HC Deb 11 June 1880 vol 252 cc1855-63

(Mr. Meldon, Mr. Shaw, Mr. Mitchell Henry, Mr. Findlater, Mr. Dawson.)

COMMITTEE. [Progress 9th June.']

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clauses 9 to 14, inclusive, agreed to.

Clauses 15 (Revision courts to be held at polling stations.)


asked the hon. and learned Member for Kildare not to expunge this clause. Everyone knew that the Revision Courts were most inconvenient. He could not conceive what was the meaning of the franchise if it was not to be carried out in giving facilities to those who required them. He did not think the Committee would refuse to grant to Ireland the same facilities as were granted to England by Act of Parliament.


said, at the present time the Lord Lieutenant in Council had absolute power to create as many additional Courts as he might think fit. But it was well known that under the late Administration it was found in certain parts of Ireland impossible to have the number of Revision Courts increased. A Select Committee had sat to consider the question. They were prepared to admit that the number of Courts ought to be substantially increased; but, notwithstanding that admission, the number had only been increased in one instance. Things had, however, changed; and he was prepared to accept the assurance that a re-consideration of the question of polling districts would take place by the present Government, and on that undertaking he thought he might agree to allow the clause to be expunged.


said, he agreed with the statement of the hon. Member for Carlow that an increase in the number of Revision Courts in Ireland might possibly be necessary in the interest of certain voters. There were, however, places appointed for polling at elections in Ireland which would be a source of the greatest possible difficulty, where it would be impossible for the staff of the Revising Barrister to attend and meet with the accommodation necessary. If the Government were to follow a via media —giving an assurance that inquiries should be made in all the counties interested in this question, with a view proceeding in the direction indicated by the hon. Member for Carlow— it would, he thought, be most desirable. It was, at that time, simply impossible in several places in King's County to hold Revising Courts. If the hon. Member for Carlow were to push his view to the extreme, there would be great inconvenience to persons attending to enforce their claims, as well as to those who attended to judge the cases. As that was not the intention of the hon. Member, a medium course was the proper one, although it was not for him to say what that course should be.


said, he wished to point out that there were in County Cork 22 polling places. The idea of a Revising Barrister travelling to and from those places was a simple impossibility. The voters in the county were perfectly well acquainted with the places for polling. He could not imagine that there was any inequality between the English and Irish law upon this matter, nor could he admit that equality necessarily meant alteration. He begged to move that Progress be reported.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Mr. Solicitor General for Ireland.)


said, it appeared to him, from the observations that had been made by some of the Members of the Committee, that the purport and effect of the clause had not been completely understood. It was true the Judge became bound under its terms to hold Revision Courts in each of the polling districts of the several counties in Ireland. It might be said, too, the presence of the Judge with the staff required for registration purposes would occasion expense and inconvenience. But the answer was that the clause wisely provided that if the Lord Lieutenant considered the holding of any such Courts unnecessary, or that the places appointed for the purpose were inconvenient, he had full power to direct that these Revision Courts should be only held in each county in such places as he considered suitable and convenient. Under the pre- sent law the Lord Lieutenant had power to order the holding of those Revision Courts in such places as he considered necessary. But though well-founded complaints had been made from time to time, as shown in the evidence laid before the Registration Committee, each successive Lord Lieutenant had been unwilling to exercise the powers intrusted to him by statute. It was right, therefore, he should, as proposed by the clause, be compelled to carefully look into the circumstances and claims for registration facilities which might be made on behalf of the voters in each county. Experience had shown it was necessary the Lord Lieutenant and Privy Council should be thus compelled to take the initiative. Under those circumstances, he trusted the Committee would not assent to the omission of the clause.


