§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [31st May], (on Consideration of the Bill, as amended), "That the Clause (Part 12.—Municipal Franchise), be now read a second time."
§ Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. M. J. KENNY (Tyrone, Mid)
The House will recollect that on the 31st of May the debate on the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton), to insert a new clause in this Bill for the purpose of assimilating the municipal franchise to the Parliamentary franchise, was adjourned at the re- 37 quest of the hon. Members who now represent Belfast. ["No!"] It was adjourned at their instigation at all events, and on the pretence that it was desired by them that the House should have an opportunity of pronouncing an opinion on the general Bill for the extension of the municipal franchise in Ireland, rather than insert in a Private Bill a clause of this kind, which is of a public nature. Since the adjournment, on the 31st of May, three weeks ago, the general Bill for the extension of the municipal franchise in Ireland has not advanced in any degree whatever, and the reason why it has not advanced is this—that hon. Members who profess a strong desire that the House of Commons and the House of Lords should have an opportunity of pronouncing an opinion on the measure have blocked the Bill. Hon. Members have given Notice from time to time of opposition to the Bill, and it has been impossible to bring it forward. The hon. Member for the City of Londonderry (Mr. Lewis) has blocked the Bill. The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Thanet (Colonel King-Harman), who, although an English Member, is an Irishman, also objects to the measure. In addition, it has been blocked by the hon. Member for Mid Armagh (Sir James Corry). The result has been that the Bill has made no advance, and the House of Lords has had no opportunity of pronouncing an opinion upon it, nor can it have an opportunity of doing so this Session. The House will recollect the great importance of the question. The Belfast Main Drainage Bill proposes to authorize the expenditure of £500,000 on public undertakings in Belfast; and, owing to the restricted nature of the franchise in Belfast, only a fraction of the population would have an opportunity of pronouncing an opinion on the merits of the scheme. It is proposed under this Bill to impose an annual charge of £35,000 for 35 years on the people of Belfast. What we complain of is that the great majority of the people of the town of Belfast will have no opportunity of expressing an opinion on this expenditure; and if the House sanctions the Bill they would have no opportunity of controlling the Corporation of Belfast with a view to the proper expenditure of this enormous sum of money. The Chancellor of the 38 Exchequer, speaking in the previous debate, stated on behalf of the Government that if the House was not afforded an opportunity of considering fully the question of the extension of the municipal franchise in Ireland, the Irish Members would, at least, be entitled to have this clause inserted in the Bill. Relying upon that declaration of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, we claim now that this clause should be inserted in this Private Bill. I cannot understand why hon. Members for Belfast, or for the North of Ireland generally, should have any objection to the introduction of this clause into the Bill. I do not believe that it is necessary to state at any great length the nature of our reasons for claiming the introduction of the clause. I believe that the clause commends itself generally to the common sense of hon. Members; and I must say that I shall be greatly surprised if the hon. Members for Belfast, some of whom have on more than one occasion advocated the extension of the municipal franchise in Ireland, and some of whom now pretend to be Tory Democrats—I shall be greatly surprised if those hon. Members offer any objection to this very fair proposition of my hon. Friend. I do not think that it will be necessary to prolong the discussion to-day, as the subject has already been rather fully considered by the House; but I have thought it necessary to recall the attention of the House to what occurred on the 31st of May. Having done so, it only remains for me to express my belief that hon. Members generally will be ready to assent to the proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton).
