§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. MITCHELL HENRY
, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, it had been previously presented to the House on two or three occasions. The original Bill was introduced in 1874, and, after discussion, was sent to a Select Committee, and was subsequently withdrawn. The Bill was reintroduced early last Session, underwent discussion, and, various objections having been taken to it, was defeated on the Motion for the second reading. On the present occasion he thought the supporters of the measure might reasonably expect that the Government would not feel itself bound to oppose the second reading, inasmuch as the 7th clause dealing with the Supplementary List, and to which the principal objection was taken last year, had been removed. Although the Bill could not be said to make the law of registration in Ireland exactly what it was in England and Wales, yet it went so near to the attainment of that object, that it might be said to be drawn upon the lines and principles of the law of registration in force in those countries. Any objection that might be made to the Bill as it now stood, could be easily removed in Committee, if the Government were desirous to assist in amending the law. They heard a great deal about equal privileges for the three different parts of the United Kingdom; but while in England, the proportion of voters to the male population was about 1 in 5½; and in Scotland, 1 in 5; in Ireland, it was only 1 in 11. Evidence as regarded that fact would, in connection with the borough fran- 1717 chise, come forward for discussion in a few days, and he would therefore only refer to it now to the extent of saying that he thought if the franchise in Ireland was so exceedingly restricted, they were bound to see that every facility was given to the voter to obtain the power of exercising the franchise. The question ought not to be approached in a narrow or technical spirit, or considered with reference to the manner in which it would affect any particular constituency. For his part, he did not know how it would affect particular constituencies, and based his advocacy of the measure on broad grounds. He had never been able to agree with those who looked upon the franchise as a right. He regarded it as a trust, and not for the individual, but for the country; and he thought it a great anomaly that they should select a certain portion of the people and entrust it to them to return Members of Parliament, while they did not enable them freely and fully to exercise that privilege. Under these circumstances, without entering on the technical effects of the Bill, which would be explained by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kildare (Mr. Meldon), who had taken great interest in the question, and which would be debated by the Law Officers of the Crown, he begged to move the second reading of the Bill.
§ MR. MELDON
, in rising to second the Motion, expressed a hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Plunket) would not consider it his duty to persevere in moving the Amendment of which he had given Notice of rejection of the Bill. The object of the Bill was, to all intents and purposes, to assimilate the law of England and Ireland so far as the counties were concerned, and the parts of the measure which did not come within that description were to a great degree merely formal. It was not by any means the same measure that was introduced last Session. It was not his intention, nor would it be his wish, that there should be any difference in the law of registration between England and Wales and Ireland. He was not one of those who wished for exceptional legislation, unless in very exceptional cases; but in all questions common to the two countries, he thought the law should be the same for both, 1718 and it was with the view of assimilating the law that he introduced his Bill the year before last, and that his hon. Friend the Member for Galway (Mr. Mitchell Henry) introduced the Bills of last year and of this year. In 1873 a Bill was introduced in that House which dealt with the question of registration; and though it was discussed much upon other clauses, no objection was raised, in its passage through that House, to those of its provisions which were embodied in the Bills of 1875 and 1876, and in the present Bill. The provision embodied in the two previous measures, by what was called the "Supplemental List" should be primâ facie evidence of the right of persons whose names appear upon it to be upon the register; but that which was really the part of the Bill to which the opposition was directed had been omitted altogether from the present Bill. A Bill with a similar provision had passed through that House without dissent in 1873; but in order to obviate the difficulty raised last year, the clause was now omitted, and the principle of the Bill really was to prevent the defeat of frivolous objection of the right of persons who were entitled to the franchise. It involved no new proposition, but only proposed to enact that which was now the law of England as far as counties were concerned. By the 28 & 29 Vict., c. 6, the Act at present in force in England, it was provided that any notice of objection to persons on the list might be given under the 7th section of the principal Act, but that no notice should be valid, unless the specific grounds of objection were stated. The provision was not extended to boroughs, because the Act dealt with counties generally; but he