§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. LEAHY
, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, the Bill would introduce two useful changes in the system of electing Poor Law Guardians in Ireland. In the first place, it proposed that the elections of Poor Law Guardians should be every three years, instead of annually, as at present. This was most desirable, as it was very inconvenient to have an annual election, from the excitement that took place. Besides, the expense of electing these officers would be greatly diminished by allowing them to hold office for three years. In the second place, the Bill proposed to substitute the ballot for the existing method of election by voting papers. He contended that it was, on all hands, acknowledged that the ballot was the better way of taking the sense of the electors, and he could not see why the system should not be applied to elections of Guardians as 925 it was in every Parliamentary and Municipal contest. There were very many serious evils connected with the present system of sending out voting papers to be delivered and collected by the police at the houses of the electors. Without making any insinuations against the police, it was undoubted that in many cases these voting papers were tampered with. If the ballot system was adopted, it would do away with all this irregularity. He did not see that there was anything proposed by this Bill to which anybody could make any serious objection; and he was therefore at a loss to know what the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Lewis), who had put down a Notice in opposition to it, could advance to justify the action he had taken. It was not necessary to make any lengthened observations in support of so simple a measure, and he would therefore merely move its second reading.
§ MR. GRAY
, in seconding the Motion for the second reading, said, that four years ago he had the honour of introducing this Bill. On that occasion, in 1878, there was a tolerably exhaustive discussion on the subject. The Bill was not then read a second time; but it was not met by a direct negative, as was now proposed. By a Motion tantamount to the Previous Question, the House decided that as a Select Committee had been appointed on the Motion of the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hibbert), now Secretary to the English Local Government Board, it would be undesirable to read the Bill a second time. The subject was fully investigated by that Committee, and he had had the honour of being one of its Members. It might be urged that the Committee reported against the introduction of the system of voting by ballot for Poor Law Guardians generally; but any Member who took the trouble to read the entire of the Report, and to examine the evidence given before the Committee, must see that the conclusion arrived at was somewhat inconsequential. The objections to the present system were set forth in full detail in that Report; yet, after stating the various irregularities, the intimidations, the tamperings with voting papers, the delays and confusions which frequently arise under the present system, it said—"We therefore recommend that the system of voting by ballot 926 should not be adopted." The hon. Member for Oldham, who was Chairman of that Committee, would not, he thought, feel any objection to his saying that the Report in its present condition was a somewhat limp document. It acknowledged the weakness of the present system, it rejected the proposition to adopt voting by ballot, but suggested nothing instead. The fact was, the Report, which at first read admirably, was so cut up before adoption that its conclusions were an absurdity. In 1878 he showed, in instancing various abuses, that tenants, especially in the rural districts, were subjected to the grossest intimidation by bailiffs and agents, compelling them to vote for the landlord's candidates. It might be alleged now that things had greatly changed since then, and that the same amount of intimidation was not likely to be practised in future. It might even be shown that intimidation was not confined to the landlords, that it was practised by representatives of popular interests, and by clergymen of various denominations. But he was equally opposed to all intimidation, desiring that every man should be able to vote according to his conscience. It was also shown to the Committee that those who desired to tamper with voting papers followed the policeman from house to house, asking the voters—many of whom were ignorant persons—to allow them to fill up the voting papers, and invalidating them very often by either filling them wrongly or deliberately making some slight error. The manner in which ballot papers were marked was now widely known in Ireland, and many people had an idea that these voting papers should be marked in the same way. He knew a Queen's Counsel in Dublin, who assumed that he ought to mark the voting paper he received for the election of Poor Law Guardians in a manner similar to the way he marked the ballot paper for a Member of Parliament. But this was