HC Deb 27 March 1878 vol 239 cc67-98

Order for Second Reading read.


, in rising to move that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that it was a very modest one. Even its strongest opponents could scarcely say that it was Communistic in its tendency, that it was calculated to interfere with the British Constitution, or to weaken the rights of property. In fact, it was a mere consequential amendment of the law, which should have been passed contemporaneously with, or immediately after, the Acts that established the ballot in Parliamentary and Municipal elections. The same reasons which produced that change which had been found so beneficial in the election both of Members of Parliament and members of corporations applied with very much more force to the election of Poor Law Guardians by ballot. However, as the change was not then effected, he thought it was incumbent on him to show, hot merely that the Bill he proposed would introduce uniformity of system, but also that there were many grave abuses under the present system of electing Guardians which urgently demanded reform in themselves, and that this measure, in fact, stood on its own merits. In the rural districts in Ireland the abuses connected with the present system were very grave and very general. Since he had taken charge of this question, he had been almost inundated with letters of complaint from all parts of Ireland; and if he troubled the House by reading some of these, it would be to dispose beforehand of the assertion that the complaints were not general or of a serious nature. They resolved themselves chiefly into complaints of the exercise of undue influence, not so much by landlords or even by agents, as by the agents of agents'-bailiffs and others acting on behalf of landlords and agents, and exercising undue pressure on the occupiers to vote for particular candidates. There were many other complaints—such as tampering with the voting papers in various ways, and undue pressure by others than landlords. He would read a few extracts from, many letters he had received. A correspondent from Killala, county Mayo, wrote— Sir Roger Palmer, Bart., possesses a large amount of landed property in this county. His agent is a Mr. Francis O'Donnell. I do not know whether Sir Roger Palmer is aware of the interference of his agent in Poor Law elections; but I do know it is an indisputable fact that among his tenants in this parish a bailiff named Burne has been again and again with a letter from Mr. O'Donnell, requesting the tenants to vote for Protestant Guardians rather than Catholics. Another correspondent, writing from Mill Street, county Cork, said— ''Fifty per cent is charged for lime to those who voted for me over those who voted against me. Many others were prevented from voting for me by being told they would not get lime if they did so. A gentleman writing from Ennistymon, county Clare, said truly— ''The power of exercising intimidation and undue influence here prevents freedom of election by deterring independent candidates from offering themselves, the very independence of a candidate being a barrier to his selection by the party having the power, as at present, to elect complacent nominees. A correspondent writing from Ballymote, county Sligo, said that from the day he was nominated to the day the voting papers were collected, a system of intimidation was set on foot by landlords, agents, and drivers. He had not intended to give the names of landlords in these cases, inasmuch as he was generally requested by his correspondents not to give their names for fear of the consequences they would suffer. It was by an accident that he had given one name; but he could quote another case by name, because the facts were public. George H. Jackson, J. P., of Fortland, Crossmolina, county Mayo, was not content with exercising pressure on his tenants, but he went round to the tenantry himself, and insisted on taking the voting papers from them and filling them up himself. Fortunately some public-spirited persons took the matter up, and the election was not only quashed, but Mr. George H. Jackson was deprived of the commission of the peace. This pressure, exercised in all the rural districts in the election of Guardians, was not confined to landlords or their agents. He had received a letter that morning stating that there were 80 tenants on a certain common who had been compelled to leave their voting papers at the parish priest's house, some of them not knowing what they were doing at the time. They were called upon by the parish priest to attend at the National school to sign the papers, and they dare not refuse, but had to vote for his candidates. The writer added that they did not vote of their free will, and that the men elected did not do their duty. Therefore both sides exercised undue influence; and he sought by this Bill to protect the voters from such influence, no matter from what quarter it might come. He could occupy the House until 6 o'clock, if necessary, by citing cases of pressure put on by bailiffs, agents, landlords, shopkeepers to whom the voters might be in debt, and, in fact, by all classes who had influence over them to make them vote at their dictation, and abandon their own right of choice. However, he thought he had said enough to establish the fact that undue pressure was largely exercised in the rural districts at the Poor Law elections. In the cities the abuses were as bad, though of a different character. They consisted of the manipulation of elections by small cliques, political wire-pullers, or obscure clubs and associations. A landlord might at present give 12 proxy votes, and one agent might hold proxies for 20 landlords in every electoral division of a union, so that in one electoral division in Dublin one man might hold 240 votes. Take, for instance, the case of the South Dublin Union, where one gentleman was known for many years to regulate the majority of the elections for the union. He was known to hold proxies for all the electoral divisions, and it was calculated that he held 1,020 votes for the elections of that union. He had since received a very lucrative office, for he was now clerk of the Board of Guardians. The proxies were signed usually in blank, so that the landlord positively did not know for whom he was going to vote. He gave the power simply to a Party agent, who worked it for Party purposes, threatening the Guardians that if they did not vote according to his wishes he would put them out at the next election. So far, therefore, from inducing the landlords to exercise their personal influence and interest themselves in these elections, the system of proxy votes deprived them of all real power. They did not know for whom they voted, but gave the proxies for five years to an agent, who, as in the case of the South Dublin Union, might nominate more than half the Guardians. One of the abuses very common in the cities was the manufacture of votes. According to the present system any person having an interest in any property could vote out of it, no matter how minute that interest might be. He had known of three landlords voting out of a profit rent of 30s. in Townsend Street, Dublin. He could mention a case which, if the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) were present, would make his hair stand on end. Two hundred and fifty Sisters of Charity had a profit rent of £100 out of premises in Abbey Street which he himself occupied. He was not aware of that fact until a claim, to vote at the election of Guardians was sent in on behalf of the 250 Sisters, and they undoubtedly could have voted, for the claim was perfectly valid; but the returning officer said that the large number of claims caused a "reasonable doubt," which enabled him to require evidence before admitting the claim, and the Sisters abandoned their claims rather than come up personally to prove their case. They were, however, entitled to vote; and not 250, but 2,500 might have voted out of that interest of £100 a-year, if they chose to take steps to establish their right. He