§ MR. SEXTON,
in rising to move —(1.) That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Belfast Main Drainage Bill, that they do insert in the Bill Clauses for the following purposes: —To assimilate the Municipal franchise of the borough of Belfast to the existing Parliamentary franchise;To enable every person qualified to vote at a Municipal election in Belfast to be 1678 a candidate for election to the office of councillor or alderman;To constitute the present boundary of the Parliamentary borough of Belfast the boundary of the Municipal borough, and to direct and provide for a new division of the Municipal borough into wards, as recommended in the Report of the Municipal Boundaries (Ireland) Commission, dated the 27th of Juno 1882, and to authorize a proportionate increase in the number of aldermen and councillors;To provide for an entire new election of all the aldermen and councillors of the borough, upon the reformed franchise, within the present year.(2.) That it be an Instruction to the Committee, that they do strike out of the Bill such Clauses as do not relate to the Main Drainage Scheme.said: In moving these Resolutions I would venture respectfully to solicit for this matter the particular attention of the House. The occasion is singularly exceptional, for although this Motion is directed immediately to the matter of a Private Bill, it will be found to have a bearing, and an important bearing, at the present juncture, upon the great public question of the local government of town communities in Ireland. The Bill referred to in the Motion is a Bill promoted by the Town Council of Belfast for the purpose of executing a main drainage scheme. The Town Council has been peddling with the subject of main drainage for the last quarter of a century; and the result of their exploits upon this question, legislative and otherwise, was summed up the other day with general assent at a public meeting of the ratepayers of that town, when a speaker said that the Corporation of Belfast were the chief polluters of river and sea in the Three Kingdoms. I do not propose to discuss the merits of the scheme, except to say that it rests upon the authority of one solitary engineer; that it is opposed by many engineers; that it was emphatically condemned 20 years ago by a Commission acting on behalf of the Local Harbour Board; and that the general drift of the local opinion is that this scheme, if carried into effect, would create in the vicinity of Belfast a vast cesspool, which would endanger the public health; and, finally, that although the Corporation only propose to expend £150,000 on this project, good judges think that the scheme, if it is ever carried into effect, will cost the good round sum of £500,000 in addition to the debt of £500,000 now resting upon the Cor- 1679 poration. My object, however, is not to discuss the scheme, but to point out the constitution and conduct of the Governing Body of Belfast, and to urge the House to seize this opportunity of reforming the conduct of the Corporation of Belfast in the only way open to the House, by reforming its constitution. The fact which I will place in the foreground in respect to the local government of Belfast is this—that there are three Local Boards in Belfast, and that this Bill is promoted by one of them, while the other two oppose it. The Bill is promoted by the Corporation, and it is opposed by the Water Board and by the Harbour Board; so that the condition of local government in Belfast is this—that these three Boards, instead of sensibly agreeing among themselves at home by appointing arbitrators or by some other method, have changed the scene of conflict from Belfast to London; and we are now about to engage a battalion of counsel and an army of witnesses to fight out their disagreements by the cumbersome and costly method provided by this House for the business of Private Bill legislation, with the result that the whole costs of this prolonged litigation will fall ultimately, in one form or another, upon the unfortunate ratepayers of Belfast. But cost is no consideration to the Town Council of Belfast; in fact, I must say the Town Council of Belfast appear to be possessed of what I would call a mania for legislation. How many local Acts have the Corporation passed in 40 years? The House will be astonished to find that they have passed no less than 14. I believe it would be hard to find anything to compare with that in the history of the legislation of any Municipality in the Kingdom. The expenditure in Parliamentary costs which this Corporation has placed on the town of Belfast in one generation is £150,000; and I am driven to the conclusion from the fact that there must be some official person or persons concerned with the Town Council of Belfast who find it convenient to promote Bills in this House year after year, and who find it desirable to spend thousands and tens of thousands of the ratepayers' money under the agreeably vague and general heading of "Parliamentary costs." Seven of the 14 local Acts have been passed within the last 20 years, about 1680 which time the Town Council began to consider the question of main drainage. I want to know why the question of main drainage was not dealt with in any of these Acts? The last Act passed by the Town Council was in 1884. It was a very considerable measure. It cost a great deal of money. Why did not the Town Council of Belfast mature their main drainage scheme and include it in that measure; or why did they not postpone the Bill until the main drainage scheme was matured, instead of placing the cost of two considerable measures upon the ratepayers of the town? I am entitled to emphasize the fact, at the same time, that Belfast is suffering at the present moment from acute depression of trade, and that the bulk of the persons who have to pay the cost of these proceedings find it very hard indeed to procure the means of subsistence. I have also to complain that the ratepayers of Belfast were not consulted in reference to this Bill; they have not been afforded by the Town Council an opportunity of holding a public meeting to consider the Bill and criticize this scheme, or of offering any alternative scheme or schemes. It is no easy thing in Belfast to find men of different religious creeds agreeing upon any public question; but upon the question now before the House I am in a position to say that the great mass of the people of all religious creeds are absolutely of one opinion, and that that opinion is against the Corporation. [Sir JAMES COERY: No, no!] It is proper to observe that the hon. Baronet who was lately expelled from the representation of Belfast says "No!" He is, I suppose, taking a Christian revenge on those who rejected him. Two public meetings of ratepayers have been held in Belfast in the course of the last six weeks—one of them attended by Protestants in St. George's Hall, and one attended by Catholics in St. Mary's Hall; and at both meetings the conduct of the Corporation in reference to this matter was strongly condemned. At the meeting in St. George's Hall, on the 29th of January, this Resolution was passed—That we are strongly of opinion that before the Corporation proceeded to obtain Parliamentary powers to carry out such an extensive scheme of sewerage as that which is at present before Parliament entailing such enormous ex- 1681 penditure, they ought to have publicly offered a prize of £100 for the best plan.Mr. Dunwoody, the mover of the resolution, said that if the scheme should turn out a failure it would do infinitely more harm than at the best it could possibly do good; and that, therefore, the Council ought to take time and do the thing well and properly. At the meeting in St. Mary's Hall on the 1st of February the Chairman said that—They had no voice in the drafting of the Bill; that they had no representation in the Town Council to speak on behalf of the working men of Belfast; and that they looked upon the works and improvements of the Council with the greatest suspicion.Mr. James Dempsey, a prominent citizen of Belfast, said—I do not think it long since the Town Councillors of Hull were mulcted in a large sum of money for introducing a Bill without calling a town meeting to ask the approbation of the people. The Town Council have no public spirit; it is simply the arrangement of a petty clique meeting monthly in public and occasionally in Committees. This Bill was concocted in Committee; it has not been discussed in public, and it has been published in only one newspaper. I wrote to Mr. Haslett, and was unable to get a copy of it.Another gentleman, Mr. McHugh, said—If this measure regarding drainage were a good one the Council might have let the ratepayers know what it was. It would have done no harm to have called a meeting of ratepayers to sec if it could have stood the light of day.It cannot stand the light of day; and the ratepayers of Belfast, through me, have petitioned this House against the Bill. I desire to say that they would have opposed the Bill in the regular way were it not that the crisis through which they are passing, the shrinking of incomes, and the great poverty prevailing in the town, has prevented them on this occasion, as in former years, from opposing the Bill by counsel and witnesses in the regular way. They are unable, at this moment, from their poverty to do this. I have, however, presented a Petition from the ratepayers to this House; and I think that, under the circumstances, I am justified, and that it is my duty in the interest of these ratepayers, to direct the attention of the House to the matter. The Town Council in Belfast, with reference to this question, have pursued towards the ratepayers a policy which I must describe as a policy of stealth; and in the House of 1682 Commons they have pursued, not a policy of stealth, but a policy of headlong haste. The first reading was taken, undoubtedly, before the Recess occasioned by the change of Government; but the second reading was taken without the ordinary and effective Notice to Members of the House, being snatched on the very day the House re-assembled after the Recess by an inpromptu Motion without Notice, at a moment when the Irish Members, who were well known to take a deep interest in the Bill, had not the slightest idea that it was intended to rush it through the House. Such a practice may be Cleveland may be sly, but it sometimes do-feats itself. If the ratepayers had received proper notice of the second reading of the Bill I should not have troubled the House with this opposition; but the second reading was cleverly snatched, and that fact will insure that the Bill will receive much more vigilant consideration in all its further stages, if ever it reaches any further stage—a matter in regard to which I entertain a very considerable doubt. I ask the House to seize this opportunity of reforming the constitution of the Governing Body of Belfast; and the only way in which it can be reformed is by extending the municipal franchise, and giving the people of Belfast the right of deciding what schemes shall be carried out for the future benefit of the town. Now, the population of Belfast is 250,000. It has a municipal income of £200,000 annually, and a debt of £750,000. The Parliamentary voters number 32,000; but how stands the municipal franchise? The Chairman of the meeting at St. George's Hall, on the 29th of January, said—There is in this town a population of 250,000 souls. Less than 6,000 of that 250,000 are entitled to vote in the election of those who have charge of the rates. Forty persons constitute the Town Council. These 40 people are sufficiently shrewd in the management of their own concerns and in the disposal of their own funds to their employés; but how different it is when they are dipping their hands into the money of the ratepayers.The Chairman of the meeting said—The municipal franchise is a fictitious franchise. Out of almost 250,000 of a population only about 5,700 have a voice in the election of Town Councillors. It is a franchise for the extensive proprietors of house property, and not for working men, and we are determined to oppose the Sill unless a clause is inserted in it 1683 to assimilate the municipal to the Parliamentary franchise.Mr. James Dempsey said the franchise in the boroughs limits the municipal voters to something like 5,000. There are in that 5,000 between 1,000 and 2,000 Catholics, who have never had a member, and who have been as certainly disfranchised during the last 25 years as those who live in houses under the £10 valuation. There are 500 or 600 others who are independent men, and repudiate and condemn every action of the Council, so that positively it is a small clique numbering about 3,000 who have control of all the streets and public buildings, all our sewage arrangements, our parks and cemeteries, the employment of all the men in the service of the Corporation, and the entire expenditure of this large sum of £200,000. In short, although there are in Belfast 250,000 persons entitled to vote in the election of a Member of this House, there is only one in 10 who has any effective share in the election of the Town Council. Such is the franchise; and what is the result? The Council is composed entirely of men of one Party, one creed, one social grade. I say that is composed entirely of men of one Party. I admit, indeed, that there is one out of the 40 who is described as a Liberal; but that gentleman was admitted when it became known that I would be a candidate for one of the Parliamentary Divisions, for it was seen that in order to defeat me it was necessary to capture the Liberal vote and admit a Liberal. The Council consists not only of one Party, but of one creed. There is not a single Catholic in it; and, indeed, there never was. There are 70,000 in the town. There are 10,000 Catholics who are Parliamentary voters, and between 1,000 and 2,000 Catholic burgesses. Yet that large class of people have not one solitary voice in the Town Council. It also consists not only of men of one Party and men of one creed, but of men of one grade—men whose personal interests—and I say it boldly—whose personal interests in the matter of municipal taxation are directly opposed to the interests of the mass of the people. This Council transact their business practically in private. By private committees they fix the rates, accept the contracts, order the works, 1684 promote their Bills, act without control or criticism and without responsibility, and the public meetings of the Council are mere empty show, little better than a mere parade. They have lavished large sums of money on the wealthy and fashionable portions of the town where members of the Town Council reside and carry on their business. Everyone who walks through the town, as far as the working men's districts are concerned, and sees the watching, paving, and lighting of those districts, knows from the evidence of one or more of his own senses that the interests and rights of the working classes and artizans have been grossly and discreditably neglected. I have judged and condemned the Corporation of Belfast, and I urge the necessity of reform on two special grounds—first, their action so far as the question of the salaries of their officials is concerned; and, secondly, the incidence of rates. "What is the local feeling in regard to the salaries of officials? Let me give it in a few words from the notice convening one of the public meetings—A universal wave of depression has been passing over the whole country, and Belfast, in common with other centres of industry, is suffering from its effects. The wages, and, consequently, the spending power of the people, have been reduced. Many of the Town Councillors, who have reduced the wages of their own workpeople, are amongst those who are most eager to advance the salaries of many of the Corporation officials, particularly that of the Town Clerk, who now receives £2,075 a-year out of the rates of the town.The Town Clerk of the capital city of Ireland receives only £800, while the Town Clerk of Belfast receives £2,075. It was £2,000 on the 1st of January last; but in the middle of a crisis following 12 months' depression, in which the working men of the town had had to submit to five successive reductions of their wages, this Town Council added the trifle of £75 to the already enormous salary of the Town Clerk. The Town Clerk of Belfast must certainly be a very marvellous personage. He receives a larger salary than the able and distinguished gentleman who holds the position of Clerk to the House of Commons. He receives a larger salary than any British Under Secretary of State, and larger than the Under Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland; and I am assured that if this scheme goes through 1685 this Town Clerk is to have £500 more added to his salary, and he will then enjoy the distinction of having a larger salary than the hon. Gentleman who will have to reply to me, the Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons. Indeed, I am told that the admirers of the Town Clerk of Belfast do not intend to rest until he receives a salary of £3,000, which would involve 4d. in the pound on the ratepayers; and when he gets that salary he may indeed be said to have attained the height and pinnacle of municipal glory. A speaker at the meeting in St. George's Hall explained the position thus. Ho said—No doubt Town Clerk Black is master of the Council, and, of course," [added this intelligent gentleman] "if a man is his own paymaster, we may not he astonished if he is paid a large salary.Well, it appears that the Town Council has been going from bad to worse. I find it stated that in former times it has been the universal practice of the Town Council to take into consideration the salaries of its officials early in November, and thus allow the ratepayers a clear month's notice of what was to be done in the following year. What did they do in this case? They set aside the Standing Order, and postponed the consideration of the question until the 1st of January, and then they pushed it forward without giving notice, and the proceedings were born, baptized, and confirmed at a substantial luncheon on that day. The Corporation have made free with the ratepayers' money, and they have done it at such a time and in such a manner as to suggest plainly that in their consciences they condemned the action they were taking. Will this House hesitate about taking the opportunity now afforded by this Bill, of reforming the municipal government of Belfast, and thus putting an end to a state of things such as I have described, in the midst of a community of working men who find it hard to live and yet have to pay the Town Clerk a salary equal to the salary of the Governor of an important Dependency of the British Empire? I also appeal to the House on the ground of the manner in which the municipal rates have been administered. The whole fiscal policy of the Town Council of Belfast for 40 years has been to lower differential and raise uniform rates—to lower the rates which bear on 1686 the wealthy man and increase those which press heavily on the poor man. Forty years ago there was in Belfast a differential rate for police purposes of 1s. 6d. in the pound on the poorest class of holdings—those valued under £20. That rate is now 1s. 8d. Forty years ago that rate on the wealthiest class of buildings valued at over £80 was 4s. 6d. in the pound; now it is 3s. 4d. in the pound. The Corporation have increased the rate on the working man and taken off one-third from the rich. Side by side with this another process has gone on. Since 18C5 a uniform rate—the general purposes rate—was established, and it pressed equally on the houses of the poor and rich. It gave the poor man no relief. Outside, in the districts not watched and lighted, that was 1s. 6d. in the pound; it is now 2s., and the Corporation are now endeavouring by this Bill to make it 2s. 6d. The rate for watched and lighted districts has been 2s. in the pound; now it is 2s. 8d., and the Corporation propose to make it 3s. 4d. In other words, in the course 40 years they have taken one-third off the taxation of the wealthy men, of whose class the Council are composed, and they now propose to add two-thirds to the taxation of the poor men, who are the petitioning ratepayers, whose claims I am now urging because they have not the money and the means of opposing this Bill by witnesses before the Committee. I am supported in my condemnation of the course taken by the Town Council by one of the Members for Belfast—I refer to the hon. Member for the East Division (Mr. De Cobain)—whose authority on the subject is of great value, for he occupied for many years the important position of Treasurer to the Town Council of Belfast. I believe I am right in saying that that hon. Member left that position because he happened to have a mind of his own, a possession which, in dealing with the Town Council of Belfast, was inconvenient, and made the position of the possessor rather precarious. But the hon. Member for East Belfast has written a letter, in which he says —The police rate, which is now the only differential rate, has shrunk to one-half its former proportions, while the general purposes rate, a rate struck for the paving and sewering of the town, mainly is charged with two-thirds of the cost of the police force in order that differential rating may he reduced and uniform rating pro- 1687 portionally increased, or, in other words, that the incidence of taxation might fall more heavily on the dwellings of the poor.I will sum up by a reference to the speech of the Chairman at the meeting in St. George's Hall. He said—The householders and ratepayers of Belfast are totally exhausted by paying the rates, and the landlords of the houses are obliged to charge the tenant a high rent—a rent which is perfectly unendurable. In the locality in which I live house rent which 20 years ago was 1s. 6d. a-week is now 1s. 6d. a-week on account of the rates.I condemn the system of local taxation as being unjust and iniquitous, and I wish to point out to the House that it has already been emphatically condemned by two Committees, which, by their composition, were of great authority, one being presided over by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Goschen), and the other by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bristol (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach), the present Leader of the Opposition. I rest my claim to the assimilation of the Municipal and Parliamentary franchises in Belfast upon this fact—and I beg the attention of the Chairman of Committees (Mr. Courtney) to it—that this House four years ago, and Parliament four years ago, by the English Municipal Corporations Act, applied the principle for which I now appeal to all the boroughs in England. I further say that this House has, in several Sessions, by the passage of the Irish Municipal Franchise Act, endeavoured to apply the principle for which I now ask to all boroughs in Ireland. I pass on to point out that what I ask to be applied to Belfast has been for many years the law in the borough of Dublin. And, lastly, I say that this House last year took advantage of the introduction of a Private Bill by the Rathmines Township Board to pass a clause popularizing the franchise in the sense of my present Motion, and that clause is now part of the operative law, and has worked with most salutary effect. I ask the House to follow out in this case the policy they adopted last year in the case of the township of Rathmines. Next, I ask that the property qualification shall be removed, and I think everyone will admit that it is absurd to place in the path of municipal voters a property bar which no longer exists so far as Members of this House are concerned. The 1688 chief defect in the town of Belfast is the dead level of uniformity; but if my proposition regarding the property qualification be adopted, the effect will be to produce in the Council more adequate representation of the variety of classes and the diversity of interests existing in the town. Clause 11 of the Act of 1882 provides that—Every person shall be qualified to be elected and to be a Councillor who is, at the time of election, qualified to elect to the office of Councillor.