HC Deb 13 February 1878 vol 237 cc1568-86

Order for Second Reading read.


in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that the measure was not intended to interfere in the slightest degree with the franchise in Ireland, its sole object being to facilitate the registration of voters for the greater convenience of all parties interested. The theory of the franchise was that any person who was a rated occupier of premises of a certain specified value should be entitled to vote; and, though it was desirable that no person should get upon the list who had not a sufficient valuation or who had not been a sufficient time in occupation, still it was desirable that those who possessed the proper qualifications should be upon the register. He wished to enable persons who were clearly entitled to the franchise to have their names placed upon the list without unnecessary inconvenience or the infliction of a money fine upon them for the opportunity of exercising the privilege of voting for Members of Parliament. The 1st clause was principally for the convenience of candidates, by supplying the list in a different form to that in which they were now supplied by clerks of the peace. Those who had had anything to do with election affairs in Ireland knew that the lists were supplied in alphabetical order, which was exceedingly troublesome to those who had to make a personal canvass; and what he proposed was that the names should be arranged according to parishes and streets. At present the poor law directors supplied in that form lists of persons entitled to vote, and in Edinburgh the plan he suggested was in actual operation with advantage to the public and to all parties concerned. Another disadvantage under the existing system was that the revising barristers sometimes insisted that persons claiming to be upon the register should appear in person to substantiate their claims, and he knew that in some counties there were distances of as much as 20 miles between the places of registration. It ought to be competent for a person to make his claim through an independent witness, without personal appearance; especially as many more important questions were, as things were, settled in that manner. This was a change the Bill proposed, and as it would be quite as much for the convenience of Conservatives as for the so-called Liberal Party, he could not see what reasonable objection could be raised to it. The chairman of the county was in the habit of insisting upon very clear evidence of title, and that in practice had been found to create in Ireland a great deal of difficulty; because in the great majority of cases a transfer was effected by a mere changed name in the landlord's books, and there was no such thing as a written title for the possession of premises. It was proposed, therefore, that evidence of actual occupation should be all that was required, and he considered that that should be enough. There was another clause which provided that a claimant to be put upon the list of voters should be held to be a voter, unless his name was objected to; but, of course, if any objection was raised, and evidence was given against the claim, the name would be struck off the list, unless the evidence in its support was the stronger. These were the leading ideas of the Bill, which did not strike out the interests of any particular party; but was only intended to facilitate registration, and to provide for the preparation, in a more convenient form, of the list of persons entitled to vote at Parliamentary Elections.

Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—{Mr. Biggar.)