sufficient to invalidate a voting paper; and anyone who desired to invalidate it, had only to suggest to the elector that he should put a cross opposite to the name of the person he desired to see elected. So rigid were the rules, that if a voter, instead of waiting for the policeman to call, brought the voting-paper to the Returning Officer, the vote was invalidated. If he 927 put it into the post it was invalidated. A most mischievous arrangement under the present system was that the rate-book, as it stood, was taken as the register of the votes in an electoral division. The consequence was that great uncertainty was introduced into the elections, and it was only after the worry and expense of a contest that a candidate could obtain a scrutiny, which generally lasted for days, and might have the effect of reversing the result of the election. He had never heard a suggestion even in favour of retaining this system. He knew some difference of opinion existed with regard to the first proposition in this Bill—namely, triennial elections. He himself supported it, because the only apparently good objection he had ever heard against the substitution of balloting for the present system being that it would involve a large amount of additional expense, extending the period of election from one to three years, would counteract any additional expense that might arise. A proper registry would tend, in his opinion, to reduce expense, because candidates would be able to calculate their chances, and contests would be fewer in number. The second proposition was substantially that the system of voting should be assimilated to that adopted in Municipal and Parliamentary elections. The onus probandi of showing that the ballot would not be applicable to Boards of Guardians lay upon the opponents of the Bill. To accomplish proper secrecy in voting, he proposed that property holders having multiple votes should receive a separate voting paper for each vote; thus a man having six votes would receive six papers. He left the framing of rules for carrying out this system to the Local Government Board. An important aim of the Bill was to secure that every man who wanted to vote should record his vote in person. The present system of proxy voting was an outrageous abuse. A property holder having 18 votes, against the poor man's one, could hand 12 of them over to a nominee, who, as wire-puller in the district, could use them for purely party purposes. A property voter should exercise his own discretion as to the candidate for whom his votes should be recorded. He had heard that a well-known electioneerer in Dublin held nearly 1,000 proxy votes, and that one agent thereby returned most of the 928 Conservative Guardians to the South Dublin Board. The Secretary of the Local Government Board, Mr. Banks, showed the Committee that an enormous number of complaints reached his Board each year of intimidation and undue influence; but, notwithstanding that, the Board did not make any inquiry as to how those votes were obtained. Passing by altogether the allegations of corruption, or intimidation, or other forms of undue influence which, if proved before an Election Petition Judge, would result in the disfranchisement of the constituency, and taking cognizance merely of the inquiry whether the candidate declared elected had received a majority of valid votes, this entire Board was occupied in this investigation six weeks each year. This statement alone was sufficient to prove the desirability of introducing vote by ballot. But that prolonged investigation did not represent all the complaints, because it was only after a local scrutiny had proved unsatisfactory that the matter went before the Local Government Board. In Dublin, for instance, where the Returning Officers were lawyers of experience, that scrutiny occupied a fortnight. Mr. Banks also deposed to the widespread tampering with votes, and to undue influence upon voters, being careful to point out that this was not restricted to Roman Catholic clergymen, but extended to Protestant and Presbyterian, in fact, to clergymen of all denominations throughout Ireland, as well as to bailiffs, rent warners, agents, mobs—he himself (Mr. Gray) had heard of a mob following a policeman from house to house insisting upon the voting papers being delivered up to them to be filled as they wished or to be destroyed. These complaints, Mr. Banks said, were of everyday occurrence. He urged some objections against the substitution of the ballot system; but they were very slight, and, subject to their removal, he favoured the proposed change. One was the expense, which he estimated would be double; but this was met by the triennial election. Mr. Banks further said that it would be a great hardship upon a poor man to have to walk to the polling booth. It would be a greater hardship upon him to be unable to exercise the franchise at the election of a Guardian. The greatest distance which would have to be walked would be three miles 929 and a-half, and no person who knew Ireland would say that that was a very formidable difficulty. Mr. Banks further