§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. M'COAN
, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, it was not necessary for him to trespass more than a few minutes on the attention of the House, inasmuch as the subject had already been twice before the present Parliament. He need not, therefore, repeat the arguments which had been used on those occasions. He might, however, remind the House that in Ireland the qualification to vote at municipal elections depended on the very high voting franchise of a £ 10 rating, which virtually represented a rental of from £ 12 to £ 15; so that, generally speaking, no one in a municipal borough in Ireland was entitled to a vote unless he was the occupant of a house of the rent value of, say, £ 15 a-year. In England, on the other hand, there was a complete absence of value qualification; and every rated householder was entitled to vote at municipal elections. The absurdity and the inequity of such a difference between the franchises of the two countries would become more apparent when he reminded the House that the Parliamentary borough franchise in Ireland was only £ 4, and that, while a man rated at that sum could vote for the election of a Member of the Imperial Parliament, he was debarred from voting for the election of an alderman or a Town Councillor unless rated at £ 10. The practical effect of the distinction between the municipal franchises of England and Ireland was an absurd difference between the number of the burgesses of the large towns in the two countries as compared with their population. These facts alone, he considered, were sufficient to support his application for a reform of the law on this point. When the late Mr. Butt introduced his Bill on this subject in 1874—which was rejected by the Conservative Government—he submitted statistics which abundantly illustrated both the fact and the results of the difference in the franchises of the two 918 countries. Bringing down Mr. Butt's figures to the present day, he (Mr. M'Coan) might inform the House that whilst Dublin, with a population of 267,712, had on its burgess roll only 5,584 voters, Leeds, with a population of 220,000, had 52,000 burgesses qualified to vote at its municipal elections. Similarly, Belfast, with a population of 207,000, had only 5,220 burgesses, whilst Bristol, with a population of 206,503, had 25,847 municipal voters. In the same way, Cork, with a population of 97,526, had only 2,005 burgesses, whilst Wolverhampton, with a population of 75,738, had 11,514 burgesses. These figures were fairly representative, and showed the inequitable distinction between the law in the two countries, which it was the object of the present Bill to remove. It did not even ask as much as the second Bill promoted by Mr. Butt, which sought to equalize the privileges of the two countries, as the present one left to England and Scotland a long list of privileges which were not enjoyed by Ireland. These, he hoped, would be conceded later on. For the present, he was content to have the money franchise in Ireland abolished, and to assimilate the voting qualifications in the two countries. He was gratified to know that, with respect to the subject of this Bill, a sense of justice actuated Her Majesty's present Government; and it was with great satisfaction that he recalled the fact that its Members had, when out of Office in 1874, supported Mr. Butt, when he desired to effect a similar reform, and, when in Office in 1880, had supported the measure of the hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. E. Power) when he in turn introduced a Bill to effect that object. He trusted that the Irish Members might now again reckon on their support, notwithstanding all that had happened in the House of late. He ventured also to hope that the changes which had occurred since 1874 would bring their Conservative Friends to a more liberal state of mind, and that they would meet with no opposition from them to the second reading of the Bill. If that were so, it would be regarded in Ireland as a gratifying sign of the disposition of the House and the Government to do justice to that country, by satisfying its reasonable demands in this matter. He begged to move the second reading of the Bill.
