§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. NAPIER
said, he felt it his duty, before this Bill was read a second time, to call the attention of the House to a consideration of some of its more important clauses. The Bill was divisible into two parts. One concerned the qualifications of electors, and the other the registration. With regard to the latter part of the Bill, he did not intend to offer any observation, because, so far as the registration of electors went, the principle of having an annual registration was a good one. Any objection that he had to that part of the Bill, was on matters of detail. But with regard to that portion of the Bill which Concerned the qualification of electors, he objected to the Bill because it would alter the whole franchise of the kingdom. This Bill did away with the necessity of a beneficial interest on the part of the voter, and it made it compulsory on a man to take the franchise. The reason put forward for the Bill was, that the constituency in Ireland had dwindled away, and that unless they renovated the constituency through the instrumentality of this Bill, they would soon have no constituency at all. The population had diminished, and then they introduced the novel principle of increasing the county voters. The borough franchise was not substantially altered; but this Bill inverted the principle in which the county and borough franchise ought to stand, and did stand at the present moment. In the case of the borough franchise, no beneficial interest had ever been required; a man occupied a house or a warehouse of a certain value, and it was not necessary that he should have any beneficial interest. The case of the county franchise was different. The county franchise did not depend on a man's residence, but on his connexion with the locality in which his vote arose, and in addition to that, according to the constitution of this country, some beneficial interest had always been required of him, for the purpose of qualifying him to vote. Now, the change introduced by this Bill was, that it required no tenure whatever; but a man occupying premises which were rated to the poor-law at 8l. a year, was entitled to vote. In the second clause, they bad an encouragement to joint occupation, which had ever been the curse of Ireland, for it caused the arrangement of property to be subservient to politics. This clause would have the effect of renewing agitation in 1290 that country, and would raise up a class of persons who would live by agitation. They were aware that an Act passed some time ago for the purpose of preventing joint freeholds; but here was a plan for giving to every joint occupier a vote, introducing the evil principle of subdivision of land. Then the third clause gave to every one who was seised in fee-simple to the amount of 5l. a year a vote, so that if any one bought an estate worth 100l. a year, he might create twenty votes out of it. Was that fair to persons who were struggling for the rights of property? Then with regard to making the rating to the poor-law the basis of qualification, it appeared to him that it required a great deal of caution. In Ireland it was of great importance to sever the poor-law from anything connected with religious or political feeling. Then, with regard to the joint occupation, there would be a constant juggle going on. They knew how variable was the valuation of property even in England; it was probably more so in Ireland. It appeared to him that the basis of the qualification ought to be the value, and not the rating. The franchise was to be given to tenants-at-will from year to year; and he appealed to the common sense of the House whether that class of persons were likely to exercise the franchise with independence? If they wanted to have a substantial class of tenants holding under leases, and if their paramount object were the improvement of the country, why, he asked, did they at this time introduce this Bill, which must have the effect of causing agitation? This 8l. franchise was as bad as going back to the 40s. freeholds. Lands would be divided and subdivided in order that political agitators might carry out their projects.
§ MR. HUME
said, if this Bill was to do any good to Ireland, it must meet the wishes of the community there. The hon. and learned Gentleman objected to even this modified reform. His principal reason for rising was to point out to the House that this Bill could not do justice to Ireland. A franchise of 8l. in Ireland was equal to 30l. in England. Formerly 40s. freeholders in Ireland had votes, but they deprived them of that. He thought that to offer anything to Ireland short of an ample restitution of its privileges, was only to prolong the struggle. Why should the half-Hottentots, half-English at the Cape be allowed to vote if they were rated to the road tax? Were Irishmen less capable of exercising 1291 the franchise than they? Assuredly not. Taxation and representation ought to be coextensive; to give the Irish the franchise would tend to morally raise them, for they had been too long depressed. Looking at the melancholy exhibitions of party spirit in Ireland last year, the Government ought to be stimulated to raise the people in their moral condition. Englishmen, Irishmen, and Scotchmen ought now to be placed in the position of freemen; they should have an interest in what was good, and in putting down what was bad. This Bill only trifled with the rights of the Irish people, who at present were treated worse than cattle. He hoped the Government would take a liberal view of the matter; let them treat the Irish as they treated Hottentots.
§ MR. REYNOLDS
said, that this Bill could not give satisfaction in Ireland, it fixed the franchise too high. He should propose a 4l. franchise, if no other Member did, for it was true that a franchise of 8l. in Ireland was equal to one of 30l. in England. Although it was matter of felicitation to find that his hon. Friend the Member for Montrose was disposed to treat Irishmen at least as well as Hottentots, it nevertheless had not passed from his (Mr. Reynolds') memory that the hon. Gentleman had voted through thick and thin in favour of coercive measures for Ireland, and that the latest attestation of his affection for that country was to be found in the fact that he was going to deprive her of the only remaining plume in her national helmet, namely, the office of Lord Lieutenant. [Mr. HUME: It is no plume.] The hon. Gentleman might not regard it as a plume, but the Irish people regarded it as an entire plume of feathers, and it was a little too hard that they should be deprived of it by one who professed to be their "guide, philosopher, and friend." He (Mr. Reynolds) had attended in his place that evening at an unusually early hour, and with considerable inconvenience to himself, because be had heard that it was the intention of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin, who had just addressed the House, to have offered a most determined opposition to the third reading of the Party Processions Bill; but he was agreeably disappointed to find that the hon. and learned Member had permitted that Act to pass without offering a single remark upon it, thereby proving that he could look on with perfect complacency while his brother 1292 Orangemen were being sacrificed. It was creditable to the hon. and learned Gentleman, and yet it was a little too bad, that he should have taken such a course after all the clamour that had been made during the last three months about Dolly's Brae and Lord Roden. Both Dolly's Brae and the noble Lord were now consigned to the "tomb of all the Capulets," and they appeared to have passed away from the memory of the hon. and learned Member as completely as if they had never been. Alas for the evanescence of all human glory! But though the hon. and learned Gentleman had nothing to say in favour of his own party, he had a great deal to say against the extension of the Parliamentary franchise; and the most comical part of his objection to the present measure was, that it would tend to increase the power of the Irish landlords. That was certainly rather a strange doctrine, coming from such a quarter. What he (Mr. Reynolds) had to complain of was, that the landlords, as things at present stood, had a great deal too much power in Ireland. The nature of the present franchise Was much too contracted, for it should be remembered that, so great was the difference between the relative wealth of both countries, an 8l. rating in Ireland was declared by the hon. Member for Montrose to be equal to a 30l. rating in England. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin approved of that part of the Bill regulating the borough franchise. The Irish people could not require a worse character for a Franchise Bill that than it should meet with the approbation of the hon. and learned Gentleman. It must be very bad indeed for them when it met with his approval. If Parliament were dissolved to-morrow, three-fourths of the Irish counties would be close boroughs in the hands of the aristocracy. The people—properly so called—would have no power to elect their representatives, and the 105 Members who would arrive in that House from Ireland would be the representatives of the aristocracy and the Protestant Church, as contradistinguished from the people. Many parts of the present Bill were susceptible of great improvement. The objection to the 8l. rating was not the only objection to which it was liable. The Bill was especially to be deprecated in this respect—that it placed too much power over the franchise in the hands of the barony constables, and that it left the voters almost entirely 1293 at the mercy of revisers and valuators. How did it happen that it had not occurred to the hon. and learned Member when enumerating the defects of the Bill, to specify this, which was a most egregious one, that it did not abolish the freeman system? The hon. and learned Gentleman had said not one word in condemnation of a body of voters, of the great majority of whom it might with truth be said that they had not a "local habitation," nor even "a name," inasmuch they were often known to have voted in the names of men who had passed to their long account years ago. He (Mr. Reynolds) was entitled to be regarded a very high authority on the subject of the abuses of the freeman system. It would be in the recollection of the House that a petition against his return for the city of Dublin had been presented in 1847, and, as the old phrase had it, "thereby hangs a tale," and in good truth it was to him a tale of sorrow and pecuniary tribulation. On the clerk of the peace's list for the city of Dublin in the year 1847 there appeared to be, in round numbers, 20,000 Parliamentary voters. He took up the gauntlet, as it was well known, to contest the representation of that city with the Tory and High Church faction. About seven thousand electors were polled—3,500 for him (Mr. Reynolds) and 100 more for his hon. Colleague, whom he saw in his place, and he (Mr. Reynolds) was returned by a majority of 104 over Mr. Gregory. The election was followed, as was known, by a petition. What was the allegation of that petition? Not bribery and corruption, for these were political offences of which even his most inveterate adversaries acquitted him. But they asserted that among his voters were a certain number of men who were in arrear of local taxes. The House appointed a Committee to try the merits of the election, and that Committee sat for ninety-four days. A sum of from 14,000l. to 15,000l. was expended in ascertaining whether ninety of his voters were in arrear of taxes or not. He would not say that perjury was committed, for that was a very unmusical phrase, but certainly there was a considerable economising of truth on the part of some of the witnesses against his voters. A host of lawyers and Parliamentary agents were engaged, and from 14,000l. to 15,000l. were expended during ninety-four days; and what was the object of the investigation? To ascertain 1294 whether ninety of his voters were in arrear or not. The Committee declared that they were, and they were accordingly struck off. But what was the aggregate amount of the taxes for defaulting in which all these voters were disqualified and 15,000l. was expended in an inquiry? It was, to a fraction, 45l. 17s. 6½d. Now, he thought that the present Bill was exceedingly defective in this respect, if in no other, that it did not render such an absurd proceeding impossible of occurrence for the future. He found that by the 103rd section of this Bill a power was given to inquire whether a man had been legally enrolled or legally registered on the Parliamentary roll, and this he thought exceedingly objectionable. He was sure that the majority of that House would concur with him in the opinion that after a man had passed the ordeal of the revising barrister's court, and an appeal to the going judge of assize, and had been enrolled, he should have no further trouble about his vote, and that it should not be permitted to a Committee of that House to inquire whether he had a valid title to be placed upon the roll. The great evil of the freeman system was that it swamped the property qualification. About two thousand nine hundred householders, leaseholders, and freeholders had plumped for him, and four hundred freemen had recorded their votes in his favour. Two thousand eight hundred freemen had voted for his antagonists, and thus the property qualification voters were balanced. Surely that was a most absurd and anomalous state of things, and it was desirable that something should at once be done to remedy the evil. He had often taken an active part in contested elections at Dublin, and he had always found that the freemen swamped the householders. He remembered having exerted himself very strenuously on one occasion to procure the return of the noble Lord now at the head of the Woods and Forests Department, and it had happened on that occasion that freemen of the city of Dublin were imported in cargoes from Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, and other manufacturing towns of England, where they had resided for years. It was noised abroad that the election was approaching, and forthwith the shout of "York, you're wanted!" swelled upon the gale, and not shipbrokers, but freemenbrokers, were employed in Liverpool by the score to send over these immaculate electors at so much per head, that they might exercise the 1295 sublime privileges of freemen in the city of Dublin; of course, those ragged freemen who were working at about 9s. per week came over at their own expense that they might maintain the purity of election. He was himself an advocate of something that fell very little short of universal suffrage; but he did not like the freeman system, because it had only the worst features of universal suffrage, and because it was liable to the most monstrous abuses. Nobody could ever ascertain where a freeman lived. In his inscrutable garret he could defy detection. They were a privileged class—the last remnant of what was happily now no more, Protestant ascendancy. They were, in fact, the peel of the orange, and, being exceedingly dry and flavourless, were not worth preserving. It was to be wished that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Ireland had applied the axe to the root of this evil, and inserted a provision in his Bill that the freeman franchise should cease on the death of those who at present enjoyed it. But, indeed, it would be no such easy matter, after all, to define the limitation of any right that depended on the life of a freeman; for the lives of freemen were like those in beneficial leases, they never terminated. In truth, a freeman was one of the most remarkable specimens of humanity. Not only did he hand down his valuable right to his posterity by marriage, birth, and service, but he lived himself to the most patriarchal age that was possible—or rather, to speak more correctly, that it was morally impossible for a man to attain. He did not hesitate to predict that, unless the present Bill were materially improved, and its provisions materially amplified, it would not give satisfaction to the people of Ireland. He trusted that the English Members of the popular party would now come to the rescue, and insist Upon such a franchise Bill being given to Ireland as would lead to the political regeneration of that country. They were fond of saying that they were ready to hold out the right hand of fellowship to Ireland, that they would meet the Irish as fellow subjects, and recognise Ireland as an integral portion of the empire. If there were any truth in their professions, let them now come forward and give to Ireland a Parliamentary charter, which would give the creator of wealth, as contradistinguished from his destroyer, a potent voice in the election of the men who were to represent him in that House. Far be 1296 it from him to say that the people of Ireland were not properly represented at present. The present company were always excepted. He was not going to bring an old house about his ears by insinuating a doubt that the 105 Irish Members in that House were—with the solitary exception of himself—one and all of them eminently qualified by position, talent, integrity, and erudition, for the distinguished positions they occupied; but surely it was to be regretted that more of their neighbours had not the power of recording at general elections the high sense they entertained of the virtues and accomplishments of such admirable individuals. If that House wished to make Ireland what she ought to be—not a drag chain on England's prosperity, but an auxiliary in her train, swelling her triumphs and adding permanent stability to her empire—they could not adopt a better course in order to the achievement of that glorious result than to give to the people of Ireland a voice in the election of their representatives. In conclusion he begged to give notice that when the Bill was in Committee he should move the insertion of a clause to enable all persons rated to the relief of the poor in Ireland, in however small a sum, whether in cities, towns, or boroughs, to be enrolled on the Parliamentary roll.