["That does not apply to Ireland."] The Municipal Act of 1882 does not extend to Scotland or Ireland; but I ask that it should be made to do so. In the third place, I ask that the boundary of the borough and the division of the wards shall be revised. Four years ago a Royal Commission reported, after an elaborate inquiry of 12 days conducted upon the spot, that the boundary of the borough ought to be extended, and that the number of the wards should be increased from five to eight. That Report has been already adopted for two purposes. It was adopted in 1884 for the purposes of the "Water Board, and this strange anomaly has been produced—that persons living outside the municipal boundary, but inside the Parliamentary boundary of Belfast, are now actually taxed for the purposes of water, although they have no voice whatever in the representation. In the second place, the Report of the Royal Commission was adopted for the Rarliamentary borough of Belfast by the Redistribution of Seats Act of last year; and, seeing that the Report of the Royal Commission has been applied by this House to two uses for which it never was intended, I think I may very reasonably demand that now, after an interval of four years, the Report shall be applied to the particular use for which it was intended. The present boundary of Belfast was fixed 33 years ago upon a Report of a Royal Commission. The population of the town then was only one-half what it is now. The number of houses in the town was a great deal less than one-half, and the valuation of the town was only one-fourth what it is at the present moment. And, Sir, the town has progressed so much in every way; it has so rapidly and so greatly extended in all directions that the boundary and the wards made in 1853 have many years ago become 1689 absurdly inappropriate. I may add that the scheme which I propose for the extension of the boundary and the re-division of the wards was not only the scheme of the Royal Commission, but the scheme of the Corporation itself. If the wards are increased, the number of Councillors will have to be increased in proportion—from 40 to 64; 64 is, I think, about the number of the Corporation of Dublin. It is certainly not too large a number of Councillors for a town of the extent and importance of Belfast; but if there is any radical objection on this point, I would be willing the members of the Corporation should be redistributed, and that to each of the eight wards there should be given one Alderman and four Councillors. Finally, I ask that there should be a new election of all the Councillors on the new franchise in the course of the present year. In this I follow the precedent of the Dublin Corporation Act of 1849. That Act altered the franchise and the division of the wards in Dublin; and by the 14th clause it enacted that there should be an entirely new election of Aldermen and Councillors for the borough; that the Councillors should all go out of office on the 25th of November; and that the Aldermen should hold office for two days longer in order to conduct the new elections. Now, if there was cause for a new election in the case of the borough of Dublin, it is stronger in the case of the borough of Belfast; because if you carry this Motion, not only will you alter the franchise and the division of the wards, but you will alter the boundary of the borough and the number of the wards. And there is a still stronger reason, and that is that you will be in the presence of a scheme involving the health and comfort and the convenience of the great body of the people in the town, and involving, as I have said before, the incurring possibly of a debt of £500,000. And I maintain that it is impossible for this House, in presence of the fact that all parties are agreed that in a year or two a measure such as that I propose for Belfast must be given for every borough in Ireland—in the presence of that fact it is impossible for the House, for anyone in the House, to contend that a sum of £500,000 should be expended by the Corporation of Belfast, which is a body now devoid of all moral authority, which would not repre- 1690 sent the new electoral body, and which has acted in this matter without consultation with the ratepayers, but actually in the face of every evidence of disapprobation and dissent from the ratepayers. Now, Sir, I claim that the public voice of Belfast is altogether in my favour; that not a voice has been raised on behalf of the Corporation; that the merits and facts of the case as expounded by me are altogether upon my side; and that the House is bound, by the precedents I have correctly and precisely cited to it, to proceed in the direction I suggest in my Motion. I assure the House that in making this Motion I have not been actuated in the least degree by any political motive. [A laugh.] I perceive that that the hon. Members who laugh at that expression are Englishmen who know very little about Belfast, and I notice that the hon. Members for Belfast maintain a becoming gravity. The reason why I say I have no political motive is this—that upon the Parliamentary vote which I propose to apply to the municipal affairs of Belfast, Belfast at the General Election returned four Conservatives. Can I, then, have a political motive? Like the hon. Baronet (Sir James Corry), formerly Member for Belfast, but now the Member for Mid Armagh, I am taking a Christian revenge—I am endeavouring to give the full franchise to the men in the municipality, to the men amongst others who, by their Parliamentary votes, defeated me. But, Sir, in the course of my canvass and campaign in Belfast, I went through the workmen's quarters, and I learned so much of the nature and the character of the municipal government of the town, of its secret ways, of its partiality, of its obstinacy, of its extravagance, of its supercilious disregard of the public opinion of the town—I learnt so much of the feelings of the ratepayers, their indignation, their helplessness, and the hardships they had to suffer, that I determined, and I promised—and I am keeping my promise now—that I would lose no opportunity which might offer to appeal earnestly to this House—lose no time, for there is no time to be lost—in endeavouring to place the local government of the town upon a convenient and reasonable footing. I see sitting in their places two of the Members for the town. They are promoters of the Bill. One is connected with 1691 several members of the Council, the other is himself a member of the Council, an Alderman (Mr. Haslett). The worthy Alderman is recognized by public opinion in Belfast as being the Town Clerk's Grand Vizier—as being the person who, next to the supreme Town Clerk himself, is master of the Council, who, next to the supreme Town Clerk, is the ruling municipal spirit. Well, Sir, I challenge the hon. Gentleman to vote against this Motion, and then go and justify himself to the men who sent him here. With regard to the other two Members for the town—there are four in all—I am happy to say—and I have already quoted the crushing indictment levelled by one of them, the hon. Member for the East Division (Mr. De Cobain), against the fiscal policy which has been pursued for 40 years by the dominant party—I am sanguine of their support. They were elected by the votes of the working men; they have pledged themselves to the electors to support and defend the governing point of my Motion—namely, the assimilation of the Municipal and Parliamentary franchise. These two Gentlemen are proud of the title of Orange Democrats, and I should certainly be very much surprised if they did anything else but cordially support my Motion, the immediate effect of which will be to give the Protestant Conservatives, the Orange artizans of Belfast, their proper share in the control, levying, and expenditure of those local taxes which the law obliges them to pay. The great majority of the Members of this House are credited in Ireland with a desire to reform the local government of that country; and it is because I am persuaded of the sincerity of that desire that I confidently give the House an opportunity of affording the people of Ireland an earnest of that sincerity by accepting the present Motion.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That it tie an Instruction to the Committee on the Belfast Main Drainage Bill, that they do insert in the Bill Clauses for the following purposes:—
To assimilate the Municipal franchise of the borough of Belfast to the existing Parliamentary franchise;
To enable every person qualified to vote at a Municipal election in Belfast to be a candidate for election to the office of councillor or alderman;
To constitute the present boundary of the Parliamentary borough of Belfast the boundary of the Municipal borough, and to direct and provide for a new division of the Municipal borough into wards, as recommended in the Report of the Municipal Boundaries (Ireland) Commission, dated the 27th of June 1882, and to authorize a proportionate increase in the number of aldermen and councillors;
To provide for an entire new election of all the aldermen and councillors of the borough, upon the reformed franchise, within the present year."—(Mr. Sexton.)
§ THE CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS (Mr. COURTNEY)
Mr. Speaker, the hon. Gentleman seems to have thought the Motion he has made is somewhat extraordinary, and he gave two reasons by way of apology for it. He says that the second reading of the Bill was snatched. I may point out that the Standing Orders of the House prescribe that three clear days' Notice of the second reading of a Bill should be given. Three clear days' Notice was given in this case; and, therefore, those who were opposed to the Bill had ample Notice of its coming on. [Mr. Sexton: During the three days the House was in Recess.] It cannot be held that the second reading was snatched. Secondly, it is suggested that within the next 18 months or so what is now proposed to be done in respect to Belfast must be done in respect to the other cities and boroughs of Ireland. Well, that may be taken in two ways. Inasmuch as a general measure is coming on, it may be suggested that that is a very good reason why we should wait, and not deal with any special place beforehand; but I do not rise to dwell upon the merits of the case at all. I rise, Sir, to submit to the House some preliminary considerations which will enable hon. Members to pronounce an opinion as to whether this question should be now entertained. I have had to consider, of course, the matter, in fulfilment of the duties of the Office I have the honour to hold; and I confess I have some clear opinions on the subject myself, and I hope to be able to explain my meaning to the House, so that they may agree in my judgment of the matter. Now, the hon Gentleman went at great length into the merits of the drainage question—he said a great deal about the cost, about the engineer, about the way the scheme was originated, and he went into several 1693 facts as to which his Instruction has no bearing whatever. He also went at length into the propriety of assimilating the Municipal and Parliamentary franchises in Belfast, and of extending the borough boundaries, and said much in condemnation of the character of the existing Town Council of Belfast. Now, I am going to assume that all the hon. Gentleman's allegations are true. ["Hear, hear!" and "No, no!"] For the sake of argument I may assume them to be true. I assume the character of the Council at Belfast to be worse than it has been described by the hon. Gentleman; that the Council is as deficient in common sense as we are asked to believe; that it is unjust; that it is extravagant. I assume that it is desirable to assimilate the Municipal and Parliamentary franchises in Belfast; that it is proper the borough of Belfast should be enlarged; that the case the hon. Gentleman has made out is reasonable; even then I put it to the House that, all these things being conceded and accepted as true, the Instruction to the Committee which the hon. Gentleman has proposed ought not to be entertained. I come, as a lawyer would say, to demur. For the purpose of argument I accept his statement of the facts; but I demur to I the action he proposes to take—namely, to move an Instruction to the Committee on the Belfast Main Drainage Scheme, by which the Committee will be ordered to insert the clauses ho proposes to have inserted therein. So far as I understand it, the Instruction does not give the Committee any discretion; it orders the Committee to do all these things, not to discriminate between one and the other thing, but to give this one, and I throw out the other. The Committee on this Private Bill is to be ordered to do all the things suggested. The Instruction is divisible into two parts, one the assimilation of the Municipal and Parliamentary franchises, and the other the enlargement of the borough of Belfast. I think that, in respect to both of these subjects, the House will see it is improper to entertain this Instruction at this moment. The assimilation of the Parliamentary and Municipal franchises in Belfast is, as the hon. Member him I self has said, a public question. It is a question which we ought to be discussing later in the evening, and not at the time when Private Business is trans acted. To introduce upon a Private 1694 Bill, upon the Belfast Main Drainage Bill, the question of the assimilation of the Municipal and Parliamentary franchises in Belfast only confuses the Business of the House. [Mr. SEXTON: It was done last year on the Rathmines Bill.] I will come to that in due time. My present object is to point out the extraordinary inconvenience which may result if what is now being done were accepted as a precedent. We might have introduced, upon some small Bill dealing with a family property, a proposal to alter the tenure of land, or to abolish estates entail; in fact, proposals might be made to make the most radical alterations in the law of England in respect to landed property. "We on this side of the House are supposed to be favourable to a scheme for the reform of county government; and if what the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Sexton) proposes were agreed to, and taken as a precedent, we should have great questions of county government discussed as an annex to some small proposal connected with a particular county. We may have, as in this case, a borough Bill brought in, and we may, in respect to that Bill, introduce any political question we like. I wonder the hon. Gentleman, if he thought about it at all, did not go on to do something more than propose the assimilation of the Parliamentary and Municipal franchises in Belfast—I wonder he did not propose that in Belfast women should have the vote—a very good object, I admit, but altogether impertinent to the particular subject under discussion. There is the subject of proportional representation upon which I myself feel very strongly. I should, however, be very much astonished if, supposing the Corporation of Birmingham were to promote a Bill in respect to gas and water, it was proposed that it should be an Instruction to the Committee having to deal with that Bill that they introduce into Birmingham the system of proportional representation. I should be strongly in favour of the proposal; but I think my sense of the order and decency of the Business of this House would lead me to refuse to entertain it. The hon. Member has referred to certain actions taken by the House. They were all actions taken by the House in respect to Public Business. But there is one question—the question of what happened last July—which is a precedent in his favour. 1695 There was a Bill brought in with respect to a portion of Dublin—Rathmines. On the consideration of that Bill, late in July, after the Bill had gone through its stages before the Select Committee, after it had passed the other House, it was proposed by a right hon. Gentleman to alter the municipal franchise within the district of Rathmines, and that was done. I do not shrink from the fact that the proposal was carried. If you look at the discussion on that Bill as I have done, you will find that the point I am now endeavouring to press on the House was not mentioned at all. A great authority in the House made the proposal; it was accepted and carried; but it was accepted and carried without reference to the question of the propriety or impropriety of the measure. ["Oh!"] That is a mere statement of fact. Consult Hasard, and you will find that the case of the Rathmines Bill ought not to be taken as a precedent. I appeal to the House, if they wish that the Business of the House should be conducted properly, to disregard the action taken in reference to the Rathmines Bill. The other part of the Instruction relates to the boundary of Belfast and the division of the wards. The first part of the Instruction deals with a public question; but the second part deals with a private question, and private questions the Orders of the House have jealously guarded. The question of the extension of the boundary of the borough of Belfast, desirable as extension is, no doubt, depends very largely upon the exact line of extension. The question involves that of rating, the rating of the inhabitants within the parts proposed to be annexed, the rating of Belfast, and the rating of the county from which the parts annexed are taken. All these things are carefully guarded in the Standing Orders of the House; and it is provided that of every alteration of the boundary of a borough Notice should be given in October and again in November, and that the whole neighbourhood was previously well-informed and warned of what is proposed. But this proposal is made without any such previous Notice. Without any observance of the Rules and Forms laid down by the House, it is proposed that this Committee must, without looking at the facts of the case, extend the boundary of the borough of 1696 Belfast. It is impossible to conceive that the House will be so careless of its own Rules, will act in such defiance of the safeguards laid down, will be so indifferent to the conduct of its own private legislation, as to pass the Motion which the hon. Gentleman proposes. The alterations proposed by the hon. Gentleman may be assumed to be quite right in themselves. If brought forward at the proper time and in a proper manner they might be adopted: they would undoubtedly be supported by a large number of Members. It is most improper to propose them at this time; and what I desire is to restrict, if possible, the attention of the House, in the first place, at all events, to the preliminary question, ought this Instruction to be entertained? Let us decide that in the first place, allowing the case made out to be a good case. If we decide that the Instruction ought not to be entertained I apprehend it will fall to the ground. If we decide that the Instruction ought to be entertained we can then proceed to inquire into its merits, with a view to its adoption or otherwise. But I wish, Sir, to raise the preliminary objection that this Instruction is one of a character which the House ought not to approve, and for that purpose I propose to move the Previous Question, on which hon. Gentlemen will vote without expressing any opinion whatever as to the propriety of the alterations recommended by the hon. Gentleman. We shall vote only upon the question as to whether the Instruction is one which ought to be entertained at all; and I apprehend, if I move the Previous Question, the debate will, in the first place, at all events, be necessarily confined to the narrow question whether the Instruction ought to be entertained. [Cries of "Shame!"] Hon. Gentlemen call "Shame." I trust I shall never be ashamed to do something which is in the fulfilment of the duties of my Office, and in the protection of the order and course of the Business of this House. For that purpose I ask that the Previous Question should be proposed, and that the House should decide, in the first place, whether they will go any further in this matter. I will move the Previous Question, and then we shall vote "Aye" or "No" shall the Question be put. I think that the great majority of the Members of the House, certainly of the 1697 older Members of the House, will be so zealous of our Orders and Regulations that they will vote for the Previous Question, and thus refuse to allow the merits of the Instruction to be gone into. I beg, Sir, to move the Previous Question.
