§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. O'SHAUGHNESSY,
in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, there was another Bill down on the Paper, entitled the Voters' (Ireland) (No. 2) Bill, the object and provisions of which he believed were nearly identical with that which he was about to bring before the House. In referring to that measure, he wished to assure the House that there was no understanding between him and the hon. Member for Youghal (Sir Joseph M'Kenna) on the subject, and that the coincidence was a pure accident. The purport of this Bill was to remove some difficulties which now existed, and which prevented persons in Ireland from enjoying the franchise who were entitled under the law. The Bill involved no extension of the franchise, nor did it in any way give the right to the franchise to any class not now entitled by law to possess it. It solely sought to remove difficulties arising from the practice common in some towns of the owner of premises paying the rate, which at present, owing to oversight in the law, prevented persons from getting upon the register. The means by which he sought to effect that purpose was machinery which had been employed to remedy analogous and similar difficulties which at one time stood in the way of persons entitled to the franchise in England, but which had been removed. As a matter of fact, this was a Bill for the assimilation of the law as between Ireland and England. Since the Act passed in the year 449 1850 regulating the qualification and registration of voters in Ireland, persons in boroughs, cities, and towns occupying rated premises of £8 yearly value had been entitled to vote. By the 2nd section of the Act it was provided that the clerk of the Union should transmit to the town clerk in each borough, city, and town a list of persons rated as owners or occupiers of premises of that value. By the next section the town clerk was required to make out a list of persons entitled to vote, and one of the qualifications necessary to entitle a person to be put upon the register in any particular year was that before the previous July, he should have paid all the poor rates payable on the 1st of January in that year. Persons who by any accident were omitted from the list of voters were given, by the 34th section, the power to make a claim to be put upon the list; but the difficulties in the way of establishing the right were numerous; and under Section 100, the claimant was bound not merely to pay the certified and ascertained amount of taxes due to the 1st January, but he was bound to pay all poor rates due to the time he made his claim, and it might be difficult for him to ascertain the exact amount. That in itself was sufficient to place the claimant at a great disadvantage; but, in addition, he was bound to comply directly with the propriety of formalities and regulations. The claim must be in writing, and signed by the claimant himself, and he was bound, step by step, to prove his claim affirmatively. In 1868 there came the Irish Reform Act, which gave the franchise in towns to all persons who occupied premises of the rated value of over £4, and declared that the occupation of land, &c., rated over that amount should be as effectual to qualify a man to be registered as a voter as was the old £8 franchise, and the introduction of the word "occupation" showed that the case was contemplated of occupiers whose rates were paid by their landlords. Primâ facie, the law stood thus—the occupying tenant was liable for the rates under the Irish law, but if the collector got them from the owner, that was enough under the Act to entitle the occupier to the franchise. In certain towns the arrangement by which the owner paid the rates was very general. In Dublin, in five cases out of six, of a 450 large class of houses, it was the rule for the rates to be paid in the first instance by the owners, when, of course, they were ultimately paid by the occupiers. It was necessary that the rates should be paid in proper time—namely, the 1st of July, or the franchise was gone, and in some cases the landlords would neglect to pay. Usually in Ireland the landlord was of one way of thinking politically, and the occupier another; and though the differences should not often lead to feelings of hostility between them, they made the landlord more or less indifferent to the payment of the rates which would secure the franchise to the occupier. Then, again, the landlord paying the rate was not bound to return the name of the occupier for whom he paid it, nor was the collector bound to ask for it, and thus, in many cases, the occupier did not find his name upon the rate book. Now, about as soon as the occupier discovered that the rate had been neglected to be paid, he could come forward and pay it; but the proper time for paying having passed, he would be reduced to the necessity of making a claim and facing the difficulties of that process. In many cases the occupier would take for granted that the owner had paid, and would only find out when it was too late that the rates were unpaid. The best way to show the effect of this state of things upon the borough franchise in Ireland was to refer to a Return made in 1874, upon the Motion of the senior Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt). The Return showed that in the town of Belfast there were 25,704 premises rated at over £4, while there were only 14,990 occupiers registered to vote. In Cork town there were 7,190 premises rated at over £4, and only 3,737 votes. In Limerick there were 3,200 such premises, and 2,161 registered occupiers. And in Dublin the premises rated at over £4 numbered 23,247, and the registered occupiers 11,000, or less than half. The English Reform Act, passed in 1867, abolished, as they all knew, what was known as the "compound householder." In cases where one man was the landlord of a number of small tenements, the local authorities did not care to go to the trouble to collect the rates from all the occupiers, but agreed with the landlord that he should pay the rates, some deduction being made from the amount to compensate him. The Ministry 451 of that day were disposed to give household suffrage; but to limit the effect of the measure they said—"It is not enough to be a householder; we shall insist that in addition the rates must be paid not by the landlord, but by the occupier." From the Opposition side of the House there came a Motion to give the compound householder a vote, notwithstanding that the rates