did not propose to abolish that qualification; but he proposed that the power of giving proxies should be abolished, and that the individuals should be obliged to vote in person; and by that change the abuse would be abated, for persons with nominal interests would not come up, and fictitious interests could be detected. The hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Plunket) took an interest in a powerful organization known as the Constitutional Club. He understood that body did not receive with satisfaction the news that 250 nuns were about to vote out of these premises; and he was informed that the Constitutional Club had arranged that, should the claims of the nuns be asserted and allowed, they would take measures to have 1,000 votes in each electoral division out of a single house. There was nothing to prevent them doing that, and thus swamping the bonâ fide electors. He was sure the House would agree with him that that was not a system which ought to be perpetuated. There was an electoral ward in Dublin in which a contest was going on a few days ago, and some doubt existed whether the Liberal Party could carry the ward. One of the agents came to the members of the Committee and said—"If you are afraid of the ward I can easily do the duck." He was asked what he meant, and explained that it was the manufacture of fictitious votes by pretended or nominal interests in freehold property, and observed that "As all the others are doing it we may as well do it too." It was notorious that numbers of votes in cities were manufactured in this way. There was no real investigation into the proxy claims. No evidence was taken upon oath, and the whole system was objectionable and absurd. Another abuse, which was a very serious one, was that connected with the distribution and collection of voting papers. The papers were supposed to be distributed at the houses of the voters and collected two days afterwards. In Dublin—and he believed all through Ireland—they were distributed by the police. In Dublin the Government selected a Protestant and a Catholic policeman, the one to watch the other in the distribution and collection of the votes. That of itself, in the 19th century, was preposterous and outrageous. As a matter of fact, the voting papers were not properly distributed or taken up. Last week, in Dublin, a policeman handed to a man standing in the middle of Fleming's Lane nine proxy papers which he ought to have distributed. He (Mr. Gray) now held them in his hand. There they were. At the election in the district of Rathmines, 1,000 proxies were delivered at the wrong house, and it was only by accident the mistake was discovered, and it was only with the greatest difficulty that the person to whom they ought to have been delivered succeeded in getting them. If the door of a house were locked, and no one was in the house—which was not an unusual occurrence in the poorer districts—when the policeman went round to distribute the papers he would walk away, and the vote would be lost. If the door were locked when he called to collect the paper he would walk away, and the vote would be lost in that case also. A curious case occurred in Pool-beg Street last week. Two policemen called at a voter's house. The man had mislaid the papers, and occupied two or three minutes looking for them. He was known to be a Liberal, and to be voting for a Liberal, and the Conservative policeman said to his colleague—"Come away, we can't be losing our time here." "No," said the Liberal policeman, "we must give the man a moment or two to find the paper;" and there was actually a political altercation between the two policemen in the shop. These things might seem ridiculous; but they vitiated the whole system of election, and destroyed all confidence in it. If a voter, anxious that his vote should not be lost, walked with his voting paper to the Returning Officer, and delivered it to him personally, the vote would be lost. The vote must be given to the policeman. It might be said that men of ordinary intelligence would see the conditions on their voting papers, and would comply with them. But men of very high intelligence often made mistakes in these matters. Many Members knew a most able member of the Irish Bar, Mr. D. C. Heron, and that gentleman actually sent his paper at the late election to the Returning Officer by post, and thereby lost his vote. If a man handed his voting paper in the street to the policeman authorized to collect it, the vote was thereby lost. The whole system, in fact, was surrounded by difficulties of a very considerable kind, and the result was "confusion worse confounded" in every one of these contested elections. But if it was bad before the introduction of the ballot for Parliamentary and municipal elections, the confusion had increased since. In elections for Poor Law Guardians the voter had to mark the paper opposite the candidate's name with his initials; whereas in Parliamentary and municipal elections he marked the paper with a cross. The voters had now got the idea that the cross was the proper thing to sign to a voting paper; and 10 or 15 per cent of the votes for Guardians were now destroyed, simply by the putting of a cross in place of initials. The more persons became accustomed to the simplicity of the ballot the more likely were they to fall into this error, by which their votes would be lost. Another mischief, common both in cities and rural districts, was that the agents of political parties went round immediately after the voting papers were distributed, and by every means in their power tried to induce the voters to vote for the candidates in whom they were interested, or if they could not succeed in doing that they tried to get them to spoil their votes. A common thing was to induce a man to vote for a greater number of candidates than he was entitled to do. To such an extent had the spoiling of voting papers gone on, that in the city of Dublin a local Liberal Club had issued a notice warning voters not to be led into errors by persons pretending to be agents of the Liberal Party. A short time ago evidence was given in a discussion in that House as to the various ways in which interested parties endeavoured to induce voters to spoil their votes. It appeared that it was a constant practice for an agent to go round and, under pretence of assisting the voter, induce him to put his initials opposite the names of the candidates in whom the agent was interested. Instances had occurred of Guardians doing this, and, in fact, of returning themselves by fraudulently tampering with the voting papers. It might be said that the persons guilty of such conduct could be brought into the Queen's Bench and punished, or that the Local Government Board could invalidate the election; but, after the contest was over, many candidates would not give themselves the trouble of a wearisome investigation which might very likely end in nothing; and certainly when the House had it in its power to do away with these evils by an easy and simple process, it was no answer to say that the errors of the system might be corrected by a troublesome, complicated, and expensive process. Another objection to the present system was that it promoted unnecessary contests by the element of uncertainty which it introduced into elections. A scrutiny would often throw over 30 or 40 per cent of the whole number of votes for non-payment of taxes and other causes, which could be just as easily ascertained before as after the election. If there was a complete register settled before the election one-half of the contests would not take place, because candidates would take the opportunity of estimating their strength, and would not enter into contests with a certainty of defeat before them; whereas, under the present system, it was impossible to estimate the real strength of the parties beforehand. The cost of the present system was very heavy. It was estimated that the present election in Dublin would cost the ratepayers upwards of £500. The municipal elections, on the other hand, only cost £50 or £60. They were finished in one day, without any confusion and without a possibility, of intimidation, bribery, or corruption of any kind; and he now simply proposed to assimilate the election of Poor Law Guardians to the municipal elections, which were conducted with so much simplicity and economy. The present system involved an incidental defect of a serious nature. First-class men would not go through the trouble and annoyance of these Poor Law elections; and the result was that inferior men, who had their own purposes to serve, were returned. The tendency of recent legislation had been to increase more and more the duties of Poor Law Guardians, and to throw upon them new functions which in 1838, when the Poor Law was introduced into Ireland, were never contemplated. The Boards of Guardians, as the sanitary authorities of their districts, were invested by the Public Health Act with the most autocratic power. They had power to enter a man's house if necessary, to interfere with his domestic privacy, to burn his clothes, to tear up his drains, and to pull his house to pieces and remodel it to a considerable extent. The Act which would probably be passed for Ireland this Session gave increased powers to the Irish Boards of Guardians—no doubt necessary for the preservation of the public health; but the persons who were to be subjected to such interference with their affairs naturally desired to have a free voice in the election of those by whom such extensive powers were to be exercised. Now, the occupier could not give a proxy vote; and he proposed by this Bill that if a landlord or owner took Sufficient interest in the election to wish to vote, he should do so in his own proper person, and should not have the power to give his vote in the towns to some party agent, and in the country to his own agent, perhaps to be exercised improperly, and not as he would have wished. Within the last few years another duty of a very onerous and delicate nature had been imposed on the Boards of Guardians. They had been empowered to levy an education rate. Very few of the Boards of Guardians had availed themselves of that power; and by the answer given the other day by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland to the hon. and learned Member for Kildare (Mr. Meldon), he found that the number who had availed themselves of it, and became contributory under the Act, was diminishing year by year. It could not be expected that the Boards of Guardians in Ireland would become satisfactory mediums for the levying of money for educational purposes, unless they commanded the full confidence of the people; and it was totally impossible, when they had complaints from North, South, East, and West, of all kinds of intimidation and undue influence, from all classes of persons, that the Boards of Guardians could command public confidence under the present system. The enormous powers vested in the Guardians under the Sanitary Acts, and the new powers recently entrusted to them for the purposes of National education, had changed the character of these Boards to a very great extent, and urgently demanded a change in the mode of election that would place them above suspicion, and make it self-evident to every person that they represented the free and unbiased choice of the electors. His Bill was a very simple one, indeed. It proposed to declare that all elections for Boards of Guardians for the future should be by ballot. It proposed to leave the carrying out of the necessary regulations to the Local Government Board—who at present framed all the rules and regulations for the elections of Boards of Guardians under the present open voting system—and it proposed to declare that every elector should vote in person, and that proxies should be abolished. It was unnecessary to go into further details, for the Bill was simplicity itself. If there were any Amendments required they could easily be introduced in Committee; but, as it stood, it would work perfectly well. It was not proposed to interfere with the property votes. At present a landlord could have 18 votes for any electoral division, and the Bill did not propose to take them from him. If he was entitled to 18 votes he would receive 18 voting papers, and could cast them all for one candidate, or divide them as he pleased. The only thing he proposed was that the proxy should be taken away from him, and that he should vote in his own proper person. The change would restore public confidence in the Guardians, it would reduce the expenses, and it would certainly not interfere with the rights of property. The machinery of the Bill was somewhat similar to that of the Bill of the hon. Member for Carlow (Mr. Bruen) for the reform of municipal corporations; and, therefore, he hoped for the support of the hon. Gentleman on the present occasion. He was not aware of a single objection that could be urged to this simple and almost self-evident proposal, except that since he had introduced this Bill a Select Committee had been appointed to investigate the general subject. He supposed if any opposition were offered to the Bill it would be based, on the grounds that this subject was under the consideration of a Select Committee, and, therefore, the House should not take upon itself to decide the matter. But if that was the objection urged, he should be willing, if the Bill was read a second time, that it should be referred to the Select Committee forthwith. There were two important Irish measures—one now before the House, and one with respect to which the Chief Secretary had held out the probable hope that if the Irish Members were good boys he might introduce at the end of the Session. One was the Grand Jury Bill, and the other was the Bill on Intermediate Education. Now, in 1868–10 years ago—a Select Committee reported on one of these two subjects; and in 1858–20 years ago—on the other, without any legislation yet resulting; and, therefore, the proposal that he should drop his Bill, and let it go to. a Select Committee, really meant that if he should consent to let the matter stand it was likely that the Government, in 1888, would introduce a Bill to remedy the evils of which he complained. He pleaded urgency on behalf of his measure. It might do very well to leave over to 1888 the amendment of the law in England, where all that that was complained of was a certain amount of inconvenience; where the differences between one class of the community and the other were not of a nature to provoke any warm feelings; and where the manipulation of votes was not carried on to any very great extent; but in Ireland, where both political and religious feeling ran high, the abuse, that amounted to a mere inconvenience and anomaly in England, amounted to intimidation of the grossest character. Therefore, in Ireland the reform was urgently demanded; and he would not be content with the hope of having it carried out in 10 years' time, which experience had shown was the shortest time in which they could expect to reap the fruits of a Select Committee. Therefore, there being no great political principle involved in this matter—no invasion of those rights to which Gentlemen opposite were so warmly attached—he asked the House to allow this Bill to pass. It should have been passed simultaneously with the Bill establishing the ballot for Parliamentary and municipal elections; and he hoped it would not be endeavoured to shelve it for an indefinite period by referring it to a Select Committee. The reform, was so self-evidently necessary, that the House ought to pass it at once without reference to a Committee. He was not going to say that they would pacify the discontent in Ireland by passing this Bill; but of all the minor measures that had been introduced, none would give greater satisfaction than the abolition of so widespread and universally-acknowledged an abuse as that which existed in the election of Poor Law Guardians. Therefore, he asked the House to pass the second reading of the Bill; and, if they did so, he should agree that it be submitted to the Select Committee.

