HC Deb 05 March 1839 vol 45 cc1285-8

Mr. Smith O'Brien moved for leave to bring in a bill for the better registration of voters irk Ireland. It was only necessary to refer to the proceedings which had taken place in Election Committees to convince the House of the necessity of the measure. In 1835 a Bill to the same effect had been brought in by the present Master of the Rolls in Ireland, which had received the sanction of that House. In 1836 a similar bill had been brought in by the Government, which was not prosecuted. Seeing that the Government had no intention to bring in a bill on this subject in the present Session, he had taken the liberty to bring forward the present measure, which he hoped would receive the sanction of the House. The leading features of the bill were to give the utmost possible facility to bona fide voters, who were anxious to register. He proposed also to bring the registry into the immediate neighbourhood of the voter, so as to put him to as little trouble or expense as possible. He proposed, that the registration should be annual; and to prevent frivolous or vexatious objections being raised, be proposed that the parties objecting should have the onus probandi thrown upon them; and, in all cases where the objections were not sustained, the party objected to would be entitled to costs. He proposed that the Revising Barristers should be the present Assistant Barristers, as was provided in the bill of last year. It was his opinion that these Barristers should be provided, and paid by the Crown; but finding that measure would be objectionable to the other side of the House, he had given up his own opinion and omitted that clause. The bill also gave a power of appeal on both sides, and he thought he was justified in providing that with these securities the registry should be final. The other bill which he had introduced was one to regulate the polling at elections in Ireland. He would propose, that the poll should be regulated in a manner similar to that adopted in the English boroughs and counties, and should not extend beyond one day; but if it should be deemed advisable not to adopt this arrangement, he would not particularly press it; under these circumstances, he trusted he should be permitted to lay the bill before the House.

Viscount Morpeth

said, that understanding the bill of his hon. Friend is intended to carry out the Reform Bill, and not to contravene it, he should not oppose the present motion, and if the bill turned out to be such as to meet the approbation of both sides of the House, he should be very glad of it, although he did not give credit even to his hon. Friend for being able to bring forward a measure which should please all parties.

Mr. Goring

would be glad if the time of polling was shortened, but, at the same time, the number of polling places ought to he increased. He believed, the Liberal party in Ireland were against giving each member of the constituency an opportunity of voting without being intimidated by the mob. He would appeal to the hon. Member for Tipperary whether the voters in that county had not frequently to travel upwards of eighty miles to Clonmel to record their votes. He would ask the hon. Gentleman whether it was his intention to introduce a clause appointing a polling place in each Barony, as it was useless to facilitate the acquisition of the franchise, unless the exercise of it was facilitated also.

Mr. Hume

was sure, that if the hon. Gentleman had read the report respecting the number of polling places in England, he would not have asked the question. His hon. Friend could have no objection, and he (Mr. Hume) should wish to see the number of polling places so increased, that each voter would not have more than five miles to travel, and this he thought he might walk without putting the candidates to any expense—with regard to intimidation, he did not know whether the hon. Gentleman voted for the ballot, but the ballot was the proper remedy for intimidation. He would contend, that it was so—that improved registration, an increased number of polling places, and vote by ballot, were the proper remedies for diminishing the expenses of election and preventing intimidation.

Colonel Perceval

hoped, that in any bill regulating the registration in Ireland, an appeal would be given both ways? for at present if the Assistant Barrister chose to grant the franchise there was no appeal from his decision, and hence there were many on the registry who had no right to be there. At present the register was regulated only once in eight years, and many who had been placed on the register in 1832 remained there yet, although their leases had expired—many men in this situation had produced their register dated in 1832 at the last Sligo election and had polled against him. He would appeal to the noble Lord, the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, whether he was not cognizant of the fact, that certain voters on his estate whose leases had expired by the death of William 4th, had, at the last election, sworn they were still in possession of their freeholds, and had polled against him. He trusted the hon. Member would introduce a clause for getting rid of fictitious votes from the register; and he would follow the example of the noble Lord opposite, and not oppose his bringing in the bill.

Sir R. Bateson

regretted, that the taking the polls in counties in one day, was not made a substantial part of the bill. That was the greatest defect in the Irish system. It was the cause of enormous expense, and of every species of demoralization and corruption. The evils under which they laboured were so notorious, that it was almost unnecessary to mention them. In counties, it was necessary to take a great body of electors forty, fifty, or even sixty miles to the place of polling. Suppose an election occurred in the depth of winter, and hundreds of people had to be taken over a mountainous country, the expense incurred was enormous, independent of keeping them three or four days in the county town, during which time, they might be assailed by the opposite party, and subjected to every species of corruption, bribery, and intimidation. If the poll was taken, as in this country, which was a great benefit conferred by the Reform Bill, the electors might come up in their own neighbourhood and poll, and return home at night. There would be an end of all pretence for the necessity of treating. It would also do away with the great cause of not and intimidation, for the result of the election would not be known. It would be the greatest blessing that could be conferred on Ireland, to assimilate the taking of the poll to that of England. With regard to the registration there was no law which needed more revision, and he regretted to find, that the hon. Member wished to keep the really beneficial part of the measure in the background.—Leave given.

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