in moving that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, said, he was expressing an opinion with which the majority of hon. Members would agree when he said that there was some inconvenience in calling upon the House to discuss on the same day two Bills relating to the registration of voters in Ireland coming from the same quarter. If there was any intention on the part of the hon. Member to press the proposals he had just laid before the House, there would be no difficulty in bringing them forward in the shape of clauses to be introduced in the Parliamentary Franchise (Ireland) Bill which stood for Committee in that day's list of Orders. It was only owing to the absence of their Leader (Mr. Butt) that he could understand the divisions of the Home Rule Party upon such a matter as the registration of voters in Ireland. A Committee had been appointed for the purpose of dealing with Parliamentary registration as affecting England, and all the subjects included in this Bill would very properly form part of that inquiry which was to commence that day. That alone was a sufficient reason why the House should not be asked to sanction the principle of the measure by passing the second reading. Now, as for the Bill itself, the House constantly heard of the desire to assimilate the laws of Ireland to those of England; yet the laws of England contained no provisions such as those in the Bill, while the first alteration proposed, considerable as it was, was intended only in the interests of candidates for seats in the House, who, no doubt, would be glad to save expense by having their canvassing book prepared by the clerk of the peace instead of by their election agents; but he could not see in what manner it could benefit the voters. He would not say that the Bill was not worth consideration; but every point in it would be discussed in the Committee relating to English registration, and he hoped the House would not sanction so entire a change. As for the 2nd clause, its ending words were important, as they governed several other clauses. That clause said—"The lists of claimants shall be deemed to be lists of voters and not of claimants." The effect of that would be to place every person who took the trouble to make a claim in the same position as regarded his rights before the barrister as that occupied by the man who had shown his primâ facie right as possessor; but under the law of England the line of difference was invariably distinct between claimants and voters. In boroughs a claimant to be upon the register was bound affirmatively to prove his right, even when no objection was made, and in counties he was bound to prove his right if his claim was objected to; but in regard to both cases every one of the claimants was in a different position as regarded objections and costs from the man who was already up in the register. The fourth clause was also the most extraordinary one, as the effect of it would be that if a man or a widow holding a farm had six sons tilling it—even though they were only farm labourers, and their father or mother was the only occupant—these six sons would be entitled to be put upon the register unless somebody objected to them. To try this was, he knew, a common device in all parts of the Kingdom, and had often been exposed in the revising courts, and now it was proposed to legalize that practice. He admitted that there was a subdivision of the clause empowering the barrister to strike a dead person off the list—as a set off, he presumed, against the words authorizing him to register unqualified living persons. Without prejudging the question, he would say that he had had opportunities of seeing the modus operandi in hotly-contested constituencies, and his experience showed that it was almost as necessary in these cases to contend against fictitious claims as against frivolous objections. He hoped the House would not be deluded into giving up those safeguards, which would prevent hundreds and thousands of persons appearing on the register, merely because they said they were entitled. The 5th clause was a very old friend, and he remembered that in 1873 it had been contested when it formed part of a Government Bill. Its effect would be that if a man set up a claim it was not to be resisted until the parties objecting could prove, primâ, facie, a negative—the effect of which would probably be that every man who had the boldness to set up a claim would be free from examination as to its grounds unless some evidence of disqualification could be, in the first instance, adduced. He trusted, then, that the hon. Member for Cavan (Mr. Biggar) and the hon. and learned Member for Kildare (Mr. Meldon), unless their quarrel was hopeless, would compose their differences, and bring forward all the necessary Amendments in Committee on the Parliamentary Franchise Bill. Surely the House need not deal with the same subject by two Bills? The Bill before the House contained some absurdities and was not substantial. What, for instance, was meant by its reference to the "Parliamentary Electors Acts?"He knew of no class of legislation with that definition. The truth was, that the Bill was a hap-hazard production, intended chiefly for persons who wished to have their canvassing books made at the public expense.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Charles Lewis.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."


said, he could have understood the objections of his hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry, if they had reached the last stage of the Bill; but as they were upon the second reading they had only to deal with the principle, and had nothing to do with detail. He could not, however, see why the Bill should not be read a second time because there happened to be another on the same subject. A Select Committee then sitting had three Bills before it on one subject, and would choose the best, so that there was no reason why the two Registration Bills should not be treated in the same manner. It was true the Bill would not tend to assimilate the English and Irish law; but its provisions did follow the Scotch practice, which had commended itself to the House. The hon. Member for Londonderry had touched on the subject of registration, and no one was a better authority; but he might remind him that a Select Committee had taken much evidence on that subject in 1869, and that in many particulars the Bill carried out the recommendations of the Committee. That being the case, he thought that a fair case had been made out for the second reading of the Bill.


said, he must thank the hon. Member for Londonderry for the feeling condolence with Home Rulers in the absence of their Leader, but assured him that the fissure he had attributed to the Party only existed in his own fine imagination. The reason for there being two Bills was very simple. They were brought in separately, and it was afterwards thought advisable that the Bill of the hon. and learned Member for Kildare (Mr. Meldon) should be considered first. Every effort had then been made to get the previous Bills withdrawn. The hon. and gallant Member for Gravesend (Captain Pim) had very kindly taken off his Bill. The hon. Member for Forfar (Mr. J. W. Barclay), who had a Bill down, could not disappoint a great many hon. Members by withdrawing his Bill, although he was willing to make every effort to shorten the debate upon it. But it was found that this last Bill was of such an interesting character that it would probably occupy three or four hours, and, if that was the case, the Bill of the hon. and learned Member for Kildare would not come on at all. For this reason, he joined with the hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles W. Dilke) in wishing this Bill should go into Committee. The hon. and learned Member for Londonderry had assured the House that the Goverment were disposed to look favourably on the Bill of the hon. and learned Member for Kildare.


