HC Deb 05 May 1886 vol 305 cc319-33

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, he thought the House would agree with him that there was now no need of argument upon this subject, and no longer any reason for stating a case in favour of this measure. It was not too much to assume that all Parties in that House were now agreed that the opposition which had been for so many years offered to that measure, or to measures of a similar import, had been unfair and unwise; and they all also recognized how imprudent it had been to deny to Ireland the reforms which had been so long enjoyed and so much appreciated in Great Britain. Bearing in mind, therefore, the great awakening of the conscience of this country in regard to the long and grievous misgovernment of Ireland, he felt it was only necessary for him now formally to make his present Motion to have it assented to by all parties. A measure of this kind has been before the House almost yearly for quite a number of years. Such a measure has even received the assent of this House. It would not be necessary for him to quote many statistics to prove the very great inequality of the municipal franchise between Ireland and Great Britain. He might mention, however, that in Ireland they now had only one burgess to 40 inhabitants, whereas in Great Britain they had one burgess to about every six of the population. For instance, the City of Dublin, having a population of 249,602, had only 6,644 burgesses on the roll; while Sheffield, with a population of 284,508, had 50,987 burgesses. Belfast, with a population of 208,122, had 6,051 burgesses on the roll, while Bristol, with a population of 206,874, had 27,723 burgesses on its roll. The City of Cork, with a population of 80,124, had only 2,059 burgesses; while Blackburn, with a population of 104,000, had 18,446 burgesses. A comparison of the numbers on the burgess rolls of the two countries would show that, while in Ireland the proportion of burgesses to population was one to 40, in England the proportion was one to six of its population. In fact, it was quite unnecessary to point out the inequalities in the municipal franchise between the two countries. When they had now a Parliamentary franchise being within one step of manhood suffrage it was unnecessary to expatiate on the absurdity of maintaining in Ireland, as the basis of the municipal franchise, a £10 rating, which was equivalent to about £15 rental. The Bill would assimilate the municipal franchise in the two countries. On a former occasion a like measure was objected to by a Belfast Representative on the ground that no extension of the franchise was desired there. It was easy to understand why the narrow-minded and illiberal oligarchy who, in Belfast, enjoy a mono- poly of the municipal franchise, so close that the Catholics, though one-fourth of the population, have no representation on the Municipal Body; and, it is needless to say, Catholics dare not aspire to a share of the good things in the gift of the Corporation. But, so far from being an argument against extending the franchise, surely the existence of such a state of things in Belfast but points the moral. The hon. Member concluded by moving the second reading of the Bill.

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

MR. LEWIS (Londonderry)

