§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. M'COAN
, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, as the measure had been several times before the House, and had twice passed a second reading, it would not be necessary to go into details of the changes which it proposed to make. At the same time, he might indicate its main features, for the benefit of those who might not have been present on the occasions he referred to. The measure was very simple and in no sense revolutionary, but only introduced three changes, the necessity and reasonableness of which he believed was generally recognized. The present system of electing Poor Law Guardians was established in 1838, and many abuses had arisen under it, which the present measure sought to remedy. In the first place, the House was aware that the Boards consisted of both ex-officio and elected members, and that landowners possessed a cumulative vote—six as owner and six as occupier—thus giving each proprietor 12 votes as against the single vote of the ordinary ratepayer. That was perfectly reasonable and equitable, because the landlord paid half the poor rates, and the Bill did not propose to interfere with his privilege in that respect. Under the present system, however, these 12 votes were utilized by means of proxies, which led to great abuses. The agent, or some other representative of the landlord class, usually collected these proxies, while on the other side the rest of the ratepayers brought all their influence to bear in securing the election of what he might call the popular candidate. In these elections every kind of device was adopted by each party—and in saying so he did not rely upon his own opinion, but upon the Report of a Commission which sat and investigated the whole question—in order to secure the return of their candidate. The present system of voting led also to abuses in the case of the individual ratepayers, who registered 484 their votes on open papers left at their houses by policemen, and collected on the following day. Results proved that these were frequently tampered with. Indeed, from the moment the election began the abuses were equal on both sides. [Colonel KING-HARMAN: No, no !] The landlords brought all the influences which were possible under the system to bear upon their tenants, so as to control their votes. The bailiff was sent round to threaten, cajole, and influence in every possible way the various ratepayers. If one tenant wanted a piece of beg, the hope of his receiving it was held out to him if he would vote as the landlord wished. It was idle to say that the influence thus brought to bear upon the ratepayers was not both undue and corrupt. The popular party, he conceded, similarly made every effort to have the influence on the other side quite as undue and corrupt. He did not wish to use over-strong language, for it usually recoiled; but in many instances some priests were not too careful how they brought their influence to bear, and by hook or crook they exercised it against the landlords; so that with the landlords on one side, and the ratepayers, shopkeepers, and priests on the other, it became a question—if he might say so without disrespect — of "pull devil, pull baker!" These abuses could be possible only under a system of open voting. Their practical result would not be so great if the functions of Boards of Guardians were limited, as originally, to the application of the rates for the relief of the poor. But now they exercised powers far beyond those possessed by similar Boards in England or Scotland, and it became all the more necessary to guard against the possibility of abuse. In 1877 a Bill had been introduced by Sir Colman O'Loghlen, substantially the same as the one before the House; but it was beaten on the second reading by a majority of about 40. In the following year, however, the hon. Member for Carlow (Mr. Gray), then representing Tipperary, succeeded in carrying it to a second reading by a majority of 44; but, owing to its having been blocked, it never reached a third reading. After that the whole question of the election of Poor Law Guardians was referred to a Select Committee, who made a Report against the Bill. The Bill now before the House proposed 485 three changes—first, to substitute ballet for the present open system of voting; secondly, to substitute triennial for annual elections; and, thirdly, that the votes should be given in person. The second change was proposed owing to the arguments urged by the opponents of the Bill, that yearly elections by ballot would cause great trouble and expense. By such a change not only would the expense not be increased, but it would be greatly reduced. As to the third change proposed by the Bill—namely, that the votes should all be given in person—objection had been taken on the other side of the House that it would be great hardship on a landlord who did not reside in the Union, and perhaps did not reside in Ireland at all, to have to register his vote in person; but the interest of the majority and the interest of electoral purity were paramount in this case, and must not give way to the convenience of a landlord. As regarded the change from yearly to three-yearly elections, that was supported by the Report of the Committee of 1878, who were unanimous in their opinion that it should be made. As to the substitution of the ballot for open voting papers, although that change was not supported by the Report of the Committee, it had been advocated by all except the official witnesses; and gentlemen who were not familiar with the matter might, perhaps, be reminded that the Bill proposed in no way to interfere with the present administrative checks exercised by the Local Government Board over these elections. The present system, however, afforded no guarantee whatever that the election was an expression of the free will of the electors, and the result was that the electors were not substantially represented on the Boards, and therefore had not that control over the administration of their own funds which the law intended them to have. It would be well to note the quarter whence opposition came to this Bill. Last year it was opposed by an hon. and gallant Landlord (Colonel King-Harman), who bad given Notice of opposing it today. As against the influential class in Ireland which the hon. and gallant Gentleman represented, there was, he believed, an agreement of opinion in its favour on the Ministerial side of the House. He thought he had said nearly 486 all that need be said on the subject, except, perhaps, that since last year the Government had accepted the principle of the Bill and had undertaken, as he understood, this year to deal with it in a measure of their own. If that were done, he should gratefully retire, leaving the matter in more competent banes than his own; but, if not, he should certainly press the Bill to the utmost extent of his power.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. M'Coan.)