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


said, that when a Bill of this character was brought forward last year by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Clare (Sir Colman O'Loghlen)—whose familiar form they all missed, and whose loss they all regretted—he (Mr. Plunket) was one of those who felt it his duty to vote against the second reading of the Bill. He did not now rise to propose, in the ordinary form, the rejection of this measure, and for this reason—that the subject-matter of the Bill was practically referred to a Committee—an influentially constituted Committee—which would very shortly commence its labours upstairs. He meant the Committee appointed on the Motion of the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hibbert), and of which he believed the hon. Member for Tipperary (Mr. Gray) was a Member. The hon. Member said that was no reason for not reading the Bill a second time, because if the Bill was read a second time, he was quite content to refer it to a Committee sitting upstairs. In the next breath, ho assured the House it was one of those questions that could not wait until a Select Committee had reported upon it. The hon. Member would admit there was some little inconsistency in the two statements. He (Mr. Plunket) did not desire that the consideration of this question should be postponed till 1888, or for any other distant period; but he desired that the complaints which the hon. Gentleman had mentioned should be fairly investigated; that it should be ascertained how far those charges were true; and that, supposing there were such grievances as he alleged there were under the present system, a Committee should come to some conclusion as to the best way of remedying those grievances. The hon. Gentleman had brought forward a number of cases in which a grievance was felt, and in some instances he had referred to them by name. He (Mr. Plunket) was not going to defend the people who were alleged to have acted wrongfully; but he would say it was exceedingly inconvenient that a matter of this kind should be discussed in this way. It was right that the persons against whom charges were made should have an opportunity of explaining themselves; that the Committee should have an opportunity of considering how far those charges were true—whether they were extravagant or otherwise; and that they should make recommendations to the House, on which it might proceed. He did not think, under the circumstances, that their Wednesday afternoon had been very usefully or properly occupied in discussing a question of this kind, which, after it had been discussed here, would have to be discussed upstairs, and, when discussed upstairs, would have to be reported upon, and legislated upon in this House. He was not going to move the rejection of the Bill; but he would submit to the House the Motion of the Previous Question, as he thought that was a fair and reasonable way of dealing with the proposal brought forward under existing circumstances. He confessed that at present he was himself entirely opposed to the proposal, but then he was open to conviction. When the mode of election for Parliamentary and municipal purposes was under consideration, the election of Poor Law Guardians was purposely and advisedly left out of the Bill, and now it was proposed to depart summarily from the principle which was then adopted. He knew there were some Conservatives in favour of the change, and some against it. He did not desire to make it a class or Party question; but he considered that when the principle of the measure was referred to the deliberation of a Select Committee, they should not in the meantime endeavour to adopt finally a certain course in the matter. If the hon. Member for Tipperary insisted on going to a division, he must vote against the Bill. He was not desirous of prolonging the discussion; but he must deal with a few of the points which had been raised. The hon. Member had read to them accounts of the terrible wrongs suffered under the present system. Why might not those persons be brought before the Committee? Why not even bring the terrible ecclesiastical person, whether an Archbishop or a curate, forward, and subject him to examination? The hon. Member for Tipperary had, however, given one real case of interference with a voter. He had ranged the history of Ireland since 1838, and he had brought up but one real case of a grievance; but the hon. Member had told the House in the same breath that the ordinary means were adopted, and that the election was quashed. This only showed that the ordinary means, when adopted, sufficed. He did not think if was a convenient course, when a question was referred to a Select Committee, that the matter should be raised in the House itself, and an attempt made to obtain an expression of opinion by quoting a number of anonymous cases bearing on the question at issue. He thought that it would be very difficult indeed to apply the ballot to plural voting; and with regard to women who had the right of voting, he thought it would not be desirable to subject them to the inconvenience of going to the polling-places to record their votes. He contended, further, in reference to the matter of expense, that the adoption of the ballot in regard to these elections would entail greater outlay than was incurred under the present system. The proxy system, of which the hon. Member had complained, acted very conveniently, inasmuch as it enabled property to be represented in cases where, if proxy voting was abolished, it would be quite impossible for a real property owner to record his vote at present. The system, and machinery, and principle of Poor Law elections in England and Ireland were really the same; and a movement such as that made by the hon. Member for Tipperary and his Friends also existed in England. The hon. Member for Oldham, who always paid great attention to these matters, had pointed out the grievances under the present system of Poor Law election in a businesslike manner, instead of coming down here with a number of alleged cases of intimidation, which they had no means of proving or disproving. However, they had a Committee of Inquiry into the whole thing, and upon that Committee which had been elected, the hon. Members for Tipperary (Mr. Gray), Mayo (Mr. O'Connor Power), and Carlow (Mr. Kavanagh), had been chosen; that being the case, there could be no doubt that the Irish part of the question would also be referred to the Committee. What were the Instructions given to the Committee appointed on this subject? They were that inquiry should be made— Into the system under which Guardians of the poor and members of Local Boards in England and Ireland, and members of Parochial Boards in Scotland are at present elected, and to report whether it is desirable to make any, and, if so, what change in such system; and also whether it is desirable to extend the term of office for which Guardians of the poor and members of Parochial Boards are now elected. This included the Bill now before the House. It might be said that the question of voting by ballot was not expressly included; but he could say that it was the intention of the head of the Local Government Board to give every facility for the consideration of this question. He submitted to the House that it was only reasonable and right that the question should not be prejudged by any vote taken on this Bill; and, in the circumstances, he thought the common sense and the feeling of the House would go with him in moving, which he did, the Previous Question.

Previous Question moved,—(Mr. Plunket.)


said, this Bill aroused great interest in Ireland not only with regard to the administration of the Poor Law, but with regard to sanitary, land, and other considerations. But there was one interest beyond these which was paramount. They had before the House a Bill proposing to regulate county government in Ireland, and in the body which was to have charge of the government of the counties the only element which was alleged by the Government to be of a popular character was composed of the elected Guardians in the several Unions. Now, if the only popular source of representation on the Grand Jury Boards was to be derived from the Boards of Guardians as at present elected, with all the scandals and intrigues which surround them, then the Grand Jury Bill would be more unacceptable than it was at present. It had been said, why were not cases of undue influence brought to the Local Government Board? The principle upon which Parliament had proceeded hitherto was not to wait until such offences were committed, and then punish offenders, but to bring about a state of things to make such offences impossible. The case of Mr. Jackson, however, had been exposed. But there were hundreds of such cases which were never exposed; and if the demand rested only on that case, they were entitled to a change in a law which allowed such a scandal. The result of the present system was that they had on the Boards of Guardians a very imperfect popular representation, and that what used to be called "the ascendency interest" was paramount on the Boards even in Catholic counties, here every appointment was given to Protestants. He was sorry to have to refer to this, but it was necessary to do so in order to point out the evils of the system. The disagreeable results of the proxy vote must be well known to Irish Members, and the Bill would sweep these away, and thus get rid of the inducements to introduce a political spirit and political rancour into the elections. He contended that there would be no difficulty of any consequence in applying the ballot to plural voting—it would merely be the depositing of 20 papers instead of one. And, with regard to the reference to the votes of women, he pointed out that at present women had no difficulty in recording their votes at municipal elections. He asked the Irish Conservative Members on what principle they refused the protection of the ballot to Poor Law Guardians' elections? If they continued to oppose this principle, he must conclude that they wished to maintain an unjust and ungracious ascendency which they at present possessed on the Boards of Guardians. He hoped the House would not sanction the ascendency by refusing the moderate demands made by the Bill.


