HC Deb 09 June 1880 vol 252 cc1566-78

Order for Committee read.

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clause 1 (Definition of "principal Act and of" Registration Acts), and Clause 2 (Extent of Act), agreed to.

Clause 3 (Short Title).

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be added to the Bill."—(Mr. Meldon.)


said, he did not proposed to move any Amendment in this clause; but he wished to call the attention of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kildare (Mr. Meldon) to the fact that he omitted to state when this Bill, which dealt so immensely with details, was to come into operation. No one knew better than his hon. and learned Friend, that if they were to attend closely to the machinery of the registration it would he absolutely impossible for the Bill to come into operation at once without very considerably upsetting the work of registration. It would, therefore, be necessary to fix some time next year—for instance, the 10th of January, as the date when the Bill was to come into operation. It would be impossible to select a much earlier date, seeing that the objections would not be prepared and served before the month of August. He only mentioned the matter to his hon. and learned Friend, in order that the necessity of fixing a date for the Bill to come into operation was borne in mind.


said, the matter was one to which he had given a considerable amount of consideration, and the reason why no clause had been inserted stating the date at which the Bill should come into operation was that there was before the House a Registration Bill, and he was anxious to postpone the date until he could ascertain with positive ness what was the best date to select. He had simply deferred the date because he thought it was advisable not to fix it until he saw what the course of legislation was likely to be. Before the Bill was finally disposed of a clause would be inserted, to provide that the Bill should not come into operation until the 1st of January next.

Question put, and agreed to.

Prevention of frivolous objections.

Clause 4 (Notices of objection shall state grounds of objection.)


moved, as an Amendment, in line 28, after the word "voters," to insert the words "not being on the list of claimants." It was necessary, he thought, that the clause should not apply to the list of claimants, but only to the supplementary list of voters.


did not object at all to the Amendment, which he regarded as being quite upon the lines of his hon. Friend's Bill. But there was an earlier Amendment, of which Notice had been given by his hon. Friend the Member for the County of Dublin (Mr. Ion Hamilton). He presumed that his hon. Friend was absent elsewhere on urgent affairs, as he was not in attendance to move the Amendments of which he had given Notice. It was due, however, to his hon. Friend, as an Amendment appeared on the Paper in his name, to state what its purport was. The object of the clause of the hon. and learned Mem-for Kildare, was to place the old register and the new supplementary list on exactly the same basis. In reality, they were to be regarded as being separated by a broad line of demarcation. A man who was on the old register was there in consequence of having already proved his right, and being upon the old list no one was entitled, without good or definite reason, to question his right because he was there. The onus of proof rested upon the person who questioned the right to be there. The' person whose name was placed upon the supplementary list had never before been called upon to prove his right, and had not shown that he satisfied all the conditions by which he was entitled to be a Parliamentary voter. He (Mr. Gibson) only wished thus to point out that a broad line separated the supplementary list from the list of claimants, and he thought it was reasonable that the distinction between the two should still be maintained. Having mentioned the matter in the absence of his hon. Friend the Member for the County of Dublin, who had placed the Amendment on the Paper, he would— particularly having regard to the state of the House—not trouble the House by taking a division upon the point.


said, the clause dealt only with the prevention of objections, and the law, as provided by the clause, would exactly assimilate the law in Ireland to that which already existed in England. He might explain that the Amendment which he had himself proposed—namely, to insert after the word "voters," the words "not being a list of claimants," was intended to exclude altogether a list that was not officially prepared, but was merely a list of those who thought themselves entitled to the franchise.

Amendment agreed to; words added.

Clause, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 5 (Person objected to only required to give evidence in support of his right so far as ground of objection stated) agreed to.

Clause 6 (Each ground of objection to be treated as a separate objection and costs awarded).


said, be bad always assented to the second reading of this Bill, and in doing so be bad stated what be now wished to repeat, that he had always fully recognized the principle that it was desirable and right to have a full register. That object could be accomplished in two ways—first, by giving all reasonable facilities to persons entitled to be placed upon the register; and, secondly, to give a fair and legitimate scope to all those who had a legal right to serve objections. In Section 6 of the Bill the closing words of the clause were, in his opinion, the commencement of what was practically making it penal for a Member to serve an objection at all. It was quite right to discourage the serving of frivolous objections; but the clause went much further, and after giving power to award costs to the amount of at least 2s. 6d.—which, however, he did not object to—it went on to say— And this, though the name of the person objected to he expunged upon some other ground of objection stated in the same notice of objection. Now, he did not think that if the name of a person was successfully challenged the objector had any right to pay the costs. It was quite right to have challenged the name of the person whom it was sought to place upon the list; but it would almost make it penal if they saddled him with the costs of one objection which failed, although another objection might be successful. Under these circumstances, he thought the Amendment was reasonable which his hon. Friend the Member for the county of Dublin (Mr. Ion Hamilton) had placed on the Paper—namely, in page 2, line 23, after the word "sixpence," to leave out all the words that followed to the end of the clause. He would, therefore, move that Amendment.