§ Previous Question proposed, "That the Original Question be now put."—(The Chairman of Ways and Means.)
§ MR. SEXTON
As a question of Order, Mr. Speaker, I desire to ask whether the Previous Question will deter the House from considering the merits of the Bill—whether it is proposed to con One the debate within the narrow-limits suggested by the hon. Gentleman?
§ MR. SPEAKER
I do not think the debate can be strictly confined, on the Previous Question being moved, to the facts relating to whether the Question shall, or shall not, be put. The Original Question was that it be an Instruction to the Committee on this Bill that they shall insert in it clauses for the purposes stated in the Motion, since which the Previous Question has been moved, "That the Original Question be now put."
§ MR. HASLETT
After the challenge that has been thrown out to me that I should rise to defend this Bill as one of the Belfast Members, I must say at the outset that I regret very much being called upon in this House to defend the Town Council of Belfast against an attack, to some extent personal, and to a very large extent absolutely erroneous. It has been said that the public of Belfast had no knowledge whatever that this Bill would be brought forward. It has been said that the ratepayers were ignorant of what it was proposed to do, and had no means of expressing an opinion upon the Bill—indeed, that the whole matter was conducted in a hole-in-the-corner way, and brought in a full-fledged shape before the public, without their having had the slightest opportunity of expressing themselves with regard to it, or voting upon it. Possibly, Sir, the Members of this House will not be surprised to find that, by your own laws, it was absolutely necessary that the Bill should be brought in before November, and that on the 25th of November one-third of the entire Corporation retired. Well, if there had been the opposition to this 1698 measure in Belfast, touching the Bill itself, of which we hear so much, surely the question would have been raised at the election of the Town Council; surely the question would have been made a Party one, or an election one on the 25th of November? On the contrary, however, not a single meeting was held in opposition to the Bill; and, so far as I know, not one solitary letter has even appeared in the public Press, in relation to the candidates who came before the burgesses for municipal honours, bearing upon this Bill. I am not aware that a single change occurred in the representation owing to this much talked of Bill which is to exercise such a severe influence upon the town. Now, it has even been said that three of our four Boards are interested in the Bill, and that two of them are against it. That is so; but the hon. Member who said that should have told you that the two Boards which have petitioned against the Bill have petitioned only on clauses. They desire to have inserted in the measure provisions sufficient to protect their interests as Boards; but the main question of the Bill is unopposed by them. Now, Sir, with regard to the Town Councillors themselves, it has been said that we never had a Roman Catholic on the Town Council.
§ MR. HASLETT
I distinctly understood the hon. Member to say that we never had a Roman Catholic on our Board.
§ MR. HASLETT
There was one, Sir, and ho was an honoured Member—namely, Mr. Alderman Hughes, whose memory is very dear to us. There was also Mr. John Hamill, and I will remind the House that Mr. Biggar, who was then a Protestant, but is now a Roman Catholic, was a Member of the Board.
§ MR. HASLETT
He is a Roman Catholic now, and I daresay if we antedate his present opinions we may say that when he was on the Board he represented the Roman Catholic faith. It has also been stated as a charge against the Belfast Town Council that we have passed] 4 Acts of Parliament. That is true, and it is the highest tribute to the growth of Belfast. Other towns in 1699 Ireland, represented by hon. Members below the Gangway, do not need Acts of Parliament. Their progress is in the opposite direction, and Acts of Parliament are not required by them to govern the necessary machinery of a progressive town. Then it is said that we are bringing forward this Bill as a kind of afterthought, because trade is dull. No doubt trade is dull in Belfast, and that, in common with other portions of the United Kingdom, we have suffered very much from depression. That is just one of the reasons why we thought it an especially favourable time to carry on a large public work. We thought that if ever it was to be done it should be done when general trade was dull, and when, if not for the sake of getting labour at a cheaper rate, we might expect to keep the labouring population of our town in employment. With regard to the sewage question, we have been working in Belfast on the very lines that we are taking in this Bill for a long number of years. In 1865 we received power from Parliament to construct arterial sewers under a special sewage rate; but these sewers are all constructed with the distinct object of being tributary to the great scheme which is now before the House. The scheme is by no means a new one. The hon. Gentleman below the Gangway (Mr. Sexton) says that the scheme is the outflow of one mind only, and he quotes a meeting at St. George's Hall. Well, I do not like to speak of that meeting, because I maintain that it was not thoroughly representative; but, take it as all it has been said to be, the objection raised is, that the Council did not offer £100 as a reward for some other scheme? [Mr. SEXTON: For the best scheme!] Well, for the best scheme. 80 far from the present scheme being the outflow of one mind, it was the outflow of the long and careful consideration of our late borough surveyor, Mr. Montgomery, than whom no better authority upon this matter ever existed. It has been altered by our present borough surveyor, who succeeded Mr. Montgomery, and it has been carefully considered, and every line drawn out under the direction of Sir Joseph Bazalgette. That is no mean authority, and I do not think, under these circumstances, that the Corporation of Belfast can fairly be charged? with hole-in-the-corner meetings, and 1700 having an infinitesimal amount of mind and judgment devoted to this great scheme of sewage—when you find that they had the fiat of one who stands, if not at the head of his Profession, at least amongst the foremost of the engineers of this country. We are told that at that meeting to which I have referred Mr. Dempsey stated that he was unable to procure a copy of the Bill—I think I am right in that statement. Well, the House will be surprised to find that I myself sent him a copy, and received, after some time, a courteous letter returning the Bill, and saying that he had taken all the necessary notes from it.
§ MR. SEXTON
Did the hon. Member send that copy of the Bill to Mr. Dempsey before or after the 1st of February?
§ MR. HASLETT
This is the first time I have heard any question raised on that point. [Laughter.] It will just be as well, I think, if hon. Members will wait to laugh until they find whether or not a laugh is required. The hon. Member (Mr. Sexton) did not state time or circumstances, but made the declaration absolutely, that Mr. Dempsey had been unable to procure a copy of the Bill.
§ MR. HASLETT
I am endeavouring to follow the hon. Member's argument. After the statement of the Chairman of Ways and Means I should not have interfered, only that I think it is due to the Belfast Corporation that I should express my opinions here, lest the House should think they are the black sheep they have been painted. Now, the hon. Member says that the Catholic burgesses have no votes in these matters—that they are utterly unrepresented in the Belfast Town Council, and that even the Liberals had no representative till the name of Mr. Sexton was brought before Belfast as a kind of scare-crow in the Corporation. The hon. Member must surely have been wrong in his history. The member of the Belfast Corporation to whom he refers has been a member of it for many years—for a period extending long behind the time that we ever dreamt of Mr. Sexton coming to Belfast to honour us with representation. He says that the Town Clerk is the Corporation, and I 1701 am not prepared to say anything on that one way or the other; but he forgot to tell you that the Town Clerk is not only the Town Clerk proper, but that he embodies in himself both the Town Clerk and the Town Solicitor; that he carries on all the necessary machinery of the law without cost; and that he promotes Bills in Parliament without 1d. of reward—it is not a matter of the smallest coin in the Realm to him whether a Bill is brought before Parliament or not. There is no fee attached to his office, nor does he receive the smallest coin of the Realm for his services in that respect. And we are told again that the salaries are immensely advanced. The hon. Member, however, failed to tell the House that while Belfast has never been wanting in the necessary money to carry on its offices—while it has had its Mayors, that, I think, have done credit to Ireland in carrying out their office, they have not sought from the hands or pockets of the ratepayers any funds to enable thorn to carry on their Mayoral duties. He forgot to toll you that in the midst of increasing depression in Dublin the hon. Member's friends—his special friends—in that city advanced the Mayor's salary from £2,000 to £3,000 a-year in order that special entertainments might be given, and that there might be the means of carrying on the necessary machinery of the Corporation. He has spoken, Sir, of entertainments in Belfast. I would remind him that the Corporation of Belfast has never asked from the ratepayers one farthing for any entertainment, public or private, that was given in the four corners of our borough. Our Mayor, as I think, Sir, you will remember, was complimented—our town was complimented—on the splendid reception given to Royalty within recent times, a reception that we were proud of as Members of an Irish constituency; and all that was done without appealing to the ratepayers for a single farthing. Now, Sir, with regard to what has been said so well by the Chairman of Ways and Means. I do not like to go into the question of how little an Irish Member, one of the most experienced in this House, knows of a question on which ho has been dilating to you, when he tells you that there is a qualification for the Belfast Town Council. One would have thought that he would have been well 1702 informed on the Qualification Act that was passed some years since. It is a pity that we have to come to England for information on our own local affairs.
§ MR. HASLETT
There is nothing of the kind. Any man is qualified to sit on the Town Council—the man who is qualified to vote is qualified to sit.
§ MR. HASLETT
A man who can vote is qualified to sit. Now, Sir, with regard to the extension of the borough, and the main question that has been so ably touched upon by the Chairman of Ways and Means, it would require an Act of Parliament longer than the entire Act that you have referred to the Committee to place Belfast in a proper condition on the lines that the hon. Member has brought before you. It is a very easy matter to say "reduce the franchise to the Parliamentary level;" but I would point out that you would have all the machinery of administration to follow. You have all the machinery of Courts of Law; you have all the machinery of taxation, and all the machinery that accomplishes the distribution of taxation between the town and boroughs and the counties. You have the question of relieving the county from the borough, and the distribution of taxation on the one and the freeing of the other, save in so far as the provisions will settle the relative amount which shall be applied by the borough; we have all these things to attend to, and yet we are told that it can be done almost with a stroke of a pen. Instances are cited, and I have in my mind the statement of the Chairman of Ways and Means in regard to the Rathmines illustration. It seems to me that that illustration was not at all germane to the Question before the House. In the very notice issued in the case of Rathmines the question of franchise was actually introduced, whereas you are asked to deal with a franchise in Belfast without either the outside population being asked whether they were willing to be taken into the borough, or the inside population being-asked whether they were willing that the outside population should be taken in. Let me say at the present moment, as I stated before a Committee some years since, that the taking in of that outside population would be an absolute 1703 loss to those inside, but that it may become necessary. I believe it will be necessary, and I am prepared to yield to no man in my earnest desire, if a public measure is brought forward, to give it the most favourable consideration; but I should not be ashamed to face my constituency, after the vote I shall give in this matter, distinctly stating that I did not agree that that question should be introduced into a Bill that has been framed for an entirely different purpose. Then, as to the water question, many districts around Belfast have asked for a water supply. They have asked for a supply of water from our Water Board, and when that Water Board came to get additional powers they added to those powers they already possessed others enabling them to sell water to the outside population. The hon. Member says the people are taxed for water without representation; but that is not the case—those who take water from us are represented on the Water Board. They could not expect representation elsewhere, for that is the only subject for which they are taxed; and that brings me to the subject of the outside population, and the system of taxation. This House has passed judgment on an equal system of taxation under a Public Act, which we know as the Sanitary Act. If these improvements were carried out under that Act the tax on which we should levy the rate to carry out these works would be the borough rate. That would not be a differential tax. In addition to that there is a kindred subject to look at—namely, the Sewage Question of 1865. This House distinctly gave its voice to the carrying out that scheme of sewage upon an equal, and not a differential, system of taxation. I have to apologize for having trespassed for so long on the time of the House; and as a young Member I have to thank hon. Members for the attention they have given to me, and I trust that the vote of this House will be given in favour of its own Rules—Rules that we believe are for the public welfare. I trust hon. Members will not allow themselves to be diverted into a side issue, having nothing to do with the main question of this Bill.
§ MR. THOROLD ROGERS
I, Sir, rise to ask a question on a question of Order, or rather of interpretation. Sir, it seems to me, in looking at the Motion 1704 of the hon. Member put down here, that if the Committee is instructed to carry out the first part of this Motion, consisting of four clauses, the second part of it will distinctly neutralize the first. The first part of the Motion says—That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Belfast Main Drainage Bill, that they do insert in the Bill Clauses for the following purposes,and then the Motion goes on to enumerate the purposes for which the clauses are to be passed—namely, the assimilation of the franchise, to enlarge the qualification, to alter the boundary, and to provide for a new election of the Town Council. These are all admirable things, and for all of them I should be willing to vote; but the hon. Member has a second Resolution which says—That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they do strike out of the Bill such clauses as do not relate to the Main Drainage Scheme.If I understand English, the result of that would be that, after having passed the Resolution deciding to insert all these admirable things I have mentioned, we should then proceed to eliminate from the Bill all which we had so agreed to. If the hon. Member would say "any such other clauses," the difficulty would be overcome; but as I read it, it seems to me that, supposing the House agrees to pass that Resolution, if it adopts the second, it will thereby state that all the work of the first should be slaughtered.