were paid by his landlord; but the attempt was defeated, and the Ministry of the day stuck to the principle that there should be personal payment of rates in order to give a man the right to vote. The opponents of that principle adopted another plan by which they proposed to abolish the compound householder, and compel everybody to pay his rates personally. That was adopted by the Government, and thus the Bill gave what was practically household suffrage. The Government of that day went out of Office, and the Liberal Party came in. Meanwhile, great dissatisfaction had been felt by the local authorities and the ratepayers at the abolition of the compound householder, and, in 1869, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Goschen) introduced his Assessed Rates Bill to supply machinery to remedy the defects which had arisen in England with regard to the registration of voters. That machinery he (Mr. O'Shaughnessy) now proposed should be applied to Ireland. The Assessed Rates Act restored the power of compounding, and, at the same time, secured to the tenant whose rates were paid by the landlord the right to vote; but then came the danger, which had assumed a serious aspect in Ireland, that as a consequence of the local authority coming into contact only with the owner, the occupier would not find his name upon the rate book, and would lose his vote. The Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London provided machinery by which the occupier whose rates were paid by his landlord had secured to him that his name should be placed on the register of voters. That Act was the 32 & 33 Vict. c. 41, and it was meant not merely to meet the case of payment by the owner which arose under the compounding system, but all cases where the owner paid the rates instead of the occupier. If it had been confined to the compound householder, it might have 452 been said that the analogy to the case of Ireland was imperfect; but it went much further, and provided a remedy in all cases where the owner, by agreement, was an occupier, and paid the rates; and when the right of the occupier to appeal upon the list was thereby endangered, Section 7 of the Bill declared that any payment of rates by the occupier, notwithstanding that the amount might be deducted from his rent, and any payment by the owner should be deemed a payment of full rate by the occupier, for the purpose of any qualification for the franchise. By the 8th section, if the owner omitted to pay the rate, the occupier might deduct it from his rent, and Section 9 made the owner liable to a penalty if he failed to give the list of the occupiers to the overseers. The next section provided that notice should be given to the occupier of the rates in arrear, and the 19th, which was the most important, required the overseer to insert the names of all the occupiers in the rate book, which was the foundation of the register of the franchise. Some of the clauses of the Bill were restricted in terms to the compound householders, but these clauses which he proposed to engraft upon the Irish law were perfectly general. He wished by the present Bill to apply the same law to Ireland, and to prevent men whom the law declared to be entitled to the franchise being hindered from getting it in that country through the want of the excellent provisions now contained in the English enactments. He had, therefore, endeavoured in this measure to carry out the principles of the English legislation on that subject. His Bill provided that all poor rates should be deemed to be payable by the actual occupier when made, the immediate lessor, however, where now liable, to continue still to be so; that where the owner omitted to pay the rates, the occupier paying the same should be empowered to deduct the amount from the rent; that every payment of a rate by the occupier, although then deducted, and every payment of a rate by the owner should be a constructive payment by the occupier for the purposes of any rating qualification for the franchise; and that when the rates remained unpaid they should be demanded from the occupiers. Doubts having arisen as to whether occupiers of weekly or monthly 453 tenements should be entitled to vote, the Bill proposed to enact that such persons were not to be excluded from the franchise. It had been said that these questions of electoral reform were regarded with great apathy by the Irish people; but that was due to a want of belief in the readiness of the House of Commons to comply with their just demands, and they had seen that apathy give way when a question arose which excited strong popular feeling. By passing that measure, the House would do something towards allaying those feelings of apathy and distrust. People in that country would not hold meetings on matters of that Kind. They had seen so many Bills thrown out and Petitions rejected, that they did not believe in praying the House for reforms connected with the franchise. Beyond that, he would admit that it was impossible to get up Petitions unless they had a paid and organized body to prepare them. In the case of the constituency he represented, a vacancy occurred, and a candidate of excellent position and ability, and of local connection, was spoken of, and would have been returned, but that a strong voice of popular feeling had sprung into existence, and everybody, voters and non-voters, determined that a man vitally connected with that voice should be returned instead of a member of one of the great English Parties. The hon. and learned Gentleman to whom he referred was, on that occasion, owing to the irresistible force of the popular feeling, returned without opposition; but he had since stood a contest, and been at the head of the poll. It was advisable, on such occasions, to lessen excitement as much as possible, and to encourage strictly constitutional action. That object could be best accomplished by removing the obstacles in the way of hundreds and thousands of men in the towns of Ireland who were legally entitled to be put upon the list of voters, but who were hindered from getting their names upon the register by the difficulties which stood in the way. On very just, reasonable, and constitutional grounds, it was advisable that those difficulties which had been swept away in England should be removed in Ireland also, and, accordingly, he asked the House to agree to the second reading of the Bill 454 which he had brought under their notice.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. O'Shaughnessy.)