§ COLONEL KING-HARMAN
, in moving that the Bill be read a second time on that day six months, said, he wished, if the Government did intend to deal with the matter themselves, they would do so in a manner more fair and equitable towards owners of property than was proposed in this Bill. There were many points in this measure with which men experienced in Irish local affairs would agree. For instance, very few persons would object to the term of office of members of Boards of Guardians being extended to three years, nor to any means by which elections might pass off more peacefully and rationally. At present the voting for Guardians was made a pretext for agitation purposes, for rowdyism, and for a great deal of undue influence. [Mr. KENNY: On the part of the landlords.] The hon. Member who interrupted had very little knowledge of the subject. The hon. Member who moved the second reading of this Bill admitted that the landlord who paid half the rates had an equitable right to considerable influence in the election. By the clause in this Bill, to which he (Colonel King-Harman) objected, that power was taken away by a provision which obliged every elector to deliver his vote in person. He had no objection to the elector, especially the poor man, receiving the protection which the secrecy of the ballot afforded him; but by the 4th clause of the Bill, to which he had referred, an owner who held land and paid rates in more than one electoral district would be, to a large extent, practically disfranchised, as would also all sick and infirm persons, and all landlords who resided out of the country. It might be said that if the landlord chose to reside out of the country he had no right to expect to exercise his vote But 487 he disputed that proposition altogether, for whether a landlord resided out of the country or in it, he equally paid a largo proportion of the rates, and had a right to an equitable representation in deciding as to how these rates were to be spent. He, however, would give a personal illustration. He held votes and paid rates in Boyle Union, in Ballymahon, and six other Unions; but if he had to record his vote in person, and if, as would probably be the case, the elections took place all on or about the same day, he would be practically disfranchised in all but one or two of those Unions. A suggestion was once made by the hon. and gallant Member for the County Galway (Colonel Nolan) to exempt the landlord from the obligation of voting in person, and that, he thought, was a very fair solution of the matter; and Mr. Kavanagh, when he sat in that House, propounded a scheme combining the two systems of election. That system was very favourably received by the House, but, like many other suggestions which had been favourably criticized by Parliament, nothing came of it. He could not agree with the bon. Member who introduced the Bill that its adoption would lead to to a better class of men corning forward as candidates for seats on the Poor Law Board. He held an entirely opposite opinion, and believed that, so far from improving, it would tend to lower the class of the candidates. Allusion had been made to the scandalous abuses which had taken place in some of the Unions, and no doubt that had been the case. Everybody knew something about the distribution of the seed rate, how the seed was given out and re-bought, and sold again to the people, and now the rates were positively swamped by the indiscriminate distribution. [Mr. M'COAN: Give some names.] Swinford was one, and he could name others. But what he desired to point out was that these abuses took place in Unions where the landlords' influence was exceedingly small, and where the Guardians were purely and simply elected on what had been called the popular vote. In saying these few words he had tried to use no invidious language. The measure was not altogether objectionable, and Clause 4 was the only part of it to which he was decidedly opposed. This clause would, as he had said, disfranchise men whose influence 488 admittedly ought to be very considerable; and he, therefore, for this specific reason—and not because he disliked the protection of the ballot—moved that the Bill be read a second time that day three months. He trusted the House would be favoured with some remarks from the Government as to what they contemplated doing in this matter.
Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."—(Colonel King-Harman.)
Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. GRAY
said, that after the speech of the hon. and gallant Member, there did not seem to be any necessity for discussing in detail the principles of the Bill, for it appeared to be conceded by the Representatives of the landlord class that some improvement ought to be effected in the election of members of Boards of Guardians in Ireland. The position, therefore, was narrowed down to the question as to whether the proxy vote should or should not be abolished, and he himself considered its abolition as most important. [Mr. MACARTNEY: The plural vote.] No, that was not interfered with. Under the existing system in Ireland, a man might record 18 votes—six as a proprietor, six as a lessor, and six as an occupier—in each electoral district; and the Bill did not propose to deprive the representatives of wealth and position of that preponderance over the vote of the poor man. Those who were acquainted with the system, or who had read the evidence given before the Select Committee, had been of opinion that most scandalous abuses arose from the proxy vote. He knew a gentleman in Dublin County who used to hold upwards of 1,000 proxy votes in blank, the consequence of which was that he commanded the representation of one of the most important Unions in that county, and at last, by exercising that enormous power from year to year, he was appointed to a lucrative office under the Board, the representatives of which were to a large extent his own nominees. Such a system could not be justified by any person who was actuated by a spirit of fair play. The hon. and gallant Member for Dublin County thought it unfair that that power of 489 proxy voting should be taken away; but the hon. and gallant Member should have gone a step further, and should have shown why Boards of Guardians should be elected on a different system from that adopted in the election to much more important offices. If the hon. and gallant Member had a Parliamentary vote both in Dublin and in Sligo Counties, he would have to elect in which constituency he would record his vote, unless he were like Sir Boyle Roche's bird, and could be in two places at one time. Why should it be different in the election of Boards of Guardians? [Colonel KING-HARMAN: I could record both votes.] Then the hon. and gallant Gentleman was like Sir Boyle Roche's bird. If we were able to travel by electricity, probably the hon. and gallant Member would be able to record a dozen votes;. but he would have to do so in person, and that was all that was aimed at by the present Bill. He earnestly trusted that no hon. Gentleman would be misled into giving up the opposition to the proxy vote, because it really was one of the greatest abuses in the present system. It was notorious that the landlords handed over to their gutter agents numbers of proxies signed in blank for the different electoral districts, and never heard anything more about them, the agent manipulating the election to suit his own particular purposes. The hon. and gallant Member argued that the power which landlords now enjoyed ought not to be taken away from them. At the time the present system was adopted, it was thought desirable that landlords should have these extra powers; but circumstances had very much changed since then. Formerly a Poor Law Board had simply to administer the rates for relief of the destitute; but of late years other duties of a different character had been imposed upon it, and it was now made a distinct sanitary authority, and had power over the liberties of the entire community to compel persons to do a variety of things involving large expenditure. The right of election to a body such as that ought not to be given to men who had not sufficient interest in the matter to come and record their vote. Further, even without the proxy vote, the landlord in Ireland had more advantages than in England, although most persons imagined that the system is the two countries was the same. In 490 England the ex-officio Guardians were only one-third, whereas in Ireland they were one-half of the entire Board, who, if they were not so lazy as not to attend except when an officer was to be appointed, would practically control the entire Poor Law administration. Without the elected Guardians, the landlords, as ho said, would contribute half the entire Board, and they would be sure to have at least one or two of the elected Guardians who would vote with them, so that if they chose they could always override the other side.
denied that all ex-officio Guardians were landlords. The way in which a Board was constituted was that a certain number of Guardians were elected to represent the electoral division—some divisions by one and some by two—and then an equivalent number of magistrates was added. If there were more magistrates resident in the division than there were elected Guardians, only as many of that body would be taken as would equal the elected Guardians; while if the number of magistrates resident in the Union was not equal to that of the elected Guardians, then a list was taken of all the owners of property in the Union who were Justices of the Peace in other parts of the county, or of Ireland, and they took precedence according to the amount of property they held. If, after the making of the list, an additional magistrate was appointed in the district, one of the non-resident magistrates was struck off. He thought nothing could be fairer than that. According to the hon. Member for Carlow (Mr. Gray), the ex-officio members did not attend, except when there was a job; but if they only attended when there was a job—such as the election of an officer—they could not do much mischief. His experience was that a full attendance of elected Guardians always occurred when an officer was to be elected, particularly if there was a contract for milk, butter, eggs, or shoes, and then the elected Guardians came down in crowds, and voted for their friends. His experience was that Unions were protected against this species of jobbery by the ex-officio Guardians. Hon. Members below the Gangway were always talking about the enlargement of the franchise; but this was distinctly a disfranchising Bill. Every man with scattered property 491 would be disfranchised. As it was, on one portion of his property 74 of his tenants were able to swamp his six votes. It would disfranchise every infirm man in a Union. It would also virtually disfranchise every woman in a Union, and every person engaged in labour or otherwise, who was disinclined to throw away a day in order to be able to record his vote in person. He thought that those who did not want to go to the balloting place and be hustled about and intimidated had a right to the protection of voting papers. It was alleged that the landlords exercised tyrannical power; he, however, was unacquainted with it, but he knew very well of the interference of the priests. On his own property and under his very nose those persons had never been elected whom he should have liked to see chosen for the office of Guardian; but neither he nor his agent interfered. The individual elected was generally a publican, in whose house the voters purchased whiskey and groceries. They owed money to him, and he said, "Elect me, and I will make the terms easier for you." Hon. Members below the Gangway did not like the present class of agents, because most of them were gentlemen; but to stigmatize such men as gutter agents, was a very improper use of language. He would suggest that non-resident electors should be allowed to vote by means of voting papers sent to them by post and witnessed by a magistrate.