HC Deb 14 March 1898 vol 54 cc1534-7

, in asking leave to introduce the Bill to extend to Ireland the provisions of Section 25 of the Parliamentary and Municipal Registration Act, 1878, relating to lodgers, said: When the Act of 1884 came into force it extended the provisions of Section 23 of the Act of 1878 to Ireland, but it omitted to extend the provisions of Section 25, and the necessity for the Bill arose from the fact that there was really no legislative enactment dealing with the irregularities that were said to have taken place at the recent election in the St. Stephen's Green Division, Dublin. Those irregularities were by no means confined to one party; on the contrary, both parties appeared to have resorted to them with equal freedom. There was no express statutory power to deal with those irregularities, and it was extremely doubtful whether, under the common law, the guilty parties could be visited with punishment. The right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean had informed him that he was opposed to the Bill, and had been kind enough to state the grounds upon which he took that course, which were that he thought the law should be more stringent. It might be that it was desirable that the law should be strengthened, but if so, should be done by a general Measure. This Bill was introduced more or less on the understanding that if it merely extended the English law to Ireland, it would be treated as a non-contentious Measure.

*SIR CHARLES DILKE: (Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean)

said that the case of the Attorney General for Ireland was that there was fraud in the lodger registrations in Ireland for which the Government desired to introduce a remedy. His case was that the Bill would be no remedy, as it would be impossible in Committee to make it workable. The Act of 1878 was founded on three Bills of private Members, which were consolidated in Committee. Section 25 was put in by the Select Committee which considered the Bill, and it was passed through the House without amendment. The Section at first might have had a deterrent effect, but very soon fraud commenced to develop, and had developed to an enormous extent. Section 25 had been found to be inoperative, and he (Sir Charles) was in a position to assure the House that gross frauds were going on with regard to lodger claims, and the section had been a complete failure. After the passing of the Act, the practice still continued of directing the appearance of lodger claimants in court, and it was also considered that they ought to sign their own claims; but the Revising Barristers became aware that it was not in their power to compel their attendance. There was a recent case—the Tapp case—which arose in the Frome Division of Somersetshire. A lodger claim had been there investigated, which was that of one of four men who occupied two beds in one room. It was sent for trial to the Assizes, and taken up by the Treasury. The Judge laid it down that "ignorantly and carelessly" signing a claim was not "falsely and fraudulently" signing; and, for that reason, it was essential in trying to deal with a lodger claim to show it was false and fraudulent in order to substantiate a prosecution, and that could not be done. It could be shown that the claim was false, and all the facts were false, but it could not be proved that the claim was made with a fraudulent intent. In the Tapp case the witness to the claim had been severely scolded by the Judge, but the jury were directed to acquit. The Government, when they had given notice of this Bill, had been under the impression that the law in Scotland was the same as the law in England, but he was not aware that the section had been applied to Scotland; and in Scotland there had, curiously enough, been recent successful cases of prosecution for fraudulent lodger claims, in which it had been laid down that a "reckless claim" was a crime against the common law of Scotland. To make the Bill of any value, it would be necessary to leave out the false and fraudulent part of it, and unless they did so they would not succeed in preventing fraud, and it would be impossible to do that in Committee. Fraud to an enormous extent prevailed in England, and he would be happy to show proofs of the same which he had received. They arose not through individuals, but through the acts of the clerks of the various political agents, who were paid by results, with the natural consequences. In one case, three claims were made on behalf of one man, who turned out to be an imaginary personage altogether, by three different clerks, for three different political Parties, none having authority to make the claims. Five members of one family were claimed for by two clerks belonging to one party, two of the forms being written by A and signed by B, and three of the forms written by B and signed by A. All these had been allowed by benevolent revising barristers, in spite of the fact that on one of the claims was written the fact that the man did not reside in the district, for there was often no opposition in such cases. These frauds were not peculiar to any one party, but were common to all Things were not yet so bad in England as they had been in New Zealand before the adoption of universal suffrage, when the claims of six bullocks belonging to the father of a Member of the House of Commons had been allowed; but the horse which brought him to the House in the morning was itself named after an imaginary lodger that the enterprise of the political parties in Chelsea might have succeeded in placing on the register but for the fact that they had not noticed that the number chosen represented his own stable. He should not press his objection further, but it was for the Irish Members to consider whether it was worth while extending this section to Ireland.

MR. W. H. K. REDMOND (Clare, E.)

rose to speak, when—


pointed out that no other Member could speak under the Standing Orders.

Bill subsequently brought up and read a first time.