HC Deb 01 March 1876 vol 227 cc1164-86

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, that the object of the measure was to amend the law relating to the Municipal Franchise in Ireland. But before he proceeded to the consideration of the provisions of the Bill, he must be permitted to say that he deeply regretted that the task which he had risen to perform had not fallen to the lot of some one of the brilliant Colleagues by whom he was surrounded; and he was the more nervous because his hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. C. Lewis) had given Notice of an Amendment to reject the Bill. He felt that he (Major O'Gorman) was not a foe worthy of the steel of the hon. Gentleman who was an accomplished rhetorician, and whose words, like Ulysses of old, flowed from him like honey: "Glukiern Melitos recu aude." He felt the difficulty of comparison with a Gentleman so highly gifted. Yet he was not completely discouraged. The great leader of the party to which he had the honour to belong had ordered him to take charge of the Bill, and he had obeyed. That House was the judge and jury, and he should be satisfied with its verdict. In proposing the present Bill he asked for nothing that was revolutionary, he asked for nothing that was even unusual, but he asked for that which all honest men believed to be just. He met daily with gentlemen who sought to draw him from the allegiance which he owed to his country, and they addressed him with this plea—"Your country now possesses all the rights and privileges which England possesses. What more do you require?" His answer was that he did not require more, and his countrymen asked for no more. But was it the fact that his country did possess those rights? He answered No; and he would instance in proof the difference which existed between the municipal franchise of the two countries. Was the municipal franchise of Ireland similar to that of England? Ireland was not upon an equality with England in this respect, as he should be able in a very few words to show. In 1835 the municipal corporations of England were reformed, and every person rated to the poor for three years became a burgess. In Ireland the reform of the corporations did not take place till 1840, and then the franchise was fixed at £10. This state of things still continued in Ireland, except in Dublin, for which a special Act was passed in 1850, assimilating the franchise there to the English franchise at that time, so that all persons who had been rated to the poor for three years should be burgesses. Three or four years ago, however, the franchise in England was lowered, and now, in England everyone who was rated was entitled to the municipal franchise; whereas in Dublin a man was not entitled to the privilege until, as before, he had been rated for three years; and in all other towns in Ireland there was no franchise under £10. A decided difference between the two countries was thus established. He would draw the attention of the House to the result of this difference, and would make a comparison between four towns in England and four in Ireland. He found that Leeds, which contained a population of 259,212, possessed 52,784 municipal electors, while Dublin, with a population of 267,727, had only 5,284. Again, Bradford, with a population of 145,890, had 24,450 electors, although Belfast, with a population of 174,418, had but 5,525. The number of municipal electors in Swansea, with a population of 80,772, was 8,692; while Cork, with a population of 100,518, possessed but 2,000 municipal electors. Gates-head, too, with a population of 48,267, had 10,221 municipal electors, while Limerick, with a population of 49,853, had no more than 1,139. That was to say that Leeds, with a population of 8,503 persons less than Dublin, had 47,200 municipal electors more than Dublin; that was to say that Bradford, with a population of 28,588 less than Belfast, had 23,927 more municipal electors; that was to say that Swansea, with a population of 19,746 less than Cork, had 6,692 more municipal electors; that was to say that Gateshead, with a population of 1,586 less than Limerick, had 9,112 more municipal electors. Could anything, he would ask, be more monstrous than the inequalities which those facts disclosed? He wished, in the next place, to call the attention of the House for a moment to one or two passages from a journal which was said to lead the people of England. The Times of the 23rd of April, 1874, speaking of the Bill which had been introduced by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt), for the purpose of assimilating the franchises in England and Ireland, said its provisions were conceived in a spirit absolutely antithetic to Home Rule—a sentiment which he was sure would give the greatest possible satisfaction to the hon. Member for Donegal (Mr. Conolly)—that its effect must be to make more real the fusion between the two parts of the Kingdom separated by St. George's Channel, and that it ought to recommend itself to all those who sought to render the political union between both as intimate as possible. Now, the present Bill proposed to make uniform the municipal franchise in all the towns in Ireland by extending to them the English franchise. He asked no more, and he certainly thought the people of Ireland were entitled to have their request granted. A similar Bill to this was read a second time in 1872, and also in 1873; but it did not proceed further for want of time. On those occasions it was supported by the Government of the day, though in 1874, when it was brought in again, it was opposed by the then Government, and it was thrown out upon the Motion for second reading. With those few remarks he begged to leave the matter in their hands. He left it to the justice and the honour of the House of Commons.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Major O' Gorman.)