§ MR. R. POWER
, in seconding the Motion, said, that all that the promoters of the measure desired was that justice should be done in the matter of the municipal franchise to Ireland. It had been declared by the Act of Union that Ireland was to enjoy equal laws with England, but that declaration had ever since remained a dead letter; and the first of England's acts after the Union was the passing of martial law for Ireland. He was astonished that, after all the professions of the present Ministry to do justice to Ireland, this subject was not referred to in the Queen's Speech. Last year he had the honour of introducing it to the notice of the House, and the Session before he was successful in carrying the second reading of the Bill. Unfortunately, however, owing to the obstructive tactics of the hon. Member for Belfast (Mr. Corry), the Bill did not get into Committee. The history of the subject afforded a very sad commentary on the conduct of Irish Business in the House. For 50 years the Representatives of Ireland had been trying to get for Ireland the simple question of having her laws on this point assimilated with those of England, and still they had failed, through the opposition of both Tory and Liberal Governments. The Bill only asked for a mere equality. He regretted that the Conservative Party, who were now in Opposition, should still consider it necessary to oppose the second reading of the Bill, because a few nights ago his right hon. and learned Friend the senior Member for Dublin University said the Tories were quite prepared to make concessions to Ireland, and that, in point of fact, they had done a great deal for the people of that country. The right hon. and learned Gentleman was right as far as coercion was concerned; for he (Mr. R. Power) found that while the Liberals passed 22 Coercion Bills for Ireland the Conservatives only passed 11. He would remind those Members of the Opposition that the late Lord Derby commended to his followers the principles of the Bill. With reference to the fact that the English Franchise Law did not extend to Ireland, Lord Derby said that the principle of reform was the same whether applied to England or Ireland; and if it were just in the one country it must be just in the other. If the House wished to afford to Ireland real sub- 920 stantial cause of complaint, and encourage a national demand for the Repeal of the Union, they could not do better than continue to show that English interests were treated in one way and Irish interests in another. He could not conceive on what grounds hon. Members could refuse to grant to Ireland such an extension of the franchise as would place her on the same footing with England. The Liberal Government were pledged on this question; but he regretted to say that, like many other pledges given during the last Election, they had not acted up to their promises. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister had advocated in his speeches the desirability of binding the three countries together by the tie of equal laws. The Chief Secretary for Ireland had said that this was amongst many Irish grievances requiring to be redressed, and the Secretary of State for War had made statements of a similar character. The present Bill would cover 11 Irish towns in which 1 man in 40 was now a voter. In English boroughs the proportion was 1 in 8. A population of 29,000 in Waterford had only 700 voters; Bradford, with 145,000 people, had 24,450 voters; while Belfast, with a population of 174,418, had only 5,525 voters. Those figures were quite sufficient to prove how unjust and unequal the law in this respect was. Of course, it was perfectly useless for an Irish Member to try to carry a Bill like this through the House without the strong support of Her Majesty's Government. He did not wonder that the people of Ireland had very little faith in an English House of Commons, when he remembered that a small measure of this description, which demanded no exceptional privilege, but simply asked for equal rights and the removal of the stamp of inferiority, had been asked for upwards of 50 years, and had been continually rejected by Parliament. One aspect of the question which presented itself strongly to him was, that when the Irishman left his own shores, and went, say, to Liverpool or Manchester, he became entitled to the franchise there. He demanded the same privilege for Irishmen at home. The Bill was based upon the principles of assimilation and equal rights, and he hoped that the House would allow a second reading of it, and that Her Majesty's Government 921 would also allow it to be taken into Committee.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. M'Coan.)
said, it was not his intention to oppose the Bill. At the same time, as one of those who sat upon the Select Committee appointed in 1876 to inquire into the municipal government of the towns and the levying of taxes in Ireland, he would say that the Bill was a very small portion of the recommendations of that Committee. The Bill would only affect 11 municipal boroughs in Ireland, and would leave untouched a large number of towns which came under the Towns Improvement Act. One remarkable thing which was brought out in evidence before the Committee was that in no instance was any attempt made to lower the franchise by those towns which came before the House with Bills; but, in many cases, they asked rather for an increase of the franchise. The recommendation of the Committee was that the municipal should be assimilated with the Parliamentary franchise. The question had not engaged public attention in Ireland. Speaking for the important borough he represented, he would say that no extension of the franchise was wanted in Belfast. When the Acts of 1840 and 1855 were passed, Dublin, which was then exempted, received exceptional privileges; but the extension of the franchise in Dublin, instead of reducing the franchise, virtually increased it. A great deal of evidence was given before the Committee of 1876, as to the management of municipal boards and local government as it existed in Corporations, and some of the disclosures made to that Committee were not creditable to the Corporations. It would not be advisable, he thought, to reduce the franchise in these boroughs until the other matters referred to in the Report of the Committee were attended to; because it would be a very serious matter to put the power into the hands of a large number of people who did not now possess it, for the purpose of levying taxes upon properties, and the management of Corporation funds. Other matters connected with the question were more in want of attention than the lowering of the franchise. One of the great diffi- 922 culties with Corporations was to get members to attend to the business; but he did not believe that that would be removed by lowering the franchise. The municipal question of Ireland was one that should be dealt with by the Government. He was perfectly certain if the Government took the matter up the Irish Members on the opposite side of the House would give them every assistance possible. The Irish people were not slow to make themselves heard on any question that was popular; but nothing was being said in Ireland upon this question, and he did not think that, at the present moment, people were much concerned about the franchise. As regarded the towns which came under the Towns Improvement Act of 1840, many of them, far from wishing for a reduction in the franchise, actually had refused to be brought under the Local Government Act. One of the other matters dealt with by the Committee was the extension of the boundaries of boroughs. That was a question which ought to be dealt with in any Bill that was brought forward concerning local government. As regarded the Municipal Corporation of Belfast, although there were always some grumblers against it, he could unhesitatingly say that on the whole its affairs were well carried on; but there were reforms and privileges which Belfast wanted. A fresh valuation was wanted in Belfast. Deputations from that town had urged upon the late Government to bring in a Bill for a new valuation. No re-valuation had taken place for so long that great inequalities and consequent injustice existed. Yet Irish boroughs had municipal advantages which England had not. In Ireland the aldermen were elected by the ratepayers, and not as in England, by the Town Council. He hoped that the Government, instead of dealing with this small matter, would see their way to take up the whole question and deal with it in a comprehensive way; and with that view he would suggest that during the Recess the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary should give the subject some consideration.