Amendment proposed, in page 2, line 23, after "sixpence," to leave out to end of Clause.—(Mr. Gibson.)


said, there were two objections to the substance of this Amendment. In the first place, the clause merely assimilated the law in Ireland to that which already existed in England. That was one good reason; but be bad another. The object of these provisions was to impose a penalty on any person who chose to come forward for the purpose of objecting frivolously to voters whose names bad been placed upon the lists, either the old list or the supplementary list, officially. The clause provided that the objector should be bound to specify to the person against whom he objected what the grounds of his objections were. There were five grounds on which be might object; and upon either of these grounds, if be chose to specify the whole of them, the name of the person objected to might be expunged in the event of the objection being sustained. If the objector simply said, "I object to him on all of these five grounds," and said nothing further, the matter was left just as it was now, and the person whose name was challenged had no opportunity of knowing what the real grounds of the objection was. It was in order to prevent this that the clause said in effect—"You must specify the whole of the grounds, and if you fail on one ground you must pay the expenses of those who come prepared to meet that specific objection. "These, then, were the grounds upon which this provision had been included in the Bill; first of all, because it assimilated the law of Ireland to that of England; and, second, because it prevented frivolous objections and enabled the voter to meet the particular ground assigned for the objection. If the Amendments were adopted, and these words were omitted from the clause, the law would remain in its present unsatisfactory condition. He therefore hoped the Committee would not consent to omit the words.


was surprised at the great anxiety manifested by the hon. and learned Member to assimilate the law of Ireland to that of England. The same desire was certainly not displayed in every respect. Twice in the course of the consideration of the present Bill the hon. and learned Member for Kildare had used as an argument in favour of his Bill that the law of England was so and so, and it was desirable to assimilate the law of Ireland to it. Were they in future to be asked to do that in every respect? He thought not. In this particular instance the hon. and learned Gentleman said—' Anybody can make wholesale objections including the whole of the five grounds of objection in every case, and if he succeeds in substantiating any one of these five grounds then he is not to be held liable for costs." Now, he (Mr. Macartney) could not see how the person objected to would suffer injury if any one point of objection was established against him. He presumed that the same costs of hearing would have been incurred in establishing one point as in establishing all of the five, and the expense of the attendance of witnesses would be just the same. Therefore he really could not understand why a person who succeeded in establishing one point of objection, although he failed in regard to other points, should have to pay the costs. The clause in its present shape would certainly have the effect stated by his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Gibson)'—namely, of fixing a penal sum to be paid by all persons who came forward with objections, and the only result would be that it would retain upon the register the names of a number of persons who were not entitled to be there.


confessed that he should like to know why a person who attempted to disfranchise another should not be subjected to a penalty if he failed. In all legal proceedings the man who set up a claim and failed to establish it was liable to pay the costs of the persons who were put to the expense of meeting the case he preferred, notwithstanding the fact that he might be successful in another part of his case. He could see no reason whatever for establishing a different rule where the claim was to deprive a man of the privilege of the franchise. Whatever argument there was in favour of the rule in the case of an ordinary action at law must apply with ten-fold force when they came to the claim made for the enjoyment of the franchise. He therefore hoped the Committee would support the Bill of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kildare, and reject the Amendment of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin.


took it that the object of the clause was not to discourage legitimate objections, but what the hon. and learned Member for Kildare wanted was to enforce the serving of specific objections, and not of objections which, from their generality, were useless, as giving no information as to what the actual ground of objection really was. His hon. and learned Friend said in effect—"We must know beforehand what is the real ground you rely upon; and let the case stand or fall by that objection." He, therefore, required the objector to specify, in every instance, the precise ground upon which the vote was objected to. The claimant or voter would thus know before he left his home upon what particular ground his vote was assailed, and might be prepared to meet the objection. That course was already adopted in regard to England; and it was based, he believed, upon a recommendation contained in the Report of a Royal Commission appointed for the express purpose of inquiring into the best means of enabling persons to be placed upon the register with facility. His own opinion was that it was more important that facilities should be given to the voter to get upon the list than to the objector to get him off.

Amendment negatived.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 7 (Costs to be awarded not to exceed £5) agreed to.

