§ Order for Second Reading read.
MR. E. POWER,
in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, he would not detain the House more than two minutes. This Bill had been before the House on other occasions, and on the last, when a Conservative Government was in Office, had been defeated only by a majority of five. Its object was to assimilate the municipal franchise in England and Ireland. He did not see why the inhabitants of towns in Ireland should not have the same franchise as the inhabitants of towns in England. But that was not the case. For instance, while Leeds, with a population of 220,212, had 52,754 municipal electors, Dublin, with 267,712 inhabitants, had only 5,584. That, he considered, should tell very much in favour of the Bill. A comparison between Bradford and Belfast, Gateshead and Limerick, Swansea and Cork, would show similar results. The Bill was so simple, that anyone who could not understand it in two or three minutes had no business to come to the House of Commons. Remembering that the measure was only beaten by a majority of five when the Conservative Party were in power, he hoped that now the Liberals wore in the ascendant the second reading would be carried by a handsome majority. Nothing tended to keep up ill-feeling and bad spirit more than these miserable laws, and it was only natural that so jealous a people as the Irish should look with envy on any law with which England had been favoured, but which they had refused to extend to Ireland.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Richard Power.)
§ MR. CORRY
said, this seemed to be regarded as a very simple Bill, and the House was asked to pass it almost without any explanation. It had been before a former Parliament, and a Committee of the House had sat for three years taking evidence upon the municipal government and taxation of Ireland. That Committee drew up an able Report, but not a single one of their recommendations was embodied in the Bill. Municipal government in Ireland, no doubt, required some reform. The evidence taken before the Committee to which he referred disclosed some very extraordinary dealings with municipal property and other things in Ireland, besides that relating to the franchise; and if the Members of the present House of Commons would only look into these things, they would see that many other changes wore required. He was aware that in the town which he had the honour to represent (Belfast), the municipal franchise was more limited than the Parliamentary franchise. At the same time, they felt that unless they had a great many other alterations in the municipal government of the country, it would be very unfair to reduce the franchise and put it into the hands of those who were the smallest ratepayers in the boroughs. On former occasions this Bill had received a great deal of discussion at the hands of the Irish Members; but he found, from the way in which it was brought before the House this time, that his Friends from Ireland did not seem to think the present House of Commons required any information. They deemed it sufficient to say that the law was different in Ireland from what it was in England, and that they ought to be assimilated. But, on this matter, as well as on many others, the conditions of the two countries were not at all analogous. He was aware that in Dublin the Corporation managed their business in any extraordinary way. They had a large amount of corporate property, and in dealing with that property the Corporation had, from time to time, made leases of a character which was not creditable to them. A Commission had been inquiring into the condition of many boroughs in Ireland, and as that 1563 Commission had not yet reported, but would shortly do so, he thought it would he unwise to make any change until they obtained the Report on the Municipal Franchise of Ireland. Moreover, the number of boroughs in Ireland that had municipal corporations was not large, as a good many of the towns were under the Towns Improvement Act. He begged to move that the Bill be read a second time that day three months.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."—(Mr. James Corry.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. GRAY
said, that the hon. Member for Belfast (Mr. Corry) had been pleased to make some very general and sweeping charges against the Corporation of Dublin; but it was scarcely good taste in the hon. Member to make charges of the kind he had against the Corporation of Dublin unless he was prepared to sustain them, and, for his part, he had been unable to hear from the hon. Member any special statement in support of those charges. As the hon. Member was not inclined to make any specific charge, he (Mr. Gray) found a difficulty in meeting a negative; but he certainly could not agree, and would be scarcely expected to agree, with him. The hon. Gentleman had asserted that the Corporation of Dublin had mismanaged their business, but he had scarcely seen that this argument cut both ways. Even supposing that all the corporations of Ireland mismanaged their business, that went to show that the corporations were not sufficiently representative or sufficiently amendable to public opinion. He would say that the Corporation of Dublin had fairly managed its business; but he would not say that they had always done so in the best way possible. If the House made corporations really representative, they would bring public opinion to bear upon them in such away as that reforms, as far as reform was necessary, would be practicable, and strengthen the hands of those bodies in carrying out the necessary public improvements. The