§ MR. DAWSON
said, it was very agreeable to have received some support from the Opposition side of the House in regard to the Bill. The hon. Member for Belfast (Mr. Corry) had spoken in a very broad spirit, and had 923 really said nothing it was necessary for him (Mr. Dawson) to reply to by way of argument. The hon. Member had admitted the importance of the matter, and would give the Government an opportunity of dealing with the question in all its branches hereafter. Although the suggestion might be well meant, it seemed to him (Mr. Dawson) rather to have been made as a means of shelving the small step towards reform now before the House. He did not think it was quite in accordance with the character of the people of Belfast, who were very practical, to put off a subject indefinitely merely because other cognate matters were not then under discussion. The only argument against the Bill, and the chief ground of the disinclination to reduce the municipal franchise in Ireland, seemed to him to be due to some sort of opinion that the people were so low, and their habitations so miserable in many of the towns, that they did not deserve a vote. But that seemed to him to be the very reason for giving them a vote. If they had any control over the municipal authorities, who had the power of improving their homes and improving the sanitary condition of their dwellings, they would have decent homes and good sanitary arrangements; but it was adding insult to injury to tell them that they were miserable because of the wretchedness of their dwellings; and, further, that they would be kept miserable, because they would not get the privilege of sending into the municipal councils representatives who would improve their condition. Many of the present members of the Municipal Corporations seemed to forget that they were guardians of the people rather than of the money of the people, and they consequently lent their assistance towards the improvement of the dwellings of the poor very sparingly. Lord Beaconsfield had said that a money qualification was the very last qualification that should be taken, because by it you kept out the masses of the people and left them entirely in the hands of the monied classes. The hon. Member for Belfast asserted that there was no popular agitation in favour of the present proposal; but did he intend to argue that the Irish people ought to get nothing from that House without agitation? If so they would soon have Town Leagues as well as a Land League. In 924 England there was not only household franchise; but a Court of Law decided last November, upon an appeal from a decision of the Revising Barrister, that every room held separately was a house within the meaning of the Act introduced by Lord Beaconsfield, and gave a vote to the occupier, whether the rates were paid by the tenant or the owner. This decision would add 10,000 voters to one metropolitan constituency alone. The Prime Minister himself had quoted and endorsed the saying of Lord Chief Justice Holt, that every man should have power to elect those who bind his person and his property. Had the representation of Birmingham suffered from the influx of the popular vote? On the contrary, Birmingham was a type of that municipal government which they in Ireland would like to imitate. It was true, as the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Corry) observed, the standard of £ 10 which existed through Ireland generally did not extend to Dublin. In Dublin it was a household standard; but when giving Dublin the household franchise they also imposed upon it the condition of a three years' residence, and that imposition prevented artizans and others of the labouring classes from getting votes, for they could not generally live three or four years in one house. The very measure which was to have enlarged the franchise in Dublin was more exclusive than the general law, for while the valuation in Dublin would be sufficient for between 20,000 and 30,000 voters, the restrictions imposed reduced the number to 5,000. They talked about "Boycotting" and violence; but people in Ireland could not elect Town Councillors or Poor Law Guardians as they could in England. They had no specific panacea like the ballot paper, by which the constituents could assert their right. Thus it was that the people were driven into acts of violence. He thoroughly agreed with the hon. Member for Belfast, who said these alterations should be made in Committee, and that the towns should be presided over by Towns Commissioners; but he (Mr. Dawson) thought the municipal franchise in England gave every householder a vote, and he did not think that they should give anything less to Ireland. He believed that the same beneficial results might be expected to accrue from this reform that had followed 925 upon the extension of the franchise in England. His hon. Friend (Mr. R. Power) said that for 50 years this question had been before the House, and for 50 years it had been undecided. So long ago as 1846 Sir Robert Peel said, when the unbiassed eye looked over the franchise of the two countries, it would be able to detect a disparity between the two communities. There were gaps and yawning gulfs which separated the people from their privileges, and kept them in a disloyal, unconstitutional state. It was needless for him (Mr. Dawson) to speak at any greater length, further than to congratulate the House and himself upon the fact that a true sense was coming over the consideration of Parliament upon the question, and he had great pleasure in supporting the second reading of the Bill.
