§ (Mr. Mitchell Henry, Mr. Meldon, Mr. Smyth, Mr. Shaw, Mr. Sullivan.)
§ SECOND READING.
§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. MELDON
said, that in the absence of the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. Mitchell Henry), he begged to 2 move that the Bill be now read the second time. In asking the House to assent to the second reading he was not asking them to assent to anything which was not at the present time law in England, or to anything which had not already been agreed to, almost unanimously, by the House of Commons:—the principal portion of the Bill sought to extend to Ireland the provisions of the Act of 1865 for the Registration of Voters in England. The first three clauses simply proposed to extend to the counties in Ireland a law which had proved eminently satisfactory in its operation in England, and the provisions of the latter part had already been approved of by the House of Commons, inasmuch as it proposed to extend to Ireland the provisions of a measure which passed through the House in 1873 almost without a dissentient voice. The other provisions of the Bill were mere matters of detail, intended to remedy certain defects in the existing registration laws. The 3 principal object of the Bill was to amend the mode of procedure of the Revision Courts for the Parliamentary voters. The procedure was briefly this—at these Courts three lists came up for revision. The first of these contained the names of the existing voters, after the names of those who had died or become disqualified since the last revision had been struck off by the proper officials. The next list was that of rated occupiers whose claims were for the first time placed upon the register. It was with this list that this Bill almost exclusively dealt. The third list comprised those persons who came forward to claim for themselves to be put upon the register. With that last this Bill scarcely dealt at all, and therefore it would not be necessary to call the attention of the House to it. Now, the system adopted in Ireland had been approved of over and over again, and was the very best system that could be followed for the correct revision of the list of Parliamentary voters. The officials concerned in the matter were in three classes: first, the clerks of the peace, who had the charge of the procedure in the Revision Courts. This official did not himself possess the means of knowledge whereby to form a correct list of voters, but was simply, as it were, the officer of the Court to see that the lists were in a correct form, that the rules were complied with, and to assist the Revising Barrister more in the capacity of a registrar than anything else. The next public official was one of great importance, being very much in the position of the overseers in England, except that he was selected for competency, and was paid. The third class of officers were the poor rate collectors, whose duty it was to collect the rates, and who had an intimate knowledge of the persons who were rated in the books. In boroughs the town clerk discharged the duties which the clerk of the peace and clerk of the Union discharged in the counties. A better system for the registration of votes than this he did not think could possibly be devised. He now came to describe the mode in which the lists for the revision of the Revising Barrister were prepared. The clerk of the peace issued a precept to the clerks of the Unions and town clerks every year to furnish the clerks of Unions and town clerks with copies of the existing register, and it then became the 4 duty of the clerk of the Union, with the assistance of the poor rate collectors, to revise the existing register by marking objections against the name of every man appearing there who had ceased to be entitled to the franchise by reason of non-occupancy, death, the non-payment of rates, or from any other cause. Further, they marked objections against the names of any persons who they might have reasonable cause to believe were not entitled to the franchise. The lists, with these alterations, were returned before the 8th July. No notices of objections were required to be served; the objections being stated on the lists by the officials; the parties objected to were bound to come up and substantiate their claims. It was with those lists that this Bill proposed to deal. These lists, thus prepared, were published on the 22nd of July to the public; after which any person was entitled to take objections to any persons whose names were upon the lists. In order that the objection should be valid it was merely necessary that it should be stated and put into the Post Office, and a duplicate signed by the Postmaster. That was the only proceeding which need be taken, unless the person objected to came up to substantiate his claim to be upon the register. The objections were quite general in their character, no grounds whatever being stated. Now, if the object were that the persons objected to should be called upon to prove their claims, it would be right to place upon the notice of objection the ground relied upon by the objector in order that the claimants might have notice what they would have to meet; but suppose the case of a person who was really qualified, and that this notice was merely given for the purpose of obstruction, how was the objection to be dealt with? If there were any doubtful point he might possibly be aware of it; but as it was he must come down to Court perfectly prepared to rebut every ground of objection which might possibly be alleged against him. That was an extremely hard case. Moreover, the party objecting was not even bound to be present when the case came before the Revising Barrister for adjudication; whereas, if the person objected to was not present when his name was called to prove his right to be put upon the list, his name was immediately struck 5 off. The English Registration Act of 1865 required that when a party objected to a person's name being retained on the register he should state the grounds of his objection, and what he (Mr. Meldon) sought was to extend that provision to Ireland. The Act of 1865, however, dealt only with counties, and had never been extended to boroughs. There was no earthly reason, however, why the same law should not apply equally to boroughs as to counties. The next clause of the Bill provided that each ground of objection was to be treated as a separate objection. There was nothing new in that provision, as it was identical with one contained in the Act of 1865. Another clause provided that costs should be awarded in case the objections should not be sustained; and power was given to the Revising Barrister to award such costs as in his discretion he might think fit. That, again, was taken from the Act of 1865. With this difference—that while that Act allowed costs to the extent of £5, this clause left the costs to the discretion of the Revising Barrister. The Bill so far was designed to prevent the wholesale service of objections which had hitherto been the practice in some parts of Ireland where the register was contested. The practice was for each party to serve an objection upon every person whose name appeared upon the list who might be supposed to be a political opponent. And not only that, for an objection was served by both parties upon every person whose political opinions they were not sure of. Surely that was a system never intended by the Legislature. It was never intended that the franchise should be made a shuttlecock between two political parties. Take the case of the two great counties of Dublin and Carlow. In those two counties money had disfranchised more than one-half the electors. And this was how it happened in Carlow. Up to 1868 every person who chose to make a claim was entitled to be put upon the list. At that time only one of the great political parties fought in the registration Courts; they spent large sums of money; great numbers of unqualified persons were placed on the list; and since 1868 no one had come forward to take the trouble or spend the money necessary to purify the list; and consequently every