HL Deb 01 September 1880 vol 256 cc951-62

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, the measure was not one which sought to confer the franchise or to extend the fran-chise. It was simply an endeavour to render the conditions of registration under the existing franchise as facile and as convenient as they could possibly be made. It was necessary to explain, in order to remove apprehensions which might exist in the minds of noble Lords, that the substance of the measure was merely an assimilation of the law of Ireland to that of England—giving to the electors of Ireland advantages which had for years been possessed by the electors of England—nothing more and nothing loss. He did not think it necessary in that House to say that if they could assimilate the law of Ireland to that of England it was a most desirable thing to do. There were many cases, no doubt, in which, under different social circumstances and conditions, such assimilation must, of necessity, be difficult, if not altogether impossible; but where-over they could accomplish it, especially when the people of Ireland asked for it, he thought it most desirable that it should be brought about. In the particular case before their Lordships, what he had to present to them was a Bill about which last night there seemed to be some unpleasant feeling on the other side of the House, though he failed to understand why. It was a Bill which, in the main body of its clauses, was copied from an Act of Parliament passed for England in 1865. It was very much to be regretted—and it was very much regretted in Ireland —that often the law of Ireland halted behind the law of England, and that improvements which had been tested by experience, and which were valued very highly in England, were not applied to Ireland as soon as they ought to be. In this particular case, as he had told their Lordships, the clauses which had been embodied in this little measure were clauses that were passed in 1865. Very often, he knew, there was no ground for complaint of the withholding of English legislation of a beneficial kind from Ireland, because it was often the fault of those who should apply beneficial legislation wherever it might be found, to the Irish people, but in this particular case no such blame applied to anybody. An attempt was made so long back, he was told, as 1874 in the House of Commons by the same private Member (Mr. Mel-don) who carried the present Bill through that House to pass one not exactly the same as this, but very nearly so — not precisely the same because not containing two clauses to which he should call attention in a moment—the objection clause and the medical relief clause. The Bill was brought in in 1874, and again year after year, he did not know how often, in the House of Commons. He was told, and he believed, that the principle and details of the measure were approved by the Government of the day; but, somehow or other its passing was prevented. It, however, had at length passed, and it now came up with additions, which their Lordships could accept or not as they liked. There had been no division on the Bill in the House of Commons. There was nothing to prevent their Lordships from giving full attention to the clauses which he would bring under their observation. If they were useful and had been acted on in this country for many years, and approved by the experience of successive bodies of electors, surely it was not too much to ask that they should give the Irish voter the same advantages that the English elector possessed. He would now call attention to the details of the measure which was presented to their Lordships. The first batch of clauses from the 1st to the 7th was headed "Prevention of Frivolous Objections." Before the Act of 1865 was passed, in England as in Ireland at present, general objections, not specifying what the ground of the objection was could be made to a man named on the list of voters, and were made broadcast throughout the country. It was competent for any person to make this kind of objection before the Revising Barrister without notice to the man objected to. The objection had to be met, however trivial it might be, no doubt, more or less at the risk of costs, but putting a person perfectly qualified to vote to a great deal of inconvenience, and annoyance, and expense. That was believed to be in England, as he had told them—it was still believed to be in Ireland a great and pressing grievance. The result of an inquiry of 1865 was that provisions to this effect were passed. First, that instead of having a general objection under which anybody might come and make any kind of case he pleased, it was made necessary that the grounds of objection must be stated. By another clause it was provided that the evidence should be specific as to the subject of each objection, each ground of objection was to be treated as a separate objection, and the cost was limited to £5. These were the provisions of the English Act, and they were also substantially the pro- visions of the Bill which he now asked them to read a second time. There was a clause in this Bill which was not in the English Act, but which he was strongly of opinion ought to have been in that Act—namely, that all notices of objection should give the post town and the abode of the person objected to. At present the system was to direct the objections to the Post Office; and the result was that it frequently happened that the notices never reached the persons to whom they were addressed, as ordinary voters did not often come to the Post Office to inquire if there were any letters for them. The result had been that great injustice had been perpetrated in that way. With the exception of two clauses, the substance of the Bill being that of the English measure, he asked them—unless they saw objections to those clauses and rejected them—to pass the second reading of the Bill without hesitation as a matter of justice, reasonable policy, and absolute right. The clauses he had referred to were Clauses 8 and 14. Some of their Lordships knew something of the system of registering voters. It was very much the same in Ireland as in England. There was first a register of voters—a register of those who had already established their right to vote. There was then a register of claims— that was to say, a list of persons not put on the register who set forward their claim to be on it; and then there was a supplemental list. In England it was made out by the overseers on a precept from the Clerk of the Peace, who, as everyone knew, was nearly always an able and intelligent officer. The Clerk of the Union was bound by solemn obligations, and under severe penalties, to take care that the register should be as complete as possible; and that any name ought to be objected to by reason of change of residence or other circumstances should have "objection" put opposite to it. There were, then, three persons — the Clerk of the Peace, the Clerk of the Union, and the Poor Law collectors— who knew every inch of ground, and almost every individual, in the area of their collection, and who were bound, under the most solemn obligations and severest penalties, to provide a supplemental list of persons who ought to be on the register. They stated in the list the name of the person, and that statement demonstrated three things. First, the rating; next, the sufficiency of the rating and the identity of the person; and, finally, that the rates had been paid. There was no necessity for proof of anyone of these things, as the supplemental register was primâ facie evidence of them in the absence of evidence to the contrary—generally, it was conclusive. What was proposed by the 8th clause was simply that inasmuch as the supplemental list was primâ facie evidence of all these things—of the rating, the sufficiency of the rates, and the payment of the rates—-it should also be, in the absence of proof to the contrary, sufficient primâ facie evidence that a man who was known to all these officials, and was put forward by them as a person entitled, was really entitled to vote. There was nothing very unreasonable in that. It was to be supposed, when they remembered that the supplemental list was published for a considerable period in the most prominent places, in order that any person might object, that if there were objections to be made, people who had them to urge would urge them. And it was the duty of the Revising Barrister, if he saw anything to suggest a difficulty or to raise a suspicion in his mind, to institute a careful inquiry. He had before him all the officers—the Clerk of the Peace, the Clerk of the Union, and the Poor Law collectors. The latter were bound to attend his Court for the express purpose of being examined; and with all these safeguards it was plain that the supplemental register must be right in such a vast majority of cases as to make the minority hardly worth considering. Individuals seeing their names on the supplemental list should be saved the trouble, expense, and worry of presenting themselves before the Revising Barrister to be examined. It was surely desirable that that should be avoided, if it could be avoided consistently with the public interest. There was one individual in the district who should be supposed specially to know the occupation, residence, and general circumstances of every person, and he was the collector. There was only another clause which their Lordships need care to consider. Under the Irish law the receipt of relief from the poor rates disentitled a man to vote. The 14th clause distinguished between persons receiving medical relief and persons receiving other relief. In Ireland it was very much the custom for farmers in good positions to have assistance from the dispensary doctors, and in that way a good many people were disfranchised who ought not to be disfranchised. These were the observations which occurred to him. The Bill appeared to him not to be extravagant or unreasonable. It had been approved by the House of Commons, and was much desired and needed by the Irish people. They should have the same freedom and facility for obtaining the franchise as the people of England; and he, therefore, hoped their Lordships would give a second reading to the Bill.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a"—(The Lord O' Hagan.)


