation of the people in Ireland in Parliament. The Government had introduced a Bill, by the provisions of which certain small boroughs in Ireland would have been abolished, and among them Portarlington—which he believed was the smallest borough in the kingdom—whose Member would have been given to the City of Dublin. That Bill, however, met with so small an amount of favour in the House of Commons that the Government were obliged to give up that scheme of re-distribution. Another part of the original scheme for Ireland was a revision of the electoral boundaries by a Commission; but it had since been determined that the boundaries should be settled by the Bill. Though in the Bill before their Lordships the qualification in boroughs was named at £4, practically the borough franchise in Ireland would be the same as that in England—as in the former country premises valued at under £4 were exempted from payment of rates. There was a lodger franchise for Ireland, as well as for England and Scotland. A noble Earl (the Earl of Bandon) had given Notice of two Amendments; 802 but they were not Amendments to which the Government could assent; and he therefore hoped that his noble Friend would not press them.
§ EARL RUSSELL
said, he was disposed to accept this Bill as it stood, because, notwithstanding the anomalies in the Irish representation pointed out by his noble Friend (the Marquess of Clanvicarde), he thought the measure was sufficient for the present time. His reason for saying this was that, taking the general question of representation, he thought it could not be said that the Irish boroughs generally had more than a fair proportion of representation in relation to the counties. It therefore seemed to him that it would be better for Parliament to wait for some years and see whether there were not some large and increasing towns, such as Belfast, entitled to additional representation before they made any change in the distribution of seats. With regard to a "hard and fast line," which was so strongly repudiated by the Government last year, he might observe that in England and Scotland we had it in respect of the county and the lodger franchises, and in Ireland it was now to be extended even to the boroughs. He was led to the conclusion, therefore, that either the pretence put forward last year was a false one—which he thought it was—or that the Government had departed from their own principles.
§ THE EARL OF BANDON
said, he would point out one of the anomalies of Parliamentary representation in Ireland, which he desired to see rectified. The large county of Cork in which he resided, contained no less than 15,995 voters, who only returned two Members; while four boroughs in the same county had a collecive constituency of only 814 voters, where turned four Members to the House of Commons. Even under the present Bill the whole constituency of these boroughs would not exceed 1,760, and, probably, would not be more than 1,300 or 1,400 voters. The Irish Reform Bill of 1850 had, unfortunately, given up the principle that the county franchise should be based upon property, and he still retained the opinion which he expressed at the time that this was a step in the direction of equal electoral divisions. He looked upon the lodger franchise as applied to Ireland with considerable distrust, for he could not forget that before the Bill of 1850 the great complaint was the swearing on both sides as to the value of the holdings. He had 803 presented a petition that evening from certain influential citizens of Dublin having houses in the neighbourhood, stating that they were much nearer to Dublin than formerly by means of the railway, but that they were still outside the seven-mile line, and urging that they should be allowed to vote within a distance of twelve miles. As to the Amendments, of which he had given Notice, he was willing to withdraw them for the present; but he trusted that at some future time a Bill for the re-distribution of seats in Ireland would be brought before their Lordships' House.
§ House in Committee; Bill reported, without Amendment; and to be read 3a on Thursday next.