HC Deb 19 August 1835 vol 30 cc698-706
Mr. Sergeant O'Loghlen

moved the Order of the Day for the Second Reading of this Bill, and the order having been read, he moved that the Bill be read a second time.

Colonel Perceval

said, that although he did not intend to object to the second reading of the Bill, there were yet some clauses in it from which he so strongly dissented, that he could not permit the Bill to be read a second time without offering a few observations upon it. He would, in the first place, call the attention of the Committee to the title of the Bill. It was intituled, a Bill "to amend the law relative to the Registry of Voters in Ireland, and to taking the poll at elections, in that part of the United Kingdom, and to assimilate the same as nearly as may be to the law in force in England and Wales." That certainly was a plausible title; but, in reading the Bill, he found it deviating in many important particulars from the practice in England—and, amongst others, he would cite the case of granting the power of appointing the Revising Barristers in Ireland to the Lord Lieutenant, whereas, in England, the right existed in the Judges. He must own that if no other discrepancy existed, that one case alone would do away with much of the confidence which reading the title of the Bill was calculated to inspire. If any person were to refer to the preamble of the Bill, they would be led to believe that a new Registry under it was absolutely necessary. The first clause under it was as follows, viz.:— That notwithstanding any law now in force in Ireland, no person whatever shall, after the first day of March next, be entitled or permitted to vote in the election of any Member to serve in Parliament for any county, city, town or borough in Ireland, the borough of the University of Dublin only excepted, unless he shall have been duly registered according to the provisions of this Act; and that from and after the said first day of March, any Registry not made under the provisions of this Act, shall be null and void, and of no effect; and that no Sheriff or other Returning Officer in Ireland shall, after the said first day of March next, receive or place on the poll the vote of any person by reason of any right, qualification, certificate or registry whatsoever, unless such person shall have been duly registered pursuant to this Act. So far as that Clause went, every one would suppose that a new Registry was bonâ fide intended; but, on turning to the 9th Clause, it would be seen that it was intended to protect the fictitious voters, which had been improperly placed upon the Registry. The Clause was as follows:— And be it further enacted, that the said Revising Barrister shall also revise the list of the names of the persons now registered, or who shall appear on the register hereby directed to be kept, as having been registered by the Revising Barrister under this Act, and shall examine into any objection which may be made to the right of any such person to have his name continued on such register, provided it shall appear to such Barrister that such objection is founded on some matter respecting the qualification of such voter, which occurred since the former revision or registry. It was, he contended, a manifest fallacy to say, that this Act provided that there should be a revision of the registry; and if passed, it would have the effect of keeping in the registry those who obtained their franchise by any means, no matter how foul. If the House would look to the proceedings of their own Committees they would see that, with perhaps two exceptions, revisions had taken place. In Monaghan, Longford, Carlow, and Galway, he could state from his own knowledge that a scrutiny had been granted, and in all, numbers of fictitious voters had been struck off the poll. By the present Bill a scrutiny was only to be permitted in cases where "the objection was founded upon circumstances which had occurred since the registry." If that Clause did not nullify the preamble, he did not understand the meaning of plain terms. He had already shown the direct variation that existed between the law of England and the proposed measure, and he should like to know why it was that the English Judges should have the appointment of the Revising Barristers, while the Irish fudges had no such privilege; those learned personages were, in his opinion, the fittest to make the appointments; and as the Bill professed to assimilate the laws in both countries, "as nearly as may be," he saw nothing to prevent the appointments being made by the Judges in both countries. There were many parts of the Bill of which he (Colonel Perceval) approved, and if the preamble were fairly carried out, he thought the Measure, on the whole, would be a useful one. From the 9th he should proceed to the 49th Clause; which he was bound in the strongest manner to object to. It appeared to him, if not the production of a different hand, never to have entered into the contemplation of the original framer of the Bill. He (Colonel Perceval) could easily divine the purpose for which it was introduced, and most probably it had its origin in circumstances which had recently occurred in a Committee of that House. The Clause was as follows:— And be it declared and enacted, that in estimating and determining whether any person who shall claim to be allowed to register as a voter has a beneficial interest to the amount in value required by the said in part recited act of the second and third years of the reign of his present Majesty, intituled, "an act to amend the representation of the people of Ireland," in or out of the premises in respect whereof he claims to register, the said revising barristers, or any judge, on an appeal to him, shall estimate such value according to the beneficial interest which the person so claiming to register has in such premises, and not according to the rent which a solvent tenant could afford to pay for the same, over and above the rent which the person so claiming to register is liable to pay. To that Clause he (Colonel Perceval) most strongly objected, inasmuch as it went to repeal an Act of Parliament incidentally, and opened a door for fraud in Ireland, which would let in a pauper constituency, which it was one of the objects of the Reform Bill to guard against. Under all the circumstances of the case, he hoped in Committee the two Clauses he had alluded to would be struck out, though he must confess that, at this late period of the Session, he should prefer its being postponed altogether.

