§ Order for Consideration, as amended, read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now taken into Consideration."—(Mr. Meldon.)
§ Motion agreed to.
§ (Commencement of Act.)
§ "This Act shall come into operation on the first day of January, one thousand eight hundred and eighty one."
§ Motion agreed to.
§ New Clause added.
§ MR. PLUNKET
said, there were a good many Amendments to the earlier clauses of the Bill on the Paper; but at that time of night, and in the present state of the House, he felt it to be quite useless for him to endeavour to press them.
§ Clause 8.
§ MR. PLUNKET
said, he had now to propose the Amendment which stood in the name of his right hon. and learned Friend and Colleague (Mr. Gibson). That proposal was to omit the 8th clause, and he did beg of the Government to assist him in doing that. He would not conceal from the Committee that, even at that late hour, if it were in his power to stop the Bill, as far as he was personally concerned, he should, if this clause were to be retained, be glad to see it fall through. He had opposed it for the last six years as strongly as he could, and, up to the present time, he had been successful. He did not believe that the result of passing it would be really to improve the system of registration in Ireland. It was true that even the late Government gave some sanction to the second reading of the Bill; but that was when the measure did not contain this 8th clause at all. The Preamble, besides, set forth that the object of the measure was to assimilate the Law of Registration in Ireland to the law as it at present existed in England. He knew 757 that, afterwards, the second sentence was added—"and also to make some further alteration in the Irish law."
§ MR. MELDON
I beg to call attention, Sir, to the fact that, in the Bill as it at present stands, there is no Preamble.
§ MR. PLUNKET
said, he had not been aware of the change in the Bill as printed; but if that were so, it was an additional reason in support of his argument, that the Bill, as it stood at present, was entirely different from the measure formerly accepted by the late Government, for in order to bring it to some kind of correspondence with the Bill as it at present stood, they were, it appeared, obliged to leave out the Preamble. Anyone who looked through the measure would see that, in all the earlier paragraphs, reference was made in the marginal note to the corresponding section of the English Act, with which the Irish law was intended to be brought into conformity. But with regard to this Section 8, there was no such marginal note, and there was no reference to a corresponding section in an English Statute, because no such English Statute existed. The policy of this Bill was to deter persons from making frivolous objections to voters by the imposition of penalties and fines. Under the English law, persons who served notices of objection did so at their own peril and cost; but it was necessary for the person objected to to prove his own claim. If he had read this section rightly, however, it would be necessary, before any proof was required from a person who claimed to go upon the register, that primá facie proof should be given in support of the objection served. If he was right in that opinion, the Bill introduced a new principle into the Irish Law of Registration which had never been known before, and which, in his opinion, under the system of preparing lists now in existence in Ireland, would open a wide door for, he would not say frivolous claims, but for claims which were unsubstantiated on behalf of persons who ought not properly to come upon the register. The Bill, as it originally stood, did not contain this clause. The hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Meldon), who had so long and so gallantly fought it through the House, thought the Bill would do very well without it, and for 758 some time after introducing the Bill left it out—in point of fact, he would have been satisfied in the last Parliament if he could have passed the Bill without the introduction of this clause. He believed the Bill would give facilities for imposition, which ought not to be given, and which did not at present exist in Ireland. It was quite true that the preparation of these lists was committed to certain officials, whose duty it was to schedule every person in occupation who had paid rates up to a certain period, and that was a certain protection. But there was no proof that the voter had been in occupation 12 months, or that he occupied as tenant or owner; and he maintained that, so long as they did not give these facilities in England, it was not wise to give them to Ireland, especially in a Bill originally framed for the purpose of assimilating the law in the two countries. This clause would have the effect of bringing an entirely new practice into the Law of Registration in Ireland; and, therefore, he hoped the Committee would not consent to its retention in the Bill.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out Clause 8.—(Mr. Plunket.)