said, that as a representative of one of the 11 corporate towns which would alone be affected by this measure, he rose to move that it be read a second time that day six months. But in doing so he would take occasion to say that the leader of the party to which his hon. and gallant Friend belonged had acted very wisely in selecting him to submit the question to the House; because while he recommended himself to hon. Members by his bonhommie, he had shown by his speech that day that he could not merely amuse them, but place his views before them clearly and forcibly. Now, as to the object of the Bill, it was said that it was intended to give to Irishmen the same rights as to Englishmen with regard to the municipal franchise. That, however, he maintained, was a misleading fallacy. The Bill, if it became law, would do a great deal more than assimilate the municipal franchises of the two countries; because, whereas in England the municipal franchise was carried only to the basis of the Parliamentary franchise, the proposal of his hon. and gallant Friend would carry it below that point in Ireland. For good reasons, as he believed, the borough franchise in Ireland extended only to the £4 householder; but this Bill would give every rated occupier the franchise, no matter whether his tenement was rated at 5s. or £10 per annum. The subject was one, he might add, on which the supporters of the Bill seemed never to have been able clearly to make up their minds. It was introduced in 1870, when a mea-sure was brought in to carry the municipal franchise down to the £4 rated householder. That measure was, how-ever, withdrawn; and no attempt at legislation on the subject was made in 1871. But in 1872 a Bill was introduced for the purpose of conferring the municipal franchise on rated house-holders of three years' standing, and this Bill was allowed to drop. In 1873, the hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt) brought forward another Bill—a 12 months' householder Bill—and this Bill also was allowed to drop. Throughout those years neither the hon. and learned Gentleman nor his supporters, it would appear, could make up their minds as to the specific propositions which they should adopt;—and now the basis of the franchise was to be lowered. But who asked for all those measures? Not a single Petition had been presented in favour of any one of them from 1870 until now. And why was that so? Because nobody, he believed, wanted legislation on the subject, and if he was not mistaken the present Bill was repudiated by one of the Liberal papers connected with the city which he had the honour to represent. But, whatever its merits or demerits, it was, at all events, a Bill which was not likely, as the others to which he had referred, to be abandoned, because he knew the pluck of his hon. and gallant Friend would lead him to fight the battle out to the end. It was, however, very important to see that there was no real demand for a measure that sought to transfer power from those who paid rates to those who scarcely paid any rates at all. His hon. and gallant Friend seemed to think that he had made out his case when he referred to the comparative population of English and Irish towns:—but that was only one element in the case. "What about property? for the effect of the Bill, he contended, would be a practical confiscation. In the town of Belfast, for example—and he held in his hand the real facts of the case as stated by the town-clerk—there were 35,000 separate holdings, 25,000 of which were under the £8 valuation line, while there were 10,000 above it. Now, the 10,000 above the line paid in the shape of local rates £70,000 a-year, but the 25,000 below it paid only £15,000; in other words, if the present Bill were to become law, five-sevenths of the electoral power would be given to those who paid only three-seventeenths of the taxation; and it was no wonder, therefore, that although there was in Belfast a large amount of political activity, no steps had been taken in support of such a proposal. The question of the Parliamentary franchise was to be argued on a different basis, having to do with the making of laws and with considerations of Imperial policy: but municipal corporations were elected to raise local funds for executing local improvements; and they had to take care, in the first place, that they had good government; and, in the next place, that those who had to pay should have an influence over the mode of levying and expending the rates, and that power should not be engrossed by those who had little to do with paying. Although the landlord was rated for the lower class of houses, the tenant, who in many cases did not either directly or indirectly pay the rate, nevertheless had the vote. Yet, this Bill proposed not to enfranchise the landlord, but to enfranchise the occupiers of all those small tenements who, in nine cases out of ten, did not pay a farthing of the rates. In the City of Limerick the total number of tenements was 7,254, of which no fewer than 3,187 were assessed under 40s. a-year. The number of houses under £4—the Parliamentary line—was 4,681 out of the whole 7,254, or much more than one-half; so that in Limerick, as in Belfast, the preponderating voice as to what improvements should be executed at the expense of the ratepayers would by that Bill be handed over to the smallest class of householders, who not only contributed little or nothing towards them, but whose rates were paid by the landlord. In the City of Water-ford there were 4,544 separate holdings, of which 1,878 were assessed under 40s. a-year; while the number under £4 annual value was 2,717. In the municipal borough of Drogheda there were 3,564 tenements altogether, of which 2,709 were under £4 annual value, and only 855 over that value. This Bill, therefore, would transfer from those who were liable to pay four-fifths of the rates and taxes in those corporate towns a preponderant power to those who practically paid only one-fifth of those imposts. He would ask the House was that fair? The assimilation of the municipal and Parliamentary franchises even in England had led to the introduction of politics into local affairs and to the driving out from the municipal councils in many boroughs of the élite of the community, because the legitimate influence of property, intelligence, and talent had been disregarded. Would they take the same course again in England if they had the opportunity? But the present Bill would reduce the municipal franchise in Ireland even lower than the Parliamentary franchise. It might be said that the Parliamentary franchise itself was one of the grievances of the supporters of that Bill. He would be prepared to argue that question also when it came before them; but as long as both Parties in that House, and the Governments which had been selected from them, had deliberately said that the time had not come when the borough franchise in Ireland should be exactly the same as it was in England, let them not take a step which, if they had it to do again in England, they would hesitate to take with the lights of present experience, and which would also involve that direct confiscation of existing rights which he had described. A statistical comparison between English and Irish towns was inapplicable unless it could be shown that there was the same relation between the small and the large tenements in the towns so compared. He denied that there was any Irish grievance in this matter, though he would admit that there might be some change in the municipal government of Ireland; but that change ought to follow the lines of enfranchisement traced in the measure of the hon. Member for Carlow (Mr. Kavanagh)—though he would not commit himself to all its details—rather than those of the present Bill, which he earnestly called on the House to reject. The hon. Member concluded by moving the rejection of the Bill.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Charles Lewis.)