§ MR. MULHOLLAND,
in moving, as an Amendment, that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, said, hat he would not occupy the time of the House very long in showing that it ought to be rejected. He would admit that it had been brought forward in a very moderate way; but, nevertheless, it was very difficult to reconcile some of the statements which had been made with his (Mr. Mulholland's) experience. This question had been brought before the House on several previous occasions, and it had appeared in a different form and under a different name. In the first year of this Parliament, for instance, it came up as a part of the Borough Franchise Bill. That Bill was rejected a week ago. He imagined that the object of bringing forward this Bill at the present time was to get the House to commit itself indirectly to the approval of the principles of the Bill which a week since had been rejected. If that Bill had passed, there would then have been some meaning in producing this Bill; but he contended that with the rejection of the Borough Franchise Bill the necessity for this Bill disappeared. The Mover of this Bill had said that it was intended to remove the disqualifications which existed, and which prevented persons so entitled from being on the register; but, in his (Mr. Mulholland's) opinion, the Bill dealt altogether, from the beginning to the end, with persons not entitled to be on the register; and he entirely denied that there were any persons in Ireland entitled to appear on that register who were prevented from being so by any peculiarities of the law of rating, if they so desired. The Reform Acts of 1867 and 1868 settled the franchise on its present basis. In both of those Acts, the principle by which the borough franchise was regulated in England and Ireland was exactly the same. In both countries that principle was, that the franchise was only to be extended to those who paid the poor rates directly; but there was a radical difference between the Poor Law system of the two countries. In England, the principle of 455 direct personal rating always lay at the foundation of the Poor Law. In Ireland, on the contrary, the large fringe of semi-pauperism which existed was taken into account, and it was felt that it would be absurd to tax, for the support of others, the large class who were themselves bordering on pauperism. A line was therefore drawn below which the occupier of houses should not only not be liable for poor rates, but the landlord was expressly prohibited from recovering them directly or indirectly; and that line was fixed at £4. The legislation of 1867 and 1868 was followed up by registration enactments, which most effectually provided, by officers appointed for the purpose, for the appearance on the rate book in Ireland of the name of every occupier rated at over £4. He denied that there was in Ireland anything approaching to the English system of composition for rates. The circumstances of the two countries in that respect not being at all analogous, they could have no uniformity—any uniformity would be in the letter only and not in the spirit—were they simply to copy the clauses of an Act suitable for England, but wholly unsuitable for Ireland. If the present Bill were passed, it could only apply to occupiers under £4, who were not entitled to the franchise. The Bill had appeared before the House under four different titles—the Borough Franchise Bill, the Voters (Ireland) Bill, the Town Rating Bill, and now the Rating of Towns Bill. Such attempts at concealment of identity looked, to say the least of it, very suspicious. Why should the title be changed on every occasion but to conceal the real character of the Bill? He hoped the House would not allow the law of rating in Ireland to be unsettled—directly, as was attempted by the Bill of last Wednesday, or indirectly, by the present Bill; but that it would adhere to its determination expressed last week, and reject it, in accordance with the Motion he now made.
§ 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. Mulholland.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
said, the hon. Member who had just addressed 456 the House (Mr. Mulholland) had asserted that there was no demand in Ireland for this Bill, and that no persons were deprived of the franchise in consequence of the existing state of the law. For his own part, he was ignorant of the law of Ireland on the subject; but it certainly appeared to him that the hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. O'Shaughnessy) had made out a primâ facie case, which called for a reply. The hon. Member for Downpatrick (Mr. Mulholland) had not supplied any answer; and it was to be regretted that he had not left the opposition, in the first instance, to the hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Plunket), who would have informed the House what the law in Ireland really was. Neither could it be said that the hon. Member had displayed any correct knowledge as to what was the law in England under Goschen's Act of 1869. That Act was undoubtedly intended to be of general application, but its operation had practically been limited by the decision of the Court of Common Pleas in the case of "Cross v. Allsop." In that case, the Act had been held not to be of universal application, but only to apply to the old class of compound householders. His hon. and learned Friend the Member for Limerick was, therefore, not right in supposing that the Act of 1869 completely met all the difficulties existing in England, for there were many persons entitled to be on the register in England who were still left out. There was great need for legislation in England to clear up the anomalies that existed on the subject, and if the Government should think it necessary to make any inquiry into the state of things existing in Ireland, he hoped that inquiry would be extended to England also. The hon. and learned Member for Limerick had shown that there was a large class of the poorer ratepayers who in England were enfranchised under Goschen's Act who did not get placed on the register in Ireland. That was a matter which deserved consideration, and he regretted that the Bill intended to deal with the subject had been met by mere opposition.
§ MR. BRUEN
pointed out that the object of the English Act of 1869 was altogether different from that which the hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. O'Shaughnessy) proposed to attain 457 by this Bill. It had been copied from an English Act, passed to remedy certain grievances, and meant to re-introduce a certain state of things which had before existed in England. On the contrary, such a state of things had never existed in Ireland, and the present Bill was altogether a mistake. Its Preamble stated that it frequently happened that persons entitled to the franchise were practically disfranchised by reason of their names not appearing on the rate book, and the 2nd clause found a remedy for this evil. Now, as a matter of fact, the grievance did not exist, and in every borough in Ireland—except Dublin—in accordance with the provisions of the Poor Law, the rate books had a column in which the name of the occupier was inserted. The hon. and learned Member for Limerick thought that a £4 occupier who was liable to pay rates and who did not pay them should, nevertheless, be allowed to have the franchise. The law was the same in all the Parliamentary cities and boroughs of Ireland, except Dublin. The Parliamentary franchise depended on certain conditions, among which were that a person must have been an occupier for twelve months, of promises rated at a value of more than £4, and it seemed to be assumed by those who copied the Bill from the Act for England, that the occupier was not liable for the rates; but the Irish law made every occupier of premises above £4 rateable value liable to be rated and to pay the rates. In Dublin, however, the law was different, for the Act of 12 & 13 Vict. c. 91, provided that, instead of the rate book in Dublin being made out by the Poor Law authorities, it should be made out by the Collector General of Rates, and also that in the case of all premises between £4 and £8 valuation, the lessor should be rated instead of the occupier. It was said that as far as the poor rates were concerned, this provision had been repealed, and consequently all persons now occupying premises rated above £4 ought to be put on the rate book. He believed, however, that the Collector General, with the best intentions, acted on the opinion that he ought not to put on the rate book weekly and monthly tenants. Whether that was the legal course or not, he would not say; but the result undoubtedly was that in Dublin some persons were not mentioned in the rate book 458 whose names ought to appear there. Still, there was a remedy for this state of things, because the persons aggrieved might claim to be rated and registered, and it could not with justice be said that any person was deprived of the franchise. That point was clearly established by the Committee which, during the last few years, had inquired into the subject of Local Taxation and the Government of Towns in Ireland. The real cause why there existed a discrepancy between the number of persons on the register and the number of tenements was that persons who ought to pay rates neglected to do so. He had an authority for the statement in an editorial article in The Freeman's Journal of June, 1875, calling on the Liberal ratepayers to pay their rates in order not to lose the franchise, and complaining of their scandalous neglect in not thus qualifying themselves. The Freeman's Journal was generally accepted as a fair exponent of public opinion in the Liberal Party, and no doubt the reason for the discrepancy was the true one. With regard to the municipal franchise, the state of affairs was much more complicated; because, in Ireland, there were a great number of different franchises. This subject was under the consideration of a Committee which had been sitting for two years. The labours of that Committee would be brought to a close in the course of a very few days; and he believed the majority, if not the whole of its Members, would report in favour of such an adjustment of the laws as would remove the great differences and discrepancies which at present existed in the municipal franchise in Ireland. With regard to all places in Ireland, except Dublin, there was no ground for the assertion that persons entitled to the municipal franchise were deprived of it by any of the alleged grievances which the present Bill sought to remedy. He desired to call attention to the fact that, with the exception of one or two words, the Bill was precisely the same as another measure—the Voters (Ireland) Bill—which it was proposed to bring under the consideration of the House to-day. This, he maintained, was an evasion of the rule which had been laid down by the Speaker, to the effect that if the same Bill were proposed by two hon. Members, and where both hon. Members put down their names in order to obtain 459 a double chance in the ballot at the commencement of the Session, such a proceeding was not fair to other hon. Members, nor in accordance with the Rules of the House. He submitted that that ruling had been evaded in the present instance.
