§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Lord Frederick Cavendish.)
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
said, he had intended to to address the House at some length on the Ballot Act, which was included in this Bill; but, owing to the lateness of the Session, he should content himself by asking the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Hart-ington) if they might understand that next Session the Ballot Act would be renewed in a separate Act, and not included in the Expiring Laws Continuance Act?
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
called attention to a serious defect in the Ballot Act with respect to illiterate voters. This class, more than any other, required the protection of the Ballot; and as that Act was administered in Ireland they were, practically, excluded from the pro- 597 tection of secrecy. In the case of his own election, the presiding officers had taken the initiative in finding out illiterate voters by putting questions to them. Although illiterate, they might be perfectly able to record their vote; and for the presiding officers to deprive voters in this way of the secrecy of the Ballot was most improper. He asked for an authoritative declaration from the Attorney General on the subject. He also thought the Government should introduce a Bill to throw the expense of elections on the constituencies. The want of such an arrangement had, practically, kept that House a plutocractic and feudal Assembly. There was a great deal of feeling in the country on this point.
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
said, he had an important Amendment on this Bill; but he would postpone it until the next stage—that of going into Committee.
§ MR. CALLAN
thought the Act, in the case of illiterate voters, was specific enough. No declaration was needed, and the acts alluded to were clearly contrary to the Act. The hon. Member for Galway must have been badly served by his agents that such practices had been permitted. There was one practice, however, which he had to complain of. In the County Down the numbers of voters who had recorded their votes in each district had been published, with the result that the purpose of the Ballot Act was illegally defeated. He thought this practice should not be allowed to continue. Again, he had to complain of the number of agents allowed in the booths. When the Act came first into force two agents only were allowed, and when anyone came with a voter he was stopped at the door. At the last election half-a-dozen of strangers were present, and when an illiterate voter was recording his vote there was really no secrecy. As to the expenses of candidates, he hoped the Government would not agree to the proposal made. If the expenses were thrown upon the ratepayers there would not be a constituency in Ireland which would not be invaded by London "carpet-baggers." He objected to any invasion, and more especially to an invasion of that sort. Personally, he would treat them as he had always done; but in the interest of the ratepayers of Ireland he objected to gratify a desire for notoriety, and for 598 personal advancement, by paying as a ratepayer the expenses of these gentlemen. He had to ask, on another point, whether the Sheriff had an absolute discretion in the number of presiding officers he appointed, as he had known of four being appointed in one constituency of 600 electors, and only one in another constituency of almost the same size?
§ MR. FINIGAN
thought the Act was clear as to the illiterate voter. It was certainly wrong that a man should be compelled to vote in this open way. He was perfectly aware that no word spoken in the House would alter the Act; but he hoped the Attorney General would make its meaning clear.
MR. J. COWEN
drew attention to the Corrupt Practices at Elections Act, and said the costs of elections had increased, and were increasing, and there ought to be some step taken to reduce them. If this were not done, the whole electoral power of the country would fall into the hands of a class. The direct effect of the present system had been to put the representation chiefly into the hands of an extremely wealthy class.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
, in reply to the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill), said, it was undoubtedly the intention of the Government to deal with the subject of the Ballot in a separate Bill next Session; and as the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Beresford Hope) had postponed his Amendment until the next stage of the Bill, it would be most convenient not to discuss it at any length now. With regard to the Corrupt Practices at Elections Act, that measure was not in the Bill before the House, and he was not prepared to speak definitely. He believed it was a subject that required consideration; but he was not sure that it was the intention of the Government to deal with it next Session.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
considered the Act was quite clear as to illiterate voters. The application must come, in the first instance, from the illiterate voter; and for the presiding officer to suggest to the voter that he was illiterate was contrary to the letter and spirit of the Act. The duty of the agent of a candidate would have been to protest against such a practice. As to the question of expenses of 599 Parliamentary elections, he would, when the question was properly raised, support the position he took up seven or eight years ago. As to the publication of the numbers in certain districts, there was a weakness in the Act which had been brought about by the desire to protect the individual; and next Session, when an amendment of the Ballot Act would be proposed, this point would be brought before the House. The question of the number of presiding officers appointed might have been tested by the candidate refusing to pay the expenses, and in that way justice would have been secured.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir HENRY JAMES)
replied in the affirmative. It was only the returning officer who could not vote.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for Monday next.