said, he thought the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down (Mr. C. Lewis) had failed to give sufficient reason why the law of England and Ireland should not be equalized in respect to the municipal franchise. The hon. Member had told them that the introduction of the humbler class of householders would have the effect of swamping the present municipal constituencies of Ireland, and that, moreover, they would be incapable of properly controlling the management of municipal funds. He (Mr. Collins) denied that assertion, and observed that the tendency of legislation since the commencement of the present century had been to confer privileges on the lower classes and enable them to participate in the privileges and rights possessed by those above them. The present Prime Minister conceded the principle of this Bill when he admitted all male householders in English boroughs to the Parliamentary as well as to the municipal franchise:—and he did not believe that right hon. Gentleman regretted the step he had taken, or would think of retracing it if he had the opportunity, for to that step he owed in a great degree his present high position. It was neither wise nor expedient to deny the humbler householders a voice in the management of local matters seriously affecting their interests and comforts. In the 11 Irish towns which had been referred to, only one in 40 of the population possessed the franchise; whereas in similar towns in-England, the proportion was one in eight. There was one point in the question which had not been sufficiently ventilated. A working man in an Irish town who was rated at 20s., probably occupied a tenement for which he paid a rental of 50s. or £3. If that same man came to England and found employment, he would immediately enter on the occupancy of a tenement for which he would pay, at least, £8 a-year. It was easy to explain why in Ireland in ail probability a man of that class would receive wages amounting to. 15s. a-week, out of which he would pay 50s. or 60s. a-year for his tenement; but the same man coming to this country would receive 24s. to 30s. a-week-; so that he could afford to pay 3s. a-week for his house. So that the man who was denied the franchise in Ireland was admitted to it in England, not by reason of any improved mental qualification, but simply because he received higher wages and could therefore pay a higher rent. There was another point. Sup-pose you wanted to raise £100 upon a valuation of £2,000 in Ireland, 1s. in the £1 would give the requisite amount, but suppose for the purpose of raising this £100 you should value the tenement at £4,000, that would give you an apparent reduction to 6d. in the £1. Therefore mere rating was not a sufficient ground to go upon in deciding this question. The opposition now raised to that Bill was but another illustration of the old story of one class being possessed of privileges and desiring to withhold a share of them from another class. The last speaker asked whether, if they had to do over again what they had done in England in that matter, they would not hesitate to do it? The Prime Minister could answer that question, for he had enfranchised the people of England, and he now enjoyed their confidence as the result of his liberality.