§ MR. SPEAKER
We are not discussing the second Instruction at all, but the first. The question of interpretation is one for the House.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
The House has just heard two speeches on this question, one of some importance and the other of not much importance. The important one was that delivered for the first time, perhaps, in his official capacity, by the hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Courtney), and I regret very much that I cannot congratulate him on his first appearance in this House in his official capacity; for, Sir, not only has he appeared as an opponent to the extension of the franchise, but to a considerable extent, he himself, being the Chairman of this House and one who should be the guardian of its liberties, has been the one who has attempted to stifle debate. I think it can scercely be considered dignified, having barely just, 1705 so to speak, got his foot in the stirrup, having just taken his seat on that Bench as Chairman of Ways and Means, that lie should attempt, I will not say to jockey the House, but, at all events, to give what I would call a friendly lead—a friendly lead to induce you, Sir, by suggestion and insinuation, to believe that he, in his official position as Chairman of Ways and Moans, should instigate you into adopting the view that the Previous Question being moved by him should have the effect of preventing all discussion on the merits of the Bill. Well, Mr. Speaker, it is not often that I enjoy the happiness and honour of being able to congratulate our Party in this House on being allowed great latitude in debate—certainly not often that one could congratulate them on being allowed such latitude as they have enjoyed to-day. I think we are greatly indebted to you, Sir, for your ruling, and for having refused to permit yourself to be intimidated by such a suggestion from one in the position of the Chairman of Ways and Means.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I do not think the hon. and learned Gentleman is entitled to speak of the Chair in that manner.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
I think, Sir, you must have misunderstood mo. What I said was that I congratulate——
§ MR. SPEAKER
What I intended to say, if I did not say it, was that there is no question of the Chair having been intimidated by any Member in any way.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
I will simply say that I am glad what the Chairman of Ways and Means attempted to say from his place, as Chairman of Ways and Means, has had such little influence upon the Chair. I am glad that so great an authority as that of the Chairman of Ways and Means was not sufficient to prevent the discussion of the merits of this case by the moving the Previous Question. The hon. Gentleman appears, as I have said, for the first time in his Office of Chairman of Ways and Means, as the director of debate in this House, and lie refers to what has been cited as a precedent—to the fact that the right hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles W. Dilke) moved in the Rathmines Water Works Bill to insert a clause similar to that of my hon. Friend. He says that 1706 that was no precedent at all. I have to remind the hon. Gentleman that that Instruction was moved by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea under the direction of the then Chairman of Ways and Means. They wore moved by the direct sanction and with the direct approval of a right hon. Gentleman whom Ireland and our Party will always have reason to speak of with gratitude—namely, Sir Arthur Otway, a Gentleman who was an ornament and a dignity to the Chair in this House, and whom we have had such good reason at all times to respect. Sir, Sir Arthur Otway saw no reason at that Table to object to the Motion of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea. Sir Arthur Otway occupied the Chair of this House as Chairman of Ways and Means for a space of six years—he did not stop into it a fortnight ago—["Question!"] I am dealing with the argument of the Chairman of Ways and Means, and my point is that Sir Arthur Otway agreed to a similar principle as that laid down in the Motion before the House, when it was brought forward by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea, and I am pointing out that the House is entitled to pay much greater respect to the decision of Sir Arthur Otway last year, than it is to the opinion of the pro-sent Chairman of Ways and Means, who has only just come into Office. Moreover, you yourself were in the Chair when that Bill, as amended, had to be considered, and this thing was done under your sanction. Well, am I to be told that what was done last year in an unreformed Parliament, a Parliament that had not a single man in it returned from any county under the present franchise, nor in Ireland from any borough, am I to be told that what the last Parliament was willing to do under the sanction of an experienced Chairman of Ways and Means, this present Parliament is to refuse to do under the opinion of a Chairman of Ways and Means owing to some crotchet that I am not able to understand? Of course, I know very well that the first Order for this evening is the Women's Suffrage Bill. I am well aware that this question raised by my hon. Friend (Mr. Sexton) may tend to some extent to bring that Women's Suffrage Bill under the operation of the half-past 12 o'clock Rule; but I would say that I am a supporter of that 1707 Women's Suffrage Bill—I am as anxious as the Chairman of Ways and Means can be that it should come on for discussion; but I will not for a moment allow the fact that a Bill, which I am a supporter of, is to come on later in the evening, prevent my exercising my right as a Member of this House in debating a question of great importance to the utmost extent I think desirable. As to that question, I put it to the House whether it is worthy of it to take into consideration the arguments put forward by the Chairman of Ways and Means? He says, if you have a Bill coming down from any English borough, such as the borough of Birmingham, you have no right, on a question of Water Works or Gas Business, to attempt to introduce into it the principle of proportional representation or Women's Suffrage. That might be a good argument addressed to England; but we have in this House passed a Franchise Bill time after time, and it has invariably been kicked out in the House of Lords. We feel that it is our duty, then, to seize every opportunity that may offer itself for pushing forward this question. Birmingham may not be anxious for proportional representation; but this House has time after time affirmed the principle of a reduction of the franchise in Ireland. Am I to be told that because the hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Ways and Means chooses to set up his crotchets he is to be accepted as an authority when we have the authority of his respected Predecessor in the post of Chairman—Sir Arthur Otway—and of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles W. Dilke) for distinctly accepting a similar Amendment in regard to the Rathmines Bill last year? I trust the House will be of opinion that precedent is to govern the Rules and Orders of this House; and I should have thought that the Chairman of Ways and Means would be bound to be guided by precedent as much as the Judges of the land. Instead of being so bound, the hon. Gentleman chooses to set up his own private opinion over what I would call the cream of authority—namely, the action of his Predecessor, in order to secure the rejection of the Amendment. I cannot believe that the House will be led away by any consideration of the kind. I believe that hon. Members will 1708 fairly consider the merits of the case, and the fact that we have been struggling for years to bring forward Resolutions of this kind, many of which have been accepted by the House time after time; and we should be neglecting our duty if we did not take every opportunity of endeavouring to effect a reform of the municipal franchise. It has actually been made a taunt to the Irish Members that they allowed the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea to seize the opportunity of dealing with the question on the Rathmines Bill; that we ought to have shown ourselves more alert and watchful, and, as Representatives of the Irish people, should not have allowed the right hon. Gentleman to take the matter out of their hands. My hon. Friend the Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) has taken advantage of a similar opportunity to-night, and he hopes to accomplish what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea did. I can only say that if my hon. Friend imagined that his flank was likely to be turned by the action of the Chairman of Ways and Means he would prove himself of little courage if he did not imitate the action taken by the hon. Member for East Belfast (Mr. De Cobain). It is very fortunate for the people that they are now represented by no less than four Members. Notwithstanding the speech of the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Haslett), anybody who will turn back to the struggle which took place in the elections last November will find that the question on which one Tory candidate was defeated, and on which Tory candidates were opposed in two or three divisions, was the question of the Town Council of Belfast. The hon. Member for West Belfast says that this question was not raised. I say that it was distinctly raised; and I challenge the late Borough Treasurer, who is now the Representative for the Eastern Division of Belfast (Mr. De Cobain), to say that it was not raised.
§ MR. HASLETT
I did not say that the question was not raised at the Parliamentary Election; but what I did say was that it was not raised at the municipal election.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
I am happy to receive the correction, because I think it very much strengthens my position. The hon. Member says that it was raised at the Parliamentary Election, but that it 1709 was not raised at the municipal election. Why was it not raised at the municipal election? It was because the persons who raised it had no votes. The hon. Member admits that at the Parliamentary Election the question was raised; and having been raised it formed a most important factor in the election, as I well know, having closely followed the affairs of Belfast, and being] a subscriber to its newspapers. What happened was this—the Borough Treasurer, who now sits as Member for East Belfast (Mr. De Cobain), was dismissed from his situation by gentlemen like the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Haslett). He was dismissed for daring to come forward against a gentleman known as Sir James Corry; and Sir James Corry was defeated on the distinct issue of the reform of the Town Council. The ex-Treasurer of Belfast gave up his valuable situation, which, if we are to judge by the salary paid to the Town Clerk, must have been worth at least £1,000 a-year, in order that he might go against the Town Council ring represented by Sir James Corry. And what is more, aided, I am happy to say, by the Nationalists of Belfast, he defeated the Town Council. The hon. Member who sits for South Belfast (Mr. Johnston), who is fond of military tactics, also opposed the dominant ring of the Town Council; and so small was the power of the Town Council ring that it was only able to give the hon. Alderman the Member for West Belfast (Mr. Haslett) a most unsafe seat, and one which he carried only by 30 votes. That is the exact strength and power of the Town Council ring over the people of Belfast. Why have not the throe Colleagues of the hon. Member for West Belfast got up in this House as the opponents of the extension of the municipal franchise? The hon. Member was the best candidate who could be got to contest the seat with my hon. Friend the Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton). Why does not the lion. Member for South Belfast (Mr. Johnston), lately Fishery Inspector, get up and oppose this Resolution? What was the first Parliamentary act of the hon. Member on the first day the House met? It was to bring in a Bill to reduce the municipal franchise in Ireland. I challenge him, then, to get up and say that he challenges the Instruction to the Committee on the Belfast Bill, to reduce 1710 the municipal franchise, moved by my hon. Friend. Will the hon. Member for East Belfast (Mr. De Cobain) the dismissed Borough Treasurer, get up and oppose the Resolution? Belfast, at this moment, enjoys the honour of being represented by two dismissed officials. I challenge the hon. Member for East Belfast to get up and oppose this Instruction. I challenge any one of these Gentlemen to face his Parliamentary constituents at the next election with a record that in this House he opposed the assimilation of the Parliamentary and borough franchise. The hon. Alderman the Member for West Belfast (Mr. Haslett) says that he will do so; but he is simply the champion of an unsafe seat, and the defence of the Town Council is entirely left to him. I challenge any man of Belfast who holds a safe seat to say that he will oppose the assimilation of the Parliamentary and Municipal franchise. I should not be surprised to find the hon. Member for Mid Armagh (Sir James Corry), who formerly represented the City of Belfast, getting up to oppose the Motion. He has now the good luck to sit for Slid Armagh; but it is a long drive from Mid Armagh to Belfast, and we may find the hon. Baronet standing up to champion the Town Council, since the Town Council championed him. Whatever lustre was shed upon the Bill by the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Haslett), I do not think that his arguments will have much effect. I would point out to the House that within the last 20 years there have been Bills—14 in number—brought into Parliament by this tinkering Town Council, and that it has cost these anti-Home Rulers of Belfast to come over here to London, where they can only get men to manage their business for thorn, a sum of £150,000. I venture to say that a Parliament sitting in Dublin would have done the work much better, and for much less money. Indeed, I cannot help thinking that the ratepayers of the City of Belfast are beginning to consider what advantage they have obtained for the 150,000 golden sovereigns they have expended in getting an independent verdict upon their private business from the wiseacres of this House, headed by the hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Ways and Means. ["Order!"]
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. and learned Member is certainly not in Order in referring to any Member of 1711 this House, or to one in the position of the Chairman of Ways and Means, in a manner which is scarcely in accordance with Parliamentary decorum.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
Well, Sir, I at once withdraw the word "wiseacre," as applied to the Chairman of Ways and Means. I was saying that the people of Belfast consider that this enormous sum of money has not been wisely spent. No less than £150,000 have been expended by the Town Council of Belfast in Private Bill legislation during the last 40 years. They have been continually promoting Bills. They passed Acts in 1865, 1868, 1875, 1878, and 1884, and now they have introduced another Bill. Why is this? It is because the municipal franchise has not been reformed; and the only way to prevent this waste of money is to have the pure breath of public opinion poured in to clear out the Council Chamber of Belfast. Until that is done you will have this constant waste of money, and this constant waste of time; and the unenfranchised working men of Belfast will fail to secure honest and independent representatives in the Council Chamber.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT)
I must say that I regret—and I think the House will regret—the manner in which the hon. and learned Member (Mr. T. M. Healy) has spoken of the course taken by the Chairman of Ways and Means. My hon. Friend was only fulfilling a public duty in calling attention to the extreme inconvenience which would follow from discussing large questions of public policy upon Private Bills. There is one thing, however, in which we shall agree, whatever our opinion on Irish topics may be; and that is in what the hon. and learned Member who has just eat down has said, that it is most undesirable, and very much to be lamented, that some better method of disposing of Irish local business should not be inaugurated than that of occupying the time of the House of Commons with discussions of this character. I do not think there is any Member on either side of the House who will dispute the urgency of some such reform, and that it would be far better that questions of this kind should be discussed in Ireland. There is also another thing in which I agree with the hon. and learned Member—namely, that the time has arrived 1712 for equalizing the Parliamentary and the Municipal franchise—and if this were the proper occasion I should not oppose such a proposition by my vote. I hold that opinion very strongly, and upon a fitting opportunity I shall be prepared to support it both by speech and by vote. But the question of enlarging the boundaries of Belfast, or of equalizing the Municipal and Parliamentary franchises, are not really those which are under discussion. The question really raised is that of our Parliamentary Procedure—shall we raise, or allow to be raised, important questions of public policy on the consideration of Private Bills? I would ask the House to consider what would happen if we were to allow such a course to be taken upon every Private Bill? It is quite evident that every question of public policy would be raised on a Private Bill, instead of in the ordinary course, because a Private Bill would have precedence. What would be the use of our Order Book in regard to public questions if such an important question as that of the equalization of the Municipal and Parliamentary franchise could be raised upon the introduction of a Private Bill? It is quite clear that the whole Business of the House would be thrown into a state of confusion if such a proceeding were permitted. That is really the only question we have to consider. My hon. Friend the Chairman of Ways and Means has moved the Previous Question. Hon. Members can make any observations they like on that Motion; but, as I understand the Motion of my hon. Friend, his object is to obtain an expression of the opinion of the House that matters of this kind ought not to be raised on a Private Bill. Now, what is the first proposal made by the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton)? It is—That it he an Instruction to the Committee on the Belfast Main Drainage Bill, that they do insert in the Bill Clauses for the following purposes:—To assimilate the Municipal franchise of the borough of Belfast to the existing Parliamentary franchise.Now, I admit that hon. Members opposite have a strong argument in the Rathmines case. What I say is that, while I admit that entirely, it is not a precedent which it would be wise to follow. That is a thing which is often said in a Court of Law, and it is equally proper to be said in Parliament. The 1713 House may have made a precedent, the full scope and inconvenience of which might not be foreseen at the time; but it is now perceived that the following of that precedent would throw the order of the House of Commons and the control of the whole Business of the House into confusion by allowing miscellaneous questions of a public character, and of immense importance, to be discussed upon a Private Bill. That is really all I have to say. I think it is competent for the House to declare that a bad precedent shall not be acted upon. The question of the extension of borough boundaries requires, as everybody knows, the careful consideration of detailed arrangements; and the House ought not to depart from the Rule which applies to all Private Bills for the purpose of dealing with this question. I am quite willing to believe that the extension of the municipal franchise in the Irish boroughs is a question upon which hon. Members opposite who sit below the Gangway feel most strongly. But, whatever may be the merits of the case, I think the House would regret very much if we were now to follow and confirm a dangerous precedent. We ought now to take a stand, and say that upon Private Bills it is not safe, nor is it consistent with the Rules and Orders of the House, to discuss broad questions of principle and public policy, or to enter upon so wide an issue as that which the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) is now endeavouring to raise. That is the view which I am authorized to say the Government take upon this matter, and they take it solely upon the one point of the inconvenience and confusion into which the adoption of such a course would necessarily throw the Business of the House. Therefore, on the part of Her Majesty's Government, I oppose the Instruction moved by the hon. Member, and support my hon. Friend the Chairman of Ways and Means, who has moved the Previous Question; but I do so solely upon the ground I have endeavoured to explain—that I am expressing no opinion upon the merits of the question itself, but that I think the House ought to lay down distinctly the rule that no question of this magnitude, involving matters of public policy, ought to be considered upon a Private Bill.
