HL Deb 21 August 1883 vol 283 cc1448-60

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, the Bill was intended for the amendment of the Law of Registration of Voters in Ireland, and its history was this It had been long felt that the condition of the Registration Law in Ireland, very different as it was from that which now prevailed in England, urgently demanded consideration and amendment; and Bills for that purpose, and, to a very large extent, identical with this Bill, had been before the other House of Parliament several times during several Sessions. He believed this Bill had boon accepted in that House with a very large amount of agreement indeed by the Irish Members; and he was informed there was scarcely a Division upon it at any stage of its course. But by those accidents which sometimes occurred in "another place," and which had become more frequent of late years, those Bills had not, with one exception, made their way into their Lordships' House, and that exception occurred in the year 1881, when one Bill was fortunate enough to make its way into the House. That Bill, he found, was thrown out, not on its merits, but in consequence of the fact that the second reading was moved on the 1st of September; and it had now been brought in again and carried through the other House on the responsibility of the Government. It had been adopted by the Government, although it was originally introduced by a Member of the Legal Profession amongst the Irish Representatives. Although he was sorry to see the Notice of opposition given by the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Kilmorey), he trusted that, upon the merits of the Bill, their Lordships would find little difficulty in accepting it. It appeared, upon its merits, to be very much called for as an amendment of the present system in Ireland—a system which was open to great complaint, and which, lie thought, ought not to be allowed to continue any longer in its present condition. The Bill was for the prevention of frivolous and vexatious objections, as, under the present system, there was the greatest possible opportunity given for such objections; with the result that many persons were practically deprived of the franchise. In Ireland there were three lists of voters in existence every year; there was the register of voters itself, there was, of course, the list of the claimants, and there was also a list peculiar to Ireland, called the supplemental list. That list was not made up of the names of the parties who desired to claim a vote, but was framed by public authority by the Clerk of each Union, who included in it the name of every person within the Union who he had reason to believe was entitled to vote, and yet was not on the existing register. He drew up the list on his own responsibility, and he returned it, with his sworn declaration, to the Clerk of the Peace. As the law now stood in Ireland, any name, either on the register of voters itself or on that temporary and provisional list, might be objected to by anyone. Whenever, in fact, anybody sent in a notice to say he objected to such and such a name that name was struck off, unless the person so objected to attended and proved his qualification. That was a state of things which gave rise to the great abuse to which he had alluded—namely, to the result that a number of perfectly qualified persons who had not been able to attend and make good their qualifications were struck off the list of voters for that year, and had to begin the process over again the next year. That was a state of things which, happily, did not prevail in this country. The Bill would require that that supplemental list of voters should be treated as primâ facie evidence of the qualification of any person; and it said that any objection made to any name must be an objection founded upon some reason which must be stated, and that, unless some primâ facie reason was given to the Registration Court by the objector, the person objected to should not be required to attend to prove his qualification. That seemed to him to be a perfectly proper and reasonable amendment of the law. This was not the case of parties making private claims to the franchise, but the case of a list drawn up by public authority and under a sworn declaration; and it was well known that in nine cases out of ten the persons thus put on the supplemental list were, in fact, qualified. The Bill, then, proposed to give that public authority the weight which properly attached to it, and treated it as primâ facie evidence of qualification, not liable to be set aside by the mere groundless objection of anyone who might find it to his interest to object. In order to make that list more authoritative, the Bill also provided that greater precautions should be taken in framing it than were now required; and in future the list would be submitted by the Clerk of the Union to that officer who had the greatest knowledge of every voter in his district—namely, the Collector of the Poor Rates, who would be required to check the list. The other effect of the Bill was to remove an anomaly in the system of registration in the City of Dublin. The Irish borough franchise was a rate-paying franchise of £4 valuation, the rate of all tenements valued under that sum being paid by the landlord. In Dublin there was a Private Act for the purpose of convenience of collection, which made the landlord liable to pay the rate in all cases where the valuation was under £8. The result of this accident was that the City of Dublin was subjected to a franchise higher than the other cities and boroughs of Ireland, and this anomaly it was desired to correct. Those were the most important provisions of the Bill, and on its merits he could see no reasons for the Motion for its rejection placed on the Paper by the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Kilmorey). There might be Party reasons for its rejection, and there might be political reasons. It might be said that by making any addition to the number of voters they would be adding strength to the forces of disaffection. If that was the view of the noble Earl he should venture to utterly differ from him. He was certain that if any result of the kind were to be feared, they would run far greater risk of adding force to disaffection by the rejection of a reasonable measure of this kind than by passing it upon its merits, although it would add somewhat to the number of voters in Ireland. As to the purely registration part of the Bill, he might inform the House that those who suffered most by the existing Registration Acts, and who were liable to all the gross abuses to which he had referred, were among what he might call the quietest and most unobtrusive men in the Irish constituencies; the very men to whom they should desire to secure the suffrage. He himself was aware of persons of the highest respectability and position—men, for instance, like Dr. Lyons, M.P.—being kept off the register in Dublin because of the frivolous objections made to their right to vote. He, therefore, confidently asked the House to pass that most reasonable reform; and he should greatly regret if they gave any new ground of complaint in Ireland when an attempt was being made to remove a real grievance on the lines of what was the law in this country.