§ MR. MELDON
said, his hon. and learned Friend was not quite right in stating that the Bill did not at first contain this 8th clause. When he first introduced the Bill into the House it not only contained the 8th clause, but that was the principal part of it. The history of this measure was very simple. In 1873 that House passed a Bill framed on the English law, but containing the principle of the present 8th clause. That Bill went before one or two Select Committees, and was approved of by the House without a division. The Bill did not pass the other House. In 1875 he moved for a Select Committee to inquire into the subject. Before the conclusion of their labours they submitted two Reports for adoption. One was a Report prepared by his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Plunket), and another by another Member of the Committee. The second Report was lost by the casting vote of his right hon. and learned Friend, and the Report of his right hon. and learned Friend was adopted. The rejected Report, he might say, contained the suggestion on which 759 this Bill was founded. The Committee divided several times in order to engraft upon the chosen Report suggestions which were made in the other Report. On each occasion the Select Committee divided seven to seven, and on each occasion his right hon. and learned Friend had to take the responsibility of throwing out the additions. Following on that he introduced this Bill, and it contained the 8th clause. After a lengthy discussion the Government beat him. He did not see his way, in the then constitution of the House, to enforce the principle of that clause; and, accordingly, on the principle that half a loaf was better than no bread, he introduced his latter measure which did not contain the 8th clause. That Bill the late Government accepted, and it was read a second time. But, owing to the obstruction, he never was able to carry it through Committee. This 8th clause came fully under discussion in Committee the other day, and it was agreed to without a division. Under those circumstances, he thought it was too late to ask the Committee to omit the most material clause in the Bill.
§ MR. WARTON
said, that anyone who wished to make a claim could do so, and would have to prove that claim. It seemed to him that the person who brought an objection should be bound to furnish primâ facie proof of it, and that when he had done so the onus should be thrown upon the person who made the claim to come forward and give full proof of it. He did not think that that was the course adopted in the Bill.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOB IRELAND (Mr. LAW)
said, that there were separate lists of voters in Ireland. The object was to make the official lists, framed by the sworn officers who were bound to do their duty, primâ facie evidence of the persons upon those lists to vote. By one clause of the Registration Act the official list was made primâ facie evidence of the voter's right to vote, and he believed that it was actually legal evidence. This was, in effect, doing what was done for England in 1859, and which would have been done for Ireland in 1874–5 had it not been for the one Conservative vote of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin upon the Committee. He hoped that the Committee would accept the clause.
760 An hon. MEMBER said, that he had had some experience in these matters, having been a Revising Barrister for 20 years. It seemed to him that there ought not to be the difference which at present existed in the law between England and Ireland upon this subject. He had found, in the course of his experience, that too great facilities were given to objections. He had always thought that casting the onus upon a person claiming to vote was a harsh proceeding, and more especially in the ease of a person whose name was already on the list, and who did not seek to have it put on for the first time. In the latter case, in particular, he thought that the onus of proving their case should be entirely thrown upon the objectors, reserving, of course, all cases of objection made by official persons. He apprehended that it would be quite sufficient that the clause should be accepted in its present state, and that the loss of votes from persons not coming up to support them when objections were raised would be done away with.
§ MR. PLUNKET
said, that he did not wish to put the House to the trouble of dividing upon this clause, as, in the present state of the House, it would be absurd that he should do so. He must, however, state that he felt very strongly upon this matter. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland had admitted that this case was very different in Ireland from what it was in England. The hon. Member who had just spoken seemed to have been under the impression that those persons to whose claims objections were to be made were already on the register. They were nothing of the kind. This clause applied to persons who were not upon the register; the clause, in effect, applied to persons upon the supplementary lists not already upon the register.
§ Question, "That Clause 8 stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.
§ Clause 9.
§ MR. WARTON
said, that it seemed to him that there was a class of persons —namely, the rate collectors, who were not fit persons to enter objections upon the lists. He thought that class of persons should not be allowed to enter objections so as to exclude voters from the poll. He should move the rejection of the clause.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out Clause 9.—(Mr. Warlon.)