said, that, having regard to the thin attendance in the House, and especially in his own part of the House, it would be ridiculous then to expect a very exhaustive discussion, or an effective division on that Bill. But it was important that the facts should be known, and the reason for the substantial difference which undoubtedly existed in the state of the law as between England and Ireland in regard to the municipal franchise should be understood. It was quite true that the municipal franchise in Ireland and England was not the same, although the Parliamentary franchise was much the same. The old line had up to the present been maintained of having a £10 municipal franchise; and the reason of this was the extraordinary difference between the number of householders competent to obtain the franchise in Ireland and England. In Ireland he was sorry to say that there was extreme poverty, and amongst the lower classes there was an enormous number of persons who occupied dwellings of merely nominal value. He would not trouble the House with exact statistics to show that the municipal boroughs in Ireland contained large numbers of tenants of houses of £4 valuation and under £4. There was also an almost entire absence of the middle-class population to be found in England. It was, therefore, obvious that the result of the lowering of the franchise in Ireland would be to elevate to supreme power in the Municipalities in Ireland those who paid only a miserable modicum of the rates, or whose rates were paid for them by the landlords. If there were a larger number of Members present he would be in a better position to offer an effective opposition to the Bill, and the House would be surprised to find what would be the real effect of the measure as regards the very large number of voters which it would place upon the Register, and the very small amount of rates which they contributed. In municipal matters, where they were dealing with the expenditure of rates, he had never admitted that the present arrangement was satisfactory in England as to those who had the main burden of paying the rates; and still less would it be so in the case of Ireland, with the enormous mass of poverty-stricken occupiers in the large towns there, and with the absence also of the strong middle class which existed in England. The obvious effect of a measure like the present would therefore be to place the whole municipal power in the hands of persons who had no substantial pecuniary interest in the community. He believed that such a change would be made more fittingly when the Home Rule Bill was passed. He would quote a very pregnant sentence from a speech made by Earl Spencer at Newcastle in the presence of the right hon. Gentleman oppositte (Mr. John Morley), in which he stated that the condition was that— Every Town Council, every Board of Guardians, and every Local Board outside Ulster was full of disloyalty to the Government. He thought that this was a condition of affairs which was not very likely to be improved by the operation of this Bill. He did not, however, suppose that this was an argument which would have very much force with the Government or the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. John Morley), seeing the obvious manner in which he treated those Members sitting in the portion of the House where he (Mr. Lewis) sat. The manner of the right hon. Gentleman and the matter spoken by him afforded very pregnant evidence of the sympathy which lay between the right hon. Gentleman and hon. Members below the Gangway, and of his determination to do as much harm as he could to the loyal population which he (Mr. Lewis) had the honour to represent. He would mention, as a specimen, the extraordinary statement which the right hon. Gentleman made as to the uses of the Arms Act, than which nothing could more clearly show that all his sympathies were with hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway. Anyone who had been present at Question time during the past three months, and who had noticed the manner as well as the nature of the right hon. Gentleman's answers, must have been driven to that conclusion. The Loyalist Members were quite aware of it. They knew that the forces which they had to contend against at the present time were not only enormous outside the House, but that the demonstrations of enmity inside the House which were made against them by a Representative of the Government were most painful to witness. [Home Rule laughter.] That might be a laughing matter to hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway; but to him and his Friends it was serious. As long as he had a seat in the House—and he had been four times returned by an Irish constituency—he should not hesitate to speak quite as plainly on Irish affairs as if he were an Irish-born Representative. The City of Derry, which had a population of 30,000, and which would be one of the Municipalities affected by the Bill, had never, so far as he knew, petitioned in favour of a reduction of the municipal franchise, because he believed they were perfectly satisfied. [Home Rule cheers, and "Oh!"] It was very easy for hon. Members below the Gangway to arrange their chorus of interruptions, and the Loyalist Members were perfectly accustomed to it; at any rate, he had been for six or seven years. He used to be frequently met with the jeering remark that the House would never see him back again, and, therefore, he need not be listened to. That assertion was often repeated with considerable vigour prior to the two last Elections, and he remembered that the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) used to be particularly emphatic on the point. Well, the Nationalist Party did their best at the last Election for Derry, and they sent the hon. Member for Sligo to contest the seat with him. The hon. Member did not like the look of it and went away, and then they sent a bigger apostle (Mr. Justin M'Carthy). The constituency had been made as democratic as the lowering of the franchise to almost manhood suffrage could make it; but the people of Derry were true to their old principles of loyalty and love of law and order, and so, very much to the surprise of hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway he (Mr. Lewis) was again returned. [Mr. SEXTON: By 39 votes.] It was his duty to his constituency, who did not want this Bill, to ask the House to reject it; but he was placed in a difficulty by the absence of many of his hon. Friends, and therefore if he took a division by way of protest it would be in the hope of making more effective opposition at a future stage of the Bill.


The hon. Member who has just sat down appears to me to have travelled, in some of his observations, pretty wide of the mark. I hardly think that the hon. Member could be considered in Order when he thought fit to deal with a matter so insignificant as my sympathies and my way of dealing with Irish Questions in this House. But as he has done so, I may, perhaps, be allowed to say one word in self defence. I have felt that I have not always been fortunate enough to win the approval of hon. Members opposite in my answers to Questions; but I have yet to learn that there is any justice in the charge that my manner towards Members sitting on the other side of the House has been otherwise than courteous, or such as they have a right to expect from a Minister of the Crown.


I beg my right hon. Friend's pardon. I assure him that I had not the least idea of objecting to his manner towards us individually, but merely to his manner towards us as a Party.