§ SIR J. B. WALSH
said, the speech of the hon. Gentleman, the Member for the city of Dublin, convinced him that the hon. Member for Montrose was right when he said the Bill would not satisfy any party in Ireland. It disappointed those who were represented by the hon. Member for Dublin, and it excited grave apprehensions on his (Sir J. Walsh's) side of the House. The political effect of the measure would be to increase the numbers and alter the character of the Irish constituencies. An Irish farmer of 8l. a year was quite destitute of the property qualification intended by the Irish Reform Bill. If the noble Lord at the head of the Government once set such a stone rolling, it would be impossible for him to stop it. England would come with similar claims, and Would break with redoubled force the barrier of finality which the noble Lord had once adhered to. It appeared to him that the present measure was based upon an allegation that the constituency in Ireland had of late dwindled exceedingly; but they all knew the cause of that, and, if property were now jeopardised in Ireland, was that a reason that 1297 the present time should be considered less fitting for an examination of the state of the franchise? In his opinion, however, the true way to enlarge the franchise was not by extending the suffrage, but by using all practical and expedient measures with a view to aid the people in the acquisition of property, or by a reconstruction of those classes to which the franchise had been originally given by the constitution. As to the present Bill, he feared that it was little better than a return to the old 40s. system. It was admitted on all hands that the effect of the measure would be to double, to treble, perhaps to quadruple the constituency. In Antrim the number would be raised to 22,000; in Kildare to 10,000, and so on; the Protestant minority would be thus entirely extinguished. But they should recollect that there were two great parties in Ireland separated by religious and political sentiments, which it should always be the object of Parliament to blend together as much as possible. There was the Protestant minority, wealthy and respectable and intelligent; if they were extinguished under that Bill, he feared that it would be extinguishing for ever the voice of the Protestant part of the community. Although he wished to see religious differences healed in that country, he still greatly feared that the tendency of such a measure as the present would be to destroy the Protestant influence in most of the counties of Ireland. He begged of the House to look at its probable effect upon the question of repeal of the Union It was to be apprehended, if such a measure as the Bill then before them passed into a law, that a great number of Irish Members would come into that House pledged to vote for "repeal," and that which had been the feeling of a section of the Irish Members would soon become the feeling of a large majority. If the representatives of the people of England assembled in that House wished to retain their great and glorious constitution, they would strengthen it by resisting democratic innovation. By a step of the kind which they were now recommended to take, they would, instead of strengthening the constitution, most materially weaken it; for the effect of such a measure must be very materially to increase the democratic element in the conduct of public affairs in Ireland—an element which he by no means thought favourable to freedom there, and with reference to England he held the same opinion. He had always contended that there 1298 was great danger to liberty, to justice, to civiliastion itself, and to all the blessings which we enjoyed, not from monarchy, nor aristocracy, but from the pressure of democracy. He would ask, had democracy proved favourable to liberty in France? In that country they were at the present moment defending society itself by the force of the bayonet. Prudence, then, suggested to them the expediency of postponing such a measure till they could ascertain for themselves that they were in no danger of calamities similar to those which had befallen the people of France. He wished that the opinion of the House might be tested on the second reading of the Bill, for he did not intend to offer any opposition on going into Committee.
MR. M. J. O'CONNELL
stated, that he, as a county Member, was quite willing to accept the measure as far as counties were concerned, but he hoped that, so far as boroughs were affected, the Bill might not pass in its present form; he trusted, at the same time, that the eventual success of the measure would not be hazarded by unfairly pressing the objections which existed against it. The case of boroughs differed very materially from that of counties—for example, in boroughs an 8l. valuation showed a 12l. rental. It was well known that in house property the tendency of all valuation was to fix property at amounts below its real worth. As the franchise in England and Scotland was higher in counties than in boroughs, so he should, judging from analogy, say that the same rule ought to apply to Ireland. Not that he would make the county franchise higher than by the present Bill it was proposed to be made, but he would make the borough franchise lower. He would further add, that as far as he had any opportunity of judging, nothing worked well that depended on the poor-law valuation. The hon. Baronet opposite, who spoke last, said much about the dangers which were to be apprehended from the encroachments of democracy; but he (Mr. O'Connell) was not afraid to vote against any measure which he really believed to amount to a democratic encroachment. He trusted that he was as warmly attached to the Queen's Government as any man in that House; but he held that the true mode of preventing democratic encroachments was to make wise and timely concessions.
§ CAPTAIN TAYLOR
thought the 8l. rating for the county franchise too low, and considered a 25l. rating would be preferable, 1299 although he admitted that the poor-law rating in Ireland was at present most defective. A return made on the Motion of the hon. Member for Londonderry last Session showed that an 8l. rating in Ireland would give to the county which he (Captain Taylor) represented (Dublin), a constituency of 28,809 voters, which must be admitted to be very much like universal suffrage. There could be no question that the tendency of this Bill was to make the towns swamp the rural districts, and he thought the county constituency should principally consist of the farmers and yeomanry, and not have an overwhelming admixture of manufacturing and shopkeeping population. The registry of voters had greatly diminished in Ireland, but an immense number of qualified persons in every county objected to register themselves, and therefore he thought the clause in this Bill making registration compulsory on every qualified person highly objectionable. It had been said, that this Bill would increase the present constituency fourfold; but looking at its effect in his own county, he thought that estimate under the mark. The Bill was objectionable because it would make the lowest classes of the population three-fourths of the whole constituency. He begged English Members to examine this Bill, although it bore an Irish title, because the next step would be to apply it to England. If its effect should be to return ninety Members to the free-trade side of the House from Ireland, they might depend upon it the same object would be sought by extending it to England. He hoped the Bill would not be hurried, and that the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for Ireland who introduced it, would consider an early day after Easter most convenient for going into Committee.