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
said, he heartily approved the Bill, which he believed would be extremely useful. The ballot, having been adopted at Parliamentary elections, ought also to be applied to elections of Poor Law Guardians. When the elected Guardians wore left pretty much to themselves in the management of the Union they became conservative in the best sense of the word. They were anxious to keep down the rates; and he believed that they would look after economic interests very strictly indeed if they had more power. He did not think the Bill would greatly change the present constitution of the Boards; but it would do away with a good deal of bitterness and ill-feeling. A great deal had happened since 1878; and he thought proxy-voting, purely and simply, would be an extremely bad thing in Ireland at the present moment. What was wanted was the residence of landlords in Ireland; 492 but the proxy vote was a contrivance which enabled a man living in London, Paris, or anywhere else to have a power of control to which, under the circumstances, he was not entitled. He thought it would be possible to introduce a clause which, while not providing for the proxy vote, would enable an owner who had voted personally in one Union to tender it in writing in other Unions. The real difficulty was in dealing with persons who lived out of Ireland and handed over their votes to proxies. The hon. Member for Tyrone (Mr. Macartney) made the extraordinary suggestion that there should be a voluntary ballet; but that would be of no use whatever, for the voter would be annoyed and subjected to odium because ho said he would vote by ballot. Under a general ballot the voter would be master of the situation, but at present his vote belonged to everybody except himself. Speaking not only as a Member of Parliament, but as the Chairman of a very large Union, he believed that the Bill would be welcome; and he could not understand a Liberal Government not supporting such a moderate Bill.
§ MR. O'SULLIVAN
said, he also should support the Bill. The present system, after a trial of many years, had failed. One of its tendencies was to demoralize the ratepayers by causing them to make promises which they could not fulfil; and he had also known of cases of forged voting papers by people who in other relations of life were honest and trustworthy. The triennial system would be a decided improvement, while the ballot had been already tried and found successful in other elections, and would, no doubt, be as entirely successful in the election of Poor Law Guardians. The hon. Member for Tyrone complained because his vote was swamped by that of 74 of his tenants; but surely the House did not view as a hardship the fact that the vote of one person should be swamped by the votes of 74.
asked leave to explain. He was then speaking in opposition to an argument of the hon. Gentleman the High Sheriff of Dublin, who stated that the landlords by their proxy votes swamped the tenants.
§ MR. O'SULLIVAN
said, the hon. Gentleman and his class had an equitable representation in the ex-officio 493 Guardians; but they wanted also to possess such a power of voting for candidates as would swamp the representation of the ratepayers. They did not want to disfranchise the landlord. He would still have his 18 votes; but he should go in person to record them, and if he did not reside in Ireland he had no right to vote. The measure was a fair and honest one, and would give each man what voting power he was entitled to. He hoped that the Bill would be passed by the unanimous vote of the House, and that the good sense of those who were opposing it would induce them to abstain from taking a division upon it.
§ MR. T. A. DICKSON
said, that during the debate to-day several references had been made by hon. Members to "the Member for Tyrone," and he would wish to point out, having a political reputation to sustain in that county, that there were two Members for Tyrone, and it would be gratifying if Members would distinguish between them as the senior Member for Tyrone and the junior Member for Tyrone. He was astounded at the slur cast upon the elected Guardians of Tyrone by the Conservative Member (Mr. Macartney) of that county. He knew a great number of them personally, he knew them to be above suspicion, and men who would not be influenced by corrupt motives in the giving away of contracts. When his Colleague's humiliating description of the elected Guardians of Tyrone appeared in the Irish Press, he could only say those Guardians would be surprised at the description given of them by the Conservative Member for Tyrone. Vote by ballot would save the Local Government Board an immense amount of trouble, for each year they were at present obliged to send Inspectors to various Unions to inquire into the elections. He wished to point out that the House had spent this day discussing a measure which last year had passed its second reading by a majority of three to one, which was supported by the Government in the person of the Attorney General, the clauses were all discussed in Committee, and passed, and the measure only fell through in consequence of opposition on the Report stage; and how another day had been wasted discussing a Bill which almost passed last year. The attitude of its opponents was worthy of remark. Last year the hon. 494 Member for Leitrim (Mr. Tottenham) opposed the Bill because it proposed vote by ballot. This year the hon. and gallant Conservative Member for Dublin County (Colonel King-Harman) approved heartily of the proposal, but objected to the measure because it proposed to abolish proxy voting. Last year, however, the House rejected by a large majority an Amendment in favour of proxy voting.