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


in moving that the Bill be read a second time that day three months, claimed the consideration of the House for any faults of inexperience or ignorance on his part. He felt that the task of difficulty and delicacy which he had undertaken had been rendered much easier by the way in which the Lord President had anticipated some of the objections which he should urge against the Bill. He would not occupy the valuable time of their Lordships in discussing the minute details of the measure, because he ventured to hope that in a short time they would have relegated it to the shelves of their Lordships' House, there to remain until an earlier period of next year than that in which they were called upon to consider it this, fie wished the House to treat this Bill—although it was not of so great importance in his opinion as in the opinion of Her Majesty's Ministers—rather as a measure of some importance, and for that reason he wished them to reject it; for if it was a measure of any importance, that was not the day nor the hour in which it should be brought into their Lordships' House. He desired to add his protest against the growing practice of sending measures of importance to that House from "another place" at the end of July or beginning of August; and he would ask their Lordships whether they were going to permit their honourable House to become a mere office of registration? There were many cogent reasons, in his opinion, why they should not accept the Bill. His first objection he had already alluded to—the date of its introduction to their Lordships' House. The second objection was one which the Lord President probably did not expect him to touch upon. His second and strongest reason for exhorting the House to reject the measure was, unless he was grievously misinformed, because its origin was found in one of the most polluted sources. Their Lordships must be quite aware that was one of three Bills which were drafted and introduced in another place at an early part of the Session by persons of no less historical notoriety—notoriety most acceptable to themselves, if to no one else—than the late and present Lord Mayors of Dublin, and those Members who had been most conspicuous during the whole of this Session, and particularly in the last few days, by their unseemly attacks upon Her Majesty's Ministers. For what purpose had the Members of the so-called Irish National Party introduced these three Bills? Common sense would tell their Lordships that it was simply for their own advantage. Therefore, he could not understand how the Lord President could assume that by the passing of the Bill any advantage could accrue to any of Her Majesty's subjects in Ireland, except to those who had openly rebelled against Her control, set Her laws at defiance, and treated all Constitutional Government with contempt. Who were to get the advantage of the facilities of this Bill? The Irish National Party, so-called—the advocates of disorder and rioting both in and out of Parliament. It was to them, and them only, that any advantage could accrue by the passing of this measure; and, therefore, he asked their Lordships to consider the Bill, not merely as a Government measure, but merely as a measure promoted by persons who were acknowledged, and who did not blush to be acknowledged, as rebels to the Crown, whose measures had been accepted by Her Majesty's Ministers and fathered by them in order to attain some extraordinary end which they could not conceive; and he asked their Lordships for that reason to object to the measure, because it came to their Lordships from a source which, it could not be concealed, was tainted with treason. With all due respect to the Lord President, and the noble Earl the Secretary of State for India, from the manner in which they deluded the House into passing the Irish Land Act, he must decline to accept their view of this Bill. They were all aware of how vastly the working of that Act differed from that which they were led to believe would result from it when the measure was introduced. He ventured, therefore, to doubt the opinion of the Lord President on this Bill. He trusted that their Lordships would not give the Bill a chance of showing how bad its results would be; and if there was even the smallest doubt as to whether it would act for the pacification of Ireland, he asked them to give the objectors to it the benefit of that doubt, and thus to swell the numbers of those who followed him into the Lobby to vote against it. If the Bill were sent back, and should be again submitted in another Session at a time when it could be properly considered, their Lordships might then discuss it. Let him impress upon their Lordships his other reason for objecting. As he said before, the Bill came from a tainted source. It was one and the same as the Bill drafted by the Party of disorder; and he did not conceive that it would be consistent with the dignity of their Lordships' House to assist in passing a measure which would insure still more power and influence to the Members of that rebellious movement. The Bill was promoted by a Party who had heaped insult upon the head of a most respected Judge; and was it possible that a Bill promoted by such a Party was likely to promote peace throughout Ireland? The Lord President had been good enough to give their Lordships what he called "the history of the Bill." Unless he was wrongly informed, the Bill was brought forward early in the Session, but had been laid aside, and nobody heard anything more about it, when suddenly one or two important measures were dropped—the Police Superannuation Bill and the Sunday Closing Bill for Ireland—and this Bill was taken up by the Government and pressed forward with such indecent haste that it drew forth the most emphatic protest from the loyal Irish Members. He, therefore, trusted that their Lordships would consider the Bill unworthy of their attention, because it came to them as a tainted measure; because their Lordships' House had been hitherto free from the taints which unfortunately had stained the Lower House, and because that House had not yet been sullied by the presence of rebels. He trusted in conclusion, that they would not lend assistance to a measure practically promoted by rebels to the Crown, of whom it had been justly said by an eminent Member of their Lordships' House that they were "steeped in treason to the very lips." The noble Earl concluded by moving 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 Kilmorey.)


