§ MR. SPEAKER
The honourable Member for South Somerset [Mr. F. J. STRACHEY] has upon the paper the following Instruction:—That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they have power to insert a time limit to the Agricultural Grant.As the limit could be imposed by an amendment in Committee, the Instruction is unnecessary, and therefore out of order.
§ Considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ MR. THOMAS LOUGH (Islington, W.)
I beg to move—In Clause 1, page 1, line 8, after 'County,' insert 'as defined by this Act.'The words I have suggested seem to me to be an improvement, and I only suggest them to the Government.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. G. W. BALFOUR,) Leeds, Central
With reference to these words, I think they are quite unnecessary, and I would suggest to the honourable Member that they should be withdrawn.
§ Clause 1 agreed to.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N.)
I beg to move—In Clause 2, page 1, line 17, after 'electors,' insert 'except lodgers.'In the case of cities which are merged into the counties at large, I should like to know if the aldermen under existing arrangements will disappear.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
With reference to the lodger vote, no objection has been taken by the landlords to conferring this vote upon persons of this class, who really pay no rates whatever, and I think this is a class where we might fairly make an exception. In the English Act of 1888, no lodger enjoys the franchise for County Council purposes. It is quite true that when the Parish Councils Act of 1894 was passed the lodger might take part and exercise the franchise, but there is a principle derived from the English law that the lodger should not enjoy this franchise. I must admit, however, that under the Act of 1889 for Scotland the lodger does enjoy the franchise, and I am not prepared to say whether he did enjoy a similar right in England. But there are a number of peculiar questions dealing with the preparation of the roll in Scotland from which you can find some reason for his existence in Scotland. I do not think we should have raised this point, but for a recent scandal which has arisen in connection with the lodger vote. When I tell the House that, in four Parliamentary Divisions of Dublin, there are 1243 more lodgers in the St. Stephen's Green Division than in all the rest of the other Divisions put together, I think the House will see that there must be a brisk manufacture of the lodger for Parliamentary purposes in that Division. Well, Sir, it seems to me that this is a class of vote, apart from other objections, peculiarly open to fraud, and it is the more especially open to fraud in Ireland because the law, for some reason that I am not aware of, is not exactly the same in the two countries. With regard to punishment for this fraud in England, you have a state of the law in which you can in case of fraud punish the man by some indirect means, while in Ireland such is not the case. The Attorney General did make some attempt to assimilate the law, but it was not such as I should have expected from that gentleman. Well now, Sir, I do not propose to take up the time of the Committee by giving them statistics of lodgers in Ireland, but I must admit that, as regards the counties, they are very few. The honourable Gentlemen who are interested in the matter will find the figures in the Returns before this House for the three kingdoms (Parliamentary Returns No. 131) for 1897, which were moved for by the right honourable Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean, and I must admit until you come to Dublin the lodger column is, I may say, almost empty. But I think that shows a peculiarity of the condition of things in Dublin, and the fact that the lodger is really of no use whatever in the county. Now, I should like to give two or three figures to show why, as I said a moment ago, there were more lodgers in one Division of Dublin than in all the other three Divisions put together. I think I might say that there are more lodgers in the St. Stephen's Green Division than in the rest of Ireland. I will take the great county of Antrim. There are only 40 lodgers in the entire county, which includes the great borough of Belfast. In 1244 Armagh there are only 13 lodgers. In the county of Clare there is not a single lodger at all, while in the county of Cork there are only three lodgers. Indeed, I think, Mr. Lowther, we may take the case of the county of Cork, with its three lodgers and a population of 500,000, and contrast it with the case of St. Stephen's Green Division. There are 1,351 lodgers in the St. Stephen's Green Division of Dublin, and that, I think, points to a great abuse of the lodger franchise. I am sure the honourable Member for St. Stephen's Green will believe that I am not making the smallest reflection on him in this matter. Taking the contiguous area of Dublin, the South Division, I find it contains 2,852 lodgers, and that, I think, also proves my contention, although the honourable Member for South Dublin no doubt considers it a most valuable franchise. The lodger vote, in fact, does not exist, and to continue it for local government purposes in cities is to perpetuate and continue a fraud. I remember on one occasion we had a widow lady and seven sons, and each of the sons swore he paid the mother £12 a year for a room. There is also the notorious case, which occurred in the city of Derry, of a man named McVicar, I think, who claimed the franchise. It was proved in open court that he was a divinity student in Belfast from January to June, when he had his holidays, and from August to November he lived with his father in Derry. It was sworn in open court that the father kept a top pair back for the use of this divinity student, who paid the father for it five shillings a week. When the case went to the Court of Appeal, that Court decided not to disturb it, on the ground that the facts were for the revising barrister. The proposals of the Bill would not be tolerated in any country, borough, or city in England, and it is only because it deals with Ireland that it is even suggested. I ask the House to say that, as in England, so in Ireland, the lodger 1245 vote is non-existent for the purposes I have mentioned. I beg to move the Amendment standing in my name.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
