HC Deb 08 May 1885 vol 298 cc91-102

Amendment proposed, In page 110, line 3, by leaving out lines 3 to 8, both inclusive, and inserting,—

Year and Chapter. Title. Extent of Repeal.
30 and 31 Vic. c. 102 The Representation of the People Act, 1867. Sections thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, and six teen.
33 and 34 Vic. c. 21 An Act to disfranchise the boroughs of Bridgwater and Beverley. Sections two, three, four, and five.
33 and 34 Vic. c. 25 An Act to disfranchise certain voters of the city of Norwich. The whole Act.
33 and 34 Vic. c. 38 An Act to disfranchise the boroughs of Sligo and Cashel. Sections two, three, and four.
33 and 34 Vic. c. 54 An Act to disfranchise certain voters of the city of Dublin. The whole Act.
34 and 35 Vic. c. 77 An Act to disfranchise certain voters for the city of Norwich. The whole Act.
—(Mr. Attorney General.)

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Schedule," put, and negatived.

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."


said, he regretted very much having to occupy the attention of the House on a question raised by this Schedule. He felt it his duty to resist the proposal of the Government to relieve certain voters in the City of Dublin, whose corrupt conduct had been of so disgraceful a character that they were some years ago struck off the Electoral Roll. The proposal of the Government was to put an end to their period of purgatory and make them voters once more. In 1870 a Royal Commission was appointed to inquire into the corrupt practices alleged to exist in the City of Dublin; it was presided over by the late Lord Chancellor, then Mr. Law, and amongst its Members were Mr. O'Connor Morris and other distinguished Queen's Counsel; the Commissioners reported unanimously to the effect that the Freemen of Dublin were about the most corrupt body that ever existed in Ireland. They were disfranchised; and it was proved also that the conduct of Sir Arthur Guinness had been of such a character that he was compelled to vacate his seat, and a fresh election had to be held. At the time referred to it was found that the Freemen of Dublin were, for the most part, gentlemen who resided continually in the workhouse, who were taken out of the workhouse, had a sovereign given to them, spent the sovereign in drink, and went back to the workhouse. These were the persons whom the Government proposed to reinstate. Who had asked for that? No one whatever. The Government had passed the Corrupt and Illegal Practices at Elections Act, in which there were the most stringent provisions against bribery and corruption. The right hon. Gentleman who, in 1870, was in favour of disfranchising the whole body of Freemen in the City of Dublin, now proposed to enfranchise them—men who had been scheduled by name, whose names had been marked with, infamy by a Royal Commission, were now declared worthy of being on the Electoral Roll. He appealed to hon. Gentlemen opposite, in the interest of decency, and in the interest of purity and fair play, not to give their consent to the re-enfranchisement of these gentlemen who, in 1870, Parliament declared to be disfranchised for life. In 1870 the Liberal Party were in favour of disfranchising the whole body of 2,000 voters in the City of Dublin; but now the right hon. Baronet proposed to re-enfranchise the most corrupt section of them—namely, the Freemen of Dublin. He did not want to go into the painful history of Sir Arthur Guinness, whose connection with those persons would, in the minds of men in Ireland, always associate his name with bribery and corruption. He asked the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Plunket) to read the judgment of Mr. Justice Keogh upon that election; and he would ask whether it was not a fact that Mr. Speaker at the time was obliged to state from the Chair that bribery and corruption had extensively prevailed in the City of Dublin, and that Sir Arthur Guinness was declared to have lost his seat? The inquiry in Dublin lasted for weeks; and so extensive was the corruption that prevailed, owing to the money spent by this great brewer, that the name of Freeman in Dublin was now synonymous with pauperism and corruption. He asked the House whether they would allow this amendment of the law to be placed on the Statute Book, and thereby undo the work which the Royal Commission in 1870 solemnly declared ought to be done? They were told that an Act of that House was to be repealed, and that, too, without a single person in Ireland asking for this amendment of the law. He repeated that no one in Ireland had asked for it. These men were to be again taken out of the poor-houses, given a guinea to spend in drink, and then taken back to the poor-house. That was the proposal of Her Majesty's Government, and it was one which he viewed with indignation and horror. He admitted that the proposal of the Government did not affect more than 70 or 80 persons; that a considerable number of the electors of the time, and of this particular body of persons, had passed away; but still he said that Her Majesty's Government were relieving men of the stigma justly east upon them by a Royal Commission, and that they were trying to remove the brand that would rest upon the brow of Sir Arthur Guinness, let his coronet cover it as it might.