said that females who would be entitled to vote would be afraid to come to the polling stations. But everyone knew that the system of election by ballot in Ireland was monotonous in the extreme, and that the most timid female need have no apprehension of walking into the polling booth and recording her vote. He further said that it would be hard upon a working man to be taken from his labour to exercise the franchise. No doubt it would; but in as much as an extension of the hours of polling was introduced in England to provide against that difficulty, he saw no reason why a similar plan should not be applied to Ireland. He had very warm hopes that the Bill would receive the support of the Government, and be read a second time at an early hour to-day. He had in contemplation at one time the introduction into the Ballot Act Continuance Bill of a clause extending this principle to the election of Guardians; and if the Bill should, unfortunately, be rejected today he should make an endeavour in that direction. The system which the Bill proposed to introduce had worked so well in connection with the election of Members of Parliament and of Municipalities in Ireland, and the abuses of the existing system were so patent and undisputed, that he hoped they would not be forced to wait much longer for this much-needed reform in Ireland. This question had been so long before the House—for four years it had been brought forward by himself, and previously by the late Sir Colman O'Loghlen—that he really thought it was time to settle it on the basis of the Bill which he now supported. The introduction of the system could do no mischief, while it would do away with a great deal of inconvenience and a great deal of feeling of injustice which existed in connection with the election of Poor Law Guardians. There might have been some kind of reason for the proxy vote, and for the present system of election when it was first introduced. The functions of Boards of Guardians were then solely confined to the administration of the rates for the relief of the poor, and it might have been felt necessary to give the property class a preponderating power by the ex-officio representation, as well as by the enor- 930 mous power of the proxy system. But since that time the functions of Boards of Guardians in Ireland had been greatly enlarged, and it was scarcely going to far to say that at present the relief of the poor was not the most important duty they had to exercise. The entire powers of the Public Health Act of 1878, which were of very great importance, were now vested in the Guardians of the rural districts as the rural sanitary authority. They had the power, for instance, of entering any man's dwelling, of shutting it up if they thought it necessary, or ordering improvements at the expense of individuals; they had the power of burning clothes, of compelling persons to leave their homes and go to hospital; in fact, they had the most despotic powers, not merely over the purses, but over the persons of those within their jurisdiction. It was of the utmost importance that these powers should be fenced round with safeguards, which would inspire a feeling of confidence in the constituencies. The tendency of the time was to increase the powers of Poor Law Guardians, and therefore the necessity became greater for so managing their election as to enable them to command the confidence of their constituents. He asserted, without fear of contradiction, that under the existing system they did not command the confidence of their constituents, and that it was impossible they could do so so long as the present causes of complaint existed.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Leahy.)
§ MR. TOTTENHAM
, in moving, as an Amendment, that the Bill be read a second time on that day six months, said, as he understood the measure, its object was to insure the holding of office by the representatives of the Land League for the period of three years instead of one, and, in districts where that wicked and inhuman organization had no power, to throw the nomination of the Poor Law Guardians into the hands of the Roman Catholic Clergy. The hon. Member for Carlow (Mr. Gray) said he considered voting by the cumulative vote an abuse.
§ MR. TOTTENHAM
said, that being so, he had nothing further to say upon the point. The hon. Member for Car-low also stated that intimidation had been constantly used by bailiffs and agents of landlords, and in some cases by the Roman Catholic Clergy. He said that intimidation on the part of the representatives of the landlords was not likely to be repeated; but he did not say that it was not likely to be repeated on the part of the other intimidators, the Roman Catholic Clergy, whose influence had been used in the most illegitimate manner at Parliamentary and Municipal elections. Looking to the part taken by those gentlemen in the support and in active advocacy of the principles of the Land League, he trusted that the House would hesitate before placing this new weapon in their hands. He moved that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.