§ SIR JAMES CORRY (Armagh, Mid)
It has been stated by the hon. Member for Mid Tyrone (Mr. M. J. Kenny) that the Members for Belfast made a bargain with hon. Members below the Gangway that the consideration of this Bill should be adjourned until the question of the Municipal Franchise Bill was settled. Now, what happened was this—hon. Members below the Gangway moved the adjournment of the debate, and when they did so we consented to it, but not on any condition that the Municipal Franchise Bill should be passed, or that this clause should be inserted in the Bill. The Municipal Franchise Bill is in no way our measure. It may be a 39 very good thing for the boroughs in Ireland; but still, at the same time, it is a question which ought to be dealt with by Her Majesty's Government, and not by a private Member. As far as I am personally concerned, I am quite prepared, when the Government take up the question, to give it the best consideration in my power; but my contention now is that a clause of this kind ought not to be inserted in a Private Bill. I do not see why this Bill should be treated differently from any other Private Bill, and I believe it is without precedent that in a Private Bill of this nature a clause such as that proposed by the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) should be inserted. We felt—that is the people of Belfast felt—that it is altogether unnecessary to introduce a clause of this kind into a Private Bill promoted by them for the improvement of the town of Belfast, and I cannot help thinking that the Government have taken a most extraordinary course in supporting any such proposal. The hon. Member for Sligo, in the clause which he has put down upon the Paper, made several suggestions with reference to the municipal franchise. For instance, he wants to have it assimilated to the qualification for burgesses of the borough of Dublin, and all boroughs in England and Scotland, and for such purposes he asks the House to amend the provisions of the Act for the Regulation of Municipal Corporations in Ireland, so far as regards the borough of Belfast. But the clause which has been put upon the Paper does not carry out that object in the least degree. In the first place, it proposes that the term of residence shall be changed, which will certainly not assimilate the municipal franchise in Belfast to that which prevails in England, Scotland, and Dublin. I certainly fail to see why this Bill should be put on a different footing from any other Private Bill at this period of the Session. I feel that hon. Members below the Gangway would not be in any worse position than they are now if the Bill is ordered to stand over, as other Private Bills will stand over, until the next meeting of Parliament. I feel that the question involved in this clause is one which requires a great deal of discussion; and it must be remembered that we have had Municipal Franchise Bills before this House over and over again without 40 any clear and satisfactory decision having been arrived at. The hon. Member for Sligo stated in the previous discussion that the Municipal Franchise Bill had been rejected by the House of Lords. That, I believe, is not the case. The Municipal Franchise Bill has never yet been passed in this House. Consequently, the House of Lords never had an opportunity of dealing with it, and we do not know how they would deal with it if it came before them for consideration. If the Dissolution had not been decided upon, the promise made by the Government was that they would give facilities for the Municipal Bill to pass through its various stages in this House. They have had no opportunity of doing so owing to the Home Rule debate, which was then going on; and since the Dissolution has been announced it has been perfectly impossible for the Government to give any time for the discussion of this question. Then what we say is that this Bill ought to be introduced into the next Parliament in exactly the same position as it occupies now; and hon. Members below the Gangway will then have an opportunity of seeing whether the Municipal Franchise Bill is passed or not. I think that the hon. Member for Sligo showed no reason whatever on the former occasion why the usual precedent should be departed from, and why a clause of this kind should be inserted in a Private Bill. If the promoters of the Bill had given Notice of their intention to insert a clause of this nature in a Private Bill, they would have been at once met upon the Standing Orders by the charge that they were dealing with a great public question which was not entitled to be raised in a Private Bill. Then, again, no notice has been given to the ratepayers of Belfast that any question in reference to the municipal franchise of that borough was intended to be raised in this Bill. I altogether deny that any bargain was made that the Bill should be hung up until the Municipal Franchise Bill was passed, and I think we are fully entitled to be placed in the same position on this occasion as the promoters of other Private Bills without compelling us to insert this clause in the Belfast Bill. I think that no grounds have been shown for the course which has been adopted, and I therefore oppose the insertion of the clause.
§ MR. BIGGAR (Cavan, W.)