The question has been asked, "Why is it we have included the lodger franchise in the county electorate?" The answer is that it is because in doing so we have followed the latest precedent of Scotland and England. It is true, as the honourable Member says, that the County Council franchise in England does not include the lodger vote, but I think it is safe to say that if the English County Council Bill had followed, instead of preceded, the Scotch Bill, that franchise would have been given for English County Councils as for Scotch County Councils. I may remind the Committee that, in England, the franchise is not merely for pariah councils, but also for district councils, and that many of these district councils contain as many as 50,000 inhabitants. The honourable Member for Louth used one argument which was peculiar to himself in connection with this question. He urged that the lodger franchise should not be adopted for local government purposes in consequence of the practices connected with that franchise at a recent election in Dublin. That is not an argument the House ought to entertain. If there were any such practices as the honourable Member had described in connection with the lodger franchise, let them be met, not merely in connection with municipal and local government franchise, but in connection with the Parliamentary franchise itself. If it is reasonable, as I submit it is, to base the local franchise on the Parliamentary franchise, then it is unreasonable, in consequence of abuse in a particular instance, to make the two systems diverge, and so lay the foundations for the destruction of the simplicity of this Bill. The Bill has the further recom- 1246 mendation that it makes the work of registration, through it, simpler and cheaper than it would otherwise be.
§ MR. E. F. VESEY KNOX (Londonderry)
I doubt whether the proposed system will make registration simpler and cheaper. Under this Bill the female members of a man's family, as well as the male members, are on the register for local government purposes; they can all become lodgers. I venture to doubt whether including the lodgers will compensate for that. The matter will only be important in regard to doubtful constituencies. There are 76 lodger voters in Derry; in Belfast, with ten times the population of Derry, you have only four lodger voters. What is the explanation of that? The reason is that in Belfast the seats are all safe Tory seats. In every case in which there is a doubtful division, especially in the north of Ireland, there will be an attempt made by both parties, to flood the register; and there is no reason why this should not be done by voters putting their daughters upon the register. You may have an agreement by which your daughter, out of her earnings, pays you for board and lodging, and it will be just as easy to get the revising barrister to put daughters on the register as sons, because a great many daughters do as much work as sons, and perhaps even more. The effect will be to tremendously increase the trouble and expense of registration in any part of Ireland, in which there is any doubt as to electoral results. I cannot think that the right honourable Gentleman has fully contemplated the result which will follow from this apparently innocuous proposal, and I appeal to him to accept the Amendment. I do not believe the proposal to which we object, has any real support on the other side. I am sure that no one wants more money than is absolutely necessary to be spent on the work of registration.
§ MR. LOUGH
I hope the Government will stand firm in this matter. I can see 1247 no reason whatever for excluding lodgers. Many of the best men in the country are lodgers. From the figures quoted it would appear that this is a very small class in Ireland, and if this Bill encouraged the people to take greater interest in their local affairs that would be a satisfactory result. In London we have the greatest trouble in this matter, owing to a defect in the county council franchise, because lodgers are not included. I believe that if the county council franchise had to be arranged now, it would be done on the lines of the Parliamentary franchise. I can see no justice whatever in excluding lodgers, and I hope the right honourable Gentleman will adhere to the position he has taken up.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
I will allow the Amendment to be negatived; it would be a waste of time to put the Committee to the trouble of a Division.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ MR. MAURICE HEALY (Cork)
I rise now to move the Amendment standing on the Paper in my name, to exclude freeholders and leaseholders from the right of voting. I hope the right honourable Gentleman will not take the decision to which the House has just arrived at more than its proper value. I am aware that he has laid down that in his opinion, the Local Government register ought to be substantially the same as the Parliamentary register, but I think I can see a reason for doing, in the case of the class of voter pointed at in my Amendment, what the right honourable Gentleman has refused to do in the case of lodgers. The distinction is this. The lodger, although other objections may be taken to him, is, at any rate, a resident in the division in which he votes. Now, the freeholder or leaseholder is not necessarily a resident in the division. If he is a resident in the division he is invariably qualified 1248 in respect of some other franchise, he is an occupier or a lodger; but the freeholder or leaseholder is a person who is not resident in the division, but has some property there, and therefore can vote, although he may reside in America or India or anywhere else. If you take the register of the city of Cork you will find that out of 300 or 400 leaseholders, at least 90 per cent. of them reside out of the United Kingdom. I submit that no case can be made for retaining voters of that class on the Parliamentary list. It is not a very large question, I quite concede, because this class of voter is not at all a very large one, but I do think that when we are dealing with municipal matters, we ought to as far as possible restrict the franchise to those who are resident in the constituencies, and, to that extent, at any rate, interested in its affairs. It has been the principle of all the Acts that have been passed that the municipal franchise should be restricted to residents. If the right honourable Gentleman will refer to the English Act of the first year of Her Majesty's reign and to the Act of 3 and 4 