said, he did not propose to go into the personal matter with which the hon. and learned Member for Monaghan (Mr. Healy) had dealt in his speech; he had risen to explain why the provision of which the hon. and learned Member complained had been inserted in the Schedule. It would be in the recollection of the House that, as the Corrupt Practices Bill was originally drawn, all those persons returned as guilty of corrupt practices in 1880 were to be disfranchised for life; but when the matter was considered in the Committee a strong and universal opinion was expressed that their disfranchisement should be limited to a period of seven years. That was carried; and at the time it was done the Attorney General pointed out that the result would necessarily be the reconsideration of the case of those persons who had been disfranchised at previous dates. He (the Solicitor General) regretted very much that his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General was not able to be present at that moment to put the matter before the House; but he would point out that there were certain boroughs in England with respect to which the Commissioners reported, and upon those Reports Acts of disfranchisement were passed many years ago. Well, it was quite allowed that it would be extremely unfair that in respect of those who in 1880 were found guilty of corrupt practices the punishment should only be a period of seven years' disfranchisement, whilst those who had already suffered 15 years' disfranchisement were to remain in exactly the same situation for the rest of their lives; it was felt at the time that it was not even-handed justice—that it would be extremely unjust. It followed, then, that they had to consider what should be done in the case of Ireland. In the case of Ireland there had been two similar Disfranchisement Acts; but it was only to one of them that the hon. and learned Member for Monaghan had alluded; the hon. and learned Member took no notice of the Act which dealt with Sligo and Cashel. There had been an Act passed in respect of those places in the same year as the Act relating to Dublin; it dealt with the same class of offences; and it was proposed to deal with the persons who were disfranchised under those Acts in precisely the same way as it was proposed to deal with those persons who were disfranchised under the Acts relating to Sandwich, Bridgwater, and other English boroughs. He believed that the suggestion came from, the Benches below the Gangway opposite that Sligo and Cashel should be dealt with in that way. [Mr. SEXTON: I said so.] Exactly. Why, then, should not Dublin be so dealt with? How could any person deal with this matter in consonance with justice and equity if, having limited the period of disfranchisement in the case of the electors of the English boroughs, he should not do the same with regard to persons guilty of precisely the same acts in Dublin? It seemed to him impossible for the Government to take any other course than they had taken, because if they were to treat this case exceptionally they would not be dealing out even-handed justice. If they dealt with Sligo and Cashel in a particular way they must deal in the same way with Dublin. At the time when the Royal Commission reported there were 93 persons named in the Schedule, and he need not say that that was 15 years ago. Of those 93 persons a great many had since left the place, and passed away by death; and probably the proposal of the Government did not now concern more than 40 or 50 persons at the outside. Finally, he repeated that it would be impossible in any spirit of fairness not to deal with Dublin on grounds similar to those on which they had dealt with Sligo and Cashel; and therefore it appeared to him that the hon. and learned Member for Monaghan had no foundation on which to rest his case.


said, he believed there was a great distinction between the re-enfranchisement of the Freemen of Dublin and the re-enfranchisement of the electors of Sligo and Cashel. The latter had certain qualifications as householders and ratepayers, and as such they had to prove their right to the franchise. That was not the case with the Freemen of Dublin; they had in the past a prescriptive right to vote for Members of Parliament; and they having been disfranchised for grave and criminal excesses, he ventured to say there was not a mere distinction, but the greatest possible difference, between the case of Dublin and the case of Sligo and Cashel. The Government proposal was to set up as voters again men who had forfeited a prescriptive right because they had been convicted as participators in a gross system of corruption, and as personal recipients of bribery—a system than which no grosser was on record as having come before the House of Commons or any of the Judges.