§ 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. Tottenham.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. W. M. JOHNSON)
said, that he rose thus early in the debate for the purpose of stating that it was his intention to support the second reading of this Bill. As he understood the Bill, it was a measure intended to correct abuses, and to require all whom the law invested with the right of voting for the Board of Guardians to exercise their right on their individual responsibility. In his opinion, the less the people were led in such matters the better it would be for the general community, and the more they were called upon to act for themselves the better security we should have for good order. It would be better that the voter should walk to the polling booth and record his vote, under any conditions of secrecy that might be imposed, rather than that voting papers should be left by a policeman one day and called for the next. What they had to determine, in the first place, was whether this Bill was necessary, and that depended on whether any abuses existed under the present system which required to be remedied. In reference to this point, he might observe that the Committee which was appointed in 1878 to inquire 932 into the subject, and which was of a cosmopolitan character, comprising hon. Members from both sides of the House who were practically acquainted with the municipal affairs of Ireland, and who were men of great knowledge and of business habits, had reported—That the abuse and inconvenience of the voting paper system as at present carried out were very great; that intimidation, tampering, and forgery of papers were practised, and frequently voters did not receive their papers at all, and in other cases they were invalidated from 'trifling technical errors.'He asked the House whether a system which admitted of these irregularities deserved to be supported? He would not occupy the time of the House by referring, as the hon. Member for Carlow (Mr. Gray) had so moderately and clearly done, to the evidence given by that distinguished official, Mr. Banks, who probably knew more about the working of the Poor Law system than any man in Ireland. One of the principal objections taken by Mr. Banks to the introduction of the ballot was that secrecy could hardly be secured to illiterate persons; but it appeared that Mr. Banks had then altogether overlooked the provisions of the Ballot Act for securing secrecy. When the Committee to which he referred held its sittings the Ballot Act was on its trial, and the system was hardly understood in the different aspects in which it was intended to be applied in the country. But they had now had a long experience of the Ballot Act, and he asked was there any Member of the House prepared to go back to the system of open voting in existence before? ["No, no!"] Then, why should not the system be extended to all cases in which they wished to secure the independence of the voter? He cared not by whom intimidation was practised; it ought to be put a stop to. If it were desirable that the independence of the voter should be secured in the case of a Parliamentary election, it was still more desirable that that independence should be maintained in the case of an election of the Board of Guardians, whose power was exercised at the doors of the voters, who had the control of their roads, and of almost all public matters in their immediate neighbourhood. It was most important, therefore, that the voters should exercise their right of voting free from intimidation and from undue influence, 933 and with a due sense of their responsibility. The hon. Member for Leitrim (Mr. Tottenham) objected to the triennial period, and was afraid Guardians would be elected by the influence of the Land League; but he (the Attorney General for Ireland) wanted to prevent that influence, and therefore he supported the Bill. The object of the Bill was to prevent the election of Guardians by any such influence, and the first step towards that was to make the voters independent. He believed, in addition to the almost unanimous opinion of the Committee of 1878 in favour of triennial election, that it was the general feeling in England that Guardians should hold office for three years; but it was further urged that in all of the public bodies there was a system of election by rotation, so as to prevent all the old members from going out together, and a fresh set coming in who would possess no acquaintance with their duties, and that if this triennial system were adopted with reference to Poor Law elections a new Board, unacquainted with the business it would have to perform, might be elected every third year. That objection was purely theoretical. He did not suppose it ever happened in Ireland that an entire Board of Guardians went out at any election. On the contrary, from their position and influence in the district, most of the Guardians were sure to be re-elected. Assuming that the three years' tenure of office tended to make Guardians independent, he was in favour of that tenure. It would probably be also less expensive than the present system of annual elections. The Bill was framed with extreme moderation, and with great consideration for existing arrangements. As he understood it, it did not propose to interfere with any existing votes, and that all it did was to require the personal exercise of the vote. The franchise was not altered, the votes of property and of occupiers remained the same, while the personal exercise of the vote would be much less embarrassing when it was only to be exercised triennially. It did not lay down hard-and-fast lines, but gave the Local Government Board power to make the election rules. The Local Government Board had come in for some hard knocks in the House; but he must confess he still had confidence in it. He thought there were a few alterations on points of 934 detail which he should be disposed to make in the measure in Committee, and this he reserved the right to himself to do. Believing the Bill did not interfere with any right of property, that it would assist in establishing individual responsibility among the people of Ireland in the exercise of the franchise, and would at the same time secure independence, he should give it his cordial support.
