§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that the measure was a very simple one, and he ventured to hope that it would recommend itself to the common sense of the House. He would not occupy much of their time in discussing the subject, and did not propose going into the details of the Bill, which were necessarily somewhat technical. It had always seemed to him that the object of a Registration Bill ought to be—first, to facilitate the placing on the list of everyone who had a right to be on it; secondly, to do that with the least pos- 785 sible expense and trouble, and, thirdly, to do it in such a way, as far as possible by an Act of that House, as to leave as few loopholes as possible for the ingenuity of lawyers and their agents to defeat the object of the Legislature. The Bill was one drafted on the experience gained at the last Registration Sessions. The details could only be understood by men who had attended the Courts, and had watched the difficulties which arose, owing to the interpretation of the various Acts of Parliament. Therefore, as he had said, he would not trouble the House by a lengthened discussion of the details; but there was one clause to which he must refer, as it, perhaps, might be considered by some hon. Members to be in the nature of a revolutionary one—namely, that the payment of rates should not be necessarily a preliminary for securing the vote. The payment of rates and the exercise of a vote were two separate and distinct things, absolutely apart; and he had always held and believed that the joining of them together was a radical mistake from the outset. The rate collectors should be given every power—and they had ample power—to collect the rates; but what could be the object of joining these two things together, which had no natural connection? In his opinion, the object was—at least it worked that way—to deprive the voter of his vote; and this system of connecting the payment of rates with the object of obtaining the franchise had worked as an obstruction to the payment of the rates. In a district that he took an interest in—Strabane—the Board of Guardians, where the rates notoriously might have been collected as the sitting of the Revision Courts were coming on, carried a motion, granting to the rate collectors a very extended period to collect the rates, with no object but to secure that the rates be not collected in time; for, of course, they would not collect until the last moment, and people would not pay until the last moment. Thus, instead of facilitating the payment of the rates, the existing system had exactly the opposite effect; and it was a public scandal that any part of an Act of Parliament should be used with a view to trick people entitled to the franchise out of their just rights. It had done no good, and had resulted in an enormous amount of legal chicanery. The two things, the payment 786 of rates and the franchise, should be kept separate, and the result would be that the rates would be better collected, instead of being unfavourably affected. He was sure, in conclusion, that the Bill would recommend itself to the favour of the House. He would, therefore, move the second reading, and hoped the House would accept the measure.
§ MR. MAURICE HEALY (Cork)
, in seconding the Motion, said, there were one or two provisions in the Bill which were more or less of a technical character, which he, as one who had had some experience of Registration and Revision Courts, might venture to give an explanation of. The Bill did not lay down any new electoral principle. It did not propose to lay down any fresh extension of the Parliamentary franchise to any new class. Experience had shown that the existing law had failed to remove a number of defects and technicalities, and he would urge that no man should be deprived of the franchise on account of any difficulty in the law. Now, he maintained—and he believed hon. Members in all quarters of the House would agree with him—that the present state of the law was absurd as regarded the period of qualification. The various Reform and Registration Acts provided, and very properly provided, that no mere visitor to a constituency should vote in that constituency. That was a perfectly just and perfectly reasonable condition of things. He would, however, point out that a voter who qualified a week before the revision of July of this year would not be entitled to exercise the franchise for about two years and a-half. He desired to call attention to the fact that, while it was desirable to prevent mere casual visitors to a constituency from voting, the present Act went far beyond what was required in that direction. He therefore thought that the reduction of the period of qualification from 12 months to six months was a most reasonable provision in the Bill. The clause abolishing the necessity for payment of rates had been described as a "revolutionary proposal;" but he believed that he could show that it was not such a revolutionary proposal as it looked. There was already no necessity for the payment of rates by leaseholders or freemen under certain conditions. The Bill, therefore, he contended, so far from being a revolutionary 787 proposal, merely attempted to directly effect what Parliament had been endeavouring to do for the past 10 or 11 years indirectly. Since the Reform Act of 1832, Parliament had always made it a necessary portion of the qualification appertaining to the franchise that the individual should be rated or have paid rates. In 1867 Parliament established a household qualification; but no sooner had that been done than legislation on the subject was speedily seen to be necessary to effect a reform regarding payment of rating, as it was seen that there was a certain class of occupiers who could not be rated. There was also in England a large class of occupiers who could not be rated. There was also a power in England given to overseers to make an arrangement with landlords and tenants, in order that the landlord should be considered the tenant and pay all the rates. This, by making an allowance of from 10 to 15 per cent upon the rates for the facilities afforded for their collection from a wealthy and solvent landlord, put a premium on disfranchisement. Under certain circumstances, under succeeding Acts, lodgers were deemed to be rated, and it was held that rating was not necessary. There was a large class of persons whom it was unjust, unfair, and unreasonable to disfranchise, because they were not liable to pay rates; when for others it was provided, because they paid rates in an indirect manner, that it should not be necessary for them to pay rates. There was also what was known as the "split house" difficulty—a difficulty which was that a claimant for the franchise did not occupy the whole house himself, but occupied a separate dwelling in the house, consisting of a few rooms. By a decision of the Court of Appeal about three years ago some of these persons had the franchise. There were also cases in which the landlord to whom the tenants paid their rents resided in part of the house, and in this case it was contended that the tenants were lodgers, and not householders. In cases of this sort, where tenants paid rents to the landlord for their rooms, it was held by Revising Barristers in England and the Superior Courts that the individuals were entitled to the franchise, notwithstanding the fact that the landlord had resided on the premises. The Bill proposed to amend the law in 788 this and the other respects he had indicated, and he hoped that it would meet with the approval of the House.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Dillon.)
§ MR. LEWIS (Londonderry)
, in moving that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, said, it was another illustration of the bad habit of hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway in not allowing the House to know of the provisions of the Bill until the last possible moment. The Bill appeared on the Order Book four months ago, and yet it was only delivered yesterday. No one reading the title of the Bill would have the slightest idea what it was. It was totally misleading, for it was no more a Registration Bill than the Home Rule Bill was a Registration Bill. It was really a new Reform Bill under the guise of a Registration Bill. He was perfectly astonished to hear the hon. Member speak of the Bill as removing the technical difficulties in the way of registration. The 7th clause, certainly, did deal with registration; but it was already in the Irish Registration Bill of last year. Thus, the only part of the Bill which dealt with registration was unnecessary, and all the rest was a Reform Bill. They were told that it was their duty to assimilate the law between England and Ireland; but this was no attempt to assimilate the law, but to make the law in Ireland dissimilar to that in England. What was this Bill, which really should be in the charge of the Government? There was a small narrowing of the period of occupation. He was not saying whether that was right or wrong. But whatever might be their opinion on that point, it was a vital, not a technical matter. Then there was the question that the non-payment of rates should not be a disqualification in voting, which was also one of the vital principles of the Bill. Why, it was conceded by all Parties that they must hold on to the payment of rates in connection with the duties of citizenship. The hon. Member opposite (Mr. Dillon) said that it was a mean and scandalous system that the persons should be defrauded of their votes because they did not pay their rates, and he (Mr. Lewis) hoped the country would understand that proposition, for there was no justification 789 for the representation that that condition defrauded men of their votes.
§ MR. DILLON
I beg your pardon; what I said was, that it was a public scandal to make use of that provision in order to defraud persons of their votes by postponing the date for the payment of rates for that purpose.
§ MR. DILLON
I beg to ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether that observation is in Order? I repeated accurately what I had said.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Londonderry, I am sure, will accept the disclaimer of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Dillon).
§ MR. LEWIS
I have only repeated what was said in the hearing of the House. [Cries of "Withdraw!"] I decline to withdraw; but I accept the disclaimer of the hon. Member. As regards the Strabane Board of Guardians, I think the majority of the Guardians are Nationalists. [Cries of "No, no!"] Well, whether that is so or not, the collectors should give the voter several weeks' notice, in order that he may be in time to pay his rates and get the franchise.