§ SIR JOSEPH M'KENNA rose to Order. He did not think the hon. Member for Carlow (Mr. Bruen) was in Order in speaking of the merits or demerits of a Bill which was to come on for discussion at a later part of the day.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, the hon. Member for Carlow (Mr. Bruen) was appealing to the Chair on a point of Order. The hon. Member, as he understood him, had simply called his (Mr. Speaker's) attention to the fact that there were on the Order Book of the Day two Bills which were identically the same. If the statement of the hon. Member for Carlow were accurate, he was bound to say that the proceeding he had described was irregular; and, whatever course the House might take with reference to the present Bill, the other Bill, if in identical terms, should certainly be withdrawn.
§ SIR JOSEPH M'KENNA
said, that as far as he was aware, there was no Bill which was identical with the measure now under consideration.
§ MR. O'SHAUGHNESSY
said, he wished to explain. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Carlow (Mr. Bruen), regarding the appearance of the two Bills, had very naturally thought that at first sight they raised the supposition that his hon. Friend the Member for Youghal (Sir Joseph M'Kenna) and himself had balloted for the purpose of giving themselves a double chance of bringing on the two Bills. He desired to say that they did nothing of the kind. Until to-day he was not aware that the Bill of the hon. Member for Youghal stood on the Order Book. During the last few minutes the hon. Member for Youghal had denied that his Bill was identical with his own, and that was the best proof that there had been no 460 collusion between them, and that there had been no un-Parliamentary arrangement between his hon. Friend and himself. It was a purely accidental coincidence, at which they were both equally surprised.
§ SIR JOSEPH M'KENNA
said, that what his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Limerick (Mr. O'Shaughnessy) had stated was perfectly true. When he found that the two measures were nearly identical, he took care that they should both be put down for the same day, so that the House should not be called upon to discuss the same question twice over. Therefore, he and his hon. Friend had done their best to obviate any difficulty which might arise from a certain amount of accidental coincidence. Addressing himself to the Bill now under consideration, undoubtedly it was a Reform Bill in its way, proposing, as it did, to enfranchise large numbers of persons who, if not resident in Ireland, but in England, would enjoy votes; but he contended that it did not attack any principle they were bound to protect. Its object, therefore, must recommend it to the House. If, as had been alleged, it would be practically inoperative because there were no persons who would be enfranchised by its technical provisions, this difficulty might be easily met when the second reading was passed and the Bill got into Committee. He would admit that it was intended to enfranchise a class who were now excluded; but he believed it would be for the interests of the Empire that the class entitled to the franchise should be very considerably enlarged, as it was of advantage to diminish the number of the mob by adding to the number of those entitled to possess civil rights. He denied that those who opposed the Bill were acting in the true interests of the Conservative Party, for it was most desirable to add to the number of those who were interested in the well-being of society. He was not speaking in a Party sense, but in a social and political sense. All persons who had interests at stake in Ireland were Conservative; and, in his opinion, it was the most Conservative principle in the sense in which he spoke, to enlarge the franchise as much as possible, but gradually, and not by taking immense strides any one special time. The Bill was strictly in analogy with the 461 English Reform Bill, and with the Bill of 1869; and, therefore, he would give it his most hearty support.