§ MR. PLUNKET
said, he did not wish to oppose the second reading. It was true that on some former occasions he and others sitting on that side of the House had opposed the Bill. He would, however, remind his hon. Friend (Mr. R. Power) that, on the last two occasions when it was brought forward, he (Mr. Plunket) offered no opposition to it; but he did oppose it in 1878, on the ground that, at that time, there was a Committee sitting which had been appointed for the very purpose of inquiring into the question. That Committee had taken a considerable amount of evidence, and had taken a vast amount of pains to inquire into this very question of the reform of the municipal franchise in Ireland. It was the Irish Members themselves who insisted upon the second reading of the Bill, and wanted to settle the whole matter out of hand, while the Committee was before the House. Now, the difficulty he had about it all along, and which he still felt about this Bill as it stood, and which would still lead him to oppose it if he thought it was going to be passed without amendment, was this. The great misfortune and drawback in the present state of Municipal Corporations in Ireland was that there was, he would not say a total, but a very considerable, absence of interest and action on the part of the property holders in the proceedings of the Corporations. That matter was gone into very carefully by the Committee which sat for three years on the subject, and 926 which reported in 1878. He would just call attention to one paragraph in their Report to show that there was a very considerable feeling of that kind. It said the interests of the property holders and the proper discharge of their duties was not found sufficient to stimulate owners as a class to take part in municipal government. Even if owners strove to secure representation in the Governing Body under the present system, their numbers were insufficient to protect their interests, and it was contended that the revision of taxation would be unjust in itself. The truth was this—owing to the unfortunate proportions in which the various classes were found in Irish towns and Irish society generally, there was great difficulty in applying a system of representation without reducing it to the same rule as had been applied to England. It was on this ground that the Committee, having heard the evidence on both sides of the question, proposed a revision of the representation. They proposed a plan which would reduce the divisions between the various classes in Ireland in a way that would be conducive to their best interests. The Committee then went on to recommend some of the provisions which were contained in this Bill, and he (Mr. Plunket) was not now opposing them; but he said in dealing with a part of this question, if this Bill were to be passed simply as it stood, and without any amendment, it would have the effect of intensifying the very evil of which they complained, because it would have the effect of swamping the interests of the class referred to, and whose interest in municipal government was recommended and desired by the Committee. In short, if members of that class were to attempt to take part in the proceedings of a council, their influence would be practically nullified by the preponderating numbers of other classes. He would not refer to the political aspects of the question, though he might perhaps desire that some Corporations in Ireland should attend more to their natural functions and less to political disputes. But certainly, while he did not oppose the second reading of the Bill, he thought it dealt only with a part of the subject; and even as to that part of the subject it required careful consideration in Committee before it could be passed into an Act.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, that it would not be necessary for him to detain the House for more than a few minutes, because there appeared to be a practical unanimity as to the second reading of the Bill. He understood the practical object of the Bill to be to make the municipal franchise in Ireland the same as it was in England; but it seemed to aim at an occupation franchise instead of the present system. He had on previous occasions, when sitting on the other side of the House, expressed his opinion in favour of that proposal, he held it still; and he was glad now to find that there was not any real difficulty raised or objection made to it by the Irish Members on the Opposition side. The hon. Member for Belfast (Mr. Corry), while not opposing the principle of the Bill, mentioned other matters which he (Mr. W. E. Forster) dared say were of great importance, but which did not exactly concern this question. Reform might be desirable in those matters; but, for his own part, he was inclined to believe it would be better to deal with the electoral question by itself, and it was desirable that some such Bill as this, or, at all events, the principle of the Bill, should be accepted by the House. This, of course, did not prevent the Government from considering Amendments in Committee; but he could look to no Amendments in Committee which would derogate from the principle of the measure. There appeared to be in the Bill some clauses which, regarded from an English point of view, were unnecessary and superfluous. The hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. R. Power), amongst other observations, which he must see he had better loft unsaid, had said the Government had not kept its pledges in this matter. The hon. Member did not, it was true, say so very loudly; but, however that might be, it was a matter which the Government thought ought to be settled in this direction, and they would be glad to give it their support to-day, and afterwards, supposing it could be settled according to Parliamentary arrangements, when it went into Committee. He could not promise, however, to make it a Government measure and to give a day for it. Considering the state of Public Business, it would be impossible for him to give any such pledge as that. He only hoped that the promoters of the measure would 928 be able to get the measure fairly before the Committee, and then he trusted that if they did so, they would really set to work about it, and that the Irish Members on the opposite side would not make use of the Rules of the House to obstruct it. In that event he should not despair of the Bill being passed during the present Session.