§ MR. LEWIS
continued to say that the Bill laid down the principle that, for the franchise, no more paying of rates was necessary. Under the Registration Act of 1878, rather by inference than intention, this state of things was arrived at—that a person occupying an unfurnished room at 1s. a-week was to be declared a householder, provided the landlord did not reside on the premises. But this Bill proposed that every person who paid 1s. a-week for an unfurnished room, and paid no rates, was entitled to the franchise, though, under the present law, he would be entitled only if he held unfurnished rooms at not less than £12 a-year. This perpetual nibbling at conditions which were considered necessary safeguards of the franchise was most injurious, and it would be better if hon. Gentlemen told the House at once that 790 they proposed to confer universal suffrage. But with regard to the lodger franchise hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway acted very differently. In Ireland the lodger franchise was mostly a Conservative element, and in the borough which he represented there were 70 or 80 lodger voters, of whom nine or 10 belonged to the Nationalist Party, and the rest to the Conservative. That fact rankled in the breast of hon. Gentlemen. By the present law, if a lodger, whose right to vote had been admitted, wanted to claim in subsequent years, the fact that he held the same lodgings on the same conditions was primâ facie proof of his right. But it was now proposed that, in his case, the mere service of a notice of objection, without stating the grounds upon which the objection rested, was enough to destroy that primâ facie right. Hon. Gentlemen therefore proposed to abolish the law for the protection of the lodger voter. If this Bill met with the sanction of the Government, he thought he was entitled to say that they were utterly regardless of the provisions of their own measure. Those Gentlemen who wanted to do away with technical difficulties proposed actually to create them with regard to the lodger. Did the Government intend to give their imprimatur to a proposal which would virtually destroy the lodger franchise in Ireland, simply because it was a Conservative element? He hoped the House would not be so absurd as to give its sanction to a measure which was practically a new Reform Bill, introduced in the dying hours of this Parliament. If brought in at all, it ought to have been introduced on the responsibility of the Government, and should be applied to the whole country. The Bill had two principles, the one to destroy all the safeguards of the franchise, which seemed to be impediments to the Liberals, and the other to create impediments for those who were not Liberals. He maintained that the Bill ought to be rejected, and he therefore moved that it be read a second time that day six months.
§ COLONEL WARING (Down, N.)
said, that he did not intend to detain the House for any length of time. He only desired to second the Motion for postponing the second reading of the Bill to that day six months, which had been made by his hon. Friend the Member 791 for Londonderry (Mr. Lewis). They had been told by the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) that the Bill was a very simple one. He (Colonel Waring) quite concurred in that description; for, in his opinion, it was in reality a very simple Bill. It was a Bill which might be contained in a single clause, and it ought to be entitled "A Bill to establish Manhood Suffrage in Ireland." That object, which was the real object of the measure, might, however, have been attained in a manner much more simple than that employed in this Bill. The reduction of the period of residence might very well be left to be discussed on the Bill, which he understood on good authority, was in the contemplation of the Government to introduce, and which would not be open to the objection he took to this Bill, and to all similar Bills—namely, that it applied only to Ireland. If it were considered desirable, and for the good of the United Kingdom, that the period of residence to qualify for a vote should be reduced to six months, he saw no reasons why it should not be so reduced in Ireland. But if, on the other hand, it was not considered good to apply such a change to England and Scotland, he saw no reason I to except Ireland from the operation of the existing Registration Act. They were told that the payment of rates was an unreasonable thing to exact. They were also told that there were classes in Ireland who were not rated at all, and in respect to whom rates should not be required to be paid before registration. But, as a matter of fact, these persons were rated in the names of the owners who were on the rate-book; and, although the landlords were called upon to pay the rates, there was no reason why these rates should not be required to be paid like any others. Notices were served upon all landlords that they should supply the necessary information. Therefore, there need not be any disfranchisement because the landlords had not paid the rates in due course, for it must not be forgotten that it was in the power of tenants to pay the rates, although this had been neglected by their landlords. They could pay, and then deduct the rates so paid from their rent. They were told that the so-called privileged classes in Ireland were not obliged to pay rates, but that rates on 792 property must always be paid. The rate collector would always take good care to secure payment of those rates, if there was anything on the property from which immediate payment could be exacted. The 5th clause had been alluded to by the hon. Member in charge of the Bill. Practically, it would make every occupier of a room an occupier of a house, and would also reduce the qualification for lodgers from £10 a-year to 1s. a-week, or nothing at all, or possibly to 1d. But there was another clause which had not been referred to by the Mover or Seconder of the second reading, or by his hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry. That was the 6th clause, which would have the effect of disfranchising large classes of persons who were registered in respect of property on which they did not reside. Suppose that he (Colonel Waring) were registered for an occupation franchise, and not having a property qualification besides, were to leave home, and let his house for four months, then, under the clause, he should lose his vote—["No, no!"] He was bound to take the denial of hon. Members below the Gangway that that was their intention; but he thought most distinctly that it would be the effect of the Bill. As to the question of the alteration of the time when the Register was to come into force, that had been dealt with by the hon. Member for Londonderry. He (Colonel Waring) thought that it should be the shortest period possible, and he did not object to the shortening proposed by the Bill, provided that the law applied equally to all parts of the United Kingdom. He thought, however, that the subject should be dealt with by the Government, and should be done by an act of general application. When the last Reform Bill was under discussion, one great argument for the extension of the franchise in Ireland was that it was desirable to assimilate the franchise in all parts of the United Kingdom. But now they were going to do exactly the reverse by the Bill, which proposed to make different laws for Ireland, and for the rest of the United Kingdom. Entertaining as he did the strongest objection to such a course, he would second the Amendment of the hon. Member for Londonderry that the Bill should 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. Lewis.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE (Chelsea)
said, that the hon. and gallant Gentleman who had just sat down (Colonel Waving) had not added much to the speech of the Mover of the Amendment (Mr. Lewis). He thought the hon. and gallant Member was mistaken as to the probable force of Clause 6; and he was of opinion that that clause, if applied to England, would not be likely to have a large operation. The hon. Member for Londonderry was undoubtedly one of the highest authorities in the House on questions of registration, and had done great service on Committees which had investigated the subject. He was, indeed, the last man who should demand more time for the consideration of a Registration Bill; because he (Sir Charles W. Dilke) thought that, while some hon. Members might have had reason to complain that they had not had time to consider the Bill, the hon. Member would be able, in five minutes, to understand any registration question that might be put before him. The hon. Gentleman considered Clause 7 unnecessary; but it seemed to him (Sir Charles W. Dilke) a valuable clause, inasmuch as the chief thing it did was to get rid of the last six lines of Clause 4 of the Act of 1878. The hon. Gentleman was severe on the Bill and those who proposed it, because he said it was desirable in general to assimilate the laws of England and Ireland. He (Sir Charles W. Dilke) was disposed to agree with the hon. Gentleman that it was desirable to assimilate as far as possible, and he should like to make the Bill apply to England and Scotland, as well as to Ireland. He would support the hon. Gentleman in his opposition to some of the clauses. For instance, he could not concur in the views of hon. Members below the Gangway in regard to Clause 8 dealing with the lodger franchise. The Lodger Clause, so far as England was concerned, was, no doubt, at first very favourable to the Liberal Party, though it had now become more favourable to Conservatives; but, whatever its Party effect, he did not think anyone would desire to throw 794 restrictions in the way of lodger claims, and he should support the hon. Member in his opposition to Clause 8 of the Bill. No doubt there was a danger of manufacturing fraudulent lodger votes. There were cases where a large number of sons living with their father were put on the Register at nominal amounts as rent; and, if those rents were added up, the total would very much exceed the rent of the house in which they were living. But that was a reflection on the Revising Barristers, whose duty it was to prevent this being done, and who had power to very severely cross-examine a lodger when he first claimed the franchise. ["No, no!"]
§ MR. CHANCE (Kilkenny, S.)
Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me to correct him? By a slip in the Act of 1868 it has been held that a lodger, coming up for the first time, can claim his vote by a declaration.