begged to say that he had not ventured to speak for the Government. He had said the understanding was general on the Conservative side.


did not object. The hon. and learned Member had done still better. He had spoken for the whole of his own side of the House. As to the debate, it had been useful, if if it had only drawn this expression from the hon. Member for Londonderry, and he was very glad the hon. Member for Cavan (Mr. Biggar) had taken the initiative. The difficulty was not only to get the friendly attention of the Government, but also to secure time and avoid the fate that befel the Municipal Franchise Bill. If a Session or two were lost, it was probable that the registration would not come into operation before the General Election; but if this Bill should be allowed to go into Committee a double chance would be secured. The objects of the Bill were that all those entitled to vote should be on the register; secondly, that those persons should be able to get on the register with as little trouble as possible; and thirdly, the object which the hon. Member for Londonderry had condemned, that of saving trouble and expense to candidates. The hon. Member for Londonderry said the effect would be to turn the register into a canvassing book; but really that was an argument in favour of the Bill, and it struck him very forcibly last night, when he happened to see the register book of the city of Edinburgh. After an experience of five or six years in canvassing, he could say how great benefit such a system would be in Ireland, both to candidates and constituents. Nothing could be worse than the state of the register in Ireland. It was true the Committee of 1874 decided against any alteration being made in the law; but it must be remembered that in that Committee of 15 Members on an even division, the vote of the Chairman, the hon. and learned Member for Dublin University (Mr. Plunket), decided the state of the register in Dublin. This county was shown by the evidence given before that Committee. It appeared, that being once placed on the registry, a man was not likely to be displaced; but as a feeder to the registry, there was a supplementary list upon which claimants put their names. To those voters known to be Liberals, the Conservative agent objected, and so on the other side, unless the claimant attended and made good the claim, that objection was allowed, and the name struck off. The clerk of the union, in his evidence, said that in 1873 the constituency of Dublin County was between 4,000 and 5,000 and upon the supplementary list there were 3,974 names. It was obvious that such a number being added might entirely change the balance of parties; but out of these 3,974 names, 3,901 were objected to and struck off, because they did not attend to make good their claims; yet the chairman said that at least two-thirds of the supplementary list should have been admitted to the register—and, according to another witness, 65 percent. The number of residents in the county spoke stronger than evidence. Valued at or over £12, there were 27,000, from which might be deducted 12,000 for females and duplicate occupations, leaving 15,000. Out of these only some 4,300 were on the register. These figures were nearly the same as the proportions given by the chairman and the clerk of the peace, and showed the condition of the registry in the county of Dublin to be in a disgraceful condition. The case of Carlow, though not nearly so strong, was in the same direction. If the Government would give any proper security that the Bill of the hon. and learned Member for Kildare should receive ample opportunity for discussion, no doubt the hon. Member for Cavan would consent to withdraw the Bill; but without that assurance, there was no doubt that two Bills had a better chance than one. He supported the Bill.