fictitious voter who had been placed upon the list 6 previous to 1868 still remained on it. As to Dublin. In that county in 1868 there were between 6,000 and 7,000 persons on the register; there were now little more than 4,000. Why was this? Because there the practice prevailed that both parties objected to the name of every claimant on the supplementary lists whose politics they either knew were hostile or doubtful; so that unless these persons went to the trouble and expense of coming up and proving their claims they were struck off. In 1868 there were on the supplementary lists—official lists prepared by responsible authorities—3,148 claimants; to these there were made 2,969 private objections and 2,969 by registration agents. The number admitted was about 600—and 2,368 were struck off, because the claimants would not or could not attend. So in 1873 the claimants on the official lists were 3,974—to these there were 3,901 objections; 171 claims were admitted and 3,730 rejected. And what was the result of this system? He ventured to say that it was one of the most corrupt systems that could possibly be imagined, because what did it come to? The registration of some counties in Ireland depended not upon the number of those who were entitled to the franchise, but simply upon the expenditure of money. It depended upon which side had got the most money to spend. Surely this was sufficient to show that there was some fault somewhere—that there was something in the existing system which demanded immediate remedy. A part of that remedy which he proposed was contained in the first six clauses of the Bill. What he desired was, that the law should be put into a state that would throw some amount of responsibility upon the party objecting, that he should not be permitted to serve his notices without any responsibility; that he should be bound to communicate his objection to the party objected to; and that when the matter came before the Chairman the Chairman should be bound to investigate each separate ground of objection before putting the voter to the trouble of coming down to defend himself against frivolous objections. These were the provisions which had been found to answer in England, and which had been acted upon since 1865 with the best effect. He did not in the slightest degree seek to interfere in the arrange- 7 ments made tinder the Act of 1865—he simply asked that those provisions should be extended to Ireland; and he could not see on what grounds the House could refuse. So far, then, as the first six clauses were concerned there could be no objection to the Bill. The seventh was a clause which had been favourably reported upon by a Select Committee of that House. It was also assented to by the House in 1873, when after the fullest discussion a Bill was carried embodying these provisions for England and Wales. The clause appeared to him to be one of the fairest that could possibly be. What did it enact? That when one list had been prepared by the officials under the superintendence of the town clerk in boroughs, and the clerk of unions in counties, no private person should put any person whose name appeared to be there to proof of his qualification unless primâ facie cause was shown before the Revising Barrister that there was reasonable ground of objection. In this, he was not asking the House to assent to anything new. In 1869 a Committee sat, composed of some of the first men on the opposite side, including the present Chancellor of the Exchequer. Evidence was given showing that the system of Ireland was infinitely preferable to the system in England. The ground of preference was that in Ireland the overseers were a paid body, the individual responsibility resting on the clerks of unions and the town clerks in boroughs, assisted by the collectors of rates, who knew when each man came and when he went, and who paid rates, and who were occupiers. The Committee recommended that the preparation of the list of voters in England should be entrusted to the clerk of the assessment authority, and that he should have power to employ the rate collectors or other parochial officers to assist in the preparation of such list. Then they recommended that the ground of objection should be stated, and that the objector should be called upon to give some primâ facie evidence of the ground of his objection before the voter was called upon to sustain his vote. That was exactly the provision he had placed in the present Bill. The Committee also recommended that there should be one register for municipal and Parliamentary purposes. That was the principal point on which the Bill was thrown out by the House of Lords. The Bill in- 8 Cluded provisions for vexatious objections. It was considered in this House in 1873. with the greatest deliberation; it was the subject of several discussions, and the only ground of objection was as to whether the Revising Barrister should be bound to investigate on oath the ground of objection before he called upon the voter to defend it. If any objection was raised to this clause it could be discussed in Committee, and to the remaining clauses he did not think there could be the slightest objection. They heard no complaints from those parts of Ireland where the registry was self-working as to impurity of elections in these districts—he defied any one to produce evidence that there was any dissatisfaction, or any reason to suppose that when the registration was self-acting there was any discontent. He further proposed that the persons who prepared the lists should be bound by oath faithfully and honestly to discharge their duty. Then there was an existing provision that the persons who received Poor Law relief should be disfranchised. This he thought a very unfair course to persons who had only received medical relief and he would provide that the person who merely received medical relief should not be disqualified. It was provided that Revising Barristers should have power to enforce the evidence of witnesses whom they summon. Previous to 1868in every polling district there was a Court for the revision of votes, and the voters had to travel the same distance to claim his vote as he had to record it at the elections; but since the passing of the Ballot Act the number of polling places had been increased, while the number of Revision Courts remained the same. The consequence was that while a man might have to travel only three or four miles to give his vote he might have to travel 30 or 40 to get placed on the register. In the county of Dublin alone he would have to travel nine or ten miles. The Lord Lieutenant, indeed, had power to increase the number of Revising Courts; but the Committee to which he had referred felt this was not sufficient, and expressed an opinion that powers should be exercised for the purpose of providing all reasonable facilities to persons desirous of placing their names on the voters' lists. This recommendation had not been acted upon; and he therefore now proposed an 9 amendment of the law in this respect. He did not wish to interfere with the discretion of the Lord Lieutenant. He left it to him to say where it was convenient that a district Court should be held; what he proposed was that there should be one in each polling district subject to the decision of the Lord Lieutenant. There were also in the Bill some amendments relating to details of procedure. For instance, unless you gave the exact address of the person objected to, the objection was held to be invalid;—or it might be sent to a man who was abroad, or whose residence was not on the lands that gave the vote. He proposed, to meet this, the post town should be placed on the list in the register in order that the objection might reach its true destination. He had now gone through the Bill—as he had said, it was in substance the same Bill that had passed this House in 1873, but met with an accident in the House of Lords. The clauses were open to amendment in Committee, and he would only say in conclusion that he hoped the House would consent to read it the second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Meldon.)