§ SIR JOSEPH M'KENNA
I hope that the House will not proceed to reject 1714 the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) until, at any rate, it has heard the views entertained upon it by the hon. Members for Belfast. As yet only one of the Representatives of that city—the Member for West Belfast (Mr. Haslett)—has had an opportunity of expressing an opinion upon the Resolution; and, therefore, there are three, out of the four, Representatives whose opinions the House would like to hoar. It certainly seems to me, on the showing of the hon. Member for West Belfast himself, that there is no other Member for that city who is prepared to give a honest support to the Bill. Now, what is it that my hon. Friend the Member for Sligo proposes? He proposes nothing whatever that runs counter to the provisions of the Bill, if those provisions are approved of by the constituency of Belfast, who certainly ought to have some voice in the matter. What was done by this House in the case of the township of Rathmines and Rathgar would meet the case of Belfast. All that is asked is that the large expenditure contemplated under the present Bill should not be finally decided upon until a proper constituency has been established to settle what works ought to be undertaken. Now, Sir, there is something very important in the principle involved. If we pass the Bill, to what Local Authority is it to be referred to carry out the work? It is absolutely essential that it must be referred to some body representing the Town Council of Belfast; and I venture to say that no hon. Member who heard the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Sligo can believe that the present Municipal Authority in Belfast honestly and fairly represents the constituency included in the Municipality. Two of the hon. Members who represent Belfast have been challenged to express their opinions on this question. I know very well the extent of Party obligations which hon. Members may be under on occasions like the present, and that they do not wish to run counter to those obligations. ["Divide!"] Hon. Members who cry "Divide!" will forgive me if I say that before we divide I should like to know what it is that we are about to divide upon. In Ireland this question has long been regarded as a most vital one—I mean the question of the assimilation of the Municipal and the Parlia- 1715 mentary franchise. We are told that we should put it off until another opportunity, because this Bill does not touch the important interests involved in the question. But is that so? Is it desirable that we should proceed to consider the provisions of this Belfast Bill without any discussion of the real merits of the case? That is what the hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Committees proposes. Now, I do not suppose that the hon. Member intends to intimidate any of us—much less you, Sir—and I really think that he has brought his powerful ability and weight of argument to bear not so much upon this Motion as upon one which may be brought on at a later hour. I venture to say that I should regret very much if we were to come to a decision upon the Motion without having heard those hon. Members for Belfast who have not yet spoken; and I challenge them to stand up in their place and say they believe that the constituency which they represent wish that the power sought for by the Bill should be intrusted to the present Municipal Authority of Belfast. The Municipal Authority of Belfast, as it has been represented to me—I do not know with what accuracy—is like the Court of a foreign despotic Potentate, governed by a single individual. In this case the Ruler is the Town Clerk, who is the greatest Town Clerk since the days of the Town Clerk of Ephesus. If the Members for Belfast would only stand up and give their honest opinion on the subject of this Bill, I am satisfied that the House would at once decline to pass the Bill without some such safeguards as those which are proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) in the Instruction which he proposes to give to the Committee.
§ MR. MAURICE HEALY
I ask the House not to be led away from the consideration of the Resolution of my hon. Friend by the highly technical and somewhat pedantic reasons which have been given by the hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Ways and Means. The question is, whether the House is to act on precedent when a precedent has been set, and whether, considering the present preposterous condition of the municipal franchise in Ireland, they will cast the opportunity which now presents itself aside, on account of the flimsy reasons which the Chairman of Ways 1716 and Means has given? The hon. Gentleman endeavoured to lead the House to believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) desired to induce the House to take a step of an objectionable character. I do not think that the proposition of my hon. Friend deserves the terms which have been applied to it. The House has a regular set of Rules and bye-laws to govern its Procedure; and are we to understand that those Rules and bye-laws which have existed so long really permit the House to do things which are improper and indecent unless the Chairman of Ways and Means, or some other Gentleman in a responsible position, rushes into the breach to prevent anything improper from being done? I say that if the step which my hon. Friend asks the House to take were unprecedented, exceptional, inconvenient, or undesirable, there are Members in this House who have been here long enough to prevent any step of the kind from being taken. The hon. Gentleman, supported by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, says that it is irregular, and a practice much to be deprecated, to discuss public questions upon a Private Bill even if the House, for good reasons, thinks it expedient to do so. Now, I would venture to give the House two or three reasons why I think the arguments advanced by the Chairman of Ways and Means ought not to have any weight attached to them on the present occasion. Surely, I may venture to place the question of the Irish municipal franchise far above questions such as women's suffrage or proportional representation. Indeed, there is no analogy whatever between them; and I will, with the permission of the House, point out why I think so. In the first place, the questions of women's suffrage and proportional representation are questions which have never been practically adjudicated upon by the House, and they are questions which differ in their very essence from the question of the extension of the municipal franchise—a question which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) pointed out, has already been several times dealt with by the House. Only three or four years ago, the House did for England what we now ask to have done for the City of Belfast, the same thing having been done 20 or 30 years ago for the City of Dublin. Bills for the extension 1717 of the municipal franchise in Ireland have on more than one occasion been passed by this House; but they were invariably rejected in the House of Lords. It has been over and over again admitted, even by the Prime Minister, that the question of municipal reform in Ireland is a crying grievance in that country. Over and over again we have been told that the reason why the question has not been dealt with before now was the priority which other important measures had over it for consideration. Surely, that is a ground why this question of the extension of the municipal franchise in Ireland should be distinguished from those other questions with which the Chairman of Ways and Means has attempted to compare them. But there is another and a strong reason why this House should refuse to place this question upon an analogy with those which the hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Courtney) has referred to. The questions which the hon. Member has referred to concern the whole community of England, Ireland, and Scotland; they are questions which concern every rood of ground in the Three Kingdoms; while, on the other hand, the question of the extension of the municipal franchise in Ireland only concerns some 10 or 12 communities, most of which are small in size. Let me point out that, so far from its being exceptional or unprecedented for this House to connect the question of the franchise with general questions of municipal government, on the contrary, it has been the constant practice of the House, in measures dealing with the government of Municipal Bodies, in measures creating Town Councils, and in measures regulating the Corporations of Ireland, to introduce provisions dealing with the franchise. In a Private Act of the city which I have the honour to represent—the City of Cork—there are provisions regulating the Municipal Revision Court in that constituency. In the Act constituting the township of Blackrock the question of the franchise is dealt with, and there are at least a dozen Irish Acts which deal with and regulate the franchise in the townships to which they apply. In the face of these facts, are we to be told that the House would be acting in a manner scarcely decent if it were to do, in the case of Belfast, what it has already done, 1718 over and over again, in the case of other municipalities in Ireland? But the hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Ways and Means has another reason for moving the Previous Question. He says that, passing from the subject of the franchise, it would be irregular and improper to deal with the question of boundaries by a Resolution of this kind, because, forsooth, if that question had been originally in the Bill, it would only have been there after due notice by advertisement had been given to all parties concerned. What my hon. Friend the Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) asks the House to do is not to give its sanction to any fancy scheme for the reconstitution of the boundaries of Belfast; but to adopt the very principle which the Corporation of Belfast are promoting in this Bill already, and which they ask the House to sanction, but which they propose to carry out in a very different and far more objectionable manner. My hon. Friend asks the House to do what one of its own Commissioners was especially appointed to consider, and who reported in favour of an extension of the franchise in face of the strongest opposition from the Local Bodies. These, I think, are important and excellent reasons why the House should adopt the proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Sligo, even in opposition to those speakers who have urged upon the House that the precedent which was set last year in the case of the Ratkmines Bill should not be followed again. There was, I must say, really nothing in the reasons put forward with so much heat by the hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Committees; and I think the facts I have mentioned prove that this House, in doing what my hon. Friend the Member for Sligo asks it to do, will do nothing of a strange, exceptional, or indecent character. Before I sit down I would repeat the challenge which has been thrown out by my hon. Friend the Member for South Monaghan (Sir Joseph M'Kenna) that the other Members for the City of Belfast should rise and express their opinions, if any of them has the courage to take that course.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
As no Member from the Conservative Benches has risen to answer the challenge of my hon. Friend, I presume that those hon. Gentlemen mean to allow the debate to conclude without breaking silence. The Irish Members below the Gangway want 1719 to know what these hon. Gentlemen from Ulster mean. Are they more afraid of offending the Corporation of Belfast, or of breaking their pledges to their constituents? They were returned to Parliament by voters who are favourable to the change advocated by my hon. Friend the Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton). They were returned by that class of voters whom the Corporation of Belfast still wish to exclude from any control over their own affairs. I should be surprised, indeed, if silence is still maintained by them; and if it is we shall be able to form our own conclusions as to their political vitality and their political powers. I have only a few words to say on this occasion upon the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Sligo, and the course taken with regard to it by the hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Committees. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Sligo has been somewhat hardly dwelt with by the Chairman of Ways and Means. The hon. Gentleman, in his speech, certainly left something to be desired so far as its phraseology went. I thought it was too hard for the hon. Gentleman to get up and talk of decency in connection with the order of Business which rules hon. Members on these Benches, and I am fairly entitled to conclude that he described their conduct as indecent; but I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman meant to be rude. The hon. Gentleman had the misfortune to be a journalist at one period of his life; and he seems to imagine, when he gets on his legs, that he is within the sanctuary of his own closet, and able to express himself with the most full and perfect freedom. I will drop the manner of the hon. Gentleman with the observation that when the new Irish Members became more intimately acquainted with him they will find that his bark is infinitely worse than his bite. The hon. Gentleman denounces the proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) because, forsooth, it is without precedent; and when a precedent was brought forward he quietly got rid of it by saying it was passed through the negligence of the House.
§ THE CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS (Mr. COURTNEY)
I never said it was without a precedent. I admitted the precedent, but said that it was one which ought not to be followed.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
I understood the hon. Gentleman to say, in the first instance, that it was entirely contrary to the Rules of the House; but immediately afterwards he admitted the precedent which my hon. Friend brought forward. At the time that precedent was established the House had not the divine interposition of the hon. Gentleman to save it from this act of carelessness. But there is no reasoning with this style of argument—it was a case of personal inspiration on the part of the hon. Gentleman. Was the Chairman of Committees aware of the precedent which my hon. Friend called to his recollection? Was he aware that in regard to the settlement of the franchise exercised by municipal boroughs the fixing of the franchise in Bills of this character was the rule rather than the exception? The hon. Gentleman gives a shake of his head like the Delphic oracle; but I really can make nothing out of it. I may take any inference I like from it, and I would ask the hon. Gentleman to give an intelligible reply rather than a shake of the head. I will put the question again. Was the hon. Gentleman aware when he made his speech that all the precedents were against him, and that it was the rule rather than the exception that the franchise should be inserted and fixed in Bills of this character? [An hon. Member: In Ireland?] Yes, in Ireland. That is what I mean. The hon. Gentleman seems now to prefer a policy of silence, and will not even favour me with a nod, so that I take it for granted that he was not aware of the fact that in asking for the franchise to be fixed in this case we are following almost the invariable Irish precedents. We are following precedents in the case of Cork, where it was fixed in this way—of the Pembroke township, where the Township Bill established the township, and of Blackrock, where the boundaries were also fixed in the Bill. I would ask the hon. Gentleman to give some answer to this unbroken series of precedents in favour of the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton). I should not attempt to deal with the merits of the proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Sligo except for the lame and halting speech of the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Haslett), who, to a certain extent, is the official spokesman of the Corpora- 1721 tion of Belfast. Not another Member for Belfast has risen in his place to say a word in favour of the Bill. Why, Sir, the Corporation of Belfast is a scandal to civilization. My hon. Friend near me has given the House a sufficient reason why one lion. Member for Belfast does not speak. But the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Belfast (Mr. Johnston) is sitting on those Benches. He is looking towards me at the present moment. [Mr. JOHNSTON: Hear, hear!] I am always glad to get the light of the hon. Gentleman's countenance, although I confess that it has been somewhat lugubrious within the last few weeks; but I wish to know whether the hon. Member has or has not given Notice of a Bill to reduce the municipal franchise? [Mr. JOHNSTON: Yes; for all Ireland.] For all Ireland. Well, of course, that includes Belfast. Sometimes hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway seem to think that Belfast is not in Ireland; but here is a Member for a district in Ireland who, in the eagerness and voraciousness of his desire for reform, gives Notice of a proposal to reduce the franchise of all Ireland down to the level of the Parliamentary franchise; and yet, when a proposal of a much more narrow character is made to reduce the municipal franchise in Belfast, the hon. Member sits mute and stolid on his seat with not a word to say. Why does not the hon. Gentleman break silence? The hon. Gentleman does not break silence because he is on our side, and he does not like to say so, and there is not a single Member who has said a word in favour of the Corporation of Belfast. I should like to hear what the hon. Gentleman's opinion is of the Town Clerk of Belfast, who has a salary as high as that of the President of the Local Government Board. Who has a word to say in favour of the manner in which the Corporation of Belfast has dealt with the rich and the poor? Is there a single man on these Benches who will rise in his place and in the name of Tory Democracy declare his adhesion to the principle that the rich should be undertaxed and the poor overtaxed? Is there a single man who will have the courage to do so? Is the noble Lord the Member for Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill) reserving all his eloquence for another Motion which 1722 stands on the Paper for to-night? and has ho nothing to say in favour of the rights of the poor to fair taxation in the town which he so recently visited, to the discomfiture of some and the shame of so many? Not a word from the noble Lord on this question. And now I will say a word to hon. Members on the opposite side of the House. Have they a word to say in favour of the Town Clerk of Belfast, who draws a salary of £2,000 a-year? Have they a word to say in favour of the poor being overtaxed and the rich being under-taxed? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone), in a recent Manifesto to his constituents, called upon the people of England never to weary of well-doing towards Ireland. Let me give a hint to hon. Members on the opposite Benches who are a little new to public life; it is this—that the very wisest policy they can pursue in this Assembly is to do good whenever the opportunity serves, and to beware of Cabinet Ministers and Chairmen of Committees who declare that the opportune moment has not arrived. The time to do good in this world is to do it the very first moment you can, and that applies to Parliamentary affairs a deal more than it does to most human affairs. There is an opportunity to do good here, but there is a cog in the wheel. What is the Bill with which we are dealing? It is a Bill to enable the Belfast Town Council to expend £150,000, at least, of the money of the ratepayers in the town. I am prepared to argue that we have a perfect right to move the rejection of the proposal to spend £150,000 even on the most beneficent object, because the Body to whom the expenditure is to be intrusted is thoroughly unfit for such a task. Is there a man in the House who will say—will the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Belfast (Mr. Johnston), for instance, say—that the Belfast Corporation has shown its fitness to be intrusted with so large an expenditure of money? I maintain that the Corporation of Belfast has been condemned in the past, and that no one who has any regard for municipal purity or the rights of the poor will vote for a proposal which gives to this discredited Body the power of spending £150,000 more of the ratepayers' money when there is an opportunity of reforming 1723 that Body. I look with confidence to the result of this division, and I hope the Chairman of Committees (Mr. Courtney) will meet with a proper rebuke at the hands of the young and intelligent Liberal Members.