§ MR. RICHARD POWER
said, they might congratulate themselves en the manner in which the debate had been conducted, and the wonderful unanimity which had existed in almost every part of the House. The history of the Bill was rather a sad one for Irish Members. Year after year, ever since 1875, they had brought it before the House of Commons, and upon three occasions they had carried it by very substantial majorities. Last year they even got as far in it as the third reading; but, owing to the obstructive tactics of the Members who sat on the Conservative Benches, the Bill was thrown out, and nothing more was heard about it. He supported the Bill because he believed it would place the voters in Ireland in a tolerably independent position. At present the voter was badgered almost out of existence. The landlord party came and told him he must vote one way, the tenant party came and told him he must vote another way, and then the clergyman came and told him he must vote a third way, so that really the poor tenant, in order to get out of the pit, very often stayed at home and did not vote at all. By giving him the right to vote by ballot, however, the House would place the tenant in a more independent position and would secure more honest and fair elections. A great advantage in the Bill was the provision that the elections should only take place once in three years, instead of once a-year as at present. Anybody who knew anything about elections for Poor Law Boards in Ireland would be very glad to see the trouble and turmoil which always attended them made to occur less frequently. All the arguments against the abolition of the proxy might also have been applied to Parliamentary elections. The hon. and gallant Member for Dublin County said if this Bill were passed, property would not be properly represented. Ho was not one of those who said that property ought not to be represented; 495 on the contrary, the contention of his Party always had been that property should be fairly and honestly represented; and they had never said that those who had an interest and stake in the country should not have their voice and their fair share in the Local and Imperial Government. The suggestion made by the hon. and gallant Member for Galway (Colonel Nolan), that if a landlord were prevented by reason of his voting at the election in one Union from voting at another election which was held on the same day he could do so by proxy, was, he thought, a very fair concession. He had always held that a man who never came into a county, and who had no interest in it except to draw some money out of it, had no right to unusual consideration; but a man like the hon. and gallant Member for the County of Dublin, who lived and spent his money in his county, ought to have the power to vote by proxy when elections for different Unions in which he had a vote were proceeding on the same day. He hoped the Government would not only assent to the second reading of this Bill, but would spare no pains to insure its passage into law during the present Session.
§ MR. TREVELYAN
said, that, quite apart from any action which the Government might have taken on their pledge in the past, no one could have listened to this debate without being thoroughly aware what course any Government which endeavoured to represent the great body of opinion in the House would take on the present occasion. As far as this Bill applied the system of the ballot to Poor Law elections, the Government had already promised, if they could find time, to bring in a Bill on the question. The hon. Member for Wicklow (Mr. M'Coan), who introduced the Bill, said it had two objects—one, the introduction of the ballot, and the other, the substitution of triennial for annual elections. But incidentally he mentioned a third part of the Bill, which abolished voting by proxy. On the main question of the change in the mode of conducting Poor Law elections it was not necessary to say much. Anybody who had listened to the Questions which had been addressed to him in the course of the last six weeks would not have many doubts as to where influence was used on both sides, and used in a manner to provoke a great deal of criticism 496 from the opposite party. One hon. Member (Mr. R. Power) gave the argument in a nutshell when he described the condition of the Irish rural voter who was placed between two or three contending influences, which were used with such pertinacity and intentness that he often ended by not voting at all. But he (Mr. Trevelyan) must say a few words, and a few very serious words, on the subject of proxies. On this question, it appeared to him that since last year the House had made a very considerable advance. It was true that the senior Member for Tyrone (Mr. Macartney) said ho did not object to secret voting, provided that those who wished could vote by proxy; but the question of voluntary ballot had been argued at great length, and had been completely disposed of. The question was, whether or not this Bill should be made a disfranchising Bill to any extent, and from the very first moment he examined this subject with a serious intention of legislation he felt that it was here the great difficulty lay. A certain eminent and classical Irishman had been several times quoted that afternoon, and some of Sir Boyle Roche's most celebrated sayings had been frequently referred to. But of all those Irish sayings—Irish in every sense of the word some people would say—none appeared to him to be more thoroughly admirable than this, that "The best way to avoid a difficulty was to meet it full in the face." He was quite satisfied they would never settle this question until they boldly made up their minds as to what principle of Poor Law voting they would adopt. The hon. Member for Carlow (Mr. Gray), in his interesting speech, repeated some arguments against which he (Mr. Trevelyan) had protested last year, that all the objections which applied to voting by proxy for Members of Parliament applied to voting by proxy for Boards of Guardians. He could not for a moment agree to that proposition, and the hon. Member did not