§ MR. PLUNKET
said, he should not have addressed the House had not a personal reference been made to him by the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles W. Dilke), who wished to hear from him (Mr. Plunket) a statement as to the law in Ireland on this subject. He had only to say, in reply, that he entirely endorsed the explanation of the Irish law as laid down by the hon. Member for Downpatrick (Mr. Mulholland). He must congratulate the hon. and learned Gentleman the junior Member for Limerick (Mr. O'Shaughnessy) on the clearness with which he had stated his case; but there was one part of it which he had not made out. His hon. and learned Friend had not shown what was the necessity for coming to the House in such hot haste on this subject—and that not with one Bill, but with two Bills almost identical. It could not be maintained that there had been a single Petition, one public meeting, or any strong expression of opinion through the ordinary channels in favour of the Bill. The House deserved some explanation beyond what had been given for these two Bills being on the Paper to-day. On the back of both Bills was the name of the hon. and learned Gentleman the senior Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt); and though he (Mr. Plunket) might acquit the hon. Member for Youghal (Sir Joseph M'Kenna) of wilfully disregarding the Rules of the House, on the ground alleged by him that he was not aware that the two Bills were the same, or, he supposed, of the contents of either of them, he could not so easily acquit his hon. and learned Friend the senior Member for Limerick. All he could say was that there must be wheels within wheels in the management under which the Irish Members prepared their annual bundle of Bills and placed them in the Order Book of the House; there must be transactions behind the scenes; and there must be a kind of vicarious representation in the fathering of these measures when two Bills were hurled at the head of the House of Commons, identically the same over five or six pages of print, on the same Wednesday. And now a word as to the necessity for the Bill. He did not dispute that, 462 if Parliament had seen fit to sanction household suffrage for Ireland, there would have been a strong case why a Statute affecting rating in Ireland should be passed analogous to the Act of 1869. But the promoters of the Bill had not proved their case. The hon. and learned Member for Limerick was not able to establish any analogy between the case of Ireland, where persons rated under £4 were not entitled to the franchise, and that of England, where there was household suffrage. The whole matter had been considered in 1868, and there were then found sufficient grounds why the franchise in both countries should be placed on a different footing. Not only was the question with which the Bill, so far as it related to the city of Dublin, dealt under the consideration of a Committee upstairs, but a case was pending in the Law Courts in Dublin, in which it would probably receive a legal decision; and he did not think that the House should be called upon to anticipate one way or the other the conclusions which might thus be arrived at. The only object of this Bill was to do that which the House refused to do last Wednesday—namely, to enlarge the borough franchise in Ireland. As no case had been made out for the Bill, he would support the Amendment of the hon. Member for Downpatrick.
§ MR. MELDON
said, it had been stated by an hon. Member on the other side of the House that mis-statements had been made—no doubt, unintentionally—in regard to matters of fact, by hon. Members supporting the Bill. He (Mr. Meldon) must equally protest against the mis-representations which had been made by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin as to their intentions of promoting the Bill. It was not fair that an Irish Member should stand up and say that the effect of passing a certain measure would be to enlarge the borough franchise, or in any way to carry out the intention of the Borough Franchise Bill which was discussed last Wednesday. He wished it to be distinctly understood that this Bill would not enlarge the franchise to the extent of giving a single man a vote who was not entitled to it at the present moment, and he hoped such a misstatement would not be repeated. That was not the object of the Bill, and the result of passing it would be to leave the 463 law where it was at the present moment. He must admit that if the argument of the hon. Member for Downpatrick (Mr. Mulholland) was a sound one, the objections he had urged to the Bill would be very formidable, if not fatal. His statement was that the right hon. Member for the City of London (Mr. Goschen's) Bill, of 1869, was intended to apply to the case of the compound householders in Ireland. He (Mr. Meldon) emphatically said that was not so. That Bill was intended to deal with two different classes of ratepayers. It dealt, in the first place, with the compound householder, and was intended to deal with the owners who made agreements with the overseers to pay the rates and get certain allowances for the payment of such rates; but it also was intended to deal with those occupiers who made agreements with the owners that the owners should pay rates. There were no compound householders in Ireland, and they only sought to extend the provisions of the English Acts which applied to other ratepayers outside of the compound householders. They wished to have the law remedied in such a way as to insure that, in cases where the value of the premises was over £4, the occupiers should appear on the rate books. Thus it would only affect those persons whom that law declared to be entitled to the franchise. In the rate books there was a column which ought to be filled up with the name of the occupier; but, as a matter of fact, the Guardians, or those who prepared the rate books, did not see that the column was properly filled up. In a recent election in Dublin for Poor Law Guardians, no less than 300 proxy papers were returned by occupiers who were entitled to the Parliamentary franchise, and every one was rejected, because the name of the persons actually in occupation did not appear on the rate books at all. The measure would not extend the franchise beyond the area of those now entitled to it. It simply provided, by one of its clauses, that the Guardians should be bound to see that the names of the occupiers were inserted in the column provided for the purpose in the existing rate books, under certain penalties as the result of non-compliance with the regulation. Three of the other clauses of the Bill were merely declaratory of what the law in Ireland really was. There was no earthly reason why 464 this act of justice to the whole of Ireland should not be passed, except that a certain class of occupiers in Dublin who were already entitled to the franchise would be admitted to it without inflicting injury upon anyone, and it might be the fears of certain hon. Members who chose to assume that their seats would be endangered. The only other effect of the measure would be to facilitate the collection of rates.