§ MR. GIBSON,
in moving that the Bill be read a second time on that day six months, said, he opposed the Bill because he did not think the hon. and learned Member had made out a case for the passing of the Bill through that House. He objected to it because it proposed to establish in Ireland a system of registration that did not exist in England; and further, it would establish in the future a difference between the law of Ireland and the law of England on the subject. It should not be lost sight of that as recently as 1874 this question of the registration of voters in Ireland was considered by a Committee of this House; the hon. and learned Member for Kildare was one of the minority who attempted to secure a Report favouring the change he now proposed, and it was simply because the hon. and learned Member differed from the Report of that Committee that he was attempting to invalidate it by an alteration of the law. The Preamble of the Bill set forth that it was desirable to facilitate the registration of voters in Ireland. That might be fair and reason- 10 able; but it was one thing to set it forth in a modest Preamble, and another to show that it was warranted by the facts. Did not facilities exist to a reasonable extent for the registration of voters? Was there not an adequate power for repressing and punishing vexatious objections? These were the real points that underlay the Bill of the hon. and learned Gentleman, and he must make out the affirmative of the proposition before he could expect the Bill to pass. He (Mr. Gibson) ventured to think that it might be put in another way, and that the Bill as it stood at present would facilitate voting by those who had no right whatever to the franchise. That would be the effect of the Bill. According to the testimony of Conservative agents and Liberal agents, if it were not for the power of objecting, hundreds and thousands of people who had no right whatever to be on the list of voters would be registered, and have the right to vote. That was a serious consideration, and one which, if presented in a naked way, would have weight with the House. But although the Bill was brought in as a general Bill, dealing with the Revision Courts in Ireland, it was really aimed at two counties, the names of which were not mentioned in the Bill, though they were in the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech. Now those two counties had got an inveterate habit of returning Conservative Members to this House. Except as to those two counties the hon. and learned Member seemed to think that the existing system worked so well that no alteration was needed. As for the details of the Bill they were perfectly incongruous, and were hardly worthy of being formulated in the sections of an Act of Parliament. As for compelling the attendance of witnesses, there was at present power with the Chairmen of the Revision Courts to summon witnesses, and it might almost be contempt on the part of any person to refuse to attend. Another section dealt with the posting of notices of objection. Upon that point he (Mr. Gibson) had nothing to say, although the evidence before the Committee in 1874 went to show that the objections as at present sent reached with tolerable certainty the persons to whom they were addressed. The hon. and learned Member also laid some stress on a section of the Bill in reference to the power of adding to the number of the 11 Revision Courts. He spoke upon the subject with considerable force, as if a great amount of injustice had been done by the present Government, who had only been in office two years. It had been competent, however, for any Government which had been in office during the last 20 years to add to the number of the Revision Courts, and if it had been properly represented to the Viceroy under the late Government, Earl Spencer, he, no doubt, would have fairly considered it, and would have made any addition which was necessary. In the county of Dublin, one had already been added, and another would shortly be added. Whatever inconveniences on this head there really were might be easily remedied by the existing law. So far as any principle could be found in the Bill dealing with the details of registration, that principle was perhaps to be found, in the 7th section; and as far as one could extract that principle from that section it was this—that it attempted to shift the onus of proof in a way which would do injustice. To shift the onus of proof in regard to the supplemental list was in fact to make the supplemental list for the first time Prima facie proof that persons appearing on it possessed all the ingredients necessary to entitle them to the franchise. And what were those ingredients? At present they were four. The person must be rated—he must have paid his rates—he must have been in uninterrupted occupation for 12 months, and he must be either the tenant or the owner. Without all those four points he was not entitled to the franchise. Now, let them consider what was the position of a person whose name appeared on the original list. He was entitled when he had once got there to retain his position unless somebody, having served him with notice of objection, satisfied the Revision Court by affirmative evidence that he had no longer the four ingredients necessary to qualify him. That put the voter on the original list in a much more favourable position than he would occupy in England. But there was now a wide difference between the original register, upon which the voter had got by giving proper evidence of qualification before the Revision Court, and the supplemental list. What was the supplemental list, and who were the parties who prepared 12 it? What were their means of knowledge? The person who was in the main answerable for the preparation of the supplemental list was the clerk of the Poor Law Union—a person who was acquainted with the poor rates only. He was aided by the poor rate collectors. These parties prepared a supplemental list of rated occupiers, whose names did not appear on the old list of parties who were rated and had paid their rates. But the fact of a person's name being on the supplemental lists only proved the possession of two out of the four ingredients necessary to constitute the right to the franchise. The persons who prepared that list had no means of testing the length of occupation, or whether the occupation had been uninterrupted, or of knowing the fact of tenancy or ownership. In cases of partnership or joint occupancy, how was the poor rate collector to know the nature of those partnerships or whether they existed at all? He was only interested in getting his rates, and these were questions which could only be ascertained and decided in the Revision Courts upon proof by the persons claiming the franchise. The county Dublin had been mentioned; and he would put to the House this case, which would occur in hundreds of instances. It had an enormous number of villa residences on the sea coast. How were the poor rate collectors to know, in reference to these villas, whether there had been a sub-letting or not? Yet if there had been that subletting, it would disqualify the tenant for the franchise. Then, again, take the case of a rate struck in June—the rate was generally collected by January—the supplemental list was prepared in the following July. The rate collector would be unable to record a single change which had occurred in the occupancy of houses between the preceding January and July. He would have collected all his rates in January, and if occupation had ceased subsequently how was he to get the information? Just as great an injustice was done to the community by placing on the register thousands of people who had no right to be there, as by excluding a few people who would not take the trouble to walk across the street, and to do the one or two things, generally at no expense whatever, which were necessary to substantiate their claim to the franchise. As it was, a man 13 got a certain benefit by having his name on the supplemental list. It proved before the Revision Court that he was rated, and that he had paid his rates; it set out his name and address and qualification; and dispensed with the necessity of his serving notice of his claim. To get at the benefit conferred on a person by having his name on the supplemental list you had only to contrast his position with the position of an ordinary claimant who had to prove all those facts which in the other cases were taken for granted. To anybody who at all cared to have the franchise, that was an enormous advantage, and a very substantial gain. In the great majority of the counties of Ireland, in every case where there was no notice of objection served, a person on the supplemental list got put on the register without producing any further proof at all. If an objection was served upon him he was not bound to attend personally, but might send a friend, or even a servant, to substantiate his claim. If he was willing to take the simplest trouble to show that he really cared a little about the franchise, he could, if he was entitled to it, easily get it. His landlord's receipt for rent was accepted in every Revision Court in proof of his tenancy, and he invariably, if he applied, got his costs from the objector. Was there, therefore, anything in the position of a man on the supplemental list to call for alteration or for further legislation? In the speech of his hon. and learned Friend, he failed to detect a single argument in favour of any change. Something had been said in regard to objections. Well, did his hon. and learned Friend think he could prevent objections so long as they lived in a free country and retained the privilege of grumbling and objecting? It was suggested in the Bill that they should, in giving the notice of objection, state the grounds of objection; and the hon. and learned Member assumed that at present that was really the state of the law in England. It was only so, however, partially—it was so in the English counties, but not in the boroughs. He (Mr. Gibson) would admit that in the case of a voter already on the register