§ Mr. Littleton
said, he now begged leave, on the understanding to which the House had come last night, to move for leave to bring in a bill " to regulate the exercise of the Elective Franchise in Ireland." He would, in consequence of the understanding to which he had alluded, abstain from making any observations on the introduction of this bill. He hoped, however, that an early day would be fixed for reading it a second time, when gentlemen would have a full opportunity for the expression of their opinions. To himself, it was a matter of no importance whether he opened the grounds on which he introduced this measure on the present occasion, or reserved his statement for a subsequent period. The House had come to an understanding on that point early that morning, and that understanding had been renewed this evening. The consequence was, that a vast number of members had left the House. Amongst them were many who were especially unfavourable to the views 127 which he took relative to this measure; and therefore he felt himself bound in honour simply to explain what the nature of the intended bill was. The hon. member for Wareham was of opinion, that the disfranchisement of the 40s. freeholders of Ireland would be a measure of a very arbitrary nature. He thanked the hon. member for having called for information on this subject; and he would take the liberty to observe, that he did not mean to extend the provisions of the bill to those freeholders who held their freeholds under the same practice that prevailed in England at this period. The bill would only refer to freeholders whose votes were subject to registration. The sum which gave to those individuals the right of voting at present, it was the object of this bill to raise. He would not state positively, although he had formed a strong opinion on the subject, how high the qualification ought to be raised; but, in his opinion, 10l. per annum would be an eligible qualification; that, however, he left entirely in the hands of the House. Another point which had been alluded to, was the period at which the act should begin to operate. It might be suffered to operate forthwith; or at the period when the present registry expired, or at the termination of the several leases. He thought the end of the registration would be the proper time for the act to begin to take effect. But he felt that this was a proper matter for consideration in the committee. The hon. member then moved " That leave be given to bring in a bill to regulate the Exercise of the Elective Franchise in Counties at large in Ireland."
§ Mr. Brougham
observed, that, in consequence of the understanding to which it was stated the House had acceded, a number of gentlemen had undoubtedly gone away. This being the case, it would be inexpedient to go into a discussion of the measure now: but, it ought to be stated, that on this occasion, leave to bring in the bill was only called for. If there were any hon. members who wished to defeat the measure at once, they would have an opportunity of stating their arguments against it on the first reading.
said, that this was a measure of so alarming a nature, that the attention of the House, and of the public, ought to be particularly called to it. He would take the first opportunity, when this bill was brought forward, to divide the House upon it; and he should therefore 128 wave, at present, any further observation on the measure. In his opinion, the bill was open to the most serious objections. It was one of the most unconstitutional and arbitrary measures that ever was introduced to the House.
Mr. Secretary Peel
merely rose to say, that, in acquiescing in the motion for leave to bring in the bill, he made no concession whatever. The rule of the House formerly, was different from that which now prevailed. It was now customary to grant leave to bring in a bill, merely for the purpose of considering what its effect was likely to be. Afterwards its contents were debated; and it might be rejected on the second reading. In consequence of the understanding which was come to last night, he would not offer any objection to the present motion: but his opposition to the measure should be precisely as decided in the stage when it came to be debated, as if he opposed its being brought in originally.
§ Mr. Brougham
trusted, that he might be understood, after what he had stated that morning, as not having pledged himself to Support this measure. On a future day he should take an opportunity of stating his opinion on this question.
said, that if ever there was a bill brought into parliament which required the most minute detail, it was this identical bill. This he would assert, that if members in the House understood it, very few persons out of the House did. He, for one, did not understand it in detail; and therefore he was anxious for explanation.
Sir T. Lethbridge
said, that in his opinion, the bill which it was proposed to bring in was not at all calculated to answer the expectations which it had raised. A great deal had been said about relief to the people of Ireland; but, he could not see what relief they would find in being deprived of privileges which were really valuable, and which made them of some importance, and in receiving instead of privileges, an imaginary good. An hon. friend of his, whose conversion had created so great a sensation in the House, had said, that he would not vote for the bill which had been discussed last night, unless the bill now before the House, and that for providing for the Catholic clergy, should also be carried. Now, in the common course of proceedings in parliament, 129 the first of these bills would have passed through all its stages before the fate of the other two bills could have been decided. The hon. member for Armagh must, therefore, either not vote at all, or he must vote inconsistently with the declaration he had made.
rose to order. He submitted that it was neither parliamentary nor delicate to allude to the words of a past debate and particularly when the member by whom those words were supposed to have been used was not present.
Sir T. Lethbridge
thought he was perfectly justified in alluding to the declaration made by his hon. friend, the member for Armagh. He thought he had much more reason to complain of the interruption of the hon. member, which imputed to him an intention to speak of the declaration made by his hon. friend in an injurious manner—an intention which he altogether disclaimed.
said, it was beyond all question contrary to the practice of parliament to allude to expressions which had been used in a debate that was past, and still more so in the absence of the member by whom they had been used. It was true, that the House allowed a great latitude beyond the strict letter of its orders; but he believed, that in no instance, after the objection had been taken, a member had been permitted to persist in violating the established custom of parliament.