Victoriæ, he will see among the conditions that those Acts impose, there is a special provision that, in addition to having the ordinary qualification, the voter shall also be resident in the constituency. So it has been ever since the municipal franchise has been allowed at all. The franchise has always been allowed on the principle that the voter shall be resident in the district, and to that extent interested in its welfare and wellbeing. There is a special reason why the freeholder and leaseholder should be excluded in the case of this Bill. The right honourable Gentleman has made provision in the Bill for putting an end to the contribution to the local rates, which has hitherto been made by the freeholder. Henceforward, the landlord will pay no contribution to the rates. Now, the interest of a freeholder or leaseholder is an interest as landlord, and in no other capacity, and accordingly the 1249 right honourable Gentleman must take up this position—By this Bill I will henceforward take away in the case of the landlord all liability to contribute to the local rates, but, notwithstanding that fact, I will in my Bill retain the special landlord franchise that the freeholder or the leaseholder has.There is only one other reason for this Amendment with which I need trouble the Committee, and it is one not common to all constituencies, but peculiar to a few. I take it that the Government do not intend by this Bill to make any change in the Parliamentary franchise in any constituency in Ireland. I should like to ask the right honourable Gentleman to state specifically whether I may assume that the Government do not intend by this Bill to make any change in the Parliamentary franchise in any part of Ireland?
§ MR. MAURICE HEALY
We may take it that the Bill does not intend to confer a right to the Parliamentary vote upon any class which has been hitherto excluded. [Mr. GERALD BALFOUR: Quite so.] So I assumed. Now the particular class of case to which I wish to allude, is this: let me take the borough of Belfast. In England and in Ireland, in boroughs, the Parliamentary franchise is restricted to occupiers. In counties, in addition to occupiers, there is, as we know, a leasehold and a freehold vote. Now, the peculiarity of both the English and the Irish law is this: that in a Parliamentary borough the freeholder or the leaseholder in the borough votes in the adjoining county in respect of his freehold or leasehold. Thus, if a man is a freeholder or a leaseholder he cannot claim a vote as a freeholder or a lease holder in the borough of Belfast, but, by virtue of the qualification which he holds in the borough of Belfast, he has a 1250 Parliamentary vote in the county division to which Belfast is joined. The effect of that will be that if this freehold or leasehold franchise is retained, the freeholder or householder voter in the borough of Belfast will have a vote in the adjoining division of the county, wherever that may be. Therefore, we shall not only retain the freeholder or leaseholder who has, at any rate, property and interest in the particular constituency, but we shall also retain a man who happens to have property in the borough constituency, who will be able to vote in the adjoining county in the affairs of which he has no sort of interest. On these grounds, Sir, I beg to propose the Amendment which stands in my name.
§ Amendment proposed in Clause 2, page 1, line 17, after the word "qualification," to insert the words "other than a qualification as freeholder or leaseholder."—(Mr. Maurice Healy.)
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
I think the general reasons I have given with regard to the lodger voters apply equally to the class of voters aimed at by this Amendment. The honourable Member, it is true, urges that the freeholder and the leaseholder, who are very likely not resident, ought upon that account not to have a vote, but I submit it does not follow because they are not voters that they have no interest in the administration of the place. Over and above that, I would take the more general ground that it is useless to look minutely at all possible objections which might be urged against any particular franchise. All those objections might have been advanced against the Parliamentary franchise, and if we are going to take the Parliamentary franchise as it stands (and the arguments for so doing are very strong) we ought not to have repeated on questions of local government all the arguments which, in reality, might with justice have been urged just as much 1251 against the Parliamentary franchise itself. The inconvenience and anomalies to which the honourable Member has called attention exist, of course, in Scotland and in England just in the same way as they would in Ireland if this franchise were accepted. Therefore I urge, not merely in connection with this question, but generally in connection with the Bill, that, if there is a general principle which is broadly applicable and convenient, we should not look too closely at these minute criticisms which may be made, and possibly with justice.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
I think there is a great deal of force in what the right honourable Gentleman has said. Under the Act of 1885 we have the ballot in the case of non-resident freemen. Of course, it does not matter much with the Parliamentary franchise, but if you take the case of local government, and say no man shall have a vote who does not have an interest in the place, and yet you allow his interest to depend on the spinning of a coin, it is certainly very remarkable, and all the more when you consider that he will not keep the same qualification. For one year a man might represent, say, Belfast; he might have his qualification in North Belfast or West Belfast, and next year he might lose his qualification. His qualification will depend on what is done next year when the coin is spun; so that actually he may be properly qualified for his franchise in 1889, but you spin a coin for the year 1900, and, lo! his qualification disappears. Still, I agree that if we are going to have this thing at all we must take it with all its imperfections on its head. I should like, however, to ask the right honourable Gentleman for a distinct pledge that he will not be a party to creating, by a Local Government Bill, any new Parliamentary franchise. [Mr. GERALD BALFOUR: Hear, hear!] That pledge having been given, I advise my honourable Friend to withdraw his Amendment.