it was not fair that he should be served with an objection without any ground for it being set forth, but in regard to a new claimant whose right to the franchise had never been proved there was 14 nothing unreasonable in his being served with a general objection in order to compel him to substantiate his claims. That was all that was done by the present law. If this Bill were to pass the constitution of the electoral roll would be really handed over to the poor rate collectors. He (Mr. Gibson) would say nothing against them personally; but, as a class, they were of such a rank and position in life that he would not like to hand over to them the entire management of the franchise of Ireland. Many of them were very strong partizans, and when they were made masters of the situation, freed from the knowledge that their work would be afterwards sifted and tested by the Revising Courts, they would practically become irresponsible. He was certainly not in favour of handing over the great organization and machinery, which must have a very great effect on the constitution of this House, and therefore the welfare of the country, to people of this kind. It was idle to suggest that the oath which was under this Bill to be taken by the rate collector would affect the way in which he regarded the performance of his duty. The man's taking an oath would be no guarantee for his not taking an erroneous view of his duty. The hon. and learned Member had scattered his objections to the position of Dublin and Carlow broadcast; but he (Mr. Gibson) saw nothing in the evidence before the Committee to bear out his statement that there were people on the register in Carlow who were not entitled to be there. It might be that hon. Members had some feeling about the representation of that county. For himself, he (Mr. Gibson) personally would be very sorry to see its representation changed, and the House would be very great losers if they lost either of the Members who represented that county. In reference to Dublin, the hon. and learned Member endeavoured to show that there were some thousands of claimants who had the qualification, but who did not get upon the register. He (Mr. Gibson) thought the hon. and learned Member had overlooked the peculiar condition of that county, where there were thousands of persons who occupied villas for temporary purposes, and who had the necessary qualifications as to rental, but not that of sufficient residence. Then the hon. and learned 15 Member complained of the large numbers who did appear on the supplemental list who had objections made to them. The fact he (Mr. Gibson) believed to be, the same names appeared over and over again in the supplemental list, and it proved that the persons on that list who were objected to did not care enough about the franchise to take the slightest trouble to secure it. When they were urged by the political agents to go forward and prove their claim in many cases they did so, and then they were placed on the register; but in other cases they did not, and they would not. He believed that in many cases in the county Dublin the people actually wished not to be on the register. It had been stated by the hon. and learned Member that a Bill somewhat similar to this was introduced and carried through this House in 1873. So far as it went the hon. and learned Member was entitled to rely on that fact; but he (Mr. Gibson) must point out that that Bill was very slightly discussed in this House at the time, the discussion taking place at a time of the Session when it was known it could lead to no result. When the Bill reached the Lords its real character was discovered by Lord Cairns, and the forcible objections which he offered to it applied with equal strength to the present measure. He asked the House not to accept this Bill, because the present registration system had not been shown to work unsatisfactorily. He relied for proof of that assertion on two or three answers given before the Committee in 1874 by Mr. O'Hara, a Liberal and a Roman Catholic, who for many years had acted most impartially as a Judge in the Revision Court of Dublin, and whose word would not be questioned. He said in his evidence that the present system worked well, and resulted in substantial justice being done to the constituencies. He thought it most unwise for anyone to propose this entire change in a system which had prevailed for so many years until it could be shown that it did not work well, and that change was absolutely necessary. He did not think the hon. and learned Member had made out either of those propositions, therefore he moved the rejection of the Bill.
§ MR. M'CARTHY DOWNING
said, he had never heard a better account made out of a bad case than the statement just made by the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Gibson). The hon. and learned Gentleman said that the law with respect to registration was the same in Ireland as it was in England. But that was not so, and what the Bill of the hon. and learned Member for Kildare proposed to do was to assimilate the law in both countries. Accordingly every clause in the Bill had been taken from the English Act of Parliament which was now in operation, with the exception of one clause—namely, the 7th, and that his hon. and learned Friend had stated his willingness to see modified in Committee. What, then, became of the argument which had been urged against the Bill by the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite? The supporters of the measure merely appealed to the Government and to the House to apply to Ireland the law which now prevailed in England. It had been said more than once that if Irish Members brought substantial grievances before the House and they remained unredressed, they could not be blamed for asking for their own domestic Parliament. Well, how many Bills having for their object the removal of existing evils had been brought forward by hon. Members from Ireland and rejected? And of all that had been submitted the present was, he believed, one of those to which there was least reason to object. Now, as to the supplemental list of which they had heard so much, he could say that the machinery for its preparation was as perfect as could be devised: a man could scarcely be placed upon it unless he was entitled to the vote. But according to the hon. and learned Member opposite (Mr. Gibson), if his argument were well founded, there must be in every county in Ireland hundreds—nay, thousands—of persons on the supplemental lists who were not entitled to the franchise. In his own county more than 17,000 electors were on the register, but not one on the supplemental list; and it had been stated that in the county of Dublin 3,000 claims on the supplementary list had been objected to; and this was done by both parties, not because there was any sub- 17 stantial objection to the claims, but because they were willing to take their chance that the claimants would not be at the trouble of travelling 12 or 14 miles to support their claims. Now, the Bill asked that if objection was taken the nature of the objection should be stated on the notice: and what could be said against a proposal which on the face of it was so fair and reasonable? But it was said that if an objection was not sustained the Chairman had power now to give the party costs. The costs, however, were limited to 20s.—a sum which was not sufficient to deter rich men and rich associations from what was called "fighting the counties" in that way. The hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Gibson) was not correct in stating that the poor rate collectors would obtain the power of working the machinery and organization in question. The supplemental lists were prepared in this way—The clerk of the Union—not the poor rate collector—made out the supplemental list on or before the 8th of July in each year; and that list purported to contain, or ought to contain, the name of every man who was a rated occupier to the value of £12, who had been rated for a sufficient time, had paid his rates up to the 1st of January, and whose name was not already on the register of voters; and it was prepared with the assistance of the collector, who of all others was the person to know the length of occupancy and payment of rates, and these lists were verified on oath. Under this system, while no qualified person ought to be omitted, no unqualified person ought to be included; and, to guard against any such being put on the list, public notice was given by the posting of copies of the list in the several baronies and also in the several police-stations in the county. The existing system in Ireland, under which a man was compelled to travel 20 miles to prove his right to a vote which was his by law, was a most monstrous one, and he demanded, as a mere matter of justice, that the same law which applied to the voting register in England should be extended to Ireland. The Chairman of the county of Dublin had stated in his evidence before the Select Committee of that House last year that in that county out of the 27,000 persons rated to the amount of £12 a-year, and therefore entitled to the franchise, only some 4,000 were upon the register, and 18 that this was the consequence of the claimants being compelled to travel such long distances to get their names placed upon the register. He and those who were with him when the present Government came into office, determined to give them a fair trial—especially as the Ministry gave pledges that they would do their best to redress every substantial grievance under which Irishmen suffered. The Government, however, had failed to redeem their pledges, and every Irish grievance that existed when the present Government took office remained unredressed down to the present moment. If every fair and liberal measure that concerned Ireland was to be rejected, then the case of those who demanded Home Rule for that country was made out. In conclusion, he remarked that the Government had a good opportunity by supporting the present Bill of showing that their promises with regard to Ireland were not mere idle words.