§ MR. PLUNKET
said, he could not take the same view of this proposal as that taken by his right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General for Ireland, and he should feel it his duty, if they went to a division, to support the Amendment of the hon. Member for Leitrim. He would not follow the abstract arguments of the right hon. and learned Gentleman in regard to the question of the ballot. The principle of the Bill under discussion had been rejected by the able Committee which sat to consider the question in 1878. That Committee had been described as a cosmopolitan one. Whatever that term might mean, the Committee was certainly a good one. It thoroughly thrashed out the subject, and very frankly stated in its Report the arguments in favour of the Bill which it had seen fit to reject. The question was considered with reference to England and Scotland, as well as Ireland; but for neither of those countries had any Bill similar to that now under their discussion been brought forward. He should like to know how the owners of property were to have their proper weight in Poor Law elections if this system was carried out? It was quite true that on the last occasion when this subject was brought up he moved the Previous Question, and he did so because a Committee was then sitting, charged with the business of investigating this very matter. The Committee of 1878 was not so much in favour of altering the present system as had been represented. Several witnesses condemned the present system, but others had proved that the system was convenient as affording the greatest facilities for every class. Mr. Banks stated that, in his opinion, the present system of election was the simplest, the most efficacious, and cheapest. The question of election by ballot came prominently before the Committee, and the system was objected to by some witnesses on account of the increased in- 935 convenience it would entail as compared with the present system, by reason of imposing on the voter the necessity of attending to record his vote, and of its unsuitableness to plurality of voting. It was for these reasons, amongst others, that he was opposed to the Bill. The Committee, by a majority, found that it was not desirable to apply the ballot to the election of Poor Law Guardians. The hon. Member for Carlow (Mr. Gray) was in a terrible state of mind about voting by proxy, and before the Committee he formulated a paragraph which he proposed should be introduced into the Report, and which summed up in the most forcible manner what he conceived to be the abuses of the system. The Committee admitted that there were some abuses in connection with it; but they added that in certain cases it was a most valuable mode of recording one's vote, and on a division the hon. Member stood alone—in a minority of 1—in support of his paragraph. The hon. Gentleman who sat behind him (Mr. Tottenham) had raised the point as to what sort of Guardians were likely to be elected if the proposal was agreed to? He did not want to enter into that large question. He very much agreed in what the hon. Gentleman said as to Guardians being elected for three years; but they must not look at the matter as merely for the present, but must look forward a little. As long as there was life there was hope, and he did not yet despair that some time or other, almost hopeless as the case might seem, a better state of things might arise in Ireland. But it was a mere mockery to say that the laws enacted in Parliament had at present any force in Ireland. The objections he had raised were not of a polemical or Party nature at all; they were difficulties which beset the progress of such a proposal as this with regard to England and Scotland. His right hon. and learned Friend opposite entirely supported the Bill. The measure was one of extreme importance, and in his opinion it was one that, if introduced at all, ought to be made a Government measure. Although his right hon. and learned Friend, with a light heart, gave his assent to this proposal with regard to Ireland, he would like to know what Her Majesty's Government, who were always for assimilating the laws of these countries, intended to do with respect 936 to England and Scotland? If his hon. Friend who had moved the Amendment went to a division, he would certainly support him.
§ MR. T. A. DICKSON
said, he was glad that the Government showed no hesitation in supporting the second reading of this Bill. He did not think it possible to adduce a stronger argument for the passing of this measure than the Report of the Select Committee of 1878. They reported, emphatically and distinctly, that all the Irish witnesses examined were in favour of the alteration of the system of voting by ballot. The Irish witnesses who were in favour of the present system were officials; while the non-official witnesses condemned it. He had sat for 12 or 14 years, both as an elected and an ex-officio Guardian, and he had no hesitation in saying that nothing could be more mischievous than the present system of election. A crowd followed the policeman leaving the papers at the houses of the electors, and the unfortunate voter was surrounded by the friends of both candidates; and the fact was that at present, in connection with the election of Poor Law Guardians, there was no such thing as freedom of election. Notwithstanding the evidence of Mr. Banks, it was not possible for a solid or substantial argument to be used against the passing of this Bill; and when Municipal Corporations and Members of Parliament were elected by ballot, what reason could be adduced why Poor Law Guardians should not be elected by the same system? He could quite understand how the hon. Member for Leitrim's political vision was distorted, and why he saw in every Irish measure a Land League scheme. But, speaking as an Ulster Member—and in Ulster they knew nothing of the intimidation of the Land League—he could say that no difference of opinion existed among the Ulster Members as to the desirability of having Poor Law Guardians' elected by ballot. If the hon. Member for Leitrim wanted to get rid of the intimidation of the Land League, the bailiff, or anyone else, he could not do better than give the voter the protection of the ballot. He was glad the Government intended to support the second reading, and after that stage he hoped they would give some facilities for passing the Bill into law.