I have no desire to detain the House. I only wish to say that those hon. Members who oppose this clause ought to select one of two courses. They should either say they will agree to the clause, or that they do not wish to have the Bill at all. Practically speaking, the Bill is a Bill of the Corporation of Belfast; but it is not a Bill of the inhabitants of Belfast. It was stated on the former occasion that the number of electors who return the Town Council of Belfast is something like 5,000, whereas the number of electors on the Parliamentary franchise is something like 30,000. Therefore, it is perfectly idle for hon. Members above the Gangway, who, upon all occasions, are ready to say how extremely anxious they are that the municipal franchise in Ireland should be extended, to maintain that the franchise in the town of Belfast is in anything like a satisfactory position. I do not believe if the Members for the borough of Belfast were here that they would not be ready to say that they are in favour of the extension of the municipal franchise in the Irish Parliamentary boroughs. The hon. Baronet who has just sat down (Sir James Corry) is in a peculiar position. Although he is an inhabitant of Belfast, he is the Representative of another place—Mid Armagh—and it is easy for him to say that if the question of the municipal franchise is brought forward he will give the matter his careful consideration. We know very well what careful consideration means. It means that these Gentlemen will consider the details of a Bill, and then pass some Amendments which will render the measure entirely worthless. If a man wants to support a Bill he generally says at once that he will support it, and he is not afraid of expressing his opinion. Another peculiar thing in regard to this Bill is that although the two Members for Belfast, who represent what is usually called the Town Council, and who are really the nominees of that Body, are not here to oppose this clause; on the contrary, the two democratic Members—the Members who represent the democratic non-Catholics of Belfast—are conspicuous by their absence; and what is somewhat odd is the fact that one of those Members—the hon. Member for South Belfast (Mr. 42 Johnston)—actually introduced a Bill this Session for the extension of the municipal franchise in all the Irish boroughs. It is quite evident, therefore, that if he really desires to extend the municipal franchise he is not likely to support the rejection of this clause. As a matter of fact, a large and powerful section of those who represent the Conservative Party in the North of Ireland are as strongly in favour of the extension of the municipal franchise in Ireland as we are; yet, at the same time, there are a number of Members above the Gangway who object to the extension of popular rights, and who accordingly refuse to extend the franchise either in Belfast or in any other Irish municipality. Although hon. Members above the Gangway desire to see the general principle extended all over Ireland, they object to the insertion of this clause in a Private Bill. When the matter was before the House on a former occasion the special objection was that it was not desirable to deal with the matter in a Private Act of Parliament; at the same time, hon. Members who took that objection said they were most desirous that the general principle should be established in regard to all parts of Ireland. Although they may have privately used their personal influence in providing for the blocking of the Irish Municipal Franchise Bill, it does not seem that this action on their part has been successful; and the result is that the Irish Municipal Franchise Bill still awaits Committee, and has never yet been able to get into a position in which it could be sent to the House of Lords, so that there might be an expression of opinion upon it on the part of that House. The position which that Bill now occupies is entirely due to the conduct of the Conservative Members who sit above the Gangway. Under these circumstances, I think the House will do well to agree to the proposition of my hon. Friend the Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton), and to adopt this Amendment; otherwise I should like to say to hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway that they will be precious well served if the Bill is thrown out altogether, and they have to begin de novo in a new Session of Parliament. If that were done an opportunity would be afforded for gauging the general opinion as to whether or not this scheme is the best that can be de- 43 vised, and whether the inhabitants of Belfast will prefer to have it, or some more desirable scheme in its place.
§ MR. PLUNKET (Dublin University)
This is undoubtedly a matter of some importance, and I should like to say a very few words upon it before the House takes any action with regard to it. My object in rising is not so much to argue the merits of the clause as to make an appeal to hon. Members below the Gangway not to persist in the course they seem inclined to take, but which, I hope, they will not adopt. What will happen is this. This is a Private Bill for the purpose of improving the main drainage of Belfast, and up to a certain point this Private Bill has ran its usual course. The hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) has proposed to introduce this clause, which is a very important clause without doubt, and is really a scheme of municipal reform as far as the town of Belfast is concerned. Well, that clause was objected to by hon. Members who represent the town of Belfast, and there seems to have been a discussion upon it, from which I was unfortunately absent. I can, therefore, only say what I understand to have been the case. I am informed that the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant, being in his place, although he is unfortunately not in his place now, suggested that the clause should be withdrawn, not because he objected to the principle of it, but because he considered that it was an unusual course to introduce such a proposal into a Private Bill. I think that up to that point there is no controversy between hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway and those hon. Members who sit above it; but the object of pressing forward the clause at the present moment is, I understand, this—that hon. Members below the Gangway consider that some bargain which was made with them has been violated by hon. Members who sit above the Gangway. Now, I am not going to say anything about that; but my hon. Friend who has just spoken has denied that there was any such bargain. I understand that what actually happened was this—it was pro-posed that the question should stand over until such time as there was an opportunity of discussing the question of the extension of the municipal franchise generally, both in the House of Commons and in "another place," in which 44 event we might get rid of it altogether. Of course, hon. Members below the Gangway could not suppose that such an important matter as the extension of the municipal franchise in Ireland was to