§ MR. BRUEN
said, that he should oppose the second reading of the Bill. Instead of any real and substantial grievance having been made out by the promoters of the Bill, the case put forward by the hon. and learned Member for Kildare seemed to him to be unsubstantial and visionary. He denied that the law in England in regard to registration was what had been represented; and if this Bill passed professing to assimilate the law of Ireland to that of England, it would have to be followed by another assimilating the law of England to that of Ireland. As for there not being so many names added to the register as the hon. Gentleman opposite thought ought to be the case, that was to be explained in a great degree by the fact that large numbers of voters preferred being off the register rather than be subject to the importunities and the bullying they inevitably had to undergo at elections. The views expressed by the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. M'Carthy Downing) as to the mode in which the difficulties connected with the supplemental lists were to be corrected amounted to an entire reversal of modern policy in all such matters. The actual effect of the Bill would be to make the supplemental list the virtual register, because if the fact of the voter's name being placed on the supplemental list was to be regarded as primâ facie evidence of his qualification to be on the 19 register, why not put him on the register at once? Why did the Act make a distinction between the register and the supplemental list? Clearly because the list did not offer proof of all the qualifications requisite before the claimant could be admitted to vote. No man ought to be put upon the register unless ho had the proper qualification; but when he was placed on the supplemental list the only way in which he should be kept off the register was by allowing objections to be made. The power of awarding costs in all cases where vexatious objections were proved to have been made appeared to him to meet all the requirements of the question. In regard to the multiplication of the Revision Courts he thought the hon. and learned Member would much better have expended his ingenuity on an effort to give to the men who were already voters additional facilities for recording their votes, as many of them who were non-resident had to travel many miles to do so. Only three of the clauses of which the Bill consisted were in operation in England, and those not completely so. If the Bill were confined to those three clauses, it would be a comparatively small matter. In Ireland in some respects the law was more favourable to voters than it was in England. That was the case in the making out of the lists. He thought, on the whole, that whatever grievances might be felt in Ireland in relation to the franchise, they would not be remedied by the Bill under consideration, for which, he repeated, no case had in his opinion been made out.
§ CAPTAIN NOLAN
said, that the attempts of the hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson) to dwarf down to small dimensions the grievance to which the Bill was addressed only served to show the more strongly its reality and magnitude. The practical question for the House was simply this—Were they desirous to give to those in Ireland who were entitled to the franchise facilities for getting on the register? It used to be the favourite theory of hon. Gentlemen on the Conservative benches that the Irish people should be induced to agitate by constitutional means the questions which interested them. But if they endeavoured by a system of frivolous and vexations objections to keep persons who were really entitled to the franchise, and who in 20 England would enjoy it, off the register of voters; how could they expect such persons to agitate in a constitutional manner? He was ready to allow that in Ireland there was a great deal of bullying and intimidation at elections, and that that undoubtedly tended to deter many persons from becoming voters. But was that a reason to prevent a House of Commons that had passed the Ballot Bill from giving to those persons a right to which they were entitled, and the means of exercising it? He hoped the Bill would be allowed to pass, as it tended to widen the franchise, and he believed in a large body of electors and a popular suffrage, and not at all in minorities and a restricted one.
§ MR. FAY
said, that the present system of representation in Ireland was a dishonest one. He had seen a great deal of its operation in his own county, and knew how easily it could be abused. If there were only two counties in Ireland that objected to the supplemental list it was plain that men were returned to this House who had no real right to their seats. He had given great attention to the subject to which the Bill referred, and he could state his own deliberate conviction that there was nothing in Ireland that more seriously needed reform. As regarded the great protection afforded by allowing costs against vexatious objections, he found himself regularly struck off at the instance of both parties, and could not get a hearing. He was snubbed. The costs allowed, of which they had heard so much, amounted simply to the railway fare, and he thought it too much that men should be made to sacrifice their time in Dublin and waste a day in Kingstown in order to answer frivolous objections.
§ MR. MARTEN
said, he wished to offer a few observations to the House, in which he would comment on the Bill from an English point of view. It was said that the Bill extended to Ireland only provisions which already existed in England. He found, however, that of the 19 clauses of which it consisted, only the first three contained provisions which could be said to be in force in England; and these were in force only in regard to counties; and if this Bill passed, it would be necessary to introduce assimilating Bills applicable to English and Scotch boroughs. He thought, therefore, that the main ground upon which the Bill 21 had been made to rest had no existence whatever. The Bill of 1873 contained the same principle in regard to the onus probandi as the present Bill; it passed this House, but was shipwrecked in the House of Lords upon this very question. Certainly, it was in his opinion a principle which ought never to be accepted by Parliament. The principle was contained in the 7th clause of the present Bill. It was well known that the electoral lists in Ireland were made out by strong politicians on one side or the other, and who were not primâ facie men whose position commanded implicit confidence in their official acts. The existing law of registration in Ireland was, he thought, a fair one, as it threw the onus probandi upon those who claimed to be put upon the register as new voters. But in Ireland the law was actually more favourable to new claimants than it was in England. He trusted the House would not accept the principle of this clause. The case of the county of Dublin had been mentioned; but that was a singular county, for of 3,901 claims put upon the supplemental list only 171 had been allowed. That showed that the objections did not all come from one side; in fact, the county was worked vigorously by the agents of each party. That showed that the paucity of voters was not occasioned by any consideration of expense. There was not, then, any sufficient reason for altering the present law. By the 12th clause medical relief was not to act as a disqualification. That was a matter that required serious consideration; and he hoped the House would not depart from the existing law without serious deliberation.