§ MR. SEXTON
said, that, after the excellent and very reasonable speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland, he thought it unnecessary to prolong the conversation to any extent. It seemed that it was only on Wednesday that he and his Friends could enjoy the luxury of agreement with Her Majesty's Government, and of seeing their arguments not only adopted by the Government, but so well supplemented as they had been to-day. The right hon. and learned Gentleman comprised the object of the Bill in a single sentence, when he said that the object of the Bill was to recognize and protect the freedom and conscience of the individual voters. Moreover, his right hon. and learned Friend embedded in his speech one or two remarks which he would like to see illuminated as political maxims, and hung up in whatever room the Cabinet met to discuss the affairs of Ireland. He had not much fault to find with the observations of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Plunket); but he might say it was a black-letter speech, or a technical plea. The right hon. and learned Gentleman was one of those exceedingly artful speakers who employed the perfection of their artfulness in order to conceal their art. He dealt what was as nearly as his courtly nature would allow a rebuke to the hon. Member for Leitrim for dragging the large question of the Land League into the scope of the second reading of this modest Bill, and then he proceeded to say the laws passed in that House had at present no force in Ireland. It was very singular that that remark was never made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman when the proposal was to pass a restrictive measure for Ireland. They should not forget the fact that 500 or 600 of their countrymen were now in gaol in Ireland, although the right hon. and learned Gentleman said that at present the law had no force in Ireland. The hon. Member for Leitrim (Mr. Tottenham), like the character in Dickens's novel who was always bringing into his conversation the subject of King Charles's head, had dragged the Land League into that discussion. In fact, the hon. Gentleman could not deliver his sentiments for a moment on any imaginable topic with- 938 out referring to that "inhuman and wicked association." The reason of this was not far to seek. The Land League had extended its protection to the tenants whom the hon. Gentleman had evicted and cast out upon the highway, and therefore it was perfectly natural that he should attack the Land League in return whenever he had the opportunity. There was no orator in the House of Commons who made such liberal draughts on the adjectives as that hon. Gentleman; but he might remind him that the adjective taken alone did not make any solid form of argument. It was a curious fact that the only opposition offered to that small and inadequate Bill for the good of Ireland came from the immediate Representatives of the landlord class in that country. It was notorious that the country had been administered solely hitherto in the interest of the landlord class; and when it was said that, according to the objects of the Bill, the representatives of the Land League should be put into the various offices, the meaning was that men who were in sympathy with the electors should hold those offices instead of those mean creatures, the followers of the landlords in Ireland. It was wonderful that any man of the experience and sagacity of the hon. Gentleman should think that, when the citadel of the landlord class in Ireland had been battered down, he could any longer defend the outworks of their stronghold.
§ MR. O'SHEA
said, he had received many communications on that subject from persons on both sides of politics, some of whom thought it would be very advantageous, from a Conservative point of view, if the ballot were adopted at the election of Guardians. Among those communications was the following, which, with the permission of the House, he would read:—Honoured Sir,—There was a deal more rows about the election of Guardians than the election for the county. I was bothered entirely between them, and the ballot would be a grand thing, for a man could say and do what he liked. Mr.—was pressing me one way, and I was not wanting to offend him, and how did I know but what the reduction would be depending upon it. Three shillings in the pound we are expecting, and the boys on the other side going for ruin like mad, and am bound to get a taste of the stick. I gave them the slip to go to the funeral of my cousin and forgot to fill it in the paper at all; but I am very sorry 939 ever since, because if I had voted I would have only had one party against me, and now I have got the two, and them calling me a snake. So I hope your honour will get me the ballot against next year.He would add nothing, but simply support the Bill.