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
said, he could not, of course, speak of the action of Revising Barristers in Ireland; but in England he had attended Revising Courts, and even since the decision to which the hon. Member had just referred he had found that the first claim of lodgers had been very strictly scrutinized. He believed the law as it stood was, if well carried out, sufficient to prevent lodgers getting on the Register improperly; and he thought that, on the whole, it was very well carried out. Clause 9 he considered to be nonsense, and he would be inclined, if anything, to go a great deal further, hoping some day to see a system of registration adopted throughout the Three Kingdoms which would be a self-acting system, and by which a fresh Register would be brought into force much more frequently than once a-year. At the same time, he doubted whether it was a good clause in itself, although, to some extent, it tended in that direction. Having said so much on points in which he agreed with the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lewis), he now came to the clauses which he concurred in, and which enabled him warmly to support the second reading. Clause 3, which shortened the period of qualification by residence, was undoubtedly very important, and he was glad it had not been opposed on its merits by anyone. In London the working classes were in the habit, in a very great number of cases, of frequently leaving their resi- 795 dences; but that was caused very largely by following their work. He thought that there was a growing feeling in the country that the present period of residence, which was dealt with in Clause 3, should, be shortened. The present requirement of one year's residence practically raised the qualification to an average of two years. Moreover, it crowded the Register with dummies—the names of persons who were dead or removed—and that greatly increased the chances of personation and the expenses of elections in finding out the addresses of persons who had removed. On a London Register, for instance, of 10,000 voters, it would be found that about 3,000 had now removed; and, in many cases, there was no possibility of tracing their addresses. Even with a residential qualification of six months, as proposed by the Bill, it would, on the average, be a year and a-half, under the present system of registration, before one could get on the Register. Taking the case of a man who came into a house on 21st January next, that man would not, even under the Bill, get on the Register until 1889, because he would be too late for the Register of 1888. If they were to take a yearly period of registration, in his opinion the actual being in the premises at a particular date before that began ought to be sufficient to qualify. Therefore, in his opinion, six months was even too long a period; but, in order to meet the approval of the House, he would suggest that a single term of three months should be sufficient. They would then get an average of a year and three months, instead of, as at present, an average of two years. As to the clause relating to the payment of rates—Clause 4—the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Lewis) spoke of the payment of rates as a vital principle; but it would be found, as a matter of fact, that no one in the very poorest quarters of the great towns was disfranchised for the non payment of rates, for the occupiers of tenements cases got the franchise independently of that——
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
said, he admitted that; but the rate had no connection with their rent. The landlord got their rents out of them, whether he paid their rates or not. Therefore the people who were disfranchised were 796 disfranchised by no fault of their own, I but by the neglect of their landlord to pay their rates. The tenant simply paid so much a-year rent and took no account of rates. He agreed with the author of the Bill that the payment of rates had no real connection with the actual exercise of the franchise. The theory that the one was indispensable to the other was substantially destroyed years ago when the compound householder was created by the Rating Act of 1869, and there only remained a constructive connection. To his mind, it was a question whether they ought not to go much further in the direction of Clause 5, as he doubted very much whether there was any ground for maintaining the distinction the law now made between the lodger franchise and the household franchise; and if it was possible to get rid of that distinction they ought to do so, for it had proved to be enormously costly, both in the preparation of the Register and at elections, and both to the candidates and the authorities of the place, by the preparation of the two lists of lodgers and householders. The distinction caused many hardships, besides involving the keeping of two Registers, and he would be glad to get rid of it altogether. The clause in the Bill was a step in that direction, and was, therefore, entitled to support. The hon. Member for Londonderry would therefore see that he (Sir Charles W. Dilke) was in agreement with him on two of the clauses; but, on the main clause, he was opposed, to him. It was most desirable that the House should agree to the second reading, in order that in Committee they should consider whether they could not improve it; and it was a matter deserving of every consideration whether the provisions of the Bill should not apply to England. They would be fortified in that point of view by the acceptance of the Bill before the House.
§ MR. CROMPTON (Staffordshire, Leek)
, in supporting the Bill, said, he felt bound to congratulate the hon. Member (Mr. Dillon) upon having introduced a Bill which he (Mr. Crompton) looked upon as one of the most valuable yet brought forward, not only as regarded the provisions of the Bill itself, but as having elicited the speech which had just been made by the right hon. Baronet (Sir Charles W. Dilke) in favour of 797 carrying some of the clauses not only for Ireland, but also for this country. He had been delighted to see the way in which the legislation they desired for Ireland was conducted by the Irish Members, He thought if they were to take their action in regard to this measure as a sample of what would happen during the whole of a Session, it must be regarded as promising well for the legislation they would see when the Irish people carried on their legislative functions in their own country, as, no doubt, they would before long. And there could be equally no doubt that they were in advance of English Members in all these social matters, which they seemed to have studied so carefully and well. With regard to the objections raised, the hon. Member (Mr. Lewis) asked whether the House wanted a Reform Bill every year, and argued that it was not wise to have a great Reform measure settled by a Parliament and then have a new one introduced every succeeding Session. But there was no point or force in the argument based on that consideration; and the only answer he (Mr. Crompton) had to give was that the Reform Bill of a year and a-half ago was one that had been carried through by the agreement between the two Front Benches, the rest of the House having practically nothing to do with it. It seemed to him that that measure could only be regarded as a mere instalment of the Reform which most hon. Members desired to see brought about in the course of a few years. The present Bill seemed to him to go far in the direction of establishing some of the important points to which he thought attention ought to be directed. It was, in the first place, a great step, for instance, in the direction of residential manhood suffrage. In the next place, it would get rid of the absurdity of the present system, under which a voter was not entitled to be put on the Register till the rates were paid; and, in the third place, it went very far towards doing away with the distinction at present made between lodgers and tenants. With regard to the question of payment of rates, he had always thought that when the compound householder point was settled, after the 1867 Reform Act, it really put an end to the system that had prevailed up to then, and since then they had got the service franchise, which was not dependent on the payment of rates at all; so that 798 when it was seen that whether a man had a vote or not did not depend on whether he paid the rates, or someone else paid them for him, it would seem to be high time to put an end to a system such as that with which this measure proposed to deal. As to the question of the distinction made between lodgers and householders, he need add very little to what had been said by the right hon. Baronet who had just spoken. It was monstrous that a man should be considered to be a householder if he occupied a room in a house in which his landlord did not reside, and that he should be held to be simply a lodger if the landlord lived in some other part of the house. Moreover, he never could understand why there should be a limit of £10 in the lodger franchise. Practically speaking, the £10 limitation reduced the lodger franchise almost to a farce. The statistics as to the number of lodgers before the late Reform Bill showed that the number put upon the franchise was something over 20,000 lodgers for the whole of England and Wales; and of that number something like 15,000 were in London; so that throughout the rest of England and Wales there were not more than 6,000 or 7,000 lodgers on the Register. It certainly seemed a farce to; give a franchise of that kind when it was found that so few persons were willing to take advantage of it. He approved of the clause in the Bill dealing with the lodger franchise, and that was one of the grounds on which he should give his I vote for the measure. With regard to the 8th section of the Bill, he thought there might be some penalty introduced in case of objections that ought not to be made, and as to the 9th section he did not see much force in the objection that had been made to it. They knew that the Municipal Register commenced on the 1st of November, and the Parliamentary Register on the 1st of January, and he did not see that there was any reason why the Parliamentary Register should not commence at the earlier period. On the grounds he had stated he had great pleasure in supporting the second reading of the Bill.
§ MR. KIMBER (Wandsworth)
, in opposing the Bill, said, they were told by hon. Members from Ireland that they desired to have laws which would place their country on an equal footing with England and the rest of the United Kingdom. He did not at all complain 799 that the Bill should emanate from the Irish Benches—he thought that laws relating to Irish affairs might reasonably emanate from a Grand Committee of the Irish Members themselves. In providing for the representation of the people especial care should be taken that the laws should be based on equality. He quite agreed with the statement that the present law was household suffrage regulated by the payment of rates and rents. But what was the effect of the Bill? It would effect a radical alteration in the representation in Ireland, for it really proposed to establish "manhood suffrage," and should more correctly be called a Manhood Suffrage Bill. It destroyed household suffrage, and evaded the principle of representation and taxation going together. Another objection to the Bill was that it would put the representation of Ireland on a different basis from that of England and Scotland. If it were accepted, English Members would be elected to Parliament upon an entirely different qualification to that of the Irish Members. He was disposed to agree that the period of residence might be shortened; but, if so, this should be extended to England. If the Bill were good for Ireland it would be equally good for the rest of the country; and, in his opinion, the subject ought to be dealt with by the Government in a general measure applicable to the whole of the United Kingdom. It was for Parliament to consider, first, whether the principle of the Bill was a right one to carry out for the whole of the United Kingdom.
§ MR. T. H. BOLTON (St. Pancras, N.)