§ MR. WHEELHOUSE
said, that, looking at this measure, the practical effect of its adoption would be to call upon the owners of tenements in every borough and city in Ireland to pay the rates; while, at the same time, the several franchises would thus be given to the occupiers. He did not say the Parliamentary or municipal franchise, but any franchise that might arise as a consequence of paying rates. Surely, if there were any force in the old adage, that taxation and representation ought to go together, this Bill would cut at the very root of such an arrangement. The measure was very much too wide and sweeping in its character, and, if adopted, would, practically, end in the enfranchisement of every single tenant throughout Ireland for every possible purpose, whether he personally paid a single farthing or not, either to the local burdens or to the Imperial Exchequer. Look at the 6th clause of the Bill, which attempted to provide that—Every payment of a rate by the occupier, notwithstanding that the amount thereof may be deducted from his rent, as herein provided"—[that is, by the tenant from his landlord]—''and every payment of a rate by the owner, whether he is himself rated or is liable to pay the same, or has agreed with the occupier to pay it, shall be deemed a payment of the rate by the occupier for the purpose of any qualification which, as regards rating, depends upon the payment of the poor rate.A provision which might be broadly said to be without limitation. Hon. Members—if he might venture to say so—took an erroneous view of this question, when they said that there was any analogy between the present state of affairs in England and that sought to be initiated by this Bill with regard to Ireland. As he (Mr. Wheelhouse) understood English legislation on this subject, it was, that where there was any occupation whatever conferring the franchise, the person occupying should be called on to pay the rates, if, as the 465 consequence, or, as he might almost term it, the reward, for the payment of the rates, he received the franchise. It had been said that in Dublin 1,000 votes were lost last year, and that the present Bill would remedy this state of things. If the overseers, or county clerks, or officers, did not now do their duty, had they any reason to suppose that they would perform that duty, even though the non-performance was to be followed by a penalty? While he did not believe very much, if at all, in penalties in regard to civil legislation, and especially for such a purpose as this, he would ask, what were the agents of the several parties about to allow of such a large leakage? But, however that might be, surely the Legislature was not to be blamed, because some overseers had not seen fit to do their duty. If such a state of matters did exist, would it be very difficult to obtain, from the Government for the time being in Ireland, some such order as would be issued, under similar circumstances, from the English Local Government Board, compelling the overseers, or others charged with the duty entrusted to them, to carry it out, and to enter the necessary information on the books. Again, they had been told that the Bill was to be of no earthly service in reference to the franchise, and that it would not enfranchise one single individual. If not, why was it brought in, and pressed forward? The truth was, he could not agree with that idea, and he hoped the measure would not be accepted by the House. What was the object the promoters had in view? If, as he apprehended, it was to give any franchise to those who, according to his contention, had no right to receive and exercise it, then it was not merely useless, but it was one which ought not to be allowed to pass. Looking at it from every point of view, it was absolutely incorrect to allege that there was any analogy between the legislation now proposed and that which affected England at this moment. Surely, it could not be at all successfully contended that the Bill had no object whatever in view? If it were thought desirable to remove some anomalies which affected the city of Dublin, that might be done by a short Local Bill; but to attempt to legislate for the whole of Ireland, merely because something might demand a local remedy in the Metropolis, was to 466 ask for far more than was reasonable; and he could not help repeating that, so far as he could see, the main, if not the only, object of this Bill was to confer some franchise, generally, upon those who ought not to have it, and he, therefore, must oppose the measure.
§ MR. LAW
said, he had listened with attention to the observations of the hon. and learned Member who had just spoken (Mr. Wheelhouse), but must say that he had heard no argument which, in his opinion, should induce the House to reject the measure. He believed that the Bill would redress a substantial grievance, and enable a number of householders to appear upon the register who, as the law now stood, although really entitled to the franchise, did not enjoy it. By the 1st clause it was proposed that the local Poor Law authorities should be forced, by the imposition of a penalty, to insert the name of every occupier in the rate book; as they were already directed to do. The hon. and learned Member for Leeds said that this duty was either a right thing to enforce, or it was not. If it were a right thing to enforce, as the promoters of this Bill contended, why, he asked, was it not done? Well, the answer was, because there were no adequate or ready means of enforcing the duty. The hon. and learned Member, however, protested against there being any efficacy in a penalty. Now, there he (Mr. Law) ventured to differ altogether from his hon. and learned Friend. Let the House just consider the matter for a moment. By the law, as it now stood in Ireland, and as it did stand in England prior to the Act of 1869, it was the duty of the local Poor Law authorities to insert the name of the occupier in a column of the rate book specially provided for that purpose. It was a duty cast upon the overseers in England, as it was on the Guardians in Ireland; but, like many other duties nominally imposed by the law, there were no ready means of enforcing it. Accordingly, in England, when the occupation franchise became a substantial question after the passing of the Reform Act of 1867, and it was found at the end of the next year that the obligation to fill in the name of the occupier was, in many instances, not performed, the Legislature immediately provided, by the 19th section of the Act of 1869, that a penalty of 40s. for every 467 name omitted should be imposed on the local authorities who did not in this respect perform their duty. Now, unlike the hon. and learned Member for Leeds, he (Mr. Law) had great faith in the persuasive efficacy of a penalty like that in making officials do their duty. If, as suggested, it would be of no value in Ireland, why, he (Mr. Law) asked, was such a provision made for England; and that, as he was told, without a dissentient voice? It evidently was thought by Parliament that here, at least, it would be desirable to impose a penalty on such overseers as did not perform their duty; and was it a very extravagant thing on the part of Irish Members to ask that the same means should be tried in Ireland in order to insure that the name of the occupier, which ought to be on the rate book, should appear there? The next clause of the Bill proposed to give certain facilities for the performance of this duty—facilities which were provided in England but not in Ireland—by requiring the owners of houses who paid the rates to furnish the guardians with the names of the occupiers, in order that the rate book might be completed. In other words, the object of the clause was to assist the local authorities towards doing their duty by furnishing them with the means of inserting on the rate book the names which everybody admitted ought to be there. But then the hon. and learned Member for Leeds made a sweeping assertion in regard to the 6th clause, which dealt with the constructive payment of rates. He said this clause would have the effect of giving the franchise to a great number of persons who otherwise would not be entitled to it. If he (Mr. Law) thought that such would be its effect, he would not regard the measure as entitled to the same favourable consideration from the House as he now submitted it was; for hon. Members might not unnaturally think that any extension of the franchise under which they were elected should be proposed as a distinct and substantive measure. But, in the first place, the Preamble of the Bill showed that it proposed to deal only with those already entitled to the franchise, whilst its promoters disclaimed having any such object as the hon. and learned Gentleman would impute to them; and, in the next place, he (Mr. Law) failed to see that the clause in question would have the effect alleged. 