said, he must protest against their Lordships dealing with the Bill at that period of the Session. He need scarcely remind their Lordships that on the occasion of the re-distribution of seats in England and Scotland, Ireland was not included; and the consequence was that the Irish re- preservative system remained in the old unreformed state, and anomalies existed there far greater than those which prevailed in any other portion of Her Majesty's Dominions. He thought, therefore, it was most unwise and impolitic to tinker with the representation of the people of Ireland until the time came for bringing forward some general measure to deal with it effectually as a whole. It looked, however, as if the Government now desired to give a sop to those to whom they had given many sops of the same kind. Moreover, their Lordships had a right to complain that a measure like the present had been sprung like a mine upon them in the closing days of the Session; and they had a right also to complain that some Members of that House who were in the Cabinet permitted their Lordships' House to be treated in that manner. A question of this kind ought not to have been brought forward in the closing nights of the Session. This was only one instance among several others in which their Lordships were called upon to dispose of important Bills in a few hours. He thought a stand ought to be made somewhere. It was almost an insult to their Lordships that they should thus be asked to go into Bills, many of which had taken weeks and months of consideration in the other House, and which had been largely changed in going through the other House, and had only assumed their present form in the last few days. He entirely declined to accept at the hands of those who had introduced the Bills in that House, however honest they might be, an exposition of the objects which those measures were intended to effect. Their Lordships were aware that the noble Lord the President of the Council, in introducing the Irish Land Act of last Session, took a wrong view of the scope and results of that measure; that was admitted on all hands.