said, he should oppose the Motion for the second reading of the Bill on the ground of the time at which it had been brought up for consideration. The print of the Bill was delivered to their Lordships only that morning, and the subject was one upon which some of them might wish to consult with their Friends acrose the Channel, and elsewhere, before they agreed to it. But without going into the Bill, and referring to Clause 8—which was proposed in 1873 in their Lordships' House for England, or somewhere else, and rejected—he wished to speak not merely for their Lordships, but also for the House of Commons, as to the way in which the measure had been treated with regard to time. The Session began only on the 20th of May, and the Bill was brought in in the other House on the 21st of May; read a second time on the 24th; committed on June 9; further considered and passed through Committee on June 11. Now, from June 11 to August 30 nothing was done with the Bill at all. It was put on the Paper peremptorily, and came on for consideration; but it was always too late, and was never passed through its remaining stages, and everybody looked upon it as dead. How was it revived? On Saturday it was the last thing down on the Orders of the Day. Certain Members, who were rather troublesome in dealing with matters with regard to Irish Supply in Committee, got hold of the Government, and told them that if they would allow this measure to pass they would cease to be troublesome with regard to Votes in Supply. It was, therefore, put down for Monday as First Order after the Votes in Supply. The Bill so came on, and so got through. No Member of the House of Commons who did not see the change of Order would have the slightest idea that the measure was coming on at all. He said, therefore, that at this time of the year to treat a Bill so was not right, and it was not the case that the other House had properly considered it. The Bill now came up to them to be read a second time on the 1st of September. What chance had they to amend it? It was impossible that it could receive fair attention. Therefore, on that ground alone, he would move that the Bill be read a second time that day three months.