could see no objection to such an extension, though at the same time, if it were objected to, he should be prepared to assent to an amendment of the Bill in that respect. He must, however, contend that it was a mistake not to include them. There were three distinct lists that came before the Courts of Revision for counties. First, there was the old register, whereon the names appeared of those who had been upon the register in the previous year; and, as far as they were concerned, no one was at liberty to ask that the names should be struck out, unless he himself came forward to sustain his objection. Then there was the Supplemental List, which 1719 was prepared by officials; and under the present Act anyone had a right to see an objection to a name on the list, and unless the person objected to came forward and proved his case, the name was expunged. In England the law was different, because if a man appeared upon the list, a mere mention of an objection was not sufficient to obtain the removal of the name; but it was necessary to specify the grounds of objection; and the person objected to had only to prove that so far as the point, in reference to which that objection was raised, was concerned there was no ground for striking his name off the register. That the Bill proposed to extend to Ireland, and it proposed that, as in England, the revising barrister should be able to award a certain sum for costs against those who failed to establish his ground of objection. The third list was the claimants' list, and with that this Bill did not deal. If a person claimed to be upon the register, and his name was not put on by any official person, then he must come up and prove his case, whether objection was made or not. The provisions he had explained were the 4th, 5th, and 6th clauses of the Bill, and the 7th as it now stood was merely an amendment of the law, to which he thought no one could possibly object. Section 63 of the Act 12 & 13 Vict., c. 91, which was not introduced for the purpose of registration at all, but merely to provide for the collection of rates in the City of Dublin, had the effect of disfranchising a number of persons. It provided that weekly or monthly tenants occupying premises under £8 should not be rated; and by a doubtful construction of the section it had been held that it was sufficient to prevent those persons from obtaining the franchise, and it was for the purpose merely of correcting that error that the 7th section was introduced. The 8th and 9th sections provided for the better discharge of the duties of Poor Rate collectors in a manner that he did not think could be objected to by anybody. The 10th section did not make any change in the law, but merely imposed penalties for the purpose of compelling the collectors properly to discharge their duties in regard to the regulation of votes. The 11th section provided for the remuneration of Poor Rate collectors, and the 12th enacted 1720 that persons should not be disqualified by reason of having obtained medical relief from the dispensary. It was exceedingly hard that tolerably well-to-do persons, who from their position would be entitled to the franchise, should be deprived of the right to exercise it, merely because they could not afford medical aid for themselves and their families, and were compelled to go to the dispensary doctor. The 13th section was merely intended to remedy a defect in the present law. The Registration Acts directed that the revising barristers should summon witnesses; but, owing to no provision being made to enforce attendance, the summonses were perfectly inoperative, and the object of this clause was to give the Chairman power to fine witnesses for not attending. The 14th clause provided for the holding of additional Revision Courts. Previous to the passing of the Ballet Act there was a Revision Court in every polling district, but then the number of polling places were few. The Ballot Act provided that, wherever practicable, every voter should have a polling place within three miles of his residence, but the Revising Court was so far that a man might have to travel 18 or 20 miles to sustain his vote. The clause provided that unless the Lord Lieutenant certified that it was inconvenient to have a Revision Court in any polling district, the number of Revision Courts should be a quarter the number of polling places. In a number of counties and boroughs the registration system was self-acting, and this provision could not therefore involve any very considerable increase in the number of Courts. The 15th clause provided that the register and list of voters for each county should contain the post town of the places of abode of every person whose name should be upon it; and the 16th provided that all notices and lists should be posted at the church doors and places of that kind, as well as at the police barracks. Really the principle of the Bill was to extend to Ireland exactly the same law with regard to frivolous objections as that which was in force in England. The only difference was, as he had before observed, that in England the law which this Bill would enact did not extend to boroughs, and if it were considered desirable he should be willing to limit the provisions in counties. He hoped the House would 1721 consent to read the Bill a second time, and if any of the provisions were considered unsatisfactory or objectionable, the objection to them would be discovered in Committee.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Mitchell Henry.)