said, he did not wish to add anything to the argument of his hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General, who by his speech, he believed, had entirely convinced the House that there was no reason why they should depart, in the case of the Freemen of Dublin, from the way in which it was proposed in the Bill to deal with other persons who had been disqualified. He asked the House to allow him to make a brief statement in reply to the attack which the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Healy) who introduced this subject had made upon a gentleman who had been for many years a Member of that House, long after all the circumstances stated by the hon. Member were alleged to have occurred; who had been returned without opposition as Member for Dublin City, and who was held in as much respect and honour in Ireland as any gentleman at the present day. The hon. and learned Gentleman who introduced this Amendment had thought fit to make, in most bitter and offensive language, an utterly unfounded attack upon the Gentleman in question in his absence. He did not intend to enter into that kind of controversy with the hon. and learned Gentleman. He would content himself with quoting what the learned Judge, whose opinion and judgment had been appealed to, said on that occasion, and would then ask the House to say what amount of truth and fairness there was in the language now used by the hon. Member. Judge Keogh said— Sir Arthur Guinness was called on the table, and he gave his evidence—a high-minded and honourable gentleman—in a manner creditable to himself, and equally creditable to those who had selected him to succeed his esteemed and respected father. Let me say that there is not a particle of foundation for the most remote shadow of suspicion of any act of bribery having been committed with the personal knowledge of Sir Arthur Guinness; therefore, so far as his personal position and personal character and personal acts are concerned, he is entitled to, and shall have from me, the most unqualified testimony that his hands are clean and his character unaspersed by these proceedings. He (Mr. Plunket) would now leave it to the honour of the House to judge of the justice of the attack which had been made on Lord Ardilaun.


said, that the cases of Sligo and Cashel had been referred to; but the corruption in these places was not to be compared with that which had been discovered in some English constituencies—constituencies which had been proved to be absolute sinks of corruption. Seeing that only a small number of people in Sligo and Cashel had fallen victims to the seductions of the lawyers and others who had gone amongst them for purposes of bribery, and seeing that they had already suffered 14 years' disfranchisement, which was double the amount of punishment proposed to be inflicted upon sinners in England of double the guilt, he thought the disfranchised voters of these places should be included in the measure of amnesty. The English Attorney General had acknowledged the fairness of the claim by acceding to it in the case of English constituencies. With regard to the claims made in this respect by the City of Dublin, he submitted that the voters there were in an entirely different position. The corruption in Dublin was brought about by a body of persons who were imposed upon the electorate as an excrescence, and were the result of a fancy franchise. The persons who possessed this fancy franchise should have been the last to yield to corrupt influences—they should have recognized their position; they should have known that their conduct ought to be exemplary, and should have felt that any evil-doing on their part would be punished with greater severity than offences on the part of any other class of electors. The incidents of the election were at the time so notorious, and were even now so well remembered, that he felt it unnecessary to resort to invective in referring to them. The corruption which took place was vast, and afforded an excellent example of the virtue of the governing classes in dealing with the Irish electors. It was unquestionable that at that election bribery was carried on at the Hole-in-the-Wall with a total absence of concealment, and in a manner which argued for all concerned, but particularly for those who supplied the money, a cynicism and shamelessness which no amount of excuse and explanation could overcome. No language could too strongly condemn the conduct of those who had engaged themselves in the corruption of this poverty-stricken class of men in Dublin. The corruption was so bad that, as a matter of fact, small as was the number of persons scheduled, it would be a good thing to sweep them off the Electoral Roll for ever.