§ MR. O'SHAUGHNESSY
said, he wished to impress upon hon. Members that the Government could not give any particular time for the discussion of this matter, and that the entire fate of the Bill depended, and the possibility of settling the question depended, upon hon. Gentlemen opposite not unnecessarily obstructing it. The Select Committee, of which he was a Member, was by no means unanimous as to the representation of property as suggested by the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Plunket). A large minority of the Committee took quite a different view. His late Colleague (Mr. Butt) pointed out to the Committee that the principle of Municipal Reform Bills in England and Ireland was, that owners of property should only have representation on these Boards by residing in the boroughs. In that proposal there was a common ground on which the Irish Members on different sides of the House might approach the question, and to see if there could not be a solution of it. So far from leading to that unanimity and fusion of opposing classes, separate assessment of property in Ireland would only lead to a division of those classes. He was afraid the proposition that property ought to have special representation on these Boards could not be accepted. It was a mistake to think Irish Corporations took a particular interest in politics, as might be assumed from the remark of the right hon. and learned Member. English Corporations took quite as much interest when great questions were stirring in the country, and they were just as fond of expressing their political opinions as they were in Ireland. Within the last three or four years, English Corporations had firmly and publicly conducted their elections on the lines of Liberal and Conservative—he would not say to political purposes—but they were carried on quite as much on political lines as were those in Ireland. If there was occasionally an excess of politics in Irish Corporations, 929 it was only a temporary phase resulting from the excited state of things in Ireland, and would pass away after that excitement had subsided; but it was impossible during the three years the Committee sat, aided as it was by Commissioners sent over from this country, to lay a finger on any single charge of corruption or any suspicion of it. The right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin had said under the present state of things by this Bill the property classes would not find much more chance of representation in those bodies; but he (Mr. O'Shaughnessy) thought they would have more chance with large constituencies than with small ones, as, in the latter case, the few voters held the ward in their own possession and dictated to the rest. It was much easier to go to a large constituency with a cry of economy or good administration, and assure that constituency it would be to their advantage to return men of a good class, who would enter into the corporation for the purpose of seeing to the due administration of the rates. Thus the property classes would have a far better chance than they now had of representation. It was fancied in some quarters that by keeping the municipal constituencies as they were at present they would exclude certain of the humbler classes from the representation, and leave the representation in the hands of the better classes. But a greater mistake could not be made. Everyone who knew the Irish people knew also that the middle classes exercised very little power indeed when any great crisis came, and when power should be used. The real power lay in the body of the people, and it was much better to give them the legal opportunity of expressing their opinion by electing men who would express their opinions and carry out their views. That in the long run would be found to be the surest and best principle, and he believed the true Conservatives—he did not use the word in a Party sense, but those who had respect for the law—would largely benefit by the extension of the franchise proposed by the Bill. He believed when they got into Committee, there would be no disposition to stand on hard-and-fast lines with regard to this reform. They had to give and take, so long as they did not establish separate representation, so long as they did not ask for violent changes, or 930 to adopt anything in Ireland which was not adopted in England. They were quite willing to discuss matters with the other side of the House. Under these circumstances, he respectfully appealed to hon. Members on the other side not to kill the Bill by the half-past 12 Rule as it was on the last occasion when before the House. Let not that be its fate now; but let them approach the question as citizens of a common country, and with the desire of arriving at the best possible solution of the difficulty which had so long existed.
