HC Deb 22 February 1886 vol 302 cc989-96

Resolutions [19th February] reported.

Resolutions 1 to 12 agreed to.

Resolution 13. £159, Salaries and Expenses of the General Valuation and Boundary Survey of Ireland.


Sir, I rise to call attention to a matter connected with this Resolution, which is of much consequence to the Party to which I have the honour to belong. This Vote is for the payment to be made to the officers of the Ordnance Survey in Ireland in connection with the service of re-arranging the polling districts in Ireland under the recent Acts for the registration of voters and redistribution of seats in Ireland. I have respectfully to protest against the manner in which these officers have discharged the duties assigned to them. I think this House, which devoted its time and labours to this important work, did not intend that the Irish voters should be left in the hands of hostile, or, at any rate, unsympathetic officials in that country, who attach to the franchise such conditions as, under its exercise, are either difficult or inconvenient. I think, Sir, I shall succeed in showing you that that is the course which the officials have taken in this matter. I may, perhaps, briefly mention the Acts under which these charges are incurred. The services for which this charge is made were performed in connection with the Registration of Voters Act passed for Ireland in the last Session of Parliament. It became necessary, having regard to the change in the franchise law made by the Representation of the People Act, to rearrange the polling districts in Ireland so as to place the power of voting within easy reach of the humblest voter who succeeded in getting on the Register; and what I charge is that the officials to whom that duty was confided, instead of discharging it in such a manner as to render the exercise of the franchise an easy thing, devoted their attention, so far as it lay in their power, to make the exercise of the franchise by voters of the under classes in Ireland as difficult and inconvenient as possible. Now, Sir, I have made inquiries of many Members of the Irish Party as to the circumstances under which voters in their districts were compelled to exercise the franchise; and I think the House will be surprised at some of the figures which I will now lay before them. I have learned from my hon. Friends that in some cases voters had to travel a distance of eight or nine miles to exercise the franchise; I have learned that in some cases it was necessary for voters to travel as much as 14 miles for that purpose, and one extreme case has been brought under my notice in which the voters of one division of Donegal had to travel no less than 20 miles; and I wish to draw the attention of the House to the fact that this represents not merely a journey of 20 but 40 miles, for, having had to travel 20 miles from their home, they had afterwards to go 20 miles to get back, a process which involved the necessity of a journey the day before the poll. The House is aware that the elections in Ireland took place in the month of November. It will be in the recollection of hon. Members that the weather during the greater part of the time during which the General Election was going forward was of a very inclement character; and I ask the House to consider the hardship involved in compelling voters, many of whom were old and decrepid, to travel this enormous distance before they could exercise the franchise which this House had given them. I say, respectfully, that the facts which I have brought under the notice of the House are facts which are eminently deserving of its attention. I say that it is not for this House to stand by and see the enactments which Parliament has, after great labour and trouble, passed, rendered practically nugatory by officials who—I will not say designedly, but through carelessness—place these obstacles and embarrassments in the path of voters who desire to exercise the franchise. Sir, I have to complain, in this connection, of two things—first, of the state of the law itself; and, in the second place, I have to complain of the mode in which that law is administered. The Registration Act, under which the polling districts in Ireland are arranged, does not itself enter on any specific enactment on the subject of polling districts. Instead of laying down rules which were to regulate the polling districts in Ireland, it proceeded simply to revive certain enactments contained in the Ballot Act— namely, the Act passed in the year 1873 —and these provisions incorporated in it from the Ballot Act placed the task of re-arranging the polling districts in Ireland in the hands of the county magistrates. I say that if this House were deliberately to set itself to seek for a tribunal more than any other unsatisfactory for the performance of this duty, they could not have better succeeded than in selecting the tribunal which I have mentioned. To-day, I need hardly tell the House that the magistrates of Ireland are not merely not in sympathy with the people, but are, in this very matter of the franchise, in direct enmity and conflict with them. I ask, Sir, what would be thought of an Act of Parliament in England which vested the duty of arranging the machinery of the franchise in the hands of one of the political Parties? I ask what would be thought in this country if the power of fixing the polling districts, or the power of arranging any other machinery connected with the franchise, were vested solely in the hands of the Liberal Party or in these of the Conservative Party? And let me tell the House that such a condition of things by no means represents the state of things in Ireland that is created when a task of this kind is placed in the hands of the Magisterial Bench, for I need hardly say that the degree of strife between English political Parties by no means represents the corresponding relations between the tenant and landlord classes in Ireland; and for the purposes of this Election it was, practically a contest between landlords on the one side and tenants on the other. Yet in this, as in other matters in Ireland, the unfortunate tenant farmers found that the tribunal selected to sit upon and arrange their electoral rights consisted of landlords who were hostile to them from a political and religious, as well as a social, point of view. But I complain not merely of the enactments which were so introduced—I complain not merely that that tribunal was selected for this purpose; but I also complain that in re-enacting the provisions of the Ballot Act this House, for some reasons which it is difficult to understand, left out certain provisions which were in the former Act, and which would have provided a remedy for this very evil. Let me remind the House that the original enactments regulating this matter provided for the power of appeal from the magistrates to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in Council. Well, when the Registration Act was passed no such provision was contained in it. The original enactment in the Ballot Act provided not that there should be one final fixing of the polling arrangements, but that if it should afterwards turn out that these arrangements were imperfect and unsatisfactory, it should be in the power of the Bench of Magistrates, from time to time, to review, alter, amend, and improve the arrangements they had originally made, so as to remove any grievance which might be found to come up in the working of the scheme formulated. I have said that, for some reason which it is difficult to understand, the enactment under which the present arrangements were made omitted these powers, and so prevented any change in the present imperfect conditions of taking the poll in Ireland until this House again interferes by enactment. There is another matter to which I should like to refer. The Registration Act under which this money was spent makes no provision for any interference by the Ordnance Surveyors who take this money and perform these duties—it makes no provision for any functions whatsoever on the part of the Ordnance Surveyors in Ireland. The Registration Act places in the hands of the magistrates this power of fixing the limits of the polling districts, and there is no mention of any plans to be prepared by the Ordnance Survey. And what did the Government do? The Ordnance Office drew up these schemes and sent them down cut and dried to the magistrates, who were only too anxious to have them, and who, in the twinkling of an eye, passed them without the smallest attempt at examination. In fact, the only place in which, as might be expected, the local Bench sought to improve or amend this scheme was the North of Ireland, where, of course, the magistrates were anxious that the utmost facilities should be given to voters to pursue their political persuasion or political views; and the result was that while in the North of Ireland this scheme may, to a large extent, have improved and altered so as to meet the exigencies of the case, in the South it was scamped without, as I have said, the least attempt at improving or amending it. Of course, I am aware that the present Administration are not responsible for the preparation of this scheme. I am aware that it was prepared during the period of Office of the late Government; but I respectfully submit to this House that it devolves upon Parliament to see that the large and beneficent enactment which created such an extraordinary change in the political circumstances of Ireland should not be rendered, to a large extent, nugatory and inoperative by the works of unsympathetic officials, who, of course, have no desire that the franchise should be placed within easy reach of the people. I most respectfully ask some undertaking that whenever the Government take in hand the work of improving the condition of the Registration Laws that this important matter will meet with their attention. I would respectfully ask that they should take this matter into their consideration, and put an end to what I think I may, without exaggeration, describe as the great public scandal involved in the condition of things which makes it necessary for a man to travel, as in one case, 50 miles for the purpose of exercising the important political vote conferred on him by the Franchise Act.