I am not a subtle enough metaphysician to distinguish between my manner towards hon. Members opposite as individuals, and towards them as a Party. If I have not been fortunate enough to secure the approval of hon. Members opposite, it is because the Questions have very often been ill-founded, and my answers to them have almost always consisted of the very driest statement of fact. As hon. Gentlemen must know, those answers are supplied to me by official authorities on the spot, who are entirely free from any sort of bias. I am glad of the opportunity of saying this, because charges have been brought against me of giving prejudiced answers. I observed that the charge was recently made at a meeting in Ulster; and I wish to say, as I should be ready to say to a larger House than this, that my answers to the Gentlemen who represent Ulster have been as considerate, as straightforward, and as inoffensive as my answers to any other Gentlemen. The hon. Gentleman regrets that he is not surrounded by more of his Friends, and he thinks that if he were so surrounded on the present occasion there would be a chance of more effective opposition. Well, there was a debate in 1882 on the second reading of a similar Bill, and on that occasion the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Plunket) and the hon. Baronet who now represents Mid Armagh (Sir James Corry) declined to oppose the Bill. I am not sure, therefore, that if the hon. Member for Londonderry had more of his Friends here now, he would succeed in his opposition to the Bill any better than he is likely to do as it is. He has also changed his grounds. His arguments to-day are very different from the arguments he used in 1882. At that time the hon. Member said plainly what he has only stated obscurely to-day—namely, that he did not believe that Municipalities in England and Scotland had worked well, and that still less did he suppose they would work well in Ireland. If, however, the hon. Member thinks that he would get the Conservative Party to support him in the contention that popularly elected Municipal Bodies in England and Scotland are a failure, I very much doubt whether he would get the Leaders of the Conservative Party to support him in any such contention. So far as the Bill is concerned, the Government will offer no opposition to the second reading. The Conservative Members in the last Parliament did not oppose the second reading of the Bill; the Chief Secretary for Ireland, my late lamented Friend Mr. Forster, did not oppose it; and still less, therefore, is it likely that a Parliament elected on a broader franchise would oppose it. I confess that the arguments that weigh with me strongly in favour of the Bill are not the belief in popular representation merely, but the facts that were brought out by the inquiry into the state of the towns of Ireland last year. The Royal Commission on the Housing of the Working Classes sat for a time in Ireland. In Waterford there is a population of 29,000, of whom 700 are on the municipal roll. What is the condition of Waterford? Its condition was described by several witnesses, and the evidence given to the Commission showed that its state is really and truly terrible. The overcrowding and all the other evils are really at their maximum, and as a result the death rate of Waterford is reported to be as high as 42 per 1,000. You may ask what connection that has with the municipal franchise. The witnesses examined, who were officials, were perfectly clear that the Councillors returned as at present on the restricted franchise represented either middlemen directly or the interests of middlemen. They admitted that the effect of the extension of the franchise in a town like Waterford would be to create a public opinion which would return members to the Council who would see that the law was administered, and its powers used in the interest of the population as a whole. I dare say that the hon. Member for Londonderry would tell us that a new Council, elected on a very wide suffrage, would play ducks and drakes with the money of the better class ratepayers. What I say is, that it would mean the improvement of the sanitary condition of towns like Waterford. The poorer ratepayers would compel the owners of property to do that which in England, at all events, we expect the owners of property to do, and systematically exact from them by law. That is the only illustration with which I will trouble the House, of the connection between an extension of the municipal franchise in Ireland and the improved condition of the towns of Ireland. I do not doubt that other illustrations might be given. This fact is very remarkable—that while the death rate of Ireland, as a whole, is lower than the death rate in England, the death rate in the towns of Ireland is very much higher than in the towns of England. I do not think it is a very speculative contention to suppose that very much of the bad sanitary condition of the towns of Ireland is due to the fact that so large a proportion of the population has little or no voice in the control of the Municipalities. I do not think at present, in view of the condition of the House, that I should be justified in dwelling at any length on the arguments put forward by the hon. Member opposite; and I will simply content myself, therefore, with saying that it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to support the second reading of the Bill.


said, that the Chief Secretary for Ireland had referred to some remarks of his in a former debate; and in reference to those remarks he wished to state that, while he did not then oppose the second reading of the Bill, he could not help feeling that if the Irish municipal franchise were to be reduced without other steps being taken at the same time it would lead to many of the difficulties which the hon. Member for Derry had referred to. There could be no doubt, however, that if a measure of this kind were to be introduced by a responsible Government it might do good, because it would, in all probability, be founded upon the recommendations of the Select Committee which sat for a number of years on the subject, and of which the late Mr. Isaac Butt was a prominent Member. If this Bill dealt comprehensively with other matters with reference to municipal government as well as the extension of the franchise, he should have been prepared to assent to its principle. As the condition of the working classes had been referred to, he might say that the Royal Commission on the Housing of the Working Classes showed that the condition of the housing of the working classes in Belfast was better than even in any town in England or Scotland, and was very different indeed from the state of things in Dublin, Waterford, and elsewhere in Ireland. He did not intend to divide the House against the second reading of the Bill; but he hoped that if it went further the Government would make it a measure of their own, and introduce other matters into it besides the reduction of the franchise. He thought that the reduction of the franchise alone would be a very great calamity; and, therefore, although he did not oppose the second reading, he would take steps, if the Bill went further, with a view to the introduction into it of other matters for the benefit of the Municipal Corporations of Ireland.