§ MR. CLANCY
I, too, must express surprise that three of the Members for Belfast have not seen fit to rise upon this occasion. Our appeals to these hon. Gentlemen have been addressed to them in vain. They may, and they do in Ireland, talk fire and brimstone about preserving the rights of the Orange Democrats in Ireland; but when they have an opportunity of serving these Orange Democrats in the House of Commons they deliberately neglect it, and turn a deaf ear to all appeals that they should stand up in defence of their own constituents. But, Sir, there is another Gentleman in the House to whom an appeal has also been made. I am surprised that he has not before now risen to answer the appeal. I allude to the noble Lord the Member for Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill). The noble Lord went to Belfast a week ago, and was received by the Orange Democrats with open arms. He made them great promises. He spoke bravely of their spirit——
§ MR. SPEAKER
I have told the hon. Gentleman that he is out of Order. I expect he will obey my ruling.
§ MR. CLANCY
I bow with readiness to your ruling, and pass on to the Question before the House, which, I admit, I have not already dwelt upon. The hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Committees (Mr. Courtney) has, I think, been answered on all the points he raised by my hon. Friends around me; but still I desire to put to him one question in reference to the observations he addressed to the House. The hon. Gentleman said he is in favour of the proposal of the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton), but added that there was a 1724 time for pressing it, and the present was not the proper time. I would like to know what, in his opinion, is the proper time? I assert that this is the proper time. We Irish Members have not the opportunity which English Members have, and which Members of the Government have, of bringing forward our Bills. The hon. Gentleman the Member for South Belfast (Mr. Johnston) has not that opportunity; and I say, under these circumstances, we must seize the first opportunity we can get—and this is the first opportunity we have had—to endeavour to effect this most desirable reform. We would be false to the declarations we have made if we were to let such an opportunity as the present slip. It must be borne in mind that when we do bring Public Bills into this House, and succeed in passing them, there is another House which deals with them in a very different manner. Hon. Gentlemen know quite well that in very recent years Bills, embodying very useful and necessary reforms in Ireland, have been passed by this House, but ignominiously kicked out in "another place." I also wish to say a word or two in reference to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir William Harcourt). The right hon. Gentleman's speech appeared to me to be a most amusing one, although it was delivered with great gravity of manner. He said in effect—"We share your opinions; but, nevertheless, we will not take advantage of the opportunity to carry them out." He gave us no reason to suppose that this opportunity is a wrong one. He pointed to the Rathmines incident; but I not only express my own opinion, but the opinions of all the Members around me when I say that he gave us no answer whatever to the argument that the Bill of the Rathmines Township affords a very proper precedent. The Rathmines precedent remains the same: it has not been affected by anything the right hon. Gentleman has said; and I must invite the House, if he has nothing better to say, to take no heed of his speech, but act upon the Rathmines precedent. If the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister were present, I would appeal to him to rise above the pettifogging arguments that have been addressed to the House from the Treasury Bench in opposition to the 1725 Irish proposal. If he were here, I would ask him to answer that appeal, and, if necessary, to throw over his Colleagues in order to do an act of justice, the necessity of which everyone admits. I rise to support this proposal with great pleasure, and I do it with all the greater pleasure because not one of the Ulster Tory Members has been found to have the courage to rise in his place and demand for his constituents, the Orange Democrats of Ireland, the rights the Tory Members advocated when they were seeking election.
§ MR. T. C. HARRINGTON
I think there is a great deal of force in the arguments that have been addressed to us, both by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir William Harcourt) and by the Chairman of Committees (Mr. Courtney). The course we have entered upon to-night is an unusual, and sometimes a very inconvenient one; and I, for my part, would not attempt to justify it if I did not believe that the circumstances with which we have to deal are circumstances of a most unusual and a most exceptional character. Nay, furthermore, I maintain that the opportunity now presented to us of redressing grievances that have pressed for a long time upon the people of Belfast is an opportunity not likely to be presented to us again in the course of the present Session. If, therefore, we missed this opportunity we should show ourselves neglectful of the best interests of the people. It has been shown in the course of the debate upon the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) that while the Parliamentary constituency comprises 32,000 voters, the Body which is promoting this Bill in the House is elected by so limited a constituency as 5,700 voters. I maintain that these figures in themselves show at once so exceptional a state of affairs as to justify us in taking the very first opportunity presented to us of dealing with so great a grievance as they establish. It is further contended, Sir, that this Corporate Body, representing a limited constituency of this kind, and ruling an important Irish town in a manner which has been very justly characterized by different speakers as wholly bad, is not fit to be intrusted with an expenditure of £150,000. A very fair issue has been raised by the 1726 Motion of my hon. Friend. If the Corporation find that the proposed expenditure is necessary—if they find that the requirements of the borough of Belfast are such as to justify them in expending so enormous a sum of money, let them assent to the proposal which is made by my hon. Friend—let them, at the time at which they are entering upon this largo expenditure, assent to the proposal to extend the franchise, so as to show that they are really desirous of representing the majority of the citizens and of acting on their behalf. Notwithstanding the precedents that have been cited—and the course we have taken is justified by precedents, and the precedent quoted by the hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Committees is not the only one to be found—I am ready to admit that it might be highly inconvenient for the House if we were to seek many similar occasions on which to make proposals of this kind. The strength of our ease is that we could not bring in a separate Bill dealing with this question with any hope of success, because, while Belfast has two, or possibly three, Members in this House who would be in sympathy with the general nature and scope of the Bill, Belfast has another Member; and the Corporation of Belfast, in an especial sense, has a Member in this House, and he would avail himself of every opportunity to block the Bill and prevent its being discussed. We further maintain that, even if we did succeed in passing a Bill through this House, this hon. Gentleman would use his influence in "another place" to prevent the Bill becoming law. Our purpose, therefore, can only be served by a course such as we have taken to-night. I do not intend to detain the House longer. I maintain that we are justified in the course we have taken; that the circumstances with which we have to deal are of an unusual and exceptional character; and that if anything could justify our tacking on to a Bill of this kind provisions, I admit, of a wide, perhaps sweeping, character, but yet provisions the justice of which cannot be denied, the exceptional circumstances with which we have to deal would do so.
§ MR. CRILLY
Mr. Speaker, I only intend to speak for a very brief period on this Bill. At the outset I may be permitted to point out that this discus- 1727 sion, useful and instructive as it undoubtedly has been—very instructive to Irish Members, but doubly instructive to English Members, if they desire to obtain information with regard to the situation in Ireland—has already lasted for nearly three hours, a fact which in itself, apart altogether from the many other facts having the same tendency which have occurred within my experience, shows the absolute necessity and wisdom of this House finding out some legislative means or other by which such Business as this may be relegated to Ireland to be dealt with there by a Local Authority. We have spent nearly three hours in discussing this Bill, and only last night we occupied an hour of the time of this Imperial Parliament in transacting purely Municipal Business. To-night we have trespassed on the time and the attention and the capacity of Members other than those from Ireland, while great interests, English and Scotch—I will say National interests—have been waiting to be dealt with by English and Scotch Members. On this point I have only to say further that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir William Harcourt) said, in addition to what other Members who have opposed the Motion of my hon. Friend (Mr. Sexton), had urged, in the course of the debate, that it was not convenient to raise questions of public interest on Private Bills. Now, Sir, I hold that the question which has been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) is not a guestion of general public interest. It is a question purely local to Belfast; and as this Bill deals with the whole question of local self-government in Belfast, and as Parliament can give its opinion upon the point, we, on these Benches, are fully entitled to draw attention to questions concerning the franchise in Belfast, and the extension of the boundaries of the town. Now, I may be permitted to object to this Bill on somewhat different grounds to those which have been already urged. I obtained a copy of the Bill this morning, and the opinion I have formed of it, after a careful study of its provisions, is that it is either too comprehensive, or it is not comprehensive enough. The measure raises questions which, to my mind, should be dealt with by separate legislation entirely. It consists of 12 1728 parts, and of something like 80 clauses. It does not deal only with the purification of the River Lagan and with the main drainage of Belfast, as it is stated in the title; but it deals with large schemes of sanitary and financial value which ought certainly to be dealt with in a separate measure. It deals with so many purposes other than the one referred to in the title that it seems to me to be a sort of legislative kaleidoscope—if you give it one shake you get a glimpse of the River Lagan; if you give it another shake you get a view of the drainage of Belfast; if you give it another shake you perceive a great financial or sanitary scheme; and I have no doubt that if the 39 gentlemen, to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) referred in his opening statement, had delayed the introduction of this measure for some little time, and that then you had given the kaleidoscope another shake you might see the noble Lord the late Secretary of State for India (Lord Randolph Churchill) as Ajax on the platform of the Ulster Hall defying the lightning of Irish Nationality. It seems to me to be a monstrous condition of affairs that where you have, as you have in Belfast, 32,000 Parliamentary voters, you have less than 6,000 persons on the Municipal Register. And it also seems to me, Sir, a huge anomaly and an injustice that deserves the immediate attention of Parliament that where there are 70,000 Catholics, as there are in Belfast, and where there are 10,000 Catholics on the Parliamentary Register, as there are in Belfast, there should only be 1,000 or 2,000 Catholics on the Municipal Register. In my opinion a strong case has been made out in favour of the points which have been urged by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Sligo and the hon. Gentlemen on these Benches who have so ably supported him. I hold that the municipal franchise in Belfast should be at once identified with, or lowered to the level of, the Parliamentary franchise. I hold, too, that the municipal boundary of Belfast should be extended to the limits of the Parliamentary boundary; and I trust that this House will, in the division which I have no doubt will take place, accede to the Motion of the hon. Member (Mr. Sexton). Either the Bill as it stands, and which is wrongly described in the title as a Bill 1729 dealing with the Belfast main drainage—either the Bill should be widened and extended so far as to include the points which have been raised by my hon. Friend, or else it should be made to apply only to the regulation and improvement of the main drainage of Belfast, and the purification of the River Lagan. In the event of the latter plan being adopted, the last portion of my hon. Friend's Motion should be adopted—namely,That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they do strike out of the Bill such clauses as do not relate to the main drainage scheme.I desire, Sir, before I conclude, to emphasize one point that was raised by the hon. Member for Sligo, and that is, that before this huge and elaborate and costly scheme—this scheme which, in the event of its being sanctioned, will cost the ratepayers of Belfast £150,000—is passed, it shall be submitted to the ratepayers and inhabitants of Belfast in order that they may have the opportunity of expressing their opinions regarding it. From all I have heard in this debate, and from what I have seen of the Bill, having read it through most carefully to-day, I have very much pleasure in supporting the Instruction to the Committee which has been proposed.
§ MR. LANE
I should not have attempted to give any information whatever to the English Members who propose to take part in the discussion upon this Bill were it not for the extraordinary line of defence taken up by the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Haslett), who has been already so frequently referred to as the only Member representing Belfast who has interfered in this debate. That hon. Gentleman, with a modesty characteristic of the Ulster Tory Representatives in this House, introduced himself as a young Member. I must say that the ability with which he spoke afterwards would incline us to be rather sceptical as to the fact of his being a young Member, because he travelled over such a number of topics that he might almost be taken for an "old Parliamentary hand." But I think, Sir, that after the able speech in which my hon. Friend the Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) introduced his Motion to the House he certainly was entitled to some better reply from those who are promoting this main drainage 1730 Bill than that made by the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Haslett). The hon. Gentleman must have convinced the House, by the line of argument he adopted, that he and his Friends have practically no defence to make to the serious allegations which were made against the Corporation by the hon. Member for Sligo. Imitating what is known as the Old Bailey direction, the hon. Gentleman confined himself to an abuse of his opponents rather than to a vindication of the action of his friends. In the extraordinary line of argument, with which he tried to justify the conduct of himself in this matter, he appealed to the House for its sympathies on the ground that the Belfast Corporation, within the last 40 years, had come to this House and asked for 14 or 15 local Bills. Well, we were told by the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) and others that the passing of these 15 local Bills through this House cost the taxpayers of Belfast a sum of no less than £ 150,000. I have no doubt, speaking with a little experience myself of these matters, having been a member of another Corporation in Ireland, that this £150,000 was the initial expenditure incurred in connection with these 15 Bills—the first part of the expenditure necessary to make the contemplated works reproductive to the ratepayers of Belfast. The hon. Member was not satisfied with trying to enlist the sympathy of the House for himself and the Belfast Corporation by stating that the Corporation of Belfast had applied to this House 15 times in the 40 years for local Bills; but he also said that the best proof that the other Corporations of Ireland were not actuated by the same spirit of loyalty to this Imperial Parliament as the Corporation of Belfast, was that in late years, since these Corporations came under the management of the Party to which I have the honour to belong—namely, the National Party—we had entirely ceased to apply for Bills for our different localities. I do not at all acknowledge or concede the argument which the hon. Member tried to force upon the House, and I refuse to do so on account of the intimate acquaintance my official connection with an Irish Municipality has given me of the subject of the relief of ratepayers of these towns from local Bills which are so frequently obtained in this Imperial Parlia- 1731 ment. My experience in connection with the Municipality to which I have the honour to belong, and which, I presume, was one of those municipalities to which the hon. Member for West Belfast referred so sneeringly, has shown me that previous to the period when the National Party obtained the ascendency in the Town Council, several applications were made to Parliament for local Bills. I am speaking of the period previous to that in which the management of the Corporation of the City of Cork came under the control of the National Party. As a matter of fact, whilst the Party in Cork, holding the same views as this Belfast Party, of which the hon. Member for West Belfast is a member, were supreme in the Cork Municipality, it is well known that they appealed, not once in the year, or once in three years as the municipality of Belfast appealed, but they came to Parliament to grant them local legislation once, and sometimes twice, in the year. And what was the result of these frequent appeals to Parliament by the Corporation of the City of Cork? Why, the result has been that at the present moment the unfortunate ratepayers of that city have saddled upon them, as the result of only three of these measures, a debt of something over £100,000 on which they are are paying interest. And I am sure hon. Members on both sides of the House will be surprised to hear that these appeals to Parliament, which cost so much, were, almost in every case, abortive for the purposes in regard to which they were made. A Bill costing £38,000—one of those the hon. Gentleman referred to—was obtained in order to bring about the removal of a railway track from a certain part of the town, in the hope that when the land thus reclaimed was put at the disposal of the Municipality, it would be turned to profitable account, and that, consequently, a large income would be put into the pockets of the ratepayers. But from that day to this that expenditure has never yielded 1d. The ratepayers have never received an atom of profit from the expenditure of that £38,000 or £40,000. Another case in which the Party in Cork, to which the hon. Member belongs in Belfast, appealed for a local Act of Parliament, when they were in power in the Council, was in connection with the artizans' dwellings scheme. 1732 They applied for power to spend £22,000 in the carrying out of an artizans' dwellings scheme in the City of Cork. What was the result? Why, although the Bill was brought in under the artizans' dwellings scheme, it entirely omitted any clause enabling the Corporation to build a single house for artizans in the city. It gave them power to spend this money in the destruction and demolition of property, and though it had the effect of turning out a number of trades people it provided no new dwellings for them to go into. A great part of the ground cleared in that way is lying unoccupied at the present moment, whilst a great part of it has been let to the people for little or nothing. In a third case, the Corporation of Cork applied to Parliament for provision to spend £16,000 or 18,000 in the re-erection or reconstruction of a bridge. Well, before the whole matter was concluded, the ratepayers had to pay no less than £34,000. With that experience, Sir, in the local Parliament—as I might call it—of Cork, I have no hesitation in standing up here in my place to-night to support this measure. I consider that every one of us upon these Benches represent the people of Ireland. I do not look upon any Member on these Benches as representing any particular locality or constituency in questions of this kind. I appeal for the whole of Ireland; and though I have the honour of sitting here for a constituency in the South—one of the Divisions of the County of Cork—I consider myself equally the Representative of the ratepayers of Belfast, or of any other part of Ireland, when I stand up to discuss a matter of this kind. I should be neglecting my duty to those who sent me here, and to the whole of my countrymen, if I did not stand up here this evening to support the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton), because I know that if this Motion be carried, and it is an Instruction to the Committee to make the proposed alterations in the Bill, the Corporation of Belfast will soon be in the position of the Corporation of the City of Cork—that is to say, the real ratepayers of Belfast will be properly represented on the Board, and will be in a position to prevent the passing of such Bills as those I have mentioned, and the one which the Belfast Corporation are now endeavouring to 1733 force through Parliament. It will, in the future, be impossible for the Party to whom the hon. Member for West Belfast belongs, to fasten the expense of schemes like this upon the backs of the ratepayers, like the Old Man of the Sea. The hon. Member for West Belfast was not satisfied with taunting us and other Municipalities of Ireland, with neglecting our duty in not coming here from time to time to get rid of the ratepayers' money in the promotion of useless schemes, but he also indulged in a sneer at the Corporation of the City of Dublin, the chief Municipal Authority in Ireland. He went on to urge the great claim that the Corporation of Belfast had upon the Imperial Parliament and the people of this country by referring to the action of the Mayor and Corporation of Belfast on a certain occasion; he pointed out how they had given magnificent entertainments at a lavish expenditure, not out of the ratepayers' money, but out of their private pockets, and especially out of the pocket of their Chief Magistrate. Well, Sir, I think that on the very few occasions that the Chief Magistrates of Belfast have indulged in that extravagance—and I call it nothing but extravagance for anyone to spend a sum of £18,000 upon an entertainment, which I understand was spent in Belfast on the occasion in question—these gentlemen have acted from no desire to further the interests of the public; they had no especial desire to show any exceptional loyalty to the Crown or to the Throne; but their action was apparently dictated by the sordid and selfish motive of advancing their own interest and obtaining for themselves that title—that miserable title—which has been the cause of so much demoralization in Ireland, and which has always been the bane of public men in that country. Most of our public men have always striven to achieve or purchase one of these—if I may so call them—
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member for some time past has not been speaking relevantly to the Question before the House. I must remind him of the necessity of keeping more close to the subject of the Instruction to the Committee on this Bill.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I told the hon. Member that for some time past he has not been speaking relevantly to the subject before the House. I again caution him to be more relevant.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I have twice told the hon. Member that he is irrelevant; if I have occasion a third time to tell him so I shall be compelled to ask him to resume his seat.