Amendment moved, to leave out ("now") and add at the end of the Motion ("this day three months.")—(The Earl of Redes-dale.)


said, he thought their Lordships ought not to refuse consideration to any Bills because of the period of the Session at which they were brought up. He submitted that it was not in accordance with their Lordships' dignity to assume that the end of the Session must come at a certain date. He had been against the hurrying through of a Bill at the last Session, in March, of the Parliament. In 1868, an Irish Registration Bill had been brought in on the 28th of July, and a noble and gallant Lord (Lord Strathnairn), then Commander of the Forces, had wished that a clause to multiply polling places and prevent the necessity for soldiers being employed at times of elections should be considered; but no time was given, and the Session closed without due attention being given to it. There was no time for due consideration of this Bill, which was not pressing as no election was likely to take place for some time.


said, that, undoubtedly, it was annoying to the House that a Bill should be sent up at this late period of the Session; but they knew enough of what passed in the other House to be aware that not only under the present Government, but also in other Sessions under the previous Government, there had been unusual de- lay in forwarding Bills of an important kind. The result was that measures of not the highest importance, though very interesting to those who introduced them, were put off from time to time. The Bill was one which he thought they might fairly give a second reading to. The noble Lord opposite (the Earl of Redes-dale) said there was a clause in it open to objection. Well, if that were so, then the clause could be considered; but to object to the measure altogether on account of the period of the Session seemed to him to be a discourteous proceeding. They had on this occasion a very large attendance of Peers, which might he owing to the fact of the Bill he had in charge being on the Paper. Certain it was that during the last few days there had been a very excellent attendance of Peers in the House; and he did not see why, considering their Lordships were present, they should not consider the Bill. The Government in this House were not very powerful, and he knew they were in the hands of the majority; but he thought that majority would do well to allow the second reading of a measure the only object of which was to assimilate the law of Ireland to that of England.


said, that, as the noble and learned Lord who had moved the second reading had stated, this Bill simply proposed to introduce into the law of Ireland certain changes already effected in the law of England. Now, by whom was this change proposed? By Mr. Ward Hunt, a Member of the Conservative Government, and it was based on the Report of a Committee who had considered the matter very carefully in 1874. Who had charge of the Bill in this House? None other than the noble Duke whom he did not at present see in his place (the Duke of Richmond and Gordon). The Bill was read a second time and passed through all its stages, not only without discussion, but without debate, and a similar Bill the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Redesdale) now asked them to reject on the score of time. It was a difficult thing to resist the unreasonable demands that came from Ireland, and those who had the maintenance of law and order had a difficult part to play; and he trusted their Lordships would not place an additional weapon in the hands of the opponents of that law and order by refusing a demand that was, in the highest degree, just and reasonable.


said, that no one was more sensible of the indignity put on this House by the House of Commons than he was. He had come down day after day for the purpose of assisting in the progress of Public Business; but he had found there was none sent up from the other House, and he had on one occasion used an expression which he now repeated—that the House of Commons, by its action towards their Lordships, virtually extinguished them as a deliberative Assembly. But although this was so, he was not on that account prepared to reject the Bill now before the House. The spirit in which the House of Commons had acted towards their Lordships ought to be met by a very different spirit on their part. He trusted, however, that the Government would take such measures as would ensure their Lordships next year against a repetition of conduct such as that to which they had been exposed. The present had been, in many respects, an abnormal Session, and that fact ought to be taken into account. He acknowledged the zeal of the noble Earl (the Earl of Redesdale) who had moved the Amendment, because everybody must feel thankful to him for his efforts to maintain the rights and independence of that House; but he did hope and trust that in the present Session there would be no more cause given for misunderstanding between the House of Lords and the people of Ireland.


said, he had fears of what were called very little Bills, because sometimes it happened that such measures contained revolutionary and confiscatory principles tending to make land unsaleable. He did not say there were good grounds for rejecting the Bill on the second reading; but he certainly thought it would require close examination, and for the reason, amongst others, that, instead of assimilating the laws of the two countries, it would not assimilate them on very important points. If it did assimilate the laws of England and Ireland he should not object to it.