§ COLONEL RAWDON
considered that no less a measure than this could remedy the great defects in the condition of the Irish constituency. He could not help observing that the hon. Member for the city of Dublin had been excited even to anger by certain portions of the Bill, while the hon. and gallant Member for the county of Dublin insisted upon a 25l. qualification; and several other opinions were expressed with regard to the measure, which showed how difficult it would be for any Minister to collect the opinion of the House of Commons. Now, he would say that there was very little reason for so much difference of opinion. The popular concessions which it was intended to convey, were by no means so 1300 large as to excite any just apprehensions. Some might think the Bill went too far, while others did not consider it went far enough. Now, he thought that Government were taking a medium course; and he could not refrain from expressing a hope that hon. Members would consult the interests of Ireland by not pushing their respective opinions too far. He saw that the Bill was already in danger; but he hoped that, by moderation on both sides, they would give the country some chance of getting a good measure.
§ SIR J. YOUNG
approved generally of the principle of the Bill, one of the chief merits of which was that it made the registry system self-acting, and gave the franchise to a person having a certain amount of property. The decrease in the registry was no new thing in Ireland; it was observed as far back as 1838, and one main cause of it was basing the county franchise upon the lease of the tenant, instead of upon his valuation. He believed the effect of an 8l. rating instead of a 10l. rent would be to decrease the number of voters; and he therefore thought an 8l. rating a very dubious step in the counties. He should go more largely into detail on the measure when it was in Committee.
§ MR. F. O'CONNOR
approved of this measure, as most opportune and necessary. He looked upon it, not as a measure of principle, but of policy. The promoters were afraid that, unless the county constituencies were enlarged, Ireland would return a majority of Protectionists; but they felt perfectly secure of the towns and boroughs. When the hon. Baronet the Member for Radnorshire talks of the rapid strides of democracy, he must tell him that the landlords of Ireland had always measured their property by the standard of political power, rather than by the public necessities and the State requirements. It was the resistance of the landlords to the development of the generous mind of the people of Ireland that had driven the people to a wild democracy; and he would tell the landlords that until the present system of quibbling government was done away with, we would never see the only proper and sound system of government established—a system of pure democracy. The landlords of Ireland could not say they were in the same position as the landlords of England: the English landlords were gentlemen, the Irish landlords were tyrants. He accepted this measure, 1301 because he believed that shortly the same measure of justice must be dealt out to the people of England. Talk of a 25l. rating for Ireland! Did the hon. and gallant Member for Dublin county know that 36,000 voters were the whole constituency of Ireland? Why, the West Riding of Yorkshire alone had a constituency of 36,000 persons, and returned only two Members; so that the same number as sent to that House two Members in one case, sent 105 Members in another. Was there ever a greater anomaly? The Irish landlords always made themselves tools to a Government; and he would ask, did they ever know anything more absurd and anomalous than the paltry subserviency to a Minister which the Irish Members had shown last night, when they refused to relieve Ireland with 500,000l. out of the Consolidated Fund, at the same time that they accepted a grant of 300,000l. The Irish landlords came with weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, and yet said they would not take What their country wanted, merely because they wished to support the Government. He thanked the Government for this measure. He had not much certainly to thank any Government for; but he regarded this Bill as a step in the right direction.
§ LORD C. HAMILTON
thought that some feeling of modesty on the part of the hon. Member who had just spoken, might have prevented him from making such a sweeping attack upon the landlords of Ireland. Although they might have some faults, he would appeal to the House whether their treatment of their tenants was not somewhat better than the mode in which the hon. Member had treated the inhabitants of Snigg's End? [Mr. O'CONNOR: My tenants pay no rent at Snigg's End.] He would admit that the representation required extension, but the House might run somewhat rashly into the other extreme. One of the main causes of the present limited number of voters in Ireland, was the extreme apathy on the part of many persons who were qualified to be on the register, but who failed to take advantage of the privileges which the existing law placed within their reach. From whatever cause it arose, there was at present a disinclination on the part of persons of all religious creeds, of all political parties, and of every station in life, to place their names upon the registry. This was one of the most remarkable symptoms of the present social state of Ireland. 1302 The number of voters at present on the registry might be, he believed, quadrupled, if all those who were entitled to vote had placed their names there; and he wished that no man should have his name placed on the registry against his will, and he should like to see the Bill modified to this extent, that the name of no person should be registered without his own consent. The possession of the franchise frequently placed individuals in an unpleasant position, and in many cases the Irish voter was too much the slave of another man to be able to give his vote independently. He feared that the Bill might have a mischievous effect in perpetuating a system of continued turmoil and discontent in Ireland, which would utterly destroy any benefit that an enlargement of the constituency might confer. It would be much better gradually to train up the people to the exercise of the franchise.
