HC Deb 17 June 1835 vol 28 cc846-52
Lord John Russell

said, that he did not know whether the House was now prepared to adopt the Resolution mentioned the other night; but perhaps the better way would be to move it, and then, if it were thought necessary, to postpone it for consideration. The Resolution of 11th June, 1833, which had been lately rescinded, directed the Speaker to order the Returning-Officer of any borough to omit in the register any names of voters struck from the poll by Election Committees. It was obvious that this course would not apply to voters who coming too late, were improperly inserted on the poll, although very properly included in the register; but it would most justly apply to those who the Committee decided ought never to have been included in the register at all. To that extent he proposed that the Resolution should go; but another question might arise—a question that had been suggested to him by a Member of the Ipswich Committee: it was this—whether persons reported to have been guilty of bribery should thereupon, by order of the Speaker, have their names erased from the register? It seemed objectionable that any person found guilty of bribery should have the right of voting again at an election, perhaps immediately succeeding; but on consideration he thought it would be unwise to attempt to give to a Resolution of the House the force of an enactment. The House unquestionably was the ultimate judge of the right of voting; but bribery was a legal crime to which a Resolution of the House ought not to apply, but the law should be allowed to take its due course. He would not enter further into this point, but it might be proper to insert a provision regarding it in a Bill. He would read his Resolution with a view to have it printed. It would run thus:—"That in all cases where a Select Committee, appointed to try the merits of an election for any county, city, or borough, report to this House that the names of any voters ought not to have been placed in the register of voters, or that the names of any voters have been unduly omitted from such register, Mr. Speaker shall issue his directions thereupon to the Clerk of the Peace, Town Clerk, or other Officer, with whom the register of voters of such county, city, or borough is deposited, to amend such register, by striking out or adding names to such register, as the case may be, in conformity to the Report of such Select Committee."

Mr. Callaghan

called the attention of the House to the peculiar case of the last election for the city of Cork, the merits of which had been tried by a Committee, and decided in his favour. The Committee had decided that a certain class of voters had no right to poll; these were nonresident freemen, who also had registered without swearing to residence. About 200 of these had been decided against by the Committee, and their names had been struck off the poll; but there were, perhaps, as many more, whose cases had not been examined, but if examined, would be found exactly similar. The question was, what should be done with the latter, who might occasion just the same trouble and expense to a candidate at any future election, by effecting, if he might so say, a fraudulent return? Justice to the constituency required that these also should be struck off.

Lord John Russell

thought that as the Resolution was worded, that class of voters would be included.

Mr. Goulburn

said, that no Committee had yet given any opinion upon the right of these voters, and, on inquiry, their situation might be found to be different.

Mr. Sheil

said, that it was quite clear that this was a grievance that ought to be remedied, and the Cork election illustrated it. A number of persons had been registered who had no right to vote; some of these had been struck out by the Committee, and others remained—their cases not having been investigated. At the Cork election, the barrister who attended on the part of the sheriff, said, that his opinion was, that they were not entitled to vote; but as they were upon the register, he felt himself precluded from rejecting them. If another election were to take place to-morrow, many of these would offer themselves, and on the same ground could not be refused, excepting after the inquiry of a Committee, which might cost the candidate 5,000l. or 6,000l. It was incumbent, in all humility he said it, upon the noble Lord to bring in a Bill to remedy this evil. Another evil was, that in the county for which he (Mr. Sheil) sat, there was but one polling place; the county was seventy miles long, and many of the voters he had to convey the whole distance at a heavy expense. A third evil was, that in Ireland elections lasted for five days. If the sheriff admitted improper votes after incurring all the cost of the election, he might be unable to establish his right under a sum of 5,000.l or 6,000l., with, a chance that his petition would be voted frivolous and vexatious.

Mr. Charles Buller

thought that the case quoted by the hon. Member shewed that there was something defective in the mode of registration adopted in Ireland, and he was of opinion that the registration in Ireland, as in England, should be annual.

Mr. Shaw

was anxious that the law on the subject should be known and clear, and complained that the decisions of the Youghall and Ennis Committees were directly opposed to those of the Longford and Monaghan Committees, as to revising the decision of the Registering Barrister. Even if the law were bad, it would be better that it should be uniform.

Mr. Hume

said, that he was only waiting until the Attorney-General for Ireland was in his place, in order to bring in a Bill to remedy the evil.

Sir Robert Peel

remarked, that the objection of the hon. and learned Member for Tipperary (Mr. Sheil) was applicable in principle, whether registration took place every year, as in England, or only once in eight years, as in Ireland. What he had said was this—that the Committee decided that certain voters of Cork were disqualified; but that certain other voters, whose cases had not been entered into, were equally disqualified; and that they ought not to be allowed to vote again, should an election occur. It certainly aggravated the case where the registration lasted eight years; but the principle was the same where the registration was every year. He thought the case of the hon. Member for Cork a strong one; for if two hundred other voters had no more right to poll than the two hundred struck off by the Committee they might give the same trouble at the next election that those already struck off had occasioned at the last. It seemed out of the question to leave the register so defective; but the difficulty was, to find a tribunal to determine who did, or who did not, come within the rule laid down by the Committee. If there had been no examination into these cases by the Committee, how was the point to be decided? It seemed to him better to adopt the Resolution of the noble Lord, and to apply some subsequent enactment to cases like that of the city of Cork.