Clause 8 (Proceedings on objection made to voters on List other than List of Claimants).


said, the clause was one of very considerable importance. It certainly proposed to deal with objections in rather a summary manner. By the principle now established by the earlier clauses of the Bill, the objections were to be specified and fully substantiated under a penalty of paying the costs in the event of any of the objections failing. But Clause 8 went far beyond that. In the marginal note it summarized the clause in this way:—?"Proceeding on objection made to voters on List other than List of Claimants." That was the marginal note, and a very quiet and innocent marginal note it was. But when they read the clause itself they would find that it went much further, and it provided that the objector himself should not be allowed to do anything connected with his objection, unless the Court was satisfied that primâ facie proof had been given on some ground of objection. The words of the clause were— Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in the principal Act contained, where any person whose name is on any List of Voters for a county, city, town, or borough (not being a List of Claimants) is duly objected to by some person other than the Clerk of the Peace, the Clerk of the Union, the Poor Rate Collectors, or the Town Clerk, County Court Judge, the Chairman or Revising Barrister, whether the person objected to does or does not appear before him, shall, before requiring it to to proved that the person so objected to is entitled to have his name inserted in the List of Voters for such county, city, town, or borough, or expunging such name, require primâ facie proof to be given to his satisfaction of some ground of objection against such person, and, for the purpose of determining whether such primâ facie proof is satisfactory, shall examine the Collectors of Poor Rates, Clerk of the Union, or any other person who may be present, touching the truth of the alleged ground of objection, and if such primâ facie proof is not so given to his satisfaction, he shall retain the name of the person objected to in the List of Voters. Surely it was not reasonable thus to compel an objector to give primâ facie proof. It was not in accordance with the usages of the ordinary Courts; and on examining the earlier Bills introduced by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kildare on this subject he could not find such a provision. He had not got the Bill of last year; but he knew that it was quite in accordance with the measure of 1878, which had the high sanction of the lamented Mr. Butt. That Bill was brought in without containing such a clause, and, indeed, the clause had certainly not appcared in any Registration Bill for Ireland which had been introduced during the last four years. It did appear in the present Bill; and he had, therefore, thought it right to call the attention of the Committee to it. He did not think that it was a reasonable clause. The provisions already contained in the Bill were sufficiently strong upon the subject of objection; and he would, therefore, move that the clause bo omitted from the Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be omitted from the Bill."—(Mr. Gibson.)


said, the course proposed by his right hon. and learned Friend was one that he could not possibly assent to. As his right hon. and learned Friend said, this was a very im- portant clause. In his (Mr. Meldon's) opinion it was the backbone of the Bill. He would briefly remind the Committee of what the attempts to legislate upon the point had hitherto been. In 1873 a Bill to enact exactly what the present clause proposed to enact was considered both by the House and, he thought, by two Select Committees, and a measure was passed upon that basis, enacting this very provision-—namely, that the list of voters prepared by officials should be primâ facie evidence of the right of the person to be upon the register, thus throwing the onus of proof that the name was improperly upon the register upon the objector. It was the course adopted in England already, and was considered to be an exceedingly good one. The plan adopted was for the lists to be prepared by the clerks of Unions and the poor rate collectors, and they were the men who had the best knowledge as to the qualifications of the persons who were to be placed on the register. In 1875, the question was fully considered by a Select Committee which sat for a longtime, and he believed that he had the honour of bringing up the Report himself. Their recommendation was substantially embodied in the present clause. In fact, the clause was identically the same as that which was originally included in the Report, and the Report itself was simply thrown out by the casting vote of the Chairman. Seven voted in favour of it and seven against it, and the Colleague of bis right hon. and learned Friend the Member for the University of Dublin gave a casting vote against it. At that time a considerable amount of feeling prevailed in reference to the extension of the franchise. Hon. Members sitting on the other side of the House wanted to restrict the franchise, while those who sat on the Liberal side of the House wished to give it to every person who was fairly entitled to it. Under these circumstances he certainly could not consent to the omission of the present clause. No doubt it had not been included in some of the previous Bills; but that was simply because he knew he had no chance of obtaining its acceptance; and as he could not get a whole loaf he thought it was better to have half a loaf than nothing at all. But, as he said, this was only when he found there was no hope of getting a whole loaf from Parliament, and it was solely upon that ground that he had consented to the excision of the clause. The circumstances were very different now. They had got a liberally-constituted Parliament, and the principle that they should give the franchise to every person who ought to receive it had been so frequently affirmed by the House that he had no fear as to its acceptance. It was only fair and reasonable that the lists which were prepared by regular officials in a correct manner should have greater value than a list of persons who came forward of their own motion to claim a vote. All that the clause said was that the lists so prepared should be primâ facie evidence that the voter was entitled to be on the register. It did not deal with the right to make objections in the slightest degree, and there surely ought to be primâ facie evidence that there was ground for an objection before it was allowed to be entertained. That was the entire purport of the clause, and he hoped the Committee would not consent to expunge it from the Bill.