§ Mr. BRIGHT
said, that he was glad to find that there was a general understanding on the other side of the House which amounted to a general acknowledgment that some Bill of this nature was necessary, and that they had come to the conclusion that the condition of the representation in Ireland, which some years ago they would not allow to be amended, now required some improvement to be applied to it. But from observations which fell from hon. Members on the other side, he was induced to believe that they were disposed to make the offers of the Government much smaller than they were. Some of the propositions made by them were of a most extraordinary character. The hon. Member for the county of Dublin expressed a desire that the amount of rating to confer the qualification should not be less than 25l.; and from that, it would appear that the hon. Gentleman did not feel that he had a very firm hold on the sympathies of the population of the county. He agreed with the observations which had been made as to the faults of the Bill with regard both to the county franchise and the borough franchise; and he considered that no sensible reason could be given why the franchise should be the same for boroughs as for counties. The sum there fixed afforded no criterion of what would be the extent of the increase of the franchise. One point to which he wished to allude was, that the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for Ireland, and his friends, were desirous to attach some of those restrictions to this Bill which were found in England 1303 to have given rise to so much evil, and which he was sure the noble Lord at the head of Her Majesty's Government would remove as soon as he should bring in a Bill on the subject with reference to England. It appeared that no occupier would have a right to vote until he should have been twelve months a resident, and no owner would be entitled to a vote unless he should hare held the property for six months. The only object in rendering it necessary for the occupier to have been a resident for twelve months, was to prevent fraud by persons becoming occupiers for the purpose of obtaining the franchise to enable them to vote at a particular election. If by a six months' occupancy they secured a guarantee against fraud of that kind in one case, why should not the same period answer in the other? It would be found also that there was a deception in the Bill, for the terms laid down in it made it requisite for an occupier to have held the tenements for sixteen months—a period of four months longer. He asked the noble Lord at the head of Her Majesty's Government, if he were going to give the franchise to a man who happened to be a proprietor in Ireland at an 8l. valuation, not a fraudulent but a bonâ fide occupier, why, if he admitted that such a man should have a vote, should he be thus needlessly restricted by the present Bill? Therefore, in his opinion, he thought the noble Lord ought, on going into Committee, to consent to a considerable alteration of the Bill. The six months' residence was as long a period as ought to be asked, because it gave a sufficient guarantee against a fraudulent occupancy. As regarded the rating franchise, or rather a franchise depending on a particular amount of assessment, bad as he considered that to be everywhere, he considered it would operate unfavourably in an especial degree in Ireland. By that system the noble Lord would allow to every board of guardians the power of lowering or raising the franchise qualification to a great extent. The guardians might raise the rateable value so much that it would approach the amount of rent, or, in the opposite way, lower the rateable value until it came to not more than 50 per cent of the rent. He thought it desirable in remodelling the franchise to adopt a principle that would have the effect of preventing such injustice as might arise in that way. In his opinion it would be better if the franchise were based simply on the rating, to 1304 which system they would eventually resort, and that the payment of rates should not be an element to be considered in the extension of the franchise for election purposes. There was another point to which he begged to invite attention. He had observed in many places, in Manchester particularly, if he were to take the interval between 1839 and 1842, a period of great manufacturing distress, the Parliamentary franchise was greatly diminished, because, owing to the depression of the period the poor-rate was increased, as also was the rateable value of property; and consequently many industrious, hardworking, and struggling men whose rates were thus increased—no matter how they struggled to retain their position—were in many instances, by the operation of the Bill, struck out from the enjoyment of their right as Parliamentary electors. The noble Lord at the head of Her Majesty's Government might rest assured that before long, he would have to bring in a Bill for Parliamentary reform for the united kingdom. He was not going to say that there existed at present any very pressing or extraordinary demand in the country for such a measure. But the man was not worth arguing with, who believed that the representation in this country could be long maintained, without considerable changes. He did not believe it beneficial to the interests of the country, that such anomalies should exist as at present prevailed in the representation of the country. Whenever the noble Lord should bring in such a measure, he would find it so out of harmony with the measure he was then introducing as regarded Ireland, that he would find it necessary to have another Bill to succeed as well as to supersede it. If he (Mr. Bright) were in the position of the noble Lord, he would make such a change now in Ireland as would establish representation there on such a basis as to enable him to stand upon it at a future period, when he might find it necessary to remodel the representation of this portion of the united kingdom. The noble Lord who had last addressed the House, adverted to the compulsory registration system, and deprecated it, on the ground that great numbers of persons should not be compelled to register and exercise the franchise. Of course, he (Mr. Bright) was aware that there were men who were under compulsion; on the one hand, under the compulsion of the landlord; and, on the other hand, under the 1305 compulsion of the priest, and who, were their names off the franchise roll at the period of the election, would escape the disagreeable necessity of voting. But what of that? Surely a man was not asked whether he was willing to serve on a jury, or perform the other duties which the constitution of the country confided to him to perform? Therefore, it was monstrous to call in a man and ask him if he wished to be on the franchise list or not? With regard to the independence of the elective body in Ireland, what ought to be done there would be to give them the right to vote by ballot. He had been speaking on the question to a priest in Ireland, who possessed great influence, and he did not deny the influence exercised over the electors. In fact, no man could deny that the priests in Ireland frequently exercised an unhealthy influence over the exercise of the franchise; and no man, he should say, was more willing to admit the same than the priests. But the circumstances of the unfortunate people were such, that they had no friend to look to but the priest. He administered temporal assistance and protection, as well as spiritual advice and consolation—the priest was the adviser and counsellor of the people, and the influence which he, consequently, possessed and exercised might be regarded as a duty from the performance of which he had no escape. If the landlords, by reason of their territorial station, exercised great influence in one way, and the priests exercised it in another form, then, in his opinion, the Government seeking to improve the mode of giving expression to public opinion would do well to establish an easily worked system, the system of vote by ballot, which would enable all classes and parties to put into practical effect their privately-entertained opinions in an honest and independent manner. The noble Lord at the head of the Government had brought in a Bill for the better government of the colonies, abounding with numerous phrases and provisions, such as are considered extreme, when it is proposed to apply them in this country, one of which guaranteed a representative to every 15,000 men of the population. Another clause in the colonial constitution about to be framed pointed out the steps necessary to be taken for ensuring the free and impartial expression of opinion by public election, and the impartial exercise of the franchise. Now, in no country on the face of the earth was such a protection more 1306 needed than in Ireland, for unless they had a very large constituency, or the protection of the ballot, there could be no free expression of opinion; and he was of opinion that if the Members of that House did not believe that election by ballot would have the effect of rendering electors independent, by removing them from the influence of the wealthy and powerful, they would have no objection to yield that mode of voting, and, consequently, remove the evils connected with the present elective system, which occasioned scenes in Ireland, as well as England, disgraceful, not alone to the Government, but to the whole country. He did not wish to be understood as denying that the present Bill would be an improvement. He knew not how far the noble Lord was determined to adhere to it; but he wished to assure him that he could not adopt a course more fatal to Ireland and to the Government, than to listen to the suggestions of hon. Gentlemen opposite, whose only wish was to make the Bill less effective than it stood at present. He regretted the noble Lord had not introduced a bolder measure. However, as it stood, all the support that he (Mr. Bright) could give to all that was good in it he would freely accord, because he felt certain that the only way to really unite and consolidate both islands, in a permanent and lasting unity, was to rule them similarly, and to do more justice to Ireland, economically, ecclesiastically, and politically, than had been done by previous Governments.