population of Dublin was about 250,000, and the number of inhabited houses was about 25,000; but 1564 the number of burgesses who elected members of the Corporation, and a body which had great powers and great responsibilities, was barely 5,000. Therefore, really the Corporation in a certain sense could scarcely be said to be representative, and the members of the Corporation felt themselves hampered and weakened through so many of those who had to pay the rates and taxes having no voice in the elections. They had already established a household municipal franchise in England, and it had been found sufficiently satisfactory. It therefore, lay on the opponents of the Bill to say why the same thing should not be done in Ireland. The hon. Member for Belfast had advanced certain vague indefinite charges without one word of evidence; but if those charges proved anything, they proved that the Bill was required. Merely to assert that the Corporation of Dublin had disposed of its leases not to the best advantage was nothing; the question was, whether they would establish the principle of equal laws and franchises between the two countries? It was ridiculous to argue such a great question on such grounds as had been raised by the hon. Member for Belfast, whose speech was one of the best arguments in favour of the Bill, because, for a Gentleman of his ability, experience, and knowledge of the subject—and he knew his knowledge of municipal laws and municipal work in Belfast was thorough, although he would not go into that now —not to be able to advance a single argument in favour of his proposal that the Bill should be strangled for this year, was proof enough that there was no argument to be advanced at all.
§ COLONEL BARNE
said, it appeared to him that the Irish Franchise Bill should go a great deal further than was intended by its promoters. There were very small and wretched boroughs in Ireland which had the power of returning Members to that House. ["Question!"] He thought that it was time that there was a comparison made and acted upon with reference to the number of seats allowed to Ireland with those allowed to the same population in England. ["Question !"] The question was that the number of Members sitting in that House should bear some proportion to the population of the country. ["Question !"]
§ MR. SPEAKER
I must say that the hon. and gallant Member is not keeping to the immediate Question before the House, which relates to the municipal, not the Parliamentary, franchise.
§ COLONEL BARNE
wished merely to point out that Ireland was over represented in that House, and that it would be far better for the interests of the Empire if Ireland was less represented.
§ MR. GIBSON
said, he would have preferred if the Government had taken part in the discussion upon this Bill. He had served upon a Committee with the hon. Member for Belfast (Mr. Corry) on this subject for three Sessions, and the question of the municipal franchise in Ireland had been carefully considered. The measure now before the House was one of obvious importance, and the principle of it, he thought, ought to have been considered and dealt with in a complete manner by the Government, having due regard to all the important matters discussed before the Select Committee, and which were quite ignored in this Bill, too. He regretted that the scope of the Bill was limited to the seven municipal towns of Ireland. It would have been more desirable if the Government had dealt with the subject broadly, and included it in a comprehensive plan of dealing with county government. He hoped that his hon. Friend the Member for Belfast had no intention of dividing upon this Bill, and that he would allow it to be read a second time. As for himself, he would reserve his right to consider its provisions at a future stage.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. LAW)
said, that the opinion of the Government was precisely the same as it had been for the last five or six years when sitting in Opposition. They would give their support to the Bill. It was perfectly true that the Municipal Corporations in Ireland were not very numerous; but, whether they were 7 or 27 in number, did not make the smallest difference as regarded the principle involved. The officers of municipalities in Ireland were elected under a Statute passed in 1840 requiring a high rating qualification on the part of the electors. At the time the Act was being passed it was intended that a similar system to that established in England by the Municipal Reform Act of 1835 should be provided for Ireland; but the efforts 1566 of the Duke of Wellington to the contrary unfortunately succeeded, and the result was the law as it now stood. Since then the Irish Parliamentary franchise had been dealt with, and they now had what might be called almost household suffrage in the boroughs, it being at the rate of £4 per year, whereas, before a man could vote for an alderman or a town councillor, he must be rated at £10 per year. It was absurd that, in order to qualify a man for the municipal franchise, he must be rated two and a-half times as high as the man who could vote for a Member of Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Gibson) had objected to the Bill on the ground that it was incomplete, as it did not include all the towns of Ireland—that was by making provision for incorporating them. That, however, was quite a separate matter, which required consideration not only for Ireland but for England also. Meantime, the Government were now prepared to support the Bill before the House.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for Friday.