said, there was an enormous difference between the disfranchised electors of Sligo and Cashel and the disfranchised Freemen of Dublin. The former were ratepayers; they were a class of persons who continued to pay their rates, and whose qualification, therefore, remained good. In the case of the Freemen of Dublin, however, their qualification, as had been pointed out, was merely a fancy affair. It had no right whatever to exist; the qualification was a thing in the air; and he contended that even if this charge was not laid against them, or proved against them, the franchise was one that should be now abolished; indeed, which ought to have been abolished long since. These Freemen of Dublin had been a notoriously corrupt body for a long series of years. Corruption was no new thing with them, and the Dublin Election now referred to was an especial case. Corruption was the well-known and established character of this body of men; they were in the market; their votes were always to be had for a consideration, and for a very small consideration too. Their ill-doing simply culminated in this notorious election of Sir Arthur Guinness for the City of Dublin. They then and there, so to speak, filled up the measure of iniquity until it overflowed. Why, it was notorious that some of the men who voted at the election were brought over from England, clothes being provided for them to enable them to make a decent appearance when they arrived in Dublin. Others were brought out of the workhouses; others from the Marshalsea Prison in Dublin; and all, he believed, got this money before they came to vote. In fact, one of the attendants in the prison he had named had had something to do with the bribery. Well, it was proposed to introduce these Freemen into an electoral body which the Government, who were introducing them, hoped would be a pure one. Was that the way the Government would deal with cattle coming from countries in which diseases were known to exist? No; in such a case they would refuse to allow the cattle to be introduced into the country lest they should bring with them diseases which would infect the sound herds. It seemed to him that the Government had no defence at all to make in this matter. He protested against this franchise altogether, no matter whether those who possessed it exercised it purely or otherwise. It was an absurd franchise, and should not be allowed to exist. He protested against its continuance for the sake of a mere handful of men who had proved themselves to be a most corrupt body, not at one election but at every election. So far as they were concerned, the more elections there were the better; if an election came once every twelve months the better for them—the more they would gain by it. It was proposed to bring this rotten lot back into the electorate of Dublin. As a citizen of Dublin he protested against it both in the interests of electoral purity and for the sake of common sense and propriety.


said, it must be recollected that a large number of the persons who had been disqualified at this election had been brought out of the poor-house. The mere fact of their having been in the poor-house should have disqualified them. The Government disqualified one man because he got relief to the extent of a shilling; and yet these men, who made a practice of living on the ratepayers in Dublin, were to be allowed to vote. That should be made a reason for their disqualification.


wished to point out that the Act of 1870, which disfranchised certain voters in the City of Dublin, did not deprive them of the Freeman's franchise, but operated as a personal disfranchising measure, disfranchising certain individuals reported on by the Commissioners. It might be that certain of these persons had since become respectable voters and ratepayers in the City of Dublin. If that were so, they would be entitled to the franchise under the Act of 1870. To keep that Act unrepealed, and to allow the people in Sligo to vote whilst those in Dublin were disqualified, would be an injustice.


thought that the people of Sligo and Cashel and of Dublin should be treated in a different spirit. In the case of Sligo and Cashel, the electors were the victims of lawyers who came down from Dublin, whilst those who had committed the same offence in Dublin had been guilty of the most shameless corruption.


said, that some hon. Members thought that these Dublin electors were disfranchised as Freemen, but could vote as householders. Was it not a fact that the men were disfranchised altogether, so that, however much they might become ratepayers, they could not vote as such? Whilst sympathizing with the spirit of the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Monaghan (Mr. Healy), he was afraid he could not support a perpetual disfranchisement of that kind.


said, that, having been Lord Mayor of Dublin, and having admitted people to the Boll, he was familiar with the point under discussion. He could state that when these Freemen were disfranchised they lost their position as voters altogether. The Freedom franchise could not now be obtained from that House. It was obtained from the City of Dublin and was given at the Court of the Lord Mayor. If people were deprived of the Freedom they could not get it given to them again by the House.