, in supporting the Bill, said, he hoped it might be possible, when the House got into Committee, so to extend its machinery as to provide for a complete and efficient system of registration. He quite agreed with the right hon. Baronet (Sir Charles W. Dilke) that it was unnecessary to maintain the distinction between lodgers and householders. The 8th clause of the Bill, as it stood, would have a disfranchising effect with regard to the occupants of furnished lodgings, and would give them a great deal of unnecessary trouble. A slight alteration of the clause relating to household franchise would make it applicable to lodgers also, and there would then be no necessity for special legislation for lodgers. He would sug- 800 gest that the Register, when it had been settled, should be final. Anything in the nature of the investigation that took place in the case of the Stepney Election was a scandal to the Election Law of the country. He cordially agreed with the suggestion that the Bill should be made applicable to England, and he hoped that the Government would take the matter in hand and enlarge the scope of the measure. In his opinion the Revising Barristers could settle the voters' list in September; it could be printed in October, and come into operation in November.
§ MR. SMALL (Down, S.)
said, he thought that the Irish Party ought to feel complimented at the almost general desire of the House to have their Bill extended to England and Scotland. The clause relating to the lodger franchise had met with some opposition; but as one who had been engaged in the actual work of registration in Ireland, he could state that, under the present state of the law with regard to the admission of lodgers, many thousands were put on the Register who had no claim to the franchise. In the city of Londonderry the majority in favour of the sitting Member at the General Election was only 27, while there were no less than 75 to 80 Conservative lodgers on the Register. Therefore, if the law on the lodger franchise had been strictly administered in the way advocated by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles W. Dilke), the hon. Gentleman who had moved the rejection of the Bill (Mr. Lewis) would not now be representing Londonderry; but the Representative of that City would be sitting among his (Mr. Small's) hon. Friends. As the law now stood, if a man made a declaration as a lodger it was taken as primâ facie evidence, and he was not called upon to give evidence in the witness-box, even if his vote were objected to, until the objectors had given some evidence. The Bill, however, made it necessary for him to come forward and give positive evidence on oath before his vote was primâ facie admitted. If the House would not accept the clause, some further safeguards were required against the admission of unqualified lodgers. Hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway who had opposed the Bill were without experience of the Irish Registration Courts, and he trusted that 801 English and Scotch Members would be convinced by the statements of his hon. Friends.
MR. SHIRESS WILL&c.) (Montrose,
said, that the discussion showed that the principles raised by the Bill commended themselves to the Representatives of other parts of the United Kingdom beyond Ireland. The objection to the Bill, on which the greatest force was laid, was that this measure could not be extended to the United Kingdom; but they might make their minds quite easy upon that score, because, if the Bill passed its second reading, whether it be competent to extend its provisions to the United Kingdom in Committee or not, they knew enough now of the advantages of the principles embraced in the Bill to be certain that a very short time would be taken to make them law through the United Kingdom. As to the Residence Clause, he thought it would be found that there was really no reason why the limit of residence should be six months rather than three or two months. If they took the case of that class of voters who were obliged to change their residence, not from wantonness, but because of necessity, it was monstrous that they should be disfranchised. He was disposed to go even further than the Bill; and he thought that, ultimately, it would have to be this—that, for instance, if a man qualified as a voter in Division A should be obliged to change his residence to Division B, he should be able to carry with him a certificate which would entitle him to be put on the Register, as a matter of course, in Division B. He should be entitled to take his citizenship and his qualification with him, just as he took his personal character and personal effects. The second great principle of the Bill was to destroy the false connection between the franchise and the payment of rates. He knew it had been said that the intention of that connection was to deprive a man of his vote if unable to pay his rates. He, however, believed the real reason was that the payment of rates was to be a sort of evidence of good citizenship. If that ground were examined, however, he did not think it could stand, because it might with equal justice be said that a man should have paid his Dog Tax and his Income Tax before being put on the Register. With regard to the lodger, 802 if they displaced his primâ facie right when he claimed to be put on the Register, they compelled him to lose a day's work in order to establish it, and on that account he thought the clause in question ought not to be pressed. This measure was full of good principles, and he hoped the House would give it a second reading.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. JOHN MORLEY) (Newcastle-on-Tyne)
said, they spent their Wednesday afternoons in that House in a manner which had a most agreeable uniformity. They always had an Irish debate upon some measure or other, and the rule seemed to be this—they generally agreed, in the first place, that the principle of the Bill was good; in the second place, that the Bill needed some alteration in detail; in the third place, that it ought to be applied to England; and, in the fourth place, that it ought to be read a second time. He thought they were about to follow the usual Wednesday rule on that occasion, for there had been no variation, and there had been no opinion expressed that it would be contrary to propriety to extend the principle of the Bill to Great Britain. Indeed, one of the arguments against the Bill was that it did not apply to Great Britain, and the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Lewis) and the hon. and gallant Member for North Down (Colonel Waring) both said they objected to any legislation which affected Ireland only. Well, he saw no objection to extending the principle of the Bill to Great Britain. There was, however, this to be said—that in the present position of the mind of the Government as to registration generally, his right hon. Friend sitting near him (Mr. Stansfeld) did intend, if circumstances permitted, to bring in a Registration Bill which should deal with the whole of the United Kingdom. Therefore, in all that he (Mr. John Morley) said on the present Bill, he must be understood to reserve his opinion as to the expediency of passing a Bill relating to Ireland alone, and rather to point to the wish of the Government to deal with the question as a whole, and to deal with it as promptly as circumstances would allow. Whether they would be permitted to deal with it rapidly enough to affect an Election that might take place next year, he did not know, and 803 the introduction of such a Bill might be in the dim and distant future. The discussion had turned principally on Clauses 4 and 8. Some remarks of considerable importance had also been made on Clauses 2 and 3, which affected the question of residence for qualification. The hon. Member for Wandsworth (Mr. Kimber) denied the hardship of the present residential requirement; but he (Mr. John Morley) agreed with his right hon. Friend (Sir Charles W. Dilke) that considerable hardship might and did arise. It was incontrovertible that, under the present system, a man might go into occupation of premises on the 21st of January, 1887; he would not have completed his six months' occupation on the 20th July; and that being the case, he could not be on the Register for 1888, and, therefore, would have no power to exercise his vote until 1st January, 1889. The hon. Member for Wandsworth had objected to that statement; but, as he (Mr. John Morley) had said, it was perfectly incontrovertible. It was quite obvious that it might happen, and did happen, as they all knew, for there was not the six months' previous occupation that the law required. He agreed with the right hon. Baronet that that was a very undesirable and indefensible state of the law. There had been a very general agreement that six months, irrespective of the date of commencement, as proposed in the 3rd clause, would be a very fair and reasonable period for giving a man a qualification. On the 8th clause, affecting the lodger vote, he shared entirely the view of his right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea. It seemed to him to be a very doubtful and retrograde step to cast on a lodger, when an objection was made to his name, the onus and obligation of establishing his claim, and to relieve the objector of all liability whatever from specifying the particular ground of his objection. What would then happen, he supposed, would be this—the agents of the two Parties would serve notices of objection wholesale to all lodger claimants, and that would throw upon them a very heavy burden indeed. As had been remarked by his hon. Friend the Member for Montrose (Mr. Shiress Will), the lodger who sought to establish his claim would have to do so by losing a day's work. He had not heard from any hon. 804 Gentleman how far this lodger question affected Ireland—whether or not there was a great area over which it operated. In Great Britain, however, the lodger question was almost exclusively a London question. In his own constituency they had 31,000 voters on the Register, and he believed at the last General Election, there were only 78 of them lodger voters. He believed that the same statistics applied in the rest of the large Provincial towns in England. Although it might not be the case in Ireland, that was not a reason why they should assent to what could not but be regarded as a disfranchising clause. The proposition of the 4th clause was the proposition around which the most strenuous part of the debate had turned. That clause related to the payment of rates, and the question was whether the payment of rates should continue to be the condition of the exercise of the franchise on the present terms. Upon that point he was not prepared to anticipate the President of the Local Government Board, and say that the spirit of that clause would be incorporated in the measure that he would bring before the House. The hon. Member for Londonderry was certainly not so very far wrong when he described the Bill containing this clause as, in some degree, being not so much a Registration Bill as a Franchise Bill; but it was much less a Franchise Bill than might, from the mere statements and terms of the clause, appear to be the case. Under the existing law, a man occupying a house, to be entitled to exercise the franchise, must not only be rated to the poor, but must have paid all rates due from him before January 5th. But what was the value of those requirements? It was found, after the passing of the Act of 1867, that the rating requirements were absolutely unworkable, and Parliament had consequently to pass an amending Act. The result of the Registration Act of 1869 and of the Franchise Act of 1884 was, that it was enough, if someone were rated; and, whether anyone was rated or not, the occupier was to have the franchise. These provisions were framed with a view to cover householders; but they applied also to servants occupying their master's premises. If an occupier paid his rent, including the rates, in one sum, he ought not to be disqualified, as he was under the existing law, because his 805 landlord had not done what he ought to have done. Not only that, but the farmer, who from neglect or from other motives, failed to pay the rates in time, might disfranchise all the labourers who occupied cottages on his farm. That was a very great grievance and injustice, and would amount to a fraud on the intention of the Act. With respect to the remaining clauses, there were many points that could be considered in Committee. The 5th clause seemed to put the occupiers of unfurnished rooms on the footing of tenants, instead of lodgers. Of course, a man, by becoming a tenant instead of a lodger, avoided the necessity of mailing an annual claim; he was not bound by the £10 valuation, and the period of qualification was shortened to six months. That clause, he must say, had very little to object to in it. The 6th clause touched a point not yet discussed as regarded England—that where there was household qualification, there would be a compulsory one to adopt. He thought that the hon. Member for Londonderry had, if he (Mr. John Morley) understood him rightly, made a point, when he referred to the case of a landlord, who was also an occupier, losing his franchise as an occupier. Was the landlord, in that case, to lose his right to exercise the franchise as an owner?