said, he opposed the Bill on the ground that, not only were many of its provisions bad in themselves, but also because he regarded it as part of a mischievous attempt for dealing with the question. It must be considered in connection with another Bill before the House. What was the real object of the Bill? The avowed object was set forth in one of the clauses as being "with the object to lower the franchise." Now, that was explained in connection with a Rating Bill, and, so far as he understood the question, it appeared to him that the purpose in view was to give the occupiers all the votes, and oblige the owners to pay all the rates. He did not know whether he interpreted the motives of the promoters truly; but certainly, as far as he had been able to read and understand the two Bills, taking them together, that appeared to his mind to be the meaning. Now, they had heard a good deal about the assimilation of the laws of England and Ireland. He was not opposed to that assimilation; but he was not one who thought that the institutions of England should be forced upon Ireland, merely because they existed in England. They should first consider the circumstances of the case. He hoped the House would not allow itself to be led away by the plausible cry that had been raised for assimilation without pausing to ask what was proposed to be done towards assimilation by passing the Bill. He denied that any assimilation would take place under ' it. He need not go into the matter of franchise in the two countries. That part of the question had been ably dealt with by the hon. and learned Member for Londonderry (Mr. C. Lewis.) But the assimilation of which they had heard was only a delusion and a snare. It was assimilation in theory, but not in fact. By the Bill they would have a large increase in the number of persons who should be admitted to the franchise. But there would be a great difference in the character of the class into whose hands the control of municipal expenditure would be thrown. The hon. Member who last spoke said the reason why opposition was offered to the Bill was on account of class feeling, because one class desired to keep to itself certain privileges which they ought to share. Now, that he utterly denied; but he did say that the Bill made an endeavour to get up a feeling in the minds of the people that there was an attempt to deny them certain privileges which it was held they should have. He was not opposed to a proper extension of the municipal franchise where it could be granted. He fully admitted the principle that taxation and representation should be coequal. But they could not stop half way with the principle. He maintained that the men who paid the larger portion of the rates should have the larger control over the expenditure of those rates—a larger control than men who paid only a small portion of the rates. Now, those questions should not be started merely for Party purposes. What was asked for was not a fair extension, but a one-sided extension. Last Session an attempt was made to deal with the question; but when he recalled all the circumstances he must say he was convinced that the purpose with which the Bill was concocted was to swamp the representation of property, and to put the whole power connected with the dealing with large rates into the hands of the lower classes. Now, that was not a method of proceeding which should be sanctioned. The hon. Gentlemen who sat upon the other side would not object to take this advice from the hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. Fawcett.) What had he said? It must never be forgotten that there, are two ways by which people can be deprived of representation—one, by keeping the right to vote from them;" the other, by placing them in so hopeless a minority, that virtually they must be without representation. Recognizing the all-importance of the truth that true democracy consisted in securing as far as possible the representation, it followed that if the most intelligent sections of opinion were unable to obtain representation, many of the best men in the country would naturally withdraw themselves from political life, and thus the representation would surely and steadily deteriorate. That would be the result of passing such a measure as this. He believed this precipitate and indiscriminate extension of the municipal franchise would lead to an utter disruption of all good municipal government. Take, then, sanitary matters. The Sanitary Commissioners reported that the evidence before them showed abundant proof that sanitary reforms were in many cases rendered impossible, because of the hostility of the inhabitants of towns. The clause contemplated by the Bill would assuredly create difficulties in the way of sanitary reform. But he was not opposed to inquiry with a view to enlarge the constituencies upon just principles. He should desire to see the whole question of municipal reform inquired into by a Commission who should sift it thoroughly; but a Bill like this would stand in the way of such a project, and he therefore hoped the House would reject the Bill.


said, with reference to the Local Government in Towns (Ireland) Bill, he would express a hope that the British House of Commons would never pass a Bill which would give the nomination of one-half of the corporation of every town in Ireland to the landlords. He could not congratulate the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. C. Lewis) on the accuracy of his statement as to the history of that question. The hon. Gentleman had spoken of the lowering of the municipal below the Parliamentary franchise as if it were something new in England—he seemed, indeed, not to know that there had ever been a difference between the municipal and Parliamentary franchise in this country. Now, in 1832, the Reform Act fixed the Parliamentary franchise, both in England and Ireland, at £10 in boroughs. After that, in 1838, a Corporation Reform Act was passed for England, which did not place the municipal franchise on the level of the Parliamentary franchise, but gave it to every occupier who had been rated for three years. [Mr. C. LEWIS said, he had made no reference to England, but to the state of things in Ireland at that time.] The hon. Member had certainly appealed to the House not to do for Ire-land what had never been done in Eng-land, and not, to degrade, as he called it, the municipal franchise below the Parliamentary franchise. The real animus of the opposition to this Bill was revealed in the question of the hon. Member, when he asked if in the same circumstances they would do the same thing for England. This was the reactionary principle avowed by the hon. Member, and it was evident that he would, if he dared, deprive England of her popular municipal franchise also. As for his own part in the matter, he had steadily persevered in the endeavour to obtain for Ireland the same municipal rights as England enjoyed, and if he had supported on any previous occasion a less radical measure than the present, it was simply with the view of obtaining a part, if he could not get the whole of what he wanted. The extension of the franchise in Dublin had not produced any disastrous results. Since that event 25 Lord Mayors had been elected, and of these 12 were Protestants and 13 Liberals and Roman Catholics. This fact surely went to prove the existence of a spirit of moderation among the class whom it was now proposed to enfranchise. It was contended that under the Bill property would not have its due share of representation, and that under it the power would pass into the hands of the smaller householders; but he ventured to say that this was the case in every English corporate town: and it was neither a Conservative nor a constitutional principle that a preponderating influence should be given to property, either in the House of Commons or in their municipal bodies. Property, intelligence, and rank would always command influence, and it was a mistake to suppose that the poor were not as much interested in taxation as the rich—a penny might be worth as much to the artizan as a pound to his wealthy neighbour; and seeing that no people in the world were more Conservative than the Irish—more ready to pay due deference to rank, ancient lineage, wealth, and station—it was unreasonable to deny them the privilege proposed to be conferred on them in the Bill. All they asked for was an assimilation of the Irish municipal franchise to that of England, which had been recognized as one of the chief causes of the tranquillity and contentment of this country; and on what ground it could be maintained that the cases of the English and the Irish artizan were different he failed to see. He would remind the House that the power of taxation of Irish corporations did not go beyond 3d. in the pound. The poorer classes had just as much interest, or more, in keeping down rates as the wealthy, and it was absurd to suppose that they would first confiscate their own property in order to confiscate the property of the rich. The Irish people, when they expressed dissatisfaction with the existing state of things, were often told that they lived under the same Government and enjoyed the same privileges as the people of England, but that was not the case. An artizan of Limerick who went to reside in Liverpool, and having resided there for the space of one year, could, if he contrived at all to keep a house over his head, take a part in municipal elections. After a time, however, he returned to Limerick, and then found he could not exercise any such privilege there until he had resided for three years in a house rated at £10. Did they think that man would not contrast the liberty which he enjoyed in the English town with the curtailment of liberty which he suffered in the Irish town, and at the same time contrasting the prosperity which he had seen in Liverpool with the poverty which prevailed in Limerick, come to the conclusion that these several conditions of things had not some dependence on each other? The municipal franchise which had succeeded in England would no doubt succeed in Ireland too; and he warned the House that if they rejected this measure, they would impress the belief on the minds of the Irish people that England was determined still to govern Ireland in the old spirit of conquest, and so they would promote that feeling of discontent which he and those who acted with him had done their best to allay.