§ MR. VESEY KNOX
The pledge, I understand, is not merely not to create a new Parliamentary franchise, but the right honourable Gentleman will not give people the right to vote in different constituencies from those that they are at present entitled to vote for.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
What we mean is this: you will not create in any place a new Parliamentary franchise where it could not have been exercised if this Bill had not been passed.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
But we may take it that if it is pointed out at a later stage that that would be the effect of it it will not be insisted upon.
§ Amendment by leave withdrawn.
§ MR. VESEY KNOX
The Amendment I now rise to move partly covers the same ground as the Amendment we have just disposed of, but I think the position of the freemen is a very peculiar one. There are freemen, for instance, in the city of Galway who will now be county voters for this purpose. There are also freemen in the older Irish constituencies under various qualifications, some of them very antiquated. In the case of Derry I know that an agreement was arrived at between the parties there a few years ago, by which the freeman vote was practically abolished. The great difficulty is that you do not know where the freeman is to vote. In the case, for instance, of Dublin, I believe there are 15 wards. Are you to spin the teetotum, as the honourable and learned Member for North Louth suggests, in 1253 order to decide in which ward a freeman shall vote? That would obviously be open to objection. No method at all is provided in the Bill at present. As the Bill stands, so far as I can understand it, there is no direction given which would enable the revising barrister or the Clerk of the Peace, or any other person, to assign the freeman to the particular ward where he should be entitled to vote. Therefore, if the freemen are to have votes, some provision must be made as to where they shall vote. There is not a very large body of freemen voters. They are always on a separate list in the lists that are made up for revision; they are not assigned to any part of the city, and I venture to think it will be a simplification of the Bill as it stands if the freemen are not allowed to vote at all. I do not believe anybody wishes to insist on them. I hope the right honourable Gentleman will not allow any pedantry to interfere with his judgment in this matter. The Amendment, of course, only affects non-resident freemen, because where the freeman is resident he will get his vote in another way. The non-resident freemen are not a very large body, and I do not see that they are a body whose interests deserve to be conserved.
§ Amendment proposed, in Clause 2, page 1, line 18, after the word "county" to insert the words "other than the qualification of a freeman."—(Mr. Knox.)
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
My reason for objecting to this Amendment is that I do not like to adopt any exception to the general rule. This is an excessively small question, as the honourable Member himself admits. There are not very many freemen, and whether they have votes or not is not really very material. I would suggest that the honourable Member should not press his Amendment.
§ MR. VESEY KNOX
It would be very objectionable indeed if the freemen had the option themselves as to which ward they should vote in. It is clear that that might become a source of considerable grievance to one side or the other. If I understand that they are to be distributed equally between the different wards I shall be satisfied.
§ Amendment by leave withdrawn.
§ MR. HORACE C. PLUNKETT (Dublin County, S.)
I beg to move an Amendment that is not on the Paper. It is to insert the words—Every person for the time being rated in respect of occupation of premises for the relief of the poor, while paying such rate.Everyone on this side of the House entirely agrees with the right honourable Gentleman when he says that if the Parliamentary franchise is to be accepted it should be accepted broadly, without exception being taken to it in details, but, as a great many who sit with me here know, considerable dissatisfaction exists at the position of the county government franchise, they wish to have the question discussed in this House. There is no desire on anyone's part, as far as I know—certainly on the part of no one who sits on this side of the House—to restrict the franchise, or in any way to water down the pledge that was given by the First 1255 Lord of the Treasury last year that Local Government in Ireland should be placed upon a broad and popular basis. I doubt indeed whether, if my Amendment were accepted, the franchise would be as restricted as it would have been if the Amendments that have just been disposed of had been accepted. It has been proposed to abolish four of the six existing Parliamentary qualifications. As far as counties in Ireland are concerned, I do not believe there is much difference between the Parliamentary franchise and a rate-paying franchise. In the towns the lodgers, according to my proposal, would be abolished just the same as under the proposal of the honourable Member for North Louth. The freemen leaseholders would, if they voted at all, only vote on the Local Government Register as ratepayers. The sole desire that we have in putting forward this suggestion is to secure economy and efficiency in administration.