§ MR. RICHARD SMYTH
As I had the advantage of serving on the Select Committee which two Sessions ago inquired into the expediency of amending the law relating to the registration of Parliamentary voters in Ireland, I desire to say a few words on the subject. We may congratulate ourselves on the speech which has been delivered by the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down (Mr. Marten), as it is always desirable to know from what point of view English Members look at Irish questions. Holding the opinions which I do on the subject now before the House, I am, of course, sorry that the hon. and learned Gentleman should have thrown his weight into the scale against the 22 Bill; but no possible exception can be taken to the spirit in which he has presented his arguments to the House. I agree with my hon. Friend below me (Mr. M'Carthy Downing) that the hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson) has, on this occasion, discharged with his usual ability a duty which he is accustomed to undertake with good-natured alacrity—that of moving the rejection of a Bill which has the support of the great body of Irish Members. Besides, I do not know any one who could more appropriately undertake the task of opposing a Registration Bill, for the constituency which he represents is far removed from the annoyances of objectors and the scrutiny of Revising Barristers. The hon. and learned Gentleman lays great stress on the circumstance—and therein he has been followed by the hon. Member for Carlow (Mr. Bruen)—that the Bill now under consideration does not follow the lines laid down in the Report of the Select Committee. That is, no doubt, so, for the obvious reason that the Committee reported in favour of letting things alone; and it would be absurd to expect any Bill to be introduced into this House with the avowed object of making no change whatever in the law. But that Report was agreed to on the casting vote of the Chairman. The Committee consisted of 15 Members, of whom 8 appeared to think that the present law was about as perfect as human wisdom could devise; whilst the remaining 7 thought it could be improved, and this Bill suggests the improvements which found favour with the minority. I do not know whether the hon. and learned Member for Kildare (Mr. Meldon) expects to carry his Bill; but, whether he does or not, I think it well that the House of Commons and the country should clearly understand what the system is which so many hon. Members think perfection. It would be ridiculous to parade this as a strictly Irish grievance. Happily there are many questions affecting Ireland which we can discuss without appealing to national prejudices, or resorting to the language of national complaint, and this is one of them. Ireland, I suppose, is no worse off than England in this matter. We have been told so by the hon. Member for Carlow, and we can believe it. But what of that? If Englishmen are content with a defective 23 system, that is no reason why Irishmen should be content with it. It may be a very good rule, that what cannot be cured ought to be endured; but I think it is an equally good rule, that what can be cured ought not to be endured. And if England is patient under political blemishes which she could easily remove if she liked, I think Ireland is just as virtuous in being impatient under them. It has been asserted that the Bill of the hon. and learned Member for Kildare has been introduced to meet and cure the evils which are incident to two counties only in Ireland—the county of Dublin and the county of Carlow. That is not at all so; the same evils are latent everywhere. They have been developed in Dublin and Carlow because politics have been in great activity there for many years. Political parties in the county of Dublin have used the law most faithfully, and, in doing so, have proved its absurdity. It is strange to find that the more strictly the law is applied the more absurd it becomes. We have it in evidence that the tenements in the county of Dublin valued at and over £12, being the amount which gives the county franchise in Ireland, number 27,000, whilst in 1874 there were only 4,300 voters on the register. Allowing 12,000 occupiers to be deducted for females and duplicate returns, there still remain 11,700 to be accounted for, but that is not all. The clerks of the Unions in that county return between 3,000 and 4,000 rated occupiers each year as entitled to be put for the first time on the Parliamentary register; and Mr. Carleton, the deputy clerk of the peace, states that seldom more than 100 men are registered upon the supplemental list at each revision. The House will remember that there are virtually three lists laid before the Revising Barrister. First, there is the list of those who were on the roll in former years; secondly, there is the supplemental list, containing new names returned by the county officials; and thirdly, there is the list of claimants who, having been omitted by the clerks of Unions, yet claim to be put on the register. Now, as regards objections, those who object to the first list are bound to sustain their objection by proof, even although the objection is not rebutted; but those who object to the second list do not require to produce any proof at all, and if the 24 person objected to do not appear to defend himself, either personally or by attorney, he is struck off as a matter of course. It is in the mode of dealing with this second list that the whole evil lies. Objections are served wholesale, in the hope that no defence will be made before the Revising Barrister; and if no defence is taken, why the name is struck off at once. Well, in the county of Dublin, where parties are very active, there are each year, say, 3,500 names on the supplemental list. One-third of them are Conservatives; they are objected to by the Liberals. One-third are Liberals; they are objected to by the Conservatives. The remaining third are doubtful, and their case is the most hopeless of all, for they are objected to by both sides, and are ignominiously dismissed without a friend. The result is that out of 3,500, whom the county officials return as qualified voters, only 100 get a vote—and this is the system which the majority of the Select Committee consider so perfect as not to be susceptible of any amendment whatever. One of the political agents, when under examination before the Committee, was asked if they did not sometimes make mistakes and keep their own friends off the register. "No," said he, "not in Dublin. It runs very much Catholic and Protestant. You find out a man's religion, and you are pretty safe in one way or the other. That is about it. The only mistakes that we ever made were amongst Presbyterians. We sometimes do not know what to do with them." Here is a remarkable state of things. These Presbyterians in the county of Dublin do not allow their creed to dominate their politics, but take their own way as citizens, without considering what religious dogmas they have subscribed to. Some of them are very much afraid of the Pope, and, of course, they are Conservatives. Others of them are not one bit afraid of the Pope, but they are very much afraid of being unjust to anybody, and, of course, they are Liberals. And so it comes to pass that because political wire-pullers cannot tell beforehand what a new settler, who is a Presbyterian, will do at an election, they think it safer to relieve him from the discharge of all political duties whatever. I do not lay, however, much stress on this, because I believe that these Presbyterians in the 25 county of Dublin, many of whom are Scotchmen, are pretty well able to take care of themselves. But it is not so in the case of the occupiers in other parts of Ireland, and with others in that very county to which I have been referring. It may be asked, why they do not all attend the revision sessions and defend themselves? There is a two-fold reply to this question. In the first place, the notice of objection is served through the post office, and those who know Ireland well are aware that there is no house-to-house delivery of letters in remote country districts. Multitudes of the notices are never delivered at all. But, even if they were, country farmers, living at a