said, he had no intention of speaking in the debate, because he could not believe that the proposition of the hon. Member for Cavan (Mr. Biggar) had been seriously meant; but as he had been so directly referred to by the hon. and gallant Member for Galway (Major Nolan), he could not avoid replying at once. And although the hon. and gallant Member had very skilfully tried to wheedle and coax the House into a second reading, he, for one, could not be persuaded. In vain the snare was set in full view of any bird. What effect it might have on the stern unbending character of the hon. Member for Cavan he could not say. With regard to the hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt) he was sure the regret for his absence was shared by every hon. Member on that side of the House, and he hoped that soon he might be again amongst them. But the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. C. Lewis) really intended a compliment when he said that if the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Butt) had been present the confusion of Bills upon this subject would not have arisen; and, certainly, the state of things now, was "confusion worse confounded," and he could not at all see why this, the most impracticable, Bill was brought in first. The title of the Bill was a misnomer, for though entitled the Voters' Bill, it was really a Candidate's Bill, and gave facilities for canvassing and hunting down, and bringing up to the poll all those entitled to vote, and many not so entitled. The hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles W. Dilke) had said the Bill was not an assimilation of the Irish to the English law—it was something like the Scotch law. He declined to be moved by this consideration before, at least, he should have had a conference with the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Stirlingshire (Admiral Sir William Edmon-stone), whom he saw present, as the provisions of the Scotch law always seemed to him of so foreign a character as to require an interpreter, as well as very much more study than he had yet given them. He entirely refused at the present time to go into any comparison of the provisions of the present Bill with the state of the law of registration in Scotland. Nobody would deny that those entitled to vote should have their name on the register; but the Bill, as had been shown by the hon. Member who moved the rejection, would only increase facilities to those not entitled to vote, and who put forward claims to that privilege. With regard to the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for Galway (Major Nolan), as to the working of the present system of registration in Ireland, he must take exception to the statement that the chairmen of the registration courts insisted on personal attendance to prove claims. That was not the case at all, and it was easy to successfully support a claim, if it was a genuine one, to be placed on the register of voters. The 5th clause was one of the most extraordinary he had ever read. It was such a confusion of grammar, the nominative had no verb provided for it, nor any apparent connection with the rest of the sentence, so that it was difficult to understand whether it was the man claiming the vote who was to adjudicate on the claim, or whether it was the assistant-barrister who was to do so. He saw no reason for any change in the present system. In support of this view he had the evidence of Mr. Trench, the chairman of the court of quarter sessions at Kilmainham, who told the Select Committee that the pre- sent system gave, on the whole, a free and pure registration. Under these circumstances, he considered the Bill was one which it was not reasonable the House should he asked to read a second time.


said, a good deal of time had been expended in the debate, and his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Galway (Major Nolan) and the hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Plunket) might easily have curtailed their speeches until the Bill went into Committee. He could not give his support to the 5th clause of the Bill, which permitted a person to make a claim for a vote for a county or borough; and unless the party having an objection came forward, to prove that the man had no right to a vote, his name was placed on the register. That was a course to which he could not give his support. He considered, however, that the 1st clause of the Bill was of great importance. Under the present system the names of voters were arranged on the register alphabetically, and the result was that two men entitled to vote in the same county whose names commenced with the letter D might live 70 miles apart, as was often the case in the county he had the honour to represent. This was found to be most inconvenient in case of a canvass; but, if the 1st clause of the present Bill became law, this inconvenience would be entirely removed. The clause merely provided for the adoption of the system in operation in Scotland. His hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh (Mr. M'Laren) had been good enough to procure for him the register for the city of Edinburgh, which contained the names of nearly 26,000 electors. The city was divided into 13 wards, and in every street was to be found the name of the voter and the number of the house. Facilities were thereby given for canvassing every man in any street in the city without going from one part of the city to another, as had to be done in the city of Dublin, when following the alphabetical order. The adoption of such a system in Ireland would be a very great advantage, and so far he would wish that the Bill should be read a second time, for the purpose of incorporating that clause with the Bill of the hon. and learned Member for Kildare. As to trouble being thrown on clerks of the peace which should be borne by candidates' agents by this proposal—as was asserted by the hon. and learned Member for the Dublin University (Mr. Plunket)—his hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh assured him that, so far from extra expense being caused by this manner of preparing the register, the whole thing was done in Edinburgh by one individual; whereas in Ireland, a great number of persons had to be employed in like cases, and the sums they were called upon to pay were enormous. His hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry was strongly opposed to any Bill introduced in the House for the purpose of either increasing the number of voters on the register or giving greater facilities to those who were entitled to the franchise. He could not refrain from calling the attention of the House to the fact that the hon. Member for Londonderry was disposed to render the Bill of the hon. and learned Member for Kildare as worthless as possible. Every material clause in the Bill was opposed by the hon. Gentleman. He proposed that Clauses 4, 7, 9 and 10 should be omitted, and another hon. Member proposed to similarly treat Clause 13. Every clause in the Bill worth anything at all was opposed by the hon. Member and his Friends; and he, therefore, thought it desirable that the Bill should be read a second time, because it was not likely, after all the Amendments of hon. Gentlemen on the other side, that there was any great chance of carrying any clause which would be worth accepting. The alteration in the arrangement of the register would be a great convenience to candidates, and it would reduce to a very great extent the expenses of the register. In Edinburgh the whole thing was done by one individual, whereas in Ireland there were a number of persons employed, and the sums they were called upon at every assizes to pass as the expenses of the county register were enormous. He thought it would be very desirable for the House to adopt the 1st clause, and the whole Bill was such as they would do well to allow to pass a second reading. MR. BRUEN said, the hon. and gallant Member for Galway (Major Nolan) had called the attention of the House very pointedly to the evidence given before a Select Committee. He would point out to the House that the evidence given before that Committee was very-much as to policy. It was conflicting in its nature, for the policy recommended by the witnesses on one side differed very materially from that suggested by those on the other side. A gentleman in the County Carlow had informed him that one of the witnesses examined in reference to the registration in that county was quite unable to give evidence on the subject, as he had not been in the court for 10 or 11 years. The present clerk of the peace for Carlow would have been a more proper person to have been called by the hon. and learned Member for Kildare (Mr. Meldon). The Preamble to the Bill seemed to affirm the proposition that a person acquired a natural right to the franchise other than the title which he acquired by law. It had always been recognized in this country that such a right was limited. They had a right to assume that the hon. Member had taken pains to frame the Bill in such a way as to carry out a definite object. It was not necessary, apparently, for the voter to say upon what he founded his claim, and there was no provision as to when the lists were to be published. He believed the House was anxious that the register should be a pure register, and that persons who had proved their right to be on it should have their title protected in the best possible way. The general theory that he should like to see carried out was that every facility should be given to persons to test and sift the applications to be on the register; but when once a man got on the register his position there should be a safe one. He was in favour of the alphabetical form in which the list of voters was now made up.