§ MR. T. C. HARRINGTON (Dublin Harbour)
said, that the Bill only applied in cases where the two qualifications were co-existent. The owner, in that case, would have to elect which qualification he would select.
§ MR. JOHN MORLEY
said, he could not understand how, in that case, by what automatic system it happened that if his qualification as occupier ceased, his qualification of owner gave him a right to vote. The 7th clause dealt with the point of registration, and was one that could be best considered in Committee. He regretted that the Bill, while professing to open up so large and important a subject, did not cover the whole ground in a direction in which those who were favourable to the measure were anxious to move. The point of successive occupation, for instance, was one of importance. It had been raised by the hon. Member (Mr. Lewis), but the point was not put high enough. There were difficulties in the way of continuous registration, as regarded the way in which to carry it out, inasmuch as the 806 list required time to print, and could only be issued once a year, and, consequently, great hardships were inflicted. It might, however, be considered whether they could not have supplemental lists issued, perhaps once a quarter, which should contain the names of all those who had died and those who had become entitled to be inserted on the Register. He should, also, not have been sorry to see the Municipal Franchise system combined with that of the Registration of Parliamentary Electors. He thought it would be found a convenience to have the same system of registration of electors for all purposes. The position of the Government towards the Bill was this—whilst, as he had shown, they emphatically dissented from more than one of the provisions of the Bill, whilst they thought that other provisions were of greater importance than could be dealt with on a Wednesday afternoon, and of too great importance to be dealt with in an isolated measure of this kind, yet they believed that it contained such useful and efficient proposals for remedying undeniable evils, that the Government would assent to, and support, the second reading of the Bill.
§ SIR JOHN GORST (Chatham)
said, he had listened to the extraordinary announcement which had just been made with some surprise. He had, most emphatically, to complain of the manner in which the Bill before the House had been introduced. He wished to remind the House that that question of registration was one of the points which had been put before the country by the Prime Minister in his authorized Election programme—it was also one of those few subjects which, at the last General Election, was put before the country as a subject the Liberal Party, if returned to power, was really in earnest in desiring to see carried. Considering that circumstance, he thought it was somewhat remarkable, in dealing with the subject, that for the greater part of the afternoon the general supporters of Her Majesty's Government were conspicuous by their absence. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary had sat alone on the Government Bench for the greater part of the time; and the right hon. Gentleman who was now by his side (Mr. Stansfeld), while present, did not join in the discussion. This, how- 807 ever, was not a Registration Bill; it was very much more like a new Franchise Bill which was being discussed before a thin House on a Wednesday afternoon. It was also extraordinary that the House should be asked to embark upon the consideration of a Bill of that character without the slightest assistance or guidance from the Government. If there were an independent Assembly in Dublin, he doubted greatly whether hon. Members below the Gangway would think of submitting to it so extremely vague and ill-considered a measure as that now before the House. Although the Bill had been introduced early in January, and although since then there had been ample time for the consideration and alteration of clauses, and for the Government to lay their proposals before the House, this Bill was only circulated amongst hon. Members the previous day. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles W. Dilke) said that the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Lewis) was perfectly capable of understanding a Registration Bill after five minutes' perusal. Well, there were many other hon. Members who could not do so, and he held that more time ought to be given before a decision was come to. It should have been circulated throughout the country, so that the constituencies and officers concerned in the registration should be able to examine and express an opinion upon it. He objected to the extraordinary manner in which the Bill had been introduced by a private Member, who proposed that it should be applied to Ireland, while the right hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea had announced that he, and the Government also, apparently, were quite willing to extend the application of this Bill to England.
§ SIR JOHN GORST
said, that the case stood thus. A Bill for Ireland was brought in by a private Member. The Government then put up a confederate to say that the Bill might with advantage be extended to England.
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
said, he took exception to the suggestion of the hon. and learned Gentleman with regard to him. He had had no communication whatever with the Government on the subject.
§ SIR JOHN GORST
said, he would retract the suggestion that there had been any common action between the right hon. Baronet and the Government, or that he had been in any way their confederate. He hoped, however, he would be pardoned for saying that his close proximity to the Chief Secretary for Ireland in so small a House would necessarily attract attention, especially when it was seen by everyone—in fact, no one could help noticing it—that they had conversed together a great deal. He thought it was certainly premature that the House should be called upon to read a second time this unconsidered and ill-digested measure. Almost every clause of it might form the subject of debate by the House. As to form and construction, he regarded the Bill as one containing a number of abstract resolutions or propositions—some relating to the franchise, others to the subject of registration—which could not possibly assist the House, and might very greatly embarrass it in the future when it should come to the consideration of the measure dealing with registration which the President of the Local Government Board was shortly to lay before Parliament. He could not think that hon. Members below the Gangway intended it as a serious amendment of the Law of Registration in Ireland. Though the Chief Secretary for Ireland had objected to almost every clause of this ill-considered and ill-digested measure, it appeared that it was to form the basis on which the House was hereafter to be called upon to legislate, in accordance with the authorized programme brought forward at the last General Election.
§ MR. JOHN MORLEY
said, he must deny that he had said anything which would bear the interpretation of the hon. and learned Gentleman.