He said most emphatically that that Act did not realize the anticipations which had been expressed about it; and, therefore, he declined to accept from Her Majesty's Government an explanation of the scope of the present Bill. Under those circumstances, without giving any opinion as to the principles of the measure, he hoped their Lordships would refuse to read it a second time at that period of the Session, so that it might be re-introduced by Her Majesty's Government next Session, and at such a time as to insure its being considered with that deliberation which ought to be accorded to every measure.


said, it was an insult to their Lordships to be told that they must consider and pass all these Bills without amendment, and adjourn in a week. He suggested that the House should take the question of adjournment into its own hands, and adjourn till the 24th of October, to which date both Houses adjourned last year, whilst their Lordships' House was prevented from transacting any Business. He (Lord Denman) did not consider it safe for the foreign policy of the country to be controlled by Her Majesty's Ministers without any responsibility to Parliament; but it might be adjourned to the same date this year, when it might proceed to consider these measures in a proper manner. Some years ago an Irish Registration Bill was thrown out by this House; and the noble and gallant Lord (Lord Strathnairn), who had been Commander of the Forces in Ireland, was most anxious to have the polling places nearer together, that it might not be necessary to have large forces of military near each polling place; but, as no time was given for any Amendment, the Bill was thrown out.


My Lords, I only propose to say one word. Since my noble Friend the Lord President gave a clear statement of the principle and objects of the Bill, I have listened attentively to all that has passed, and have not been able to gather one single objection, either to the principle or the details of the measure. The noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Kilmorey) objected to the Bill because it came from a source even worse than Her Majesty's Government, and my noble Friend (Viscount Midleton) objected to it because he had no confidence in Her Majesty's Government, and also because it was too late in the Session to consider it; but not one single word had been said against the Bill itself, either in principle or detail. With regard to the latter objection, I can only say that there is now present above the average number of Peers that generally sit in this House; and I do not see why we should not this evening discuss this Bill as easily as we could have done two or three months earlier in the Session.


My Lords, I think the objections to the principle of this Bill are very strong if we do not take objection to the actual details of the measure. Is this the time that such a Bill should pass? Is this the time, when so many of our Constitutional guarantees are to a great extent withdrawn, and when the Government of Ireland, for reasons which we recognize as of unfortunate necessity, are placed under a very severe system of exceptional law—is this the time to bring in what certainly may, to a considerable extent, be described as a new Reform Bill? Is it the time to increase the number of voters, and make other considerable changes, the full extent of which we do not know? I do not know whether this is a Bill which, if we had greater time to examine it, we might not pass—I dare say we might—but it is a Bill which, taking into account the existing state of Ireland, I decline to vote for, unless I have full opportunity of examining its provisions. I should like first to ascertain from those who live on the spot what the real effect of the Bill will be. Before voting for this measure, I should like to consult men learned in the law with regard to it. I should like to have time to ascertain, by the machinery of a Select Committee, the facts upon which the necessity of the Bill is founded. All these things we ought to know; but it is impossible to obtain the desired information at this period of the Session. All we have is the guarantee of Her Majesty's Government to go upon, and the fact that the Bill has passed the House of Commons. How has it passed the House of Commons? Has that House considered the Bill carefully? I should like to give a short history of the passage of the Bill through that House. This Bill, which some people think will produce important effects, was read a second time on the 4th of August, on a Saturday afternoon—not a time very favourable for its full consideration by the House of Commons. It was committed last Tuesday, and the Report and third reading were taken together—a very unusual course—and on Saturday morning at so late an hour that there was no report of the proceedings in the morning newspapers. Therefore, I am safe in saying that this Bill does not come to us guaranteed by the mature and careful consideration of the House of Commons; and I do not think we ought to be called upon to pass a Bill of this important nature when introduced into this House at such a time.