said, those who supported the Bill had failed to prove that there was any real practical grievance to complain of. They had on the previous day heard of practical grievances in connection with English corporations, arising out of existing anomalies; but in the present case the arguments were altogether founded upon a wish to produce an idea of symmetry which commended itself to hon. Members on the other side of the House. They proceeded upon the principle that in all cases the legislation should be the same as the legislation in England. That had not always been the principle upon which legislation was asked for in that House—it was not many years since very important measures were passed in reference to Ireland which were founded not altogether upon a principle of identity. The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. C. Lewis) had referred to Belfast, and the hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt) had controverted some of those statements. The hon. and learned Member must have been misinformed, when he stated there was a compact on the part of Belfast for a private Bill to enlarge the franchise there. If he (Mr. Mulholland) recollected the circumstances, it was rather this—that there was an understanding made that the rates upon the lower division of the ratepayers should not be raised beyond a certain point. The hon. Member for Londonderry had brought out so forcibly the effects which the change would have upon Belfast, that it was unnecessary for him to repeat his observations; but there was one point which the hon. Member for Londonderry did not allude to, and that was that the amount of the rates upon the different owners in Belfast were very limited. Not only were those which were rated below the £8 so situated that, though only paying one-fifth of the entire amount of the rates, whilst numbering five-sevenths of the whole in point of number, but the amounts were very much less than the rate paid by the higher class. One effect of the change proposed in the present Bill would be that the rates would be assimilated—and he questioned very much whether that class for which the hon. and learned Member professed so strong a sympathy, would conceive it a boon if their rates were nearly doubled. He found that the police rate upon houses below the £8 franchise was only 9d., and above that 1s. 9d. in the pound. He also found that the general purposes rate was Is. 6d. upon the class below £8, and the class above that 2s. in the pound. Therefore, there was a very substantial equivalent to those who, under the present franchise, were not directly represented. But, further, the rates were only contributed by those who had the franchise. The rates upon houses below £8 were in all cases paid by the owner, and not by the occupier—he did not say that, indirectly, the owner did not get it in the rent. What was the result of the present system in Belfast? He believed everyone who had visited Belfast would be struck with the extraordinary development of the town, and that was mainly owing to the good arrangement of the present Town Council. They had opened new works, new streets, and had otherwise developed the town in a most satisfactory way. He was not himself intimate with the state of affairs in Dublin, but he heard that the result of the lowering of the franchise there was not satisfactory. In Dublin the franchise was similar to that in English boroughs; and they saw that Belfast had improved vastly under the present system, and he believed it would be found practically that the higher franchise gave more satisfactory results than the lower one. But this was a very broad question. It took up the whole question of local government and local taxation— for the duties that were at present entrusted to municipal corporations were very much more extensive than they were at the time when they were first entrusted to them. It was only last year, or the year before, that the right hon. Baronet (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) introduced a Bill on the principle that the ownership of property had an equal source of weight with the occupancy of property. The reason of the same principle being applied to municipal corporations was that the functions of corporations were not limited to paving, lighting, and watching; but were extended to matters of large sanitary improvements, the purchase of gas and water works, &c. This carried the interest far beyond that of a mere occupant. In such a case, it was only just that those upon whom the reversion fell should have, at least, an equal voice in the expense. The hon. and learned Member for Limerick had taken the hon. Member for Londonderry to task, for stating that probably if the municipal corporations of England were to be again founded they would probably not be founded on the same principle as to representation. He shared with the hon. Member for Londonderry that belief. He hoped that in the interests of Ireland the House would not pass the Bill, but prefer that of the hon. Member for Carlow, which embodied the principles he had mentioned.