§ MR. PLUNKET
, in rising to move that the Bill be read a second time that day three months, said, that he had taken that step with considerable reluctance. There were several points in the Bill which went beyond the English law, and he could not admit, as had been assumed by the hon. and learned Member for Kildare (Mr. Meldon), that the measure would really assimilate the law of the two countries. As Chairman of the Select Committee to which reference had been made, he wished to state the grounds upon which the majority of the Committee came to a conclusion differing from the views of those who last year supported the Irish Registration Bill then before the House, and must contend that that conclusion was neither unjust nor partizan in its character, as had been imputed. He could not admit the force of the argument, that because there were smaller proportions of persons enfranchised in Ireland than in England, therefore the law of registration ought to be strained in favour of such persons as were not entitled to the franchise. The Committee went very fully into the question, calling all the witnesses that they thought could contribute any valuable information, and they had also before them the conclusion arrived at by former Committees with reference to registration in England. The majority came to the conclusion, that a case had not been made out for the proposed alteration of the law; that the existing system was not shown to be so bad, that any of the alternative schemes would be an improvement; and this Bill was introduced for the purpose of giving effect to the views of the minority. The hon. Gentleman who had charge of the Bill which was now under discussion (Mr. Mitchell Henry), seemed himself, to a certain extent, to agree with the decision at which the Committee arrived, for by the removal of the 7th clause, which was put forward as an essential part of the measure of last year, he had left the re- 1722 mainder of the sections hanging together loosely and incoherently. There were other provisions in the Bill, which he (Mr. Plunket) had compared somewhat closely with those of previous Bills, respecting which the changes now proposed were still open to serious objection. He would point out that the present Bill contained a clause which bad appeared in another Bill which the House had rejected earlier in this Session on its second reading. That might not be a fatal objection to the second reading of this measure; but he apprehended that, according to the practice of the House, if they went into Committee on the Bill, when they came to the clause in question, the Chairman would not put it from the Chair. He urged that a proposal that a person whose name appeared for the first time on the list of voters should not be required to prove his qualification when an objection had been taken to his name, involved an important departure from the existing law in Ireland, and he believed also in England. It was doubtless very desirable to prevent frivolous objections being taken; but it was equally desirable to have the register of voters as pure as possible, and free from all spurious elements; and that object would be defeated if every possible obstacle were thrown in the way of taking objections to claims. When, however, a claim had been once substantiated, it would not be right to require the voter to prove his case again, unless it was shown on what particular ground his name was objected to. With regard to the proposal for holding a Revision Court in every polling district, he believed it would impose on the revising barrister the necessity of holding an additional Court for every six or seven voters in certain places. Ample means already existed for doing all that was really wanted in that respect. As to the powers which the Bill sought to give the Court for enforcing the attendance of witnesses, he should be surprised to hear on good authority that it was the law in England that a revising barrister had the power, if a person was summoned as a witness and refused to attend and give evidence, to commit him for contempt of Court, and imprison him for a period not exceeding six weeks. He thought that the existing system as it was worked in Ireland was more satisfactory than the 1723 one which it was now proposed to establish by that Bill. The hon. and learned Gentleman quoted evidence to show that in reality the unchecked action of the Poor Rate collectors could not be safely trusted for the production of a satisfactory list; and he also referred to opinions expressed by the revising barristers of the county and city of Dublin, to the effect that there was no pressing necessity for a change of the existing system. That system, he maintained, worked admirably in most places, and in others where it did not work quite so well, he believed the provisions of the present Bill would not bring about any improvement. In conclusion, he would move the rejection of the Bill, but he should not press the Motion to a division, if the feeling of the House was in favour of the Bill.
Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months." — (Mr. David Plunket.)
Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. BUTT
hoped his hon. and learned Friend opposite (Mr. Plunket) would act upon "second thoughts," and would not really interfere with the progress of the Bill. An undoubted anomaly existed, and a substantial grievance stood in need of remedy. That remedy would be applied by the Bill if it obtained the sanction of the House. There was an apparent, but not a real analogy between England and Ireland in the matter. It was quite true that this Bill applied to two lists, whereas in England there was but one. The reason of that was, that the one list in England included the two as they existed in Ireland. The object of the Bill was to make the law in Ireland correspond with the law in England. He believed he had the House with him when he said that the law of the two countries in this matter ought to be assimilated. He strongly combated the notion that clauses good in themselves could not be taken from a Bill considered bad by the House, and inserted in a subsequent Bill. Suppose a private Member brought in a Merchant Shipping Bill which was deemed objectionable, though there were good clauses in it, was the right hon. Gentleman the 1724 President of the Board of Trade, who might subsequently bring in a Bill, to be prevented incorporating those good clauses in his Bill? He might apply the same reasoning to a Coercion Bill—though he hoped the right hon. Baronet the Chief Secretary would never form the intention of bringing in a Coercion Bill. If the notion which he had combated was seriously entertained, it would interfere injuriously with legislation in the House; he found multitudes of Bills in which clauses from previous Bills were inserted. The state of affairs on this subject of registration in Dublin was the most extraordinary that could exist in any constituency. Up to the year 1850, rating had nothing to do with votes in the towns in Ireland; it was then £10 rental, as it was in England. When the Municipal Act of 1849 was passed, a clause was inserted, providing that anyone who held for less than three months, tenancy should not be rated. There was a large number of respectable houses held on shorter terms than three months, and the consequence was these persons were not rated. That was very objectionable; but the curious part of it was this — and that though this clause was expressly repealed—that the Collector General of Rates held that a less tenure than three months would not qualify. What was the effect of that? There were in Dublin no less than 21,000 houses rated over £4, and very few of these were disqualified by being in arrears of taxes. No doubt, some of the houses were empty; but these were few, and there were 1,316 houses returned as not rated, because the Collector General did not believe them to be occupied for three months. Now, that was what they wanted to get rid of. No such limitation existed in any other city in the Three Kingdoms. If the House did not pass the Bill, he should expect the right hon. Baronet to bring in a Bill to declare the law on this point. He (Mr. Butt) did not know how the occupiers of those 1,316 houses would vote. He thought it was likely they would not vote as he should vote; but he did not care for that, or that they were disqualified—he was going to say by a trick—but they were disqualified by a quibble of registration. But that was not all. That would not account for the difference in the figures he had given. It was within the knowledge of everyone who owned houses in 1725 Dublin, that whenever a landlord paid the rates, the tenant himself took no trouble to go and make a claim. He never got on the list; and where the landlord was against the tenant politically, he took care to keep his own name on the list. His (Mr. Butt's) complaint about this Bill was that it did not go far enough. It certainly did not on the question of Supplementary Lists. It was notorious that there were 3,000 in the county Dublin who never registered. Many voters came great distances to prove their claims, and if their names were called during a temporary absence from Court their claim was struck off. He knew of persons who wasted their whole day in Kingstown to be put on the register; and in one case where the voter, who had waited all day, left the Court for half-an-hour, his name was passed over, and the Chairman declined to register it. He had not the slightest hesitation in stating that the practice was illegal. The Reform Bill required the list to be called three times, and his opinion was that had never been repealed; and he believed every Chairman was bound to call the list three times before disqualifying a claimant. The real principle of registration was to make it as self-acting as possible. Registration was a modern notion; in the old time, the Sheriff was bound to know who were the freeholders, and register them. Registration, he believed, was an Irish invention, and care ought to be taken to give no opportunity to persons to make frivolous objections. Now, if they served the most frivolous objection on a man on the Supplementary List in Ireland, unless the man proved his ease, he was not placed on the register.; and he had seen with the utmost astonishment that in many of the Registration Courts they would not accept the evidence of a man's neighbour that he had been in exclusive use of the farm as proof that he was entitled to the vote. Why, if there was a claim to the largest property in England, and it was necessary to prove any man to be an owner in fee of a particular place, evidence that the man had been in exclusive occupancy would be accepted until the contrary was shown; hut that was not sufficient evidence for the vote before the Chairman. These were hardships which the Bill did not recognize. What his hon. Friend the Member for Galway (Mr. Mitchell Henry) 1726 proposed to do was to mitigate Irish registration by assimilating it to the law of England, and he confidently hoped the House and the Government would not refuse so reasonable a proposal.