said, he should support the Bill. The first ground of objection taken, of which he felt the full force, was the late period of the Session. At the same time, if they rejected the Bill for that reason they should reject all the other Bills upon the same ground, and the Session ought at once to be closed. Would it be safe to reject the Bill on that ground? Was not the argument rather in favour of the extension of the Session than of the rejection of the Bill? He denied that there was any analogy between the case of that Bill and the Bankruptcy Bill. The latter was a large and complicated measure, consisting of 178 clauses, introduced for the first time this Session in the House of Commons, after an exhaustive discussion by a Grand Committee. A Bill of such magnitude ought not to be sent to their Lordships at so late a period. But there was nothing new in the Bill before their Lordships; it had been introduced many Sessions ago, and their Lordships were perfectly familiar with its provisions. The second objection was that the Bill came from a polluted source. That was certainly not the case, for he recollected that it was first introduced by Mr. Charles Melville, a Q.C. of the highest respectability, and reached the Committee stage in the other House. Mr. Melville brought the Bill forward simply because it was a measure of justice. The third objection which was urged also to some extent by the noble Marquess was that it was a tinkering with the franchise in Ireland—in fact, a small Reform Bill, introduced at a critical period in the history of that country. The Bill, however, did not deserve that name. It was not a Franchise Bill; it gave a vote to nobody who was not now entitled to a vote. It was simply a Bill of procedure, and putting that procedure exactly on the same basis on which it rested in England, and it would be a great Act of injustice to reject it. He was on the Bench for 20 years, and in consequence of a resolution made by all the Irish Judges he had during that period never voted. But if he had desired to do so, he would have been obliged to attend personally before the registration officer in order that his name might appear on the register. It was unjust to disfranchise a man simply because he was unable to make that personal attendance. The qualification for a vote in Ireland was residential, as in this country, where the rateable value was £4. But even where the rateable value was £8, if the landlord paid the rates, the tenant was disfranchised. In England, by Goschen's Act, the tenant had a vote, whether he paid the rates personally or by his landlord. The Bill provided that the Irish tenant should be treated exactly as the English tenant; and it would be a singular act of injustice to refuse to place him in that position of equality.


said, he did not intend to apply the word polluted to any Queen's Counsellor or loyal Irish subject. He applied it to the Irish National Party, who had made themselves so conspicuous by their acts of disloyalty during the last few years.

On Question, "That ('now') stand part of the Motion? "Their Lordships divided:—Contents 32; Not-Contents 52: Majority 20.

Selborne, E. (L. Chancellor.) Fitzgerald, L.
Houghton, L.
Kenmare, L. (E. Kenmare.)
Grafton, D.
Westminster, D. Kenry, L. (E. Dunraven and Mount-Earl.)
Camperdown, E. Lyttelton, L.
Derby, E. Methuen, L.
Granville, E. Monson, L. [Teller.]
Kimberley, E. Ramsay, L. (E. Dalhousie.)
Morley, E.
Northbrook, E. Reay, L.
Sydney, E. Ribblesdale, L.
Rosebery, L. (E. Rosebery.)
Gordon, V. (E. Aberdeen.) Sandhurst, L.
Sherbrooke, V. Stratheden and Campbell, L.
Alcester, L. Sundridge, L. (D. Argyll.)
Boyle, L. (E. Cork and Orrery.) [Teller.] Thurlow, L.
Bramwell, L. Wrottesley, L.
Carlingford, L.
Buckingham and Chandos, D. Abercorn, M. (D Abercorn.)
Manchester, D. Salisbury M
Northumberland, D.
Richmond, D. Bathurst, E.
Beauchamp, E. De L'Isle and Dudley L.
Clonmell, E.
Denbigh, E. Denman, L.
Doncaster, E. (D. Buccleuch and Queensberry.) Ellenborough, L.
Forbes, L.
Gerard, L.
Feversham, E. Harlech, L.
Fortescue, E. Hopetoun, L.(E. Hopetoun.) [Teller.]
Kilmorey, E. [Teller.]
Lucan, E. Lyveden, L.
Milltown, E. O'Neill, L.
Redesdale, E. Rayleigh, L.
Romney, E. Rowton, L.
Sandwich, E. Saltersford, L. (E. Courtown.)
Tankerville, E.
Verulam, E. Stanley of Alderley, L.
Stewart of Garlies, L.
Melville, V. (E. Galloway.)
Templemore, L.
Ardilaun, L. Tollemache, L.
Ashford, L. (V. Bury) Tredegar, L.
Bagot, L. Ventry, L.
Balfour of Burleigh, L. Watson, L.
Bateman, L. Wemyss, L. (E. Wemyss.)
Brodrick, L. (V. Midleton.)
Westbury, L.
Colchester, L. Wynford, L.
Colville of Culross, L.

Resolved in the negative; Bill to be read 2a this day three months.