§ MR. WHITMORE (Chelsea)
I beg to ask the Attorney General for Ireland if he can ascertain, for the information of the House, what was the number of votes that were polled by illiterate voters in the recent election in North Sligo?
§ MR. POWELL WILLIAMS (Birmingham, S.)
I beg to ask the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland whether he can inform the House how many voters at the recent election of a Member of Parliament for North Sligo took advantage of the provisions of the law relating to illiterates; whether the number of such voters is larger than at the last contested election in 1885; whether he has any reason to believe that many electors in Ireland declare themselves to be illiterates who are, in point of fact, able to read the ballot paper and to mark it for themselves; if 371 so, whether such action on their part is a contravention of the spirit of the Ballot Act; and whether, in that case, any steps can be taken to prevent hereafter a misuse of the privileges conferred by that Act?
§ MR. WEBSTER (St. Pancras, E.)
Before the right hon. Gentleman replies, I wish to ask a further question of which 1 have given private notice. I wish to know whether, at the said North Sligo election, it is the fact that owing to the large number of illiterate voters who presented themselves at one time the forms for illiterate voters ran short, and that the polling booth had to be closed for a considerable time; whether some who presented themselves as illiterate voters had no right to do so; and whether frequent discussions did not arise between the agents of the two candidates which removed all the secrecy of the ballot as to certain voters?
§ MR. SPEAKER
I think the question of the hon. Member ought to have been submitted to me, or put upon the Paper in the ordinary way.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
In answer to the questions on the Paper I have to say that according to the documents returned by the Sheriff at the proper office, the number of persons who voted as illiterates at the recent election at Sligo was 1,366 out of a total of 5,754. The corresponding figures for 1885 were 1,070 and 5,988, so that the proportion in 1891 was both absolutely and relatively higher than five years ago. This does not agree with the unofficial statement which appeared in the Press, and I am making further inquiries into the matter. I have no material for coming to a decisive conclusion as to whether fraud was practised by any of the electors or not. According to the Census of 1881, the percentage of illiterates to the whole male population is somewhat larger than the proportion of persons who voted as illiterates is to the total number of persons who polled. These are the facts. Arguments on both sides 372 can be deduced from them, and I cannot offer to the House anything in the nature of a conclusive verdict.
§ MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)
I think it will be useful to know whether during the last decade the proportion of illiterates has increased or diminished in the various polling districts of the county.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I presume the information can be obtained if the hon. Member desires to have it, and will put a question down upon the Paper. I have not got the information with me. Seeing the additional educational advantages now provided, the proportion of illiterate voters ought to have diminished.