be discussed in Committee at any hour of the morning at which it might be brought forward. Certain hon. Members did not desire that that should happen, and therefore put down Notices of opposition which would have the effect of preventing the Bill from being taken at an unreasonable hour. Now, with a Dissolution imminent, I quite agree that it is impossible for the Municipal Franchise Bill to be discussed in both Houses of Parliament; and hon. Members below the Gangway say that, because they cannot get that Bill discussed and disposed of in the way they desire, they will, therefore, stop the Main Drainage Bill for Belfast. That seems to me to be putting the saddle on the wrong horse. It has not been the fault of hon. Members on this side of the House that the Session has been cut short. Hon. Members above the Gangway had no power to do that. It is the Government themselves who have brought about the Dissolution, and it is they who are really responsible for the breakdown of any understanding that was entered into, although my hon. Friend behind me (Sir James Corry) does not admit that there was any understanding whatever. I submit that it is quite impossible, in the present state of the House, that there could be a fair decision taken on this or any other Bill. But are you going to stop this scheme for the local improvement of Belfast, and for establishing a main drainage scheme for that town—a most important matter for the inhabitants of Belfast—simply because you want to carry out some great municipal change in regard to the Irish boroughs, but which it is impossible for you to bring about, owing to the Dissolution having suddenly come upon us? I ask, is it common sense or fair play to the inhabitants of Belfast that this should happen? I sincerely trust that hon. Members below the Gangway will withdraw the clause. Certainly, if it is pressed, I shall feel it my duty to divide against them.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT) (Derby)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has very properly declared his entire 45 ignorance of what took place on the last occasion. If he had been aware of it, he would not have taken so conspicuous a part in the breaking through of the whole of that arrangement. That I am certain of from what I know of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. The assertion that there was no understanding is a matter of assertion which no one who was present can maintain for a single moment. The hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Haslett), whom I do not see present at this moment—[Mr. HASLETT intimated that he was in his place.]—that hon. Member stated his opinion that municipal reform in the borough of Belfast was highly necessary, and he supported the idea of carrying; forward the general Bill for the extension of the municipal franchise throughout the boroughs of Ireland. It was thoroughly understood that the postponement of the Drainage Bill took place simply in order that the Municipal Bill should go up to the House of Lords; and it was represented that there would be no opposition to it here. That was a distinct statement, and it was not contradicted.
§ MR. HASLETT (Belfast, W.)
I beg distinctly to state that I never made any such statement. ["Oh!"] Hon. Members below the Gangway say "Oh!" but I repeat that I never made any such, statement. I am not like some hon. Members who are repeatedly making rash statements, and are, as a rule, required to withdraw them. The right hon. Gentleman is under an entire misapprehension as to the course I took. What I did say was that I would give my support to any fair consideration of the Municipal Franchise Bill, and every fair support I could in connection with the passing of it. From that I have never receded, and by neither act nor word have I sought to block the Bill or to keep it back, nor have I broken faith in the smallest particular.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
That is exactly what I said. It was not of the hon. Member that I was speaking, but of certain hon. Members who sit below him. I only alluded to what the hon. Member stated in order to show that the only representation made from the Benches opposite was in favour of the Municipal Franchise Bill, and that there was no intention whatever of obstructing its progress in this House. I 46 represented the hon. Member as having been a supporter of municipal reform. Well, the Bill was postponed, as I was saying, upon the unanimous representation on that occasion that there would be no opposition in this House to the Municipal Bill. [Cries of "No!" from the Opposition. That is my opinion, at any rate, and I remember that the statement was received with general assent. I think that the noble Lord the Member for East Leicestershire (Lord John Manners) spoke upon the occasion to which I refer; but he said nothing about the Municipal Bill being opposed. In point of fact, not one single word was stated by any Member of the House as to any intention to oppose the Bill. Well, what happened? The Municipal Franchise Bill came on a few days ago in regular course, and it might have been discussed and sent up to the House of Lords if the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Plunket) had not got up to object to it. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman had not taken that course, in all probability it would have gone up to the House of Lords, and the arrangement which had been made would have been carried out in its full integrity, and there would have been no necessity to deal with the matter in this Bill. Under those circumstances, it is for the House to consider what it will do. It has been deprived by the action of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin of the possibility of carrying out the understanding which had been unanimously agreed to. He is the author, and not Her Majesty's Government, of the failure to carry out that arrangement. Under the circumstances, we are called upon to take one of two courses. I do not believe that by the present Motion before the House it is possible to reject this Bill altogether. I should have preferred that course, if it were possible to take it, to the course now proposed of inserting this clause in a Private Bill, because it is admitted that although not unprecedented it is an unusual course. I believe there is a precedent for it, but one which I do not think, as a general rule, ought to be followed. I refer to the Rathmines Bill. In the position in which the House has been placed by the course taken by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the 47 University of Dublin, I do not see that we have any other alternative than to insert this clause. I think we are bound to do that in consequence of what happened the other day. The only other possible course would be to reject the Bill altogether; and as that course is not possible in consequence of the position in which we are now placed having regard to the whole matter, and the understanding which was arrived at three weeks ago, I shall certainly support the insertion of the clause.