§ MR. MELDON
said, that the poor rate collectors, at the present time, were charged with duties in the preparation of these lists, and penalties for the non-performance of their duties were placed upon them by the Act.
§ Question, "That Clause 9 stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.
§ Clause 11.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Clause agreed to.
§ Clause 15.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL FOE IRELAND (Mr. W. M. JOHNSON)
said, that he had to move the omission of the 15th clause. Under the Act 36 Vict. the County Chairmen were intrusted with revision duty, and were bound to hold Revision Courts at the several places where they held their ordinary Courts, or at such other places as the Lord Lieutenant, with the advice of the Privy Council, might from time to time order. If the places where the Revision Courts were now held were not sufficient, then the Lord Lieutenant, with the advice of the Privy Council, might order the Chairmen to hold more Courts. But this clause required the Chairmen to hold Revision Courts at every polling place. The ground upon which he moved the rejection of this clause was the impracticability of carrying out such a provision. In the county of Antrim, for instance, there were four places where the Revision Courts were now held; but there were 25 polling places. The consequence would be that the poor rate collectors, and other officials, would have to travel about the country from time to time attending to the business of the Revision Courts, and neglecting their ordinary duties. In the case of the Isles of Arran, he believed inconvenience would be caused, for they were a polling place; and it would be necessary, under this clause, for the Chairman and other officials to proceed there to hold a Revision Court. The Isles of Arran were some distance from the mainland, and could only be approached in fine wea- 762 ther by sailing boats, and the Chairman and the officials might be kept there for a considerable time by inclement or tempestuous weather. For these reasons, he begged to move the rejection of the clause.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out Clause 15.—(Mr. Solicitor General for Ireland.)
§ MR. CALLAN
said, that when the County Chairmen were charged by the House with the duty of the revision of the voters list, they were also given an additional £100 a-year salary for performing the work. At present great inconvenience was caused by the small number of the Revision Courts held by the Chairmen. He represented the smallest county in Ireland; but the voters of that county, from the two populous districts in the North and South, had to travel 17 miles to prove their claim. The House, in its wisdom in passing the Ballot Act, enacted that polling places should be provided so that no voter might be obliged to go more than five miles from his door to record his vote; but now it was proposed to compel poor farmers, during the month of October, to travel 17 miles in the smallest county in Ireland for the purpose of supporting their claims to vote. If that was the case in the smallest county in Ireland, what distance must the voters have to travel in the larger counties? It was true that if the Lord Lieutenant considered any place inconvenient for holding Revision Courts, he might appoint other places which might be considered more suitable for the voters; but he thought it was undesirable to cast the onus of showing that the present Revision Courts were inconvenient upon the Irish Executive. He did not see any reason why the County Chairman should not hold Revision Courts in each polling place. What would be the result? In his County they could hold three Revision Courts in one day. The Chairman of his county received £100 a-year for sitting for one day in the South about two hours, and also about two hours in the North; for those four hours' sitting he received upwards of £100 sterling. He certainly should take a division upon this question. If the Government would do something to qualify the present system so as to render it more 763 imperative for the Chairman to sit at each polling place he would not object; but he did object to the system by which the convenience of the officials was regarded as of so much more importance than that of the voters. In his opinion, the convenience of the ratepayers of Ireland was of very much more importance than the convenience of the assistant barrister.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. LAW)
said, that he should have insisted upon the retention of this clause in the Bill had it not been for the 8th clause of the Bill; but the 8th clause had, practically, rendered this one unnecessary. By far the largest number of persons in Ireland were those whose names were put down in the supplementary list, and those names had been recorded by the proper officer as entitled to vote. Under the 8th section, it was provided that the presumption should be in their favour: and they would not, therefore, be obliged to leave their homes to prove their claims. This clause, as it stood, would impose upon the Executive the necessity of re-casting the whole of the Revision Courts in Ireland at once, for it would require Courts to be held not only in the half-a-dozen places in the county where the Revision Courts were now held, but in a great many others. In the County Cork the number of polling places was 75; and it was a great inconvenience to the Revising Barrister and the County Court Judges, as well as to all the other parties interested, to compel them to go to all the 75 polling places. The Lord Lieutenant had the power, at any moment, wherever necessity was shown, to enforce the attendance of the Judges at any polling place, and he thought that would be sufficient. The question was whether they would insist upon the clause being retained, the effect of which would be to impose upon the Executive the duty of re-casting the whole of the Revision Courts in Ireland without immediate regard to the necessity of the case, or whether they would let the Executive wait until they were informed that necessity existed in any particular instance for further Courts. He was sure there would be no indisposition on the part of the Executive to require the County Court Judges to hold Revision Courts in any polling place where there was substantial reason shown that they 764 ought to be held. The question was whether the Courts were to be obliged at once to be held in all the polling places, or whether they would wait until the necessity for holding more Courts was shown to exist.