A Member (of the Cork Committee) remarked, that it had been agreed on both sides that all voters of a certain class should be struck off.

Mr. O'Connell

was quite sure that nothing effectual could be done without legislation. He begged respectfully to ask the House what reason there was that there should not be an annual revision of the registry in Ireland as in England? The inconvenience of octennial registration was this, that in eight years a thousand changes might take place, and yet the certificate would be conclusive, or could only be set aside at an enormous expense by a Committee. He would mention Youghall as a place with which he was somewhat familiar: there registration took place at a distance of seventy miles; every man who registered had that distance to travel. Ought that to continue? The Attorney-General had asked him what suggestion he would make as a remedy; but he could hardly venture to give any opinion, lest it should be said that it was his work; but whose work soever the remedy might be, the evil ought not to remain. In the city of Dublin the House had called for a return of those who obtained their freedom by birth, servitude, or marriage, or by grace especial, and the Return was, that they admitted nobody of right; yet they were every day admitting by virtue of birth, servitude, or marriage, and Chief Baron Joy had held that it was a good right of voting. He (Mr. O'Connell) thought that the annual revision should be subject to appeal both ways; at present there was an appeal from the Registering Barrister to a Judge of the Superior Courts, but the appeal ought to lie as well for improper admission as improper rejection. It might be conclusive for twelve months, but not longer; and thus everybody before an election would know who was entitled to vote, and the enormous, frightful, and, he would say, disgraceful expense of a scrutiny avoided. Some evil might indeed arise from the Barrister and the Judge being both wrong: but the error could only last for a year, or at all events the chance was, that then it would be corrected. He hoped that the Attorney-General would consent to bring in a Bill to amend the law in these respects, and that before another week elapsed it would be laid upon the Table.

The Attorney-General,

in the absence of his hon. and learned Friend who held the same situation in Ireland, admitted that it was of great importance that a Bill should be introduced to amend Irish registration. There was no reason why it should not be annual, and no reason why an Irish election should last five days; and he hoped that in England an election would, ere long, be concluded in one day. He entirely agreed with the hon. and learned Member for Dublin, that there ought to be some appeal from the revising Barrister, and that afterwards the register should be conclusive for a year.

Lord Stanley

would not enter at large into the Question, but agreed that Irish registration admitted and required amendment. He rose principally to remind those who were not Members of the Parliament which passed the Reform Act, that in England up to that period there existed no system of registration; in Ireland there was a system, and although it was generally admitted to be defective, it was thought better not to change it until the result of the experiment in England was known. There was no reluctance to put both countries on the same footing, but a desire to see first how the new plan worked in England. There was at the time great difference of opinion among the Irish Members in particular as to the three points of separate polling places, length of registration, and duration of elections. These were matters discussed at the time, and it was finally agreed that it would be wiser not to make the change until it was known how the new plan operated in this country.

Mr. Sergeant Jackson

did not think that the hon. Member for Dublin had fairly stated the case respecting the Corporation of Dublin, and he said this with the more confidence, as he had been engaged in the case professionally. The Corporation contended that no person had a right to his freedom either by birth, servitude, or marriage; but they contended that they were bound to consider the circumstances of each case. The Corporation had always claimed this discretionary power, and it had been admitted by the Court of King's Bench. The decision of Chief Baron Joy was also in favour of the point contended for by the Corporation. The point upon which that learned Judge gave his decision had been raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman, and had been opposed by himself. At the same time the Judge also admitted that any person had a right to have his name entered on the register if he showed the certificate of the town clerk.

Mr. O'Connell

was anxious to observe that all that he knew of the judgment of Chief Baron Joy was from the newspapers; he was not in Dublin at the time Chief Baron Joy gave his decision. The point then was, the freedom was claimed as a right, and the city of Dublin refused to admit any as a matter of right. Since the year 1792 the Catholics had been entitled to take up their freedom in Dublin, and yet none had been admitted, though many had become entitled to their freedom either by being the sons of freemen, or having served an apprenticeship, or from having married the daughters of freemen. That Corporation excluded all that it chose, and admitted none but such as it pleased.

Mr. Cutlar Fergusson

considered the point suggested by the Attorney-General to be one of very great importance, and he hoped that it would become a matter of legislation—namely, that whenever the right of voting had been properly adjudicated upon the appeal tribunal, that it would be considered as finally settled. He did not think that it was right that the vote should be disputed after it had been fairly put on the register. He trusted that very shortly a proper appeal tribunal would be established, before which disputed votes could be determined, and after the decision of which it would not be allowable for any person to impeach a vote. This principle obtained in the ancient system in Scotland, and whenever a name was placed on the roll, no person could dispute the validity of the vote, provided the right on which it was held was not transferred—neither the Court of Session nor the House of Commons had ever done so.

Debate on the Resolution postponed.