§ MR. LEWIS (Londonderry)
If there be any offender with regard to this Bill in reference to the blocking of it, and preventing it from coming on for hearing, I believe that I am that offender and no one else. I would venture to say that no one sitting on these Benches, or any other Bench, had any right or commission to speak for me, or for the course I was prepared to take, which course has been uniform from the commencement—namely, to oppose the Municipal Franchise Bill. It has been stated by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the action of my right hon. and learned Friend below me (Mr. Plunket) virtually stopped the progress of the Municipal Franchise Bill. All I can say is that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is entirely mistaken, because ever since the second reading of the Bill, except on one occasion when it became a dropped Order, owing to the laches of those who were promoting the Bill, I have had a Motion on the Paper for the rejection of the Bill. I believe that my right hon. Friend the Member for the Basingstoke Division of Hampshire (Mr. Sclater-Booth) did, on the last occasion when the present Bill was under discussion, let fall an observation that if the Municipal Franchise Bill did not go up to the House of Lords it would be the fault of Her Majesty's Government; but what I apprehend he meant was that it would be in the power of the Government to give such facilities as would prevent the opponents of the Bill from making a successful opposition to it. The right hon. Gentleman did not say one word which could induce the Government to believe that my opposition to the Municipal Franchise Bill would not be persisted in. On behalf of my constituents I have opposed that Bill from the very first, and I intend to 48 oppose it until the very last. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in somewhat heated language, has spoken of a breach of faith. [Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT: I said nothing about a breach of faith.] Those words may not have been used by the right hon. Gentleman; but he has a way of accusing persons of having been guilty of a breach of faith which is peculiarly his own. If there has been a breach of faith it must have been an understanding come to between competent persons which has not been adhered to by one of the parties to it. Now, I want to know if the right hon. Gentleman means to contend that there has not been the utmost fair play on the part of the opponents of the Municipal Franchise Bill? Where has been the want of fair play? On the second reading I stated distinctly that it was only in consequence of the state of the House at that time that I did not proceed to take a division upon the matter; and I added that I should, upon its future stages, give the most strenuous opposition in my power to the measure. From that attitude I have never withdrawn for a single hour. My right hon. and learned Friend below me (Mr. Plunket) has not been an opponent of the Bill.
§ MR. LEWIS
No doubt, my right hon. and learned Friend spoke upon that occasion; but he only referred to the Bill as being a contentious measure, and therefore being one which ought not to be allowed to go on. Nobody on the Treasury Bench, or on the Benches below the Gangway, will venture to suggest that they did not know, from the time of the second reading of the Bill until now, that I was an active and persistent opponent of the Municipal Franchise Bill. Then, in what way has there been any misrepresentation, or any miscarriage, or misadventure? Everything has been perfectly clear and above-board; and, so far as the present Bill is concerned, it is a proof of the impropriety and inconvenience of endeavouring to deal with a public question in a Private Bill. I cannot help thinking that the course which has been taken by the Government is only part of their persistent attempt to curry favour with hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway, no matter 49 at what price, so far as the Business of the House is concerned. What they virtually say now to the promoters of the Bill is—"You shall not drain the town of Belfast." [Cries of "Oh!"] Yes; I maintain that that is what the Government say—"You shall not drain the town of Belfast, nor do anything to promote the health of the inhabitants, because the House will not consent to pass a democratic municipal franchise for the Irish boroughs." In order to establish a leverage to enable the supporters of the Bill to get the democratic franchise they desire the Government to say they will allow this Private Bill to be run against the Public Bill, so that if the public measure is not passed there shall be an extension of the municipal franchise, at any rate, in the borough of Belfast. Her Majesty's Government call that legislation, and that is the protection which Ministers of the Crown are prepared to give to the Business of the House, and to the subjects of the Queen who come here and ask for the leave of Parliament to enable them to drain their own town and to effect other public improvements. I congratulate the Chancellor of the Exchequer on his method of improving the health of the country. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Committees has spoken in the course of this debate; but, if not, I would ask him to state whether, within the range of his experience, or upon the Journals of the House, there has ever been such an attempt as this to enforce such an important change in the public law by means of a Private Bill? The Chancellor of the Exchequer says that a precedent was set in the Rathmines case; but that was no precedent at all, because in the Rathmines Bill there was an agreement upon all sides, and there was no contest whatever in regard to the matter. In this instance the Government have thought proper to "keep the word of promise to the ear, and break it to the hope," in regard to contentious Business. They have been doing it all along, and they have been picking out of the gutter during the last three weeks every little Bill they could which was of an objectionable character, in order to thrust it down the throats of the House. This is only a specimen of the course of legislation which has been followed by Her Ma- 50 jesty's Government in order to keep their promise that no contentious matters should be proceeded with, so that the Business of Parliament might be wound up in the course of two or three weeks. I rose simply for the purpose of shielding my right hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Plunket) from the unjust charge of mala fides which was made against him by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. My right hon. and learned Friend simply pointed out that the Municipal Franchise Bill contained contentious matter. No doubt, hon. Members below the Gangway may be able to stamp this monstrous deformity upon the Private Legislation of the House. Let it, however, be noted that in the days of an expiring House of Commons, and of an expiring Ministry, Her Majesty's Government have determined to leave on record a masterly specimen of their wonderful system of legislation, by means of which, in a Bill introduced for the purpose of improving the health of the town of Belfast, and for enabling the Corporation charged with the protection of the health of that town to drain the borough properly, they refuse to allow the inhabitants to carry out the improvements they propose unless they are willing to subject themselves to tyrannical interference with regard to the municipal franchise. Although the tactics which have been pursued with regard to this Bill may succeed to-day, I trust it will be recollected that the last effort of an expiring Ministry was to do an act of injustice towards an important Irish community—I presume as one way of showing their love for Ireland. I have not the slightest doubt that this tyranny will not be submitted to. On the contrary, the Bill will be withdrawn if this clause is passed, and any evil consequences that may result will rest upon the head of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. ["Oh!"] Yes; upon his head and upon those of his Colleagues will rest the blame of having prevented the proper drainage of the town of Belfast from a feeling simply of political spite.
§ MR. PLUNKET (Dublin University)
Perhaps the House will allow me to make a personal explanation. I think it is necessary that I should do so in consequence of what has been said by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I need not now comment upon the discre- 51 tion which the right hon. Gentleman has exercised in what he has stated. I simply desire to state to the House that what I really said was this. The Front Bench on this side of the House were challenged by the right hon. Gentleman as to whether the Municipal Franchise Bill was regarded as contentious or not; and I, as one of the Irish Representatives sitting on this Bench, got up up and said that I had not been present when the transaction referred to occurred, and that I knew nothing about the Belfast Main Drainage Bill, but that I saw on the Notice Paper Notice of opposition from two or three hon. Members on this side of the House who I knew were very much interested in the measure. I said that as far as I was concerned I had never opposed the Bill, and that I did not intend to oppose it; but under the circumstances, seeing these Notices of opposition on the Paper, and having regard to the period of the Session and the approaching Dissolution, I could not say that it was not a contentious measure. That is all that I said, and I left the matter in the hands of the House; and, therefore, so far as I am concerned, I repudiate altogether the charge of breach of faith.
§ THE CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS (Mr. COURTNEY) Cornwall, Bodmin)
I shall certainly feel constrained to vote against this clause; and perhaps the House will allow me very briefly to explain the ground on which I do so. In the first place, I wish to dissociate myself from the language and opinions of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Lewis), which I certainly do not share. I do not consider the matter in regard to the question of justice or injustice to the town of Belfast, or the policy or impolicy of extending the municipal franchise in Ireland; but I look upon it only in one way—namely, in regard to the conduct of Private Business in this House. As far as I know the municipal franchise in Ireland rests on a Public Act passed 40 years ago. That Act has never been interfered with, except on one occasion in connection with the municipal franchise of the City of Dublin. But that was done by a Public Act and not by a Private Bill. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer says that Parliament has also dealt with the question in the case of Rathmines. But Rathmines is a town- 52 ship of Dublin, and it was organized under a Private Act. Last year a Private Bill was introduced to amend the Act, and that Private Bill undoubtedly contained a clause dealing with the franchise. What is proposed to be done here in the case of the Belfast Bill is to introduce a clause into a private measure which has nothing whatever to do with the municipal franchise; but the alteration in the case of Rathmines was carried out in a very different manner, and by a Bill which, among other matters, dealt directly with the franchise. The townships of Dublin have been organized by a special Act, and the proposal in the Rathmines case was simply to alter that special Act. But no Public Act relating to Ireland generally has ever been, as far as I am aware, amended except by another Public Act; and I think it would be a dangerous precedent to establish if we are now to lay down the principle that a Public Act may be altered in essential particulars by a Private Bill. I believe that the adoption of this clause would create considerable confusion in reference to the Private Bill Legislation of this House, and therefore I feel bound to vote against it.