§ MR. BRUEN
believed there was no necessity for the Bill. Under the existing system the most perfect facilities for registration existed, and everyone who was qualified to be put upon the list of voters could obtain the privilege without any difficulty. He thought it did not matter whether the list of those who claimed to be placed on the register was drawn up by an official like the clerk of the Guardians, or by the claimants themselves, or by some political organization. It was necessary, however, in order to secure a true register, that there should be free and ample facilities for a thorough scrutiny of the list of claimants. Persons who were interested in the purity of the register should not be deterred from bringing forward objections. With that object in view, if, as had been said, the suffrage was a trust, and not a right, every reasonable facility should be given by the measure before the House. Instead, however, of that, it might almost be termed a measure for compulsory registration. It would compel the insertion on the lists of all claimants on the Supplemental List, whether they were qualified or not; and he did not see that it would place any great difficulties in the way of those who put in their own claims, whether their claims were well-founded or not. It would, therefore, in that way, he was afraid, turn out to be a Bill for promoting larger registers, not at all to be depended upon. While allowing great latitude with regard to objections to claimants, he thought some special protection ought to be given to those who were already on the register. In their case the objections ought to be stated beforehand, and there ought to be a penalty when the objections were frivolous. That being his opinion, there were several clauses of the Bill which he thought might fairly be considered in Committee. He was inclined to vote for Clauses 4, 5, and 6, provided they were so amended as not to apply to the Supplemental List. The latter clause suggested that Poor Rate collectors should be entitled to enter the objections. For his own part, he would rather have 1727 these objections made by the clerk to the Guardians than by a collector, whose station in society was not at all equal to that of the clerk of Boards of Guardians. He must, notwithstanding what had been said by the hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin, enter his protest against the 16th clause, which appeared to him to be a direct interference with the rights of property. It had been said by an hon. Member that the Supplemental List was usually very accurate, because it was prepared by officials; but, in his experience, he had found it by no means perfect, and he believed the officials who drew it up were often without the necessary information. Looking upon the Bill, as a whole, although there was a great deal in it which he objected to, he did not despair of seeing it amended in Committee.
§ MR. COLLINS
took but little exception to the remarks of the previous speaker (Mr. Bruen), who had dwelt on the subject of giving facilities to persons objecting to voters. He (Mr. Collins) objected to those views on the subject; the points which the hon. Member referred to on the subject of the objections was, that he would extend facilities to persons either on the register, or claiming to be registered, to maintain their claims. That was a subject of very great importance, as affecting registration in Ireland. He was on the register of voters in the borough he had the honour to represent for a period of 30 years, and owing to the fact of not being able to attend the registration sessions about two years ago, to answer one or two questions an objector might choose to put, his vote was actually struck off the register. Other cases might be cited, and he trusted such increased facilities, in the way of evidence or other means, would be given with the view of removing the anomalous and unjust condition of things that existed at present. The minor clauses might be dealt with in Committee, and he thought that the principle involved in the principal clauses was one that would prove generally acceptable to the House.
§ MR. SERJEANT SHERLOCK
said, that he did not think that the fact of there being occasional fictitious claims need lead them to fear that it was anything like a general practice, or that it was one which need be apprehended. The hon. and learned Member for the 1728 University of Dublin (Mr. Plunket) had read evidence to show that the Supplementary Lists of the Poor Law officials were not accurate, and referred to the evidence of Mr. Gerrard, the Conservative agent in Dublin, to show that the lists of the Poor Law clerks could not be relied upon. What was the evidence he gave? That the Poor Rate was struck in the month of June, and that they virtually concluded their labours on the 31st December; that they had nothing to do from December to July, and that therefore, during those six months, there were many claimants and many alterations in property not introduced into the lists, and it was supposed that during the months between January and July many claimants would be omitted, but those who were legitimately entitled to be on the register were not interfered with. The hon. Member for Kinsale (Mr. Collins) had illustrated the hardships a voter was subjected to, and he would give an illustration from his own experience. His vote was objected to, and he was obliged to attend in Dublin at some inconvenience, and take with him his title deeds. But upon attending, he was politely told he might go away again, and that the objection would be withdrawn. So it appeared that objections were put on the paper solely for the purpose of seeing if the voter would attend. The objections taken by hon. Members to various details did not seem to concur. Clauses 4, 5, and 6 had been taken exception to by the hon. Member for Carlow (Mr. Bruen), who, however did not object to a discussion in Committee. Another hon. Member, commencing at the other end of the Bill, objected to Clauses 16, 17, 18, and 19. It had been objected to the posting the notices on church-doors that possibly these might be private property, but there was no exception taken to the posting of notices on churches and chapels in England, nor in Ireland, in the case of Poor Law notices. It might have saved the time of the House if hon. Members had, in the first instance, compared their objections to the various details in the Bill. There was one clause he certainly did object to, and that was that Revision Courts should be held in the various polling places. There were in his county 20 polling places, and to take round the Chairman and all the necessary officials 1729 to record the decisions at each of these polling places four times a-year, would be to incur a considerable expense without any adequate advantage. In towns where quarter sessions were held there was a Staff, and there was a house fit for the purpose; but these polling places were most inadequate for the purposes they were now used for, and could not be made available for the purposes of a Court. However, he would not imitate the example of other hon. Members, and go through all the details. He did not know what view the Government might take; but if the Bill went into Committee, all those matters could then be detailed.