The question which the hon. and learned Gentleman has raised, with considerable clearness, is one worthy of being brought forward at a more timely hour of the evening, and, if the hon. and learned Member will allow me to say so, in some respects on a text which is more strictly appropriate. This Vote is for the purpose of increased field work which was done by the subordinate officers of the Valuation and Boundary Survey in Ireland in surveying the polling districts. In view of the extreme difficulty, in the present state of Parliament, of calling attention to any subject, however important, I am sure I am not inclined to quarrel with any hon. Member for bringing forward a question on any opportunity which may present itself, no matter how slight the connection it may have with the matter before the House. But this is a question of paying money to subordinates for carrying out operations in the direction of which they have no control whatever. It is for purely professional and cadastral work of the Valuation and Boundary Survey. Though the hon. and learned Member is in Order in raising the very great and important question that ha has raised, I am still inclined to think that he would not be justified in putting any difficulty in the way of our obtaining the Report of this Vote. With regard to the main question which the hon. and learned Member has brought before the House, I can assure him that he meets with very great sympathy in other quarters of the House than that on which he sits. Many of us are not at all satisfied with the manner of appointing polling places in England. I will not give my hon. and learned Friend at this moment, and after what I have said, my reasons for objecting to the present system of appointing polling places either in England or Ireland. I think it extremely defective, and not in any sense in the right hands; but, having said that, I will ask the hon. and learned Member not to press his opposition to the Report on the present occasion. The work for which this money has been voted has been done. I have every reason to believe that it was well done by the men whose services are in question at this moment; and to reject this Report would, I think, in no way further the cause which the hon. and learned Gentleman has urged. It would be doing serious injustice to public servants, or to the men who have been engaged in this duty; and I, therefore, earnestly trust that the hon. and learned Member will be satisfied with the protest that he has made. When the registration comes again before the House, I am inclined to think he will find that there are a great many of his Colleagues and a great many other Members in this House extremely anxious to act in the direction in which he desires to go. I think I may say he will find amongst these most anxious to have this matter examined and set right not a few sitting on this Bench.