MR. SEXTON (Sligo, S.)

said, he observed that the noble Lord the Member for Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill) had made a communication to the hon. Member behind him, indicating a desire that the opposition to the Bill should not be pushed any fur- ther. [Lord RANDOLPH CHURCHILL: No.] Well, in making the observation he simply relied upon the evidence of his visual organs. He was, indeed, not surprised that the noble Lord should take that view, for seven or eight years ago it was on this very question of municipal franchise that the noble Lord showed that first insidious approach to Democratic principles for which he had since, in so many ways, become signalized. With reference to the observations of the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant, the right hon. Gentleman need not have occupied a moment of his time in answering the uncalled for, and, he might add, the cowardly attack made upon him by the hon. Member for Londonderry City (Mr. Lewis). Undoubtedly the Chief Secretary, by the ability with which he had supported popular and just principles, and by his high character, enjoyed the respect of men of all opinions throughout the country; and he would venture to add that the Chief Secretary, in all his behaviour to the Members of that House, had displayed a strict and unvarying adherence to facts, and a high regard for the principles of Parliamentary intercourse, qualities for the lack of which the hon. Member for Londonderry had long been conspicuous. He thought it was very unfortunate for those who wished to maintain the existing system of corporate vote in Ireland that the defence of that system should have fallen to an Englishman, and, above all, to the particular Englishman who had spoken. He was sorry that the defence of the fortress should have fallen to the Member for that City, which, under the existing restricted franchise, returned men like him, who, as the hon. Member for North Armagh would say, "is in temporary retirement"—in penal servitude in fact. Yes; it was a Member of the Corporation of the City represented by even a pre-eminent member of that Corporation, who was sent to gaol for having set fire to his own house, and the police of Derry had now a list of probable aiders and abettors. Perhaps it would be too much to insinuate that any other members of that Corporation were guilty of like offences. That was the kind of Corporation in existence in that City represented by the hon. Member; and when the existing franchise re- sulted in sending to that Body men who were sentenced to penal servitude for the crime of arson, surely the hon. Member would admit any change would be for the better.


I beg the hon. Member's pardon. As a matter of fact the hon. Member is incorrect in saying that this took place in the present Corporation. It was a former Corporation; and I would remind the hon. Member of a similar case in the Dublin Corporation—the case of Mr. James Carey.


Well, Carey did not burn his house; and Carey was put into the Corporation by the political friends and supporters of the hon. Member for Derry City. His proposer and most of his assenting burgesses were Tories. He (Mr. Sexton) was not certain whether in the Derry case that gentleman was a member at the time he committed the crime; but he had been one, and was elected on the present franchise. He was glad to see the hon. Member for Mid Armagh (Sir James Corry) taking part in the discussion, for he doubtless understood the subject, and was qualified both as a baronet and an alder man——


I never was a member of the Corporation.


Well, there was a namesake of the hon. Gentleman a member. It would have been interesting to have heard a few remarks as to Belfast from the hon. Gentleman. Would the hon. Gentleman say that the sanitation in the districts for the working classes was anything like what it ought to be? He had had at best some experience of Belfast — he had spent some days there—and had no hesitation in declaring that the lighting, sewerage, and paving in the working classes' districts were a disgrace to civilization. It would have been interesting to have heard something about the fact that in a population of 250,000, with 70,000 Catholics, the Municipal Body would not admit one solitary member of that religion to their Board. It would be interesting to know why that was so—why not a single Catholic official was appointed, except, indeed, one solitary scavenger. It would have been interesting to learn how it happened that the Corporation of Belfast gave the then Town Clerk a higher salary than some Cabinet Ministers in England, £2,075 a-year. The hon. Member for Derry City insinuated that he (Mr. Sexton) had been a candidate for its representation. So far from that being the fact, he presided at the assemblage which selected his hon. Friend the Member for Longford, and he was not surprised that the latter was beaten, for he confined himself to expounding his views at public meetings. But the hon. Member for Derry City followed his inveterate custom of canvassing alone. [Cries of "Oh, oh!"] Yes; he began every morning before the rising of the sun, and did not conclude till the going down thereof. One of the only two arguments in his speech was founded on the assertion by the hon. Gentleman that Lord Spencer stated that the Irish Corporations were disloyal outside these two remarkable Bodies. [Mr. LEWIS: Hear, hear!] Yes; the two exceptions were remarkable—one, a Corporation whose members were sent to penal servitude; and the other a Body that robbed the ratepayers to pay a Town Clerk a monstrous salary. But the hon. Member had given a free translation to Lord Spencer's words—a very free translation. If the hon. Member wished to be logical, he would remember that if the Irish Corporations were disloyal, they were disloyal on the present franchise. Could they, then, be any worse? What harm was there in extending the franchise if they had reached so low a point and were disloyal? To extend the franchise could not make them worse, whilst it might improve them. So the hon. Member's argument went for nothing. But that argument was, in effect, that the Corporations were disloyal and they must keep them so. He was not surprised that the hon. Member belonged to a Party or a political faction that always found, exercise for his functions in promoting the provocation to disloyalty and disaffection amongst the Irish people. He well remembered that statement of Sydney Smith, who said— The dissatisfaction of the Orangemen is the Irish rainbow, and when I see it in the sky I know that the storm is over. The dissatisfaction of the hon. Gentleman was to him one of the most cheering signs in the horizon of Irish politics, for when the body of the Irish people began to be well affected towards the Government, and Members like the hon. Member for Derry City and his kind had to find fault with the discretion and good taste of Ministers of the Crown, then there was a chance for the peaceful and final settlement of the relations between Ireland and the Government. Another argument of the hon. Member was that the people contemplated to be enfranchised by this measure lived in houses of mere nominal value. The hon. Member should congratulate himself that circumstances happily enabled him to live in a house even of nominal value. Perhaps if the hon. Member had to depend for a living on his own intelligence and exertions, he would not have even so good a dwelling or be able to pay the rates. It was not because men were poor that they should not have a vote; indeed, such men had a better right to a voice in the matter than such men as the hon. Member, who, doubtless, lived in a palace. He congratulated the Tory Party on the stolid demeanour they had evinced during this discussion, and the noble Lord on the indication he had given of his opinion that the opposition to the Bill had better, perhaps, never have been raised.