§ MR. CHARLES LEWIS
said, it could not be disputed that the debate had been a very dreary one, and liveliness had not been promoted by the presence of the supporters of the Bill. The measure might be called an "omnibus" Bill, and there was no principle in the Bill but one—the assimilation of the law of Ireland to that of England—and it was totally inapplicable to the details. If there was a thread of principle running through the whole, the House might keep within the custom of only dealing with the general principle upon the Motion for second reading; but the Bill was merely a collection of scattered provisions relating to disjointed parts of the law of registration. If, indeed, the Preamble was true, there was some principle in it. It set forth that it was expedient to provide a remedy to prevent frivolous objections, and to facilitate the persons who were entitled to the tranchise being placed on the register in the same manner as provided in the cities, towns, boroughs, and counties in England. There were five different alterations in the law provided in the Bill, and in no one of those was there a complete analogy to the law in England. He strongly objected to the clause which proposed to give the revising barrister unlimited power to impose costs on the objector who had not proved his case. There was no such law in England, and this Bill professed to assimilate the law in Ireland to that of England. It would be most dangerous to give such a power to the revising barrister, seeing that he might, in a fit of gout or a fit of temper, altogether abuse it. At present the vigilance of the opposing political parties kept the registers nearly pure. The 1730 power proposed by Clause 8 to be given to collectors of rates was arbitrary, and would in many cases take away the franchise from a legitimate voter. He submitted that the Bill, so far from assimilating the law of Ireland to that of England, would create greater dissimilarity than that which at present existed; and at that period of the Session, it was hardly worth while to waste the time of the House when the Committee would give rise to so much discussion.
§ SIR HENRY JAMES
observed that the objections of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Charles Lewis) applied to the details more than to the principle of the Bill, and did not afford a sufficient ground for refusing to read it a second time. He contended, with reference to those objections, that he (Sir Henry James) had not thought it would be urged that legislation for Ireland must not be in advance of legislation for England. There were separate subjects in the Bill, but how could the promoters have a distinct Bill for every alteration which was desired? In respect to the county vote, the Bill would assimilate the Irish to the English system; and with respect to the borough voter, if the proposal made was in advance of the law of England, that was no objection to it. What his hon. Friend now proposed in this Bill was what had been recommended by the Committee of 1869 to be the law regulating questions of this kind both in England and Ireland. What was the common sense of the matter, but that a man who had to meet an objection should know beforehand what the objection was? There were five distinct grounds of objection which might be made, and what hardship was there in requiring the person who objected to say on what particular grounds of objection he took his stand? It was well known that presons engaged in these matters sent out objections by thousands to poor men who they knew could not attend to prove their claims without less of the day's wages which they wanted to buy food for their children. And that was what was called purifying the register. The fact that there were those who would perpetuate such a system almost suggested the existence of a desire to restrict the operation of the franchise. He could understand, therefore, why the hon. Member for Londonderry ob- 1731 jected to allow the revising barrister to exercise his discretion as to costs. But the whole policy of the English law went in this direction; because while at first, the costs were to be only 20s., they were afterwards increased to 40s., and then something additional was allowed. He trusted the Government would show the Irish Members the courtesy of consenting to read the Bill a second time, because it would be of evil precedent to obstruct a meritorious measure without good cause. Any objections to its details could be readily encountered in Committee.