§ MR. GROGAN
hoped the Government would not follow the suggestions of the hon. Member for Manchester, and refuse to listen to suggestions, simply because they came from that (the Opposition) side of the House. He thought that it should be necessary to make application before a man was placed on the registry, in order to prove that he had a desire to be upon it; for he thought it highly objectionable to put a man upon the roll contrary, it might be, to his own wishes. A distinction should be made in the Bill betwixt a man having occupation under a lease, and one who was merely a yearly tenant, in order that encouragement might be given to the granting of leases. He must say, also, that he thought 8l. in counties was rather too low an amount. They were all aware of the mischievous effects of the old 40s. freehold in Ireland—how it led to the subdivision of land to an extent that the country was suffering from at this day; 1307 and he was afraid that taking so low a franchise as 8l., would tend to a restoration of the abuse. An hon. and gallant Friend had suggested that in counties the franchise clause be fixed at 25l., and, considering that in England it was 50l., he must say that 25l. in Ireland could not be regarded as too high. A few years ago they passed a law against subletting, in consequence of the many evils which attended that system; but by the present measure they would hold out a direct bonus to subletting, because, if a person had an occupation, say to the extent of 40l., he would have the power of dividing it into five portions, in order that that number of individuals might be put upon the registry. In boroughs, he thought very great facility would be given for putting persons on the roll. By the present law there were seven or eight taxes that a man must pay before he could be registered; but there was not a single word about taxes in this Bill further than that he was not to be more than six months in arrear of the poor-rate. A man rated at 8l. had half his rates paid by the landlord, so that in many boroughs the sum paid would be very trifling indeed; not more than 2s. His hon. Colleague had objected to the freemen of Dublin; but he must be well aware that on the roll of freemen the highest class of judges, and all the professional classes, were to be found, constituting the great mass of the intelligence of the city. He thought it was ill-judged on the part of the hon. Gentleman to attack the freemen, seeing that, as Lord Mayor, it would be his duty to examine into the right of persons applying to be registered as freemen.
§ MR. W. FAGAN
did not rise for the purpose of entering into the merits of the Bill then before the House, but to entreat his right hon. Friend the Secretary for Ireland not to accede to the wishes of hon. Gentleman opposite to postpone the Bill. It was evident from the discussion that had taken place, that those hon. Gentlemen at the opposite side of the House intended to give the Bill the most determined and vigorous opposition. For two years they had had the present Bill postponed, and he could state that the consequence had been to diminish the franchise very considerably. In the city which he had the honour to represent, the franchise had decreased in the last two years, in consequence of the feeling of the people that the Government intended to introduce the present Bill, and in consequence of 1308 that impression they declined entering into the difficult pursuit required by the Act of Parliament, and therefore they allowed their franchises to fall away. If his right hon. Friend should accede to the wishes of Gentlemen on the opposite side, and postpone the Bill until after Easter, they would not obtain the measure in the present Session, in consequence of the opposition that would be given it on the other side of the House, as well as the opposition it would be certain to encounter in the other House of Legislature. If they could succeed in even getting it at the eleventh hour, he doubted not it would be in so mutilated a condition that it would not be worth acceptance. He should be permitted to observe that he was not, as the representative of a city, so favourable altogether to the Bill. He confessed and admitted he would rather the present system, as regarded cities, was continued, than that the 8l. franchise was adopted. He foresaw in his own city it would rather diminish than increase the franchise. He knew because he witnessed it at the registration in that city, that persons paying 10l. rent were rated as low as 5l. to the poor; and if they gave the revisors elected by the poor-law guardians control over the franchise, by means of valuation, they might be certain the franchise would diminish much lower than at present. Therefore as far as regarded cities, he was of opinion that an 8l. poor-law franchise would not increase the number of voters; on the contrary, he anticipated that, unless the second clause giving a double voting tenement would increase it, it would materially fall off. He admitted that in the counties the effect would be different; but, at the same time, a vast deal of power would be thrown into the hands of the landlords, much more than they possessed under the present system. Notwithstanding, he called on the right hon. Gentleman not to postpone the measure, but press it through, because the people of Ireland, having no franchise at present, were anxiously expecting it. The number who enjoyed the franchise in Ireland did not exceed 36,000. Indeed, he doubted if it amounted to that number; so that it might be said the constituency of the hon. Member for the West Riding of Yorkshire numbered as many as all Ireland. The present Bill was intended more or less to revise the constituencies of Ireland, therefore he hoped after waiting for the measure for over two years the Government would press it forward, and 1309 not wait the convenience of hon. Gentlemen at the opposite side of the House, whose duty it was to be ready and in attendance at all times. The noble Lord the Member for Tyrone stated that, from his knowledge, the people were not disposed to register. He (Mr. Fagan) admitted that at present, with the franchise in its very limited condition, the people were not disposed to register, because the possession of the franchise was an expense and an annoyance instead of a benefit, inasmuch as its possessor was placed between two fires. On one side, if he went with the landlord, he ran the risk of popular displeasure; whilst, on the other hand, if he obeyed the dictates of his conscience, he ran the risk of being oppressed by the landlord. They all had heard or read of Irish elections; for instance, the election at Carlow, where the people were persecuted for acting conscientiously, which could not have been the case but for the unfortunately limited state of the franchise. The only mode that could be adopted to protect the voter was to extend the franchise, and then the people would be disposed to register. He agreed with his hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, that it was not necessary that persons should express a desire to be placed on the registry. On the same ground that a man was summoned to serve on a jury, or discharge any other legal or political duty, a man should be placed on the registry, and allowed to exercise his privilege as his feelings and his conscience dictated. The hon. Gentleman opposite, the Member for the city of Dublin, appeared to object to all the clauses of the Bill; but he did not state what he would substitute in their stead. He admitted that Ireland needed some improvement, and therefore, with great submission to that hon. Gentleman, and respect for his talent and ability, he (Mr. Fagan) should say the hon. Gentleman came forward with a most lame case in objecting to what was proposed, without suggesting anything in its stead. He fully agreed with the other hon. Member for Dublin as regarded his view of the position occupied by the freemen. As long as the payment of taxation to qualify for the franchise was recognised as an element necessary to the principle, so long should men who are untaxed and non-resident—save within seven miles of the city—be excluded from the privilege. He did not see why these men, who were the remnant of the old corporations—the old dominant 1310 and ascendancy men—should be permitted to enjoy, untaxed, the privilege that others paid dearly for, both in trouble and pecuniarily. There was no disposition, however, on the part of the Government to interfere with them at present. One more observation, and he would conclude. He was anxious to state, in reference to one expression that fell from his hon. Friend the Member for Manchester—namely, the "unhealthy influence of the priesthood in Ireland"—that such was not the effect of their influence on the people. On the contrary, it had been most healthy and beneficial; and the landed gentry were indebted to their influence for the tranquillity and order that prevailed, as well as for the exhibition of those moral and social virtues that characterised so eminently the Irish people. He was sorry his hon. Friend had made use of the expression. Indeed, he felt he must have used it inadvertently, because from his (Mr. Fagan's) experience—and he possessed much, as living a great deal amongst the rural classes of his countrymen—he did not think the language of his hon. Friend, as regarded the influence of the Irish clergy, at all justified.