, in opposing the Bill, said, the fact that the Bill had been brought in at a time when a Select Committee of the House was inquiring into the whole subject was rather unusual; but that point had been so ably urged by the hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Plunket), that he would not say more upon it; but there was a point which he would urge on the attention of the House, and that was the inexpediency of altering the mode of electing the Poor Law Guardians in Ireland until they were prepared to take the same course in England and Scotland. He admitted that the Bill would facilitate the voting by occupiers, but it would practically disfranchise many owners; because, while occupiers would have the polling-places brought home to their doors, owners, having property in different and distant counties, might be put to the expense and inconvenience of long journeys if they desired to exercise their right of voting. Then, again, great expense would necessarily be incurred in the construction of polling-booths in, perhaps, 20 or 25 different parts of a Union, and in the appointment of persons to take the votes, and the candidates would have to bear the expense of being represented by agents. The political and religious dissensions which sometimes occurred would not be removed by the Bill. The advantages to be derived by a measure of this kind were not so great as to warrant a sudden change in the law. He did not object to the vote by ballot if the owners were allowed to retain their plural vote, but he advocated uniform legislation for all parts of the United Kingdom in accordance with the recommendations which the Committee now sitting might make. He believed that if the Bill became law, the ratepayers would very soon be extremely anxious to return to the old system. Pending the decision of the Select Committee, the House ought not to be asked to read the Bill a second time.


said, he could not understand how any hon. Member could argue that the ballot should be withheld from the voters in elections for Guardians, when it was admitted to be necessary in elections for town councillors and town commissioners. The election of a Poor Law Guardian was often as hotly-contested and gave rise to as much ill-feeling and excitement as did the election of a Member of that House. It was, therefore, as necessary that some protection should be given to the voter. The importance of the position of Guardian would be vastly increased if the Grand Jury Bill became law; and, for his part, he believed if the Grand Jury Bill did pass in its present shape it would not in the slightest degree amend the present system, which had been so universally condemned. Unless the election by ballot was conceded, the Grand Jury Bill should be opposed as it now stood. The hon. and learned Member (Mr. Plunket) was mistaken, in his views with regard to the ballot in municipal elections. In the Bill for introducing the ballot for such elections there was no provision for the election of town commissioners or Poor Law Guardians, and he (Mr. M'Carthy Downing) introduced an Amendment to secure the ballot in those cases. It was at the request of the then Chief Secretary for Ireland, that the portion of the Amendment relative to the Guardians was withdrawn, rather than risk the loss of the Bill. He thought the present system of election of Poor Law Guardians in Ireland was one which ought not to be continued. With respect to the objection on the score of expense, it would not be necessary to construct polling-booths, as; schoolhouses and courthouses could be used for the purposes of the elections. Then, as to the same law being applied to the three Kingdoms—they should remember that the protection of the ballot might be necessary in Ireland, while the same necessity might not exist in England or Scotland. Under the present system, which had been all but universally condemned, the votes of resident occupiers had in many cases been swamped by the proxies of voters who resided at a distance—sometimes even in another country. He thought it would be a wise thing of his hon. Friend who had charge of the Bill to go to a division.


said, by this Bill they were asked to discuss, whether the system of the ballot should be extended to the election of Poor Law Guardians in Ireland, whilst, at the same time, the House had, by a unanimous decision, consented to refer that very question to the consideration of a Select Committee. That being so, he must say that he thought it was simply a waste of time to discuss this measure. He thought there ought to be a Standing Order to prevent subjects being dealt with which the House had already referred to a Select Committee. He thought it was very scant courtesy to a Select Committee for the House to take into consideration a subject which only a few days previously had been referred to the Committee. Hon. Members who opposed the Bill said they did so because such and such things took place. If those who opposed the Bill did not enter into a discussion now, but merely asked the House to defer discussing the measure, they would be assailed by the imputation that they had no arguments to advance against it. They were asked to read the Bill a second time on the allegation that undue influence was exercised by owners of property in respect of their tenants. What proof had they that such was the case? Virtually, they were called upon first to strike and then to hear. If the hon. Member for Tipperary (Mr. Gray) was in a position to make good his assertion as to undue influence, why did he not do so before the Committee upstairs, of which he was a Member? He was prepared to meet the general charge with a general denial. Such abuses as those mentioned by the hon. Member were offences against the existing law, and would not be allowed to be committed without punishment. The House was asked to legislate upon assumed facts, which were not proved, and he could not help protesting against such a measure being brought forward. The question of the number of polling-places had already been answered, and therefore he need not deal with it. The Boards of Guardians were composed of two elements—the elected and the ex-officio members, and the elected members fairly represented the views of the popular party; and the argument that they were elected by means of undue influence therefore fell to the ground. He was sorry that it was a fact that a considerable amount of party feeling was shown at these elections; but he denied that it existed to the extent which had been alleged, and thought there was no necessity for any such change as that proposed by the Bill. He complained of the vagueness of the charges which the hon. Member for Cork County (Mr. M'Carthy Downing) had brought against certain gentlemen, which rendered it impossible to refute them. One of the greatest objections, in his opinion, to the proposal embodied in the Bill, was that it would, if carried, entail a large disfranchisement of voters, especially those who at present were enjoying the privilege of voting by proxy. He hoped the House would not inflict upon the Committee upstairs, by whom this matter was being inquired into, the indignity of prejudging the question which had been submitted to them.


said, the question had assumed a more important aspect since the Government had laàid on the Table their scheme for the reform of the Irish Grand Jury Laws, in which it was proposed to give Poor Law Guardians so large an influence in county government. He thought, if it was a waste of time to discuss this Bill, it would be a much greater waste of time to discuss the Grand Jury Laws measure when it was laid on the Table, unless some such measure as the present were adopted. He considered the object a good one, and wished to see the ballot extended to the election of dispensary doctors, in reference to whose appointments all sorts of improper influences were brought to bear. The Bill was very much desired in Ireland, and therefore he trusted that the second reading would be pressed. He should give it his support.


thought the proposal of the hon. and learned Member for Dublin University (Mr. Plunket), that the House should refrain from pronouncing any opinion on this matter until the Select Committee, who were inquiring into it, had made their Report, was so reasonable that it ought to be acceded to. He was connected with three Poor Law Unions—Carlow, New Ross, and Castlecomer—and in neither of them had he ever directly or indirectly taken the slightest part in the election of Poor Law Guardians. As far as his knowledge of the electoral divisions of those Unions was concerned, he did not believe the statements as to undue influence were borne out. If the Bill was read a second time, its promoters could go before the Select Committee with a distinct advantage, inasmuch as they could say—"You have nothing to do with the question of the ballot, for the principle has been affirmed by the House of Commons."