§ MR. A. M. SULLIVAN
said, that this clause would be of all importance in the Bill but for the 8th clause. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General for Ireland had spoken of the inconvenience which would be caused to the County Chairman if the clause were adopted, and he had instanced the case of a County Chairman being compelled to go to the Isles of Arran. But he would ask whether there was more inconvenience in compelling one gentleman who was paid a good salary to go across to the Isles of Arran than in bringing a number of poor people from the Isles of Arran? At the same time, however, he could not but think that the 8th clause had rendered this one unnecessary.
§ MR. BIGGAR
said, that, from his own experience, the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland had argued that there would be great inconvenience in holding these Courts at the different polling places, and that there would be no accommodation for them. But the fact was that the Petty Sessional Courts now accommodated the local magistrates for four days. They were surely suitable for the assistant barrister for an hour or two twice a-year. With regard to these polling districts, some of them were very badly arranged. He happened to be near a polling place where he found the people had to go six or eight miles to a particular polling place, while, at the same time, persons who lived one mile from it had to go six or eight miles to another polling place. He hoped that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would re-adjust these polling places. The places where the petty sessional districts were, were as nearly as possible the centres of the districts, and they would form convenient places for polling. Another point put by the right hon. and learned Gentleman was this—that, at the present time, the Lord Lieutenant had power to increase the number of places where the Revision Courts were held; but the County Court Judges were officials, and their representations would probably have much more weight than 765 those who complained of the inconvenience from want of more Courts.
§ Question put, "That Clause 15 stand part of the Bill."
§ The House divided: —Ayes 15; Noes 60: Majority 45.—(Div. List, No. 156.)
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
begged pardon. He wanted to move a new clause, and as he took no part in the last division—
§ Mr. T. P. O'CONNOR
Sir, I walked out when the division was called; but I came back when the doors were opened as soon as I could get in.
§ MR. SPEAKER
On the consideration of a Bill on Report the Rule is to take new clauses first. The hon. and learned Member who is in charge of the Bill himself moved a new clause.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
hoped, considering the time of the Session, that the House would not object to read the Bill a third time then.
§ MR. MELDON
observed, that if the Bill were not read a third time that night it would be impossible for it to-reach "another place" in time.
§ MR. PLUNKET
said, if the result of refusing to read the Bill a third time that night was to throw it out altogether, as they could get no concession on the 8th clause, he did not see why they should not refuse. If the 8th clause had been struck out, as was at one time proposed, the measure would have passed without further difficulty; but, as matters stood, he certainly could not facilitate the passing of the Bill.