§ MR. WARTON
said, he thought that the Attorney General for Ireland had departed on that occasion from the usual prudence of his Profession by going beyond his brief. The right hon. and learned Gentleman had said that no man objected to vote by ballot at Parliamentary elections, or would wish to return to the former mode of voting. Now, he protested against the doctrine that the ballot in itself was a good thing, and that there was not a man in the House who objected to it. Every honest Member of the Tory Party must admit that a most disgraceful system of voting by ballot now existed. The ballot had been brought in by the Liberal Party professedly to put down corruption; but it had increased corruption, because it had enabled men to take bribes from both sides, and to tell falsehoods. Again, he maintained that the time was inopportune for bringing in a Bill of that kind. It reminded him of the saying about Nero fiddling while Rome was burning. Murder now stalked through Ireland, and the Government looked coldly on, the Prime Minister intimating that he did not know whether he would bring forward any measures to restore peace and the authority of the law, because he did not know whether he could get the clôture passed by the House. He (Mr. Warton) wished to have no more Irish legislation until Ireland was at peace, and the supremacy and authority of the law were asserted. All these questions were comparatively trumpery so long as the Queen's supremacy was not enforced. It was idle for the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) to attempt to ridicule the frequent references made to the Land League in their discussions. The fact was that the Land League was everywhere, and the Government knew it, but did not suppress it as they ought to and could have done if they had used more vigorous measures. The clause which required that everyone should attend in person to vote was a disfranchising clause, because at present votes could be given without personal attend- 940 ance. He was in favour of taking the votes at Parliamentary elections by means of voting papers.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
rose to Order. He wished to know whether it was regular to discuss the clauses of a Bill on a Motion for the Second Reading?
§ MR. SPEAKER
ruled that such a course was irregular, unless the clause so discussed raised some principle of the Bill.
§ MR. WARTON
said, he would bow to the ruling of the Chair, and conclude by expressing his determination to oppose the further progress of this measure by every means in his power.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
said that, as Chairman of a very large Union in Ireland, he wished to give his support to this Bill; and he hoped that the hon. and learned Member who had just spoken would not persevere in his intention to block the Bill, as the Government had adopted its principle. The hon. Member for Leitrim (Mr. Tottenham) had represented his hon. Friend the Member for the County Carlow (Mr. Gray) as having said that the Roman Catholic Clergy interfered much in these elections. Now, what he understood his hon. Friend to say was that the elections were interfered with equally by clergymen of all denominations. In his part of the country the Clergy interfered very little in Poor Law elections. In future he believed that these elections would turn less upon Land League or Catholic questions than upon questions of expenditure, and the ballot would promote the return of Guardians pledged to economy. The objections raised by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Plunket) were exactly the same as those which the Tory Party used at the introduction of the Ballot Bill for Parliamentary elections. At that time the Conservatives, seeing that it was impossible to stand against the feeling in the country and in Parliament in favour of that measure, took the course of raising a number of technical objections. The right hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to think that plural voting could not be worked under this Bill; but it was hard to understand what difficulty could arise in a voter having to fill up a dozen papers instead of one. As to the illiterate voter, he must be got rid of—he must be handed a paper 941 like anyone else, and if he filled it up wrongly he must surfer the loss of his vote; but there would not be one in a hundred who would be so stupid. The ballot for Poor Law elections must be adopted first in either England or Ireland; and it was of ten times more consequence to Ireland, where many Boards of Guardians were like County Municipalities, and the constituencies were mostly small farmers, who felt the want of the ballot. It was natural that the demand should come first from Ireland; and if the Bill were blocked by the hon. and learned Member for Bridport (Mr. Warton)—who, however, might relent in this case when he saw what was the wish of the Irish Members—he trusted that the Government would defeat his obstruction by giving facilities for the progress of the Bill.
§ MR. O'SULLIVAN
said, he was glad that the Government had at last opened their eyes to the expediency of permitting this very much needed Bill to pass through the House. It was a very small Bill, but one very much required in many parts of Ireland, and would simply have the effect of giving freedom of judgment to the men entitled to vote. The existing system was the cause of very great abuses, and he had known voters over and over again to destroy their papers by voting for both candidates when only entitled to vote for one, acting under representations from the agents. He had often heard men say they would be very glad to be rid of the vote altogether in consequence of the intimidation to which it had laid them open. This measure would give freedom of action to the small holders throughout the country, and they were the men who most required it. It did not at all affect property votes, but merely did away with deputies and asked men to vote for themselves. He hoped, therefore, that if any obstruction were offered the Government would give facilities for the passage of the Bill, and bring it to a successful issue this Session.