said, he was sorry to see that the first act of the new Solicitor General for Ireland (Mr. W. M. Johnson) was to make an obstructive Motion to the progress of an Irish measure of assimilation. If there was one principle to which the present Government were pledged it was that of assimilating the Irish and English law. The Bill of the hon. Member for Kildare had been brought forward to redress an admitted inequality in the English and Irish law of registration. Under the old law the County Court Judges were not compelled to hold Revision Courts, except in a certain number of places; it was found that these places were not convenient, and that the number of Courts were far too few for the purpose of affording facilities to those persons entitled by law to obtain the franchise, and the Lord Lieutenant was empowered to direct that extraordinary Revision Sessions should be held. But in practice the Lord Lieutenant did not make these provisions, although his hon. Friend hoped that the present Lord Lieutenant would be better in that re-respect than his Predecessor. Formerly, under the old law, the onus was thrown upon the Lord Lieutenant of providing additional facilities; but it was asked under the present Bill that the onus might be thrown upon the Lord Lieutenant of preventing additional facilities being granted, and he and his hon. Friends could not but consider the request a very reasonable one. He was surprised that the Solicitor General for Ireland had objected to that very reasonable request. If the hon. and learned Gentleman would allow him to correct his statement, he would say that, although he had mentioned the number of polling places in county Cork as amounting to 22, he (Mr. Parnell) had had the very best opportunities for knowing that they numbered 50. He would ask the Solicitor General for Ireland, whether, under all the circumstances of the case, he ought to oppose a clause of this kind? No Notice of objection had been given, and they had not been informed of the reasons of the Government or the Solicitor General for Ireland. He was sure the hon. and learned Gentleman would see, on consideration, that opposition to the clause was unnecessary.


said, that he hoped the Government would withdraw the Motion. If the Government were to consult the Law Officers of the Crown, he had no doubt that they would make up their minds to assimilate the Irish with the English practice. They would not have proposed a change of this kind unless they had been convinced that it could be economically carried out.


said, that at present the onus was thrown upon the Lord Lieutenant of providing additional Revision Courts. The object of the present Bill was to take the onus in that matter from the Lord Lieutenant, and only giving him power, if he pleased, of preventing additional Revision Courts being held. He was prepared to admit that in many places in Ireland it was not necessary to increase the number of Revision Courts; but in others it was absolutely necessary. It was the fact that in the North of Ireland a man might have to travel 18 or 20 miles to get his name placed on the list of voters. To a poor man this meant two days' travelling, frequently over mountains, and was a great hardship. He was referring more particularly to the County Donegal; but it would scarcely be believed that even in the County Dublin men had to travel 8, 9, or 12 miles for the purpose of getting their names placed on the list of voters. For years past a change had been demanded; but up to the present nothing had been done. The power was, by this Bill, placed in the bands of other authorities to provide additional Courts, But the Lord Lieu- tenant was given a right of saying whether such Courts were necessary. He should suggest that the clause should be allowed to pass, and that the Government should in the meantime consider the subject, and if they thought fit could move on Report that the clause should be expunged.


said, that he had not at first thought there was any grievance in this matter, and had deemed it unnecessary to increase the number of Revision Courts. From what had been said, however, there seemed to be a real case for examination; and he should, therefore, wish to have an opportunity of looking into the whole matter. He should ask leave to withdraw his Motion to report Progress, reserving his right to object to the clause if he thought fit upon Report.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 16 (Register to contain post-towns).


said, that the object of the clause was to make provision for each list of voters, containing the names of the post-towns of the individual voters. The reason for that was that, at the present time, the list of voters contained only the names of the persons entitled to vote, and of the district from which their qualifications were derived. There were frequently many places of the same name, and many persons of the same name in the same place, and notices of objection so directed frequently miscarried; the effect of this was that many voters were excluded from the franchise without having received notice of objection. This was proposed to be remedied by this clause, by providing that the official should direct every notice of objection to the voter at his post town. At the same time provision was made that the accidental omission of the official to insert the name of the voter's post-town should not constitute a valid objection to the vote.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 17 (Notices to be posted at churches).