§ MR. LEWIS
said, that a large number of Liberals in the constituency he represented (Londonderry) were opposed most decidedly to the measure, and therefore he should not be doing justice to that city if he did not at once and most distinctly state that he should oppose it as far as he was able. They had nothing whatever to do with proposals which might give it a different shape; but, as he understood it, the Bill before the House aimed at placing the municipal franchise in Ireland on exactly the same basis as it was in England, with some slight variations; but that proposal was one which he should have objected to, even had it been a res integra, for he did not believe it had been to the advantage of England to have municipal matters absolutely in democratic hands. He believed it had acted with gross injustice to property, and he did not wish to inflict a similar disadvantage upon Ireland. He maintained that in municipal matters they had a totally distinct class of interests, a totally distinct set of reasons, which ought to be attached to the franchise. The chief duty of a municipal corporation was to assess and collect rates, and to spend the money so collected, and therefore, according to the first principles of justice, he maintained they should have regard to the interests of the people who paid those rates, and not the people who did not pay. So, in regard to the rights of owners, he would be prepared at all events to take his stand upon the Report of the Select Committee which had already been presented to this House in the last Parliament, and which indicated the mode of settling this question in a far more righteous and proper manner than did the proposal of to-day. His hon. Friends below the Gangway would pardon him if he was very candid on this 931 question; but he, for one, thought there was not much reason to look with complacency upon the municipal government principle as evinced in the various bodies in Ireland, and he thought hon. and right hon. Members opposite had as good a reason for looking upon them with disfavour as he had. When they found that municipal corporations in Ireland were continually mixed up year after year, month after month, and week after week in political affairs, they might fairly consider what was likely to follow upon the lowering of the franchise which was proposed in this Bill. Only recently, according to The Daily News, at a special meeting of the Cork Corporation, a resolution was passed condemning the Government for having imprisoned Mr. Parnell, Mr. Dillon, and Father Sheehy, by 22 members out of 26; and the meeting, which was semi-public, pledged itself, in case Mr. Dillon were not released, and if he should die in prison, to erect a monument to his memory, and inscribe upon it the names of the three principal Members of the Government as his murderers. That was the spirit in which municipal government was conducted in one of the first cities in Ireland. Were their memories so short that they had forgotten the very recent action of the Dublin Corporation? Was there anything in the general condition and character of the municipal corporations of Ireland to induce the House to go out of its way for the purpose of nullifying and destroying the interest and power of persons of property simply in the interests of those who paid an infinitesimally small amount in comparison? So far from approving the proposal to assimilate the municipal law of Ireland to that of England, he should oppose it to the best of his ability, because he regarded the municipal law of England itself as a bad one, inasmuch as it conferred upon those who possessed no property the right of dealing with the property of others. He knew that in the city he represented the proposition contained in this measure would be looked upon with disfavour equally by Liberals and by Conservatives, and he challenged hon. Gentlemen from the North of Ireland to speak in the name of the Liberal Party in favour of the measure. He would be fulfilling the desire and the mandate of a large majority of his constituents in opposing the Bill, which, notwithstanding the 932 modest suggestion that it could be made innocuous in Committee, he did not believe could be turned inside out, or be made anything else than a measure for the degradation of the municipal franchise of Ireland. Therefore, although on the present occasion he would not claim a division, he must announce his intention of opposing the future progress of the measure in every possible way.