§ MR. EWART (Belfast, N.)
I am afraid that an act of very great injustice is about to be done to Belfast, the drainage of which is, at the present moment, in a very unfortunate position. The subject is one which has long attracted the attention of scientific men; and at the meeting of the Social Science Congress or the British Association which was held there some years ago a very unfavourable verdict was passed upon the condition of the drainage of the town. Great difficulties have hitherto been experienced in carrying out the works that are necessary for the drainage of Belfast, and which will be of considerable magnitude, and will cost a great deal of money, although not half so much as the estimate which has been given by hon. Members below the Gangway. There can be no doubt that the works, when completed, will confer considerable benefit upon the town; and yet it is now sought, in what I cannot help considering a most un-Constitutional way, to introduce a clause which, if carried, will, undoubtedly, be tantamount to the rejection of the Bill. With regard to that clause, I will only say that the hon. Member for 53 Sligo (Mr. Sexton) spoke of the House as having been deluded by the Corporation of Belfast, who are promoting this Bill. I certainly think the House will be deluded if it accepts this clause. One representation which has been made in regard to the clause is that it will place the municipal franchise of Belfast in conformity with that of England, Scotland, and Dublin; but I am informed that there are very important differences. For instance, six months' residence is sufficient in Ireland, whereas 12 months' residence is required in England. There are also other matters of difference with which I will not trouble the House. I must say, however, that the position of affairs is most unfortunate. I very much regret the attitude which has been taken by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer; but I think I am entitled to appeal from him to the common sense of hon. Members on both sides of the House not to undo what has already been done by Committees in both Houses of Parliament in regard to the Bill—a Bill which is so much needed by the town of Belfast. I have only one other remark to make, and it is this—that the conduct of the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sextons and) his Friends below the Gangway is a proof of what the North of Ireland may expect if the Government of Ireland Bill ever becomes law.
§ MR. HASLETT (Belfast, W.)
rose, but was received with cries of "Spoke" from the Irish Members below the Gangway.
§ MR. HASLETT
I only wished to make an observation in reference to the residential part of the question so far as the municipal franchise is concerned.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS (Leicestershire, E.)
I wish to make an appeal to the Chancellor of the Exchequer before the House proceeds to a division. I listened attentively to the speech which the right hon. Gentleman addressed to the House, and it appeared to me that the sole ground upon which he based his support of this clause was that there had been a precedent in the case of Rathmines. At the same time, the 54 right hon. Gentleman told us that he did not approve of that precedent; but, as it was a precedent, he availed himself of it. Since then we have heard the speech of the Chairman of Ways and Means, in which the hon. Gentleman distinctly told and showed the House that the Rathmines case is no precedent at all; and, therefore, I wish to appeal to the right hon. Gentleman whether he now thinks that the Rathmines case is a precedent in any sense of the word for what is now proposed to be done? After the distinct declaration of the Chairman of Ways and Means, I would venture, further, to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he will not adopt one or other of two course, which in my experience has been invariably adopted by a Cabinet Minister—that is, either to support the Chairman of Committees in any case affecting the Private Business of the House, or to abstain altogether from voting?
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT) (Derby)
I am sorry to say that, although I have possibly been wrong, I have had on two or three occasions to differ with the Chairman of Committees. I certainly do not think that the Rathmines precedent does not apply. On the contrary, I think that it does apply. With respect to the observations of the hon. Member for Belfast who spoke last on this occasion (Mr. Ewart), I wish to point out that the town of Belfast would not lose the advantage of its improved drainage if this clause is passed. It will get its improved drainage all the same.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 128; Noes 98: Majority 30.—(Div. List, No. 140.)
§ Clause added.
§ Bill to be read the third time.