Resolution agreed to.

Resolutions 14 to 16 agreed to.

Resolution 17. £7,400, Constabulary Force in Ireland.


In regard to this Vote there is an item I intended to raise a question upon the other night, but was not able to do so in consequence of the prolonged discussion which took place upon another matter. I refer to the item for car hire and extra services, occasioned by the visit of the Prince of Wales to Ireland, and the events which occurred at Mallow when His Royal Highness passed through that place—I refer to the encounter between Inspector Carr and a Member of this House. The then hon. Member for Mallow, now the hon. Member for Tyrone (Mr. W. O'Brien); the then hon. Member for Westmeath, now Member for Dublin (Mr. T. Harrington), and the hon. Member for North Cork (Mr. Flynn), were present on this occasion. Well, I wish to remind the House of what occurred. An action was brought by the hon. Gentleman, at that time Member for Westmeath, against Inspector Carr for the part he had taken in the proceedings. The jury disagreed; but the Government did not pay the Inspector's costs. However, within two or three months this gentleman—District Inspector, County Inspector, or whatever he may have been—was transferred, by way of compensation, to a more lucrative post—that is to say, he was put in charge of the police in Belfast, and in possession of a salary larger than he had previously received by about£200 a-year. Now, if anyone asks in this House whether Inspector Carr's costs were paid on that occasion by the Government, the Government will indignantly reply that such was not the case. But what did they do?—and this is the lesson the Irish people have to draw. They repeated their action in the case of Mr. Clifford Lloyd, who, after being snubbed by the Earl of Carnarvon, was sent out to the Mauritius or the Bahamas, where his salary was doubled. In the case of Inspector Carr, as I have said, he was instantly transferred to Belfast, where he received a salary of £200 more than he had been previously receiving. That is the way the Government, instead of leaving the law to do justice between man and man, deals with its police officials. They will not pay a man's costs, but give him a salary of £200 a-year more. I wish to ask the Government whether they can give any information as to why Inspector Carr was promoted, to Belfast? Was it done by the late Government? I believe it was. We have to-night the advantage of the presence of the right hon. Gentleman the late Chief Secretary for Ireland (Sir William Hart Dyke); and we shall, I hope, have some explanation from him of this promotion by bludgeon work.


I have some acquaintance with the circumstances which led to the action to which the hon. and learned Gentleman has referred. I am cognizant of what took place at Mallow; but I am not aware of what subsequently transpired; therefore I am not in a position to afford the hon. and learned Member the information he seeks.


This is a case in which the head of the Police Force in Ireland is responsible for the action taken. What was done in regard to the transference of Inspector Carr was done under his direction. I say frankly that I am not aware of the circumstances of this special case of the removal of a Police Inspector from one place to another. Should it be the pleasure of the hon. and learned Member to put a Question to me on this subject on some future day, I shall be happy to answer it to the best of my ability.

Resolution agreed to.