§ MR. CLANCY (Dublin County, N.)
I rise to a point of order. The right honourable Gentleman is proposing an Amendment in favour of restricting qualification to those who have paid their rates. The Committee has already decided that persons who are not rated are to be included as voters. I therefore submit that this Amendment is entirely out of order.
THE CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS
I do not think the Amendment of the right honourable Gentleman, after what the Committee has resolved, would be a restriction; it might be an expansion.
§ MR. CLANCY
There will be no reason, I respectfully submit, in the Amendment if it is confined to those who are rated. The Committee has already decided that freemen are to be enfranchised, and they are not rated. The Committee has already decided that 1256 lodgers are to be enfranchised, and they are not rated. Under these circumstances, I submit that the Amendment is out of order.
THE CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS
There might be some who are rated who are not already upon the Parliamentary Register, and they would be included under the Amendment of the right honourable Gentleman.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
Must you not, Sir, construe the Amendment by the reasons offered in its support by the right honourable Gentleman who moves it? He has explained that the object of his Amendment is to restrict the franchise.
§ MR. CLANCY
If the Amendment of the right honourable Gentleman is carried it will confine the franchise for local Government purposes to those who are rated. If that be so, it will be entirely in contravention of the decision that the Committee has twice arrived at on two successive Amendments, one dealing with lodgers, and the other dealing with freemen
THE CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS
I do not agree with the honourable Member. What the Committee has already passed, of course, cannot be reversed; that stands; but then, in addition to that, the right honourable Gentleman proposes to insert the words—Every person for the time being rated in respect of the occupation of premises for the relief of the poor, while paying such rate.It may well be that certain persons who have paid their rates yet do not appear on the Parliamentary register. Under the Amendment of the right honourable Gentleman, even those persons would be entitled to obtain the vote for local government purposes.
§ MR. PLUNKETT
I only wish to make it clear to the House that there is no attempt to obtain any party advantage by this Amendment. In fact, my honourable Friends who sit around me are extremely doubtful as to what the effect of this Amendment would be from a Party point of view. The meetings at which we were asked to have this point discussed were meetings of ratepayers, and they looked upon the matter simply from the point of view of economy and efficiency. It is a matter of principle. They wish that representation and taxation should go together. I beg to move my Amendment.
Amendment proposed, in Clause 2, page 1, line 18, after the word county, to insert the words—
Every person for the time being rated in respect of the occupation of premises for the relief of the poor, while paying such rate."—(Mr. Plunkett.)
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
It certainly does appear to me that this Amendment of my right honourable Friend will have the effect of reversing the decision which the Committee have already come to. If these words were inserted that would be the result, as far as I can see. Those persons whose rates are paid at the present time by the landlord have votes, not merely in the election of district councils and parish councils in England, and in all cases in Scotland, but also they have a vote for the county councils in England, because a householder is not excluded from voting in county council elections in England. As we have from the beginning been pledged to propose a system of local government on a basis no less broad and democratic than that which exists in England and Scotland, it must be obvious, I think, to the Committee that this is an Amendment that we cannot accept.
§ Amendment by leave withdrawn.
§ MR. R. G. WEBSTER (St. Pancras, E.)
In rising to move the Amendment which stands in my name, I do so, Sir, with some hope that it will receive, at any rate, favourable consideration. It aims at the correction of what is now a great abuse, and at the establishment of the true principle of the Ballot Act. When the Ballot Act was framed, it was framed so that the voter should have absolute secrecy, and should be protected against intimidation, either by landlord influence or in any other way. If we are going to have a comprehensive and really satisfactory system of local government in Ireland, it seems to me absolutely necessary that we should have a pure and proper system of election. I would bring back the recollection of the Committee to what has been mentioned before, as to the working of this illiterate voting system in Ireland. I hold in my hand a return which was presented to this House in 1886. That shows that there were in the United Kingdom at that time 2,000,000 electors. In Ireland there were 194,000 polled, and of that number no less than 36,000, or about one-fifth, claimed to be illiterates; whereas in England, at the election in 1896, out of 2,400,000 who polled, only 38,000 odd claimed to be illiterates. In Scotland there were 348,000 who polled, and of that number only 46 claimed to be illiterates. That is to say, that in England one person out of every 64 claimed this privilege; in Scotland one out of every 74; whereas in Ireland one out of every five claimed the privilege. That is a very grave and very serious state of affairs. I had the honour to bring forward a Motion, I think it was in 1892, in this House, which was carried by a majority of 115 to 50 in favour of altering this system on the first possible occasion, and doing away with 1259 the illiterate vote altogether. We were told at that time that the illiterate voter was dying out—that he was really becoming gradually a thing of the past—but I find that in the return that I asked for at the beginning of this Session, so far from the illiterate voter in Ireland dying out, instead of there only being, as there were in 1885, 36,000 who claimed to be illiterate, there were in 1895 40,000.