§ SIR JOHN GORST
asked why it was, then, that the Government intended to support the second reading? He could understand them if they supported it merely as an affirmation of an abstract principle; but, after having asked the House to affirm that principle, he was astonished when the right hon. Gentleman told them that the Government were not going to adopt that abstract principle as the basis of their subsequent legislation. It appeared to him that the right hon. Gentleman was on the horns of a dilemma. If they wanted to alter 809 the franchise, as this Bill did, the Government of the day was bound to bring in a new Reform Bill. The 1st clause of the measure proposed to alter the period of residence. Now, that undoubtedly was a portion of franchise. Were they going at that period of the Session, and at so critical a moment, to attempt to pass a new Franchise Bill? Surely the law as to the franchise could not rightly be changed at the suggestion of a private Member in a thin House on a Wednesday afternoon. They ought rather themselves have introduced such a measure if they desired to deal with the matter. The objections which could be raised against the 1st clause applied with equal force to the 2nd. The 5th clause contained an attempt to define the term householder. That subject was also one which could only properly find a place in a Franchise Bill. The Courts had placed one interpretation on the term, and the clause would put another upon it. He did not know that the definition in that Bill was more clear or more defensible than the definition given by the Judges; but the distinction between a householder and a lodger was no doubt a question well worthy of the attention of the House and of the Government; and if the Government would come forward with a well-considered proposition to provide a more satisfactory definition, he for one would be ready to receive it with the most perfect candour. The speeches they had heard as to the payment of rates were most amusing. The payment of rates appeared to be considered as a matter too trifling to be worth preserving. He remembered the day when rates and residence were believed to be the great safeguards to the exercise of the franchise. He was aware that a great number of these safeguards had been whittled away by the Act of 1869 and succeeding Acts. He believed, however, that the payment of rates was a most important safeguard which should not be lightly interfered with. Another proposal in the Bill was, that those persons who were both householders and owners should only be registered as occupiers. Now, when a man got upon the County Register as a 40s. freeholder, he remained there without further trouble to himself; and if an objector to his vote failed to make good his objection he was liable to costs. He 810 was, therefore, in a better position as to permanence on the Register as an owner than as an occupier. Moreover, the rights of those men were reserved by the last Reform Act; and if that clause of the present Bill applied to England—he could not speak as to the case of Ireland—it might have a disfranchising effect. The House was now asked to read a second time a Bill containing, first, a number of abstract propositions on the franchise of great importance, and requiring great consideration; and, secondly, a number of abstract propositions on registration which were universally condemned; and that the right hon. Gentleman opposite recognized as a proper function for the House of Commons on Wednesday afternoon. The hon. Member for the Leek Division of Staffordshire (Mr. Crompton) and some other speakers that day had frankly avowed themselves to be advocates of Residential Manhood Suffrage. Were the Government prepared to ask the House to pass an abstract Resolution in favour of Residential Manhood Suffrage? If so, let them say so. It had been said by the hon. Member that the Representation of the People Act was the result of an agreement between the Front Benches on the two sides of the House. That was a mistake. The Redistribution of Seats Bill was the result of such an agreement; but the Franchise Bill was discussed by the House on its merits. In former Sessions he had himself advocated Uniformity of Franchise Law for England and Ireland, and he adhered to that course still. They were told that the Government were in favour of the principle of the present Bill, and that they were not averse to the extension of its principle to England. If so, he would like the President of the Local Government Board to tell the House whether the principles of registration as expounded in that Bill, and which they were asked to affirm that afternoon, would be found embodied in the Bill which the Government would themselves introduce? He had himself been disposed to move the adjournment of the debate; but he now thought it would be better that the House should hear from the right hon. Gentleman a responsible and serious statement of the intentions of the Government on that subject; and, after hearing such a statement, the House 811 would then be able to determine what course it should take on the present occasion.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. STANSFELD) (Halifax)
said, he thought that the Hon. and learned Gentleman who had just spoken had raised unnecessary difficulty as to the second reading of a private Member's Bill. He had treated the Bill as a ballon d'essai, sent forth with the knowledge and connivance, if not at the request, of the Government, to ascertain the feeling and temper of the House with regard to proposals which he (Mr. Stansfeld) himself might hereafter bring forward. As to that suggestion of the hon. and learned Gentleman, all he had to say was, that he had taken no part whatever in the initiation or in the progress of that discussion; but undoubtedly, if he had understood that the right hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles W. Dilke) was going to propose, or suggest, that the provisions of that Bill should be extended to Great Britain, he should have made it a point, at whatever official inconvenience, of being present at the commencement of the debate. It was, undoubtedly, the fact that his appearance in the House at a late hour was an evidence that he had not deemed it his duty to be there at an earlier stage of the discussion, feeling that the Government were well represented by his right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland. Neither he nor his right hon. Friend was responsible for that Bill. They could not prevent the introduction of private Members' Bills; but, at the same time, when such Bills came before the House, they were entitled to fair consideration on their merits. Nor did he see the advisability, or the sense, or the policy, of applying too stiff and rigid a rule of refusing to consider even the second reading of a Bill to which they might give a general concurrence, without pledging themselves to every clause and detail in it. He was not in any way authorized, or prepared, to make any distinct announcement as to what might be the contents of the Government Bill, which he hoped shortly to be able to introduce. It would not be right that he should do so; nor would it be convenient that he should state his personal views on the various subjects 812 comprised in the clauses of that Bill. But he might say he was sure that the opinion of the Government, the opinion of the Liberal Party, the opinion, too, he believed he might say, subject to correction, of the Conservative Party—indeed, the opinion of men of all Parties—was tending to this result—that after they had established household suffrage in the counties, as well as the boroughs of the whole United Kingdom, the days of unnecessary restrictions were over, and that the principles of their system of registration must be the removal of all petty hindrances, and the simplification and facilitation of the registration of all those persons throughout the Kingdom who were duly qualified to vote. It had been said that unless the Government were prepared to support a scheme of Residential Manhood Suffrage, they must vote against the Bill. But the Bill did not contain a scheme of that kind. What was proposed was a reduction in the period of qualification; and, while he could not pledge the Government, he would express his own individual opinion that they were almost all coming to the conclusion that it would be desirable to reduce the period, and to facilitate the registration of qualified persons. The gist of the Bill was contained in Clauses 3, 4, and 5. Their purpose was to shorten the period of residence and to do away with the necessity of the payment of rates. As he had said, he was not prepared to make, on that occasion, any distinct announcement as to the intentions of the Government, nor would it be right for him to make such an announcement, as he hoped himself to introduce shortly a Registration Bill dealing with the subjects to which the clauses which he had named referred. He might say, however, that the tendency of their minds was in the direction of simplification. The Bill before the House, if read a second time, would certainly require considerable emendation in Committee; for, at present, it was too scanty. But he saw no reason for voting against the measure, or discouraging the private Member who, in the exercise of his undoubted rights, had brought it forward. When the larger measure should have been introduced, advantage might accrue from the knowledge which hon. Members would have acquired of the 813 contents of the present Bill. He could not say, at that moment, whether the Government Registration Bill would include Ireland. It was not always easy to include England, Scotland, and Ireland in the same measure, when dealing with a subject in which all three countries were interested. The difficulty was one of drafting. Recognizing the right of the promoters of the Bill to proceed with it, in order that it might have a fair chance of being discussed along with the larger Ministerial measure, he was prepared to vote for the second reading.
§ COLONEL KING-HARMAN (Kent, Isle of Thanet)
said, that the Chief Secretary had said that the Government Bill would concern the United Kingdom. He (Colonel King-Harman) presumed, therefore, that the Government did not consider Ireland as included in the United Kingdom. With reference to the speech of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles W. Dilke), he (Colonel King-Harman) must contend that to extend to England a Bill which, as introduced, had reference to Ireland only, would be a new departure in Parliamentary tactics. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Stansfeld) said that Parties were generally united in thinking it desirable that registration should be simplified and facilitated, and on that ground the right hon. Gentleman was prepared to vote for the second reading of the Bill. But the right hon. Gentleman overlooked the fact that the measure had very little indeed to do with the registration of voters in Ireland. He held that there were good grounds for adjourning the debate. The measure was one of great importance; its gist was not indicated in the name it bore, and it had only been printed 24 hours ago, although it was introduced on the 22nd January last, and therefore could not be said to have been properly considered. Another reason for adjournment was that a measure of this kind ought, if brought in at all, to be introduced by the Government, and not by a private Member. Under the circumstances, he proposed to give an opportunity for its further consideration by moving the adjournment of the debate.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Colonel King-Harman.)
§ MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)
said, he hoped the House would divide upon the Motion for the second reading. He denied that the Bill had been discussed in an exceptionally thin House. They were only at the beginning of June, and therefore it was not at all too late in the Session to proceed with the measure. It was part of the traditional Tory policy to hinder everything that was advantageous. When hon. Members opposite felt that they could not meet those whom they opposed by fair arguments, they sought to avoid a decision.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS (Lancashire, S.W., Newton)
said, he should support the Motion for adjournment of the debate, because it was absolutely impossible for the constituencies to know the nature of the Bill. Although the Bill was introduced on the 22nd of January, it was only delivered yesterday, so that it was utterly impossible for the country to know anything about it. The Bill proposed important changes, not only in registration, but in the franchise, and the very fact that the Chief Secretary had consented to the extension of the measure to England was an additional and distinct reason why the debate should be adjourned, in order that English country constituencies, as well as the Irish, might examine it and know exactly what it was they were called upon to decide.
§ MR. JOHN MORLEY (Newcastle-on-Tyne)
said, he must oppose the adjournment, although he would admit that the House had reason to complain of Bills being brought forward on Wednesdays which there had been little or no previous opportunity of considering. No person had a better right to complain of Bills not being printed in time than he had, and he therefore heartily agreed in what had been said as to the inconvenience of the practice of Bills only being delivered the day before they came on; but, as he thought little inconvenience was caused on this occasion, he hoped the House would not consent to the adjournment.
§ MR. EDWARD CLARKE (Plymouth)
said, he hoped that the Motion for Adjournment would not be carried to a division, as there was plenty of time, it 815 being only half-past 4 o'clock, to discuss the Bill that afternoon, so that the views of hon. Gentlemen on the question might be more clearly set forth.