§ MR. BIGGAR
said, there had been what he called a corrupt and very improper compromise made for the purpose of carrying this Bill; the best part of it had been struck out, and it was now perfectly worthless. He would not oppose the third reading; but he did oppose this system of private intrigue, by which Bills were passed by some private arrangement between hon. Members without the House being consulted, so that the most vital interests of the parties concerned were set at nought.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
said, as he could not move his new clause, he 766 might, perhaps, be permitted to call attention to a real practical grievance which, in the constituency he represented, reached its climax. In the borough of Galway there was a freeman's franchise conferred on a larger and more liberal basis than anywhere else in the Three Kingdoms; for all that was required to qualify for it was the practice of a handicraft and 12 months' residence in the borough. But the benefits for that advantage were entirely nullified. Formerly the registration was intrusted to the Corporation, with the Mayor at its head; but since that had been got rid of the responsibility of admitting to this freeman's franchise was transferred to a person appointed by the Lord Lieutenant, who was styled the Keeper of the Freeman's Roll. At present this office was held by a Major Walsh, against whom he had not a word to say, but who was neither a barrister, nor, indeed, a professional gentleman with any knowledge of the law at all. That gentleman ought to hold a Court of Admission every year; but, as a matter of fact, he had not held one for three or four or five years past, and the consequence was that 250 or 300 men who were qualified to vote, and were entitled to vote, were, by the neglect of this gentleman, deprived of their right. As the constituency consisted of but 1,400 voters, it resulted that one-sixth of it was virtually disfranchised by the act of this gentleman. He had asked Major Walsh to hold a Court, and though he was met with great courtesy his request was declined. The gentleman said that he was not paid for doing the work, and he met with so much badgering—he was, in fact, in the same position as a Chief Secretary — from the Conservatives for admitting too many, and from the Liberals for not admitting enough, that he would not bear the obloquy the job brought on him if he could help it. Besides, he added that he was not paid for the work. While he had himself to defray the cost of the advertisements in the local papers, and of the placards throughout the town. He, therefore, wanted a clause introduced into this Bill, intrusting the duty of keeping this Roll to the Recorder, or the Assistant Recorder, who would see that it was properly and correctly kept. He could assure the House that, owing 767 to this arrangement, many men were kept off the register. Most respectable men they were, as was shown by the fact that they all canvassed for him, and some of them acted as his poll clerks. So able and clever were they that, though he had the whole of the solicitors and other paid agents working against him, he was able to defeat their machinations and to gain a seat in that House. As he could not add the clause he wanted, he hoped the Attorney General for Ireland would introduce a Bill carrying out his wishes. It would be so simple that there would be no difficulty in getting it through that House, while, in "another place," the fact that it bore his name in conjunction with that of the Attorney General would be sufficient to insure it a favourable reception.
§ MR. CALLAN
said, he would not use language so strong as the hon. Member for the County of Cavan (Mr. Biggar); but he had also to complain of the manner in which arrangements were often made behind the backs of hon. Members. He took a division to protest against those arrangements the other evening, because he knew the evils which were done in the County of Dublin by the Whig and Tory Lord Lieutenants for the past 10 years. To speak of the Lord Lieutenant, however, was a mere facon de parler. The persons really meant were the Attorney General and the Chief Secretary. He wanted to cast upon the Attorney General for Ireland the onus and the odium of the alteration he had made in that other Bill, of striking out the words "petty sessional districts," and to force him to give some good and valid reason for such an arbitrary act. What was the present state of affairs? They were obliged to go with bated breath and whispered humbleness to the Executive at the Castle, and were kept waiting in the purlieus of the Castle, waiting to represent to their Honours the grievances that were admitted. If, when he went home to Ireland, he had anything to complain of, he would be kept waiting at the Castle for the better part of a week, an hour each day, until it suited them to give Mm an answer. Even then they did not give him any reason for their answer, but declared that, having considered the subject, they did not see why they should go beyond what Parliament had already done. As a consequence of his feeling, 768 he determined to take a Vote, and many hon. Gentlemen encouraged him to go to a division. The compromise which had been effected was then communicated to them, not as it should have been publicly, but whispered through the House; and, as a consequence, they saw the strange spectacle of men in favour of his proposal walking out of the House and leaving him in the lurch. He did not think such a thing ought to be, and though it was his own Party which had acted in this way he would not allow the matter to pass sub silentio.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."—(Mr. W. E. Forster.)