said, the mode of registration in the city he had the honour to represent had been referred to more than once. Perhaps the House would allow him a short explanation. The system worked exceedingly well. It was remarkable for its simplicity, and it was far less expensive than the old system. Two hon. and learned Gentlemen opposite spoke against the Scotch law as being intricate—one saying it was so intricate that it was impossible to study anything about it. This mode of registration had nothing to do with the law of Scotland. It was founded on an Act passed 20 years ago by the Imperial Parliament. It was, as he had said, remarkable for its simplicity, and if the hon. and learned Gentleman the Memberfor the University of Dublin (Mr. Plunket) would read the Act, he would admit there was not a sentence in it which he could not understand. This was the last objection he thought could have been urged against it. He regretted that the hon. and learned Gentleman should feel such objections to the law of Scotland generally; because it was founded on the Roman law, that beautiful system, which was not a thing of shreds and patches, as some other systems were. [Mr. PLUNKET said he did not say anything against the law of Scotland.] He was very glad to hear he was mistaken. That was merely, however, a digression. He should like to explain the principle of this registration, and had nothing to do with the law of Scotland beyond that. He had the honour of being called before the Committee of 1860, to which reference had been made by the hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles W. Dilke), and had explained the system. There was an officer appointed in every town and every county in Scotland, whose business it was to value anew, year by year, every house and piece of land in the borough or county. In the city of Edinburgh, this officer made up a valuation within a statutory period. The registration roll was really a roll for the laying on of municipal taxes, with this exception—that the officer struck out all women householders as not being qualified, and on the last day allowed by law, got from the Poor Law authorities a list of all the persons who had not paid their poor rates, and struck out their names also. Then the roll stood as the register of voters. It was a roll of every person—with the exceptions hehad mentioned — who occupied houses or lands within the borough of Edinburgh. Having got this in proof, he allowed it to be exhibited in a public place for a certain number of days. If anyone said —"You have omitted my name," he was told to send in his claim. If anyone chose to say—"A name is inserted that you have no right to include," he also sent in a notice of this. The officer in question looked over these claims and objections, and added names to the roll when he ascertained persons were qualified, or struck names off it when he was satisfied there were no claims. After that was done the roll was printed, and came before the sheriff of the county in the same manner as before a revising barrister elsewhere, and any man who thought he had been aggrieved by his name not being put on, or any objector who thought the name of some other person that had no right on the register had been put on, had an opportunity of coming before the sheriff and stating his claim or objection. The process was so simple and so short, that the roll of 27,000 voters for the city of Edinburgh was gone over in a few hours. The county of Edinburgh was not quite so large, though nearly as large, as the county of Dublin, where, they were told, 3,971 objections were lodged. What a contrast did the county of Edinburgh present! There, he would undertake to say, in no one year for many years past had 50 objections been made to the roll as prepared in the way he had described, and certainly not 50 objections were made to the roll of 27,000 in the city of Edinburgh. These facts were worth a great many arguments only founded on theories. As to the expense, that was a mere trifle. A rate was laid on under an Act of Parliament for paying registration expenses, and that rate was a very small fractional part of a penny in the £. It was something less than a farthing in the £, including the cost of printing the large book which had been shown to the House. An enormous expense formerly incurred by parties giving in their own claims, and paying counsel and agents in cases of objections, was done away with. The officer he had spoken of, who was called the borough assessor, was a man conversant with the value of property, and the public had general confidence in what he said. All parties, indeed, seemed to be satisfied with this system. He thought that was a good answer to the statement of the hon. Gentleman, who founded his objection to the proposal on the ground that the community would be put to great expense in preparing canvassing books for candidates. The system in Ireland was far more expensive. If, in Edinburgh, they had to adopt the Irish system, after making up their lists in the natural order, they would need to go over all the streets and take 1,000 A's out of them, then, perhaps, 1,500 B's, and 2,000 C's. This would be no light task in a city of 210,000 inhabitants. A great deal of trouble and expense would naturally be incurred by taking these names out of their natural order as they were found in streets, and placing them in an artificial catalogue according to the alphabet. Where a list was made up in this way a candidate's agent had to set 30 or 40 clerks to work to bring it back to its original form, at a very large expense to those who stood a contest. Hon. Gentlemen would, therefore, see that this system, so far from being intricate and expensive, was beautiful for its simplicity, and beautiful for its inexpensiveness, giving satisfaction to all parties. The city he had the honour to represent, having adopted the territorial system, had never seen any cause whatever to change it. In the counties, the lists were arranged according to parishes, and a canvasser had only to take out a parish from the roll, and his work was ready to his hand. He thought if hon. Members would just look into the matter, they would see that this principle in the Bill was a sound one, and that it should be adopted. The way in which the arrangement he had described as in force in Edinburgh came about was this—Scotland and England had the same registration system under Lord Grey's Reform Bill; but after a time a law was passed to have the lists printed in England, and Scotland was not included. Scotland had no law for printing the list of voters for 12 years afterwards. This caused great dissatisfaction, and in the interim many efforts were made to get the English system adopted. Though not in Parliament, he was then one of the local agitators, and had a good deal to do with the drafting of this measure. They did not seek absolutely to copy the English law of registration. They found out where it worked badly, and endeavoured to get a better method. This Bill was therefore drafted, and it was carried through by the present Lord Moncreiff, then Lord Advocate, to the great satisfaction of the people of Scotland.