§ MR. MAURICE HEALY
I wish to know, Sir, whether this Amendment is in order. This clause creates a qualification, and specifies what that qualification is to be. The Amendment which the honourable Gentleman now proposes to move simply regulates the manner in which the vote is to be cast when you have the qualification. I submit that the Amendment is out of order on this clause.
THE CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS
I am bound to admit that I had very grave doubts as to whether the Amendment was in order or not, but I could not find any other place in the Bill in which it would appear to be in order, and as it was clear that the honourable Member was entitled to move it, I thought this was the only place in which he could do so.
§ MR. MAURICE HEALY
He could move this Amendment when we came to the section dealing with orders in Council. The whole method of election is provided under this section. He could have moved this Amendment in the form of a sub-section to that section.
THE CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS
I did consider that matter, but on the whole I came to the conclusion that I could not stop the honourable Member from moving his Amendment to this clause.
§ MR. R. G. WEBSTER
To resume, I find that at the last election 40,000 electors in Ireland claimed to vote as illiterates. In Ireland there were only 1260 220,000 electors cast to vote, whereas, in England and Wales, there were no less than 3,100,000, and of those, only 23,000 claimed to vote as illiterates. That is to say, if the same proportion had been shown in England as for Ireland, there would have been 800,000 electors in England instead of 23,000 claiming the illiterate vote. Now, really, when one considers this question, one has to ask oneself, is this island becoming more and more illiterate? I believe that that is not the case at all. According to the education returns for 1871 it appears that there were then 33 per cent. of illiterates, and that is including women and children over the age of 7 or 8 years. In 1881 they had decreased to 25 per cent., and in 1891 to 18 per cent. Having regard to these figures, I do not think it can be contended, as the honourable Member for Donegal stated, that the illiterate voter is dying out in Ireland. If they are dying out it would appear that at the time of a general election there is something like a universal resurrection. The more you educate the Irish people the more illiterate they are at the polling booth. I think really that if individuals are too dense or are unable to be taught how to register their votes at the polling booth they ought not to be qualified to vote either at Parliamentary or Municipal elections. That appears to me more and more to be the case when one recollects the vast sums of money that this House pays annually for compulsory education—I might go further, for free education—in the country, involving a very heavy expense to the taxpayer and the ratepayers. Why should this class of voters be accorded this special privilege? I do not find that when this question was first discussed in the House at the time of the introduction of the Ballot Act, this particular clause was contained in the Bill. It was put in by the Select Committee, to whom the Ballot Act was relegated; and mainly, I acknowledge, through the instrumentality 1261 of the Party to which I belong, whilst the majority of Liberals on the Committee were opposed to it. The Liberal Party urged that there was no necessity for this privilege being granted. I believe what really happened was that on the Report stage of the Bill the provision was allowed to accidentally slip through. Now, we know that the system is not working at all well. I do not think that this is a question of disfranchising electors. I think as far as Ireland is concerned, this system has shown that the true principles of the Ballot Act have been evaded for the purpose of coercing voters. I will illustrate that, not from English newspapers or from newspapers published in the interests of the Unionist party, but by one or two quotations from papers representing the views of honourable Gentlemen opposite. This is an extract from the Freeman's Journal, of the 13th April, 1891:—We must say that the secrecy of the ballot is completely set at nought by the practice of making a man illiterate for the purpose of showing how he votes, and it is a disgraceful evasion of the law.Again, the right honourable Gentleman, now the First Lord of the Treasury, pointed out to the House in 1891 that at the election in Sligo, 1300 out of a total poll of 1500 electors voted by the illiterate vote. Now, if you take any constituency in England and Wales, with an electorate of 8,000 or 9,000, you will not find more than two or three claiming the illiterate vote. The Independent, of the 19th July, 1892, contained the following:—What are we to think of the state of education in those parts of Ireland, where the country is studded with national schools, which are in almost every case under the control of the parish priest, and 47 per cent. of the voters declare themselves illiterate? Of course, this is false; not 10 per cent. of them are unable to write or read. It was a device to violate the spirit of the Ballot Act.When I had the honour of moving the Resolution to which I have referred, in 1262 1892, it was seconded by the honourable Baronet, the Member for the Cockermouth Division, who expressed his opinion that the illiterate voter was as much a humbug as the bonâ fide traveller. To return to Ireland. I should like to point out to the Committee the way in which the system works there. I will not speak of individual cases, but the general system is somewhat as follows. I have every respect for clergymen of all religious denominations, but I do think that the priest in politics is in his