§ MR. GRAY
said, that the speech to which they had just listened was precisely what the House might have expected from the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Lewis), since he had always taken an extraordinary view with respect to the extension of the municipal or Parliamentary franchise. They could therefore expect nothing short of a determined and straightforward opposition from that hon. Gentleman. He (Mr. Gray) did not think it necessary to follow the points which the hon. Member had mentioned, further than to say that, if the hon. Member's objection to the Bill was a political one—and, so far as he could see, there was nothing, as the municipal corporations were at present constituted, to prevent their taking the strongest political action open to them—perhaps they might, by going down a little deeper in the social scale of the franchise, succeed in striking the Conservative working man in Ireland. He presumed that the political views of the great corporations could not be more obnoxious to the hon. Member if they were based upon an extended franchise than they were at the present time. They could not do any worse in Ireland in the eyes of the hon. Member than they had already done; but while he was not surprised at the speech of the hon. Member for Londonderry, he was very much astonished at that of the hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. O'Shaughnessy). Were it not for the observations of the hon. and learned Gentleman, he (Mr. Gray) would not have spoken in this debate. He could not concur in these statements, and would rather see the Bill rejected than pass on the basis shadowed forth in the speech of the hon. and learned Member. The Irish Members were not willing to consent to any alteration of any kind which would prevent an assimilation of the franchise between the two countries. If, as the hon. Member for Londonderry contended, the present English franchise 933 was mischievous, then amend it and give Ireland the benefit of the amendment, for the Irish Members were willing to consent to any amendment which insisted upon Ireland enjoying the same privileges as England. While they were under the same Parliament they claimed, at least, to enjoy such benefits as the Union extended to them. They should have those benefits really as well as nominally; and, at the present time, they found in connection with almost every portion of the administration of Public Business that, while they were nominally under the same law as England, they were practically under an entirely different law. The effect of that was nothing but that of adding insult to injury. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Plunket) had contended that the owners of property were not sufficiently represented upon the corporations in Ireland, stating that the great desideratum was that men of property should take a more active interest in municipal affairs. He (Mr. Gray) had no objection to men of property and position having an active interest in municipal affairs, if they desired to do so; but, after an intimate acquaintance of the working of the Dublin Corporation, he could say that it was not the men of position or of high social standing in that body—although they had a good many of them—who did the hard, practical, everyday work; it was the men of lower social position and with fewer pretensions who did the work, and who were of the most value to the City. Some proof should have been given of the assertion that if there were more representatives of property in the corporations of Ireland the work would be better done, for that was an old argument that was always urged by the Conservatives in Ireland. There were two systems working side by side. There was the Poor Law system and the municipal system, and in many cases they performed identically the same functions. For instance, all the sanitary work in one district was intrusted to the corporation; while, in another, at a very short distance from it, it was placed in the hands of the Boards of Guardians. Half of the latter bodies held their positions ex-officio, and consisted usually of landlords and magistrates. As a rule, throughout the whole of Ireland these men seldom attended 934 to any of the practical work of their Boards. Of course, they attended whenever there was an election, and then always on political grounds; but they left the business to be performed by the vulgar herd, and did not trouble themselves about it. Under the election system of Poor Law Boards, there was a property vote and a property qualification in their entirety, by which system the rich man could have six votes, while the poor man had only one. By means of a certain combination of qualifications the rich man could have as many as 18 votes to one of the poor man. He denied that, however, a better class of men were elected by means of this system, and that they did their work any better than others. Wherever there was a restriction placed upon a constituency there could not be a healthy interest in public affairs, which alone could secure their equitable administration. In Dublin, the greatest city in Ireland, with a population of 250,000, the Corporation was elected by 5,000 men. Owing to a restricted franchise, wire-pulling had a great deal more to do with an election than—if he might use a sporting expression—the public "form" of the candidates. All that was now asked was that that which had been found to work with advantage in England might also be applied to Ireland, and that while they had, perhaps, more than their share of the disadvantages enjoyed by England, they might also receive some of its advantages. He had no hesitation in saying that, if such a proposition as that foreshadowed by the hon. and learned Member for Limerick were inserted in the Bill, he (Mr. Gray) would block it, if no one else did so; for he would sooner wait 10 years for a good measure than allow the House to proceed upon any false assumption that the Irish people would be satisfied with a merely nominal concession, which would be so disastrous in its working, as that made by the hon. and learned Member for Limerick.
§ MR. T. C. THOMPSON
said, he was surprised to hear the arguments deduced from the supposed failure of municipal institutions in England. He thought that if an appeal were made to the country, the answer would show that the extension of municipal institutions to the great towns of England had done much to benefit the country. Not only had they benefited the general prosperity of 935 those towns, but they had enormously increased their wealth and health. Therefore, if the Bill depended upon the answer of England, he felt sure there would be little doubt that it would receive a very cordial assent. Objection had been made to the Bill on the assumption that by lowering the franchise they would bring in a lower class of people into public affairs. Had not the lowering of the franchise in England been the most beneficial measure passed during the last 40 or 50 years? Through its operation, the masses took a keener interest in national and Imperial affairs; and he believed no Assembly could take a keener interest in the affairs of the world than this House of Commons, which was elected by the lowest franchise that had yet been tried. It had been said that people of the lower ranks of society took no interest in municipal institutions. For that very reason, then, should the franchise be extended to them; for the chief thing to be desired in all representative institutions was not merely the result it would have on legislation, but the effect it would have upon the people themselves. They never extended the franchise towards a lower class of people without at once awakening in them a very deep interest in questions which they never thought of before, and the practical result was to insure an excellent representation both in municipal institutions and in that House. More than that, he regarded it as of importance that they should especially encourage the feeling that Ireland was to be treated in the same manner as England. There was a feeling gradually rising up—it was found, not only in the public assemblies, but in the homes of England—that Ireland had not been treated quite fairly; and the people of this country trusted that, by legislation like this, would be obviated the necessity for that exceptional legislation which had been the unfortunate practice of the House for the last two years. There were, however, two points in which he thought the Bill should be amended—these being, first, that some provision ought to be made to prevent any voter losing his vote by leaving one town for another, for he saw no reason why a man should be compelled to reside in a town a year, or in some cases for two years, before he had the privilege of a municipal vote. On settling 936 in a town he ought to be able to put himself on the municipal register by a formal application to the local authority, which should hold good until the next revision. He further considered it was a very great hardship that very poor people who received relief from the public should be excluded from the franchise. Considering the many advantages that all classes enjoyed at the public expense, it was harsh to deprive men of the rights of citizenship because they were compelled by misfortune to throw themselves for a while on rates to which they might long have been contributors. He trusted that in these two matters at least Ireland would show herself in advance of England.