said, the principle of this Bill seemed to be that persons who had no right to be on the list of voters should be able to get their names on for three months without the possibility of getting them off. There were no quarter sessions between July and October, and by merely writing a note to the clerk of the peace anyone could be placed on the roll, and he could not possibly be objected to till October. At present the lists were printed alphabetically, and every person who wished to know whether his name stood on the list or not, had but to go and look at the list. The first clause would, in many cases, render it impossible for objectors to find out the names of those to whom they wished to object, and persons whose names were on would also be unable to find them. At present the collectors of the rates made out the list of voters, and handed the lists to the clerk of the peace, and if anyone was left out of that list, he could then apply to have his name entered on the supplementary list; but by the Bill the clerk of the peace would make them out in future. The more they simplified the law for registering voters the better. He wished to see every man with a right to vote in possession of that right, but that no person without the right should be on the list. It was certainly opening the door to imaginary claims; and this was specially dangerous at the beginning of a Session, when Parliament was likely to be dissolved in August, and unjustified voters would be allowed to go to the poll. The Bill would really put a mortgagee of an estate in the position of the freeholder instead of the proprietor, and he thought that these would not accept such a principle as that. The measure also said that the clerk of the peace was to take a list of claimants, and say the claimants should be voters for the purpose of Parliamentary Elections; but that was a thing which could not hold water for three minutes. It was absurd to say that a claimant should be entitled to something which he claimed, although he did not prove it. He quite agreed that it was a very proper thing that the notices should be posted up so that anyone could see whether his name was in or not. If hon. Gentlemen opposite would bring in Bills which he, as an Irishman, could support, he should be glad to vote for them; but he could not agree to the second reading of this measure.