seem to quite realize the extent to which the proposition told against the theory of representation held by the Party to which he belonged. That theory was that every man had a right to vote who was independent and intelligent, and the rough test of those qualifications was that he should be a householder. The theory of the Liberal Party was that a rich man ought not to 497 have more votes than a poor man, and that the franchise was not given to property as property, but simply as being a rough test that the holder of it was fit to have a vote. Personally, he had a very strong objection to the plural votes in elections of Members of Parliament, and he should be very glad to see that principle done away with. But the same principle did not hold good in this matter of Poor Law elections, for half the rate being paid by the landowner, it would be extremely unjust if practically the whole representation were handed over to the tenants.
§ MR. TREVELYAN
Quite so. The hon. Member for Carlow was arguing against the system of proxies, which would enable a landlord to have six or eight or ten votes in different parts of the country, and to use them all. It should be remembered that the principal business of the Poor Law Guardian was to administer the rates, to which the landlord contributed a very large share. The bon. and gallant Member for the County of Dublin (Colonel King-Harman) expressed the manifest feeling of Parliament when he said that the landlord who paid half the rate deserved to have considerable influence. That influence had been given to the landlord in two methods, one indirectly by means of ex-officio Guardians, the other directly by means of votes, which, up to a certain number, represented the proportion of property which the voter held. It must be remembered that there was a certain danger in insisting too much upon a point in respect to ex-officio Guardians, because if they were to be only protectors of the landed interest upon the Board the Government would be justified in appointing none but landlords to those posts. In his opinion, therefore, the most legitimate method of equalizing the election of Guardians was that of giving votes, up to a certain extent, in proportion to the property; and to disfranchise any considerable number of persons who voted under such a system was, he thought, a principle which Parliament ought to be 498 very slow to consent to. When, last year, the question of maintaining proxies was brought forward by an hon. Member who wished to maintain these proxies for occupiers, he could do nothing but give it his heartiest opposition. At one time it occurred to him that the difficulty of proxies might, in some degree, be got over in this way—that the Local Government Board should have the power of regulating and supervising the days on which the elections in the different divisions should be held. That a month before the election the returning authority should send a scheme of election to the Local Government Board, who should arrange that the elections should extend over five or six days—perhaps occurring in two or three districts in one day—so that the voters in the different divisions should all have a chance of coming to the poll. But there was this drawback, that it would be extremely cumbrous, would involve a good deal of correspondence, and would extend the interference of the Local Government Board with the Boards of Guardians—an interference which was often the subject of complaint in that House. There, therefore, only remained for consideration the proposal of the hon. Member opposite, which had been accepted with approval by the hon. and gallant Member for Galway. Hon. Members must bear in mind that the proportion of votes in the hands of owners was small as compared with that in the hands of occupiers. Even in very rich Unions in Ireland the proportion of votes in the hands of occupiers was seven or eight times that which was in the hands of owners, while in the poor districts the owner's proportion was almost infinitesimal. Therefore, in making an exception in the case of owners they would be making no very great inroad upon the principle of the ballot. The proposal of the hon. Member opposite was that the principle of secret voting should be applied absolutely in the case of occupiers, while the owner voting from a distance should be allowed to do so by voting paper. Proxies wore a right they ought to possess; but the present system of voting by proxy appeared to him to be detestable. He would allow no man to hold a power from one election to another; but in regard to a particular election, if an owner who had an interest in a district was allowed to send a 499 registered letter to the Returning Officer, that was a practical manner in which the justice of the case could be met. He knew there were Gentlemen whom nothing would induce to accept the principles of the Bill; but he appealed to them to remember the present state of Public Business, and the immense importance of having this Bill carried by something like general consent. Various circumstances had limited the time at their disposal this Session for the consideration of the Irish legislation. Here was a Bill upon which, with the one modification he had suggested, Irish opinion in the House was agreed. Let the Bill be passed, Irish Members having the credit of being the authors of it, and of passing it; and on the part of the Government he might say that while they would be much gratified to see that by a measure of their own they had removed the great evils which now existed in the election of Poor Law Guardians in Ireland, they would, at the same time, be none the less gratified because the Bill bore only the names of hon. Members who represented Irish constituencies.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