Mr. O'Connell

said that he was opposed to the 9th Clause, as he saw no reason why the revision should not be general; that Clause certainly was not introduced by the framers of the Bill. As the gallant Member for Sligo, however, was not opposed to the principle of the Measure, he hoped the House would unanimously agree to go into the Committee, and make the Bill as perfect as possible. He (Mr. O'Connell) was opposed to giving the conduct of the registry to the Assistant Barristers, as, in his opinion, it would get into worse hands, he objected to mixing up the judicial and political character at all, and, therefore, he hoped the House would not throw the appointment of the Revising Barristers into the hands of the Judges. There was no man in that House would assert that the Judges in Ireland were not political Judges. Even Baron Pennefather, whom he used to praise, had become as violent a political partisan as Baron Smith or any of the rest of them. The Bill, he thought, should proceed to make the registries conclusive for the year, and ought not to give power to a Committee of that House, who were determined to decide one way, regardless of the solemn sanction of the oath they had taken. He was for preventing the possibility of getting seats in that House by the horrible method of false swearing on the part of their friends in Committees. He could not account for recent decisions, except by supposing perjury to have been committed. ["Order, order."]

Colonel Perceval

rose to order, and said he thought it most discreditable for any Member to attribute perjury to Members of that House. He must say that the imputation could not personally apply to him, inasmuch as he never sat on a Committee since the day he first entered Parliament. He begged to call upon the Chair to state whether or not the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Dublin were orderly or not.

The Speaker

said, that nothing could be more disorderly than for a Member to state that Members had obtained seats in that House by the false swearing of their friends.

Mr. O'Connell continued

all he said was, that the present system might afford that opportunity. The objection to the last Clause he thought unjust as well as absurd. Now, was it not a great anomaly that a chattel interest should be valued differently from a freehold interest; and here he might be permitted to state that, a Chief Justice in Ireland framed a new oath, not the one described in the act. He mentioned the circumstance to show the manner in which Irish Judges acted. He considered a ten-pound franchise too high for so poor a country as Ireland. The object of hon. Gentlemen opposite was to exclude the people, but his (Mr. O'Connell's) was to give the franchise to as great a number of the people of Ireland as he possibly could. The wish of the Government ought to be to extend the constituency, and the people of Ireland could never be attached to any government who excluded them from the franchise.

Mr. Vesey

complained of the expense of booths, and the various expenses incident upon a contested election being placed upon the county. He thought they were sufficiently taxed at present without having any additional burden placed upon them.

Mr. Fitzstephen French

hoped that voters would be allowed to vote in different districts as in England, and not be obliged to travel twenty-five or thirty or more miles to the poll, as they were at present under the necessity of doing. This was rendered more necessary, as two days were only to be allowed for the election.

Mr. Sham

said, it was impossible to sit silent and hear the hon. and learned Gentleman slander every member of his own profession, from the highest judge on the bench to the humblest member of the bar. He (Mr. Shaw) denied that the judges in Ireland were political partizans. So far as their politics had been known before they were on the bench, they held as various opinions on the Roman Catholic and other great political questions of the day as any other class of men; but, as to their judicial acts since having been in any respect influenced by their political opinions, it was an assertion the hon. and learned Gentleman would scarcely venture upon in his own country, where those judges were known. But, in truth, his abuse was unsparing of every one in authority, from the highest to the lowest; and how inconsistent was the hon. and learned Gentleman in that very Bill, when he proposed to give a final and conclusive appeal to those very judges whom he said could not be depended upon. He would not oppose the second reading of the Bill, as it contained some good provisions, although he greatly objected to others—for instance, that which took the registration out of the hands of the assistant-barristers, and vested it in those of barristers appointed for the occasion by the existing Government; also, to that Clause which rendered valid all votes now registered, however fraudulently, there having been before no appeal except to that House, in case of their improper admission. All he required was, that an appeal should be given in all such cases; and, for the future, when there was to be an appeal to the judge both ways, as well in case of improper admission as improper rejection, he was satisfied that that should be final. As to limiting the number of days for polling, if that was adopted—and he had some doubts as to its propriety—then the corresponding arrangement in the English practice, of distinct polling places, should also be adopted. He meant to propose an Amendment in respect of the University of Dublin, which, he believed, would not be objected to—namely, to change the annual payment of 1l. by the electors to a septennial one; and, instead of requiring a demand and refusal, to make the omission to pay once in seven years an absolute forfeiture of the franchise.