remarked that it appeared to him many of the objections which he had heard from hon. Members on the other side of the House were altogether deficient as arguments against the necessity for legislating in the direction which this Bill proposed. An objection had been raised by one against the Preamble of the Bill, on the ground that it affirmed something not true—which the House, in fact, was bound not to affirm. The Preamble said that it frequently happened that persons entitled to acquire the franchise in counties and boroughs in Ireland were hindered in the acquisition of such a right by the law at present regulating the registration of voters in Ireland. That was substantially the case, and he maintained that in a free country like this, every man was entitled to have the law fairly administered towards him, and all subjects of the State were entitled to have the mode of administration considered when the laws were framed. It was merely trifling with the subject to take such an objection, for the statement in the Preamble was true, and people were prevented in Ireland from enjoying that which they had a legal right to enjoy except for the technical operation of the present law. When they got into Committee — if they did get into Committee — he would suggest two or three words which would remove every objection on that score. He asked the House to consider whether it was fair that there should be a system of law at work which would reduce 27,000 primâ facie occupiers resident in Dublin of £12 or upwards, to 4,300 on the register. When estimating what the number on the register ought to be, a wholesale deduction of 12,000 had been made for duplicate and triplicate residences and female occupiers, which reduced the number to 15,000, and yet only 4,300 appeared upon the register. Surely some change was necessary to alter that state of things? Another objection had been taken to the 5th section of the Bill by the hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin, which was no less grave than that there was a nominative case, and not a verb, to follow in the right place. Such an objection as that was frivolous, and could easily be remedied in Committee. He trusted the House would pass the second reading of the measure.


said, he agreed with the hon. Member for Youghal (Sir Joseph M'Kenna) that every reasonable and fair facility should be given to those who were entitled to be upon the register, and he also entirely concurred with him that the law should be fairly and equally administered. But he could not agree that this Bill was really advancing a step in that direction. The Bill mainly sought to deal with those who claimed to be on the register, and he thought the hon. Member for Cavan (Mr. Biggar) had entirely failed to point out that the Bill tended to assimilate the law of Ireland to the law of England. At present the law, which was substantially the same in England and Ireland, was that a person who claimed the franchise must serve a claim setting out his name and address, his qualification, and other particulars, which he thought entitled him to the franchise. His claim must be special, and rightly so, for he knew all the circumstances. The objector, on the other hand, was allowed to be general, and reasonably so, in his objection, as he could not be supposed to know all the circumstances until they were investigated. This Bill would reverse that principle, for it would enable the claimant, who had special knowledge, to make his claim in general terms, and would compel the objector, who had no special knowledge, to make his objection in special terms. One clause in the Bill had attracted almost the enthusiasm of the hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. M'Laren), who said it was a lovely clause. He could not call that strong language, but it was the language of affection. What was this clause that excited so much enthusiasm? It in reality was a franchise clause, and would facilitate the obtaining of the franchise by those who had no right to it. The law said a man must be an. owner or tenant; but this Bill would require the revising barrister to put on the register the name of a person who might be neither owner nor occupier; but might have been merely in possession for 12 months, living, perhaps, with his mother or grandmother. The onus of proof and the onus of objection were substantially affected by this Bill, and this Bill said to a person who had the audacity to object to any person—the claimant was not to be put on proof, and not compelled to say one word un- less, in the first instance, the objector gave some primâ facie evidence of his objection. As for the clause which would relieve a man from the necessity of appearing in person to prove his claim, he would remark that at present any reasonable proof would be accepted. He had himself been recently registered as an elector for the county of Meath without personal attendance. For these reasons, he thought the Bill should not be read a second time.

Question put.

The House divided: Ayes 96; Noes 134: Majority 38.—(Div. List, No. 11.)

Words added.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Second Reading put off for six months.