§ MR. FINDLATER
could not allow the remarks of the hon. Member for Bridport to pass without expressing his opinion that the best mode of making Her Majesty's Government respected in Ireland was by passing good and just laws. He intended to support this Bill in its integrity. When ho first read the Bill he did not approve of the sections 942 which required the personal attendance of voters; but, having heard the able arguments in favour of it put forward by the hon. Member for Carlow, he felt that his first impression was erroneous. The arguments from the Conservative Leaders against the Bill did not possess the slightest weight. The Attorney General for Ireland appeared to have examined the Bill with minuteness and care, and his approval of it did not deserve the description "perfunctory," applied to it by the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin. He could not agree with Members who considered the effect of this Bill would be to enable Roman Catholic clergymen to exercise undue influence. It effect must be quite the contrary. At the last election for the county which he represented, he found a landlord's agent presiding in one of the polling booths, speaking to different voters in the most familiar manner, with the object, no doubt, of influencing their votes. A great many Roman Catholic clergymen were also present; but he did not observe any attempt on their part to interfere with the election. It was a very valuable measure, and would prove most beneficial to Ireland; and he trusted that the dreadful system of blocking would not be employed to defeat it.
§ MR. W. J. CORBET
said, he thought very much credit was due to the hon. Member for Carlow (Mr. Gray) for the manner in which he had presented this Bill. In support of the case made out by the hon. Member, he would mention an instance of proxy voting which occurred a few days ago at the election of Guardians for Rathdrum. A large sheaf of voting papers having been handed in on behalf of Earl Fitzwilliam, a gentleman who attended on the part of the tenant farmers insisted upon seeing them, and found that they did not bear Earl Fitzwilliam's signature, but that they had been signed by some bailiff or under-agent.
§ MR. CALLAN
said, he objected to the 4th clause, which insisted upon the personal attendance of voters. This absolutely took away all right of voting by proxy, which had existed in Ireland since the institution of the Poor Law system, and still existed in England. To take from the beneficial owners of property all right of voting by proxy would result in the election of a worse class of 943 Guardians. He had seen amongst the lowest class of ratepayers' Guardians as great a tendency to "job" as amongst grand jurors. Practically, if this clause passed a person who did not reside in Ireland would not have a vote, although the principle of the Poor Law was not representation of persons, but representation of property. With this reservation he supported the Bill, and hoped the hon. and learned Member for Bridport would not block it on going into Committee.
§ MR. HIBBERT
begged to assure his right hon. and learned Friend opposite (Mr. Plunket), who had made some reference to his absence from the discussion, that he entirely sympathized with the objects of the Bill. When he moved for the appointment of a Committee on this subject in 1878, he included Ireland and Scotland in his Motion, because he thought if it was desirable to consider the law with regard to England, it was equally desirable to consider it as regarded Ireland and Scotland. He had a very strong opinion that when they were considering any question of administration it was desirable to consider it as regarded the Three Countries, and not as it affected one country separately. On that Committee they had the presence of several hon. Members for Ireland, and many witnesses from Ireland were examined, and the evidence of the majority was decidedly in favour of an alteration of the present system. He could not, of course, speak of the necessity of an alteration in Ireland so strongly as he could with regard to the necessity of it in England. He believed that in the large towns of England a strong feeling existed as to the importance of altering the present system of electing Guardians. In Lancashire great excitement very often arose in connection with those elections, because they were made political elections like most other elections in that county; and the abuses were so great and so objectionable, that he had been pressed over and over again by gentlemen representing both sides of politics to push forward as far as possible this question. He did not think that in Lancashire there was any subject upon which a stronger and more unanimous opinion prevailed than the subject of altering the present system of electing Guardians and substituting the 944 ballot for the voting papers now used. He would go further, and say that all elections should be by ballot where it was possible or desirable to have it. He would not confine the ballot mainly to Poor Law Guardians, but would extend it to Local Board and other elections. Therefore, speaking for himself personally and not as a Member of the Government, he entirely sympathized with the Bill, and hoped it would soon become law. With respect to the 4th clause, which necessitated the attendance of the voter at the polling booth, of course there was much to be said on both sides; but that was a matter for discussion in Committee. The great objection to the present proposal when it was brought before the Committee was that of expense; but he thought that had been met by the proposal to make the tenure of office three years instead of one.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 95; Noes 31: Majority 64.—(Div. List, No. 64.)
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for Monday next.