said, he thought that the less frequently these elections were to be held the better it would be for the interests of the general community. In his opinion, the right hon. Gentleman opposite had jumped rather hastily to the conclusion that if the principle of the Ballot Act were adopted with regard to these elections, that of voting by proxy must fall. The right hon. Gentleman must have forgotten that when the Ballot Act was passing through that House, the then Member for Carlow (Mr. Bruen) had suggested a system under which voting at a distance might be combined with secret voting—namely, by the voter filling in his voting paper in the presence of a Justice of the Peace and forwarding it to the Returning Officer. With regard to the system of plural voting, he had understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that the votes were not given to property as such, and that the fact of a voter happening to be registered in respect of property was merely an arrangement for ascertaining the fact of his being a duly qualified voter, and was not an acknowledgment of the right claimed by him to exercise the Parliamentary franchise in respect of that property. The right hon. Gentleman further let drop 500 some ominous hints as to his own opinions respecting an uniformity of Parliamentary franchise, involving the extinction of the 40s. freehold, the oldest Constitutional franchise in the Realm. The right hen. Gentleman not only described that as his own opinion, but also said that it was the creed of the Party to which he belonged. But he (Mr. J. Lowther) thought that the right hon. Gentleman was hardly justified in attributing that view to the Party which had initiated and acquiesced in measures of Parliamentary reform, in which the principle had been over and over again established that property, wherever situated, was entitled to representation in the House of Commons. Lord John Russell had suceeded in inducing the House of Commons to pass a Resolution directly and distinctly in opposition to what the right hon. Gentleman had announced as the fundamental doctrine of the Liberal Party. As to the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman to permit owners to vote by proxy, it appeared to him to hold out some prospect of a less unsatisfactory termination to the discussion than they might have anticipated; but he was sorry that the right hon. Gentleman did not see his way to extend it to all categories of voters, so that persons in advanced years or feeble health should not be compelled personally to attend the poll. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would see that the systems of voting by paper and by ballot were perfectly consistent with one another, and that there was no difficulty in introducing into the measure the modifications he desired.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, that the Government were bound to take the course of a general assent to the Bill by the previous pledges and action of their Party. The hon. and gallant Member for Dublin County (Colonel King-Harman) had practically given up the main part of the question, when he admitted that the poor man ought to have the protection of the ballot, and only claimed that elections should be conducted in a peaceful manner. He (Mr. Sexton) asked the House to remember how Parliamentary elections were conducted before the Ballot Act was enforced. If there had been any violence in connection with Poor Law elections, the course which had made Parliamentary elections cairn and quiet would have the same effect in Poor Law elections. His Party had 501 shown their good faith upon the present occasion; but the same good faith had not been shown by Gentlemen above the Gangway. Nothing could better illustrate the pass to which the opponents of the Bill had. been driven than when they spoke of it as disfranchising timid and helpless women. Some women were timid and helpless, no doubt; but some, he was quite aware, were not, and it took very grave and serious inconvenience to keep women from any scene of public interest. But the interests of timid and helpless women lay on the side of this Bill, because land agents and their sub-agents had threatened poor widows with large families that if they voted for the candidate on the popular side, they and their children would be turned out before the year was at an end. He regretted extremely the action of the Chief Secretary in reference to Clause 4. It asked that every person giving a vote at the election should at- tend at the poll in the same manner as at Parliamentary elections; but the right hon. Gentleman replied that the interests of property must be protected, and the right hon. Gentleman held out a certain threat or warning that if the reform was carried out, the ex-officio Guardians might be altogether landlords. But, at present, were they not practically landlords? The system of Poor Law relief in Ireland was substantially a rural system, the magistrates were either landlords or land agents; and he defied any hon. Gentleman above the Gangway to take a nominal list of the magistrates and prove that 1 per cent, except in the boroughs and in Dublin, were anything else but landlords or persons depending upon them for existence. The landlords, at present, had a sufficient representation of property, and what more did they want? The Bill, in his opinion, did no go far enough. He thought the multiple vote ought to be abolished. Not content with what the landlords had already got, the right hon. Gentleman must also continue, to a modified extent, this system of proxies, which he had himself, in a phrase that deserved to be remembered, described as "detestable." Nothing could be worse than that electoral powers should be exercised by men who knew nothing whatever of Ireland except that they drew money from it. He presumed, after the statement of the right 502 hon. Gentleman, that nothing now remained but to accept the Amendments that would be proposed in Committee. He trusted, however, that the Government would show that they would not allow tactics which had been pursued in previous years to prevent the passing of this Bill; and he would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to co-operate cordially and sincerely with the Irish Members in preventing hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway from carrying out what they had in view by means of a future use of the Rules of the House.