§ MR. LANE
Then, Mr. Speaker, I must refer to the subject of the Instruction to the Committee. The 1st clause in the Instruction is that the House be asked to affirm that the municipal franchise of the borough of Belfast be assimilated to the existing Parliamentary franchise. Now, Sir, the object of that is, of course, that the people of Belfast should have a thorough representation on the Corporation of that City. The declaration made here by the hon. Member for West Belfast this evening, or rather the admission made by him, was that there was not a single Roman Catholic in the Corporation of Belfast. I think that is an argument in itself, independent altogether of the statement with which the hon. Member for Sligo opened this debate, as a present justifition for this Instruction. That argument, I think, ought to have weight with hon. Gentlemen opposite—of course, there is no hope whatever of its exercising any influence upon any hon. Gentlemen on my right hand. It is no use appealing to them upon any question of religious toleration whatever; but I do appeal to hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House, who are constantly saying that if they could only be satisfied that religious toleration exists in Ireland, on the part of the majority towards the minority, they would immediately take a different view of the great question which is now occupying public attention to that which they do take. Therefore, having read the statements of these hon. Gentlemen, made from time to time on platforms during the General Election, and in speeches they have de- 1735 livered since, I appeal to them, whether a stronger argument could possibly be advanced in this House in support of the Motion of the hon. Member for Sligo than the admission of the hon. Member for West Belfast, that in a city possessing such an enormous population as that of Belfast—a population in which there is such a large proportion of Roman Catholics—there is not upon the Governing Body a single Roman Catholic? It must be borne in mind that this Governing Body has the management of all the local affairs, and yet there is not upon it a single person to advocate the rights or claims of the Roman Catholic population. I do not know whether hon. Gentlemen opposite, to whom I am now making my special appeal, are aware that in the Municipalities of Ireland there is no question which comes up so frequently for consideration by the Corporations as those very questions which are decided to a very large extent by the religious composition of the Boards. There are very large grants given to different hospitals; we have very large grants always being given to industrial schools, reformatories, and other institutions; and in a vast number of other instances there are questions cropping up every day on Irish Municipal Boards, which depend almost altogether on the religious elements of which those Bodies are composed. From my experience of another Corporation—representing, it is true, a locality where the Parties are more evenly divided than they are, perhaps, in the generality of Irish Municipalities—I know how difficult it is at times for the authorities to do equal or proper justice to the claims of different religious persuasions. I can imagine, therefore, how almost next to impossible it must be for the Roman Catholic population in Belfast to get fair play when any question turns up in which it is possible for those who represent different parts of Belfast to show in their corporate capacity that intolerance, and bigotry, and sectarian hatred that they invariably show on public platforms when they are speaking on any subject. On that ground, if on no other, I would appeal to hon. Members of this House to affirm that clause of the Resolution brought forward by the hon. Member for Sligo which bears upon this point. The 2nd clause of my hon. Friend's Motion is— 1736To enable every person qualified to vote at a Municipal election in Belfast to be a candidate for election to the office of councillor or alderman.I must say I do not feel myself so competent to speak upon this subject, because I cannot conceive the difference which was raised here to-night between a man being entitled to vote for a Municipal Corporation and to stand as a candidate for one of the wards represented on that Corporation. I am under the impression, unless there is something unconstitutional in the Municipal Council of Belfast, that anyone qualified to vote at a Town Council election would also be entitled to stand for the position of one of its members. From what my hon. Friend tells me, I can now understand what this clause in the Motion refers to. It is dependent on the previous clause being accepted by the House. I did not quite see it until this moment. It is, of course, that the municipal franchise should be reduced to the same level as the Parliamentary franchise, and that any man taking advantage of that should be able to stand as a candidate. The 3rd clause of the Instruction is—To constitute the present boundary of the Parliamentary borough of Belfast the boundary of the Municipal borough, and to direct and provide for a now division of the Municipal borough into wards, as recommended in the Report of the Municipal Boundaries (Ireland) Commission, dated the 27th of June, 1882, and to authorise a proportionate increase in the number of aldermen and councillors.I would appeal to the House—or rather I would again recommend them, rather than appeal—that my hon. Friend and his Colleagues on these Benches are only asking the House to give force this evening on a formal decision to the Report issued by a Royal Commission sent over to Ireland by the Imperial Parliament to investigate on the spot the local circumstances of the Belfast Municipality in all its bearings. That Royal Commission, when they had exhausted the inquiry on the spot into all the surrounding circumstances, recommended that Parliament should extend the borough boundaries. So that we, in asking the House to affirm the Resolution of my hon. Friend, are not asking them to affirm anything that comes solely and only from this quarter of the House. We are asking them to give legal effect to the recommendations of a Royal Com- 1737 mission. I am afraid I have intruded a little too long upon the House. I will not trespass upon its patience any further, although I should certainly like to ask hon. Gentlemen and right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench to give a little consideration to the course of this debate here this evening, and to study for the future what has been the effect, particularly on these Benches, of the very jarring note that was struck from opposite by the Chairman of Ways and Means. I do not think in this House, amongst the 500 or 600 Members who were listening so carefully and attentively to the eloquent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for 81igo, that a second Member in this House, besides the Chairman of Ways and Means, would have risen at once to reply to that careful and moderate speech in the spirit and in the tone that characterized the remarks of that hon. Gentleman. As the hon. Member has returned to his seat in the House, I will respectfully say to him that, instead of shortening the debate this evening, or instead of contributing to the shortening of it, as he endeavoured to do by applying a form of clôture, the course ho took has had an opposite effect to that ho intended, and has induced many hon. Members on these Benches to stand up and prolong the discussion. I and those of my Colleagues who have come for the first time into Parliament have not come for the purpose of falling into the views of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench on every occasion on which they wish us to sit here silently, and allow Irish discussions to go by default. If right hon. Gentlemen opposite have not seen already, they very soon will see before this debate concludes, that any attempt such as that made by the hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Ways and Means to prevent hon. Members on these Benches from discussing Irish questions which either a portion or a part of Ireland takes the keen interest in that the people of Belfast take in this measure, will not have the desired effect. I do not think, Mr. Speaker, I can contribute very much more to this debate. There is one point which has been very largely touched upon by the hon. Member for West Belfast and others this evening which I would certainly like to refer to for a moment, and that is to the fact that the Town Clerk 1738 of Belfast, in advocating or allowing the Corporation of Belfast to appeal again to this House for a local Bill, does not in any way whatsoever gain any pecuniary profit. I am quite willing to admit that; but we were also told before that the gentleman who is the Town Clerk of Belfast is also, I presume, the law adviser of the Corporation. I need not say, Sir, that with that sympathy which lawyers always have for each other, I am quite sure that this gentleman, in his capacity as law adviser to the Corporation, never in any way advised the Corporation of Belfast from coming to this House for local Bills, on the principle that "hawks don't pike out hawks' een."
§ MR. BIGGAR
I think it would have been well if the hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Ways and Means had abstained from raising a technical point, because it seems to mo that it was perfectly within the province of this House to refuse to allow this Bill to go before a Committee upstairs, if they thought the parties bringing it forward were not those in whom they could repose confidence. In this particular case this Corporation of Belfast comes before the House of Commons and asks for largo borrowing powers, and for liberty to carry out very extensive work, which borrowing powers and extensive work will be carried out by them if Parliament gives them this authority. Not only so, but this Corporation coming before Parliament comes in a great measure with an ex parte statement of the ease, because we know very well that no one can be heard as petitioning against a Bill promoted in this way unless they have a locus standi. It must be known to everyone who has experience of Private Bill legislation—that is to say, in regard to opposition offered to Private Bills—that the process of endeavouring to influence the opposition of one of these measures by a private individual is very expensive, and that it is a very difficult thing to succeed even after the expenses have been incurred. It is also very clear that the parties who took part in the public meetings at St. George's Hall, in Belfast, did not belong to the class who would be likely to raise any very large sum of money in order to press their views upon the Committee upstairs. Seeing that that is the state of the case, I think it is extremely prudent and proper for this 1739 House to see to what extent this Belfast Corporation represents the views of the people of Ulster, and if it can be shown that it does not represent the opinions and views of a very large proportion of the people of Belfast, and that the opinions of the ratepayers have not been asked by the Corporation, and that the general body of ratepayers have no Constitutional mode of offering an opinion on the subject, I think, I say, it is very prudent and proper for this House that the people, who at the present moment are not represented, should have an opportunity of expressing their opinion on such a matter as this when the Bill becomes an Act, but before it comes into operation. In this measure means should be given to the ratepayers of Belfast for expressing an opinion through the elections that are proposed by the Resolution of my hon. Friend (Mr. Sexton). If they approve of the Act as then passed, why, all is well, and the Corporation newly formed by the new electoral body would have an opportunity of carrying out the work embodied in this scheme. But, on the other hand, if the majority of electors on the new Registration Roll believe that this is an objectionable Act, then they could refuse to carry it into operation, and either bring in a new scheme, or say—"We will have no main drainage scheme at all." For these reasons, I think it is quite within the duty—not only within the power, but also within the duty—of this House to do what my hon. Friend proposes. It seems to me rather strange that the present Government, who a short time ago were such very earnest advocates of the extension of the franchise to all classes of electors in this Kingdom, should be so very anxious on this occasion to throw obstacles in the way of enfranchising the ratepayers of the borough of Belfast. Not only so, but the fact being so notorious that the franchise in Belfast is so very objectionable and of such a meagre character, the practical result is that four-fifths of the ratepayers, who are considered competent to select Members of Parliament, have no power in the selection of members of this Town Council, and therefore have no voice in the matter of the Bill which is now before the House. I think that it is the duty of the House to see that some mode of obtaining the opinion of these four-fifths should be provided. I must say also, in 1740 regard to the speech of the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Haslett), that it was a very artful speech, because he entirely evaded the important question of rating, and also that raised by the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton). Now, the hon. Gentleman very artfully refrained from discussing that question; but still he asked that we should give power to the Belfast Corporation to let in the £8 a-year householder. Well, that being so, we consider that these people should have an opportunity of expressing their opinion before this Bill is passed. The hon. Gentleman has also evaded another important question—namely, the exclusive nature of the Town Council of Belfast, which is almost confined to one narrow class of the community. It entirely excludes what I may call the Orange Democracy of Belfast. The Town Council is, in fact, almost entirely represented by the small wholesale and large retail tradesmen of Belfast For years it has only had two Catholic members—one of whom was elected by a Tory body, and would on no account have been elected by any body of Catholics. And yet we have this body, representing only one-fifth of the population of Belfast, coming to this House and asking to be allowed to saddle the whole community with a large amount of taxation. It would be well for the Government to take this matter into their serious consideration, and give the ratepayers of the second largest town in Ireland an opportunity of expressing their opinion before such a measure as this is allowed to pass.
§ MR. PARNELL
I wish to say, Sir, I should have been surprised at the way in which this Motion has been met by the hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Committees (Mr. Courtney), were it not that he has, unfortunately, within my own Parliamentary connection, distinguished himself on every occasion which presented itself, by taking up a position in opposition to Irish claims, and I suppose that one of the reasons why the hon. Gentleman has been placed in his present position is that it was thought that it could not possibly fall in his power to take part in the debates of this House against the reasonable claims of Ireland. But if that were the worthy idea, it is a disappointed one, because the hon. Gentleman—with that ingenuity which is sometimes acquired by long 1741 Parliamentary experience—has found an opportunity of distinguishing himself in this particular manner. He has endeavoured to create a precedent after a precedent has been established by his Predecessor, Sir Arthur Otway—one of the most distinguished occupants of the Chair in recent times, and certainly not one of whom it can be said, speaking as I do after a long experience of the occupants of the Chair, that he had been fair to Irish Members. But he laid down a precedent as to what could and what could not be done in reference to a Bill of this nature. Now, I must say I do think we have not been fairly treated by the hon. Member. My hon. Friend the Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton; appealed to a recent precedent, and one which fitted very well to the present case. It is true that my hon. Friend has gone a little further than was the case in regard to the Rathmines and Rathgar Bill, and has introduced matters which were not sought to be introduced on that occasion; but I would ask the House to consider this—an unreformed Parliament, a Parliament which gave many hon. Members of this House an opportunity which they otherwise would not have had of becoming Members—a Parliament which opened the franchise to the householders of British and Irish counties, agreed to a reform of franchise on a precisely similar Bill to this, with regard to an Irish municipal body. It said— "We have seen Irish Bills for a general reform of the municipal franchise in that country introduced into several Parliaments. We have seen these Bills rapidly pass through the House of Commons. We have seen them on more than one occasion thrown out by the House of Lords"—at the instance of this very body whom we ask the House to check now, and of the body which the unreformed Parliament checked in the case of the Bill which constitutes the precedent on which my hon. Friend relies—"if we cannot by the ordinary process of legislation—if our ordinary attempts at legislation have been defeated at the instigation of these unreformed bodies partly by means of the money of the ratepayers levied by a power over which the ratepayers had no control, is it not right, when those bodies come before us and ask for additional power of taxation, that we should say we cannot continue 1742 to give these enlarged powers of taxation without saying that the people who are going to be taxed shall have an effectual voice in the expenditure." That was all that was asked in 1885; and that is all we ask in 1886. The only difference is simply this, that in 1885 we were appealing and appealed successfully to an unreformed Parliament, and in this case we are appealing to a reformed Parliament, which ought to be additionally impressed with the justice of our claim. Well, Sir, the only valid argument that could have been used by the hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Committees, or the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, against the claim of my hon. Friend has not been used—namely, that considering the whole question of the Government of Ireland is now under the consideration of the Administration, under those circumstances it is scarcely worth our while insisting upon the addition of this clause. This is an argument which might fairly and with some considerable force have been used by the opponents of the measure; but it has not been used, and, indeed, they have been very chary of speech. Of course, that argument would have raised a comparative question, and if it had been addressed to us early in the evening it might have had some weight; but that is not the policy which has been adopted. My object in rising is to suggest a compromise. I have said that my hon. Friend has gone to the precedent of 1885; but this Amendment provides that in addition to the assimilation of the Parliamentary and municipal franchises an arrangement is to be made by which all who are qualified to vote at a municipal election in Belfast should be enabled to be a candidate for the office of Councillor or Alderman, and he has also asked for an extension of the boundaries of the present municipal borough. Well, now, what I would suggest as a compromise is this—that if my hon. Friend should confine himself to two points, the first and the fourth, in the first Resolution that he has alone moved, I think ho would bring himself strictly within the limits of the precedent of 1885. Now, we know that this House is governed by strict precedent, and it is scarcely fair for the Chairman of Committees to interpose a technical objection, and so prevent us from taking the sense of the 1743 House on the substantial question, which I believe otherwise would be in our favour. If my hon. Friend would agree to this limitation of his Resolution on these two points, I cannot see why the House should refuse the Motion. No attempt has been made, except by the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Haslett), to argue against the Motion on its merits; and, there is practically nothing to be said against it, otherwise it would have been said over and over again. In conclusion, I would appeal to the justice and judgment of the House, whether it, as a reformed Parliament, is going to refuse that which an unreformed Parliament did for us so willingly by a great majority in 1885?