§ SIR J. TYRELL
deprecated the course taken by the last hon. Gentleman, in anticipating so early determined opposition from his (Sir J. Tyrell's) side of the House. In reference to the statement made by the hon. Member for Manchester of the unhealthy influence of the Roman Catholic priests, he (Sir J. Tyrell) would read a few extracts from the evidence given by a Roman Catholic priest who was attached to the management of a large property in the Kenmare union, and who was brought forward by the Government in the Committee on the poor-law as a witness to whose evidence they attached great weight.
§ VISCOUNT CASTLEREAGH
rose to order. He appealed to his hon. Friend whether it was proper that he should go into such a question during the debate on this Bill.
§ SIR J. TYRELL
could assure the House that he would only address them for a few moments. This was a question with regard to a new Reform Bill, for there was an extension of the suffrage proposed for Ireland. The hon. Member for Manchester had stated that the influence of the Roman Catholic priests was very great, and the hon. Member for the city of Cork denied that view of the case. The Government, wishing to show the social condition of Ireland, produced before the Committee a 1311 Roman Catholic priest; and if the House bore with him while he read a few lines of his evidence, they would see it was not he-side the question. It was the evidence of a Roman Catholic priest before the Poor Law Committee, and the Government influence in that Committee had been able to keep out that evidence by a majority of one.
§ MR. O'FLAHERTY
must appeal to the Chair. This was going beyond the question. He was a Member of the Committee, and could say that the witness was not brought forward by the Government at all, but by the hon. Member for Kerry, and he came forward voluntarily.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The question is whether this evidence was reported to the House. As I understand the hon. Baronet, the evidence was not reported to the House: a majority of the Committee decided that it should not be reported to the House, and in that case it cannot be made use of here.
§ SIR J. TYRELL
did not say it was evidence, but it was undoubtedly the opinion of a person of great influence and importance, as a Roman Catholic priest, with respect to the social condition of the Irish people, the cultivation of the soil, and the conduct of the Marquess of Lansdowne.
§ VISCOUNT CASTLEREAGH
would again appeal to the House whether the hon. Baronet was in order in making this statement?
§ MR. SPEAKER
I am listening to the explanation of the hon. Baronet. It appears to me that this was evidence offered to the Poor Law Committee, and it was decided by a majority of that Committee that it should not be reported to the House; and there is no question about it that the hon. Baronet cannot use that evidence.
§ SIR J. TYRELL
I don't set my authority against you; all I say is, that this was proposed to be evidence.
§ MR. SPEAKER
It may have been offered as evidence; but if it were not reported, the hon. Baronet cannot use it.
§ SIR J. YOUNG
begged to say, as chairman of the Committee, that the hon. Baronet was under a mistake.
§ SIR J. TYRELL
If they refused to hear a few sentences from this Roman Catholic priest's evidence, he would withdraw it, but on some future occasion he would bring it forward. He could well understand the extreme anxiety of hon. Gentlemen opposite not to hear the observations he had to make; but in passing a measure 1312 of this kind it was important that the public should not be kept in ignorance of the influence exercised by a Roman Catholic priest.
§ VISCOUNT CASTLEREAGH
wished to ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary for Ireland whether it would be possible—in order to afford them information as to what the probable number of the constituency of Ireland would be—to lay on the table, before they went into Committee, any papers that could be obtained, possibly through the poor-law guardians, showing them what the constituency, in counties under an 8l. franchise, was likely to be? They had a statement from the hon. Member for Dublin of the number of the constituency of that city; and it would be well if they could hear what constituency they were likely to have to deal with. They also had heard that the present county constituency of Ireland was but 36,000, and that was a ridiculous amount. It was evident that some great measure was required, but, at the same time, he was sorry to see that Ireland was to be made the experimental ground. Before long it was probable that some measure of reform must be applied to this country, and it was objectionable that such measures should not be simultaneous with the one introduced for Ireland. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester proposed that another experiment should be tried in Ireland, namely, that the ballot should be given to Ireland, On that question, also, it was objectionable that Ireland should be made an experimental ground.
§ MR. MONSELL
said, a suggestion had been made for establishing a difference in the qualifications of persons possessing leases, and those possessing none. The reason assigned for that suggestion was an anxious desire that the people of Ireland generally should have leases. One of the chief reasons why the number of voters in Ireland had been so greatly decreased was, that the landlords had refused to give leases to their tenants, in order to prevent them from having the privilege of voting. He hoped that the suggestion he had mentioned would not be adopted by the Government. [The hon. Gentleman then read an extract from the report of a Commission sent into Ireland during the period of Lord Stanley's holding office as Secretary for Ireland, which stated that the number of leases, in every part of Ireland visited by the Commission, was very small, and that there was a very general indisposition 1313 on the part of the landlords to grant leases, as they did not wish that their tenants should possess votes.] His experience of the north of Ireland showed him that the same indisposition to grant leases existed quite as strongly, if not stronger, at the present day. He was strongly in favour of another suggestion, which had been made by several hon. Members, for taking the power of making the valuations out of the hands of the poor-law guardians. Such a step would only produce a considerable amount of excitement and confusion; some districts would be rated high, and other districts low. He entreated the Government that there should be no delay in proceeding with this Bill.
§ MR. SADLEIR
entirely concurred with his hon. Friend the Member for the county of Limerick in entreating the Government not to delay this Bill. The disgracefully small number of persons possessing the franchise in Ireland required that this Bill should be passed without delay. The present Bill was literally a transcript of the one before the House last Session, and yet hon. Gentlemen opposite were desirous of postponing it on the ground of surprise. Many districts of Ireland were almost entirely deprived of the franchise. In the county of Tipperary, which possessed a population little under 500,000, the number of persons entitled to vote was scarcely 400; and those 400 voters consisted principally of clergymen of the Established Church and rent-chargers. He was astonished how any hon. Members could argue that this Bill would tend to lessen the number of leases granted in Ireland. Hon. Gentlemen must know perfectly well that in a large portion of Ireland the conservative party, the chief proprietors of land, had been induced to withhold, on political grounds, from their tenants the protection and security of a lease. He thought this most injurious to their own interest, for it was a great bar to any improvement in the agriculture of Ireland. The Bill must necessarily encourage the system of granting leases in Ireland, and in conjunction with the other measures proposed by the Government and co-operating with them, it must necessarily encourage agriculture and industry in that country. He was surprised that hon. Members should have lost sight of the fact that the Irish people were, from the successful operation of a system of national education, eminently qualified to possess and properly to employ 1314 the franchise. He believed, therefore, that there need be no apprehension of evil resulting from an extension of the suffrage being misused by them. He entertained very serious objections to some of the details of the measure; he thought that several plain and practical matters were proposed to be carried out in a very complex manner, which might easily be replaced by a much more plain and simple machinery, but he had no intention whatever to carp at the principles the Bill laid down. It was a step in the right direction, and by increasing the number of persons possessing the franchise in Ireland, it would improve the present state of things in that country. The Bill, though it would increase the number of voters in counties, would diminish the constituencies in boroughs, and Government could easily obtain authentic returns to prove that his statement was correct on this point. A return of the number of persons who would be entitled to vote in boroughs under the new law, would, he believed, fully confirm his statement. The Bill proposed to confine the franchise to all persons possessing a fee-simple or inheritance of a rateable value of 5l. He was not prepared to say that it was advisable that the county constituencies of England should be overrun by a large class of artisans who had purchased forty-shilling ownerships in fee, irrespective of occupation; but he should be glad to see a system of forty-shilling freeholds with occupation established in Ireland. Allusion had been made to the unhealthy influence exercised by the Roman Catholic clergy in Ireland; but it should be remembered, that while the clergymen of the Established Church possessed the franchise, the Roman Catholic and Presbyterian clergy were excluded from it. He implored the House to proceed in a true spirit of religious equality, and extend the franchise equally to all, and then there would be no complaints of unhealthy influence being exercised by any one particular class of clergymen in Ireland. He entertained several objections to the details of the Bill, but would abstain from putting those forward until the Bill should be in Committee.