said, he was unable to discover that any good reason had been advanced for making a distinction between Ireland and England in the matter of the municipal franchise. It was quite plain indeed that the objections of hon. Members opposite applied equally to England and Ireland. They seemed in fact to mourn over the course of municipal legislation for the last 40 years, and now to desire to undo what was deliberately done as far back as 1885; for since that time the municipal franchise in England had been an occupation rated franchise, as proposed for Ireland by the present Bill. It appeared to him to be extremely desirable that in all cases where no special reason for difference could be shown, the laws of the two countries should be assimilated. What was good for England ought, generally speaking, to be good for Ireland also; and, in his opinion, ought to be provided for both countries, if possible, by one and the same Act. It had indeed been urged by his hon. Friend who had just spoken as a reason for not extending the municipal franchise in the way proposed, that sanitary powers had been conferred of late years on municipal authorities. In his view, however, that was rather a reason why the franchise should be made as wide as possible, for the poor man was at least quite as much interested in sanitary matters as the rich. He must say too that he agreed with his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Limerick that municipal corporations were not to be regarded as merely money-spending bodies, whose only business was with such matters as paving and lighting. They were also centres of political life and energy; and he should fear for the political life of a country whose municipal institutions were so reduced, perhaps, he might say degraded, as to exist merely for the purposes to which some hon. Members would restrict them. He should for these reasons give his support to the Bill.


Sir, I do not see that any advantage could arise from the passing of the proposed Bill. Some remarks have been made as to the excellent manner in which the municipal affairs of Belfast are managed, but I am sorry to say I cannot speak so favourably on behalf of the Corporation of Dublin as regards its works of usefulness. The principal citizens of Dublin and the largest ratepayers are, I am bound to say, altogether dissatisfied with the corporation. The taxation of Dublin is almost unprecedentedly heavy, and it is increasing. The duties of the corporation, I am sorry to say, are to a great extent neglected. Very often when most important business is to be brought before that body, the roll is called and a quorum is not present. I also regret to say when polities are to be brought before the corporation there is a full attendance. How the reduction of the period of occupation from three years to one would improve the state of things I am at a loss to know. In the other boroughs it is proposed to reduce the qualification from £10 to what it is now in Dublin, which is practically a household franchise. In Dublin the number of separate ratings at and under £8 is 10,598, or 40.6 per cent of the whole, and their total valuation is £45,961, or 8.3 per cent of the whole; while the number of ratings over £8 is 15,519, or 59.4 per cent of the whole, and their total valuation £509,147, or 91.7 per cent of the whole, so that in Dublin the payers of only 8.3 per cent of the taxation may possess 40 per cent of the votes. In the other 10 municipal boroughs the number of ratings over £8 is 20,063, valued at £639,843; whilst the number of ratings at £8 and under is 52,470, valued at £183,003, so that the proposed reduction of the qualification will confer the franchise on a body of new electors two and a-half times greater than the number of existing electors, although they will only pay one-fourth as much of the taxes. In fact, the payers of less than one-fourth of the taxation will possess three-fourths of the votes. Theoretically it may be desirable that every man should have a vote; but I do not see why property should not have its due weight in the administration of municipal affairs. Therefore, I must oppose the measure now before the House, and I entreat the House not to pass it, inasmuch as we have in Dublin an example of what may be expected in other corporate towns in Ireland if the change proposed by this Bill be made.


said, Dublin, in some respects, reminded him of the conditions of Venice, from which the greater part of the resident gentry had departed, and if its houses were not left in ruins, the city was, at least, nearly desolate. In Belfast, under the auspices of what he would not say was the dominant race in Ireland, but certainly the favoured race, prosperity had fallen in a very remarkable degree, and the population had increased, whereas in Dublin the population had fallen away. With regard to what had been done by the corporation of Dublin, he might refer with pride to the waterworks of that city. A supply of the purest water was brought from a distance of nearly 50 miles, and distributed, not merely in the city, but in the district around. In the whole world there was not a better or more efficient supply of pure water than that which had been secured to Dublin by the Corporation. He admitted that the condition of the sewerage and the streets would not bear comparison with Belfast or London; but that was not owing to any want of desire on the part of the Corporation to do what was needed. No one could venture to say there had been any malversation or misappropriation of money in Dublin. Indeed, he had heard the charge made of undue frugality, and with a desire to refrain from spending money. They had power to borrow from the Government £500,000, but they refrained from exercising that power, because they believed the poorer ratepayers were unable to pay the interest. "With regard to the loyalty of the Corporation, he had been a member of it for 20 years, and he had never heard political opinions advanced in it unworthy of any assembly in the United Kingdom. He had never heard within the City Hall a single disparagement of the Government or person of the Sovereign, nor had he ever heard any political proposition advanced which he could have wished withdrawn.