appealed to their Lordships not to assent to the Amendment of the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Redesdale). His noble Friend behind him (Lord Emly) had stated that this Bill was one in which the Irish Members of the other House had taken the greatest interest, and he believed that its rejection would have a bad effect in Ireland. He entirely concurred with the opinion expressed by his noble Friend, and sincerely trusted that their Lordships would listen to the excellent advice just given by the noble Earl (the Earl of Shaftesbury) that they should not reject the measure, for there was nothing that the Irish people felt so much as this—that when there was a beneficial law in this country they should be precluded from having the same law in Ireland. It was a Bill for assimilating the law of Ireland to that of England, and nothing could be fairer than such a proposal. It might be true, as had just been stated, that there were some important measures which were not like the law of England; but what the Government asked the House to do was not summarily to reject this Bill, but to agree to a general principle which had been assented to by the Government of the noble Earl (the Earl of Beaconsfield). The measure was not new in character. On the contrary, it was well known to their Lordships; and they were perfectly able to give an excellent opinion on the merits of the measure. The Government had adopted the Bill because it was one which they approved, and with the view of facilitating other Business. There had been some agreement which facilitated the passing of the Bill of Indemnity for a noble and right rev. Lord a Member of that House. He did not, however, ask their Lordships to read the Bill a second time on that ground; but because their doing so would be reasonable and just to the people of Ireland.


said, that he could hardly suppose for a moment that their Lordships would reject the measure without discussing its merits, or attempting to answer what had been stated by his noble Friends near him. He regretted quite as much as his noble Friend the Chairman of Committees could the course which had been taken by the other House in delaying to send Bills to their Lordships earlier, and he felt grateful to the noble Earl for the attention he always paid to such subjects. At the same time, it could not be the wish of the noble Earl to destroy legislation coming from the other House which was approved by Members of his own Party. The noble Lord behind him (Lord Emly) had made an appeal to the House on behalf of the people of Ireland. The Government wished to stem agitation in that country. But did their Lordships think the rejection of the Bill, upon the ground that it was brought in too late, a proper means to effect that object, at a time when there were far more Peers present than there were on the average? Besides, this Bill was not really proposed at the end of a long Session; because, taking into consideration the late period of the year at which they met after the General Election, the Session might be said to be much shorter than usual. He did not think that their Lordships could consistently pursue such a course, especially when they remembered that at the end of the last Session the then Government, in the face of the protest of the Opposition, and when there were only five of its Members present, insisted upon passing a Bill which, he was told, had added materially to the expenses of elections throughout the country. Their Lordships had already this Session thrown cut, without discussion, a Bill the object of which was to lessen law costs to the Irish tenantry, and which was simply an adoption of a law prevailing in this country for many years. They had followed that by throwing out the Compensation for Disturbance (Ireland) Bill. Let them not have it said that they followed that by throwing out, without discussion, a Bill the main object of which was to assimilate the law in Ireland to that in this country with regard to the registration of voters.

On Question, That ("now") stand part of the Motion? Their Lordships divided:—Contents 30; Not-Contents 42: Majority 12.

Selborne, L. (L. Chancellor.) Breadalbane, L. (E. Breadalbane.)
Calthorpe, L.
Camperdown, E, Carew, L.
Granville, E. Clermont, L.
Kimberley, E. Denman, L.
Shaftesbury, E. Dormer, L.
Spencer, E, Emly, L.
Kenmare, L. (E. Ken-mare.)
St. David's, L. Bp. Leigh, L.
Boyle, L. (E. Cork and Orrery.) [Teller.] Monson, L. [Teller.]
Mount Temple, L.
Braye, L. O'Hagan, L.
Sandhurst, L. Stratheden and Camp-bell, L.
Saye and Sele, L.
Somerton, L. (E. Normanton.) Sudeley, L.
Waveney, L.
Strafford, L. (V. Enfield.) Wolverton, L.
Wrottesley, L.
Norfolk, D. Balfour of Burleigh, L[Teller.']
Northumberland, D.
Wellington, D. Bateman, L;
Borthwick, L.
Abergavenny, M. Braybrooke, L.
Bute, M. Brodrick, L. (V. Midleton.)
Winchester, M. Dunsany, L.
Amherst, E. Forester, L.
Beaconsfield, E. Gormanston, L. (V. Gormanston.)
Clonmell, E.
Dundonald, E. Hay, L. (E. Kinnoul.)
Ferrers, E. Hylton, L.
Gainsborough, E. Lamington, L.
Lucan, E. Leconfield, L.
Macclesfield, E. Rowton, L.
Mount Edgcumbe, E. Stewart of Garlies, L. (E. Galloway.)
Onslow, E.
Redesdale, E. [Teller.] Strathnairn, L.
Tankerville, E. Templemore, L.
Tollemache, L.
Combermere, V. Windsor, L.
Hawarden, V. Wynford, L.
Melville, V. Zouche of worth, L.
Bagot, L.

Resolved in the Negative; and Bill to be read 2a on this day three months.