§ MR. FINDLATER
said, in his opinion, all the objections that had been raised to the measure were only such as could be easily and satisfactorily answered. In the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, referring to the carping observations of the hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. R. Power), he (Mr. Findlater) was sure his hon. Friend would see that those remarks had been better unsaid. He could not really think, if they were to look for favours from the Government, that speaking in an angry spirit of every act of theirs would tend to get what they required. He said that in the most friendly spirit to the hon. Member for Waterford, and he was sure it would be accepted in that spirit by him. The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Lewis) challenged Liberal Members from the North of Ireland sitting on that side of the House to say whether the great body of the Liberals of Ireland wished for this change in the franchise. He would accept the challenge, and say that for his part he had not the slightest doubt, from his experience on the other side of the water, that the great body of the Liberals were quite as desirous for the change as was the hon. Member who moved the second reading of the Bill (Mr. M'Coan). He had very great pleasure in supporting the Motion before the House.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. W. M. JOHNSON)
said, it was scarcely necessary for him to add anything to what had been said by his right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland; but he rose to say the principle upon which he should support the Bill was that representation should ac- 937 company taxation. He was also firmly of opinion that a man who was qualified to exercise the trust of voting for a Member of Parliament was certainly not in any way disqualified from exercising a similar trust in voting for the members of a municipal corporation. Those who had, he would not say absolutely most, but who certainly had a very large interest in the homes and the comfort of the poor, were those who themselves came from the lower classes. In saying that, he meant to cast no reflection whatever upon the upper classes, especially upon those in the City of Dublin, who had, perhaps, individually shown more solicitude and interest in the poor than those of any other city in the United Kingdom, particularly some whose names were well known, and whose service was coveted as affording comfort and security. It should not be lost sight of that the Corporation of Dublin occupied an anomalous position as compared with the other corporations of Ireland, and that was a grievance which, at all events, ought to be redressed. Why a person in one city should have a vote, and a person in the same position should not merely because he lived in another city, he could not understand. One great principle might be found in Ireland, that so far as they could enlarge constituencies by introducing persons who had a stake in the country, so much more would they add to the stability of the country and to the loyalty of the population; and the more they excluded this class of people the more would they, to use a popular but forcible expression, sit upon the heads of the people, and the less likely were they to make the people loyal. He was very glad to be able to support the second reading of the Bill, although he wished to protect himself from implying that he adhered to it as it stood, as there were a couple of matters which were, perhaps, more matters of technicality and drafting than anything else, in which he considered it required amendment, but which did not in any way affect its principle, to which he entirely adhered. In Committee he would feel himself at liberty to support or oppose any Amendments, provided they did not interfere with the principle of the Bill.
§ MR. METGE
, in supporting the Bill, said, he felt that the Representatives of Irish constituencies had a right to ask from the only Irish Parliament they had 938 some fulfilment of the pledges from the Government, which had been broken as fast as made ever since the time of the Union. With reference to the remarks of the hon. Member for Monaghan (Mr. Findlater) respecting the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Waterford (Mr. R. Power), he would remind that hon. Gentleman that the Irish people looked for measures of this kind as measures of simple justice, and no more; therefore, they could not be said to ask for anything in a carping spirit. When they were granted, they considered them not in the light of favours from the Government or the English Parliament, but as being passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom. He cordially supported the Bill.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for To-morrow.