great distance from the place where the sessions are held, are not likely to attend or to set legal machinery in motion for their own defence. The exercise of a vote being a remote thing, the stay-at-home farmers are not much excited about securing it for themselves. Mr. Caruth, one of the witnesses, stated that in the county of Antrim some rated occupiers would have to go 18 miles to the revision sessions. Matters, however, appear to be in a happy state in that county. Each side has great faith in the farmers, and the consequence is, that both Conservative and Liberal agents welcome all comers and object to nobody; but no doubt the next General Election will awake one side or other out of its dreams, and Antrim, in a few years, will be as miserably attenuated in its register as the county of Dublin. What my hon. and learned Friend aims at in this Bill is to secure to the people their rights, no matter what political party they belong to, and to take them out of the hands of the persons who do not look at them as citizens, but merely as instruments to be used in their game of politics. The Bill proposes that when an objection is lodged against any man, the ground of the objection should be stated, and, if the objector cannot make it good, he should be made to pay costs. What right should anyone have to bring a farmer 18 miles across mountains for nothing, and when the objector knows it is for nothing? Whatever may be done with this Bill to-day, the tenant-farmers of Ireland will at least understand who they are in this House that are not afraid to see every man in Ireland who is entitled to a vote put on the register without those vexatious annoy- 26 ances which some hon. Members consider the purifying elements of politics. We on this side of the House are not afraid of the Irish farmers. The more of them who get on the register the better for Ireland, and for England too. If hon. Members look upon the present system as perfect, and announce it by their votes to be so, I am glad that they are not the judges of perfectibility in any matters which lie outside the range of political warfare. The rights of the people ought not to be trifled with in this way. You are only tantalizing the farmers of Ireland by offering them votes, whilst you put it in the power of irresponsible committees to disfranchise them wholesale by simply dropping a piece of paper in the slit of the post office. May I remind the House that the franchise is comparatively higher in Ireland than it is in England? It is therefore all the more necessary to have a registration law that will not unduly restrict the very limited franchise which the people possess. If it is little you profess to give them, let them at least know that they may calculate on getting it, and that the cup of political privilege will not be dashed out of their hand before it has reached their lips. I heartily support the second reading of the Bill.
§ MR CHARLES LEWIS
denied that the state of the law as affecting registration constituted an Irish grievance, for the law as it stood was more favourable to the Irish than to the English voter. He congratulated the three hon. Members who spoke first on the marvellous debating powers which they had exhibited. They had occupied three and a-half hours, and had thereby done an immense deal for their countrymen. This Bill was supported, he believed, upon four leading grounds: First, the Report of the Committee of 1869 was quoted as a justification of this Bill. Second, the Bill of 1873, which went up to the House, and met with what was called "an accident" there, was said to be a precedent which ought to carry this Bill over the Bar of the House up to the House of Lords. Third, that this Bill would assimilate the law of Ireland to that of England; and the hon. and learned Member for Kildare (Mr. Meldon) especially alluded to the first three clauses as effecting that object. Lastly, that it ought to be passed on account of its inherent propriety and justice. With 27 regard to the first point, he hoped the House would remember that Parliament had not at present thought it advisable to adopt many of the leading recommendations of the Committee of 1869 as to the English registration; therefore, if it had also declined to do so with regard to Ireland, there was no special grievance in that. He did not wish to disparage that Committee; but it was to be noted that their Report was the Report of only 7 out of its 15 Members. So little interest did they take in the matter that only 7 were present when they met to draw up their Report, and there was a certain homogeneity in the character and politics of those who were present, so that it was impossible to avoid the idea that the Report was a reflection of their own opinions rather than a result of their inquiries. Secondly, as to the Bill of 1873—that most unfortunate Bill—the hon. and learned Member for Kildare had quoted it against him (Mr. Lewis). It was true that he had opposed that Bill with a pertinacity which drew from the Liberal Attorney General some personal remarks. It was true he (Mr. Lewis) did not divide; but any one who was in the last Parliament knew that any attempt by a Conservative Member to oppose any Government measure, and particularly a law Bill, was hopeless. He did his best, however, to oppose a proposition which entirely reversed the whole law of registration with regard to the onus probandi; but without success. In the House of Lords, however, the Bill was rejected by a large majority on the very ground that the clauses which professed to get rid of frivolous objections could be worked so as to support and encourage frivolous claims. Then, thirdly, as to assimilation, this Bill proposed to do a great deal more: and, fourthly, as to its inherent propriety and justice, those who had had a long experience in the working of the registration like himself knew that there ought to be in the interests of the bonâ fide voter some restriction on the power of making sham claims. Mr. Roberts, the secretary of the leading Liberal Registration Association in England, being asked before the Committee of 1869, whether without some judicial power exercised in the way he had described, he saw any means of putting a stop to frivolous claims, replied that he did not; because 28 he could sit down in London and write out a lot of claims for every county in England, and send them to the overseers, who, although they knew nothing of him, would be bound to put the names on the list. Mr. Roberts was then asked whether frivolous claims were put forward extensively; and he said they were, especially as to counties, because in counties claimants were not called upon to prove their qualifications unless they were objected to. There was great fallacy in the Dublin statistics quoted by previous speakers. The disparity between the number of tenancies and the number of voters did not, at all events, wholly arise from any difficulties of registration which this Bill would remedy. The disparity arose from the fact that there were so many villa residences in Dublin that were sub-let, and, as the law stood, unless the actual tenant did not keep a servant on the premises the right to the vote was vitiated. This state of things would, however, be remedied by "The House Occupiers Disabilities Removal Bill," which, strange to say, Irish Members opposite and some English Members who, like the hon. Member for Bath (Colonel Hayter), had the lodging-house element largely prevalent in their constituencies, had determined to prevent passing by Motions for Adjournment and the like whenever it came before the House. Before the Committee in 1874, of which he (Mr. Lewis) was a Member, it was proved over and over again that voters objected to were able without trouble, by speaking to the collector of taxes and empowering him to state to the Revising Barrister the particulars of their holdings, to retain their votes against objectors; and yet hon. Members opposite represented the need of appearing before the Revising Barrister's Court as a difficult, annoying, and distressing process. A Mr. O'Shaughnessy came before the Committee, and complained of his own party (he being a Liberal) giving up its attendance at the Revising Barrister's Court, by which his occupation as