wrong place. But what is done in Ireland? They appoint personation agents in all the polling booths. These personation agents have every means of seeing how the electors vote. The electors are told, I do not say by the priests, but anyhow by somebody, I feel sure, that if they do not vote openly and declare themselves to be illiterate, it will be worse for them. If that be not going behind the true principle of the Ballot Act I do not know what is. I know that honourable Members opposite have a very high opinion of American institutions; in fact, I believe they are rather jealous, if the truth must be told, that just at the present time Englishmen are becoming rather more popular with our friends across the Atlantic. Be that as it may, I will ask them to look into any system adopted in America, and they will not find this privilege of illiterate voting given in either the General Elections or the State Elections, or any other. I do not know that such a privilege exists in any part of Europe where there is voting by ballot; indeed, in Holland, I believe, they actually have an educational qualification. Now, Sir, this question is one of very great importance. I am sure that honourable Members opposite would desire to feel that they are elected by the free voice of the Irish people, and certainly that is the feeling of the Unionist Members sitting for Irish constituencies. I am not certain that during the last few years the illiterate 1263 vote has gone against the Unionist party; it may rather have gone against a section of another party, sitting on the opposite side of the House. But, however that may be, if honourable Members, whether Liberals or Conservatives, Nationalists or Unionists, will only vote according to their real feelings, I believe they will vote in favour of my Amendment. It is my intention to press the Amendment to a Division, in order to test the sense of the House, and I sincerely hope that the House will endeavour to abolish a system which has worked so badly. If it be abolished in Ireland, we may feel sure that it will not be long before we get a similar reform for the rest of the United Kingdom.
Amendment proposed, in Clause 2, page 1, line 21, at end, to insert the words—
Provided always that Section twenty-six of The Parliamentary and Municipal Elections Act, 1872 (35 and 36 Vic, c. 33), and the forms of declaration referred to therein shall not apply to this Act."—(Mr. R. G. Webster.)
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
My honourable and learned Friend who has just sat down has been long and honourably identified with the particular subject that he brings before the Committee in this Amendment, and I think I am not going beyond the facts of the case when I say that in every part of the House it will be recognised that what my honourable and learned Friend has stated with regard to the existing abuses in connection with the illiterate voter is absolutely accurate. I do not wish to detain the House at this hour by going into the details of the question, but incidentally and parenthetically I would say that the Amendment in the form in which it appears on the Paper could not under any circumstances be accepted, for it clearly goes too far, and I think I shall be able to convince 1264 my honourable and learned Friend himself of that. If he will look at the subsection he proposes to omit he will see that the effect of his Amendment would be to disfranchise not only the illiterate voter, but also the blind voter, and any voter who by any physical defect is incapable of recording has vote in the ordinary fashion. That cannot be the honourable Member's intention, and, therefore, even if his Amendment, so far as regards the illiterate voter is to be accepted, his wording would have to be considerably modified. But I do not wish to delay the Committee on that point. The point I wish to put before the Committee is a much broader, and, as I think, a much more important one. I am entirely in agreement with the general principles laid down by my honourable and learned Friend. I do not know whether I took part in the Debate in 1892, to which he has referred, but I am perfectly certain that if I did. I spoke in support of his Motion, and, at any rate, if I voted, I voted in favour of it. I would even go further, and say that in my judgment the question of the illiterate voter has produced much scandal, and is open to so many objections, as everybody is aware, that I do not think this House ought to delay long before dealing with the question. But, Sir, I most earnestly deprecate dealing with it piecemeal, in a Local Government Bill, a Bill which applies to one part, and one part only, of the country. The main abuse, which is not confined to Ireland, though it may exist, and I believe does exist, to a far greater extent in Ireland than in other parts of the kingdom, is in connection with the Parliamentary franchise. I do not pretend that there is a total absence of similar abuses in connection with Local Government elections; but, at all events, let us, when we are going to deal with the illiterate voter, deal with him in England and Scotland and Ireland, at the same time, in the same measure, and by the same means. Let us deal with him first of all, and specially in connection with 1265 Parliamentary elections, not excluding, I freely admit, the less important, but still considerably important, aspect of the case which is brought before us in connection with local and municipal elections. Let the House remember this: we are earnestly desirous of approaching this vexed and much-controverted question of Irish local government in a spirit which shall convince everybody concerned, whether Irish or English, that we mean to deal in equal measure with all parts of the United Kingdom. I acknowledge—in fact, I have over and over again admitted—that, under