said, he considered this clause as the most valuable provision in the Bill. In support of the argument of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kildare, he could cite a case which occurred in a town in the North of England, where 12,000 objections were issued by persons whose local habitation or name could not be found. He would not say from which side these 12,000 objections came, because he believed that the system could be resorted to by both sides; but the fact remained that 12,000 objections were issued on the assumption that a large number of those who were objected to would not be able to turn up in the Registration Court in order to support their right to be retained on the register. And that, in the majority of cases, proved to be a correct assumption. When the names were called, a large body of persons— either working men who could not afford to leave their work, or persons who, from the nature of their business, were unable to leave their shops, were prevented either from these or other causes from attending the Court in order to support their right to remain on the list. The names of these voters were accordingly struck out at the instance of this unknown person, and he thought it was high time to put a stop to the practice. It had been stopped in England, and the time had arrived when it ought to be stopped in Ireland. The right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin, in objecting to the clause, seemed to forget the argument which he had just used in regard to the objections of the hon. and learned Member for Kildare to the Amendment it was proposed to insert in the 4th clause. There the right hon. and learned Member said he objected to the words relating to the list of claimants on the ground that, being persons who had already passed the ordeal of selection, and who had been selected by the judicial authorities, they had a, primâ facie right to be upon the list, and that the primâ facie right should be in their favour until proof was given to the contrary. If this was an argument, in that case it ought to be an unanswerable argument now upon Clause 8. Some unknown and even unauthorized person turned up and made an objection to a name being put upon the list which name had in reality been placed upon the list by the person appointed by the law for the express purpose of placing it there. Yet the moment this unauthorized objection was made, the primâ facie right of the voter to the franchise was to fall to the ground; and unless the person objected to turned up in the Registration Court to support his claim, this unknown fictitious objector would succeed in every frivolous objection he made. The evil against which the clause was directed was one of the grossest abuses connected with the Registration Act in Ireland, and it had disfranchised thousands of people, simply because, owing to the inconvenience of attending the Court, or poverty or sickness, the person objected to was prevented appearing personally to establish his case. If he did attend, he knew that he would be obliged to incur unnecessary expense, and solely because the present law obliged him to answer any ground of objection which some unknown objector might prefer.


wished to say a few words before the discussion closed. He trusted that the hon. and learned Member for Kildare, who had charge of the Bill, would not consent to accept the suggestion of the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin, but that he would stand by the Bill. The clause was introduced in the interests of the people generally, and especially of such of them as belonged to the working classes, who were usually so occupied that it was only by incurring a considerable amount of inconvenience and expense they were able to attend the Registration Court when it became necessary to disprove these frivolous objections. It also vitally affected another class, and a very large class—namely, professional men whose valuable time was fully occupied at the time when it became necessary to answer the objections. In many instances a professional man at the time the notices took effect found it impossible to give the time which would be requisite to enable him to prove his right to remain on the list. He himself was acquainted with numerous instances in the county of Dublin, as well as elsewhere in Ireland, where individuals for a succession of years had been kept off the register, although no objection whatever existed against their claim except one of the most frivolous kind that could possibly be urged. His own case was one in point. For many years in the county of Dublin he had never succeeded in having his name placed on the register. Year after year somebody raised a frivolous objection; and as it was impossible for him to go to a distance to defend his right every year in succession he had been struck off the register. He knew that this was the case with a large number of persons besides himself, whom accident or some other circumstance prevented from appearing in the Registration Court; and in this way a large number of persons were annually struck off the register. If there was one thing more than another that had tended to bring the county of Dublin into its present position in regard to the registration, it was this power of making frivolous objections. He hoped the hon. and learned Member for Kildare would insist on retaining the clause as it stood, and that the Committee would see the necessity of supporting him.


said, the presumption as a matter of fact and of common sense was that the officials whose duty it was to put upon the register the names of those who, since the last revision, had become entitled to have the franchise, would only put down those who were really entitled. The poor rate collectors must know very well who ought to go on and who ought not; and, therefore, the presumption was entirely in favour of the names which the authorities inserted. It might be urged that when a claim was first made the person making it should be called upon to substantiate his claim. All, however, that the present clause did was to empower the Revising Barrister to see when an objection was made to a name supplied by the poor rate collectors whether there was anything in the objection or not. There should be adequate provision that the person whose name was upon the supplementary list should, if desired, have his title to be upon the list fairly sifted; and there could be very little doubt that, according to the clause in question, if it was improperly there it would be expunged. This clause would, in his opinion, put an end to a good deal of the present vicious system of enormous expenditure and wholesale objections on the chance of the persons objected to not coming forward to support their claims.

Question put, and negatived.

Clause agreed to.


said, he was anxious to meet the convenience of some hon. Members who wished to propose Amendments in the remaining clauses of the Bill. He would, therefore, move that the Chairman report Progress and ask leave to sit again.

Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.