said, that the hon. Member for Sligo was undoubtedly one of the ablest men of his Party and of the House of Commons; but he did not think that he was quite so influential as he supposed himself to be. The hon. Member for Sligo had asserted that he had intimated to the hon. Member for Londonderry that he did not intend to divide against the second reading of this Bill. [Mr. SEXTON: I inferred it.] He could assure the hon. Member for Sligo that he had done nothing more than ask the hon. Member for Londonderry whether he did intend to divide the House upon the Motion, and that the hon. Member had replied in the affirmative; but no suggestion that he should not do so fell from him. He had been in favour of the lowering of the municipal franchise in Ireland ever since the year 1877, and he had supported it on the ground that he had supported many other Irish measures—namely, that a safe means of maintaining the Union in the two countries was the establishment of similar laws and similar institutions in both of them. It was all a matter of local government, and he still firmly believed that the best way of maintaining the Union would be by establishing similar institutions in Ire- land to those they had in England and Scotland. If a division were taken he would have voted against this Bill, for the extremely good reason that he thought it perfectly absurd that the House of Commons should now be considering so small a matter when it was on the eve of considering so large a matter as the entire government of Ireland, If the principle of the Government with regard to their Irish policy was worth anything, it was obviously not worth while to divide on this question. In the language of the Prime Minister, they would be simply passing a law which would go to Ireland "in a foreign aspect and a foreign garb." The whole policy of the Government with regard to the future government of Ireland was that the House of Commons was not competent to deal with such peculiar matters as the municipal franchise. He (Lord Randolph Churchill) did not agree with that principle; but, at any rate, that was the principle now before the House, and that was the principle they were asked to act up to. He was quite surprised, therefore, to find the Chief Secretary for Ireland welcoming this Bill with so much warmth and cordiality, when he had declared over and over again that the House was not competent to deal with such a matter. This was not the time to bring forward such a Bill. If the Government of Ireland was to be given over to an entirely new Body, it was obvious that that was the Body that should deal with a question of this kind; but until that was settled he did not think that the House of Commons could consider such a Bill.

MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)

said, they might have been prepared to learn that the noble Lord the Leader of the Tory Democracy was prepared to vote against a reduction of the municipal franchise if he had had the opportunity, and that he only regretted that the opportunity was not afforded to him. The reasons put forward by the noble Lord for the course he intended to take were on a level with the principles which had guided his action in another matter. He said that a larger measure being under the consideration of Parliament no small measure should be carried by the House. He should not be doing the noble Lord an injustice when he said that it was the boast of himself and those with whom he was connected that they would prevent the passage of the large measure. The noble Lord and his Friends were never tired of expressing their conviction that this larger measure should not pass, so that he was doing two things equally effective—he was keeping up an irritating inequality, and hindering the smallest step in municipal reform, whilst covering himself with the excuse that a larger measure was being considered. If the statements made by the noble Lord were accurate—and everything that the noble Lord stated was accurate, as he (Mr. Bradlaugh), from personal experience, had reason to know—there was no chance of the larger measure becoming law, and the noble Lord was simply using it as a cover to hinder this smaller concession; and he (Mr. Bradlaugh) hoped the second reading of the Bill would be agreed to.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Monday next.