§ MR. GIBSON
said, he did not think it was correct to say the Bill in its present form had previously passed through the House in all its stages. As the landlords paid one-half the rates, it was not unreasonable that they should have a fair voice as to how those rates were spent. The Bill, as it stood, might lead to the practical disfranchisement of many ratepayers. He should resolutely oppose the Bill, if he thought that the 4th clause was to remain in anything like its present shape. Ho therefore asked for some definite assurance as to that clause. Would the Government undertake to amend the clause in such a way as to remove the injustice complained of by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the County of Dublin? He thought it was most desirable, before the House accepted the second reading of the Bill, that they should have an answer to that question, so that the House might know exactly what was the kind of measure which they were going to pass into law.
§ MR. MARUM
said, that, while he was thankful to the Government for supporting the Bill, he was of opinion that it would not be a complete measure until the appointment of Magistrates and ex-officio Guardians was taken out of the hands of the Lord Lieutenants of Counties, who at present were able to give colour to Boards of Guardians.
§ MR. DAWSON
observed, that the right hon. Gentleman hampered the Bill with the condition that non-resident magistrates might send the proxies by registered letter. He, for his part, thought that the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Member for Galway (Colonel Nolan) was extremely reasonable. It would entail consequences which would be exceedingly valuable in Ireland periodically, if they wished to preserve 503 their rights. The present position of the Government was a retreat from the position which they took up last year, for the then Attorney General admitted that with these elections personal attendance for the purpose of voting would be no grievance. On the ground of consistency, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would see his way to insist upon personal attendance.
§ COLONEL KING-HARMAN
said, that, after the statement of the Chief Secretary, and considering the important question which stood next on the Order Book, he did not wish to put the House to the trouble of a division. The course he should take would be to wait until he saw the Amendments the Chief Secretary would put on the Paper.
§ MR. HIBBERT
said, his right hon. Friend (Mr. Trevelyan) had asked him to state that he would place Amendments on the Paper to carry out the views he had expressed; and ho desired to take this opportunity of saying for himself how pleased he was at the manner in which this Bill had been met on both sides of the House, as some years ago ho moved for a Select Committee to inquire into the whole subject. At that Inquiry, the strongest reasons were given why some such proposal as was contained in this Bill should become law.
§ MR. O'KELLY
desired, before the question was withdrawn from the House, to say a few words. He did not know anybody in the House who had a bettor right to object to tenants having the protection of the Ballot Act in Poor Law elections than the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Conservative Member for the County of Dublin (Colonel King-Harman). He had in his hand a letter from one of the hon. Member's tenants, with reference to the last Poor Law election at Boyle. Mr. Mullaly, one of the Town Commissioners of Boyle, wrote—Colonel King-Harman last month deprived me of a turf bank which has been held by my family and myself during the last 22 years, simply because I voted and said a good word for a popular Poor Law Guardian of Boyle Union, at the Poor Law elections last March. He also deprived the Poor Law Guardian whom I supported (Mr. Michael M'Crevy) of his turf bank because he defeated the Colonel's nominee.These were the Gentlemen who came down to this These to object to tenants 504 having protection of the ballot. With reference to the promise of the Government to continue proxy voting—for that was what the Chief Secretary's speech amounted to—to allow landlords who lived out of Ireland, and took no interest in it, to overbear local opinion throughout the country by their registered letters, that was a principle which could scarcely recommend itself to the Liberal Members of the House, if they had any belief in their professed principles. It was a proposal which would turn the Bill into a sham reform, and make it of little or no benefit to the people of Ireland.
§ MR. M'COAN
said, that, in view of the valuable concessions which the House had made in assenting to the main principles of the Bill, he would be prepared to support in Committee Amendments embodying the suggestions of the Chief Secretary.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for Friday.