trusted the Bill would be pressed to a division, because it would be most important to Ireland. Ninetenths of the constituents of a great many hon. Members were in favour of this Bill. The hon. and learned Gentleman who had moved the rejection of the Bill did so in a very unusual manner—namely, by moving the Previous Question. It seemed to be the policy of those who opposed the Bill to attempt to hide their reasons; whilst, on the other hand, those who supported it were anxious to explain to Ireland why they did so. It had been said that it was insulting the Committee upstairs to read this Bill a second time, but he considered that to be a most frivolous objection. The stock argument had also been raised that the machinery of the Bill was objectionable, but the supporters of the measure were willing to consider any Amendment in that respect. If hon. Members opposite—who, he admitted, represented the owners—insisted upon it, he, personally, was willing to exempt the landlords from the operation of the ballot. The anxiety of hon. Members on his side of the House was for the tenants, and in their interests it was desirable that the ballot should be established. The last speaker had told them that he had never controlled the votes of his tenants. This might be the case—although the votes had been controlled in his name by persons acting in his interest, although he might not be cognisant of the fact. In his own county—Galway—it was notorious that the landlords had exercised influence over their tenants at Parliamentary elections. It was true that generally if men wished to elect a particular Member of Parliament, or a particular Guardian without ballot, they were often able to do it. In some cases, however, they would act just as requested, in order to prevent possible after-consequences, and this could not be exercised if the Ballot Bill was passed. He complained that the hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin, instead of taking the bold course of moving the rejection of the Bill, sought to defeat it by the indirect method of moving the Previous Question. In conclusion, he was quite sure the Bill, if passed, would give the greatest possible satisfaction in Ireland; and it was a duty they owed their constituents, as well as themselves, to register their votes in its favour, so that the people of Ireland, who were quite sharp enough, should appreciate their efforts for them.


contended that the elections conducted under the provisions of this Bill would lead to a great increase of expenditure; because it was imperative that each voter should give a personal vote, and this would necessitate various polling-places, and would lead to partial disenfranchisement. His main objection, however, was, that the questions connected with Poor Law elections in England and Ireland were under the consideration of a Committee.


said, it often happened in the House that when they were trying to obtain a settlement of pressing Irish matters, English Gentlemen came forward and interfered, asking that these questions should be postponed indefinitely, because they feared such a settlement in Ireland would mean following the same principle in England. And, although they were much indebted to the hon. Member for Clitheroe for his views on the subject, yet they felt that they themselves, as they wore the shoe, could know better than he did whether it pinched. It was very fitting that the two hon. Members for Carlow (Mr. Bruen and Mr. Kavanagh) should oppose the Bill, for he believed there was no Union where the effects of the evil administration of the Poor Laws and the habits of the country gentlemen in asserting for themselves the right to control the appointment of officers existed so much as in the Union of Carlow, with which the hon. junior Member for Carlow (Mr. Kavanagh) was connected, and in which the bulk of his property was situated. The junior Member for the county of Carlow had informed them that he had never taken any interest in the election of Poor Law Guardians, and, of course, they were bound to believe him; but had he never taken any interest in the election of officers in connection with the Boards of Guardians? If he had not, he must present a singular contrast to the other landed gentlemen in his county. He had been informed on good authority that in the Union of Carlow there was only one Catholic official, and he was a medical practitioner. The hon. Member had painted the condition of affairs in his county in glowing colours to the House. Well, out of the people of his district five-sixths were Catholics, and yet there was only one Catholic official paid by the Board of Guardians. The senior Member for Carlow (Mr. Bruen) had, he thought, taken rather a lively interest in the election of officials for the Boards of Guardians. He (Mr. Parnell) had been told on a recent occasion, when the appointment of a medical officer for the Carlow Union was vacant, the senior Member for Carlow had travelled a long distance, at great personal inconvenience, in order to support and secure the election of a gentleman for the post who already held six official appointments in the county Carlow. Not satisfied with this, he used all his great influence to secure the return of that gentleman as medical officer for the Union in which his property was situated. The question they were advocating was far more important and pressing to them than it was to the people of England, because the circumstances connected with these elections in Ireland were altogether different from those in England. In the Union of Baltinglass there was a contested election of Poor Law Guardians, in which the farmers used considerable exertions to return candidates according to their views, whilst, on the other hand, the landlords of these three large properties used every possible effort to prevent their return, and to support others of their own selection. He forgot how the contest ended; but, in the end, the tenants who had voted in opposition to the landlords were deprived of the right of cutting turf on their property, and had now to go nine miles for their supply of fuel. Ireland was not a coal country, and, consequently, this was a great hardship. It was a common thing to tell a tenant and his family in Ireland—" You will have cold noses this winter."


said, he was opposed to the ballot on principle, and, therefore, he was opposed to the present Bill. The result of the last election had shown that the Conservative Party were not guilty of the intimidation and coercion of which they had been accused; and, with regard to bribery, the greater number of the men who had been unseated on that account were Liberals. He really could not understand why hon. Members were anxious to introduce the ballot at the election of Guardians. In England, considerable difficulty was experienced in finding competent men to undertake the troublesome duty of a Guardian; and, if the elections were carried on by ballot in Ireland, he should think it would have the effect of preventing a good class of candidates from coming forward. The expenses of election would be increased if this Bill passed. If he should be alive when the time came for deciding whether vote by ballot in the case of the election of Members of Parliament should be continued or not, he would give his vote against the ballot, and he would vote against this Bill. There might come a time when it would be proposed that the vote of the House of Commons should be taken by ballot, but he would never be a supporter of such a proposal. He thought that the only reason why the Bill had been brought on while the subject was under a Committee's consideration was to give Irish Members an opportunity of "airing" their views and raising a cry in anticipation of the General Election, which was possibly not far distant. He thought it, however, a very pleasant way of spending a Wednesday to discuss hopeless Irish schemes, for they prevented other objectionable legislation which had a better chance of passing from being brought forward. There had been a great deal of talk about Irish grievances, but he never heard an Irish grievance well established. He would recommend the people of Ireland to put their own shoulders to the wheel, instead of asking others to remedy their grievances. Ireland had been blessed more than she deserved. They had had of late years in Ireland a better price for their cattle and produce of every kind than England, and had been exempt from many of the ills which the latter had suffered, and yet the Irish Members were not content, but were continually coming to that House and asking them to remedy some grievance which he confessed he had never been able to find out. But for agitation, Ireland would be a prosperous and happy country. If you told some people that in their own efforts lay the remedy of what they complained of, they would tell you to go and teach your grandmother to suck eggs; but if you told them they were a downtrodden people, they would cheer you.