rose to Order. He had never said there was any exhibition of disloyalty in the Corporation.


did not suppose his hon. Colleague had, for it would have been impossible. But the hon. Baronet did say that the extension of the franchise would make the Corporation exclusive. He utterly denied that that had been the experience of the past—he asserted that the affairs of the Corporation were as well administered as those of any similar institution in the United Kingdom.


said, he hoped they would be able to discuss this question without travelling beyond its proper limits. The question before them simply was, whether in 11 Irish towns a change should be made which would greatly affect the constitution of the bodies charged with the administration of municipal government and with the power to levy local taxation. The hon. Members who promoted the Bill proposed so to lower the franchise that it would let in a large number of additional voters of the poorer class. The Bill started on the principle stated in the Preamble—namely, that it was expedient and just that the municipal franchise should be the same in Ireland as in England. But he thought it would be admitted by the House that before they could arrive at that conclusion they should be satisfied on one or two points which did not appear to have been clearly proved in the debate. The first of these was, Had the action of the Legislature in past times with regard to municipal institutions in England and Ireland been identical? Secondly, was the prevailing system of town government in England and Ireland, except with regard to the amount on which the municipal franchise was fixed, identical? and, third, were the circumstances of the people of these towns identical in both countries? The hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt) had referred to the Municipal Reform Act for England of 1835 and the Municipal Reform Act for Ireland of 1840, and to the English and Irish corporations as they existed before that day. The system before that time was to a great extent identical, for there could be no doubt that the municipalities before those Acts were passed were close corporations in both countries, and that neither householders nor occupiers within the municipal boundaries had, as such, anything to do with the choice of those who were to govern them and spend their money. The Municipal Be-form Acts brought about a different state of things in both countries; but they brought it about in a different way. Last night they had a debate on unreformed corporations, from which it appeared how tenderly the English Act dealt with the rights of corporations existing before its passing, and there were now 78 corporations, besides the great Corporation of London, which were entirely exempt from its provisions. What was the case with regard to the Irish Act? It absolutely swept away all the corporations then existing in Ireland, and provided for the re-establishment of 10 of them. It provided further that every town desiring in future to become a municipality could apply for a charter to the Government. Now, what led to that difference between the Irish and English Reform Acts—a difference deliberately made by Parliament? The English Act was intended to inaugurate a new system of town government for towns in England as a whole, and with rare exceptions it had been applied to all important towns. But in Ireland at the time of the passing of the Irish Act, there was in operation the Act of 9 Geo. IV., under which several towns had placed themselves, which instituted a different system of town government from that which was established by the Irish Municipal Reform Act, and was based on a more popular qualification. Since that date what had happened? He had said that only 10 Irish towns were by the Act made municipalities, and that power was given to others to come in; but since 1840 only two applications for charters had been made, one of which had been granted and the other refused. He thought this circumstance, added to the fact that not fewer than 30 Irish municipalities had, between the Union and the Act of 1840, expired of inanition, proved that the municipal system, which was an English and not an Irish system, was not very popular in Ireland. In 1854 the Towns Improvement Act, the provisions of which were very similar to those of 9 Geo. IV., already referred to, was passed, and it had been adopted by no less than 76 Irish towns, and many of these towns were more thriving and important than some of those which were covered by this Bill. He thought that this proved that the Act of 1854 was more popular or more suitable to Ireland than the Municipal Reform Act, and that when they proposed simply to alter the franchise laid down by the latter Act they did but touch a small part of the question. Neither of the franchises which existed under the old Acts were so low as the qualification proposed under the present Bill; that fixed by the Act 9 Geo. IV. being £5, and that under the Towns Improvement Act £4. There was under one of these Acts an owners' franchise; but it seemed that the hon. and learned Member for Limerick objected to that, when embodied in the Bill of the hon. Member for Carlow.


said, he did not object to that. He objected that the landlords were allowed to name one-half of every corporation.