an election agent was taken away. He was asked—"Do you believe that the action of political parties in Dublin against each other produced a good register or not?" and he replied, "It has, to an enormous extent." He (Mr. Lewis) then asked—"Suppose the example set by the Liberal Party,"— 29 that was, deserting the Courts, and giving over its attention to the register, "were to be followed by the Conservative Party, what would be the result?" Answer—"You will have a very good register;" and on being asked what he meant by a good register, he replied—"You would have on it a great many more Liberals than Conservatives." That, it appeared to him, was the solution of this Bill—its result would be that in a large proportion of the constituencies the registers would be stuffed with bad votes, and good votes would not be looked after. This was obvious from the limited call or need of the Bill. It practically only applied to two counties, Dublin and Carlow—or perhaps Cork might be included—because it had been shown that in no fewer than 33 counties no objections had for some time been served by either political Party. With regard to the clauses referred to by the hon. and learned Member for Kildare, as intended to assimilate the law of Ireland with that of England, in some of them provisions were made which had no place in the law of England. For instance, with regard to costs, power was given to the Revising Barrister to award costs at his discretion against an objector who failed to make good his case, so that he could fine an objector £10, £15, or even £50 at his discretion or his vengeance. There was no such discretion allowed by the English law. So careful was the Legislature to limit this power, that for many years the utmost fine that could be imposed in the case of a frivolous or vexatious objector was £1, and it was not until the Act of 1875 that it was extended to £5. Then, again, he (Mr. Lewis) would be extremely loth to give any Revising Barrister power to commit for contempt of Court. It was clear that the aim of the Bill was to put down objectors by establishing a terrorism by which they would be driven out of the Courts. For these and many other reasons, which there was not time to state, he trusted the House would decline to read the Bill a second time; for it was as much in the interests of a pure register to provide against it being stuffed with fictitious votes as it was to provide against fictitious objections.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL FORIRELAND (Mr. PLUNKET)
said, he had listened with, care to what had been 30 urged in favour of the Bill, but the Government could not assent to its being now read a second time, and he was bound to say he could not find that a case had been made of necessity for such a change of the existing law. The Committee of 1874, of which he was Chairman, had been rather roughly handled for the conclusions at which they had arrived, and for having given what was called a Party vote: matters of that kind were not generally regarded by any one quite irrespective of Party principles, but he could say for the hon. Gentlemen with whom he acted on that Committee that they most carefully considered the evidence tendered to them on both sides, and that the conclusions at which they arrived were the outcome of a deliberate and conscientious judgment. Having said so much for the Committee, he would not for a moment deny that there were anomalies and inconveniences in the present system of registration in Ireland; but certainly no alternative system, in his opinion, had yet been proposed, either in this Bill or elsewhere, which could be safely accepted. The present Bill, along with certain matters which might very fairly be subjects for discussion in Committee, contained some highly objectionable principles. The most important of these appeared to be in the provisions relating to objections to voters. On this point the Bill differed widely from the English System, although it was brought forward avowedly for the purpose of assimilating the law in the two countries, and he was not prepared to say, however, that some amendment of the Irish law might not be made in that direction. But the cardinal principle of the Bill was contained in the 7th clause, and he could entirely concur with most of what had been urged against it in the course of the debate. To pass such a provision would simply be to put an end altogether to that purification of the Register now only obtainable by the system of objections—at all events, in constituencies composed of a shifting population. For his own part, he should rejoice to get rid of the present system of objections if a better could be found for its purpose; but the requirements of the case were certainly not met by the Bill. It was assumed by the Committee of 1874 throughout their inquiry that the continued occupancy of a house for 12 31 months was an indispensable qualification for a voter; but to-day the House was told by the supporters of the measure that was a matter of no consequence at all. With this view of the question he could not agree, and important evidence, he might say, was given against it before the Committee. In conclusion, he might state that if it had been possible to let the Bill go into Committee, the Government would willingly have done so; but seeing that it laid down principles which were altogether objectionable, they felt bound to oppose it.
§ MR. LAW
said, that the opponents of the Bill seemed to be haunted by the dread of a few people getting on the register without due qualification, whilst they altogether disregarded the fact that great numbers of persons entitled to have votes were practically disfranchised by the present system. This was a very large question, affecting, as it did, all constituencies where there were political associations on one side or the other. The intentions of hon. Members on his side of the House, he believed, could not be better expressed than by the Report of the Committee of 1869, in which it was laid down that the registration of voters being the business of the State, ought to be placed as far as possible beyond the influence alike of popular apathy or ignorance and the action of political agents. The Committee likewise stated that by the operation of the present registration system a large proportion of persons entitled to vote could only obtain the franchise by troublesome and costly proceedings—a circumstance which involved a great hardship on the working classes. This last consideration, as an argument in favour of the Bill, appeared to him unanswerable; and he could not but think that a measure based on the recommendation of a Committee of which the Chancellor of the Exchequer and others of the present Administration were Members, was at least entitled to the respect of a second reading. It was, however, the old story. Hon. Gentlemen opposite were afraid, after all, of giving full scope to the political opinions of the people. It was all very fine to make ingenious and far-fetched objections to the details of the Bill. What its supporters broadly contended for was that no needless difficulties should be 32 thrown in the way of persons who were entitled to votes having their names placed upon the register, and he did not think that hon. Gentlemen opposite who took such credit to themselves for promoting the interests of the working classes ought to be so eager to maintain a system of registration which was injurious to those interests, and which a Committee of that House had condemned.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided; and the Tellers reported the numbers Ayes 168; Noes 234.
§ Whereupon the House was informed by Mr. Gibson, one of the Tellers for the Noes, that Mr. Whalley, one of the Members for Peterborough, by inadvertence, had not voted in the Division:—Mr. Speaker directed Mr. Whalley to come to the Table, and asked him if he had heard the Question put; and the honourable Member having stated that he had heard the Question put, and having declared himself with the Noes, Mr. Speaker directed his name to be added to the Noes, and declared the numbers Ayes 168; Noes 235: Majority 67.
§ Words added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Second Reading put off for six months.