§ MR. PLUNKET
asked, Whether the third reading could be taken in this way when it had been objected to?
§ MR. SPEAKER
It is the practice of the House occasionally, particularly at the end of the Session, to take two stages of a Bill at one Sitting on the ground of urgency. The question of urgency is a matter for the judgment of the House.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
said, the Government must see that the feeling of the House was altogether against this Bill being now read a third time. ["No, no!"] Well, the hon. and learned Member for Meath (Mr. A. M. Sullivan) seemed to be interested in it. The hon. Member for Cavan (Mr. Biggar) did not approve of it, and the hon. Member for the City of Galway (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) wished to add an important clause to it, which he would be able to do if the third reading were taken at another time, because he could move to re-commit the Bill. The hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Callan) had also, apparently, some objections to urge. Then, again, it was extraordinary that there should have been some kind of intrigue—["No, no!"]—well, at any rate, these allegations had been made by the hon. Member for Cavan (Mr. Biggar), and had not been contradicted. They were not contradicted, for instance, by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General for Ireland (Mr. W. M. Johnson). As it was said that there had been an arrangement, he thought the conduct of the Government, under the circumstances, extremely tyrannical and arbitrary in thus taking at one time two stages of a measure for 769 which the Government could not say that there was any urgency whatever. The proceeding was exceedingly irregular, and he hoped they would not assent to the Motion.
§ MR. A. M. SULLIVAN
said, the noble Lord was evidently quite shocked at the idea of any arrangement, or, as he called it, of any intrigue in connection with the Bill. Could he imagine the case of any noble Lord who would come to an arrangement privately to secure the third reading of an Indemnity Bill?
§ MR. A. M. SULLIVAN
said, there was no doubt that a noble Lord, the descendant of a most illustrious military commander—he would not say who he was—did explain matters privately to his Colleagues of the Irish Party, entreating them, he believed the phrase was used, that he would go on his knees to them, as he was the custodian of the inmost conscience of the Conservative Party, and that he would affect a settlement of certain matters at issue. Meantime, he would only warn the noble Lord that there had been third readings taken in this way of Bills during the last three or four days. That was only permitted by the generosity of the Irish Party. The consideration that was exhibited to a Peer he hoped would now be extended to tens of thousands of commoners.
said, he knew that the noble Lord distinctly refused, when he asked him publicly to allow this Bill to go through the other night, to withdraw his opposition on condition that the Plunket Indemnity Bill was allowed to go through its different stages. He distinctly said he could not do that. But the instant the Bill was allowed to pass, the noble Lord turned round and said that the first opportunity that could be got, he should be very happy to do something for the Irish Party.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
begged permission to make a personal explanation. He quite recognized the generosity of the hon. Member for the City of Cork on Saturday afternoon, but he never imagined the hon. Member and his Friends would expect a return of this 770 kind, which was giving a sovereign for half-a-crown. With reference to what the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Meath (Mr. A. M. Sullivan) had said, he had drawn entirely on his imagination.
§ MR. PLUNKET
said, so far as he was personally concerned, he had thought, under the circumstances, it would be more becoming if he did not take any part in the passage of the Indemnity Bill through the House; and he could say most positively that, so far as he knew, there was no compromise whatever. On the contrary, he had heard there was something of the kind in the wind, and he had also heard it had been distinctly refused. The only compromise he ever approved of in reference to the Registration Bill was a proposition that if the 8th clause was struck out the Bill should be allowed to pass through without any further opposition. He knew nothing whatever of what had now been mentioned, and he could only say, that he thought the Indemnity Bill was entitled to pass on its own merits; though, as a personal matter, he was not ungrateful to the hon. Gentleman who did not make use of the Forms of the House in order to delay the progress of that Bill.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the third time, and passed.