Mr. Secretary Peel
said, there could be no doubt that a direct reference to the words of a debate was not parliamentary; but, the hon. baronet had not done this. He had referred only to an intention expressed by the hon. member for Armagh, by which that hon. member had said he should regulate his conduct. This was very different from quoting the words in which that intention had been conveyed. Whether to do this were delicate or not, was another question, which each individual must decide for himself, but of which house, he conceived, could take no notice.
said, he thought that to refer to a declaration, as the hon. baronet had done, was not less irregular than to refer to the precise words in which it had been made; and for this reason—?that the person by whom it had been made being absent, he could have no opportunity of explaining or justifying what he had said.
§ The Speaker
rose amidst loud cries of " Chair." He said, that having been so 130 distinctly appealed to, he could not hesitate to express his opinion, that the irregularity spoken of did not depend upon the fact of the person to whom the allusion was made being present or not, although the question of delicacy certainly did; because the House considered that all its members were present in every debate. The question, then, was, whether it was according to the practice of parliament to refer to the matter, or to the distinct words, of any part of a former debate. Now, it was altogether disorderly to refer to the express words of a debate; and this, as he had already said, whether the member by whom they had been used was present or not. With respect to a reference to the subject matter of a debate, it was the practice of the House to allow great latitude. If it were not for the excuse which this practice furnished, the whole debate had been irregular from its commencement; because if it was opposed to the forms of the House to refer to a former debate, it was not less so to refer to an understanding that leave should be given to bring in a bill. In his opinion, however, nothing could be so inconvenient to the progress of business in that House, as for the Speaker strictly to watch every violation of the letter of their orders. He therefore commonly left such subjects to be regulated by the general sense of the House, taking from them the hint, and declining himself to interfere, unless under circumstances likely to obstruct the public business.
Sir T. Lethbridge
bowed to the decision of the Chair; but he could not avoid observing, that it was some consolation to him to know, that if he had been out of order, he was not so alone, the whole discussion being, as the Speaker had said, irregular. Still he contended, that, if the House should give the hon. gentleman leave to bring in his bill upon no other statement than that which he had made, they would do a very uncommon thing: and admit a bill, of the principle of which no one had said a word in recommendation.
§ Dr. Phillimore
said, he believed there was a general understanding, that in consequence of the late hour to which the debate of the preceding night had extended, the discussion of the principle of this bill should be postponed. For his own part, be had no doubt that the measure which it proposed to carry into effect was calculated to do away a great abuse, and to confer a lasting benefit on Ireland.
§ Sir J. Newport
said, that notwithstanding the sentiments which the hon. baronet had expressed, he did not believe that the Catholic freeholders of Ireland would give him any credit for the new-born-zeal which he seemed to feel for their interests. They would rather be inclined to suspect that he intended, by throwing obstacles in the way, to defer the passing of that other and greater measure, of which he had been so long the opponent. For his own part, he confessed that he was most anxious to see this bill passed and, notwithstanding the assertion of the hon. baronet, that it was hostile to the interests of the people of Ireland, he was ready to go before that people in competition with the hon. baronet, and abide their decision on the subject. He should support the measure, because he believed it would materially aid the success of the other and more important one of emancipation, and because it would prevent the demoralization of the lower orders, of which the present system was the cause.
said, he had seconded the motion of his hon. friend the member for Staffordshire, and he saw no reason for withdrawing the support which he had given to this measure.
Mr. Secretary Peel
deprecated any partial discussion of a measure, which, at a proper time and season, would come regularly under the consideration of the House.
§ Mr. Littleton
said, he had the bill now ready to present to the House. He proposed that leave should be given for it to be printed; and he would take any day that it might be convenient for the debate on its second reading. He hoped the House would not oppose any difficulty in the way of this proposition, otherwise he must be under the necessity of meeting the dilemma in which he was placed by now giving notice of a motion on the subject.
would only beg, that, if any, an early day might be appointed for the discussion of the subject.
said, he had never required any security for passing the great bill for emancipating the Catholics. Although it has been asserted, that the 40s. freeholders of Ireland were degraded men, he nevertheless felt it his duty to protect them, with as much regard to their civil rights as the highest commoners. In the instance of his own constituents, he could say, that he had found as honourable and 132 as high-minded men among the 40s. free holders, as among any other class of voters.
Mr. S. Rice
did not wish to prolong the discussion; but there were two important points on which he wished to be informed. The first was, whether his hon. friend meant to confine the disfranchisement of the 40s. freeholders only to those counties where corruption and fraud had existed? The second was, whether he considered this bill as strictly conditional upon the passing of the Catholic Relic f bill.
§ Mr. Hume
considered the bill as a matter of expediency. He wished the principle of the measure to be discussed; but, to admit the bill without discussion, was to admit also the principle. He objected to bringing in the bill that night, because the greater portion of the members had left the House, on an understanding that no discussion would take place on the subject.
§ Lord Althorp
trusted, that the bill to be brought in would prove of the greatest advantage. The 40s. freeholders had not independent votes. He therefore considered it quite consistent with his wishing for a reform of the representation, to deprive of the right of voting those who had no independent votes.
Leave was then given to bring in the bill. It was shortly after brought in by Mr. Littleton, and read a first it time.