§ Order for Second Beading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Campbell-Bannerman.)
§ MR. PLUNKET
It is not my intention to oppose the second reading of this Bill, so far as it is an attempt to apply the existing Law of Registration in Ireland to the actually qualified voters that will exist under the Franchise Bill; but I must call attention to the fact that Clause 3 of the Bill, which enacts that dispensary relief shall not in future be a disqualification for the franchise, is an entirely foreign element introduced into such a Bill. It has nothing, practically speaking, to do with the Registration Bill. I am not going into the merits of the question at present, or to 394 say how far the clause is an advantage or a disadvantage. I only wish to take note of the circumstance that this Bill is not—as is the English corresponding Bill—a simple attempt to apply the Registration Law, as it stands, to the new circumstances that will arise under the Franchise Bill, and to point out that an effort is made by this Clause 3 to introduce a new principle of qualification and disqualification of voters in Ireland.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
said, he wished to remind the House that the clause was moved twice in the discussion on the Franchise Bill, and that they were then told from the Front Bench that the Registration Bill would be the proper place for its introduction; and on that occasion no objection was offered by the Opposition. It was an absolute necessity that the clause should be introduced here. It was altogether hopeless for Irish Members to attempt to remedy their grievances by a separate Bill, amid all this press of Business, and wars and rumour of wars taking up so much time. This Clause 3 was the most valuable and essential part of the Bill; and without it two-thirds of the new voters would be practically disfranchised. It should be remembered that the greater part of the people of Ireland paid poor rates, and thus they contributed to this very fund which brought them medical relief. Some did not actually pay poor rates, perhaps; but then they paid it in the form of rent to the landlord, the landlord paying the actual rate. This was a system which English rule had encouraged. The dispensary system was a very good system in Ireland. The people had adopted it, and now it would be cruel in the extreme to disfranchise them because they had adopted the method which the Government had recommended to them. He wished to point out the distinction which existed between Ireland and England in this respect. In the latter place the people had doctors of various degrees. They could get their half-crown or five shilling doctor. He believed that every Irish doctor charged 20s. He did not know an exception. Passing away from this clause of the Bill, he would take exception to that clause in the Bill which cast the cost of registration upon the local rate. It was essentially an Imperial 395 question, for it was owing to registration that they came to that House for an Imperial purpose. Though they liked it not, they were told that it was for the general interest of the Empire; and it was necessary for their coming there that there should be registration, and hence this was an Imperial question simply. There might be some argument in favour of throwing the cost upon the local rates if the Local Bodies had any power to keep down cost in this direction. This, however, was not so, for the whole scale was fixed by the Local Government Board, and the Local Bodies had no authority to alter it. All they had to do was simply to raise the money. The present local rates were burdened with half-a-dozen other taxes —such as that with regard to explosives —which were not really local rates at all. He was sure that if the Ministry would give this matter consideration, and take these burdens off the Poor Law altogether, they would confer a great benefit on the people.
§ MR. WARTON
said, he thought that this Bill, in its present shape, would give rise to endless litigation. Instead of leaving the Revising Barrister to state a case, if he was in doubt, the individual voter was to be allowed to go through the whole form of getting a rule nisi and going through the other stages. The 1st clause of the Bill was really a breach of the understanding which had been come to with the House, as it practically made the Franchise Act date back a whole year.
§ MR. LEWIS
said, it seemed to him that this Bill had better have been confined to the question of registration, and not extended to the question of franchise. As he understood, the object of the Bill was to assimilate the law of Ireland with regard to registration with the law of England. As he understood the law of England, the receipt of medical relief was a disqualification for the franchise; yet this Bill proposed to make a different law for Ireland. He would deal with this point further in Committee. He thought it desirable to press on the Government the necessity for securing purity of registration in Ireland, and he would call their attention to what was now going on, and what was likely to go on. At a very recent meeting of the Athy Board of Guar- 396 dians, a proposition was made that the persons to be appointed to make out the new lists of voters under the Franchise Act should be the local secretaries of the National League Branches in every parish in the union. It was pointed out that the ordinary course was to appoint rate collectors, whose public office would be likely to secure independence, or, at any rate, responsibility; and a very reasonable suggestion was made that the extraordinary course of appointing the secretaries of the National League should not be adopted without notice. This moderate idea was, however, scouted by the Guardians, and the Land League secretaries were appointed straight off. Now, if that were the way the extension of the franchise was to be carried out in Ireland, good-bye to the smallest chance of the Loyal Party having any representation in that House at all. The Local Government Board had power in the matter, and he had fixed responsibility on the Government by bringing the matter to their attention. He hoped an Amendment would be introduced in this Bill meeting such an abuse which, if attempted in England, would meet with the severest censure.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. WALKER)
thought the matters which had been brought forward were all subjects for Committee, and he suggested that the hon. Member for Derry City should prepare an Amendment.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for To-morrow.