Mr. Randall Plunkett

said, it was of the utmost importance that some criterion should be fixed, in order to establish what was meant by a beneficial interest. There was no doubt on his mind, however, that it was such an interest as should give 10l. over rent and charges. That was the decision come to by the Carlow Committee, and, in his mind, a most just one. He considered the judges the proper persons to appoint the barristers, in the event of the duty of registering being taken from the assistant-barristers; and he trusted his Majesty's Ministers would see the necessity of adopting the suggestions which had been thrown out.

Mr. Sergeant O'Loghlen

said, in framing the Bill, it was his anxious desire to render it an effective Measure, and was desirous even now to receive suggestions calculated to effect that purpose. With respect to the 9th Clause, he did not feel inclined to persevere in maintaining it in the Bill, provided the general feeling of the Irish Members was opposed to it. He thought, as to the appointment of the barristers being vested in the Crown in Ireland, that was the proper course, inasmuch as there was no appeal to the judges in England, whereas the Bill proposed to give an appeal in Ireland. He denied that the counties would be taxed 300l. a-year for the payment of barristers. At present, the assistant-barristers received 100l. a-year each for the arduous duties imposed on them. As those duties were to be taken away, of course the 100l. a-year was also to be withdrawn, and this would more than pay the new registering barristers. He wished he could hold out a hope of establishing different districts for polling in Ireland; but the state of that country was such, that he feared it would be impossible to accomplish it.

Mr. Sergeant Jackson

did not rise for the purpose of opposing the second reading of the Bill, but he considered he should be guilty of a dereliction of duty, as a Law Officer of the Crown in Ireland, were he to permit the observations which fell from the lion, and learned Member for Dublin, with reference to the judges of the land in that country, to pass without his rising in his place to repel imputations which were at once calumnious and unfounded. It did appear to him to be a matter fraught with incalculable mischief to the administration of justice in Ireland to permit such reflections to be made without meeting on the instant the most unqualified contradiction; and he owned he felt great disappointment that his hon. and learned Friend, the Solicitor-General for Ireland (Mr. O'Loghlen) holding as he did the high office of legal adviser to the Crown, should not have vindicated the judges of the land from the foul aspersions which had been cast upon them by the hon. and learned Member for Dublin, but should have maintained a total silence on the subject. He felt it his duty to state, that the judges in Ireland were as upright and honourable men as ever graced the bench in any country, and were quite incapable of being influenced in their conduct by political partizanship. He certainly did think that nothing could be more calculated to prejudice the administration of justice in Ireland, than attacks such as they had that night heard upon the Judges, made in the face of the nation, and especially in the presence of the Ministers and Law Officers of the Crown. With respect to the Assistant-Barristers in Ireland, he must say, that as a class they were men of great learning and ability, and of rank and character in their profession. In his judgment, they were more competent to perform the duties which were to be taken from them by the present Bill, than the occasional nominees of the Government were likely to prove. It was too much to be feared that the Government of the day would select for the performance of this duty, if not political partizans, at least individuals recommended to their notice by those who were the political partizans and supporters of their Administration; and he (Mr. Jackson) had little difficulty in imagining from whom the noble Lord (Morpeth) who was a stranger in Ireland, would receive suggestions and recommend- ations in the present instance. He feared that professional merit and competence would not be the qualities sought for; but the object would be to find men who would be likely to promote the interests of a party. In order to show the nature of the selections which had been made on former occasions, the hon. Member stated that he had been informed on authority, upon which he could rely, that a Registering-Barrister, acting under the Reform Bill, had occupied a considerable time in hearing a learned argument upon the Question, whether a lease for 999 years were not a fee simple estate. Mr. Jackson added, that his object in addressing the House was not to discuss the Measure before the House, it being agreed that it should go before a Committee, when he hoped its details would be much improved, but solely to vindicate the Irish Bench from the unwarrantable imputations cast upon them by the hon. and learned Member for Dublin; and he only regretted that it had been left to so humble an individual as himself to discharge that imperative duty.

Mr. Egerton

said, that he certainly objected to the part of the Bill which protected persons at present registered from being subject to any scrutiny. As a Member of the Carlow Committee, he could state, that it appeared in evidence before them that men had sworn they possessed a beneficial interest of ten pounds out of a farm of three or four acres, for which they paid two or three guineas an acre; whereas it was distinctly proved they possessed no such interest.

The Bill was read a second time.