§ MR. O'FLAHERTY
, without pledging himself to the details of the Bill, thanked the Government for bringing forward such a measure. He trusted the Bill would not be postponed, but that the constituency of Ireland, now nearly extinguished, would be renovated as soon as possible.
§ MR. KEOGH
did not think any one could hesitate for a moment in saying that some such measure as this was absolutely necessary, on looking to the returns before the House. The population of England, at the present moment, was 15,000,000, and the constituency was 796,000. The population of Ireland was 8,175,000, and the constituency 72,796. So the population of Ireland was more than one half the population of England, and the constituency in proportion to each million in England was 53,000, while the proportion to each million in Ireland was somewhat about as many hundreds. Now, let them take the return of all persons entitled to the franchise under the present Bill. The entire amount of the constituency, if every person paid up the rates, would be 374,000. So that, supposing every person entitled in point of value should be put on the register, still there would not be a constituency in equal proportion to the constituency of England, considered relatively with the population of England and Ireland. That statement, he thought, should calm the feelings of those persons who thought the constituency of Ireland would be too large, and they might deduct from that 374,000 fully one third who would disqualify themselves by not paying the rates. With respect to the borough franchise, it had been said that the proposed franchise was too high. He considered, however, that it was impossible, consistently with the principle adopted of payment to the poor-rate, that the franchise could be made any lower. At present, it was very limited indeed. In Cashel the constituency was only 150; Downpatrick, 120; Ennis, 114; Lisburn, 164; Portarlington, 177; and Athlone, not more than 350. Some alteration was imperatively called for, and he would at all times be found ready to support any measure which sought to place upon a broad and substantial footing the constituencies in Ireland.
§ SIR W. SOMERVILLE
said, he had listened attentively to the remarks that had fallen from both sides of the House with reference to this measure, and it appeared to him that there was scarcely any one of them which did not apply rather to its details than principle: he said, "scarcely any," because his hon. and learned Friend the Member for the University of Dublin did, he thought, take exception to the time at which the measure was introduced, and he also objected to it on the ground that the franchise which it proposed to give was 1316 founded on the rating of the poor-law. His hon. and learned Friend had said, "Where is the use now, when everything is quiet in Ireland, when the people are thinking of other things, to disturb the public mind by the introduction of a Bill respecting the franchise?" Now, he (Sir W. Somerville) would undertake to say, that if agitation had been rife, or if the public mind had been disturbed, the language which his hon. and learned Friend would have used, in opposition to this measure, would have been, "Why, you are yielding to clamour, you ought to wait till the public mind is pacified, and then come forward with your measures." It appeared to him (Sir W. Somerville) that there could not be a better time for considering a measure of this kind when the public mind was calm, and when they could enter into the consideration fairly, and with a bonâ fide intention of doing that which was reasonable and right. He was quite certain that the more the details of this measure were considered, and the more the proposals of the Government were discussed by Gentlemen on both sides of the House, the sooner would they come to the conclusion that this proposition of the Government was fair and reasonable. His opinion of the great advantage of this Bill was, that it placed the franchise on the basis of the poor-law rating. He could not agree with hon. Gentlemen who imagined that the conjunction of the franchise with the lease had been the principal means hitherto of preventing the landlords of Ireland from giving leases to their tenants. This measure would create, as it were, a uniformity of franchise throughout the country. But what was the case at present? Why, in one corner of a county there might reside a landlord who had been in the habit of giving leases to his tenantry, and there would consequently be a large number of voters there, crammed together in one spot. But if they traversed that county, they would, perhaps, not find a single person who had the franchise, until at length they might find some other landlord residing at the opposite side of the county, who had the good sense to give leases to his tenantry. Now, he thought that if the voters were distributed more generally throughout the country, it would be a great means of preventing the exercise of that undue influence or intimidation which hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House seemed to apprehend. It was impossible at present to meet the objections 1317 which had been made to the present system of poor-law valuation. With regard to the question of the noble Lord the Member for Down as to the number of voters that would be created under this measure, he would beg to refer him to the last population returns from Ireland which had been laid on the table of the House, as they were sufficiently correct to enable him to solve his question. With regard to the details of the measure, he (Sir W. Somerville) thought it would be advisable to reserve his explanations until the next stage. His hon. and learned Friend the Member for Athlone had spoken of the borough constituencies, and quoted that of Athlone, amongst others, as being 350; but although his hon. and learned Friend, like himself at Drogheda, had been subjected to a very severe contest, he must know that the total number that polled at the Athlone election was far below 350. He felt extremely gratified at the manner in which the Bill had been received by Gentlemen on both sides of the House, and he should be most happy to give every attention to any suggestion which might be made for improving the Bill. As it was of great importance that the Bill should pass into a law as rapidly as possible, he should propose that it be committed on Monday next.
§ MR. NAPIER
hoped that as several Irish Members would be obliged to attend the assizes, the right hon. Gentleman would not name so early a day.
§ LORD J. RUSSELL
said, that if they postponed the Bill till after Easter, other measures would interfere with it. If some hon. Members were obliged to attend the assizes, that was no reason why they should give up other important public business.
§ Bill read 2o, and committed for Monday next.