said, he must object to this clause. It no doubt was in accordance with the practice, in respect to the posting of registration notices in England; but it appeared to him it would create a very heavy and most unnecessary charge on local rates. And, having regard to the fact that the Clerk of the Peace had the duty cast on him of having these postings made in the several counties in Ireland, and that he had no proper staff for the purpose, he conceived, unless the dates in the principal Act were changed, the postings could not be carried out within the periods appointed by statute. As to the matter of expense, from statements which had been furnished to him, and which set forth the full particulars, it appeared the extra expenses occasioned by those additional postings required by the present clause, and which would have to be defrayed out of the county rates, would in Armagh amount to in or about £118, in Down to some £274, and in Mayo to about £134. Under the previous clauses of the present Bill every facility was given for the registration of anyone entitled to be on the Voters' List. It was difficult to conceive a case in which anyone entitled to the franchise could be omitted. It must also be borne in mind that the principal Act provided already for postings on each police barrack, and other public notices. Many of these churches and chapels in Ireland are situated in very remote districts, and the greater number without railway communication. This, he need hardly observe, would render the expenses that would have to be incurred, if this clause became law, heavier even than was the the case in England. Serious complaints had been justly made of the successive small increases thus made by this House in the local rates. But if he thought these postings were required to obtain for those entitled the acquisition of their rights he would not object to the expense. However, as he believed the additional expenses which would be occasioned were unnecessary, and could be of no advantage, he trusted the hon. and learned Member for Kildare (Mr. Meldon) would assent to the omission of this clause; and he should certainly, if it was opposed, press the matter to a division.


said, that this clause was drawn on the model of the provisions in force in England. Under the provisions of the present Registration Acts for Ireland, these notices were posted only on the police barracks and in such places as the Grand Jury notices were posted. It should also be recollected that if a large number of notices were required to be posted, as provided by the clause, the present time allowed by the clause would not be sufficient. He did not attach any importance to this clause of the Bill, and had no objection to its being omitted.


said, he did not think that the objection raised by the hon. Member for Kilkenny (Mr. P. Martin) to this clause, on the ground of the expense it would entail, could be sustained. In his opinion, the House could not sanction any expenses for a more worthy object than for giving every facility for people to record their votes. The police barracks in Ireland were not the proper places for publishing information. The police barrack was the very last place where Irishmen would go for anything like information. He thought they ought to have the same publicity given to these matters in Ire-land as in England, and that no obstacle should be thrown in the way of diffusing a knowledge of the contents of the list of voters. It would be better to wipe out the police barracks and have the notices posted at the churches and chapels. In the English Act there was nothing about publishing the notices at the police barracks. He was willing to give up the market places; but anyone that knew Ireland must be aware that churches and chapels were places of greater resort than police barracks.


said, he should like to ask the hon. Member for Kilkenny what county in Ireland contained 1,600 churches and chapels.


said, he would make an humble appeal not to waste their time in such a discussion as this, and would appeal to hon. Gentlemen, now that they had an Irish Parliament for the moment, to show that legislative wisdom for which they obtained celebrity in days gone by.


said, that he thought that such a matter of detail as this might well be left in the hands of the hon. and learned Member who had brought in the Bill.


said, in reply to the hon. Member for Sligo, that in the County Dublin there were 411 places of worship, and the calculation included those as well as the market places and police barracks.


said, that, in his opinion, the notices ought to be posted at the police barracks, and at all other places where Grand Jury notices were posted.


said, that perhaps the proper way to settle this question would be to follow precedent. Everyone must wish to avoid inflicting unnecessary expense upon the ratepayers of Ireland. Every Irishman went to chapel once a-year, and probably a great majority once a week; but very few Irishmen probably went to the police barrack at all during that time. If they wished to publish the information in the lists in the most efficient way, it seemed to him it would be by affixing these notices on the churches and chapels. He should be in favour of adopting a compromise in this matter by striking out the police barracks and market places and leaving the churches and chapels. He did not think that that could be done then, for the Question put from the Chair would probably be that the clause stand part of the Bill.


said, that if the question were that the clause should stand part of the Bill, he should feel it his duty to divide against it.


said, that he was quite willing to omit the clause. The responsibility for inserting it in the Bill rested with him, and he had done so following somewhat slavishly the English practice. He thought he had been led into error in putting the clause into the Bill, and should be willing to withdraw it. He might also mention that the Government, who had lent them every assistance with regard to the Bill, had pressed somewhat strongly that the clause should be omitted. He thought the clause would cause great dissatisfaction if passed.

Motion made, and Question put, "That Clause 17 stand part of the Bill."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 16; Noes 34: Majority 18.—(Div. List. No. 18.)

Clause struck out accordingly.

Clause 18 agreed to.

Schedules agreed to.

Preamble agreed to.

House resumed.

Bill reported, as amended, to be considered upon Monday next.

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