468 He ventured, indeed, to doubt whether the hon. and learned Member for Leeds had read the clause, or, at least, whether he had compared it with the clause in the English Act, from which it had been copied. It merely sought to provide that the occupier, who was otherwise qualified to have a vote, should be entitled thereto whether he or his landlord paid the rates. It was taken, in fact, word for word from the 7th clause of the English Act of 1869; and he (Mr. Law) asked, if it were contended that that clause of the English Act had entitled a number of persons to the franchise who would not otherwise be entitled to it? Surely his hon. and learned Friend would not insist that by the operation of that clause the constituency of Leeds, for example, had been spoiled; and, if not, why should he make the corresponding clause of this Bill the ground of this argument for the total rejection of the measure? Again, a further clause proposed to provide that, instead of general notice posted up somewhere in the town and calling on all occupiers to pay their rates, a special notice should be sent to each person as required here by the 28th section of the Representation of the People Act of 1867. One general notice was originally thought sufficient in England, and, accordingly, having been prescribed by the English Registration Act of 1843, a similar provision was inserted in the Irish Registration Act of 1850. In England, however, experience showed that this general notice was insufficient for its purpose; and, therefore, a separate personal notice to each rated occupier was required by the Act of 1867. And now, when it was proposed to make a similar improvement in the law relating to the Registration of Voters in Ireland, by copying the latest provision of the English law on the subject, hon. and hon. and learned Members opposite objected to such a measure. Did it not, then, in effect, come to this—that, whereas in England everything was done to facilitate the enjoyment of the franchise by all those who were really entitled to it, yet, in the case of Ireland, it was sought to withhold all such facilities? Was that, he (Mr. Law) would earnestly ask, a wise, or expedient, or a just course to pursue? He could not, he confessed, see any reasonableness in the objections to the Bill which had been presented to the House. The measure, if passed, 469 would merely enable persons presumably entitled to the franchise to have it, and, as he could not understand why its adoption should be objected to, he should vote for the second reading.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. GIBSON)
said, that, on the part of the Government, he entirely concurred in the view that no person in the community should desire to interfere with the fair exercise of the franchise by any person entitled to it. He would admit that fully and frankly. No case, however, in his opinion, had been made out by the promoters of the Bill that any substantial inconvenience had existed, or did exist, with regard to those who were justly entitled to the franchise. The principal portions of the Bill were originally contained in the Borough Franchise Bill, to which they were properly germane, and it was somewhat inopportune, as the Borough Franchise Bill had not passed, but had been rejected, now to ask the House to pass a series of clauses which were only suited to a state of things that no longer existed. It seemed to him that by an afterthought, the Bill, passing by altogether the limit of the rating value of £4, provided that all parties in the occupation of any premises of any value, even so low as 5s., were to be assumed to be ratepayers. If the Bill became law, he ventured to think that they would be bound to rate every person who was in the occupation of any premises, no matter what the value might be. The whole argument in reference to the Bill was that which was stated very fairly and forcibly by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Limerick (Mr. O'Shaughnessy), in introducing it—that a variety of these clauses were found in an English Act of Parliament. Was that a complete and conclusive argument? The argument of the hon. Member for Downpatrick (Mr. Mulholland) on that point was entitled to very great weight; because he pointed out that the English Act of Parliament, which was referred to in the margin of the Bill, was passed to meet an entirely different set of facts and circumstances. He had failed to hear any real substantial exception taken by way of argument to the proposition of the hon. Member for Downpatrick; and, for the reasons he had referred to, he was unable to assent to the second reading of the Bill. So far as the Bill 470 dealt with the existing franchise, no case had been made out; and so far as it referred to a franchise which had been rejected, the Bill was entirely unnecessary.
§ MR. BIGGAR
said, that in no circumstance would the Bill have the effect which had been so erroneously attributed to it—of unduly extending the franchise. Its only effect would be to remedy a great and patent injustice, for there were many cases in which rates were paid by landlords in respect of holdings between £4 and £8 in value, and occupiers were entitled to appear on the rate book; but their names were omitted through the negligence of the rate collector, and all the Bill would do would be to impose on the collector a penalty for the neglect of duty. In Belfast alone, only about three-fifths of the persons in the borough entitled to vote were to be found on the register. If those persons were placed on it, the opposite side of the House need have no dread, as he had no doubt that Belfast then, as now, would continue to return two Conservatives.
said, it had been stated that the object of the Bill was to give the franchise to those persons who had been unjustly deprived of it. If the class it was proposed to admit were the only class excluded, he should think that a very excellent case; but there were inequalities in other directions, and it was forgotten that an intelligent class of people, who owned very considerable property in towns, as owners had no votes unless they were resident occupiers, and it would be an anomaly to leave them without the franchise while enfranchising the improvident occupiers who did not pay their own rates. He regarded it as a very dangerous thing to confer too much power upon an unintelligent and improvident, though it might be an industrious, class of people. The Bill attached a penalty to an owner's refusal to furnish a list of occupiers, and he was afraid the penalty would be incurred in view of a Parliamentary Election, and thus lead to disputed Returns. At a time when Communism was so rife in the United States, Russia, and Germany, the House ought to hesitate before it admitted to the franchise in Ireland the class possessing the least intelligence, least property, and the least ability. The Bill was open to objection in other directions, and he trusted 471 the House would not give it a second reading. He could not support a Bill which would confer on a class who could not afford to pay taxes the right of exercising the franchise.