said, he very much sympathized with what the hon. and learned Gentlemen said with regard to the proposal that the owners should select half of the corporation; but the owners' franchise was no new thing. He ventured to say that, viewed in this light, the Bill now before the House dealt imperfectly and but very partially with the franchise. He had endeavoured to show that in past times Parliament had dealt differently with town government in Ireland and England, and consequently there was a different system existing in the two countries. He would now proceed to the more important point—as to how far the circumstances of the two countries were so identical that they could pass identical legislation for both. Viewing the legislation which had taken place, the presumption was that they were not identical. The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. C. E. Lewis) showed that there was a great difference in the circumstances of the occupiers in the Irish towns as compared with those in England. It was a matter of regret, but it must be admitted that there was not in Ireland, as there was in England, a large and influential middle class between the higher and lower class of occupiers. Comparisons had been made by the hon. and gallant Member (Major O'Gorman) between English and Irish towns; but he (Sir M, Hicks-Beach) wished to carry that comparison a little further on a Return issued in 1872, on the Motion of the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn. The hon. and gallant Member had compared Gates head and Limerick, and had stated that Limerick, with a nearly equal population, had a much smaller number of municipal voters than Gateshead. No doubt the figures had been stated correctly; but the circumstances of the two places were materially different. He found that in Limerick the occupiers not exceeding £4 value were, in 1872, 5,094, and the number above that value were 1,732. In Gateshead, which the hon. and gallant Gentleman selected by way of contrast, matters were precisely the reverse. The number of occupiers below £4 was 1,654, and above that sum, 5,556. And yet they were asked to consider the circumstances as identical, and to establish an identical franchise. The hon. and gallant Member had, in the same way, compared Swansea and Cork; but in Swansea, in 1866, the occupiers under £4 were 2,601; above that sum, 8,100. In Cork, in 1872, there were, under £4, 6,732; above £4, 6,013. He could go on quoting figures telling the same tale. Any hon. Member who had seen an ordinary Irish town knew full well the miserable cabins which clustered on the outskirts, and nothing could be found to compare with these tenements, as a rule, in England. He found in Kilkenny that 69 per cent of the total number of separate ratings were below the annual value of £4. In Drogheda the proportion was 75 per cent, and in Waterford 54 per cent below that value. If he were told that Irish valuation was below the real value, and that £4 represented a higher figure, he would ask the House to consider what sort of a tenement a £1 valuation, be it high or low, could be considered to represent; and to remember that 27 per cent of the separate ratings at Kilkenny and Drogheda, and 13.9 per cent of them at Waterford, did not exceed even that figure. It was said this argument must not be pressed, and that higher wages here bad something to do with the difference; but if higher wages meant a better house, they also meant, as a rule, greater intelligence and independence than could be found among the occupants of these wretched cabins. The effect of the Bill would be to greatly enlarge the number of municipal electors in Ireland belonging to this class. In Dublin the municipal electors would be increased from 5,500 to 16,000, and in eight other boroughs from 5,000 to 23,000. Figures like these showed that the measure would have a very large influence in determining the government of the Irish municipalities, and with regard to the taunt that those who opposed this Bill begrudged the extensions which had been made in England, he thought he need not deal with that. The question was not what was good for towns' government in England, but what was good for it in Ireland, and on that issue only he trusted the House would now decide. His hon. Friend (Sir Arthur Guinness) had touched upon a subject which disclosed some difference of opinion between him and his Colleague; and although it was not for him to decide whether, under the present system, Dublin was efficiently governed, he was bound to say when his hon. Friend (Mr. Maurice Brooks) compared that charming city with a city on the Adriatic, he thought he was going to carry out his comparison by reference to the odours which, at certain times of the year, were but too perceptible on certain waterways in both cities. When his hon. Friend spoke of so many tenements being desolate, he could not but remember that perhaps the dislike of capitalists to invest their money in improvements might be the very heavy rates which, from whatever cause, were levied by the municipal authorities in Dublin. He would not say whether Dublin was efficiently governed, but he had noticed that the duties of lighting, cleansing, and mending the streets were not very efficiently performed. ["No, no!"] Well, writers of all kinds of politics, from The Daily Express to The Free-man's Journal, were unanimous on this subject. He fully admitted the importance of accustoming all classes of the people to the management of local affairs and the valuable character of that self-education. He did not defend the present limit of the Irish municipal franchise. He should be glad to see it lowered, but he ventured to say a far more pressing question with reference to town government in Ireland than the extension of the franchise was the existing composition and efficiency of the bodies who controlled those towns. They ought to attempt to inaugurate municipal reform in Government as well as in the franchise; and if the whole subject were carefully considered, it was possible that both objects might be attained through the adoption of a system of local representation, which had been carried out of late in this country with satisfactory results. He meant the cumulative or minority system, under which the School Boards and some Members of that House were elected. He noticed in the Bill of the hon. Member for Carlow (Mr. Kavanagh) proposals which were absent from that of the hon. and gallant Member for Waterford (Major O'Gorman), substituting for a complicated and varied system of town government a system which had at least the advantage of being uniform. He (Sir M. Hicks-Beach) wished to see the whole question dealt with in an impartial spirit by the House, and therefore he trusted the House would not agree to the Bill, but that it would adopt a Motion which, in the event of the rejection of the Bill, he proposed to place on the Paper this Session, as he did last, for a general inquiry into the system of local government of towns in Ireland. He thought that this course was one which might result in the adoption of a change which would be free from the objections to which he considered the Bill now before them was liable—a change which would at the same time widen the basis on which these local institutions rested, and attract to the work of municipal administration the talent and the ability of the community.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 148; Noes 176: Majority 28.

Words added:—Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.

Second Reading put off for six months.