§ CAPTAIN NOLAN
said, that if either of the firm of Taper and Tadpole had made a speech in that House, it might have been something like that of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Charles Lewis). The mode of getting into Parliament adopted by these gentlemen was to "reduce the number of voters in every possible way by lodging objections." No doubt, the hon. Member thought that by keeping down the number of Irish votes as much as possible, he would keep in the Constitutional Party in Ireland. It was more important that there should be a good system of registration in Ireland than in England, for this simple reason—England had about five times the number of Members of Parliament than there were in Ireland, and England was only twice as large as Ireland; consequently the average area which each Member represented was two and a-half times as large as in England, and the larger the area which each Member represented, the greater the necessity for registration facilities. The hon. and learned Member for Taunton (Sir Henry James) had referred to the loss of time occasioned to voters on account of frivolous objections, and he (Captain Nolan) thought that costs could never be more properly awarded than when given against men who lodged a frivolous objection. They should not be playing a little game at getting on Home Rulers and Conservatives, but should aim at getting all qualified electors on the register.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. GIBSON)
said, that the question had been fully discussed, for it had occupied something like four hours, and every clause of the Bill had been adequately commented upon. The hon. and learned Member for Taunton had sug- 1732 gested that the Conservative Party was the Party who were anxious to keep people off the register—that they were the only Party who served frivolous objections. He would not waste the time of the House by discussing these charges; but he would make a few observations on the course of the debate, which from the very nature of things, involving as it did more or less the consideration of details, had necessarily taken a wide and discursive direction. He did not think that anyone on either side of the House doubted that it was fair and reasonable to give all due facilities for the registration of persons who were entitled to be on the register. He had not heard any suggestion upon either side of the House that it was right to encourage, or not to discourage, the forwarding of undue frivolous objections. He thought the distinction that had been taken about the serving of notices of objection was one which did not come home to the mind of the hon. and learned Member for Taunton (Sir. Henry James). He (Sir Henry James) had not applied himself to the line of objections taken by his hon. and learned Colleague and other hon. Members on that side of the House. Assuming that a person was named on the register, and that he had been a voter, they all agreed that his status as a voter should not be attacked without giving him proper notice. But it was quite open to discussion whether the same considerations and the same lines of thought should be applied to those who had not been voters, and were on the Supplemental list. This List, which was peculiar to Ireland, and of the existence of which the hon. and learned Member for Taunton did not seem to be aware, contained the names of those who had not had their right to vote recognized, but possessed only two out of five elements of qualification which gave a primâ facie case of a right to vote. That right might, he thought, be fairly challenged by a general objection. He did not hear it denied by the hon. and learned Member for Londonderry that it was right and fair to give the revising tribunal the power of awarding costs; he only argued that it would be unreasonable to give to the revising tribunal, the powers of giving costs without stint or measure. There was no question as to the propriety of giving revising tribunals the 1733 right to award costs to a fair amount—say 20s. or 30s. If there were objections to excluding parties from the register, who had a right to be on, it was also objectionable to practically prohibit objections by which substantial harm was done to the purity of the electoral lists. Considerable criticism had been directed against what was known as the "Dublin clause," and he should only say that it dealt with several complicated considerations which would require much attention in Committee if it was to be retained in the present Bill. With regard to the question whether the receipt of poor relief should disfranchise an elector he should reserve his opinion. He presumed the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. Mitchell Henry) did not mean to lay down a hard-and-fast line that there should be a Revision Court at all polling places, but only that every possible facility should be given for registration. It was, he believed, possible under the present law to remedy the existing inconveniences, and his sympathies were entirely in favour of giving every reasonable facility for adequate revision at convenient places. If this could not be effected under the present law, he was in favour of passing an enactment to give the convenience sought. Last year, when the hon. and learned Member for Kildare (Mr. Meldon) introduced a similar measure, he (the Attorney General for Ireland) took upon himself the responsibility of opposing its second reading, because there was contained in it a clause to which he had very strong objections. That clause did not appear in the present Bill, and so far, his objection was removed. Fully recognizing the value of the criticisms of hon. Members against the provisions of the Bill, and that they were not without foundation, he saw no reason why the Bill might not be read a second time.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
very much doubted whether any private Member, even although armed with the unanimous recommendations of a Committee, could carry a Registration Bill in the present state of Public Business. He had had personal experience of the utter impossibility of any private Member being able to pass a Registration Bill; but he would urge upon the Government that they should undertake the task of providing satisfactory registration laws, not only for Ireland but 1734 also for England. It was admitted by everybody that the present registration laws were a scandal, and he trusted that next Session the Government would introduce a Bill dealing with the whole matter.
§ MR. PLUNKET
said, he would offer no further opposition to the Motion for the second reading, but would reserve to himself the right to oppose what he considered a mischievous Bill in its future stages.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Main Question put, and agreed to.
Bill read a second time, and committed for Monday next.