HC Deb 22 October 1909 vol 12 cc712-3W

asked the Chief Secretary for Ireland whether his attention has been called to the statement made by Mr. W. J. Johnston, barrister-at-law, revising barrister for Belfast, in the Belfast Revision Court, on Monday, 4th October, to the effect that the question of rates in connection with the franchise plays an important part in Belfast; that since the commencement of the revision he had ac- quired a judicial knowledge of the fact that hundreds of voters in West Belfast, who otherwise would be entitled to the franchise, had lost their votes on account of the non-payment of rates; that this result happened through agents or landlords wrongly returning to the corporation as vacant houses that are in reality occupied by tenants; that in this way large sums of money are lost to the ratepayers, and a large number of citizens deprived of their political and civic rights; whether Mr. Johnston would be asked to furnish particulars, as far as possible, of the numbers of voters so disfranchised, the names of the agents and the landlords referred to, and the approximate loss to the ratepayers; and whether an official inquiry will be ordered into the whole matter, with a view to the prosecution of those engaged in these fraudulent transactions?


My attention has been called to the statement in question, and I have communicated with Mr. Johnston on the subject. He informs me that the statements are based upon the evidence which came before him in the various cases during the course of the revision, but that it would not be possible for him now to furnish the names of the persons disfranchised for non-payment of rates or of the landlords and agents concerned. It It is presumed that the mention in the question of wrong returns by landlords and agents as to houses being vacant which are not so in fact, refers to returns made in pursuance of requisitions delivered under the ninth Section of the Representation of the People Act, 1884. If so, I am advised that the delivery of such false returns would be a failure to comply with the requisition to fill up the forms accurately, and that the person so offending would be liable to the penalties specified in the section to be recovered on summary conviction. The statements in the present case are too vague and general to form the ground of any proceedings, but steps will be taken in future to enforce the law and to guard against the malpractices to which Mr. Johnstone has called attention.