§ MR. MURPHY
supported the Bill, remarking that the cardinal principle of the Bill of 1868 was that every possible facility should be given to enable electors to be placed on the register with as little trouble as possible. The executive officials had failed to carry out that Act, and the present Bill was to give facilities for the carrying out of the intentions of the Legislature when they passed the Bill of 1868. Either a man was entitled to be on the register, or he was not. If he had a title to the franchise, it was very requisite that he should be placed on the register with as little inconvenience as possible. At every registration there were many Party contests, owing to the neglect of officers to furnish complete lists, the persons whose names were omitted having to establish their claims at their own expense. In this respect, the machinery of the Reform Bill was not self-acting, as it was intended to be, and the objections of the last speaker to an extension of the franchise did not apply to the Bill, because it would affect only those whom Parliament had intended to enjoy the existing franchise.
§ MR. O'CLERY
refuted the statements of the hon. Member for Tyrone (Mr. Macartney), who had hinted, as his great reason for opposing the Bill, that he feared a spreading of Communistic principles amongst the people. The hon. Member for Tyrone had over and over again in that House struck against his own country—he would not say his own people, because they were not his people—but he never struck at them more keenly than he had done now—
I rise to Order. Is an hon. Member entitled to say of another hon. Member—"He has often struck against his own country—I will not say his own people?"
§ MR. O'CLERY
went on to say that Ireland needed no defence against charges of Communism and revolution, as there was no country in the world which had evinced a greater spirit of hostility to anything like Continental Communism than Ireland. The National Members in that House were very often met by the remark—"Oh, we 472 intend to give you local government." This was a Bill which aimed at local government in the direction of an extension of the franchise, yet Parliament evinced no desire to give it a second reading.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
said, that before the House was called upon to make an alteration in the law, the necessity for that alteration ought to be clearly proved; but he felt justified in saying that no proof had been given of there being any strong feeling in Ireland in favour of a measure of this kind. It had been said that the Act known as Goschen's Act, passed in 1869, conferred upon occupiers in England privileges from which similar occupiers in Ireland were debarred. The hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles W. Dilke) stated, as his reason for supporting the Bill, that he was desirous to concede to Ireland the privileges accorded to England; and it seemed that this argument did no doubt influence a great number of hon. Members on the other side of the House, so that week after week they had Bills brought on ostensibly with the object of assimilating the law of Ireland to that in England. No doubt, that was a plausible ground on which to obtain the support of hon. Gentlemen representing Liberal constituencies in England. He knew, indeed, that many hon. Members opposite had intimated their intention to support all Irish measures framed in that spirit; but he thought it would be only right to consider whether the circumstances of the two countries were identical in respect to the matter with regard to which it was proposed to legislate. It was customary on other occasions to say that Ireland was so different a country from England that legislation must proceed with the two countries in quite different directions. Irish Members were constantly telling the House that it was unfair and unstatesmanlike to judge Irish questions from an English point of view. They were constantly informing the House that Irish matters must be judged from a standpoint of their own. If that were so, then before Irish Members could come to that House and ask them to extend to Ireland the legislation for England, they must show the House, as had been pointed out by his right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General for Ireland, that the state of circumstances in the two countries 473 was the same. Now, it seemed to him that the argument of his hon. Friend the Member for Downpatrick (Mr. Mulholland), showed that this was not so in the present case. His hon. Friend had stated that there was no substantial grievance, and that no person in Ireland was debarred from the franchise by the state of the law applicable to rating. Now, he (Mr. Lowther) did not want to open up the compound householder question, because he agreed with hon. Members in deprecating obstruction to the acquisition of the franchise by what he had, in 1867, in this House ventured to stigmatize as the miserable ventured technicalities of rating. He had always said that if a voter were entitled to the franchise, he should have his right in full, and should not be shut out by a side-wind. He did not go back from that; and if hon. Gentlemen could prove that ratepayers entitled to the franchise were debarred by technicalities, that might make out a case for the Bill which had not hitherto been done. Clause 6 of the Bill certainly went far beyond its avowed object. He certainly hoped that the hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. O'Shaughnessy) would be prepared with some answer to the case that had been made on that point; but he (Mr. Lowther) thought that he was justified in saying that the law in Ireland in regard to rating was essentially different to that in England, and that the circumstances which rendered it necessary to pass the English Act of 1869 did not exist in Ireland. Therefore, the somewhat plausible pretext argued in favour of the Bill, that they ought to extend to Ireland the law already existing in England, did not hold good. He hoped the House would not be led into another of these Reform Bills for Ireland—of which they had already had too many samples. They had disposed last week of what might be called the head of this question—the main measure. They had determined that the question of Parliamentary Reform, as far as Ireland was concerned, was not ripe for discussion, and he therefore hoped that the House would not assent to the Bill.
§ MR. O'SHAUGHNESSY,
in reply, said, that the object of the Bill was not an alteration of the law, so as to extend the franchise in Ireland, but to give the vote to those who were at present entitled 474 to it, but who were now prevented from obtaining it by the law of rating; and what the right hon. Gentleman said virtually was, that Irish voters should not be enabled to exercise the franchise nominally conferred upon them by the Act of 1869. He must say that the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman seemed to be dictated by a regard to what the Government considered a wise economy of the time of the House than by a regard for the merits of the Bill. The Returns which he (Mr. O'Shaughnessy) had cited proved conclusively that persons at present entitled to the franchise in Ireland were excluded by the law of rating as it stood at present, the number in Dublin alone being 1,500. The first three clauses were absolutely requisite to give the same facilities for the acquisition of the franchise in Ireland as existed in England; but he should not object to the omission of the 4th and 5th clauses.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 177; Noes 224: Majority 47.—(Div. List, No.144.)
§ Words added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Second Reading put off for six months.