, in supporting the second reading of the Bill, urged that, if the principle were to be adopted that the existence of a Committee should stop a Bill, it would be in the power of the Chief Secretary for Ireland to refer all Irish questions to a grand Committee which would sit until the next General Election, and thus stop all discussion on Irish matters. He thought that if the whole matter were to be investigated, and brought before the public, as it had now been, the Committee now sitting would find a great many advantages. The Committee had not the open discussion nor opportunity of placing before the country the facts elicited in a debate such as this. The Reports of its proceedings were limited, and his own experience was that in those Papers Parliamentary interested, the Reports were not only short Reports and feeble in their character, but in most instances entirely misrepresented the evidence given. The result of this debate would probably be to elicit public opinion in Ireland through the medium of letters in the Press, and the other ways which would help rather than retard the Committee now sitting.


said, this question ought not to be cast out in the same manner as that in which so many questions which his hon. Friends had introduced at the beginning of the Session—because, if the Irish people understood that any measure introduced into the House on their behalf would invariably be cast out by a majority, they would naturally come to the conclusion that there was no such thing as justice to Ireland to be obtained in this Parliament. If they stifled all attempts at redress of the undoubted grievances of Ireland, they must prepare for the consequences of having a whole people alienated from them. The Bill merited the serious attention of the House, and he sincerely hoped that in the event of its being cast out, that the minority would be of such a character as would give some hope to his hon. Friend that in another effort he would succeed in its being passed by the House. If they continually, by overwhelming majorities, refused to recognize the grievances of Ireland, they must submit to the alternative of engendering want of confidence in all legislation in the minds of the Irish people. The Bill, therefore, wanted serious consideration; and, even if it were rejected, he hoped the minority would be sufficient not to discourage the people of Ireland in appealing to the House.


said, he was not one of those who would grudge the time of the House for the consideration of a question to be brought forward by Members from Ireland. Something had been said from time to time about Wednesdays at present being devoted to the consideration of Irish questions. He thought these Wednesdays were quite an improvement on what used to be the genera practice when he first entered Parliament—namely, that of having Ecclesiastical Wednesdays. With regard to this Bill he thought the hon. Member who had introduced it would do well if he would not ask the House to read it a second time. The hon. and gallant Member for Galway (Major Nolan) took exception to the course pursued by the hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Plunket) in moving the Previous Question instead of the rejection of the Bill. The answer was clear They did not move the rejection of the Bill because they did not desire to do anything to prejudice a question which had been specifically committed to the consideration of a Select Committee. A Committee had been appointed, on the Motion of the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hibbert), to inquire into the system under which Guardians of the poor in England, Scotland, and Ireland were at present elected, and to report whether it was desirable to make any, and, if so, what, changes in the system. These were most comprehensive terms, and included every specific point with which the present Bill proposed to deal. He had occasion the other day to urge this same objection with respect to another Bill. On that occasion, Her Majesty's Government was not supported by the right hon. Gentlemen opposite on the front bench, as he hoped they would be on the present occasion. He appealed to the House to adhere to the principle which had always been hitherto acted upon, and not to prejudge a question which had been distinctly referred to a Select Committee. One hon. Gentleman had said, with singular candour, that he wished to move an Instruction to the Committee. Against that, however, he protested. The House, having referred the matter to a Committee, had never interfered with it afterwards by tying its hands by Instructions. The hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill proposed that vote by ballot should be adopted in the election of Guardians. With regard to vote by ballot, the House was aware that that system had been adopted for a very limited period. With regard to the representation of the people, it would ill-become him to offer an opinion as to what the decision of Parliament should be when the time arrived for reconsidering the decision at which it arrived a few years ago on that subject. Of course, it would be competent for Parliament to decline to renew the system of vote by ballot. He would not vote for that system when it was adopted; but, at any rate, up to the present time, the net result had not been altogether unsatisfactory. At any rate, he could approach the consideration of this subject without any bias. Hon. Gentlemen had assumed as a necessary preliminary to a vote by ballot the abolition of the system of proxies. He did not think that the two were inconsistent. As to the system of plurality of voting, he thought it was by far the best. He thought that plurality of voting was the best known system for affording a fair representation of property; and, as he understood the Bill, it left that principle intact. With regard to a system of voting papers, combined with the ballot, a plan of that kind had on a previous occasion been submitted to the House by the hon. Member for Carlow. That plan, if he recollected rightly, had for its main feature the depositing by the voter of his vote, sealed up, before a justice of the peace. Canvassing, the alleged tampering with votes, and other evils would be obviated by that system. He did not say that in the case of the election of Poor Law Guardians they could invoke the assistance of a justice of the peace for the protection of every voter; but he only mentioned that suggestion as showing that it might be possible to combine a system of voting papers with the ballot. The hon. Member for Limerick (Mr. O'Shaughnessy) had, with great courage, undertaken to speak on behalf of all the women of Ireland in that matter; but, in soliciting their suffrages, had the hon. Gentleman fairly placed before that sex the very great disadvantage under which the Bill would put them? Now, a woman was entitled to vote by proxy or by voting papers, without being subject to the personal annoyance incident to the most strict system of the ballot; and, therefore, it was very doubtful whether the fair sex would be disposed to endorse the present proposal. The hon. Member had also described the existing mode of voting as tending to perpetuate a system of ascendency; but by ascendency he seemed to mean the representation of property—a matter which must not be overlooked in considering the various interests involved in that question. Again, that Bill would necessitate a very large increase in the number of polling places throughout Ireland which would entail upon the ratepayers an expense that they might not like to bear. Some hon. Gentlemen made very light of the difficulty of providing presiding officers, and of the expense to be incurred under the proposed system. He did not know how officials were to be provided, because in Parliamentary and municipal elections great difficulty was felt in procuring a sufficient number of reliable officers to conduct them. He thought he could point out other objections to the details of the Bill; but he would content himself with reminding the House that many of the so-called grievances which had been brought before them by the hon. and gallant Member for Galway and others, did not apply to the election of Poor Law Guardians—as to which they had had very little proof of any general abuse—but they applied rather to Parliamentary Elections. The House of Commons was thus virtually called upon to alter the mode of electing Poor Law Guardians on grounds which applied generally, if not altogether, to other elections.


said, he had referred to what occurred before the adoption of the ballot at Parliamentary Elections.