§ MR. LEWIS (Londonderry)
said, he thought the Motion for Adjournment should be pressed, as a matter of justice to those outside. The Bill had been so recently printed that the Irish constituencies had had no opportunity of knowing its provisions through the ordinary sources of the Press, and delay was much more necessary when it was proposed to extend those changes in the franchise to England. The Bill had been kept back under circumstances which clearly showed that it had been wilfully kept back.
§ MR. CHANCE (Kilkenny, S.)
asked if the hon. Member was in Order in stating that the Bill had been wilfully kept back?
§ MR. SPEAKER
If the hon. Member meant to attribute any improper motive, he would not be in Order; but I did not quite understand his meaning.
§ MR. LEWIS
submitted that, upon the face of it, it bore marks of having been intentionally kept back. It had been on the Order Book since 22nd January last; it consisted of only three sides of paper; and it had not been produced until yesterday; and all that was the clearest evidence that it had been kept back intentionally. Moreover, they had not heard a word of explanation from hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway as to how the delay occurred. If any one of them had stated that it was from inadvertence, the explanation would have been accepted immediately. In fact, he had to complain that the practice of keeping Bills back till the last moment had become established with regard to Irish measures. The consequence was, in the present case, that, although the whole framework of the franchise was altered, the constituencies, as he had said, knew nothing of the Bill. He maintained that the Bill had been kept back intentionally since the 22nd of January, in order that its provisions might not become known. That was only one example of a system which he was glad to hear the Chief Secretary join in objecting to.
§ SIR ROBERT FOWLER (London)
said, he cordially supported the Motion, and trusted that it would be pressed to a division, as a protest against the habit, which had become very common, and at 816 the same time very inconvenient—an inconvenience to which Mr. Speaker had himself recently referred—of not issuing a Bill till the morning of the day of its second reading arrived.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—
§ The Tellers, being come to the Table, reported the numbers, Ayes 133, Noes 249.
§ Whereupon Major SAUNDERSON, one of the Tellers for the Noes, stated that a Member had remained in the Left Lobby without voting.
§ Mr. SPEAKER directed the honourable Member to come to the Table, and Mr. ALEXANDER M'ARTHUR, Member for Leicester, having come to the Table, was asked by Mr. SPEAKER if he had been within the folding doors and heard the Question put, and the honourable Member having replied that he had been in one of the rooms behind the Chair, and had not heard the Question put, Mr. SPEAKER stated that he was not entitled to vote, and declared the numbers, Ayes 133; Noes 249; Majority 116.—(Div. List, No. 115.)
§ Question again proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. EDWARD CLARKE (Plymouth)
said, he voted just now against the adjournment of the debate, not because he thought that was a Bill which ought to pass its second reading, but because he saw no reason why the rest of the afternoon should not be devoted to the discussion of the Bill, especially as, although it originally concerned Members from Ireland alone, it now, from the statements made by the Members of the Government, concerned very seriously the interests of other parts of the United Kingdom. They had had two very remarkable speeches that afternoon from the Treasury Bench. The Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland sketched, in outline, what the history was of Wednesday Afternoon Sittings, and he said that a Bill was brought forward and its principle accepted, but that all its details were rejected, apparently by both sides of the House, and in the result, apparently, the second reading was agreed to. He, however, omitted to tell the end of the history—namely, that after the second reading 817 had been agreed to, nothing more was heard of them easure. That, apparently, was what was proposed with regard to this Bill. The whole criticism of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant upon the Bill was this—that two of its clauses were enfranchising clauses, and were too large for a discussion on a Wednesday afternoon; and the other clauses were matters to which he took serious exception. The reason why he (Mr. Edward Clarke) should object to the second reading of this Bill was to be found in its 1st clause, which said that the Bill was to be confined to Ireland. He had never opposed any measure for rendering it easy for those who were entitled to a vote to come upon the Register, and he was one of the Members on the Conservative side of the House who joined Mr. Firth, the late Member for Chelsea, when he proposed that there should be a continuous occupation franchise between the different quarters of a borough, which was separated into divisions. He believed there were many on that side of the House who, if the Bill were proposed by a responsible Member of the Government, and applied to the whole of the sections of the United Kingdom, would have been perfectly willing to discuss and consider in detail the suggestions it contained. But it was never attempted to make a separate law for Ireland in a case where there was no reason for it. If 12 months' residence were required in England, there was no reason why six months should be sufficient in Ireland. It might be that six months' residence were sufficient in England, as in Ireland; but, if so, why had not some Representative of the Government the courage to get up and say that that was what they meant? It was said that to pass the second reading of the Bill would be merely to affirm the principle of the limitation and reduction of the length of residence required in order to obtain the vote. That was not so. The principle was not affirmed by the Bill. If it were the Chief Secretary for Ireland and his Colleagues would agree to the extension of the Bill to the whole of the United Kingdom. The only principle affirmed by the second reading of the Bill would be that they were to make a different law with regard to the franchise and registration for Ireland from that in 818 existence in other parts of the country, and that being the only principle and meaning of the Bill, he should resist and vote against the second reading. He understood by—he would not say the supercilious, but the condescending way in which Ministers talked about Wednesday afternoon, that they regarded it as a sort of matinée, interesting only to the performers themselves, and about which no critic thought it incumbent upon him to express an opinion. From the point of view of the Government, the affirmation of the principle of this Bill might be useful for electioneering purposes; but the second reading of it would have no effect upon legislation. Was the House of Commons to affirm that principle? The Government could take no further step with the measure, without pledging themselves to apply it to the whole of the United Kingdom. There was no special pressure in the matter. If the Ministry should survive its present disorders, it might be allowed to bring in a general Bill; and if it should be brought in, let it be applied to Ireland just as to this country. The House wanted to hear some more vindication of the Bill than they had yet got from the Government; because it was not pretented that the Bill should become law, or that any step would be taken by the Government to carry it into law. Besides, no suggestion or syllable of a reason had been offered to the House why they should take Ireland and deal with it exclusively in this way. The Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant had stated that Clauses 3 and 4 of the Bill were matters too large to be dealt with on a Wednesday afternoon. The capacity of the House might be lower on Wednesday than on nights devoted to Government debates; but, if the capacity of the House on Wednesdays was too low to affirm, resolutely and decisively, the principles of these clauses, why should it affirm them at all? What was to be gained by having a pretended affirmation of the Bill by the House, which, by-and-bye, might be accepted by the Government, but, if it served its purpose, which the Government might turn over as being a mere eccentricity of a Wednesday afternoon? The 6th clause, the Chief Secretary for Ireland said he could not accept, and the 7th clause occupied a page of the printed Bill; he thought the author 819 had spun out the 7th clause in order to make the Bill look important. He believed the Revising Barristers had all the powers necessary for them, in order to carry out what was supposed to be the object of this 7th clause. Then they came to the 8th clause, and with regard to that, the right hon. Gentleman objected to it altogether. After the right hon. Gentleman had finished his criticism and analysis of the Bill, it came to this—Three clauses were too large for a Wednesday afternoon; and with regard to the other three effective clauses, the 7th was unnecessary, and the 6th and 8th clauses the right hon. Gentleman rejected altogether. The second reading of a Bill ought to mean, and used to mean, that the House accepted, as a basis of legislation, the principle of the Bill brought forward, and was prepared to go forward with that legislation. Now the Government was not prepared to go forward with this legislation. If he opposed the Bill, it was not because he disagreed with the principle, but because, on the face of it, it was a Bill which might establish a new divergence between the law of the Three Kingdoms, and he could not contemplate any occasion upon which he should be able to give his vote in favour of such legislation.