said, he proposed to leave out of the Amendment lines 12 and 13. He had not intended to trouble the House with any reference to Judge Keogh's judgment, nor yet with the elaborate details of the Commission; but as he had been challenged by the right hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Plunket) who represented Trinity College as to Sir Arthur Guinness's conduct, he would read, for the right hon. and learned Gentleman's satisfaction, two or three lines of Judge Keogh's judgment. The learned Judge said Sir Arthur Guinness had not been asked whether he had intimated that there was a limit at which he would stop; he had not been asked whether he had intimated to his agents that they were not to draw upon his purse to any amount. Fortunately for himself and those depending on him, his resources, said the Judge, appeared to be very great. His Lordship had gone on to refer to the cheques signed by Sir Arthur Guinness. It was very well for the right hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Plunket), who was a relative of Sir Arthur Guinness, or Lord Ardilaun as he was now—Lord Cruiskeen Lawn as he was called in Ireland—


I must remind the hon. and learned Member that Members of the other branch of the Legislature must be spoken of with respect in this House. Besides, the conduct of Lord Ardilaun is not now under consideration.


said, he had only quoted the words of the learned Judge, who had said to Sir Arthur Guinness's counsel that it was extraordinary that he had never asked his client's agents what this large amount of money was paid for. He had asked whether they had allowed this money to be taken out of their pockets wholesale without putting questions to these people? He (Mr. Healy) was bound to speak with respect of Members of the Upper House. He was only sorry he was not able to speak as plainly as Judge Keogh had done of the conduct of certain gentlemen he had disqualified. These men were Freemen, and because they were Freemen they were not subjected to disqualification for ordinary relief or workhouse relief. They remained in the workhouse from one end of the year to the other, and the clerk never objected to the retention of their names on the Register of Voters. He hoped the House would not assent to men possessing the franchise whom the Judges of the land had over and over again declared unworthy to possess it.

Amendment proposed to the said proposed Amendment, to leave out lines 12 and 13.—(Mr. Healy.)

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the proposed Amendment."


was under the impression that the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Healy) was wrong in supposing that a Freeman was not disqualified for parochial relief. [Mr. HEALY: Not in Dublin.] Did the hon. and learned Gentleman mean to say that if an objection were made to a Freeman on the ground that he had received parochial relief he would not be struck off the Register? A man might come out of the workhouse and vote if he was on the Register; but that did not affect his right; he ought to be struck off.


said, that as the right hon. Baronet had appealed to him, the House, no doubt, would permit him to say that the Clerk of the Union did not deal with the Freeman Roll at all. The Clerk of the Union only dealt with the Ratepayers Roll, and no one but the Clerk to the Union could object to anybody for getting medical relief. Would the right hon. Baronet support his Amendment to provide that—


understood that Poor Law Relief did disqualify; he was not speaking of medical relief.


asked if the House could restore Freemen?


imagined it could not. The Act did not disqualify men as Freemen, but individually. If, therefore, this Amendment were carried every one of these men, even if they became respectable ratepayers, paying rent and taxes, would be disfranchised.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 58; Noes 28: Majority 30.—(Div. List, No. 176.)


said, that in thanking the House for the long Sitting that night, he wished to say he did not propose to take the third reading of the Bill then. He would put the third reading down as second Order for Monday, when he did not apprehend there would be any opposition.


said, that on the question that the third reading be fixed for Monday, he wished to express his personal sense of the great courtesy and distinguished ability which the right hon. Baronet (Sir Charles W. Dilke) had displayed in conducting the Bill through the House. He would also refer to the services of Mr. Howel Thomas, Secretary of the Boundary Commission, as deserving of the highest praise. He (Mr. Healy) had been bound to criticize the action of the Irish Commissioners; but he could only wish that so painstaking and courteous an official had to deal with the Irish boundaries. As he (Mr. Healy) and his hon. Friends regarded the Bill from first to last as a bad Bill, they would divide against the third reading.

Bill to be read the third time upon Monday next.