But even if he assumed—which he was not justified in doing—that all those allegations were true, he would urge that the proper course was to lay them before the Select Committee. The hon. Member for Meath had said he would bring forward overwhelming testimony before that Committee. [Mr. PARNELL: If it were necessary.] Surely it was unfair to ask the House to decide a question in the absence of what the promoters of the Bill styled the overwhelming testimony bearing upon it? In conclusion, he appealed to the House to adhere in this case to its almost invariable practice, when a subject had been specifically referred to a Select Committee, of not removing the subject from the consideration of the Committee and not embarrassing it by expressing an opinion on an important part of the case submitted to it.


said, he had been quite unable to discover from the speech of the Chief Secretary for Ireland whether he was or was not in favour of the ballot at elections for Guardians of the poor. That right hon. Gentleman seemed to think it would be a great improvement in the present system of the ballot to have a combination of the system of voting papers with it. For himself, he should look with great doubt on such an alteration of either the Parliamentary or the municipal ballot as was involved in having a ballot by votes being given in the presence of a justice of the peace. He questioned very much whether they could have a proper security for secrecy if they converted every justice of the peace into a Returning Officer. It was for the promoters of the present Bill to consider whether the fact that a Committee had been appointed which would be presided over by the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hibbert) was a reason why they should or should not press the Bill; but if they went to a division he would vote with them, because the question at issue was one of principle—namely, whether the election of Guardians should be carried on by ballot instead of by voting papers. The present system of voting papers was, in his opinion, about as bad as could be invented, and the ballot would be much better. But the Chief Secretary for Ireland told them they were now almost precluded from voting on that question because a Committee was sitting unstairs, and it was against the established practice of the House to take a vote on any matter which was under consideration by a Committee; but the Committee referred to was instructed merely to go into the general question of the election of members of Boards of Guardians, and not whether the ballot should be introduced. The word "ballot" had been expressly struck out of the Resolution appointing the Select Committee at the request of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Sclater-Booth). He thought the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. J. Lowther) had rather over-stated the case on that point; but it was to be presumed that if anything irregular was proposed to be done, the Speaker would notice its irregularity. The House had now the definite question put to it whether the ballot should be substituted for other modes of election; and on that issue, which seemed to him to be a very fair one, he must vote for the second reading of the Bill.


said, it had not been his intention to take any part in the discussion, as he had the honour of being a Member of the Committee before which he hoped the matter would be fairly debated. He was surprised at the grounds upon which the Chief Secretary for Ireland sought to dissuade the House from coming to a decision upon the question. When the Select Committee was appointed the Government insisted upon striking out of the Resolution the words "by ballot or otherwise." He then understood that the ballot should not come under the deliberations of the Committee, and they were now asked not to consider the subject as it was now under the charge of the Committee. The right hon. Gentleman said that the support which this Bill received was based upon his experience of Parliamentary Elections before the ballot, and anyone who listened to the speech of the Chief Secretary for Ireland would be under the impression that the present system of voting in Poor Law elections supplied no grievance similar to those which were suffered in Parliamentary Elections. The hon. Member for Tipperary, who introduced the Bill, gave instances of local oppression. He might state for the information of the House that, within the last two or three days, he had received letters from two very respectable Guardians of the poor, whose seats were threatened by the action of the agents of the local landlords. He could assure the House that it was not a desire for mere electoral symmetry that induced the Irish Members to bring forward this Bill.


explained that in the Reference to the Select Committee in question, to the appointment of which he had recently assented on the part of the Government, he had suggested the omission of any specific mention of the ballot, because he did not wish to prejudge the question as to how Guardians of the Poor might be most satisfactorily elected. It was not a simple question of ballot or open voting, but a complex question—namely, whether the three principles or securities—the voting paper, vote by proxy, and plural voting, were compatible with the mode of election by ballot. It did appear to him that, seeing the Committee had to take account of the mode of election in Ireland, England, and Scotland, they would be greatly hampered in their inquiry if the House was to affirm that the principle of the ballot was to prevail in Ireland. He believed that the Local Government Board in England had the power, without any change in the law, to make very considerable changes in the mode of election in any particular district or category of districts where an alteration in the manner of conducting the election might be considered desirable. He did not know whether the Chief Secretary for Ireland had similarly the power to direct that voters should record their votes at the poll, instead of having them collected from house to house; but, if so, an exercise of that power would probably remove many of the evils now complained of.


thought the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland should have taken the House into his confidence, and told them the position which the Government took upon that question. The whole of his argument against proceeding to a division had been that the general question was referred to a Committee. But this Bill was introduced before the Select Committee was nominated, and he was, therefore, perfectly justified in pushing it to a division. His position was stronger than that. He said that the reform was urgently needed for Ireland. He did not know whether the right hon. Gentleman was aware that he was the President of the Local Government Board for Ireland, and he had hoped that in that capacity he would have told them how many complaints the Local Government Board had been in the habit of receiving. He believed the hon. Gentleman would find that more than two sworn investigations were held annually in Ireland. The Chief Secretary for Ireland asked what ascendency meant? and supposed that it meant the representation of property. He would tell the right hon. Gentleman what ascendency meant in Ireland. In one Union—that of Roscrea, in the county Tipperary, which he represented—there were 36 Protestants against nine Catholics in the Union, while the proportion of the population was five or six Catholics to one Protestant. That was what he called ascendency. Every officer in the union—the clerk, master, medical officers, two schoolmasters, relieving and sanitary officers, and dispensing officers were all Protestants, the only Catholic official being the porter. That was what he called ascendency. These Protestant Guardians supplied the Catholic poor under their charge with meat costing 3½d. to 4d. a pound. He thought it must be pleuro-pneumonia meat, for he could not conceive how any other could be purchased for the money. That was how ascendency worked. As to the question of disfranchising women, had they them disfranchised under the School Board system of election in England? There was not a less dangerous operation in the world than entering a booth to record a vote by ballot. He was willing to refer the Bill to a Select Committee, if necessary, if only the House would sanction its principle by reading it a second time; but the Reports of former Select Committees had not been acted upon, and there was no evidence at present to show that the question would be treated with any more urgency if a Select Committee inquired into it without that sanction.

Question put, "That the Original Question be now put."

The House divided:—Ayes 164; Noes 208: Majority 44.—(Div. List, No. 75.)