§ MR. HOOPER
As a member of an Irish Municipal Body myself, I wish to make a few remarks on this subject. In commencing my observations I cannot but think that it is unfortunate that the right hon. Gentleman who did so much to pass the Act under which the present Parliament was elected is not present to-night—I mean the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles W. Dilke). The House is asked to set this Motion aside on extremely technical grounds; but if there ever was a question on which that course should not to be adopted it is upon a question like this, and in presence of statements such as those which have been put forward from those Benches. The House has already heard that the 60,000 Roman Catholies of Belfast are unrepresented in the Town Council; but I do not know whether it has been mentioned that there is only one gentleman upon it professing Liberal politics. Now, if we added these two classes together, I am quite sure that they would form a majority of the people of Belfast; and, therefore, I ask the House whether it is public policy that the reform of such an abuse should be longer delayed? This is not the time when the House should stand on old precedents, and there is nothing in the history of Belfast that the House should be slow to interfere with its municipal arrangements. I can say, from my knowledge of Bills introduced by Irish Municipalities, that the likelihood is that before the expenditure on this scheme is concluded, instead of £150,000, it will reach£500,000; and it is this which gives rise to a good deal of opposition on the part of the 1744 townspeople. If this £150,000 is granted, I have not the slightest doubt that the borough of Belfast will be here again for a Supplementary Bill to enable them to raise further funds for the purposes embraced in the scheme now before us; and very likely they will come again after that for a third Bill. Coming, then, to the question of the principles involved in the Motion of my hon. Friend, I must confess that I can find nothing new or dangerous which it is sought to import into this Bill. The first refers to the assimilation of the borough to the Parliamentary franchise. If there is anything dangerous in that, I think the House will be glad to hear from the hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition Benches who have been so silent to-night what are the dangerous principles. Will my hon. Friend who is now looking towards me, who is an ex-official of Belfast, condescend to enlighten us on the subject. But if he does not desire to wash, the dirty linen of the Belfast Corporation in this House tonight, then he was quite right not to take part in this discussion. But what is the meaning of this conspiracy of silence on these Benches? As regards the enlargement of the municipal franchise to that which prevails at Parliamentary elections, although I know something of Belfast, I am not sufficiently acquainted with the town to speak specially in reference to it alone; but I can say generally that the assimilation would in future take out of the hands of narrow cliques the work which they now performed so badly, and it would do much for the purity of public administration in Ireland. The hon. Gentleman who represents West Belfast (Mr. Haslett) made, I think, a very unworthy remark to-day against those municipalities who pay their Mayors. I do not know if he is aware to what an extent that argument can be used against himself. It is not only those who had largo fortunes, and who were able to dispense municipal hospitality, who should be the sole occupants of the Civic Chair; and in my opinion one of the benefits to be derived from the extension of the municipal franchise is that men of moderate means can aspire to the highest honour which their fellow-townsmen can confer upon them. So far, I take it, therefore, the hon. Member who used the argument has not advanced the 1745 cause of, or reflected credit upon, the Orange Democracy of Belfast. My hon. Friend (Mr. Sexton) has stated that there is no Party motive connected with his Motion to-night; and I can only say that, notwithstanding any Nationalist complexion that may be put upon it, he has the entire approval of the whole Liberal Party of Belfast—a very powerful and large body in the North of Ireland. The question of the assimilation of these two franchises is one that can be raised, moreover, more appropriately in regard to Belfast, speaking from a Belfast and North of Ireland point of view, than in any other constituency in Ireland; because how often are we not told that Belfast, in every way—in sentiment, in the industrial habits of the people, and in every other way—is almost unrecognizable from an English or a Scotch town? If that was so, and if the extension of the municipal franchise was good in towns in England and Scotland, what possible objection could there be to its extension in this almost English or Scotch Municipality? Is it likely that the Town Council of Belfast is going to spend the public money in reforming itself? I do not believe that it is possessed of so self-debasing a tendency as to be guilty of that. We should be glad to hear from the hon. Member for East Belfast (Mr. De Cobain)—and I am sorry that the hon. Member, who is an ex-official of the Belfast Corporation, is not now in his place—some facts in connection with the transactions of the Town Council, which I think would very much enlighten hon. Members. I believe that a strong public feeling is growing in Belfast on this subject; and it may be some consolation to the hon. Members for Belfast who have not yet spoken, to learn that I hold in my hands a telegram which states that yesterday seven members of the Town Council voted for an assimilation of the franchise—a thing which no member of the Town Council had ever been known to do before. It would therefore seem that public opinion has not been without effect, even upon the Belfast Town Council; and I would advise the hon. Member for East Belfast to take advantage of this circumstance to stand up here and make a full confession, as the apostle of Tory Democracy.
§ MR. HARRIS
As I happen to possess some local knowledge of the facts which have been brought under the 1746 notice of the House, I think it is only right that I should say a word or two before this debate closes. I do not wish to urge anything at this moment against the hon. Members who represent the borough of Belfast. They seem to be in a state of transition at the present moment; they appear to be wavering between aristocratic and democratic ideas, and I hope that whatever decision they may arrive at will be one which will forward the interests of the town they represent. This question of extending the franchise in the Municipality of Belfast is a very important one, in this sense, that over and over again measures have been brought forward in this House and passed, which, after having received the approval of the House of Commons, was rejected by the House of Lords. If we cannot begin above, we must begin below, and in this case it is necessary to begin with the municipalities. If, on the other hand, we decided upon taking action in the way recommended by the Chairman of Ways and Means, it would be at once our duty to bring forward a measure for the abolition of the House of Lords. I must express my surprise that the Radical Party in this House do not enter more energetically into this important question. We certainly cannot expect the House of Lords to bring forward a measure for their own extinction; but I have never heard any strong expression of opinion upon it here. Hon. Members seem to have been perfectly content to sit quietly by and to endorse the opinion of the landowners generally. More especially has this been the case in connection with the action of the Town Council of Belfast. A large amount of money has been expended in Cork, as well as in Belfast, in undertakings which have not had the sanction of the ratepayers generally; and as we are on the eve of a legislative reform of local government, which is to be extended to Ireland, I think it might save us a considerable amount of expense in connection with the promotion of Bills of this character if steps were taken to hold over the action of the Town Council of Belfast until such time as we have a National Parliament in Ireland. In the meantime, they will be able to approach the Irish Party with some proposals of a conciliatory nature; and in such a case I am inclined to believe that an Irish Parliament would accede to their wishes, after 1747 taking care to impose proper cheeks upon their action. As I have already said, there is a large question of principle involved in this question. And the most important principle of all is the principle of right; and when the principle of right comes to be argued on higher grounds than the interests of Belfast, it is questionable whether the action of former Parliaments, in which the people were not fairly represented, will be taken into consideration. I take it that the principle of right is founded on the right of every man who is taxed to be represented, and it is quite clear that any action taken prior to the present time by the Municipality of Belfast, or any other Public Body, was not founded on the great and broad right of representation—the right of every man who is taxed to be represented. I think that every act which may have been done outside the representative principle is open to be questioned by a Native Parliament; and I think, further, that this important question ought to be raised in the case of every act which involves the outlay or the distribution of money. I would therefore ask the House to suspend its judgment in this matter, and not allow this large amount of money to be granted to a body of men who are not fairly representative of the interests of the Municipality. If they were fairly representative, they might say that they spoke in the name of all of the inhabitants of Belfast, rich and poor; and I need not tell the House that in any matter connected with the Municipality the poor are in a higher degree interested than the rich. If the Municipality of Belfast were founded on a broad representative principle—if they were elected by the entire body of taxpayers, and were entitled, therefore, to come forward on that ground and speak in the name of the people, I should not object to this Bill; but when we take into consideration the present narrow representation, I think we should hesitate before we granted such a large amount of money. With these remarks, I beg to support the proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton).
§ MR. DEASY
I am very sorry that the hon. Member for East Belfast (Mr. De Cobain) is not in his place, in order to favour the House with his opinion as to the action of the Corporation of Belfast in reference to this Bill, and the 1748 course which he intends to take with regard to it. I am also desirous of ascertaining what course the Government propose to adopt with regard to the suggestion of my hon. Friend and Leader the senior Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell). My hon. Friend has asked the House to consent to accept two of the four paragraphs of the Motion which stands in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton); but, so far, we have not received the slightest indication of the intentions of Her Majesty's Government upon the matter. It appears to me that nearly sufficient has been said from these Benches to give the House to understand how we regard this matter. As far as the debate has gone the Irish Members have entered a strong protest against the course which has been taken upon this question; it is the intention of my hon. Friends unduly to prolong the debate, but to proceed at once to take a division, if a division is forced upon us by the Government, as a final protest. The Chairman of Ways and Means stated, in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Sligo, that we had received sufficient Notice of the second reading of the Bill. Now, I deny that altogether, because previous to the adjournment of the House, occasioned by the late change of Government, the first reading of the Bill was taken, and on the first day of the meeting of the House after the present Government had been constituted the Bill was read a second time at a time when there was not a single Member of the House who knew what was being done. Under these circumstances, I think the statement of my hon. Friend the Member for Sligo did not exceed the exact truth when he said that this measure had been pressed forward without that due Notice which every Member of the House was entitled to receive. I should be sorry that a division should be taken at this moment upon this particular question. I should prefer to have the subject dealt with in a more comprehensive manner. I find, from a Return presented to the House a few days ago in reference to the valuation and population of the several wards in the City of Belfast, that certain facts have been brought to light which are of an alarming nature, and which require careful consideration in order that redress may be given without further delay. This Return was 1749 moved for on the 24th of July last, and it was laid upon the Table last Friday. It shows that the valuation of the City of Belfast is £600,000 and its population 208,000; but the number of municipal electors are only 6,000. It has been shown that the number of Parliamentary electors are 32,000; but, nevertheless, there is only a constituency of 6,000 which returns members to the Town Council. While 32,000 have the right of sending Members to the Imperial Parliament, 6,000 are considered sufficient to return members to the Town Council. In point of fact, only one in 40 in a great Irish town enjoys the municipal franchise, whereas in the large towns of England one in eight enjoy the right of voting in the municipal elections. Now, I think that that is a glaring injustice as between England and Ireland; and there is even a greater contrast when we come to consider the different valuations and the disproportion between the wards. In one there is a population of 158,000, while in another—the Smithfield Ward—the population is 88,000, or about one-half. But the number of electors in the one case is 1,817, while in the other it is only 630. I think the electors in the Smithfield Ward have a just ground of complaint; and I hope, that in the face of such injustice, we shall not be told that we must wait until other questions of greater importance have been settled. If the Government do not intend to bring on these questions of greater importance in the next month or six weeks, there is no reason why a Bill dealing with the municipal franchise in Belfast might not be introduced and passed without delay. I believe that a Royal Commission some years ago unanimously recommended that the boundaries of the municipal borough should be extended; but up to this time no Government has taken up the question. If any hon. Member has at any time raised the question of the extension of the boundaries of Belfast, Cork, or Dublin, he has been told to wait until the whole question of Local Government in Ireland can be dealt with; but I fail to see what there is to prevent the Government from bringing in a Bill at once. It is quite apparent, from the silence of three of the hon. Members for Belfast, that they have not the courage to get up and express 1750 any disagreement from the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton). I am, therefore, fairly entitled to say that they are on our side, although, for some reason or other, they refrain from expressing an opinion. They may tell us what they please about the Corporation being representative of the citizens of Belfast; but we know from previous experience that all Corporations and Public Bodies elected on a narrow footing are corrupt, and that the members of such Bodies have the greatest possible objection to any interference on the part of Parliament with their constitution. Hitherto the members of this particular Corporation have been engaged in plundering the ratepayers. One official of the Town Council of Belfast receives a salary of £2,000 a-year; and while the unfortunate ratepayers strongly object to the payment of so extravagant a sum, they are compelled to pay it, and are excluded from having any voice in the control of their own affairs. I am glad to find that the people of Belfast are at last aroused to a sense of duty, and that they protest against being any longer guided by this autocratic body. We have been told within the past week, and it has been repeated to-night by the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Haslett), that before any step is taken by Parliament the question of municipal reform ought to be considered and decided at the municipal elections. I should like to know how, in the City of Belfast, it is to be raised? There are only two ways in which it can be done—the one in public meeting assembled, and the other by sending Representatives to this House. Hitherto the working classes have been deprived of their rights to the municipal franchise, and the result has been that those who have put forward the interests of the Corporation have enjoyed a monopoly of the representation. I must express my deep regret that the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. H. H. Fowler) is not here to give the House his views on the suggestion which has been thrown out from this side of the House. We are most anxious to have the views of the Government on this question; and we shall do the only thing in our power this evening—namely, divide against this Bill in favour of the proposition of 1751 my hon. Friend. I hope that whenever we may have an opportunity of raising this question again we shall, be able to protest much more vigorously than tonight against the great injustice it is proposed to inflict on the citizens of Belfast.
§ MR. SEXTON
I think the time has now arrived when the House may proceed to take a division upon the question. I regret that the hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Committees is absent, because I should have been quite ready to accept the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell), and to strike out a portion of the Resolution, limiting my Instruction to the assimilation of the franchise and to provide for a new election on the now franchise. But you, Sir, have been good enough to inform me, on a personal reference to you, that as the Previous Question has been moved, you are not in a position to allow any further Motion to be moved. I regret that the Chairman of Committees is not here, and I protest against the course which the hon. Gentleman has taken, because, by the form of his Motion, he has put it out of my power to amend my Instruction in the way I have indicated. I will only add that the division is on the merits of my Motion. If the Motion should be successfully evaded by carrying the Previous Question, I shall, on the consideration of the Bill as amended, move the insertion of clauses amounting in substance to my present Motion.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 84; Noes 200: Majority 116.—(Div. List, No. 14.)