the conditions with which we had to deal in 1892, very different circumstances had to be taken into account; but the whole object of our policy, the whole ground of what I may call this great measure of reform that we are bringing forward, is that we are now enabled, by special circumstances familiar to the House, to deal with Ireland, without attempting to draw invidious distinctions between her case and that of England. I think that, in departing from that principle in connection with this Measure, for the relatively small interval, as I hope, that must elapse before we can bring in a general and comprehensive Measure, we should lose much more than we could possibly gain by adopting my honourable and learned Friend's suggestion to stop some abuses here and there, which I do not pretend to conceal from myself, may exist under the Bill as it at present stands. I concur with the spirit of my honourable and learned Friend's arguments. I know that when the Government deal with this question we shall have his hearty and effective support; but I do venture to suggest to him that little will be gained and much may be lost by dealing piecemeal with this question. We are dealing here with a Local Government Bill for one part of the United Kingdom. The whole question of illiterate voters will be much better dealt with at one time in a broad spirit in connection with every form of popular representation, and in 1266 regard to every division of the United Kingdom.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
Having read this Amendment carefully, I have come to the conclusion that it must have been drawn by an illiterate voter. In the first place there is no such Act as the Parliamentary and Municipal Elections Act, 1872. The title of that Act is the Ballot Act. There is a heading to the Ballot Act which is called "An Act to amend the law relating to procedure at Parliamentary and municipal elections; Article 1." Then the Amendment says that Section 26 is not to apply. Section 26 applies to Scotland, and deals with personation and has no reference whatever to the case of the illiterate voter. And what does deal with the case of the illiterate voter is not in the body of the Act at all, but it is in a schedule. If the honourable and learned Gentleman wishes to repeal Section 26 he would be repealing the law as to personation in Scotland, and not as to illiterates in Ireland. What he did want to deal with is in the schedule to the Act. The schedule deals not merely with the illiterate voter, but the honourable Member would have also disqualified the Jew from voting on a Saturday, the blind man (like the late Mr. Fawcett), or any person otherwise disqualified by physical defect. Why, Sir, the most illiterate peasant in Connaught would not have made such mistakes. It shows the amount of attention that those who pretend to legislate for Ireland give to their own Acts of Parliament. Sir, there is one advantage, at all events, in illiteracy; I have often thought about it; an illiterate man can never draft a bogus company prospectus. And, having said that, I will leave the honourable Member to the enjoyment of his reflections on his Amendment.
§ MR. R. G. WEBSTER
I do not understand the last paragraph of the honourable Member's remarks; it certainly does not refer to me. Regarding his attack on the drafting of my Amendment, 1267 that is merely a technical objection. I carefully examined the Ballot Act in the Library, and my Amendment is substantially correct. However, that is not the main question, which, as the honourable Member knows, he could not reply to. He knows he has no case, and so indulges in a well-known trick amongst a certain stamp of legal practitioners, and indulges in silly abuse and would-be vitriolic invective against the advocate or attorney for the other side. But I bring solely this question before the attention of the House, as I am determined, if I can, to have this abuse of our representative system done away with. I have listened to what has been said by the right honourable Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, and I am pleased to think that I have had the honour of bringing this matter to the attention of the House and the country. I have gained the point I wished, and I sincerely hope that when this Local Government Bill becomes an Act, the power of voting, which it gives to illiterates so long as that power is allowed to exist, will not be abused.
§ MR. H. O. ARNOLD-FORSTER (Belfast, W.)
The honourable and learned Member for North Louth characteristically and entirely avoided the main point. He has not touched upon the fact that there is a gross scandal going on to his knowledge in Ireland, for certain purposes which he knows perfectly well. To divert the attention of the House from that fact, he has made an attack upon the honourable and learned Member below me, which does not in one degree touch the issue before the House. There has been a gross abuse of the privilege of voting. That gross abuse has taken place with the knowledge—I will not say under the patronage—of honourable Members opposite, and I regret that this important question should be for a moment diverted from its real significance by the false light attempted to be thrown upon it by the honourable and learned 1268 Member for North Louth. I do trust that the pledge which has been given by the First Lord of the Treasury to-night will be put into a substantial form, and that we who feel strongly about this matter may, before the end of this Parliament, see effect given to that pledge. If not, I will undertake that every Unionist Member from Ireland will do the very best he can on every available opportunity to insist on this pledge being enforced.
§ It being Twelve of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Committee report Progress.
§ House resumed.