§ MR. HOLMES (Dublin University)
, who rose amid cries of "Divide!" said, he was entirely in accord with his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Plymouth. It appeared to him that there was the strongest possible reason why the House should not affirm the Bill, until the views of Her Majesty's Government were declared upon the question whether or not they were prepared to extend its provisions to the remainder of the United Kingdom. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. John Morley) was prepared to vote for the second reading; because, as he declared, he was in favour of anything which was likely to simplify and facilitate the registration of voters. He (Mr. Holmes) was not opposed to the simplification and facilitation of the registration of voters; but he was not prepared to vote for the second reading of a Bill, merely because it affirmed an abstract principle. He wanted to examine the provisions of the Bill, and satisfy himself that they were desirable and suitable for the purposes for which 820 they were intended, before he could give his vote for the second reading. He admitted that if the franchise were given to a certain class of people, that class should be afforded every possible facility for the exercise of the franchise; but he contended that the clauses of the Bill now brought before the House were highly objectionable, except, indeed, one clause, and that one was unnecessary. But he had a still stronger objection to the Bill, which, though professedly a Registration Bill, introduced in one of its clauses quite a new principle—a fresh Reform Bill, which hon. Members ought not to be asked to consider without proper Notice, which had not been given here. If, however, there was any likelihood of the Government adopting the provisions of the Bill, and applying them to the United Kingdom, he should be ready to consider them; but, so far as he could learn, that course on the part of the Government was not likely to be adopted. At all events, the Government had failed to give the House any satisfactory information on the subject. He knew that course had attractions for the Government and their supporters; but he and his Friends did not believe in it. So far as he was concerned, he would never vote for any measure which had no chance of becoming law. He objected to the clause which reduced the time of occupation necessary to entitle an occupier of a house to the franchise from 12 to six months. He certainly was not prepared to assent to it without further consideration. He could not agree with what had been said by the right hon. Gentleman opposite—that, as the law stood at present, two years' residence was required before a man could vote; nor did he agree with the hon. Gentleman who said that if this Bill passed, 18 months' residence would be required. There might be cases in which these statements would be correct. But, as the law stood at present, a man might be in possession of the franchise after 13 months, and, under this Bill, after seven months. Then there was the 4th clause, which relieved tenants from the discharge of one of the most reasonable obligations of citizenship—the payment of rates in order that they might have the privilege of the franchise; and he objected to this clause much more than he did to the preceding one, because it 821 threw unnecessary blame upon public officers, who in Ireland, at all events, as far as his experience went, conscientiously endeavoured to do their duty. Besides that, it seemed to him that it was only reasonable that a man should have discharged his duty to the community, which the payment of rates implied, before he should be entitled to vote. In conclusion, he must say he could not help taking notice of this extraordinary fact, that, when it was proposed to take the second reading of a Bill, introducing such an important principle as this, there should be only two right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench. There were, in fact, many reasons to be assigned for rejecting the Motion for the second reading, and not one for affirming it, and therefore he was determined, for those he had given, to vote against the measure.
§ MR. DE COBAIN (Belfast, E.)
, who spoke amid great interruption, said, he was much obliged to hon. Members below the Gangway for their genial courtesy to hon. Members sitting in his part of the House. As representing a town having four constituencies larger than those of any other town in Ireland, he thought he had a right to a few words with reference to this measure. He had only had an opportunity of seeing the clauses of the Bill that afternoon, and he thought a Bill which treated a grave question of this sort ought to be in the hands of hon. Members before the day set down for the second reading. Beyond that, it ought not to be in the hands of a private Member, but should be brought in by a responsible Minister of the Government. Hon. Members ought to be allowed time to examine the measure before they were asked, to give a vote upon it, in order to see whether its provisions would contribute to the public advantage. In his opinion, such an opportunity had not been afforded in the case of this Bill. Now, he found that Clause 3 of the Bill proposed the reduction of the term of necessary occupancy to entitle the occupier to the franchise from 12 to six months, and that he considered very objectionable. He remembered a long discussion, which had taken place in the House on the question of the occupation franchise, and there was then a consensus of opi- 822 nion in favour of the 12 months as being a desirable time to require as the minimum term for the occupation franchise. To reduce the term now to six months would be, in his opinion, to throw the preponderance in many boroughs into the hands of those who were, in a largo measure, unfitted for the exercise of the privilege which would be conferred upon them. Then, notwithstanding the long-admitted principle that taxation and representation should go together, it was proposed to make it unnecessary for the tenant to pay rates. He contended that the payment of rates should form an essential qualification for the right to vote. Then, according to Clause 5, any number of occupiers could qualify for the same tenement; and, if such a provision as that was carried, the register would be multiplied fourfold, which was, he considered, a very serious matter at the present time, and was one to which the House should have an opportunity of giving serious and deliberate consideration. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland had expressed his willingness that the principle of the measure should be extended to England, Scotland, and Wales; but what he (Mr. De Cobain) wished to impress upon the House—[Loud and continued interruption.] He would conclude by saying that he only wished to impress upon the House this fact, that the English, Scotch, and Welsh constituencies had a right to demand that the measure should be fully, maturely, and deliberately considered—a consideration which it was impossible to give to a Bill, the second reading of which it was sought to pass on a Wednesday evening before hon. Members had time even to examine its clauses with anything approaching care.
§ MR. PLUNKET (Dublin University)
, who rose amid cries of "Shame!" said, if hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway would allow him to say a few words, he would promise them that they should be very few. He did not wish to repeat arguments that were so well put a few minutes ago against the Bill, neither did he wish on that occasion to talk it out. Not that he should have, under the special circumstances of the case, any scruple in talking it out; he had been present at very many Wednesday dis- 823 cussions, and he had himself sometimes endeavoured to advance certain private measures occasionally with success, but very often without success. He had often taken part in the discussion of Bills of private Members, and he took it that it was a piece of exceptional good fortune on the part of a private Member if he succeeded in reaching the second reading on the occasion of his Bill being introduced to the House for the first time. Certainly the hon. Members in charge of this Bill could not complain if they did not succeed. His objection was one that recommended itself, he believed, to many hon. Members. He altogether objected to the principle of holding back to the last moment the preparation and presentation of Bills. Why was there such a course adopted as was followed in this case, in which the Bill was only presented at the very last moment? Why was it not printed earlier, in order that Members might have time to consider it? Either the Bill was useful, or it was not. If it was not, then the time of the House ought not to be occupied with it; but if it was useful, Members ought to have been furnished with it in time to allow them to consider it on its merits. He would urge upon Ministers the desirability of their more clearly stating their views. As he had said, he did not desire to talk the Bill out, but to press home a request upon the President of the Local Government Board, and that was the desirability of further information being given by the Government, to that which had been so far vouchsafed to the House, for it was most inconvenient that it should not be told distinctly whether the Government intended to extend the principle of the Bill to England and Scotland. If the right hon. Gentleman would do that, he would not say another word to interfere with the second reading of the Bill. He (Mr. Plunket) contended that the House was entitled to further information. It was unfair to have an attempt made to introduce another Franchise Bill, or a small kind of Reform Bill, on the back of what was called a Registration Bill. The Government had given a kind of shambling, half-hearted support to the Bill; but he wished to learn whether the Government were prepared to adopt the plan for England, or only for 824 Ireland? For the past 16 years they had heard about the necessity of equalizing the laws for England and Ireland; but now the Chief Secretary was quite prepared and willing, when it suited the views of hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway, to vary that sentiment and policy, and give a kind of support to a Bill which materially altered the law between the two countries, by accepting that principle for Ireland but not for England. If it was a good thing, it should be adopted for countries; but, at all events, they were entitled to have a fair answer from the President of the Local Government Board. Were they prepared to adopt the principle of the Bill for England, or were they not? He did not wish to pass any opinion hostile to the Bill; but he did object that they should be called on at 24 hours' notice to adopt a Bill of two paragraphs and a very few clauses, which really contained two small Reform Bills, and a variation of an existing Registration Bill. But what he wished to make clear was, that, before voting on the question, the House had a right to ask that it should be made clear what were the intentions of the Government with regard to the application of the principles of the Bill; and he, therefore, asked the President of the Local Government Board to make the matter clear to the House at once?
§ SIR JAMES CORRY (Armagh, Mid)
, who rose amid loud cries of "Divide!" said, he most strongly objected to the Bill, which was a fair sample of the kind of thing that might be expected from an Irish Legislative Body. He looked upon it as an attempt to introduce a new Franchise Bill under the guise of a Registration Bill. If a Franchise Bill was about to be introduced, he was exceedingly desirous that the legislation for the Three Kingdoms should be uniform; and he was perfectly prepared to support a Bill brought in by a responsible Government which would extend to the Three Kingdoms. Moreover, as Parliament was on the eve of important changes, these matters should be allowed to remain as they were for the present. [Cries of "Speak up!"] He had not the loud voice possessed by the hon. Member below the Gangway, and, therefore, he would not further attempt to address the House, 825 but would move the adjournment of the House.
§ Motion made, and Question put, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Sir James Corry.)
§ The House divided:—Ayes 98; Noes 201: Majority 103.—(Div. List, No. 116.)
§ It being after a quarter of an hour before Six of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned till To-morrow.